Within Row 14’s sleek downtown space, chef Jensen Cummings works to find culinary harmony.
More often than not, however, Cummings’ dishes overreach. The fish in the ahi and salmon rangoons was mobbed by too much, and too-rich, cream cheese. The kurobuta pork loin, normally a sweet and marbled cut, was overcooked, overly chewy, and overwhelmed by the salty curry miso sauce. The coconut cream pie—the filling of which was a thin, soupy mash—tried too hard with the sweet candied fennel topping, the spicy Sriracha peanut butter side, and the crumbly graham cracker crust. My thought at the end of a meal that included all these items? Enough already!
Cummings earned his cooking clogs working for local chefs Troy Guard at TAG and Kevin Taylor at the Opera House. It can’t be easy working in the shadow of such big personalities, and it must be a relief for him to finally push his own damned envelope. But with greater freedom comes greater responsibility, and Cummings has not yet mastered the balance necessary for finely wrought cuisine.
The potential is there, however, and when he does hit the sweet spot, the effect is downright sublime. One evening, the grilled rabbit special served atop a spinach-jalapeño purée had my dining companion and me passing the plate back and forth and wondering aloud why rabbit isn’t served more often. Cummings’ silky and swoon-worthy yellowtail crudo contained several nutty layers of flavor, thanks to the addition of sesame oil, nori, and sunflower seeds. And the pan-seared, skin-on Alamosa striped bass combined smoky bacon, fresh pea shoots, and a lively soy-ginger sauce in a truly artistic way. Like Jackson Pollock before he got control of his paint cans, Cummings clearly has the talent and vision to succeed. He simply needs more equilibrium and finesse.
Service at Row 14 is similarly inconsistent. One night, you’re charmed by the waiter who is as enthusiastic about the rabbit and the Rioja as you are. Another, you strain to find your server and then wonder why you tried so hard, since she was unable to answer any of your questions. These wild swings in preparation and presentation mean that if you’re lucky—and one evening, I was—you’ll walk out of Row 14 into the night air having devoured a meal that was perfect in every way. Or, you might leave the restaurant vowing never to return.
I wouldn’t write this place off, however. Row 14 has a center-of-the-action vibe that’s energizing and worth checking out—at least initially, for the wine list and people watching. With time, I suspect the kinks in cuisine will be resolved, and I’d be willing to pay full price at a meter to find out.