Ostensibly, Ken & Cook has two characteristics that deter people who take food seriously. First and foremost, it’s located on Kenmare Street, where restaurants seem to be ephemeral. Secondly, and perhaps as a direct result of the diners in the area, it’s designated as a “club slash restaurant”.
Clubby restaurants usually involves dining in an excessively loud atmospheres, and watching waiters tiptoe around tipsy patrons with your order. These establishments seem to be quite popular in the suburbs, but have been hit or miss in the city. The now defunct Kenmere and Imperial No. 9 shows how this business model could fail even with a celebrity chef, while restaurants like Lavo and Tao are overflowing with guests almost nightly, go figure.
As someone who takes food seriously, perhaps a bit too seriously at times, I was admittedly very skeptical about Ken & Cook for these two very reasons. This despite the fact that the chef Richard Diamonte and managing partner Artan Gjoni both came from Mercer Kitchen, meaning you can name drop Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s on your resume. How does one strive to make great dishes in the kitchen when it might not be fully appreciated by the diner?
Perhaps that’s why I’m here. On an invitation to sample their cooking. If they can win over an elitist like me, perhaps they can conquer both ends of the market.
Getting to the restaurant was a slight challenge. Although Kenmare Street is a major artery off the Williamsburg Bridge, this area seems to be in perpetual gridlock without the assistance of traffic cops. Staring at the same traffic lights for at least a dozen changes, I’ve built up quite an appetite by the time I finally arrived at the restaurant.
The blueprint for Ken & Cook seems very straight forward, borrowing many familiar design elements that are found in popular restaurants today. In fact it looks straight out of the Keith McNally playbook, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In this industry, if it works, flatter the originator.
We started with 6 perfectly shucked oysters. As we slurped 3 East and 3 West Coast oysters, there was not a trace of cracked shell residue. Props to the gentleman behind the raw bar.
The squid salad looked quite simple both on the menu and on the plate, but with a few bites you taste the expertise in ingredients and seasoning. The calamari was lightly charred, but still extremely tender. Add a nice balance of savory and tart, and you have a great salad.
Mussels was served in a tomato and Chorizo broth. The combination and presentation is nothing new, but once again this dish was very well executed. Extra bread was requested to soak up the broth, yep, that good.
The black bass served over broccoli rabe reminded me of a dish found at ABC Kitchens by Jean George, though Chef Diamonte’s version adds a even heavier dose of shellfish flavor in the broth. Another great plate.
The almost too familiar beef and asparagus combination delivered good flavor, and was seasoned very well. If I have to knit pick for flaws in the meal, the Wagyu wasn’t as tender as expected. Maybe the years in Asia have my taste buds spoiled with Kobe.
The recommended dessert, which was also quite popular among the diners, was a mixed berry cup filled with Mascapone. It tasted good for a few scoops, but seems one dimensional and really didn’t showcase much skill. I’m a firm believer that almost any dessert tastes good with ample Mascapone.
The tiny baked pies (whatever the current fruit may be) on the other hand are quite tasty. If you have room for dessert, try these.
I was truly surprised by the food served at Ken & Cook, it goes not only beyond what’s expected of a clubby, trendy restaurant, it’s one of the better restaurants that I tried this year. As I returned to the crawling traffic on Kenmare Street, all I can hope is that the quality of the food stays great even when the diners are plenty satisfied with good.
What does this rating mean?
From the Notebook: As much as I enjoy the oysters, $3 oysters will still break the bank if you’re here to satisfy a craving. I love restaurants with wide open doors and windows, we battled a ferocious mosquito for much of the evening. The meal was complimentary, though it did not affect my opinions, nor was I required to write.