Dined with 3 companions at the relatively new restaurant Knife + Fork in the East Village last night. We had all heard good things and were pretty excited about it. The room has a cozy, welcoming feel, and they have good glassware (which happens to be a personal pet peeve about some places).
Unfortunately, beyond its appearance, I would say there is little to nothing to recommend this restaurant, as its food falls into the bottom quarter, if not the bottom eighth, of restaurants in this price range (appetizers $11-15, entrees in the low to mid-20s, $45 6-course tasting menu).
First, I should note that there was no overriding problem with our experience that would color my observations as to the food. Service was a little slow, but otherwise cordial and welcoming. The wine program is a strong point-- I was impressed that they gave the percentages of each varietal for the French bottles, which is an especially nice touch for those unfamiliar with what varietals are most common in certain regions. And, for the market they are aiming for, I do not think their prices are urneasonable.
I find that their food is simply unacceptable.
Between four of us we had four appetizers, four entrees and a cheese plate. We began with:
Warm goat cheese with polenta, poached asparagus, parmesan cream, overnight tomato and rocket salad 11.00
- This dish was excellent-- the goat cheese was warmed just the right amount, the consistency of the polenta disc below it was moist but firm, and the "overnight tomato" added a nice kick. The best of the bunch.
Cured salmon with wasabi and lime crème fraiche, radish disks and cucumber ribbons 12.00
- A great idea, but the execution was off. The salmon did not retain enough of the cured flavor, and the creme fraiche lacked a sufficient wasabi kick.
Seared scallops with citrus couscous, microgreen salad and carrot-lemongrass purée 12.00
- The scallops were cooked properly, but the dish tasted overwhelmingly of lemon. It was literally unavoidable.
Seared quail with pickled chanterelles, morels and truffle-cauliflower purée
- I found this dish generally unpleasant - the stuffing was too dry, and it lacked much in the way of truffle flavor in the puree. Truffle can often be overwhelming, but it could have used more of that here.
Then on to our entrees, where we had:
Seared Chilean sea bass with lemon semolina, orange-roasted baby carrots and fresh summer truffles 23.00
- We all agreed that this was the best of the bunch. It was delicious-- well-balanced, sufficiently hearty, and interesting.
Loin of lamb wrapped in pink peppercorns and polenta sundried tomato tapenade, goat cheese and thyme purée 25.00
- I would first quibble with the fact that this dish was three smallish bites. I also found the balance of the elements to be somewhat off-- the crust was extremely overwhelming and tart, and only cut with the goat cheese. The lamb, as Frank Bruni recently discussed, bore virtually no resemblance to lamb other than in name.
Slow-cooked pork belly with roasted garlic cream, saffron, Belgian endive, roasted apricots and red onion marmalade
- We disagreed on this dish. Generally, I liked it, but honestly have little other to say.
The final entree wasn't on menupages, so I cannot recall every element, but it could be best summarized as severely burned salmon with greens and some skinned potatoes. This dish was really an embarassment, and in retrospect, probably should have been sent back. The outside of the fish, rather than turned into a pleasantly crisp crust, was simply a charred remnant of what should have been. Along with the uninspired items it was plated with, this dish was a real loser.
After dinner we opted for a cheese plate. In addition to poor plating (far too much cheese was laid out on far too small of a cutting board; pieces fell off every time you tried to cut one) the choices were fairly uninteresting. We were also peeved somewhat by the server's description of them by name only, and not by type. The type is obviously something that can be figured out by tasting it, but simply rattling off a list of names isn't very useful to most people, and it is often nice to know particular facts about the cheeses that may not be obvious from tasting them.
This place has all the appearances of a great addition to the neighborhood, and I would certainly recommend it for a casual glass of wine, and possibly a cheese plate if you aren't too picky about what cheese you get, but as for dinner, I found it very disappointing. I found myself wishing that Andrew Carmellini and his cuisine from A Voce could be moved into this space-- then you'd have a restaurant that felt comfortably elegant AND served superior cuisine.