Bento Box A at Think Tank


Photo: JOEL VEAK

For a city steeped in music of every stripe, from hip-hop to jazz to classical, Boston has scant few places to enjoy music with dinner. Sure, there are plenty of dinner/music adjacencies, like Allston's indie-rock bars and globetrotting array of great cheap restaurants. But under the same roof? Less easy to find. So when Think Tank (1A Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617.500.3031) opened last year, music-loving food nerds and food-loving music nerds perked up. Think Tank quickly gained a following with its lineup of earnest live indie folk on Tuesdays and DJs on weekend nights. What fewer observers have noticed is that it has also become an outstanding cocktail destination.

 

That's because Think Tank recruited Brother Cleve, the man who designed the cocktail menu of the bygone B-Side Lounge just a few blocks away (and thereby birthed Boston's craft-cocktail revival), to manage its bar. His music credentials - world-renowned exotica DJ, keyboard player for mid-'90s Cocktail Nation mascots Combustible Edison - make him an obvious fit here, and he occasionally spins for special events. As important, Cleve's presence means that Think Tank pours very serious cocktails, notably pre-Prohibition classics and the authentic Tiki drinks of 1930s Hollywood. These round out a menu of originals like his Peru Negro ($10), a South American variant on the Negroni that combines pisco, Punt e Mes vermouth, Campari, and Meletti (another Italian amaro) into a complex, bracing potion.

That same eclectic spirit informs Think Tank's menu of bistro plates, flatbreads, and contemporary pan-Asian fare. Cold peanut noodles ($8) punch up a familiar Chinese standby with excellent bitter greens. Charcoal chicken flatbread ($11) gives a subcontinental spin to the gourmet pizza, putting tandoori-like chicken, chunky tomato chutney, and chewy paneer atop a thin, crisp base. The vegan Green Burger ($10) with avocado and sprouts rates as one of the tastiest meatless burgers in the city. And for a selection of small bites in a compact form, it's hard to imagine a more colorful palette of flavors and textures than Bento Box A ($19), featuring salty steamed edamame (Japan's answer to beer nuts), three fat sriracha chicken wings (mild despite the rooster sauce), a slender brick of crunchy/chewy pork belly (an Asian take on chicharrón), salt-and-pepper shrimp (crisp, piquant, wonderful), some house-made kimchi (more salty than incendiary), and a green salad (zippy with a yuzu-spiked vinaigrette). Evoking the booze-friendly snacks of the izakaya, or perhaps a mid-century supper club in contemporary hipster togs, Think Tank provides a welcome anchor, and a uniquely music-centric one, to a burgeoning Area IV dining and drinking scene.