Note: Consulting chef Joey Campanaro left the restaurant in February 2011. As of April 2011, his replacement was Gilbert Delgado, a Del Posto/Breslin/Spotted Pig alum. Kenmare closed in October. As of 2013, the space is a Japanese small-plates restaurant called MaisonO.
The aughts have been awfully kind to Joey Campanaro, with big hits first at The Harrison (two stars from William Grimes), then at The Little Owl and Market Table (two stars each from Frank Bruni), with a failure at the short-lived Pace as the only blemish on his resume.
Much as we liked Little Owl and Market Table, we thought that Bruni overrated them. The Little Owl owed its reputation to just a few basic dishes (the sliders, the pork chop, the burger). Everything there was nicely done, but it wasn’t destination dining and shouldn’t have been portrayed as such. Our opinion of Market Table was much the same.
With Kenmare, which opened recently in the failed Civetta space, there are signs that Campanaro’s imagination is finally running close to exhaustion. The restaurant is larger than the Little Owl and Market Table combined, and lacks both the intimacy and polish of its predecessors. The menu is dreary, the kitchen’s work slapdash.
A Risotto du Jour ($14; above left) was a sign of sad things to come: it was served in an unwarmed bowl and was already slightly cool when it reached us. We liked the gooey egg yolk on top, but there was no sign of the promised black truffles, except for some itsy bitsy black specks that made no flavor impression.
The Chicken ($19; above right) is clearly supposed to remind you of the Little Owl’s signature dish, The Pork Chop, though it is a poor substitute. The chicken itself is beautifully prepared, but it wasn’t helped by dull and lazily-plated escarole and butter beans.
Veal Cutlet ($25; above left) was a disaster. A diner would be embarrassed to serve it. The runny salsa verde tasted like barbecue sauce out of a bottle, and the veal was tough. We gave up after a few bites.
Cauliflower and broccoli with toasted breadcrumbs ($6; above right) was a fine, if uninspired, side dish.
Rhubarb Crisp is in season. Kenmare’s version ($9; right) is very good, although we haven’t found a bad one. If you visit Kenmare, perhaps you should skip the savory courses and go straight to dessert.
Aside from that, nothing at Kenmare impressed us. The décor is lively and bright, but you’ve seen it a hundred times before. Tables are tightly spaced. The serving plates look like they were bought second-hand. The place has been open for only a month, and already some of them are chipped.
The rather abbreviated wine list is fairly priced, but uninteresting.
Kenmare has been packed in the early days, thanks in large part to the reputations of Little Owl and Market Table. If those places were slightly overrated, at least they were charming, and fulfilled their modest ambitions admirably. Kenmare can’t even do that. It’s just a big box, and not a very good one.
Kenmare (98 Kenmare Street between Mulberry Street & Cleveland Place, NoLIta)