When you hear that Restaurant Such-and-Such is opening in a space that doubles as a nightclub, your immediate reaction is: This cannot end well. The failures are so numerous that it is hardly worth mentioning them.
Usually, I don’t bother visiting such places, but I was intrigued by Ken & Cook, which has been inviting bloggers for partly comped meals: The Pink Pig has already weighed in (favorably), and I saw another blogger there who, I assume, had been lured under similar circumstances. I’m not in the target demographic (and neither is The Pink Pig), so I have to guess that they are trying to make a case for the food as a stand-alone proposition.
You’d expect it to be at least competent, with two guys running it from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s stable: managing partner Artan Gjoni and chef Richard Diamonte, both formerly of Mercer Kitchen (admittedly, not JGV’s best spot).
Actually, the food is far more than just competent. At times, it’s even impressive. It won’t get a Michelin star, and you won’t be celebrating your anniversary here. But for a place where most of the entrées are sub-$30, it’s enjoyable indeed. Among the five dishes we ordered there wasn’t a dud, and there are a couple I’d be eager to order again.
The menu is vaguely half-American, half-Italian, in sections labeled 1st Course ($13–17), 2nd (pastas, $19–23), 3rd (most $18–28, with steaks and lobster a lot higher), and side dishes ($3–8). There’s also a raw bar and a variety of cheese and charcuterie selections, almost all Italian.
The three-part structure might encourage over-ordering, but the pastas are large enough to be entrées, as the server (to his credit) pointed out.
The cuisine is not challenging. You could write the menu yourself and guess three-quarters of it: beet salad, steak tartare, linguine with clams, pork chop, wagyu burger, chicken, côte de bœuf for two ($95), mac & cheese, and so forth. All that is left to the chef is to prepare it well, and that he does.
The mixed cheese and charcuterie platter ($26; above left) and the beef tartare ($16; above right) are excellent ways to start.
A tender Wagyu flank steak ($26; above left) was served with pesto, asparagus, and almond.
Linguine with clams ($19; above right) is beyond cliché, but this was one of the better examples of it that I’ve tasted in a long while.
The pairing of salmon ($26; right) with corn and bacon is not one I’ve encountered in the past, but it worked extremely well. It was the best dish of the evening.
Desserts were comped, and as they’re not listed online I can’t give prices or precise descriptions. I believe they were a fruit and nut parfait (above left) and warm sugar-coated beignets (above right).
It’s a late-arriving crowd at Ken & Cook. The room was nearly empty at 6:45pm on a Wednesday evening, but practically full at 9:30, when we left. The space is right out of the Keith McNally playbook, with backlit subway tile along the bar. On a nice evening, there are wide French doors that open to the street. Once the weather turns, and those doors are shut, we suspect it will be quite loud in here.
Service was on the slow side, especially the wait for the entrées after the appetizers had been cleared. This is not a good sign, as we were known to the house, the restaurant has been open for four months, and it wasn’t their busiest evening. Perhaps it’s best to order a bottle of wine, and come with companions you don’t mind talking to, because you’ll be talking and drinking for a while.
The half-life of club–restaurants is notoriously unpredictable, but if Richard Diamonte remains chef at Ken & Cook, there’s a good chance the food will remain worthwhile.
Ken & Cook (19 Kenmare Street between Bowery & Broome Streets, NoLIta)
Food: Italian-inflected American cuisine, consistently good
Service: friendly but slow
Rating: Neighborhood spot
Why? A nightclub cum restaurant, far better than most others in the genre