September 30th, 2007
I want to like the bar/lounge that is part of the nouveau steak house KO Prime and used to be part of the restaurant Spire, in the posh Nine Zero Hotel (90 Tremont St.). KO Prime is in a great, history-saturated part of Boston — near the Common, the State House, the Athenaeum, the Parker House, Locke-Ober and the Old Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere and Samuel Adams are buried. Not bad company. My first visit was promising. I ordered the rum-based Tea Party Cocktail, which was smartly served in a plain white chilled teacup. The rum, spice and citrus flavors evoked a really good colonial-style rum punch. I also sampled the One Hot Minute, a mixture of tequila, agave nectar, lime juice and Lillet Blanc with a few drops of jalapeno Tabasco sauce, served on the rocks in a short glass. Sounds odd, but all the ingredients balanced one another out and constituted a nicely layered, zesty drink.
Unfortunately, the sleek, characterless look of the bar isn’t much changed from the Spire days — though the cowhide covering the low lounge chairs is a colorfully kitschy new touch. In the restaurant itself, the recessed ovals in the ceiling display — inexplicably, but what the hell — details of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic.
Admittedly, KO Prime is about the food. We’re talking about Mr. KO, or Ken Oringer, of Clio fame, and rising young chef Jamie Bissonette, formerly of Eastern Standard. But … the bar happens to come with the place. Some time and effort were obviously put into the list of newly created cocktails. I revisited the Tea Party Cocktail and the One Hot Minute on my second pass through KO Prime. They weren’t as good as previously. The rum came through too bluntly in the Tea Party, and the One Hot Minute was served in a bigger glass. This helped throw the balance of ingredients off so that the drink tasted a little too tequila-y and a little too sweet. I mentioned to the bartender that the drink had been served in a rocks glass previously, and he said he put it in a highball glass because, basically, ‘more is better.’ With a gin and tonic, maybe, but not with a more complicated mixture.
I’m guessing Oringer and Bissonette wouldn’t be so cavalier about changing the proportion of ingredients in one of their dishes. Is it being too nitpicky to ask for consistency in the quality of the cocktails? This would make the bar at KO Prime worthy of its owner’s culinary reputation and its location’s luster.