The Sinclair is an entertainment and dining complex that's surprisingly
easy to miss while strolling down Church
Street past the old Harvard Square Theater. The Sinclair Kitchen is,
not surprisingly, the name of the dining division. All of the
practically-required elements of Cambridge restaurant design are there:
metal, reclaimed/repurposed wood, wall bench seating and stools, funky
art, dim but modern lighting, bar-as-centerpiece. The first floor is
small with about a dozen tables and a bar; the upstairs dining room is more
spacious. Restaurateur Michael Schlow was a consulting chef, though his
level of actual involvement varies depending on whom you read. The menu
is mostly small plates, sandwiches and upscale comfort food.
Before the Burger
Wings: From the "Snacks" section of the menu, Yuzu and Buffalo sauce wings ($9.00) deliver two whole wings coated with a typical orange sauce thin enough to make it obvious before the plate hits the table that these flappers have no crust whatsoever. Not only do they look pale and rubbery—and not only are there only two freaking wings for $9!!—but they feel rubbery too. But at least they accomplish a hard-to-attain feat: while being rubbery, some parts are overcooked and dry on the inside. Flavor brings some very light smoke; sauce has a nice butteriness but is basically just a slight offshoot of Buffalo.
I rarely use this expression, but all things considered, these wings sucked. That they sucked at $4.50 per wing or $2.25 per piece only compounded the suckage.
Iced tea: They must have made about three pitchers of this stuff from a single teabag.
Now, onto the burger. Lightly toasted and buttered, this softball sized bun is definitely in the brioche family but sturdier of dome and denser of interior than classic brioche. I can't comment on the sweetness for reasons I'll get into later.
First impression, partly influenced by the appetizer: wow, this is a small burger for $15, especially considering that there's no cheese, no bacon and no advanced cuts (like short rib) or techniques (like dry aging). Thickness makes up for it, though it would still be nice if the patty reached the edge of the already slim bun. Grill marks are a dead giveaway to the cooking method, but the surface has minimal crusting. Bisecting the sandwich reveals a perfectly pink interior with juices well past trickling and in full gush mode, a big plus here. First bite, and another wow—but more from the condiments, which I'll get to later. In short, the interior doneness and texture are fantastic, with flavor AWOL. Seasoning is noticeable visually but it doesn't translate to flavor. Still, that juiciness and texture cannot be denied.
This is that rare signature burger with neither cheese nor bacon, so "Vermont" and "apple smoked" get to go on adjective holiday for a night. But toppings flavor hardly takes a holiday here: a one-two punch of aioli above and a secret dark sauce below deliver creaminess and refreshing lemony tartness from the former and sweetness from the latter. Watercress above and basil below add some texture, herbality and obligatory verdancy to complete the pleasing flavor spectrum—that is, if beefiness isn't a requirement in your spectrum. I can't taste the beef (or the bun, for that matter) amidst the surprisingly intoxicating sweet and sour tandem, so I keep forking out smaller pieces from various locations to isolate the beef. I can't. Every bite gets dominated by the condiments, with no beefiness poking through. The end result is a special burger with a very juicy but nothing-special-flavorwise patty.
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: Thin, skin-on fries bring good crispness and agressive salting, making them a winner for a salt lover like me. Points off for at least 80% of them being shorter than an inch, meaning mostly scraps.
Fried chicken: My young bride's fried chicken ($19) is one large football-shaped boneless breast, cut in two. This industrial strength product with a Shake-and-Bake style breading/seasoning is borderline dry and possibly not even fried. Real fried chicken is made with love; this is simply insulting.
You know how you sometimes order a Coke and they say, "We serve Pepsi, is that alright?" When you order this chicken, they should say, "It's not really fried chicken but more of a cheap ass machine formed chicken breast coated with crap that doesn't taste anything like fried chicken, is that alright?"
The collards come in buttery as advertised.
Although he's now on double secret Todd English alert and the restaurateur equivalent of Ben Stiller (he'd have a higher winner-to-clunker ratio if he'd say no more often), I like Michael Schlow and I've liked most of his joints, including non-joint Radius. So I came in wanting to like the Sinclair (whether it's technically his joint or not) and the Sinclair Burger. Based on a small sample size (no wings pun intended), I sort of like the latter but not so much the former.
The Bottom Line
It's a very juicy burger. As a complete package, it's a tasty burger and ultimately a somewhat successful if somewhat overpriced burger, even with the condiments stealing the show. Based on the rest of the meal, though, I'm not sure how likely I am to see this show again.
Other Opinion/ Info
Yelp reviews of the Sinclair
Urbanspoon reviews of the Sinclair
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