Twelve Stetson Street. Not ringing a bell? It didn’t do much for us either as we drove (slightly confused) down Whalley Avenue. Our destination: Kitchen, New Haven’s newest American bistro.
Like the unexpected tour of downtown New Haven, our experience at Kitchen left something to be desired. Only two months old, Kitchen still struggles with the kinks and setbacks of any new business, with inconsistent service and a slightly confused cuisine. But neither flaw is too serious, and each adds an element of charm to this up-and-coming eatery.
This is a charm that welcomes you and offers a pleasant contrast to the emptied, grungy strip mall — Kitchen’s less-than-appealing locale. Small and cozy, Kitchen probably works best for intimate gatherings and quiet nights out. The decor is simple yet modern, while at the same time offering a homey feel: single, fresh-cut flowers adorn each table, and low-hanging lamps dimly illume your meal.
Our waitress was quick to tell us the specials, although water and bread were less forthcoming. And — be warned, or excited — Kitchen is, at the moment, BYOB (liquor license still pending). The menu itself offers a well-rounded selection — salads, “lite bites,” from the broiler, fowl and fish — enough to choose from, but not too overwhelming. While the assortment satisfies, a definitive culinary theme is lacking, although perhaps this is the point: the presentation of an all-inclusive American cuisine. However, for our taste, the menu seems a bit muddled.
Still waiting for bread (we were hungry!), we ordered, selecting a “lite bite” (Kitchen’s Mixed Fry) and two entrees. Our waitress suggested the house favorites: Coffee & Cocoa Rack of Lamb and BBQ Whole Prawns. We decided to compromise and ordered the prawns and Garlic Citrus Chicken.
Our waitress was friendly and personable. After learning that we were writing a review, she offered us a menu to-go. Throughout our meal, she answered our questions and chatted occasionally — sociable but not overbearing.
Then, there was bread.
Definitely worth the wait, since by bread they mean something more along the lines of amusement park fried dough, not hard rolls in a basket. Extra points, guys. Lots of them. Warm, crispy, and infused with butter, the bread tastes great by itself or dipped in the accompanying olive oil. Yuuuum.
Post-carb-inhalation, our Mixed Fry arrived — satisfying, but exemplary of Kitchen’s muddled vibe. Fried calamari and a giant fried prawn (still shelled — a little messy) complement an edible basket of asiago cheese and peppercorns, filled with vegetable tempura and served with a side of tartar sauce. It was delicious. Don’t get us wrong. But it was also kind of like Japanese-food-meets-Creole-meets-huh? Our palettes weren’t quite sure what to think — although we cleaned the plate, no problem.
The transition from appetizer to main course was somewhat slow — a longer wait than necessary for two dishes. But, when at last ready, the presentation of our meals was lovely. The prawns, simmering on a plate of barbecue sauce, sat atop garlic fried rice and a creamy cole slaw — everything was scrumptious and the flavors were paired together well. The chicken (served with grilled vegetables and a side of biscuits) was also enjoyable, although slightly bland. An extra hint of something might have helped to spice things up. But chicken is chicken, and you can’t go too far wrong with simple cuisine.
The desserts at Kitchen change regularly and are freshly prepared each day by the pastry chef. The selection is small but enticing — our choices were carrot cake, raspberry napoleon, and a light/dark chocolate mousse cake. Tasty!
The prices are fair, though somewhat steep for college pockets. Salads are $6, appetizers range from $8 to $10 and entrees are anywhere from $15 to $25. But the portions are sizable (i.e. a half chicken) and you certainly feel as if you are getting your money’s worth. Perfect for a special occasion, or sharing a meal with a friend, don’t let the prices (or the neighborhood) scare you away from an evening at Kitchen.
Although young and inexperienced (like us–), Kitchen shows a whole lot of promise. Perhaps most telling is the restaurant’s seemingly tangible atmosphere — nothing short of unwavering determination. The staff is all smiles and eager to please. We wish them the best of luck in the future. We know we’ll be back again soon.