EXKi is a fast-casual restaurant with an environmental conscience, serving a vegetable-centric menu with primarily organic ingredients, free-range chickens, and recipes free of additives or preservatives.
The name is short for the French exquis, meaning exquisite. That’s a lot to live up to.
The first EXKi opened in Brussels in 2001, eventually expanding to 77 restaurants in five Western European countries. Their first New York outlet is number 78, with another planned for later this year, and surely more to come if the concept succeeds.
Pret A Manger offers a good template for what EXKi could become, if it takes off.
I was invited to last week’s opening event. The 1,500-foot space on two levels is brightly lit and smartly decorated with blond woods and gently curving lines. It’ll be open all day, from 7:00am (8:00am on weekends) to 9:00pm, with a variety of grab-and-go dishes and tables for dining in. I gather there’ll be waiter service at dinner time.
It’s comparatively inexpensive, with sandwiches ($6.50–9.00), salads ($4.50–12.00), and cooked dishes ($7.75–12.00). There’s a variety of dairy-free smoothies ($7.50–8.50) and desserts that looked delicious ($5.40). Breakfast specials are a bit less ($2.50–5.00). Most of the menu seems to be available at any time, but there are several “Cocottes” (one-pot dishes) served only at dinner ($11.00–12.00 each).
There is a heavy focus on vegetables, but most of the menu is not vegan. The majority of dishes contain egg or cheese. The animal proteins are mostly lower in fat, such as chicken, shrimp, and salmon. There is hardly any red meat.
A member of the staff told me that the company spent several years planning its U.S. debut. Although the basic idea is the same at all of the EXKi locations, the design is always adapted to local customs. Chef Galen Zamarra (Mas farmhouse) consulted on the New York menu.
The photos above give a good idea of the variety of savory tarts on offer. The two I tried were terrific: the Deauville (spinach, brie, tomato, garlic, parsley) and the Menton (rice, mushrooms, bacon, parmesan, olive oil, parsley).
I won’t extrapolate from that what a typical day of service would be like, but if you’re in the neighborhood it’s certainly worth a look. New York doesn’t have any other restaurants quite like this one.
EXKi (257 Park Avenue South, at 20th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)