Friday, August 24, 2012

A Look at Ken & Cook

This past week, Diana and I received an invitation from Ken & Cook to review their restaurant. 

This new restaurant from two Jean-Georges alum is tucked away on the obscure little corner of Kenmare & Bowery, and on this Sunday night, the restaurant was nearly empty aside from a handful of tables that would eventually be seated during our three-hour stay there - orders were slow to take.  And even slower to arrive. 

First the bread, a single cold baguette, accompanied by fruity olive oil, that was too hard and chewy to be enjoyed.

Second, the $15 plate of squid salad featuring a bed of yogurt, cooked potato rounds, curls of grilled squid, and red chili slivers.

The dish was light and satisfying with the fun combination of spicy chili, cool yogurt and chewy squid.  A strong first course.

Third, the oysters rockefeller ($18).  Four oyster shells perched on a plate of rock salt.  Each oyster was smothered in fluffy spinach puree and a thick layer of buttery breadcrumbs.  While the topping was good - balancing crunch and creaminess, the oysters were lost under the heaviness of it all.  And the breadcrumbs, oh the breadcrumbs.  It would soon become apparent that this was the restaurant's favorite ingredient.

Case in point, our second course, the veal pappardelle ($23), topped with...breadcrumbs.  The tomato sauce was quite thin (reminiscent of Chef Boyardee), and while the meaty veal was tasty and flavorful, and the shreds of radicchio a welcome crunch, the dish was altogether salty and unsatisfying.

We've had versions of pappardelle where the pasta was smooth, flat and thin.  The pasta at Ken & Cook is thick, jaggedly cut like the handpulled noodles from Xian Famous Foods, which I adore, but not for a dish like this.  And I'm still not sure why there were breadcrumbs !

You can see here a clear lighting change in the pictures.  That's because it took about 45 minutes for our next course to come, which was mind-boggling, since the restaurant had only five tables to serve.

But the next course finally did come.
Fried chicken.  The restaurant's signature dish, per the waitress.

Three pieces of golden chicken, topped with fried lemon slices, alongside honey butter biscuits. 

While not flaky, these biscuits were light and soaked in the generous pats of honey butter like sponges.

The fried chicken was also lovely - with satisfying crunch and moist, tender meat.  It's a solid, crisp fried chicken, not completely inedible as this Village Voice article will state, but nothing that extraordinary that would make us specifically seek out this $19 dish.

The kitchen sent out a side of their macaroni and cheese, because per their words, "If you are going to go Southern, you might as well go Southern," and because they were quite proud of their mac 'n cheese.  But man, I was not excited to see more breadcrumbs (#firstworldproblems), I could still feel the grit in my teeth from the earlier dishes.

We plunged through the crumbly uppercrust to find small tender noodles and delightful creaminess.  What we did not find was salt, which was what this dish definitely needed. A bit of tang or zip would've really pushed this exceedingly mild dish up a notch.

The wagyu beef flank ($26), with almond slivers, asparagus and yellow tomatoes was probably the most disappointing dish of the night.  The beef was chewy and tough, despite a medium rare cook temp, and had zero flavor.  I can understand lack of seasoning to draw out appreciation for the quality of meat, but there was no quality here to admire.

And finally their signature dessert - beignets.  A fairly generous order of a half-dozen golf-ball sized gems served in a parchment paper pouch.

The beignet dipping sauce resembled the powdered sugar / milk / water icing concoction I would make as icing for cookies, but did not complement the beignets well.

While the interior of the beignets were airy and light, the overfried shell and the slightly salty interior, coupled with the lackluster dip, just made this dessert dish fall flat.

By the time the long, drawn-out dinner was over, Diana and I were a bit exhausted from the night - yes, it's so hard to eat a lot food (ha! I kid!), but moreso than that, the combination of disappointing flavors, the plague of breadcrumbs, the exceptionally leisurely / non-existent service, all at a high price point was a bit wearing, all in all.  

I think one of the best things of the night was actually outside the restaurant a block up.  One glance at Selleck made me feel at peace with the world once again.

Thanks for the invite, Ken & Cook, I wish we could've liked it.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: If you have a lot of money burning in your pocket, a lot of time on your hands, and love breadcrumbs more than life, by all means, dine here.

Ken & Cook
19 Kenmare
New York, NY
Ken & Cook on Urbanspoon