Saturday, January 21, 2012

King Restaurant Wraps Old-World Charm in a New-World Robe

 In a cozy colonial carriage house mirroring the character of that familiarly picturesque West Village neighborhood in which it resides, a new regal restaurant provides a dining experience fit for a king - and that’s what they appropriately named it. Chef Francis Derby sharpened his knives at praised Momofuku Ssam and WD50 and has used them to pierce through pretension and pomp with his own old-world pan-European elegance at King restaurant.

Dark wood and leather accents, wrought iron chandeliers, and sepia-faded antique portraits, emanate an elite underground society from the days of yore. Yet the staff could not be more welcoming and the cuisine could not be more progressive. The ambient historical charm only sets the platform for food - and drink - with a nouveau twist.

Starting with a twist, the Tucked Away and Verloren cocktails (created by resident mixologist Pamela Wiznitzer) were disparate palate openers. The former a straight-shooting whisky with the aid of ginger syrup, a splash of bitters and refreshing lemon. (I ordered it sans the saccharine Barenjager liquor: the more bitter, the better, I say.) The round Verloren introduces tequila to the tongue with smoky mezcal, (undetectable) beet juice, a floating sprig of aromatic rosemary, and comforting green chartreuse. But don’t get too comfortable with the cocktails as the menu will change seasonally, along with the featured beer cocktail, which on this visit showcased Radebrger and gin with super sweet notes of Crème de Cassis and honey.

You must already by wondering why I didn’t start with the bubbly prompted by the push of a button. The much talked about “secret” Champagne switch service did not play into my dinner, nor to any other table within eyeshot. If the inconspicuous tableside red light switch is flicked, Voila! a server appears with a 375ml bottle of bubbly, an ice bucket, and a tray of cut fruit in tow. Talk about being treated like a king. As part of its word-of-mouth draw, the server does not offer it - and frankly, it is not necessary to feel taken care of.

Interest begins with the baguette basket and trio of butters (lardo, foie gras, and sweet) and extends to the Chicken and Rabbit Pate and surprising Squash Soup. The soft pate is packed with shreds of glorious meat, providing more texture than usual, and wrapped in salty bacon, well foiled by the sugary mustard jam and fresh mint leaves. Described by our server as a “warm hug” the soup was accurately enveloping and light with the warmth of pumpkin and squash highlighted by fragrant chamomile - an unconventionally winning combination (though the plating of dark balsamic dots on the orange liquid, akin to cheetah print, could use some rethinking).
Smoked Octopus

Intended to induce salivating, the Effingham oysters take that to heart, over-seasoned with sea salt. But the balanced Fluke Crudo represented seafood well with mild raw fish pieces adorned with long curls of cucumber and citrus-packed orange wedges. The Smoked Octopus neared perfection if it weren’t for an over “poached” egg, keeping from the satisfaction of silky yolk. But that was easy to forget with the savory meaty tentacles garnished with grassy frisee and crisp radishes.

It goes without saying that sweetbreads must always be ordered if they are on the menu. These were typically batter-fried with a puffy crust that was not necessary but thankfully airy. The fried quality was offset with a light celery root puree and pickled celery for a brilliant tartness and crunch. Even more of a must was the Tripe Stroganoff to further your culinary acumen. Stewed tripe and vegetables married tenderly in a rich broth, accented with a dollop of creamy creme fraiche. The perfectly supple house-made egg noodles were folded to float like boats in the glorious liquid.

Duck 
However, nothing upstages the Duck entree. Many are weary of duck, and rightfully so, as it is difficult to cook well and often left rubbery (only appropriate as a bath toy). Fear not of this poultry, the loin sliced into medallions to reveal a rosy tender center, it could easily be mistaken for a juicy pork tenderloin. Swimming in a sweet Scotch reduction it is pleasantly punctuated with hearty, chewy chestnuts and water-rich turnips. The Scallops by comparison had it tough, but the three thick disks (too few) held their own as substantially as a meat, seared and paraded with earthy salsify in a bouyant clam sauce.

Dessert depends on the lasting finish desired. Should you care for a sweet brulee, this one does not disappoint with a top layer of sugary-salted crust protecting a motlen mixture of burnt caramel. Should your tongue crave tart, the refreshing lemon tart is a citrusy custard filling a crumbly crust slathered with airy coffee mousse, simultaneously substantial and light.

Creative culinary energy is hard at work to plant old-world roots with new-world branches. Yet what is growing on this King street corner could not feel more expertly effortless.




King Restaurant
5 King Street at 6th Avenue
212.255.0700
www.thekingny.com

All photos courtesy of King Restaurant