Friday, February 26, 2010

Kit's Thai Kitchen

UPDATE 5/3/10: Since my first visit to Kit's in late February 2010, I have returned on numerous occasions. With each subsequent visit, Kit's has remained consistent in the quality and flavor of their food. A recent visit on Sunday evening (5/2/10) was even more pleasurable than usual because of the outdoor dining. It is for these reasons that I am increasing Kit's fork rating from the original 3½ forks that was perviously given. Below is the original review (with the added mention of the outdoor patio) along with the new fork rating. Enjoy.

Just when I thought I was on my way to establishing a pretty impressive track record of dining outside of Stamford (and I was almost on a run with 1 restaurant in a row to my credit), Friday night rolled around and I didn’t stray far from home for dinner. So much for my hot streak. The sudden and surprising heavy snowfall that beset Stamford from the previous evening (I say surprising, but in reality the weather folks had been forecasting it—I just refused to believe them) sort of crippled our tiny town earlier in the day, but by nightfall the roads were relatively clear and highly passable. Nevertheless, somehow having that much snow on the ground and pushed back in huge piles all along major secondary roads just seemed to hammer home the need to stay close to, well, home, and dine on our own turf.

A recurring dining theme of mine has been to indulge in Asian food. Tonight, the creature of habit struck again. Not, however, because of any restaurant of my choosing. My husband, Maarten, had a hankerin’ for Thai, and who was I to argue? He was paying.

We didn’t have any particular Thai restaurant in mind, so Maarten did the one thing that has gotten us through many stupefied “where should we go?” kind of food nights: He Googled Thai restaurants in the area and came up with Kit’s Thai Kitchen. The restaurant was less than three miles from our house, so it got points for proximity. But would it garner any points for the food? Our mission, if we chose to accept it, was to find out.

Kit’s Thai Kitchen, a little yellow box on one end of the equally tiny Turn of River Shopping Center on High Ridge Road, is even smaller on the inside than it appears from its façade. With a seating capacity that accommodates a cozy forty-four diners in two dining areas, it’s not for the claustrophobic. However, don’t let its miniscule size fool you.
The tables at Kit’s are not large, so in the long run I believe it’s a good idea that they don’t inundate you with all varieties of pre-meal snacks and goodies. However, we were hungry, folks, so we needed to get some manner of nourishment on the table. While Maarten stepped away, I ordered our drinks: a glass of Bella Pinot Grigio for me and an unsweetened iced tea for him. I also took the occasion to order our appetizers. One of Maarten’s favorite things to eat is Chicken Satay, but only if it’s prepared correctly. He was taking a monumental risk by ordering it, but he felt like the stars were all aligned, the Food Deity was smiling down on him and all would be right with the world. Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, I had put on my invisible Adventure Lady hat and I was totally prepared to order something I had never even heard of, let alone pronounce. The description of Gai Takra sounded intriguing; enough so that I felt compelled, dare I say driven, to throw caution to the wind and put my stomach in what I had hoped would be the capable hands of the chef at Kit’s.

While I was feeling audacious about my appetizer, my proclivity for adventure did not extend to the entrée. The “better safe than sorry” mantra was running through my head like an Olympic sprinter, so I took the safe route and ordered Massaman, a dish that I’d had at other restaurants many times before. Maarten, always one to go against the grain and thumb his nose at conventional wisdom, put on his rebel pants and ordered the Gai Long Pa. Oh sure, it sounded like it might be tasty, but “escargot” has a romantic slant to it and flows from your lips like the silkiest of chocolates—but it’s not!

Maarten’s unsweetened tea arrived just as the appetizers did and he went through his ritual of opening a pack of Splenda, sprinkling it into the glass and stirring vigorously enough to usually cause one or two pieces of ice to leap from the glass like an escaping prisoner going over the wall at Attica. He took a quick sip of the tea and was prepared to dig into his Satay when he heard the sound of screeching brakes. I thought I heard it to, but it was only in his head. So strong was his reaction to that awful tea that he nearly spit it out at full throttle—and with me sitting directly across from him looking all dainty and demure.

“Ewww! Taste this! Tastes like it has too much sugar.”

“I ordered unsweetened tea for you, though. Honest I did!” There was no way he was gonna pin this one on me. I wasn’t going down like a punk.

I tasted the offending tea. By Jove, he was right; it was awful. When the waitress came back to the table, he asked for a replacement glass of tea—unsweetened—and the waitress was falling all over herself offering apologies. The next glass she brought out tasted identical to the first and produced that same nauseating gag reflex. You just can’t win with some people.

Putting the glass aside, Maarten’s focus shifted to the plate of Satay. They looked yummy; they smelled yummy. Would the taste follow suit? He dipped the end of one of the chicken skewers into the peanut sauce and shoved it into his mouth, being careful not to puncture his tonsils with the lethal weapon. The stars had, in fact, aligned. The satay was decadently delicious. It wasn’t just that the peanut sauce tasted as authentic as the sauce that our dear Indonesian friend in Holland, Wout, makes (and he makes a mean satay), but the chicken, all alone and offering nothing but its naked self on a skewer, was a tender plank of luscious goodness. Put the two together and the end result is a grown man drawn near to tears.

“This is goo-oood!”

Guess that answers the age old question of “Do you like it?”

The Gai Takra was in a category all by itself. And from the looks of it, you would think it would want to stay there. But my mother always told me “Don’t judge a plate of ugly food by its ugly cover.” Or something similar to that. I have to confess, this was such a strange looking dish that it shocked me into temporary silence—which isn’t easy to do—and it took me a few seconds to remember to take a breath. Before I could hurl the plate across the room, push myself away from the table in a huff, storm into the kitchen and yell at the chef for apparently trying to feed me something that he had just dug up out of the garden, the waiter said calmly, “You need to peel off the leaves and put them in this bowl.”

Oh, now I get it. Each freshly marinated and lightly fried chunk of chicken was inside that peculiar leaf. A Pandan leaf, to be exact. Internally, I was doing the Snoopy Dance of Joy. I thought I had to eat that whole thing. I was glad that my initial reaction didn’t color what the reality actually was. That ball of chicken, albeit a bit odd in appearance, was a divine morsel of minced and cubed poultry that was a complete surprise. There was a wild party taking place in my mouth and I didn’t care if the cops heard the ruckus or not.

Rotten iced tea aside, Kit’s Thai Kitchen was shaping up very nicely. Very nicely, indeed. Now if they could just follow up this initial success with a good, solid finish, they would have a pair of loyal customers.

Up next: the Gai Long Pa, marinated and pan fried strips of lemongrass chicken served atop lettuce with a side of that same mouth-watering peanut sauce served with the satay. You would think Maarten had had just about enough of that sauce for one night, but, sadly, you would be wrong. It’s damn near the love of his life. The strips weren’t covered in an obnoxiously thick outer shell of crust seemingly designed to mask any underlying horrifying taste, but rather there were sections of crunch that went a long way in helping to uncover the true flavor of the chicken. Scallions sprinkled throughout the dish, along with cucumber slices and tomato rounds, were ideal counterparts—not in competition with the rest of the meal nor on a bid to dominate the flavor profile.

The relative safety of the Massaman meant that I probably wouldn’t have to work too terribly hard to enjoy my dish. As expected, it was a much lighter curry than a lot of curries floating around out there, burning holes in the tongues of unsuspecting diners. What it lacked in heavy spices it made up for in the sheer, light flavorful chicken that was accented by cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. The potatoes fell short of absorbing any of the subtle nuances of the curry and were unevenly cooked, with the larger chunks firm—almost raw—while the smaller bits were softer and, as a result, held more flavor. The peanuts added a slightly crunchy texture to the dish which made it more dimensional than a monotone consistency. Was it the best massaman I’ve ever had? Sad to say, no, but that doesn’t rank it anywhere near the worst either. Far from it, in fact. It was actually pleasant to eat, and it wasn’t a dish that was represented as anything more than what it was: chicken, potatoes, onions and peanuts in a curry sauce.

I was a little uncertain what the food at Kit’s would taste like. Chalk that up to premature decisions formed at first blush. In general, it turned out to be an enjoyable meal, with a surprise or two that would ensure my repeat visit. Given, however, that the restaurant is almost devoid of any real character—aside from a few attractive wall decorations (in particular, a gold leaf piece on a red backdrop) and stylish sconces—Kit’s is fundamentally devoid of atmosphere. It almost felt like sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, except with food and minus the magazines—tastefully decorated, but not much depth. However, I would be inclined to venture to Kit’s again and again for lunch or dinner, especially when the outdoor patio is open, weather permitting.

Would I recommend Kit’s Thai Kitchen? For a first visit, sure, why not; dine in and give it a try. The food is better than average, and you might find something to choose from the menu that you’ve never had before . . . and be delightfully surprised by the end result.

Is Kit’s Thai Kitchen a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Kit’s prices are excellent, with everything on the menu under $20.00. You can get most of the entrée items as a single food type (such as Curry Pork, or Curry Beef, or Curry Vegetables) or for $2.00 more you can try it as a combo, with more than one food type (Curried Pork and Chicken, etc.). There’s a variety of food types to choose from, including (in addition to the aforementioned) Tofu, Shrimp, Pork, Fish and Duck.

What about atmosphere and ambience? While Kit’s isn’t lacking in décor, the ambience itself is bland. Given the choice to dine in or carry-out, in the future I would probably elect to carry-out and eat in the comfort of my home . . . except when the weather is nice. Kit's has a delightful outdoor patio that is comfortable and inviting, and I can see myself spending many evenings dining alfresco and enjoying their sumptuous food.

Kit's Thai Kitchen
927 High Ridge Road, Stamford, CT  (203) 329-7800

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