On my first visit to the Kitchen in Englewood, I thought I had accidentally crashed a private party. No sooner was our foursome seated than a server arrived proffering a tray of tiny beef-and-edamame empanadas. I figured that was our amuse bouche. Then another server arrived offering different hors d’oeuvres. In all, five servers, five different nibbles. We asked, and were assured, that the bites were on the house. Still, it was odd. We had yet to receive menus or even have our water glasses filled.
There’s a reason for the catered feel. Owner Stephen Henderson opened the restaurant in 2009 to showcase his upscale catering company, also called the Kitchen. He hired executive chef Wade New, who had worked for David Burke at Restaurant MC in Millburn and for Craig Shelton at Ome Caterers, where Shelton consulted after losing the Ryland Inn. The restaurant quickly outgrew its 20-seat space and relocated to East Palisade Avenue in 2011.
Every meal at the Kitchen begins with five passed hors d’oeuvres, all available for private parties (as our servers neglected to explain). Ours ranged from very good (fried chicken in waffle-crumb crusts with honey mustard) to good (the empanadas) to bland (baba ghanoush with roasted red pepper).
At last we were given menus. After some gentle prodding, the servers poured our water and brought the wine we ordered. Appetizers were a long time coming. Not terribly fresh romaine waded in a wan, watery Caesar dressing with croutons that tasted like they’d come from a box. A spinach salad with dried cranberries, roasted beets and candied squash could have doubled as a dessert. A goat cheese, mushroom and leek tart had a near-perfect pastry crust. But steak tartare was under-seasoned in a way that made it hard to forget you were eating a handful of raw meat.
A section of the Kitchen’s website is devoted to its purveyors, so I arrived for my first visit already decided on the 16-ounce, 28-day dry-aged New York strip steak from vaunted Creekstone Farms. While the interior arrived medium-rare as ordered, the steak as a whole lacked the contrast in flavor and texture that comes with a good char and justifies a $45 price tag. The sear was slightly better on a chateaubriand from the same supplier, but that dish consisted of just six thin slices and some turned potatoes and carrots for $43.
A grilled, locally caught swordfish fillet was fresh and meaty, but a too-sweet tomato beurre blanc masked its flavors, while unremarkable lentils stood by like sidewalk superintendents.
Though the menu changes every other month, there is one fortunate constant: New’s Famous Pan-Fried Buttermilk Chicken & Waffles with Milk Gravy. New, 37, hails from North Carolina. The skin on his fried chicken is crisp, rich and full of flavor; the meat is uncommonly juicy, thanks to a buttermilk bath before frying. The waffles—crunchy outside, airy inside—are made in a cast-iron Hong Kong-type waffle iron that creates little egg-shaped domes instead of square pockets. New is something of a chicken whisperer, judging by his garlic-and-herb-rubbed chicken breast stuffed with a perfectly seasoned mix of chestnuts and sausage.
The Kitchen sells wine from Old York Cellars in Ringoes, thanks to the 2010 state law that lets a restaurant function as a tasting room for an individual New Jersey winery. The best bottle is a blanc de blanc, made in the style of demi-sec (sweet) Champagne. It’s not bad, but for $40 you could bring your own bottle of actual Champagne. It’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t.
“Does that taste homemade?” our server asked, pointing to a slice of cheesecake one of us had ordered. Yes, but only if the home baker had no finesse. Like most of the desserts, the cheesecake was heavy and unremarkable. The one exception was baked Alaska with pistachio ice cream cloaked in fluffy Swiss meringue and nicely flambéed.
If you stick with chicken and keep after the often unfocused servers, you can do alright here. But an evening at the Kitchen can otherwise feel like a large catered affair. And since it’s you, not your host, picking up the tab, you have a right to expect more for your money.Click here to leave a comment