Editor's note: What's the best way to dine at New York's finest restaurants on the cheap? Book a table for lunch. Our man about town, Nick Solares, will be checking out some of the city's finest fine dining lunch deals.

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[Photos: Nick Solares]

Kittachai

60 Thompson Street, New York NY 10012; map); 212-219-2000; kittichairestaurant.com
Service: Courteous but distracted
Setting: Sleek, modern room
Compare to: Laut, Rhong Tiam, Indochine
Cost: 3 course lunch for $20

Depending on the food, spending $20 on lunch can be either a tremendous bargain or a complete waste of money. I expect to be confronted with one or the other when seeking out lunch deals, but rarely both on the same menu.

But that is what I experienced at Kittachai, the upscale Thai fusion restaurant from Chef Ian Chalermkittichai and the owners of Republic and the venerable Indochine. Ordering off the attractively priced three-course $20 menu can be a wonderful, flavor-packed experience or a rather tepid let down. Bland or bodacious. Let's start with the bad news.

The Bland

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A duck consomme, while pleasingly silken, was more of a broth, lacking depth and the expected concentration of flavor. Roasted spring onions and morsels of duck confit added bite but not much else.

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Similarly, a braised pork shoulder in a "jungle" curry of Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots and some tart pickled ramps never threatened to challenge the palate. The pork was tender enough, but the dish had little flavor; it needed salt or even some of the chilies that cheaper Thai restaurants put out on the tables.

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A lime coconut creme brulee didn't taste much of either; it was creamy and sweet and needed the smear of berry coulis to add some acidity to the flavor.

There are no two ways around it—a disappointing meal, and pricey at $20.

The Bodacious

Based on the preceding, I would have a hard time recommending Kittachai—on the other hand, I would have a hard time not recommending the alternative.

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A braised lamb shoulder served with a dense, spicy red curry, served with airy planks of naan bread, was packed with flavor and heat. The tender ribbons of lamb provided a hearty flavor before succumbing to the heat from the chilies.

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Beautiful to behold and equally captivating to eat, the catfish in a Panang curry sprinkled with diced mango, pickled peppers and "Shanghai" shoots was wonderful. Expertly deep fried catfish stayed crispy even while wallowing in the toothsome broth.

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And the best is reserved for last. A banana spring roll with a smoky burnt honey ice cream, dotted with sesame seeds and kiwifruit, was sensational.

The Verdict?

Kittichai is maddeningly inconsistent. The first set of dishes were a bitter disappointment for the price, but the alternatives constituted a phenomenal meal, and the banana spring roll was a truly memorable dish. There is potential deliciousness to be had for a fair price at Kittichai—but it's a risk.

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