|Beautiful people and good drinks are the highlights of Ken & Cook|
Ken & Cook is the latest venture from two alumni of the Jean-Georges empire, chef Richard Diamonte and Manager Artan Gjoni. Ken stands for Kenmare street — the overly trendy street with an ever-changing assortment of bars, clubs, and restaurants. Cook stands for, well, cooking. Though that’s not why you would go to Ken & Cook.
The menu is meticulously, hilariously, bizarrely fixated on threes: there are three courses and each dish is described in three words, ingredients, or descriptions. I say “bizarrely” because, while most of the time the three words describe ingredients – such as mussels (saffron, leeks, thyme) and beets (avocado, radish, cress) – other times the dish runs out of ingredients and, unwilling to break the pattern, the menu substitutes different kinds of adjectives instead. Thus a NY strip (aged, rosemary, frites) or a cured Italian meat (leg, 1 year, Emilia Romano). With a côte de boeuf (28 oz., dry aged, for 2) they simply gave up.
|Great drinks – the reason to go to Ken & Cook|
|Squid (yogurt, mint, chili) – the best dish at Ken & Cook|
|Kwak beer in its carrying case|
The drinks are well-mixed and this is the main draw of Ken and Cook. The margarita picante (tequila, grilled lime, heat) has a great combination of spiciness and booziness. I could have a few of those. There are the usual assortment of beers, as well as a gimmicky Belgian beer called Kwak, which is served in an elaborate wooden test-tube like presentation.
According to Gjoni, the glass and its wooden holder were created by a 19th century Belgian inn-keeper who catered to coachmen who didn’t want to spill their drinks while galloping away. The beer itself is an above-average Belgian and I guess at $10, worth the experience.
The “industrial bistro” menu seems to be a code for doing whatever you want for each dish, and usually too much. Greek-style squid (yogurt, mint, chili) and other dishes with finesse are served alongside much less delicate American comfort foods (fried chicken, burger, mac & cheese) and Italian charcuterie (pig, pig, pig).
The best dish on the menu is the squid appetizer, one of two “signature dishes” according to Gjoni. The nicely grilled squid are topped with greens and crispy shallots with small potatoes, a yogurt sauce with drizzled olive oil, and some chilies. The combination of cool yogurt and charred and spicy squid was great – though I felt the chilies were a little too mild. No need for the greens, but I’ll forgive them here.
The other “signature dish” is their rendition of Oysters Rockefeller (spinach, pernod, breadcrumb). The addition of Pernod nicely cuts the cream and the oysters are fairly decent. However, at $17 for four oysters, it’s way overpriced.
For the second course, pappardelle (veal, radicchio, tomato) missed the mark. The basic tomato sauce felt like something was missing and the wan veal ragu didn’t do much for me. A good crunchy breadcrumb topping and decent already-applied cheese partially redeemed the dish.
For the third course, a wagyu flank (pesto, asparagus, almond) was both great and terrible in the same dish – a nice accomplishment. The meat was nicely medium rare and the nutty, homemade pesto made for a surprisingly good combination. Several awful additions to the dish – most not included in the three descriptive words – almost ruined it.
Blue cheese and almonds (unnecessary), tomatoes (vinegared), inedibly spicy asparagus (strange, confusing, bizarre) were items that should be cut, quickly. With so much going on on the plate it was easy to lose sight of the fact that flank steak with homemade pesto by itself is great. They should stick to that.
A chicken dish (fried, biscuits, honey) also suffered from an editing problem. The chicken was nice and tender with a crispy and not overly heavy coating. While enjoyable, in the end it was just fried chicken. Biscuits topped with honey butter were great, though a similar dish at the Dutch was a little better. A side of honey mustard sauce was completely unnecessary and made otherwise very competent fried chicken taste like cafeteria chicken fingers. Deep fried lemons were a complete disaster – biting into a breaded lemon (sour, pithy, inedible) was an unfortunate experience for me, even after several drinks.
A mac & cheese side was decadent and heavy but, as with most mac & cheese, awesome. The cast iron presentation was a nice touch and kept it warm.
Overall, Ken & Cook is a fun, trendy bar with a few good dishes. If you appreciate the over the top nature of the place you’ll have a good time – or at least enjoy the beautiful people watching.
Ken & Cook
19 Kenmare Street
New York, NY 10012
Recommended dishes: Squid ($15), Chicken ($19), Mac & Cheese ($8), Kwak beer ($10), Cocktails ($12-15)