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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.