A friend and I went to Kittichai for the first time tonight. The Rockwell-designed space at 60 Thompson in Soho was as beautiful as described; the cocktail waitresses and many of the servers even more beautiful. But luckily, the staff exhibited no attitude. Our waitresss was unpolished but friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. Another plus: the tables are arranged to give patrons quite a bit of space, especially for larger parties (there are a lot of nooks for parties of six or more).
We split everything, and ordered two tapas, two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts, and a bottle of relatively inexpensive riesling. Total without tip was approximately $80 per person. Now on to the chow.
Spiced crispy lollipops marinated in tamarind-palm sugar.
Limestone tartlet with northern style minced chicken, with dried chili and coriander.
Alas, two of our three best dishes were these tapas. All the fried items at Kittichai were expertly executed. The sauce was wonderfully sour, with a little chili kick.
The minced chicken was delicious, but would have been far superior if it had more of a chili kick. The tartlets were fun, although it might have been just as good with plain sticky rice.
Marinated beef salad with Chinese long beans and roasted sticky rice.
Crispy rock shrimp, grilled eggplant and chili lime juice.
The rock shrimp were probably the best dish of the night, delicately fried and complemented with chunky rounds of excellent eggplant.
The beef salad contained excellent quality meat but the seasonings were off. Like many of the dishes, it was excessively sweet. The roasted sticky rice turned out to be pulverized. The salad desperately needed sourer and hotter notes -- other than the meat quality, this, the most traditional dish of the lot that we tried, wasn't up to the standards of an average Thai restaurant.
Whole fried crispy striped bass with ginger, scallion, and Thai hot basil. (Really, Mussamun curry)
Braised lamb shanks.
Again, the fish was expertly fried, the interior not overdone. This was one of the meatiest whole fish I've ever been offered. I'm not sure that it wouldn't have been better without the sauce, which was just too sweet. It badly needed more acidic notes. I felt that the sauce wasn't described properly.
The braised lamb shanks, a special, were a disappointment. The nondescript brown sauce (except for its sweetness) didn't help.
Rice is not free at Kittichai. We ordered a jasmine-coriander rice, which was lovely -- just hints and the aroma of these other ingredients.
Desserts: Champagne mango with sticky rice
Fresh fruit with sweetened chili-salt.
Light on the condensed milk, the sticky rice was fine, but I wasn't wild about the addition of champagne to the mix, which stifled the taste of what seemed to be properly ripe mango.
I only had a bite of the fruit, which you dip into the colorful salt mix -- seemed like fun.
If I went back to Kittichai, and I wouldn't be in a rush to do so, I'd definitely focus on the tapas and appetizers. The restaurant is not trying to turn out traditional Thai cuisine, so I'd be fearless about ordering whatever looks appealing, regardless of its "authenticity." I think some of my disappointment was that the meal started on a high note and seemed to go steadily downhill.
Although we were offered a 6 or 11 PM reservation only, the place never was completely full and when we left at 8:30 or so, the restaurant was perhaps 2/3 full.