The fun at this hot, new dining spot on burgeoning Kenmare Street spills out onto the sidewalk through wide-open French doors. Every night of the week the place is festive, and more so as the evening grows later. Groups of friends settle into capacious brown leather booths in back, big enough for a party. At a certain point the lighting grows dimmer, glowing off white-brick walls, and the music comes up — it starts to feel like like a party.
While a serious scene can sometimes mean food is an afterthought, not so at Ken & Cook. How could it be when managing partner Artan Gjoni and chef Richard Diamonte come from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen, another downtown favorite not far away. The menu hews classic, flirting with European and American influences.
Oysters are never a bad option. Here they’re elegantly arrayed on a seaweed strewn platter, salty and cold. Don’t miss the perfectly done squid, served as a refreshing salad with mint and spicy chilies — it’s a definite menu highlight. And while beet salads are on every menu these days, this one stands apart, with chunky baby beets in a rainbow of hues, mingling with greens and avocado.
Move on to pasta’s next — they’re another house specialty, toothsome and just ‘al dente’. Clam linguine features the sea creatures in shells and deep-fried as a topping that adds texture and crunch. It’s salty, chewy, and briny and you won’t stop till you’ve eaten every bite. Rich braised veal is served over thicker pappardelle with breadcrumbs, and it tastes like something somebody’s grandmother would make. She’d threaten to fatten you up with it, but you’ll want to finish it anyway.
Save room for the fried chicken. It’s difficult to but worth it, when the skin is this crispy and the meat (free-range Amish chicken that’s been pre-brined) is this flavorful. Meanwhile, the biscuit on the side is a carboholic’s buttery, dripping dream. The house burger is served, wisely, on pretzel bun, and monkfish arrives with an delicious pureed vegetable sauce you’ll want to dip fries in. Speaking of dipping, dessert must be piping fried beignets you dip yourself in a lemon ricotta glaze.
With a good-looking crowd and waiters smartly dressed in denim shirts, you’ll want to linger and have another glass of crisp rose, or maybe a cocktail like the refreshing Ruffian (tequila, mescal, St. Germain, and lime). And that’s just fine — because this is exactly that sort of place.
Ken & Cook, 19 Kenmare St (Elizabeth St. and Bowery), 212-966-3058