Last week, the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fans got a harsh reality check when Pete Wells reviewed and implicitly named Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar as the shitshow of the year. People assume that the status of celebrity chef automatically turns you into a good cook. Maybe you’ll make a lot of money by signing a book deal and releasing a line of cookware. However, getting your own cooking show will not make you a better cook. Look at Food Network/chef/owners like Marco Canora at Hearth or Justin Warner at Do or Dine. These two are respected in the culinary scene because they man the posts at their respective shops and put heart and soul into their work.
There is no immunity challenge in New York City’s intense dining scene. New Yorkers will kick off any chef who becomes too complacent and forgets to operate a competitive restaurant.
Thankfully Chef Harold Dieterle, has not let his Bravo status get into his head. Perilla might have earned a lot of buzz because it opened in ’07 (a year after Chef’s win on Top Chef Season 1), but Kin Shop continued to shine because the food was delicious. White people cooking Thai food seems like a cliché these days, but Andy Ricker and Harold Dieterle have earned every bit of acclamation. Pok Pok serves an unbelievable interpretation of Northern Thai cuisine and Kin Shop delivers exciting contemporary American food with Thai flavors.
Take crispy roti. Dip the buttery pancake in Chili Jam and Coriander Nam Prik and it’ll make Aunt Jemima look like fool. It’s a perfect snack at the beginning of the meal or as a third utensil to soak up all the fragrant Green Curry on Pan Roasted Golden Snapper.
Then there is the killer Fried Pork & Crispy Oyster Salad. Large hunks of deep fried pig parts and oysters are accompanied by a refreshing crunch from celery and peanuts. The mint and chili-lime vinaigrette shocks the palate with pleasure.
However, Spicy Duck Laab Salad on romaine hearts is the opposite of satisfaction. The four asterisks (indicating spice level) will make it very tempting to order, but the meat itself isn’t very appetizing. If you’re training for the Brick Lane Curry House challenge, maybe it will serve a useful purpose during your meal.
The wise option is to order a plate of hearty Fried Brussels Sprouts and Chinese Sausage. The acidic kick from the fermented apple vinegar will make eating vegetables fun again.
Kin Shop is far from a stereotypical experience. Instead of gloppy American favorites, Kin Shop serves Stir Fry Rice Flakes with rock shrimp and cauliflower. The sweet layers of vegetables and the wonderfully chewy texture of rice flakes will leave pad Thai in the dust.
Kin Shop also fulfills carnivorous desires. The Roasted Duck Breast with Green Mango Curry and Tamarind Water is an outstanding seared piece of poultry. Wrapped pieces of the duck with Crispy Roti, sticky rice, and Chili Jam make for one of the best single bites I’ve had all year.
If you have an early reservation, you might also score Thai Style Fried Chicken with Sweet Chili-Fish Sauce (pictured at the top). The chicken is brined overnight in oyster sauce, shrimp paste, garlic, herbs, and spices. Then the chicken is coated with rice flour and cereal to give it an extra layer of crunch. It usually sells out by 7 pm on weekends.
Desserts are much more subdued. Coconut Cake impresses in size, but doesn’t offer an exciting surprise like many of the savory dishes at Kin Shop. The Calamansi Sorbet is a refreshing end to the meal, but Thai Coffee-Chocolate and Galangal ice cream seem like rejected ice cream concepts from Häagen-Dazs Thailand.
Many of the successful Top Chef Contestants don’t open up their own restaurants. The finalists often end up getting invited back into subsequent seasons and start getting endorsement deals from department stores to sustain themselves.
Even as a fan of the show, I considering it a blessing that Harold Dieterle has never reappeared on Bravo ever again. His time and attention will be dedicated to his third project (The Marrow, a Northern European and Italian restaurant) which test his culinary credentials once again.