"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kin Shop - November 17, 2010

I have an innate distrust against Asian restaurants where the chefs are not Asian. Of course, this includes those establishments, which purport to be Japanese but are actually linked at the back to the same kitchen as the next-door Chinese takeout; although for all purposes, we might as well treat the Japanese restaurants in the U.S. as either New Chinese-Korean or fusion, with very minor exceptions. This is not about xenophobia, but authenticity, and simply, good cooking. However, what is authenticity? Is the use of tomato in Italian cooking authentic, if tomato only arrived five hundred years ago? What about the good old America then? In a land populated by generations of immigrants, how can any recipe be truly American? Roasted turkey, yes; apple pie, not exactly because the Dutch and the British were already baking them before leaving for the free country. Furthermore, is authentic food superior to fusion? This is a veritably a hard question to answer; not because we do not have the answer - we do, in an empirical form – but because it is hard to prove the answer (like those constipated mathematical proofs in junior high) objectively.

Starting with the empirical evidence, fusion restaurants are bad, generally (emphasis added in red, metaphorically): e.g. Nobu, bad; Megu, worse; Morimoto; worst. There are simply countless fusion restaurants, ranging from ridiculous, despicable to shameful (should I start on Buddakan? Maybe not). Does it mean that culinary talent is somehow inexorably and unforgivingly decided by the genetic makeup so that only Chinese can cook Chinese? No, I do not think so. On the other hand, is it similar to a foreign language that can only be acquired and mastered when the mind and taste buds are still nimble? Perhaps. We tend to like foods that we have grown up with – think of “comfort food” (what a hateful term, but adequate for this purpose): For example, it is extremely rare that foreigners’ palates are sufficiently acclimatized to appreciate natto (Japanese fermented soybeans). It is little surprise then that if you grow up in Thailand, you would be more likely than others to be able to cook good Thai food because you know what it is supposed to taste like. Just like language ability, the learning curve for foreign cuisine does seem to get steeper the older one gets. Nevertheless, just like anything in life, the learning curve is not the same for everyone; some are more endowed in life than others.
After taking two wrong trains to Queens recently (where did the M line come from?), I have reluctantly decided to examine the learning curves of the Asian restaurants in Manhattan.

Grilled River Prawns - fresh lime & “phuket style” black pepper sauce

Notwithstanding that “Phuket” only conjures up images of foolish excesses of the young and some not so young, I proceeded to order the house special prawns. The grilling was well-done – slightly charred but moist and tender inside. As for the taste, I suppose the disclaimed “Phuket” was correct in a sense: a rather carefree hand had taken some significant liberty with the salt shaker and black pepper.

Spicy Duck Laab Salad - toasted rice, ground chili & romaine hearts

Although not advertised as “Phuket,” the same carefree hand had evidently also seasoned the laab so that even my much acclimatized tongue tingled. 4 small romaine lettuces failed to assuage the thirst from the abundance of sodium. Tripling the amount of lettuces or an application of attention to the salt would have made this dish so much more enjoyable.

Massaman: Braised Goat - fried shallots, purple yams, mustard greens & toasted coconut

This much anticipated dish looked so promising – a big round piece of goat, sitting in middle of the chunky curry, until I pulled down the meat with my fork: No steam? While my mind was stuck in a mild incomprehension, the fork carried the pulled goat into my mouth: Still no warmth. The dish was thoroughly at room temperature in and out. The goat was nicely seasoned – sweet from the yam and coconut and tangy from the massaman curry – when I managed to force my attention back to the taste; however, I spent most of my time searching for a piece of meat that had a hint of warmth – an experience as pleasurable as checking the capricious pre-war radiator on a cold Saturday morning.

Green: Steamed Red Snapper - cashews, bok choy & kabocha squash

Just as disbelief turns into despair on such cold Saturday morning when the radiator has decided to take the day off (Not again!), the snapper also turned out to be completely acclimatized to the room. Was the kitchen sitting outside on this rainy day in November? No, it was not; as a matter of fact, it was an open kitchen with bar seats right in front, so the weather over there should not differ from where we were sitting. Thailand is not so hot that you cannot discern whether a dish is steamed, fried or mixed at room temperature, even when you feel like you are being steamed alive like mussels; needless to say we are in New York. Water boils at 100 degree Celsius both in Thailand and New York and dishes, such as green “steamed” red snapper should feel adequately hot regardless of the region. Wait, green, as in green curry? Unless I somehow acquired color-blindness and taste-blindness unaware, there was no green curry on the plate.

Steamed Passion Fruit Pudding - passion fruit sauce & buttermilk sherbet

A very light pudding in texture – mushy and soft – was scented heavily with passion fruit. In fact, the passion fruit was so strong that I thought the buttermilk sherbet was also passion fruit.

Galangal Ice Cream

I had never consciously tried galangal before, although it is a common ingredient in tom yam kung and green curry. The ice cream was very light on heavy cream – just like those in South-East Asia – and the sweet and sour flavor of the galangal was an comforting ending to a very confused meal.

Kin Shop is an adequate dining option in the following situations: if you cannot get a reservation anywhere else; if you have a problem deciphering the frequent schedule changes of New York subway system (can it even be called a “schedule” if there are so many changes?); and if you want a quiet dinner with a friend without the energetic hassle-bustle and suspect bathrooms common in Asian restaurants.

Kin Shop
Address:  469 Sixth Ave. New York, NY 10011
Phone:  (212) 675-4295

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