Monday, November 8, 2010
Kin Shop: Harold's 2.0
It seemed a fitting destination spot since our post-prandial plan was to go see The Social Network, and Chef Harold Dieterle is not my real life friend- but he is my Facebook friend. Kin Shop, his new Asian-hawker food style restaurant, is also conveniently located near enough the theatre we were attending, so we went for an early meal before the show (an easy enough walk-in at that early hour). The popularity of food celebrities right now made it that such an attempt a later hour might've been impossible, as the dining room filled up briskly after the approximate seven p.m. chime. I wish I could say that it was because of the food, but despite some stellar dishes, I experienced more kinks with the menu than hits. That said, I think this is a perfect example of why experienced, published (read: paid) food critics wouldn't proffer a review without at least two revisits, because it very well may have just been a circumstance of poor ordering that left me with my lackluster appraisal. But since I am not one of those, my appraisal is as follows. It's more difficult to critique a place when you are in fond admiration of its creator (see earlier review of Perilla), but also helps no one to gloss over the faults as I found them. Anyways, I think the hallmark of a good chef is to take the criticism as it is doled and at least consider it, even if it's not coming from a Bruni or Sietsema. Like I said, I can only judge with the tongue that came along with the head I was born with.
Kin Shop has only been open a month or so at best, so perhaps its still working out some of its kinks. The name means both "to eat" in Thai as well as a nod to it's kinship and proximity to Dieterle's first restaurant, Perilla. The room is a painted a watery cool, lovely, with paisley-esque murals in muted shades of teal and seafoam, heavy grey marble counters and white-washed exposed brick framing a brightly lit, steely open kitchen. The staff is gracious and welcoming, friendly if not overly helpful on some of the more technical issues. It was nice to see the chef himself attending to some of the diners (probably friends), and inspecting many of the dishes as they made their way out of the kitchen. However, it might have behooved him to have actually dirtied that stark white apron with a bit of hands-on, because despite the notable prettiness of presentation, much of what we tried had glaring flavor flaws that could've been easily amended had he been taking a greater part in their production rather than noticeably attentive to his Blackberry.
But let's not get off on the wrong foot, because some of what we had was remarkably good. The eponymous Kin & Tonic cocktail was a perfect riff on the classic, novel with the addition of cucumber, cilantro, and splash of St. Germaine, but not sweet as to render itself a combative pairing with food. Our first dish was by far the best, an order enthusiastically encouraged by the very personable bartender. Squid Ink and Hot Oil soup arrived fragrant and steaming with a glistening inkiness that would rival the first few weeks of the BP Oil spill. And its effects on your lips and tongue (while transient) are no less impressive. This might not be the best dish to order on a first date if your are a little self-conscious about your appearance, but as long as that's not an issue, but taste is exponentially more subtle than the appearance. The ocean-salty black-as-sin broth punched with garlic buoys generous rounds of tender squid stuffed with a brisket forcemeat. A fine mince of water chestnut sinks to the bottom but spoons up to catch crisp julienned green beans that both give a little crunch to the silky broth and morsels of seafood. The menu denotes spiciness with an asterisk for an offending dishes, but this one just kisses the brink of heat making you take enough time with each spoonful to appreciate the sexy farrago of
flavors. It also served as the saviour to a flop of an eggplant dish, which found tough chunks of mostly undercooked, totally underseasoned vegetable coated with tiny "rice pearls" which looked and tasted a lot like toasted millet, but unfortunately less nuttiness. A very nice looking dish (it reminded me of how tiny nonpareils give a shimmery delicateness to confections), but if you've ever tried raw eggplant out of curiosity, it's not something you'd look forward to repeating. That said, if you threw the whole lot into the squid soup… well, suffice it to say I kind of wish I'd've just done that.
The menu boasts quite a few curries and noodle dishes, but there was a seabass braise with matsutake mushrooms that sort of hollered out at me, so we opted for that as a main, as well as the Phuket grilled shrimp (priced per piece). There was no way of knowing that "wet curry" meant soup-style, and after the squid ink soup… well, that's a lot of liquid. The broth also robbed the fungi of all their personality, making them spongey little floaters swimming in a bland stock bobbled with some out-of-place chunks of juicy rambutan and a characterless hunk of fish that had a fairly nice flake going for it, but little else. Plus, I don't want to pay $26 for that much water. Perhaps all the salt, umami and funk got used up in the side dish of Asian greens, which were tasty enough as long as each bite included a hefty hunk of waterchestnut, but much too salty without. To me, though, saltiness is forgivable; I prefer the slight err to the saline side than pasty insipidness. Again, dump those greens in with the fish and the balance is achieved. This much reformatting, however, cannot be expected of the diner, nor such serendipitous order-pairing. Each dish passed underneath Dieterle's watchful eye, but you can't taste the flavors with your cornea. It's too early for him to get sloppy and expect to glide along on the wings of his notoriety. The prawn was a big meaty sucker, but somewhat overcooked to toughness, and again a little salty. The nutty sauce served in its own little white porcelain pitcher aside, redolent with floral peppercorns and a hint of fishy funk, with a nice squeeze of lime countered a little of that, but shouldn't have had to. Dessert list is a pretty minimal proposal, with only one real constructed dessert (a passion fruit steamed pudding) and a smattering of sorbets and ice creams with appropriate Asian flavor profiles (galangal, kaffir lime, Thai iced tea, etc.).
The possibility does remain, however, that we just ordered poorly. Some of the restaurant's flaws reminded me much of the old John Dory, soon (as early as tonight?) to reopen in its new location near its kin, The Breslin at The Ace Hotel. The former Dory suffered from an excess of flavor, saltiness and heft in too many of the dishes, making individual meals difficult to navigate. While certain plates provide a sort of gluttonous delight, their powerful flavors often fight with one another. It suffered its fateful demise, in my opinion, because of those faults, but as I hope its reincarnation proves, is not an unsalvageable concept- just one in need of some revamping to figure itself out. So it is with Kin Shop, which I hope will remedy its current missteps and emerge the stronger sibling as a result (and avoid painful relocation such like the Dory). Dietere's got it in him, he just has to make sure he's guiding the ship and not just going along for the ride.
469 6th avenue
between 11th st & 12th st
1 212 675 4295