10 Best Restaurants of 2019: #4 Service Bar

G.A. Benton
Michelone Marzetti

You might assume the restaurant connected to the award-winning distillery Middle West Spirits would make excellent cocktails. And you’d likely guess that such a place would offer a fashionable tavern setting with a marble bar and scene-stealing vintage bar back. But if you didn’t anticipate Service Bar would also prepare witty and delicious dishes, then you don’t know about its brainy young chef, whose food is informed by a science background and a penchant for reinventing old culinary favorites.

On Technique

The painstaking process behind Service Bar’s Koji Half Rohan Duck dish

The layers of intense flavors and panoply of delightful textures animating Service Bar’s sublime Koji Half Rohan Duck aren’t easily attained. But, as executive chef Avishar Barua says, “It’s one of our favorite things to break our backs over.”

The preparation, which has so many steps it might short circuit a Fitbit, seems equally influenced by Hainanese chicken rice—the national dish of Singapore—and Mr. Wizard.

Barua, who’d been seeking a cliché-breaking duck dish, says the entrée’s creation was a three-birds-with-one-stone personal challenge to apply exciting cooking techniques, utilize every part of the highest-quality duck—Rohan is a prized hybrid—and “get people to try potentially unfamiliar flavors.”

To begin, the ducks are rubbed with a ginger-scallion wet cure enhanced with rice fermented by house-propagated koji—the mold that turns soybeans into miso and rice into sake. The ducks are then hung and aged.

When ready, the birds are broken down. The offal and carcasses are used for the foundation of Barua’s Hainanese-rice riff: a deeply flavored, pressure-cooked, “seven spice”-scented stock.

Duck breasts are cured for 48 hours in a version of the ginger-scallion-koji paste that’s had its umami boosted with mushroom powder, anise and more. Then they’re rinsed, dried for a day, partially frozen, pierced, seared (to render fat, not darken), rechilled and pasteurized via sous vide techniques. Before being served, Barua says, they’re re-seared in an extremely hot hearth to attain a crisp, golden-brown crust but retain “the pink, rosy meat we all love.”

Legs and thighs are poached, confit-style, in seasoned duck fat spiked with an umami-augmenting, “salted-porridgelike” koji slurry for 16 hours. Eventually, they’re beautifully crisped in “dangerously hot oil.”

Garnishes include three house-made sauces and celtuce, aka stem lettuce, cold-compressed in a pickling solution.

Bottom line: Thanks to Service Bar, you don’t have to try this at home.

Read about our other Best Restaurants of 2019:

1. Veritas

2. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

3. Watershed Kitchen & Bar

5. G. Michael’s Bistro & Bar

6. Comune

7. Refectory Restaurant & Wine Shop

8. Gallerie Bar & Bistro

9. The Guild House

10. Ambrose and Eve

1230 Courtland Ave., Short North


Service Bar