199 Orchard St.
Rating: 2 L's
Price Range: $35-50
Any restaurant that gives equal billing to food and drink brings a tear of joy to my inner lush, and a sense of impending doom to my inner epicure. When I drifted out into the humid night hours later, neither was satisfied. Upon entering Kitchen and Cocktails, I found the requisite Lower East Side touches: exposed brick, plate windows, open kitchen, and hanging fabrics. I can still smell the cynicism from the restaurateurs (the masterminds behind San Francisco’s beloved Luna Park), just as they could smell the green.
A “Favorite Cocktail” menu began the evening with pleasingly skewed classics. The Icebreaker ($11) scores a hat trick with grape vodka, ice wine, and frozen grapes shaken into a bracing potion of grape essence, without the palate-deadening sugar of a fauxtini. Raspberry Lime Ricky ($12) and Strawberry Caipirinha ($11) were thick sludges of diabetes-inducing muddled fruit so devoid of booze, they could have been mocktails — except for the sickly albino strawberry atop the Caipirinha that no sober person would touch. The supposed piece-de-resistance — a deconstruction of Dr. Pepper, vodka, and vanilla syrup — was sold out by my 8 O’clock reservation. A shame, but I wonder, do I tip for a drink I mix myself?
The cuisine was equally erratic. A flaccid, grey artichoke ($7.50) wasn’t helped by “lemon aioli,” which I suspect was actually off-brand mayonnaise. Warm Goat Cheese Fondue ($7.95) was accurately described and sounded delicious — if you like hot goat cheese without seasoning or complexity. Hawaiian Tuna “Poke” (9.25), lifted my spirits with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro, honey, and lime. This bright acidic foundation highlighted the fish and balanced the oily fried wonton skins.
Main courses fitted the now-familiar pattern of hit, then miss. Fontina Stuffed Ravioli ($11.50) were tender and rich, painted with truffle oil. But “Cous Cous 404” ($14.95) with leathery lamb and blackened mushrooms should be sent back to the Moroccan elementary school cafeteria it came from, and take the Velveeta flavored Baked Macaroni and Cheese ($12.50) with it. Even the S’mores ($6.95) were 2/3 inedible. Lovingly homemade graham crackers were ruined by soupy Jet-Puff Minis and U-Bet Dark syrup any camper would scoff at.
Rock troubadour and glutton, Meatloaf, tells us that two out of three ain’t bad. But one out of three? That sucks. A restaurant — or a bar — cannot be built upon a din of mediocrity punctuated by occasional success. Find your modernized international comfort food elsewhere. Although, that Icebreaker would be nice right about now.