The Kitchen Club: Chibi Rules the Roost
Go figure when planning a dinner out Friday night, I choose probably the only restaurant in Manhattan that has a too-cute French Bulldog as the house dog. If you know me at all, you’ll understand that French Bulldogs carry the key to my heart (well, French Bulldogs and some really tasty mashed potatoes). Thus from the get-go, The Kitchen Club, a 20-year old super quirky fusion Nolita mainstay, already got one gold star in my book.
Kitty-corner to Cafe Gitane, The Kitchen Club is a strange little place, separated into a kitschy-wonderful front dining room and a back bar called Chibi’s Bar (note: Chibi is the cream-colored aging French Bulldog). Twinkling white christmas lights and closely clustered photographs adorn the walls, funky center pieces and towering floral arrangements dominate table settings, and a warm amber glow permeates the cozy space. Emerald green leather banquettes and bulky matching drapes add shocks of color to the muddy mustard walls. A small corridor leads to the eerily quiet back bar room with rickety tables and an entire wall worshipping Chibi.
I sat in the back room, where soft old-school jazz drifted in and out, and a few lone diners noshed with notebooks and newspapers. Two other couples spoke softly over their meals. Although the quiet was originally off-putting, the surprisingly tasty cuisine, grumpy old pooch, and friendly service tilted the scales in favor of charming.
The menu is a fairly frightening interpretation of French-Japanese fusion. At first look, I was bewildered by the kitchen’s flavor pairings, scoffing at pumpkin & edamame dumplings, spicy chicken leg with thyme & garlic, and monkfish with ginger. Ultimately though, the food was incredibly unique and inspired. The crabcakes were easily some of the best I’ve had in New York. The size of silver dollars, they were all crab and no bullshit with a light flaky crust. The duck sausage with pear salad was a study in pairing savory and sweet successfully. My only complaint? The portions were far too small! I could have used a couple more crabcakes (just two came!). My boyfriend’s ‘Provencal’ leg of lamb was the only disappointment – tough, chewy, and fairly lame on the flavor front, it just sort of fizzled away in comparison to the other dishes delivered that night. My apple and foie gras stuffed quail was divine. Rich, savory, tender, the two quails convinced that even if you have to work for your food, it can sometimes be worth it. To top it all off, we opted for a refreshing palate cleanser dessert of pumpkin ice cream. Just like eating whipped and creamed pumpkin pie, these two smooth scoops showed me that pumpkin really is the king of autumn flavors.
The Kitchen Club is the type of place you’d only find in New York and is not for everyone. It’s not sleek, trendy, or elegant. It’s funky and weird and just manages to work for those that like lowkey dining and really good food. Dutch owner and chef Marja Samsom clearly has a thing for her dog, and if you hate pups, this is just not the place for you. However, with all that aside, the grub’s great and the vibe’s just strange enough to be immensely charming and unique. Check out the Kitchen Club for adventurous cuisine in an unpretentious, friendly, and even romantic environment.