Clara Silverstein writer
When brothers David and Bob Kinkead, who grew up on Chestnut Street in Wellesley, wanted to open a restaurant together in Boston’s South End, they chose a provocative name: Sibling Rivalry, and a logo of two roosters facing off. Yet the competition between the two chefs is more good-natured than savage. After all, they came up with the concept together.
Neither brother went to culinary school. As part of a family of ten children, they learned to cook out of necessity. “When there are that many kids, if you’re hungry, you have to cook for yourself,” recalls David, the second youngest of six boys and four girls. Bob, the eldest, remembers their mother as “not too adventurous in the kitchen, but a genius with hot dogs.”
Bob, 15 years older than David, worked on Cape Cod in the 1980s, was a chef at the Wellesley Inn, and eventually became the executive chef at 21 Federal on Nantucket. He opened Kinkead’s, his own restaurant, in Washington, D.C. in 1993, and has since won several awards, including “Best Chef - Mid-Atlantic Region” from the James Beard Foundation, and published Kinkead’s Cookbook. Bob hired David as a dishwasher and prep cook at 21 Federal, and from there David went on to work for famed Boston chefs, including Lydia Shire and Todd English, as well as Chicago-based Jean Joho.
The stylish, 147-seat Sibling Rivalry occupies the ground floor of a building clad in sheets of metal at the recently renovated Boston Center for the Arts. The outdoor patio is adjacent to the center’s brick plaza. In the three years since it opened, Sibling Rivalry has brought a fun twist to fine dining. David runs the daily operations, giving Bob time to focus on Kinkead’s and his second Washington-area restaurant, Colvin Run Tavern. Despite their geographic separation, the chefs remain in close contact. Bob joins David in the kitchen about once a month, and the two launch new, seasonal menus about six times a year.
The menu at Sibling Rivalry, presented in a folder with an embossed metal replica of the rooster logo, plays up the theme of a duel between the brothers. At the center is a list of seasonal ingredients—such as duck, mushrooms, and lamb. On one side is a dish from Chef David, on the other, a dish from Chef Bob. Appetizer portions ($11 to $15) are printed in red ink, entrées ($25 to $29) in black. On a typical dinner menu, each chef offers 12 selections, giving diners plenty of choices.
It takes a few minutes to figure out the menu’s unusual organization, but then it’s fun to mix and match the selections. The best seat for watching the action in the kitchen is a stool at a red counter top in the rear of the main dining room. Servers clad in red shirts and black slacks fill baskets with sliced baguettes and Irish soda bread. Others line trays with the evening’s eye-catching amuse-bouche, tomato gelée in a shot glass with avocado puree and cream on top. Line cooks expertly juggle an assortment of pans and tongs as they make dishes to order. From the center, David casts his practiced eye over the crew, reading orders aloud, inspecting and occasionally touching dishes before they are sent out.
The contemporary dining room, with purple walls, booths upholstered in red leather, and white tablecloths, has a nice view of Tremont Street from its tall windows. A granite bar in a separate room, festively lit by bulbs suspended on squiggly wires, does a brisk business. The wines, organized by type (such as “lush, full-bodied whites”) include a large selection of half bottles from California and France, as well as ultra-limited reserve selections.
Bold flavors and an exuberant mix of ingredients characterize the cooking of both chefs. “There’s not as much difference between our styles as people would like to think,” says David. “I guess my food is a little more risky, and Bob’s is a little more classic.” In a phone interview, Bob concurs.
That slight difference plays out in the lamb dishes. Bob goes for a fairly classic entrée of lamb two ways: tender olive oil-garlic braised shoulder meat alongside a lamb chop, sautéed spinach, and garlic-rosemary sauce. French-style chickpea fries come on the side. David’s North African-style appetizer puts ground lamb inside pastry dough with cumin, golden raisins, a soft poached egg, and curried lamb jus. Under the heading of tuna, Bob’s tuna Milanese, with pine nuts, basil, raisins, capers, arugula, tomato, and red onion salad, uses Italy as its inspiration. David gives an Asian spin to tuna tartare by serving it on warm sushi rice. He arranges the tuna in the center of the plate with zigzags of sticky soy glaze and spicy aioli around it.
Both chefs like to play with New England ingredients. David covers oysters on the half shell with garlic, herbed bread crumbs, and a tomato, cream, and Parmesan glaze. Bob’s oyster appetizer is a stew with leeks, peas, sun chokes, fennel, chervil, and chives. The shellfish pairing pits David’s French-influenced mussels with Sancerre wine, grainy mustard, garlic, cream, and rosemary against Bob’s roasted littleneck clams with sausage, parsley, garlic, dried cherry tomatoes, orecchiette pasta, and seasoned bread crumbs.
Some of the most daring dishes are offered as specials. A fried soft shell crab appetizer is served on creamy polenta, with slices of spicy banana peppers on top—an unusual but totally captivating combination of textures and flavors. Pork and tuna wontons come in a spicy, coconut milk-laced peanut sauce, offset by bright, tangy slices of mango. “The specials that are well-received go onto the regular menu. Those that are not selling are taken off,” explains David.
Diners will want to save room for one of the house-made desserts ($8 to $9). Although the dessert menu strays from the dueling chefs theme, inventive combinations still characterize the eight selections. Chocolate lovers can be sated by a chocolate hazelnut torte with crunchy praline mousse, vanilla crème anglaise and a thin wafer cookie. The spice cake duo offers a creamy, coconut-drenched slice on one side of the plate, and a drier slice topped with a caramelized apple on the other. Cappuccino crème brulée tastes just like strong, sweet coffee with cream, with two chocolate-dipped biscotti on the side for a crunchy accent. The cheese plate ($15) offers a colorful assortment of fruit slices with wedges of cheese.
Clearly, the brothers have come a long way since the days when Bob sneaked away from the high school to buy subs at Nino’s, and David skated on Rock Ridge Pond. Only one Kinkead brother still lives in Wellesley. The parents sold their house and moved to Cape Cod in the early 1980s, and the rest of the family is scattered as far west as Alaska. David and Bob have both enjoyed contributing to the meals at family Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. At one point, Bob even adapted one of their father’s recipes, braised chicken with mushrooms, to serve on US Airways flights.
Bob says that he and David had talked about working together for years, but finally found the right opportunity at Sibling Rivalry. “It’s a little more complicated than running a restaurant on my own, because we always need to discuss what the other one wants to do, but it’s a nice experience for the diners.