KITTICHAI – NYC
60 Thompson Street New York, NY 10012
Date Dined: 1.28.12
Kittichai is located in the trendy boutique Thompson hotel on Thompson street, not to be confused with Thompson hotel LES which I have done myself one too many times. Kittichai is one of those restaurants that was very cool to go to early on when it opened especially during impromtu trips to the city from college for a nice night out on the town. It seemed so sophisticated and sexy. Now, a few years later, I think the large Asian-themed restaurant trend has passed us by but Kittichai remains because their Thai food is actually quite good and they also managed to avoid the whole restaurant-into-nightclub trend that has taken over.
The ambiance of the restaurant is like a sultry bamboo garden. Black slate floors and light colored walls are made more romantic by a koi pond at the center of the dining room over which dangles an ethereal cloud of individual floating orchids. Another fun detail to look out for the is bird cage filled with fish by the hostess at the entrance. In nicer weather diners can also sit at some of the tables out front under tents. This is actually not a bad option as Thompson street is relatively quiet.
Chef Ian Chalermkittichai hails from Thailand proper and before starting Kittichai spent some time at the Four Seasons in Bangkok. While the menu has many Thai ingredients and the dishes are deeply inspired by Thai cuisine the food here tends to be a bit adapted to American tastes and shies away from a lot of the punchy heat that is found in traditional cooking.
I was with a group of seven the other night and, for some reason, while they did not appear to be super busy it took the restaurant 45 minutes to seat us. Luckily this resulted in a few complimentary cocktails but still seemed unnecessary. Once seated the server seemed a bit frazzled by everything so we decided it might be easiest to order one of the tasting menus. Everything in the four courses plus dessert was served family style.
The dishes in the first course were shrimp, a green papya salad and a red snapper ceviche.
The crispy rock shrimp was tempura battered and served with grilled eggplant in a palm sugar-tamarind sauce. This was a very nice dish, crispy and sweet with the soft grilled eggplant for another texture.
The Thai red snapper ceviche with coconut and ginger-lemongrass marinade was good but a tiny portion for 7 people. It may have been marinated for a bit too long as the bits of fish were chopped up into very tiny pieces.
The green papaya salad with dried shrimp and chili cashew dressing was refreshing and lightly dressed allowing the flavors of the produce to shine through.
The next course included a Thai beef salad with chinese long beans and roasted sticky rice powder. This dish looked like a Thai cooked version of a beef tartare. Again, tiny bits of beef made this dish a bit complicated to share with chopsticks but was nicely seasoned.
Baby back ribs in Mekhong whisky barbeque sauce are a bit messy to eat before an evening out but also quite yummy. The ribs might have been a bit overcooked for my taste leaving them a little dry despite the slathering of sweet barbeque sauce.
I may have been most excited for the seared duck breast, Asian pear salad in a light soy and black vinegar dressing but the dressing was so salty that it required a sip of water after each bite.
Next was a course of fish and vegetables.
The baked Chilean sea bass in salted yellow beans with morning glory was good but probably wouldn’t rival most miso-glazed versions I have had.
Wok- seared tiger prawns with citrus red curry sauce. More prawns? Don’t get me wrong I am a huge fan of prawns/shrimp and these were delicious but 3 dishes with shrimp seems a bit much. Served head-on (my favorite) in a thick curry this was probably one of the spicier dishes of the meal and was still fairly mild.
Stir-fried Asian vegetables with garlic and ginger-soy sauce were a fine side and a welcome green addition to the menu.
Last on the tasting menu was the organic chicken green curry, Thai eggplant and sweet basil. I love green curry. This was my favorite dish but sadly because it was served at the end because we were all so full by that point. I also didn’t have a chance to taste the short ribs (pictured below).
We somewhat regretted ordering a few extra dishes, as if what we were served was not enough already, but they were both very good. In addition to the four courses we had the crispy pork belly and a few extra bowls of their fried rice which is topped with cashews. The pork belly was super crisp and almost bacon-like. Delicious meatiness with the rich fat layered in between.
Since the service was bit lacking and we were seated so late, by this point half the table was pretty anxious to get up and leave to continue on with their Saturday evening plans.
Finally, for dessert we were served a flourless Valrhona chocolate cake with fresh cream wrapped in a banana leaf. The cream was unsweetened which I actually like but the cake was fairly aerated and bland so the two did not compliment each other well.
The more inspired of the two desserts was the banana spring rolls served with burnt honey ice cream. I love cooked bananas so this warm, crispy spring roll with gooey banana was a nice end to the meal.
Kittichai is a fun restaurant for a group (if you are a bit luckier with the service), perfect for a work event or a date.