Ken & Cook is refreshing. What exactly do I mean by that? You have Artan Gjoni, formerly of Mercer Kitchen (a NYC staple) and Norwood (a space that I have rented from to hold work events), who takes an active role in this restaurant. He doesn’t sit around and order a staff to do this and that. Rather, he will seat you at your table and pour your wine. I was in awe when I saw him outside of Ken & Cook, and was amazed when he actually came in to seat P and me and check up on us during dinner. It’s one of those things like when you have a celebrity chef who actually cooks in his restaurant. Refreshing and back to basics, like how they should be. It shows how much heart someone has for what they do. The chef for Ken & Cook is Richard Diamonte, also from Mercer Kitchen, so you know that he knows what he is doing.
I showed up on the earlier side at 7P.M., the bar was full, but the tables pretty much empty. That’s why I broke my usual no-flash picture rule. I hate disturbing other patrons with a camera flash, but since I wasn’t surrounded by anyone, why the hell not? However, Artan knows his crowd, as he has mentioned in articles that the place picks up later on in the night because by the time I left, the entire place was packed. As it got busier, I kept my flash off. So sorry for the darker photos. The restaurant has also hosted a number of celebrities already, from Russell Simmons and Kieran Culkin, to Emma Roberts and Chloe Grace Moretz. I don’t know why I wrote that, I just thought it was an interesting tidbit.
I started the night off with a Hendricks martini. Cold and tasty. When it came to the dishes, we were trying to be good and watch our waistlines, so ordered just one appetizer, the steak tartar, even though my heart desperately wanted to order the squid as well. Magically, steak tartar and squid appetizers showed up at our table. Artan stated that the Chef thought that we should try the squid even though we didn’t order it. God bless that Chef. The steak tartar had a beautiful soft-boiled egg on top, was light and flavorful. However, the squid was the shining start to the meal. Beautifully charred and so tender, it was layered and mixed with yogurt, mint, delicate slices of chili for crunch and greens. It really got your palate going to want to eat more.
For entrees we settled on the short rib that was braised in red wine and sat atop smashed fingerling potatoes. On top of that were crispy tempura onion rings and on the side were dollops of crème fraiche. It was a visually beautiful dish that was flavorful and full of so many different textures. What I really liked about this dish is that you could actually taste the red wine. So many recipes of braised short ribs in restaurants mention the red wine component, but you can never taste it. Here, it was a strong note in this dish that was wonderful. While I enjoyed the short ribs, I have to say that the NY strip steak really stole the show. Dressed in a rosemary-garlic-butter sauce, I couldn’t help but continue to eat it even though I felt my Greylin dress tugging around my rounded belly. So simple, but amazing. It was too dark to see if it was cooked medium rare, but once you bite into it, you were just like, ‘Man, that’s a medium-rare cooked steak.’ No seriously, that’s what I said to myself…and then out loud. I also got one of their biscuits, because I love a great biscuit. Theirs was definitely on the thicker side. I have read other reviews that have complained that it had too much baking powder. But I didn’t mind it at all. I felt like it needed that heft and thickness in order to hold up all of that creamy honey and butter that it was topped with. Every bite I took had honey dripping down my fingers. When of the busboys/runners stopped by the table, he smiled at my request for a wet napkin. Apparently it’s a normal thing.
Of course I had to have a sweet note to end the night. I sipped an espresso and Sambuca while I waited for our beignets and bread pudding to come to the table. The beignets were light and fluffy, but I wasn’t a huge fan of them. Keep in mind that the outsides are a bit dark, but they weren’t burned, I feel like with ricotta beignets vs regular ones, it is just a natural occurrence, so that wasn’t the issue. I think part of it was that on their own, they were a little bit too salty for my taste. I was hoping that the blueberry and lavender dipping sauce would balance it out, but there was a touch too much lavender in it that left a soapy taste in my mouth. And there was this delicious bread pudding topped with vanilla ice cream, however it was very undercooked. We ate pretty much all of it because the flavors were spot on, but it definitely needed to be cooked more. At this point the restaurant was S-L-A-M-M-E-D, so I have a feeling that that had something to do with it.
Would I go back? Absolutely. The staff was incredible. Everyone had a smile and laugh for you, whether or not they were faking it, it seemed natural. People kept coming by to refill our glasses. No one rushed us to leave no matter how busy they got. The food was delicious. Enough though I knew I would have to go home and run on the treadmill, it was worth it. If you can squeeze in and get a table there, be sure to check it out. We went for dinner, but with the wide open front, I can imagine what a great spot it would be for a sunny brunch where you can relax and people watch all day.
7.5 out of 10
19 Kenmare St
(between Bowery & Elizabeth St)
New York, NY 10012