Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thai Style

Before my reservation at Kin Shop, my mother and I made a pilgrimage to Eataly in Gramercy. I call it a "pilgrimage" because that's exactly what it is. We waited in line nearly twenty minutes, pleading our case to two disaffected bodyguards before we were finally granted entree into the most expensive and expansive grocery store I have ever seen.

I won't deny that my tiny, crunchy cannoli was pitch-perfect, nor will I claim nonchalance. Eataly is truly a sight to behold, with its gorgeous fresh pastas, scored breads, fresh fish, and various Italian imported foods. The space, weaved with restaurants and wine bars, is reminiscent of Barcelona's Boqueria, where patrons can shop and eat all in one venue. But price-wise, Barcelona doesn't hold a candle to this New York monstrosity. A small ham that couldn't have weighed more than 3 pounds cost $34.95. Lesson learned: come for the sights and a quick cannoli, but buy your wares elsewhere.

Kin Shop was a welcome relief from the fray. The restaurant has a minimalist feel, in the same genre of momofuku, with blond wood tables and chopsticks in lieu of silver. But the prices at Harold Dieterle's newest hot spot are more in line with tablecloths and china. At the behest of the server, we ordered heavy--and she was right, since portions are fairly conservative--which resulted in a weighty check of over $200 for four people. It isn't expensive by New York standards, exactly, but it isn't cheap, either. Casual dining in the city has retained its cache, but not its price point.

Kin Shop has a deep and interesting wine list, filled with German and French whites with residual sugar, perfect for spicy food. We drank a 1999 Auslese Riesling, well-suited for our creamy bone marrow (which could have used a touch more salt, but never mind), our head-on prawns (no complaints here), our scallops and snap peas in coconut milk (sweet, savory, and full of contrasting textures). Chinese sausage with a soft egg and chopped razor clams was salty and complex, though it would have been better served by leaving the razors whole. Tamarind seared duck breast had been breaded in something light to create this crunchy exterior that was nothing short of addictive. Paper-thin layers of roti had been bound together in clarified butter. I stuffed mine with a cucumber relish that tasted like chopped homemade pickles, an Asian tea sandwich of my own creation. Even a modest dish of egg noodles with Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and a poached egg failed to miss a beat.

And then: dessert. I ordered a root beer float, but instead of the galangal ice-cream that came with the dish, I had mine with Thai iced tea ice-cream, an authentic interpretation of the real thing. Coconut cookies arrived on the house, as did a scoop of icy but refreshing lychee sorbet. It's all pricey for Thai, but worth the price tag.

200 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Kin Shop
469 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ocean Life

I have retreated, in my old-ish age, from dinners at fancy restaurants, where I once found myself most at home. But every once in a while an occasion arises--a birthday or otherwise noteworthy and celebratory event--that calls me back into three- and four-star New York life. Last night, such an occasion, my sister's birthday, brought me to Marea.

Despite some service missteps (the wine list arrived in the hands of my sister's boyfriend as a matter of gender consequence instead of my own knowing paws; the expeditors brought our crudo course to the wrong seat numbers; the sommelier, when petitioned by me to recommend a "not crazy expensive" and accessible Barolo pointed to a $190 bottle; the captain placed the check at my right, rather than at the payee's place), the food was, in fact divine.

First, green olive focaccia, slick with oil and salt, and a little cup of squash consomme to clean our palates. That gentle taste prepared us for what came next, the unctuous, fatty, and inspired combination of uni and lardo on charred toast, a marriage of the sea's prizes and the land's. It was like eating a combination of many different butters all at once, one with the tiniest briniest reminder of the ocean. Crudo was simple and clean. In retrospect, I should have ordered a fattier fish, since the rest of the table didn't do the menu justice. I had three perfect langoustines, raw on slices of mandoline-thin cucumber. My sister had the same preparation with sweet Maine ama ebi and red chili, but she found it too slimy. The rest of our table ordered oysters, a bit of a snore, even if the mignonette duo--red and wine vinegars--was tasty enough. In the future, I would go for a pink snapper or a tuna or even a branzino.

My next course was yellowtail, also raw, but adorned with chanterelles and thin slices of seared foie gras. In some ways, I found this course, in its entirety, most successful. My sister ordered Nantucket Bay scallops, which, when ill-prepared, reek of fishiness. But these were candy sweet and matched with bright red pomegranate seeds. The Nova Scotia lobster with fresh burrata sang in its simplicity and was complimented by a bright and impossibly summer-like basil puree. Gnocchi with shaved black truffles, stolen from my brother's plate, were the pillowy things they describe ad nauseum in The Godfather III and not those gummy, overdone monstrosities too often found in Italian joints nationwide. And a mushroom risotto across the table from me played to the virtues of fungus while demonstrating the care and caution it takes to make good rice good.

Next were main courses, which, for me, came in the form of delicate orecchiette in a sweet tomato sauce with even sweeter shrimp, just barely undercooked to maintain their texture. My sister shared her bone marrow and octopus fusilli with me, cooked in a deep red wine reduction and filled with all of the extreme decadence that one might expect from such a dish. She pushed her bone marrow to the side and I happily accepted her discard pile with those twists of pasta that were some of the best textured noodles I have ever eaten. My brother's swordfish, though it wouldn't have been my pick, was a study in well-cooked fish, but I didn't make it much farther around the table than that.

I wasn't expecting much in the way of dessert, as the Italians are rarely known for their sweet tooth, but Marea's pastry kitchen is extremely talented and nimble. My rosemary panna cotta was what I think of when I crave a little milk pudding and a wine reduction and sorbet added sweet to an almost savory concoction. My sister's beautiful white chocolate honey cake came with parisienne balls of grapefruit sorbet on top. Her boyfriend's salted caramel and chocolate cake hit all of the obligatory notes and added an extra punch of cream in the center that reminded me of the best kind of Hostess cupcake.

In the future, I will spend more occasions at Marea.

240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10019