Kitchen Counter @ Beacon - Reviews/Experiences?
I'm planning on going to the Kitchen Counter @ Beacon in April (had an earlier reservation in Feb. but had to cancel) and wanted to get some feedback on people's experiences. I'm really looking forward to the whole atmosphere and all the food, but I've heard some mixed things about the food itself. For $85 plus tax and tip I can't see a 12 course meal with 6 drinks not being worth it, but I want to also ensure the food is good. So tell me how it was for you, I'd appreciate it.
The Kitchen Counter @ Beacon is a rare type of dining experience. A massive, midtown restaurant catering to the business crowd and tourists, it is hard to imagine having an intimate mutli-course meal with the chef. It's that rarity and experience that brought the idea of The Kitchen Counter (TKC) first into Chef Waldy Malouf's mind. An up close and personal dinner with six guests watching every move of a kitchen dishing out potentially hundreds of covers a night. Launched in the Fall of 2007, TKC offers diners an experience not forgotten at a shocking price. 12-courses, six drink pairings and service that makes you feel special or elite only offered four times a month; meaning only 24 people experience this every month. Now that I've gotten your attention let's discuss the meal.
The night begins with a gathering near the front of the restaurant in a "quiet" corner. All 6 guests, who may or may not know each other, are served a Smoking Kir Royale, a champagne cocktail with a small drop of dry ice. The dry ice adds a theatrical element to the drink and it also tastes quiet delicious. It is a nice compliment to the first bite of food of the night, Tarragon Lobster Fritters served on a small metal stand. Very lightly fried in a delicious tempura like batter and served with a sherry and soy dipping sauce, the fritters were good, though I found the lobster overly tough. After finishing our small bites we were escorted through the restaurant down into the pit, the area of the restaurant where the kitchen is visible. Awaiting our group was a table for six facing the kitchen. A fresh raw radish placed on a bed of pins was on our plates. We were instructed to dip it into the seasoned butter it was served with, "just like they do in French bistro's" exclaimed Chef Malouf.
Our menus were at each place setting and they outlined our evening step by step and bite by bite. It was daunting, even to the hungriest of diners (myself), but drool worthy. Our, second course was a beautiful slice of Wild Mushroom Pizza served on a small wooden block. Red onion, parsley and three cheeses rounded out the pizza ingredients. A very nice pizza, not amazing by any means, but a good start. It was complimented by a few shot glasses of Leffe Blond Ale, a Belgian ale I very much enjoy. Shortly after our pizza dishes were cleared a dish of oysters was presented to us. Each diner recieved 2 gorgeous fragrant Roasted Oysters with shallots. This was the first of two times where the Chef warned us that we could burn ourselves, the oysters were served on a bed of coarse salt in a small cast iron pan. Not being a fan of oysters in the past this dish blew me away. The flavors of the shallots, mignonette, and herbs worked perfectly with the oyster which had a wonderful woodsy flavor from the wood-fired oven. I made sure to clean the shells as best as possible and of course chase the dish with another shot of the Leffe.
Moving onto our now fourth course, our server began by pouring us all a glass of Grenache Blanc, a crisp and slightly fruity white from Spain. This wine would go perfectly with our enormous Seared Scallop rubbed with chipotle and placed on a fava bean puree with pea shoots. Possibly the largest scallop I've ever eaten, I made sure to enjoy every bite and went so far as to cut the scallop into six succulent bites. The chipotle did not overpower the scallop as I initially feared, but added a very appropriate depth and was balanced well with the fava bean puree, which though good was a little on the salty side. With four small courses down, the food began to add up a little, if only to warn you of what was to come.
Emerging from the oven was a smoker accompanied by a very pungent applewood smell. This was likely to be our next course, Hot Smoked Wild Bass in Corn Husks. An application that the Chef had used prior, but with different fish and tastes, I had heard good things about this dish. If a dish was merely judged on it's fragrant aromas this dish would be getting 5-stars. Taste wise the dish was very good, not groundbreaking, but the lemon, fennel and applewood worked well with the wild bass without completely overpowering it. Our Granache Blanc was still being served with this course and helped cut through the heavy smokiness of the fish. At this point I find it important to note, Chef Malouf not only presented us with the dish, but cut the corn husks, described the smoking process and even went to far as to discuss how the fish had previously been smoked (in the wood-fired oven) and that this was the first time they were using the stainless steel smoker for this course. He then happily poured an aromatic broth over the top of the fish
Finally at the mid-point of the evening, we were presented with our sixth course, a small bed of Tagliatelle with Morels, Peas and Cream, this was my least favorite dish of the evening. Excited about this very Spring dish, I was disappointed that the wonderful morel taste was hidden behind the creamy watery sauce. This was the first time they had served this dish on the menu, and considering it was the only dish not finished by many diners, I hope they opt to remove it. Poured with this dish was a Toad Hall Pinot Noir, a light, somewhat fruity wine, but a little on the bland side in my opinion.
Referencing back to the menu I found we were finally upon the meat and poultry section of the menu. Squab with Rhbuarb, Lentils and Baby Carrots was a beautiful dish. Cooked medium rare, the squab rested on roasted rhubarb and delicious baby carrots while a balsamic reduction was poured on top. A small drumstick and wing were also included and had been cooked to a necessary well done. An overall successful dish, I was disappointed with the lack of lentils (I only had 6-8 baby lentils) and found the drumstick and wing too tough and having more visual appeal than taste appeal. At this point we were notified that intermission had begun, a five minute period to gather your thoughts, smoke a cigarette or simply take a walk around the restaurant before diving into the homestretch, and the most indulgent of the courses.
Getting back from the short break I was filled with anticipation for our next course, Bone Marrow with Horseradish and Garlic Toast. In my opinion, one of the more indulgent and delicious things available, bone marrow is not necessarily loved by all. The mere concept of bone marrow may be unappealing, but once you look beyond the large six inch split bone in front of you and actually dig in you will be a believer. Rich, beefy, salty, the dish was excellent. The Chef grated some superbly fresh horseradish on top adding a little kick that rounded out the dish. It was also served with two pieces of garlic toast per person as a serving vessel and for texture. Our wine pairing was a 2001 Barolo from Cascina Adelaide, bold yet smooth with a nice cherry undertone. I could have stopped here and been content with my meal. Not full, but comfortable. The meal had been very good with only a few low's. Of course this was only course number seven, so not only do you have to prepare to keep going physically, but also mentally. This was dangerous and delicious territory.
Short ribs are perhaps one of my favorite foods. It was brought to my attention recently, that if short ribs are on the menu I generally gravitate to them and will order them in some shape or form. Well, fitting that TKC's 9th course was BBQ Braised Short Ribs with Foie Gras and Grits. From the description it is clearly going to be a heavy, course to say the least. A tender short rib topped with a slab of foie gras (in my case two as my dining companion did not want hers) on top of creamy grits all smothered (in a good way) in a bbq sauce made from the braising liquid. Considering my love of short ribs I may have set the bar too high for this course. It was good, very good to be exact, but not amazing, and I almost could have done without it in order to save room for the following courses, however, I did savor it and clean my plate. At this point we had actually finished the Barolo and demanded something more to drink, in a peaceful friendly way, and our server quickly obliged. Running to the main bar he grabbed another bottle of wine and proceeded to pour everyone a generous glass. Unfortunately the name escapes me, but it was an earthy red, heavier than the barolo and of course being complimentary made it even more enjoyable.
So far the entire meal there had been some level of awe or wow factor incorporated into the plating or presentation of our dishes. The Smoking Kir Royale, the delicate dismantling of the corn husks for the wild bass, well the ante was upped on this next dish. Kobe Beef on a Hot Stone, not only resulted in a group sigh, but also perked everyone up from their inevitable food coma's. Traditionally a Japanese method of cooking kobe beef, mind you this was real kobe from Japan, a stone is heated thoroughly and then the beef is placed on it to sizzle and cook. It was suggested that we let the meat sear and then eat it while still very rare, all the while being careful not to burn ourselves (this was the second time in the meal we were warned about previously). The beef had been laid out on a brick of Himilayan rock salt and sprinkled with fresh pepper. You could see the fat melting on the stone as the beef cooked and then upon eating it the piece melted in your mouth. Luxurious, beefy, salty, it was everything good about beef and then some. Fortunately, everyone is served two slices and I was allowed to repeat the process this time cooking the beef to an even more rare state. The dish was accompanied by a small jicama salad with hot mustard which I steered clear of so the beef taste could linger longer.
At this point I was full, the food had been very good, the wine excellent and the whole experience memorable. However, we still had two courses left, two dessert courses. To get us started we were served, in gorgeous thick chilled glass bowls, Quark Sorbet with Roasted Strawberries and Mint. An interesting dish and more of a palate cleanser than anything, it was good, but not memorable. The idea of roasted strawberries was intriguing, but ultimately it just resulted in a mushy strawberry core. Our last course however ended on a high note. A Chocolate Souffle with Smoked Vanilla Ice Cream not only was visually stunning, but was a wonderful last bite of the evening. The souffle itself towered over it's ramekin and was cut open for a chocolate sauce of some kind to be poured in. It looked delicious, but it was the smoked vanilla ice cream that was the star. Chef Malouf roasts vanilla beans in his wood-fired oven and then infuses ice cream with the vanilla finishing the scoop off with a sprinkle of smoked vanilla powder. This was the best part of the dessert and I could have eaten this without the addition of the overly soggy souffle. All of the dessert was paired with a very nice and light Muscat from Torbeck in Australia. It was a sweet, but not overpowering and went down very smooth and light.
Looking back on the evening it was enough food for two people to finish easily, but with smart planning, i.e. a light breakfast and lunch prior, a single person can finish all 12-courses without major stomach problems. It is an opportunity for indulgence. A celebration of high-end ingredients and how they make us feel. Interaction with a well-run kitchen by a celebrated chef does not come easily, here it is a show for the diner. Sit back relax and enjoy, your movie screen is a kitchen, your popcorn and sodas replaced by sizzling slices of kobe beef and earthy barolo's. Two to three hours of entertainment, that while costing more than a night at the movies ($109/person all-inclusive), it certainly is more entertaining.
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Had the same meal posted earlier a couple of weeks ago -- thought it was awesome! It was definitely a lot of food (I couldn't finish my chocolate souffle), but I thought just about all of the dishes were strong and don't know why the place is getting mixed reviews. Surprisingly, I thought the mushroom pizza was the weakest link, but many of the other dishes were superlative.
I went recently and overall I enjoyed it. Waldy was good humored and informative, it was interesting to have so much interaction with the chef and have a close view of the kitchen. While not all the dishes knocked my socks off, it was generally all very good. Everything tends to be on the rich side (lots of butter or fat in some dishes) so even though the plates are small, some may find it tough to get through to the end - I certainly did, and I have a pretty healthy appetite. The wines we were served matched well, I especially enjoyed the Wesmar Pinot Noir 2003. If you are an experienced foodie, you may find a lot to critique here, it's not perfect. But I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great deal on a quality dinner combined with the novelty of meeting the chef and getting close to some of the behind the scenes action of a busy restaurant, also I would recommend this as a gateway for less-adventurous eaters into more serious food. The cuisine definitely has cross-over appeal. One of my friends that joined us is a meat and potatoes/fast food kind of a guy and he enjoyed almost every bit of the menu. Here's what we were served (copied verbatim from the menu that I brought home, plus my comments):
-fried tarragon lobster saffron xeres ** (served with a "smoking" kir royale - a bit too oily, with a vinegary dipping sauce - it's served up front by the bar, which is a bit crowded so felt awkward)
-wild mushroom pizza red onion basil ****(served with shot glas of Leffe Blonde ale - very tasty, definitely want to hit Waldy's pizza place for a full serving sometime)
-roasted oysters mignonette shallot herbs ***(nice, fresh, buttery - served with Macon Village Chardonnay 2005)
-scallop seared cabbage apple jalapeño ***(the apple/cabbage/jalapeño combo was
interesting and enjoyable, although the scallop, while fresh and cooked just right, was not particularly flavorful)
-hot smoked wild bass fennel lemon corn husks **** (a unique and enjoyable combo of flavors - I quite like smoked fish and I've not had one exactly like this - served with the Wesmar Pinot Noir)
-squash mascarpone capers ravioli sage **** (richly buttery but balanced by the capers,very tasty, a definite highlight)
-huckleberry salsify brussels sprouts squab ** (gamey, which I'm into usually but not so much in this case - the best parts were the more seasoned and well-cooked extremities, rather than the medium-rare breast which was slightly bland. the huckleberry helped though, as did the very nice Beckman Granache 2001)
-garlic horseradish marrow bone flat leaf toast ** (I've only recently been introduced to eating marrow, so still a bit of a challenge for me, texture wise. This could have been great but it was over-salted - I tasted more salt and spice than meaty flavor of the marrow)
-short ribs braised foie gras grits acorn squash *** (soooo rich, just about total overkill, I could have called it quits right then... I liked it but maybe the foie went a touch too far - but I'm not a big fan of it generally anyway. The best part for me were the grits, to be honest)
-kobe beef chanterelles hot stone pepper **** (awesome - this is your reward for making it through all the other stuff - just be careful not to cook it too long on the hot stone, it definitely needs to be on the very rare side, otherwise the fat just turns to oil and while it's still good, you definitely are losing some flavor and texture. I was so full at this point, I hardly touched the marinated chanterelles along side but they were quite nice and helped to balance the richness of the meat)
-sorbet roasted verjus pear grapefruit **** (this saved my life, after I was about to keel over from being so full of the rich, meaty stuff, the pear and grapefruit were restorative, just the ticket, along side of a unique and sweetly tasty Gatti Brachetto 2005)
-souffle chocolate smoked vanilla ice cream *** (I could barely taste the smoked vanilla to be honest, it was so very subtle. but the souffle was perfectly light and not too sweet)
forgot to mention, during the meat courses, they brought out a paper cone of extremely tasty shoestring fries. Something of a cruel trick, so good and tempting but I just couldn't do it, the other food was so overwhelming.
js212 thanks for the review. I'm going in April and looking forward to it. I dont want to set my expectations too high as I've heard mixed reviews, but I do want to make sure I am enjoying the food and finding an experience I wouldnt find anywhere else, which this seems like. I'll let you know how it goes!