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Kevin...a review (long)

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Kevin...a review (long)

Gypsy Boy | Sep 26, 2003 11:45 AM

Second visit to Kevin. (Lunch doesn't count, after all.)

As others have reported, the room is lovely, though hardwood floors and brick walls make for a rather noisy time. I don't like having to strain to hear what my lovely dinner companion is saying-especially when she is attempting to shout sweet nothings across the table. They should consider some carpets or tapestries or something to muffle to sound a bit. Because on a Saturday night when the place is full, the noise level is just about unacceptable for a restaurant that aspires to the quality this one does.

Our waitress was from the Second City school of waitressing: which is to say, she knew the menu and preps inside and out but considered the opportunity to speak with us a creative acting audition. Way over the top. Her service and attentiveness were exemplary but the shtick was a bit hard to stomach after a while (no pun intended). (My lovely dinner companion (hereafter, LDC) just whispered into my ear that she was not as bothered by the performance as I was.) But this review is intended to convey our appreciation (or not, as the case may be) of what we went there for: the food. And so, on to the food. Beginning with an amuse bouche from the chef-a corn coconut custard wrapped in a wonton and served with a tiny dollop of sweet and sour sauce. LDC professed to be unable to taste the coconut. I found it-subtle, but definitely there. The sweet and sour sauce seemed a bit ordinary, as in from any quality Chinese restaurant, but nothing more. I think it safe to say, however, that coconut taste or not, we both enjoyed the offering.

Appetizers: I went with the tuna tartare-Kevin's specialty according to the waitress. It was a very generous serving of high quality fish cut into smallish chunks and tossed in a wasabi and (I think) something unidentifiable to this writer. The wasabi was not terribly strong and complemented the fish well. The tuna was also excellently matched with thinly sliced pickled ginger and two tiny portions of "side salads." The first was a sliced cucumber in vinegar and sugar and the second a mixture of pickled vegetables and seaweed. LDC instructs that this second salad included wakame and yam noodles. Both were just the right portion and complemented the tuna nicely.

LDC chose an arugula, peach and grilled asparagus salad. She reports that it was very good, nice light summer salad. The combination worked well. She gives high marks for creativity and melange of flavors.

Dinner: LDC had a roasted hapu (a firm, white-fleshed fish new to both of us) in matsutake mushroom broth with scallion, napa, ginger, somen, and watercress. The verdict: thumbs way up. Portion size was "huge" but you need to appreciate LDC's diminutive stature. The fish was perfectly cooked and the mushroom broth balanced the subtle flavor of the fish quite nicely. The vegetables were well-chosen as well and LDC-who is a very picky fish eater-was as happy as I have ever seen her when confronted by a fish of the cooked variety. (I need to add, however, that I tasted same and was not quite as bowled over. I think that the difference was the mushroom broth which simply did not "speak" to me as it did to her. However, that was why she ordered it and I didn't.

Your humble scribe chose the pistachio-crusted Alaskan halibut and Hawaiian blue prawn. The fish was laid on a potato puree and the whole surrounded by a lobster-orange sauce with bok choy, red pepper, and basil. My turn to carp: the sauce was not so much a bona-fide sauce as a liquor, which is to say, of little viscosity. However, the flavor was quite good (although I think I tasted the lobster portion thereof more by its notional existence than its formally announced presence). This is not necessarily a criticism: one does not want overwhelming lobster flavor on a piece of halibut. My fish was perfectly-and I mean perfectly-cooked. The "sauce" (whatever its consistency) was a wonderful, wonderful adjunct. The potato puree, too, was exquisitely done and a great complement. I have absolutely no idea why the prawn is called a "blue" prawn, but nomenclature notwithstanding, it tasted divine and worked exceedingly well with the dish. The pistachio crust, by the way, was a match made in heaven-don't think I have ever had a better crust of any kind, anywhere.

I had a glass of Maysara Pinot Gris from Oregon. A touch more light-bodied than I expected but a worthy accompaniment and I enjoyed it quite a bit with the halibut, which I want to mention again was perfectly cooked. Really.

This would be an appropriate moment to mention the bread. It appeared to be D'Amato's, which is to say excellently made when it left the bakery. How they stored it, or for how long, though, is a bit of a mystery. The crunch of the crust was a promise left unfulfilled. It was chewy, as if it had been wrapped in plastic wrap overnight. The bread certainly seemed fresh, but I cannot account for a crust that looked as if-and by all rights should have been-crusty and crunchy, with that special just-from-the-bakery snap. Especially, LDC points out, for a place that considers itself a French restaurant with Asian influences.

And speaking of Asian influences: someone better tell Mindy Schuman that she's working for Kevin Shikami. Her desserts are superb. Let no one quibble about that. Truly and honestly among the best in the city. But what seems a bit odd is that in this particular restaurant, where the chef prides himself on the Asian influences-and it shows-it seems strange not to have one dessert that shares that emphasis. Just one. I don't think that asking for such unity of theme is unreasonable and frankly, reading the dessert menu after studying a dinner menu rife with Asian influences, is more than a bit of cognitive dissonance. It's an excellent menu but it doesn't belong in this restaurant. I don't know. I do know that we were both a little disappointed to read a dessert menu that could be found in almost any other high class French spot in the city. Kevin has chosen to pride himself-as well he might-on the Asian influences. Why doesn't he demand the same from his dessert chef? A number of the selections seemed to be busier than necessary. More is sometimes too much. Mies said it best: Less is more. (It was Mies, wasn't it?)

LDC had a ambrosia tea-infused custard (like a crème brulee) in an almond tart shell. LDC would return for that dessert with no encouragement whatsoever. In fact, I've already been tugged down the street more than once in that direction. (Again, here our tastes differ. I thought it was exceedingly well-done, just not all that interesting.) I had banana rum custard with three slices of banana and a little sweet cracker of some sort. On the side was a walnut and brown sugar strudel that was, I must confess, to die for. And I don't die readily. Wonderful combination. And it showed, to me at least, that she knows that sometimes less really is more. So let's have it, Mindy: add some azuki beans, some mochi flour, some ginger or green tea something or other and use it as a base for something else to add to your already stunning repertoire.

With the bill came two small cookies and two small chocolates. Had I been given the opportunity to sample the cookies, I could report on them. However, LDC insists that elves of the particularly speedy variety came and snatched them from the plate before she could stop them. (It seems that the elves greatly enjoyed the cookies, though, or so it has been reported.)

The verdict: excellent dinner. Though we each had our differences with the other's choices, we were both exceedingly happy with our own. That says something, I suspect about Kevin's abilities. I would not go back to order what LDC chose-nor would she order what I chose-but we were both more than well-satisfied with our own picks. Kevin is well worth a repeat visit (though perhaps not quite soon enough to satisfy LDC's cravings). I'd prefer a slightly quieter venue but find it hard to find much fault in anything else (save the waitress's not-quite-Academy-award winning manner). Seriously, her talents were clear but her obsequiousness was overmuch. I didn't care for it. But I can-and have-promised LDC a return or two or three.

Gypsy Boy

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