Gave this place a whirl today. Plenty of height as what we've come to expect from many presentation heavy fusion places. I could see Calvin Trillin (sp?) fans having a field day. Visually and on the palate, the food is fairly good, but the colourful presentation is a bit loose and lacks the architectural precision of a place like EOS, or the calligraphic flair of House on 9th.
To start, instead of bread, one gets a serving of a hot scone with butter and honey. Messy but very much worth every single drippy mess. I don't understand Jack "The Dripper" Pollack, but I totally understand this.
In the prawn appetizer, four plump and well cooked prawns are crusted with chopped peanuts, an excellent textural trick. This is well conceived, because the peanut also reaches out to the cool minty sensation from green payaya salad and the nice bitter edge from leaves of endives. Drizzles of a pink chilli sauce pack a fair amount of heat, sweet and glowering. A clever and balanced dish, save for the irrelevant garnish of yellow and red beets finely cut into stringy coils. Yes, the dishes need a bit of editing...
Overgarnishing is a problem, and it's more evident in the otherwise excellent black bass entree. The bass itself is great, cooked to a firm texture almost like that of scallops, and saturated with the sweet umami of miso that extends into the pool of broth that hold a generous amount of udon.
The problem lies with the sides in this entree. I can see the references to sashimi, but the composition is weak, both visually and flavor wise. There's a loose pile of shredded radish, another heap of pickled ginger tamed with pickled cucumber and the the same beet strings again, bleeding into the broth. Presentation was a bit rough, with each of the sides clamouring for a spot on the edge of the plate, above the waterline of the broth, and often drowning ignominously.
On the palate, there was a slight interest from the ginger despite its departure from the original intention as palate cleanser. And the shredded radish did nothing to enhance the warm fish, unlike the way crisp radish often makes a sharp counterpoint to slices of sashimi.
Yes, I'm overanalyzing here....but it felt like the kitchen was imitating Japanese cookery without understanding the reasons for the use of each ingredient.
Desserts seemed too straightforward for a fusion place. In fact most items come from a basic American repeitoire: raspberry creme brulee, a large and satisfying sundae, warm chocolate cake etc.... Gooooood stuff and well priced at $6.50 a piece, but not in the same theme as the food and not as creative as I'm used to in a fusion place.
I had the sundae with a load of good ice cream resting on chocolate cookies. Supporting cast included caramelized bananas, delectable fudge and caramel sauces, and sliced pears and strawberries. On top, a large nest of spun sugar that was pretty on its own (although it was too big to be placed neatly), but like some of the accessories in the other courses, it was not the most convenient thing to eat. Some disassembly required.
On the whole the food is well prepared, and the culinary basics are very sound. But I get the feeling that the kitchen is sacrificing user-friendly composition and meaningful flavor combinations with its overcomplicating use of garnishes that, while are flavor neutral and don't clash on the palate, seem to be a distraction.
I don't mean to sound too harsh here. I want to emphasize that Cafe Kati is a fairly good deal, in food, service and suave decor. But the dishes need tightening and competitors like House and EOS offer better all-round aesthetics on the plate for a similar or lower price. So this is not top drawer stuff for me.
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