Friday, December 12, 2014


I wanted to love King Bee... I mean REALLY wanted to love it, but despite a few low-volume buzz-worthy components, overall I think there's still a lot of work to do on the hive.  (And that will be the last apian reference I will make, I promise.)  The restaurant itself is pleasant: subterranean and cozy, minimally decorated but in a simple, pure sense.  This same aesthetic is reflected in the food, as well, and frankly I wouldn't mind a bit (even quite a bit) more embellishment.  Prominently featured is a painting by Steve Keene, commissioned to create a King Bee mural that stretches across the eastern wall, again modernist and minimalist, so in terms of keeping with a theme, they are certainly true to their motif.

We visited very early on a Friday evening, so it wasn't surprising the room was virtually empty at this blue-hair dining hour.  As well, the temps outside were plummeting, and may have been somewhat of a deterrent to those who were not locals, since King Bee is pretty far over towards Alphabet City, located on a relatively desolate stretch of 9th street.   This restaurant will be a cornerstone to the block.....if it manages to take hold.  We will see.  It certainly has some spiffing up to do in the meantime.

 The menu is fairly limited, broken down into hors d'oeuvres, appetizer and entrees, and later, desserts.  The inspiration purportedly Acadian, and thus elements of French Canadian and hints of  bayou Louisiana freckle the menu, but not really definitively enough.   I wonder, however, if we weren't adventurous enough in our ordering.  But it is tricky to be too ambitous: like I said, the menu's succinct, and some things might be delicious, but they come across a little... particular.  Some are potentially delicious oddities, others poor renditions of standards.

 The Upstate Raw Salad was a brightly hued pile of leaves and shaved cauliflower, obviously utilizing some prime produce.  And kudos for that, but a thin, flimsy dressing, slightly saccharine, merely lubricated the greens, and no
matter how good your lettuce is, a simple pile of it isn't going to bring a lot of repeat customers.   There really wasn't a lot more going on this salad than just that.  Similarly, a stark plate of pink country ham came furled with paper-thin slices of autumn squash and a tasty smear of creamy mustard creme fraiche studded with crunchy seeds- but it still presented as ham slices on a plate with some token veg for color.    But I think the most disappointing dish was the
Gumbo z'Herbes, a thin brothy puddle tasting mostly of dusty dried herbs, yes, but there wasn't really
anything gumbo-y about it.  A scoop of jasmine rice huddled beneath the surface, which is typical of gumbo, but that didn't make up for the lack of any deep, hearty roux, the absence of any seafood or protein element at all, or any of the rib-stinking punch that I would associate with gumbo.  It was a soupy green murk of dried herbs, like an attempt to use up that old McCormick's bottle of fines herbes you couldn't remember why you purchased in the first place.  Pretty rounds of sliced radish masqueraded as ham, adding a nice punch of pink but little else: maybe actual ham would've helped.

Entrees are hearty, for the most part, from a buckwheat cooked risotto-style with mushrooms, pea shoots and egg, to poutine rapee, a racy-sounding dish of starchy, meaty dumplings plumped with lamb and turnips.  Along with a duck fricot - which turned out to be a ducky turn on chicken and dumplings- I was learning some new, Acadian culinary terms along with an explanation for the obesity rates in Lousiana.  I may have wimped out choosing the lightest sounding option, but it was the most pleasant dish of the night.  Roasted cod, however, seemed more steamed than roasted, and it was actually black cod rather than true, which is normally the default cod.  It was served in a buttery broth, quite luscious, and accompanied with a few cockles and mussels to fill out the dish, since the token quantity of kale
registered more as an aromatic than a vegetable, silky and tender though the few leaves of it was.  There are no sides dishes on offer, so unless the chef would be amenable to an off-the-menu request, get your greens elsewhere.

King Bee features an ample beverage selection, true to its East Village address.  A unique Schonramer Pils was golden and smooth, perhaps one of the more memorable components of the meal.  It was light enough to warrant a second bottle, but had enough body to hold up as we made our way to dessert with a simple bosc pear crostata.   It was a nice, rustic sweet,
 the fruit could have been syrupier, the crust flakier and butterier.  No complaints about the intensely flavored little scoop of vanilla except for that there could've been a smidge more.  King Bee, in fact, left me wanting a little more of everything, a little more flavor, more options (or maybe just more description to convince me of getting some of the less familiar things on the menu without so much risk), definitely more vegetation, more smiles from the waitstaff.   But maybe it'll come around: I hear the bee colonies are rebounding spectacularly.

tel. (646) 755-8088

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