December 16, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

Kingside Checkmate

 

A stuffed burger full of aptness of thought on a very chewy ciabatta, with fine fries.

A stuffed burger full of aptness of thought on a very chewy ciabatta, with fine fries. 

          Let’s just say I’m not expecting much from Kingside. That name. I forget it in the taxi on the way over. “It’s in a hotel,” I tell the driver. As restaurateur Marc Murphy confided to FloFab,  “Naming a restaurant is the hardest part.” I never think about Murphy’s Landmarc in the Time Warner building, although I went long ago. It must do okay. It’s still there. I went to Ditch Plains on West 81st Street early. An insect walked across the table at the same moment I found a worm in my salad. For some reason, never got back.  I read he’s a force on Chopped but I don’t watch it.

 

I can’t believe this pecorino melt with whipped ricotta always has shaved truffle.

          Well, now I’m memorizing the name. Kingside. It’s got 300 seats, so we might get in without calling ahead. We are dabbling in small plates ($13 to $20) that first dinner, when suddenly we enter a tilt zone. Chunks of toast slathered with melted pecorino, whipped ricotta and a drizzle of honey shock us awake. “Taste this,” says my pal.

          “Oh my god,” says I.

          “This is better than Carrnellini’s ricotta,” he rules.

 

There’s something for every taste on the Kingside menu including classic veal brains.

          And what is this?  Veal brains. Cervella di vitello in lemon brown butter at what looks like an upgraded burger joint, or a brasserie with diner DNA. We’re nodding and slurping. Split pea soup. Crispy fried artichokes.  “I didn’t think it would be this good,” he says.

 

Anchovy panini (that’s two) make tasty adornments to an escarole Caesar.

          We’re impressed by the look and savor of sculpted anchovy panini lounging on the charred escarole Caesar. At $32, the braised pork shank with more wilted escarole is good enough too. I wish the chef had given up trying to be different with fregula mac’n’cheese. The iron pan is crusty and not too cheesy, just the way I like it, except fregula is no standin for old-fashioned elbows.

 

The King’s crusty fregula’n’cheese is not quite a stand-in for my idea of macaroni.

          Only fennel gratin, chewy as rubber bands, is a flop.  And the caramel pudding Murphy supposedly sent us from his post at Palm Beach Food and Wine. Gorgeous, but too sweet.

 

The spiffy design leads to a counter at an open kitchen. But why is the lighting so sad?

          I’m put off by $16 cocktails, but I guess that’s the price if you partner with the Gerber boys (their Wild Rose Bar is a traffic jam next to Murphy’s Time Warner Landmarc). Entrees mostly in the thirties, with $95 for a cowboy ribeye for two, are also aggressive. The open kitchen with its counter, and the black and white check of the Roman and Williams design is snappy. I especially appreciate the soundproofing. But why is the light so gloomy?

 

Chef Marc Murphy and Barmaster Scott Gerber, a team forged at Time-Warner.

          “We’re here tonight,” I tell new friends a few days later, “because so much was really delicious two nights ago.” I look around. I wonder if this is the old folks alcove. Still, it’s a hotel after all. And it’s on 57th Street. You can’t reject everyone over 40.

 

After indulging in small plates, we’re sharing  juicy braised pork shank with escarole.

          My friend offers to pay extra if I let him order premium Moscow Mule. “Please,” I urge him, “feel free.”  I haven’t had a Moscow Mule for decades.  This one is excellent, although I miss the classic copper mug. I like that the waiter asks if we would like bread.  Not because there’s a charge (a bad habit that seems to be spreading), but so it won’t be wasted if we’re dieting or dodging gluten. I wish the waiter were as thoughtful with serving spoons, since it’s clear we’re sharing.  How many times must I ask?

 

Uni and sea urchin vinaigrette make the tuna crudo irresistible.

          On second impression, Kingside again proves a lot better than it needs to be in this neighborhood, starting with uni vinaigrette and blobs of sea urchin on the tuna crudo, and astonishingly tender grilled octopus in a Spanish tangle with crispy chorizo and papas bravas.  The bread is well chosen too, served with whipped lardo and a jelled tomato aspic with sea salt. The aspic doesn’t quite go on bread – it bounces right off -- but it goes with memories, like the Mule.

 

Grilled chorizo and papas braves make a Spanish octopus’s garden on a plate.

          The lemony shaved Brussels sprouts with pine nuts, mint and squares of ricotta salata, cliché that it is, pleases our crew, even as we despair over rubbery grilled kale with goat cheese and toasted almonds.  

 

I don’t mind veggie cliché but give me shaved sprouts over unchewable kale anytime.

          The $21 burger was inspired by the stacked meats and cheese of an overstuffed New Orleans muffuletta, Murphy told the Village Voice. It’s layered with soppressata and white cheddar on a ciabatta roll with green olive aioli and giardiniera relish and a big bowl of fries alongside. (I’m sawing away trying to cut the roll in quarters for our tasters.) The first-rate salt and pepper fries are difficult to stop eating.

 

Confession: kitchen-comped dessert; alas, the caramel pudding is too sweet for me.

           This is not the hot Lower East Side or even the new Midtown – that’s east of Sixth Avenue.  Standing outside in the icy night, trying desperately to find a cab, Kingside on the hip of the Viceroy seems far from our town’s quirky feeding migrations. But Nobu, Rue 57, Brooklyn Diner, Betony and even the Russian Tea Room survive just steps away. If you come for the hay-aged truffled pecorino toast and uni tuna crudo, and  to warm up with classic split pea soup, you may come again.

 

There are 300 seats in a series of spaces and servers scurrying back and forth.

124 West 57th Street; 212 707 8000. Open daily 7 am till 11 pm.

 

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