My friend Benny opened The Savant Project in Mission Hill last year. We met in business school, both coming from the hospitality industry (he was a bartender, I was a chef), and became fast friends. Though I knew I didn't want to be in the restaurant business anymore, I was intrigued by his vision of restaurants and lounges (a "lounge empire" he modestly called it).
Benny has succeeded in creating a lounge: the vibe is hip and funky, blending perfectly with this fringe neighborhood -- on the edge of the prominent Longwood Medical Center and the up-and-coming Mission Hill. Hospital employees mingle with young hipsters. The tiny kitchen produces fun and funky dishes, variations on the typical bar food... a steak frite with yuca fries instead of the typical potato, quesadillas trios with homemade mango salsa, and a home-made veggie burger. They have received props from Boston Magazine (Where to Dine and Best of Boston Awards), the Phantom Gourmet, the Boston Globe and Chronicle.
When Benny asked if I could help streamline the menu, I had to say yes. How fun to be part of his exciting venture! Benny's two big challenges: the food costs were too high and the kitchen could not execute the menu fast enough on busy nights. We made a few adjustments with the current recipes (like slicing the pork tenderloins into medallions before cooking -- yielding more yummy 5-spice crust and cooking faster). We also removed some of the slow selling items and replaced them with new dishes that cook quickly and have a lower food cost - we were even able to reduce the prices on some of the menu items!
The general approach to the menu was to simplify. The menu consisted of numerous items some of which did not move as quickly as we would have liked. As opposed to having numerous options all the time (which kills labor costs from excessive prep, and food costs due to waste and spoilage) the menu is focusing on its strengths. Now, the menu will switch out about 30% of the items every two months in order to provide the clientele with the options they so desire!
The most popular addition: Beer Battered Fish Tacos with a Chipotle Slaw and Guacamole. Although intended for the dinner menu (where it thrives) it also does quite well on the lunch menu. Priced at $15 it is cheaper than the traditional dinner entrees. It is priced higher than the veggie burger or the stuffed burger, however. These were the two most popular (and most affordable) dinner entrees. When a customer switches to the fish tacos from the burger, that means an extra $1.50 of revenue per entree or an 11% increase in food sales!
This month Benny is going on an all out promotions spree with the new changes to the menu. With the new menu in place, the restaurant now does three full turns for dinner with comfort and ease, and Benny plans to fully take advantage of this! Some of the promotions include 2 entrees and a bottle of wine for $50 any Sunday, Monday. In addition there is a 3 course NYE Dinner with a champagne toast and a glass of wine for $33.09 (designed by my friend and former co-worker Estuart Rojas) and he is even beginning a late night menu Thursday through Saturday till close with all items under $5. Enjoy some music and get some quality grub....in Mission Hill! (who knew?)
He is also happy to offer anyone who says the code words "we love Hoolia" (his idea, not mine) a complementary tapa with your meal or even just a drink! And Benny insisted I add his little blurb, "If you read Julia's blog and come on in, please ask for me! I'm here all the time and Julia has helped out so much (often just for bottles of wine...) that I owe her friends and fans the best of times."
And for those of you not in Boston, here's the recipe for the famed Fish Tacos.
Fish Tacos¼ cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 chipotle (or more to taste)
½ cup shredded red cabbage or lettuce
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
¼ cup finely sliced red onion
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
salt and lime to taste
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
1 cup beer
12 6-in soft, white corn tortillas
Canola for frying
1 lb. fluke, cod or any firm white fleshed fish, cut into strips 1 inch wide and 2 -3 inches long
2 limes, cut into wedges
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, cumin and chipotle salsa. Toss in cabbage, tomatoes, red onion, jalapeno, garlic and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and lime juice.2. In a large bowl, make a beer batter: whisk together 2/3 cup flour, cornmeal, salt, egg and beer.
3. Preheat oven to warm, or its lowest setting. Spread tortillas on a baking sheet and cover with a damp towel. Place in oven.4. Pour 1 inch of peanut oil into a deep saucepan and place over medium-high heat. When it is hot enough to brown a bread crumb, begin coating the fish. Dust fish with the flour, and then dip into the batter. Add the pieces, one by one, to the oil. Fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary. Drain on plate lined with paper towel. Repeat process with remaining fish.
5. Fill each warm tortilla with 2-3 pieces of fish, a generous spoon of the cabbage slaw. Squeeze a wedge of lime and sprinkle a little salt over the filled tortilla. Fold in half and serve.