200 Ninth Ave (22nd & 23rd Sts)
City: New York, NY
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Cuisine: New American
2nd Cuisine: European
Over the years that I’ve worked in and been writing about restaurants, I’ve come to believe that restaurants are a lot like people. Just as it takes humans time to evolve, grow, and blossom into what we are ultimately capable of (a journey I continue to take every day), it takes restaurants time too. They can have the right chef, the right room, the right vibe and yet somehow it takes time to grow and get it just right. The question in the restaurant business, as in the world of human relations, is whether there is enough to inspire the patience and understanding to wait until they (or we) get it right. This is the situation at the newly opened Klee (say Clay, which means clover in German), a cool new European bistro in Chelsea owned by chef Daniel Angerer, a young native of Austria who was last the head toque at Fresh and Shore. The elements of a terrific restaurant are all there. The kitchen is in great hands. Daniel, who looks like one of the lost Von Trapp boys, is a classically trained European chef with a breadth of global experience. In his 34 years, he has cooked with David Bouley, Jean Georges and at Chiberta and Robuchon in Paris. In the front of the house, Daniel’s lovely wife Lori fills the room with a great dose of honest warmth. Their mission with Klee is clear: to offer the neighborhood a sweet place to dine several nights a week in a stylish setting. This is a formula that speaks to me, and it is one that is becoming increasingly popular. I’ve eaten in several spots lately trying to do the same thing—Flatbush Farm, Porchetta, Lunetta, The Little Owl, Café Cluny and the like. These restaurants fill what I see as a rising need for reasonably priced, solid, well-executed food, in a convivial setting. What Klee adds to this formula is a bit more of a design edge. The room, by architect Garrett Singer, is far from a ubiquitous exposed brick neighborhood bistro. It has a cool mod windowed façade—a pale of white decorated with jet black swirling curly-cues. It is a statement that makes you take note. The interior, which is lined with heavy panels of raw teakwood, is low-lit and sexy but it also dances with color—a backsplash of mosaic tiles on the far wall offers jolts of lime and yellow. The bar, a long lean stretch of underwater Maplewood lit from above with amber bottle-shaped lights, is inlaid with jewel-toned Sicis Italian glass. The best part is that the bar functions as a hip communal table with seating on both sides so that you can dine across from on another at the bar; no neck craning here. Toward the open kitchen in the back, past a long wall of deuces, you’ll find a trio of oversized square wooden tables wrapped on all sides with deep banquettes that almost seduce you into a luxurious nap. As I sat down to dinner the other night in one of those great oversized banquettes with my friends Kate, Steven, and Stephen, I was fired up for the meal to come. And there’s reason to be fired up. Daniel offers a perfect bowl of penne swiped with spicy tomato sauce and ramped up with crumbled bits of fennel sausage ($12/$18). Then there is the Alsatian thin crust pizza, an elegant and refined version of this rustic tart. The dough is crisped, flaky and light like a phyllo, topped with a tangy slick of crème fraiche and a shower of slivered Vidalia onions and diced smoky lardons ($12). But the miss comes in something as simple as the Klee salad bowl ($8), a nice salad in theory—butter lettuces with cucumber and dill dressing, but this baby begs for more presence. It needs more dressing, more lettuce, and heavier seasoning. With just a slight tweak, it could be a perfect weeknight salad, the right companion for that tart or the spectacular chicken soup, a rich, slightly sweet, healing brew poured from a French press into a bowl filled with tender pulled chicken, aromatics and fat kreplach (dumplings) stuffed with meat ($8). The arctic char tartare ($12) with golden beet caviar is another example of a dish that is almost perfect. Served in a wide glass with a heavy diamond-like base, the fish is fresh and gorgeous in its glossy, rosy dice, but it needs that added layer of flavor: more lime, more punch, just a bit more life. The roasted black hog pork loin ($26), however, was not in need of any tweaking or fussing. It is cooked in the wood stone oven and comes out charred on the outside and pink and juicy in the center, with a zippy red cabbage slaw and a few mustard-rubbed apples glazed with Calvados. I also loved the barbecued swordfish steak ($25) cooked on the mesquite grill—an ample chop of succulent white meat, topped with a sheet of crisped speck and served with Swiss chard. Scallops ($26) are seared on the griddle and served with a bland, nutty barely risotto that tastes like something that will make you healthy and strong (and, sorry to be so blunt, but also quite regular). But the vegetarian entrée— a Mason jar of slow cooked vegetables ($22)—was flavorless, and a side of cauliflower ($6) baked with Gruyere cheese was undercooked (read: hard) and also was missing the cheese. Bummer. After dinner was cleared, we worked our way through a few desserts—a nice slice of apple streudel, and a tin of freshly warmed cookies—and then sat around for a while and just relaxed. Klee has the sort of vibe that makes you want to linger; there are fine looking people crowding into the place and the room itself just works. We discussed some random silly topics like how happy we are that Justin Timberlake is bringing sexy back. I mean thank the lord; it’s about time. After making our way through some other ridiculous observations (most of which I cannot reveal or this would end up in your spam folder for sure) and the last of the cookie tin, it was time to head home. Kate was jetlagged and I had been out late the night before celebrating the Gator’s smashing victory over Ohio State. (Craig has introduced me to the endless joys of college football and even better, of being a Gator.) As we left, I ran into a few friends at the bar and so I lingered a bit longer. They asked me what they should order for dinner. “Definitely have the Alsatian tart and the chicken soup, and for dinner the pasta, the pork chop and the swordfish are great too.” “Sounds good,” they said. “Yes, it is,” I replied. As I walked home, I thought more about Klee. The restaurant is so good in many ways. There’s the right energy, a talented chef, and an enthusiastic, hospitable front of house team. But there is also some work to be done on some of the dishes. But I have a feeling about this place. It’s a restaurant that will mature, and improve. Restaurants are like people, after all. When you find one with the right stuff, it deserves a little faith.
Review By: Andrea Strong