Apparently Thai is the new black. With the opening of Highline, and now Kittichai, all things chic must end (or begin) in Thai. Kittichai is the stateside debut of Ian Chalermkitttichai, a young chef who is renowned in Thailand—he was chef at all of the restaurants at The Four Seasons in Bangkok—including the original Spice Market. Ian was lured here by Robin Leigh, an owner of 60 Thompson (and a partner in Bond St, Town) to launch a new concept in the space that was previously called Thom. We should all send Mr. Leigh a note of thanks. Ian is innovative, feisty and a sure talent. All of his dishes don't work, but there is enough stuff that is brilliant to make up for the occasional dud.
The restaurant, designed by the theatrical David Rockwell, and spatially directed by Feng Shui master, Patrick Wong, feels like some sort of a high end Asian-day spa. It has a very serene and sexy vibe, with a wide clear-blue central wading pool (do try to resist the urge to take a dip), and wood-trellised walls that are draped in tufted, jewel-toned raw silk curtains. At several times during the evening I half expected the curtains to be drawn back for a puppet show. Alas, the puppets never surfaced. However, a lot of very exciting food did.
We started with several of the tapas, which were hit or miss. The Southern Thai Ceviche of diver scallops with caviar and lemongrass wrapped in a duck egg crepe ($14) was a cool idea in theory. I love the concept of wrapping ingredients up in a lacey net made of egg, but in its execution, it was a bit salty and sort of slimy inside. The limestone tartlets ($6)—fragile little tart shells—were served with a bowl of minced wok-fired chicken. You are supposed to spoon the chicken into the shells and pop them in your mouth. This was a bit awkward to do without dropping food on yourself, or the table. The chicken filling was fine, but it tasted like a Tex-Mex Chili—red and fiery, and not remotely Thai. We preferred the crispy jasmine rice crackers with coconut chicken and shrimp relish ($7)—a sort of Thai version of chips and salsa. The glossy, airy rice crackers were the perfect vehicle for scooping up the warm dip made of creamy coconut milk doused shrimp and chicken. Yes, the dish has a TGI Fridays vibe, but it works nonetheless.
When our appetizers arrived, the meal got a lot better. I loved the crispy rock shrimp—fat, golden shrimp wrapped in greaseless batter, still juicy inside, served on top of thick circles of Thai eggplant in a vibrant pool of chile-lime juice ($11). The Thai-marinated beef salad with Chinese long beans ($12) was also delicious—bright and perky, with a gentle but insistent heat. The salad of banana blossoms with artichokes in a roasted chile pepper vinaigrette ($11) was also wonderful, though, truth be told, it resembled a can of cat food, poured out onto stunning flatware. (And let me say this about the flatware—all the plates here are gorgeous and handcrafted from clay. These are dishes that make you very sad that you are not a kleptomaniac so you could at least have an excuse for lifting them.) Now, back to that banana blossom salad—it was wild and quite tasty—the banana blossoms and the finely minced artichokes play off eachother well. The flavors—nuts, spice, and citrus—were subtle yet strong, and it was quite easy to lick the plate clean, not unlike a cat.
Entrees were uniformly very good, and some were excellent, like the crispy whole fish served with lesser-ginger sauce (a ginger that is lesser in heat than regular ginger) ratcheted up with Thai hot basil ($27). The fish, which arrived fried and whole with its jaw frozen in a wide smile, was stripped of its sweet flesh and crisped skin in moments, leaving only a clean skeleton and open-mouthed head behind as evidence of its existence. My friend Andrew even ate most of the tail. At one point he had a fin sticking out of his mouth and a smile on his face. Rare. The braised short ribs in green curry with sweet basil ($20) was also yummy—a gorgeous hunk of meat, marbled with lusciously melting fat, plated with the most beautiful assortment of wok-seared eggplants—Japanese, Thai apple and gooseberry—in a pea-green colored curry. If you're a fan of cashew chicken (that was my favorite as a kid), the wok-fried chicken with roasted cashew sauce is for you ($18). We also devoured the roasted red curry with Thai vegetables ($14). This is a must have. If you have more than four people at your table, order a couple and one to go.
For sides, I would skip the pineapple fried rice with sweet sausage. It is served in a whole pineapple, which makes for a great presentation, but it is gummy from over-steaming inside the fruit and tastes like it was steeped in Del Monte. Instead, I would go for the Thai duck egg omelette with sriracha sauce ($7)—a perfectly cooked, loose crepe-like omelette with a tearjerker hot sauce that screams hangover cure. (Not that I have ever had a hangover and needed really hot food to cure it.)
Ah, but speaking of a hangover, the cocktail menu is in the capable hands of Albert Trummer, so I recommend that you arrive fashionably early for your reservation so that you can lounge, and linger out in the white-washed lounge, while being waited on by impossibly thin, absolutely magnificent women, and sipping his tart lemongrass martini (made from fresh pressed lemongrass and ginger), or the watermelon cooler, or really just about any one of his fresh-juiced concoctions. These make for a night of bliss, though the next morning may be just shy of hell. But really, who really think about the next morning the night before?