345 Sixth Avenue, East Village
It’s been a year since Gang Kitchen’s initial Reader review, and the restaurant’s kitchen has seen some shakeups. Craig Jimenez, formerly of Roseville Cozinha and Craft and Commerce, is in as the new executive chef, and the winter 2014 menu addresses some of the deficiencies of Gang’s infancy.
Formerly, Gang Kitchen (345 Sixth Avenue) promised more than it delivered. Ineffectual service (no surprise from the group behind URBN, where rude, incompetent servers are legion) marred the experience, and the allegedly high-concept food came across as too plebeian to warrant $50+/person/meal costs.
Service has become more cordial and professional on the overall, with one server in particular delivering a Michelin-worthy performance.
Some changes to the new menu seem practical, yet inspired. Dropping ten dollars off the price of the popular Shanghai beef makes sense, as does putting yuzukosho (among the world’s great flavors) on top of fresh oysters. In fact, that particular touch speaks to the heart of Gang’s biggest improvement. Namely, the small tweaks to the new menu are more exacting, lending sophistication to food sorely in want of such.
Consider the shrimp toast, which justifies its $14 price tag. Instead of the typical steamed bao, Gang Kitchen fries the Chinese-style dumpling with a whole shrimp attached, layering fresh herbs and cucumbers on top, and floating each creation in an uni emulsion perfect enough to be licked straight off the plate. Not the prettiest dish, but novel and delicious at once.
The same could be said of the umeboshi sauce dabbed gingerly atop the chicken yakitori ($9). Using chicken breast, where thigh would have been more proper and more delicious, is a fatal flaw in the dish, but the red dollops of sauce, mischievously posing as Sriracha for the unprepared, delivered a knockout blow of concentrated ume flavor.
Even a $7 dish of wok-fired veggies proved that the kitchen has the little things in order. After all, if you can make a tasty vegetable, tasty meat is no problem.
And then there’s that duck. A dish of great potential, Gang Kitchen’s roast duck still doesn’t quite swing for the fence like it should. Where the duck was a little gummy and fatty in a former life, now it’s gone too far in the other direction. The legs are OK, but the overly roasted breast loses the succulent, gamey edge of great duck. Perhaps the two cuts need separate treatment so that the legs can be crispy and rich, and the breast served the gorgeous medium-rare it deserves. The wannabe Peking duck style just isn’t working out. Fear not, the eggy scallion pancake still dazzles.
With evolution and Craig Jimenez on its side, Gang Kitchen has grown in a positive direction. $50/person is a fair price, though the kitchen should still keep pushing to make the execution more precise, embracing the Asian-ness and trying less to please sensitive, white-meat-chicken palates.