Inside the Wonderful Restaurant Stuck in a Tiny Coffee Shop
Justin Slojkowski held the first course close to his chest with two hands. It was a plate of Local Carrots ($14). As Slojkowski explained before setting the dish down, he crafted it with a mix of roasted and puréed carrots, freekah, and skyr, a tangy Icelandic cultured milk product into which he dosed a dollop of sesame. Before he took the dish from the tiny kitchen he shares with Dave Gulino, the chef dropped a handful of wispy carrot tops onto the plate.
After 6 p.m., this sort of thing is normal at Box Kite, the closet-sized cafe Cora Lambert opened on Saint Marks in January. Funny thing, despite the focus in the kitchen—Box Kite is a cafe first and a restaurant second. To fill the dearth of neighborhood coffee shops that stay open in the evening, coffee from Madcap and Ritual roasters is served until midnight. Lambert brought Gulino on so there'd be edibles with your evening espresso.
The chefs met at Roberta's and both worked at Acme. Box Kite is different. There's no room for frills. A Synesso Hydra espresso machine, three grinders, and six bar seats take up most of the real estate. Walk-ins are welcome to the handful of knee-high stools, which are fine for a quick espresso but pose a challenge for lengthier dining. The food, though, is a fine distraction.
That includes gently roasted Cauliflower ($16) florets caught in a splash of cashew purée with lightly charred radicchio leaves and razor thin shavings of raw cauliflower. Whole cashews come along as well, but first they're braised in sugar syrup for two hours and roasted. The purée comes from pressure-cooked cashews the chefs cook in beer and buttermilk, and you can taste every nuance. Melting sheets of La Luna, a raw goat's milk cheese from Vermont, blanket everything, but 'nduja, the spicy, spreadable pork sausage of Italy, steals the show with its smoky personality.
Winnimere Gnudi ($16, think ravioli without the dough) are spiked with pickled spring onion. Winnimere, another cheese from the Green Mountain State, is a raw, washed-rind cow's milk cheese. Here it's whipped into a foam, a delicate sauce to match the delicate gnudi. There are walnuts, too, with extra crunch, because one of the chefs thought it would be a good idea to confit them in duck fat. He was right.
Mr. Gulino only used one hand to carry over a large, shallow dish containing Scallops ($22), artichokes, and cara cara navel segments. His other held a steam pot full of smoked beef broth. It's made from a mix of vegetable and meat stock which is then smoked with hickory, black chestnut, or whatever bark the chef's forager in Maine sends their way. Two dayboat scallops wearing gold citrus crowns glistened as honey-hued broth rained down over the top in a silken stream. I chuckled at the chef's whimsical approach to surf and turf, then went in for a taste and ate in wowed silence.
Box Kite serves a 10-course prix fixe for $75 in addition to the a la carte menu. Most dishes are unique to the prix fixe, but there is some crossover, like the sassafras-crusted Venison ($26), which shares the same magenta hue as the huckleberries that accompany it. But that's all those two have in common. The meat, cooked sous vide, melts in your mouth. Those huckleberries, sour and sweet, pop. So do tangy discs of kumquat scattered about the plate with heart of palm and nasturtium.
For now, the prix fixe is served to one round of guests. I suspect that will be changing very soon; if and when it does, don't assume you'll be rushed through it. "We don't want it to be too quick," Slojkowski told me. "I don't want anybody to feel rushed. I'm really tired of turn and burn restaurants. I want people to sit down and enjoy themselves," he says. "There doesn't have to be a plate of food in front of them all the time."
So much passion buzzing in a shoebox room makes for an intimate experience that actually merits the word. Smiles and personal touches are everywhere. If it weren't for spinning records, everyone would be able to hear each other's conversation. But that's okay, because for the duration of dinner, everyone is going to be talking about the same thing.