Standing on Bolton Street, while waiting for CookHouse to open on a spring night, my husband and I eagerly studied the menu as the bartender, Gabriel Valladares, with his smiley-face nail design, taped the night’s offerings to the window. Moments later, as we stepped inside the sun-dappled space with its velvet teal banquettes, mirrored backlit bar, and watermark-style wallpaper, we smiled, too. We had come full circle.
Almost two years since our first visit in mid-March, we had returned to the same spot. At the time, I had set out to review the Bolton Hill restaurant on the site of the former B Bistro. The spectacular space had been years in the making. Co-owner-chef George Dailey, who bought the 19th-century building, a former pharmacy, and his wife, realtor Jessica Dailey, had poured their heart and soul—and a ton of sweat equity—into the historic building, transforming every inch of it down to the last detail. When the restaurant finally opened in February 2020, the timing couldn’t have been worse. As we dined on Dover sole that day in March, Dailey went from table to table, and we naively told him we were looking forward to a return visit. “That’s if we’re still here,” he said, his voice catching.
It would be my last restaurant meal for the foreseeable future—and the last one that CookHouse would serve for months to come. Forty-eight hours later, the heartbroken chef, who also owns and operates On the Hill cafe, laid off his entire staff and shuttered in accordance with a city regulation banning indoor dining. Of the hundreds of meals I’ve eaten as a reviewer, that’s one I’ll always remember.
So here we were, back at CookHouse—so named because a century ago kitchens were set apart from the house in case of fire. The place looked the same. But of course, nothing was the same. Dailey was no longer wandering around the dining room with his head in his hands, but hard at work back in the kitchen. Long gone was the delicate dish of Dover sole, in favor of fare that was more casual, more comforting. We were changed, too—wiser, less critical about the small stuff, more moved by what mattered, like sitting in such a convivial space with such a diverse community of diners, all of whom were clearly happy to be there. The England-born, Venezuela-raised chef is happy to. “We’re on a roll right now,” he says. “We’re packed every day.”
Dailey’s original vision was to have an everyday cafe serving three meals a day to his Bolton Hill neighbors. When he was forced to close operations for daily dining, he transformed the space into a hybrid marketplace/coffee shop that really showcased his range, from smoking his own salmon to making pot pies and large jars of mango chutney, an ode to his English mother. Ultimately, he settled on dinner service four nights a week and a no-reservations policy.
The concise menu rotates weekly and changes with the season. But despite the size of the menu, from gnocchi with beef Bolognese to pork chops with sweet potato purée, there’s truly something for all palates, and you’ll rarely find the same preparation from visit to visit. Even the vegetarian option, a lovely mushroom tikka masala swimming in a tasty coconut sauce, was fantastically flavorful. The seemingly simple endive salad with ribbons of the vegetable tossed with hearts of palm, blue cheese, and pecans, was bright, light, and nicely dressed with a vinaigrette. It was a great way to start the meal without being overly filling.
Across two visits, we enjoyed a first-rate crab cake sandwich served on a house-made roll bathed in beurre monté and a satisfying truffle burger doused with truffle aioli, topped with porcini-truffle cheddar, and stacked with fried shallots on a brioche bun held together by a toothpick threaded with fabulous house-made pickles. (The accompanying fries were a bit standard issue.) The swordfish steak served with paella-style bomba rice doused with lemon-garlic sauce, flecked with green olives, and kissed by saffron, offered a burst of bold flavors. Small details, like the frisée greens poking out of the burger or the steamed shrimp appetizer served in an adorable basket and split down the middle for easy shelling, were evidence of the care that comes out of the kitchen.
We also enjoyed a round from Valladares’ gorgeous cocktail menu, including his bracing version of a Manhattan (almost blackened by Foro Amaro). On our most recent visit, we indulged in the crema Catala (think Spain’s version of crème brûlée). As we settled with our server, she asked if we’d enjoyed the meal.
“We’re excited to come back,” we said. And as we headed out into the night, we knew with certainty that CookHouse—and its wonderful staff— would be there waiting.