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Knife + Fork

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Knife + Fork.

The new restaurant Knife + Fork (spelled thus) has attracted a lot of attention lately. Andrea Strong gave it a great review in late July, and it was the recipient of a somewhat longer-than-usual blog post by Frank Bruni a few days later.

Knife + Fork turns out food of unusual ambition for its neighborhood. It’s a small space in the East Village, owned and operated by chef Damien Brassel and his wife. The six-course tasting menu for just $45 puts the shame to other restaurants’ offerings at double the price. Although Bruni complained about the over-use of truffle oil (something we did not notice) he added, “I’m hard pressed to think of another restaurant in New York that packs as much ambition into a price that restrained.” He clearly liked the place, as he mentioned having paid several visits. I suspect he’s going to give Knife + Fork time to shake out the kinks before considering a formal review in the newspaper.

We weren’t in a tasting-menu mood, but our selections from the à la carte menu convinced us that Brassel is doing great things. The amuse was a shot of clear, hot tomato soup. Seared foie gras sent me into orbit, and it was about double the portion size that many restaurants serve. My friend had a warm goat cheese and polenta appetizer that she pronounced amazing. I found a Mahi Mahi entrée a bit stringy, although I enjoyed the crisp skin. I’m not sure whether it was entirely the chef’s fault. I would have preferred a regular knife to cut it with; fish knives are always a burden, except with the most pliant flesh. My friend found lamb loin almost revelatory. Platings were all attractive and creative.

With starters all $15 or less, and mains $25 or less, Knife + Fork delivers an outstanding value. Because it is near a school, there is no hard liquor license, but they do serve wine. Actually, the establishment bills itself as a “restaurant and wine bar.” The list is very reasonably priced, with about a dozen choices by the glass.

Brassel and his wife are practically a two-man band. Brassel does all the cooking. His wife and one waitress do all the serving. Another hand in the kitchen washes dishes and does light prep work. I didn’t do an exact count, but it looks to me like the restaurant can seat about 30–35 people. When it starts to fill up—as it’s doing more and more, as the word gets out—Brassel has trouble keeping up. We were there at a slow time, but we can well imagine what happens on Saturday nights. His wife mentioned that he’s considering adding another hand in the kitchen, although one look at the space tells you that it will need to be someone who’s used to working in close quarters.

I’ll look forward to giving Knife + Fork another try.

Knife + Fork (108 E. 4th St. between First & Second Avenues, East Village)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½

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