Located in the heart of Soho in front of the Thompson hotel, Kittichai is extravagantly upscale and chic. An elaborate water garden in the middle of the restaurant with floating candles and orchid overhangs captures its grandiose cultural fusion. As we walked in, it felt like a scene straight of Sex and the City, with tables full of teenage gossip girls or esteemed Soho patrons. The chic ambiance makes it a great spot for a date night or a party with the girls. (Be careful of the bathroom though, the toilet spew out in a gust of fury, so I suggest you retreat back to the Thai sanctuary right after you’re done your business.)
To get a feel for the restaurant, my friend and I sampled the tasting menu, which consisted of a hefty 11 items from the main menu. I ordered a Thai iced tea, which came in a creative setting with four beakers that looked as if I was preparing for a chemical experiment. The waiter explained that you can mix it yourself according to your palates, which I thought was pretty neat. They really take mixology to a whole new level, letting the patron experiment with beakers of concentrated black tea, milk and syrup. I guess also you can’t blame them if you don’t like the tea (and for the record I loved the milky yet strong taste). To top it off, the tea cup itself had a real orchid flower on the rim.
The meal started with an appetizer sampler trio of day boat scallops, prawn cakes and BBQ baby back ribs. The dishes were wonderfully presented with an Asian theme – the scallops on a nest of rocks with a wooden plate resembling a serene bonsai garden.
The scallops came with cucumber-galangal espuma, cilantro pearls and a nahm jim dipping sauce. Personally, I wasn’t too fond of this dish because the scallops weren’t just cured with lemon juice and not fully cooked. The cilantro pearls on top of the foamy espuma is supposed to imitate sea bubble, but unfortunately it tastes just like that – plain and foamy.
The prawn cakes were a delight. After biting into its crispy skin, we were delighted by a hot shrimp meatball filling. The sweet Thai chili sauce that accompanied it was equally good, and we found ourselves fishing out the finely julienned carrots and cucumbers in it long after the shrimp rocks were gone. Just be careful not to bite into it right away, because its contents are piping hot.
The BBQ baby back ribs were as expected – fall off the bones tender. The skin was marinated in a spicy tamarind glaze, which accentuates the tenderness of the slow-cooked pork, making it dangerously addictive. Thankfully, there were only two small pieces on the sampler.
After the appetizers were over, the waiters cleared our plates, wiped down our tables and gave us warm towels to clean our hands (like the ones they give you on planes). Kittichai seems to be focused on a lot on service (maybe after negative Yelp reviews?) – there were two other model-like waiters besides our main waiter who were ready to clear our plates and tend to us at any moment.
Next up was the first course trio – fried crispy fish, braised pork cheek and stir-fried gai-lan. I know love is blind, but why did I fall in love with a fish? At least this one was crispy and fried to a perfection with the perfect blend of starch covering. More importantly, after you bite down on the crispy skin, you’re rewarded with a tender and well-seasoned meaty fish. I looked over at the other tables who ordered the menu rendition, and it actually does come in a whole fish that’s fried into crescent shape. However, the green mango salad that accompanied it was subpar. Its galangal dressing made it way too sour to digest, so we picked our way around it.
The braised pork cheek was a disappointing as well. The meat was over-cooked, making it kind of dry. Though I understand that this is Asian fusion food, the truffle powder on top added a strange texture, as if someone sprinkled fresh snow on top of a burger. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the soft and tender buns.
Perhaps the best dish out of the first course samplers was the stir-fried gai-lan (a type of Chinese vegetable). The garlic and ginger soy sauce was right on, making it just the right degree of umami sweetness. I even dipped my steam bun and pork cheek in it to soak up the sauce.
After this course, I was 3/4 full. I’m surprised at the amount of food they give you for the tasting menu. Once again, the attentive waiters were eager to clear our dishes in between.
The second course consisted of organic chicken roulade, Mahi Mahi green curry, and steamed jasmine rice. The chicken roulade was simply delicious. Its soy sesame sauce provided a balanced sweet to salt ratio that worked in tandem with the round chicken pieces. The crispy maitake mushroom added a crunchy texture to the soft creamy chicken. Only thing weird about this dish was the half-cooked egg. The waiter told us to stir it around the dish to mix it, but its presence seemed unnecessary. I guess they are trying to imitate Korean bibimbap (this dish is even served in a round stone casserole you see in Korean restaurants).
The green curry was perhaps my least favorite dish off the tasting menu. The Mahi Mahi was way too dry, and the spicy green tamarind curry was too sour for my liking. Also, Thai eggplant is not as soft as its Chinese cuisine, which didn’t suit my palate. Only thing I liked about this dish was the hearts of palm, which provided some heat relief to my burning tongue.
Finally, the dessert course – chocolate fondant cake presented in a Zen-like dish and banana spring rolls on a long slender plate. The chocolate cake was decadently rich, with molten lava spewing out after you poke your fork inside. The lychee sorbet acted like the ying to the chocolate yang, providing a refreshing and light taste. Not sure what the purpose of the jasmine tea syrup, as the taste was already balanced, but I soon found out it was there.
Much to my surprise, the banana spring rolls were lackluster, and I’m saying this as a purveyor of bananas. The skin covering was crispy, but the banana inside was droopy and dry. I had to dip it in the jasmine tea syrup to down it (and that’s why you should order both of these for dessert).
The upside though was the burnt honey ice cream – this is the epitome of an ice cream lover’s dream come true -deliciously melted ice cream sprinkled with bits of burnt honey. I wanted order a second helping of ice cream, even though I was stuffed to the brim.
The tab for two people came about to be around $120, which isn’t bad at all for the quality of the food and service. Overall, four out of five stars for this Thai fusion restaurant.
I heard that Kittichai serves up a mean brunch as well. After this tasting menu, I’ll booking a reservation for that sometime soon.