Change is a constant in the restaurant business. When I first dined at Cork four years ago, the food was distinctive and well prepared under the guidance of chef Sae An. An was replaced last year by David Weber. When I dined at Cork again in May, Weber had been newly replaced by Anthony Marini, who was still working with Weber’s menu, not very comfortably. By the time I returned two weeks weeks later, Marini had installed his own menu and begun to right the ship. A recent visit finds the ship sailing along pretty well.
Highlights of that recent visit include a satisfying burger featuring a lean ground-lamb patty zinged with feta cheese and sweet-and-sour cranberry-orange mostarda. Herbaceous pesto flatbread topped with caramelized onions and big circles of fresh mozzarella also was a hit. Lightly creamed, Marini’s crab soup was loaded with sweet meat and enlivened by Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire and Tabasco.
Marini, 38, is no stranger to Kevin and Janet Meeker, Cork’s owners. He worked for them in the late ’90s at Philadelphia Fish & Co. Marini then opened (and later sold) two acclaimed restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama, taught American cuisine in Bangkok and returned to the Northeast to consult for restaurants in DC and Maryland. He and the Meekers reconnected on Facebook just when they were looking for a new chef for Cork.
At the outset of my second visit, I was talking with the affable bartender, who gushed, “Our new chef’s new menu just came out. Last night, [each member of the staff] ordered something different, and everything was amazing.”
That was quite the endorsement, and though it’s her job to exalt the chef, there was something genuinely enthusiastic about it. Previously, I don’t think the staff could have described the food as amazing without their noses growing.
The thick seared patty of duck chorizo was indeed amazing, house made and spiced with cumin, coriander, smoked chili, sage and nutmeg. Marini served it open-face on brioche, topped with a sunny-side-up duck egg and a confetti of fruity African Peppadew peppers.
Anointed with vincotto (reduced grape must), the well-seasoned chicken schnitzel was crisp perfection over creamy roasted cauliflower purée. Kumquat barbecue sauce imparted an almost electric brightness to roasted shrimp served with a square of seared bacon polenta.
Those shrimp were on the small side for an entrée, and the pork belly braised for 12 hours in merlot needed more cooking—underneath unevenly seared skin, the fat was grossly gelatinous. I ordered the 3 am Bistro Fries, which come with red wine sauce, bacon, crème fraîche and gremolata herb condiment; instead I received a bowl of plain (albeit excellent) fries. The dated cocktail menu needed a makeover. Cranberry cosmo, anyone?
Even at six years old, Cork is a work in progress. But there’s new blood in the kitchen (as well as black garlic ice cream on the menu) and a sense of redemption in the air.