Best Bargain in Town: Kitchen 22

When you’re looking for boldly flavored, perfectly fresh, and vibrant American food at an incredibly reasonable price (with some lovely wines, too), you can’t go wrong at Charlie Palmer’s Kitchen 22. Three courses for $25, people! For this caliber of food, that’s usually the price of an entrée alone here in NYC.

The space itself is intimate, casual, lively (with banquettes upholstered in the same fabric as my sofa’s throw pillows, so I felt right at home)—great for a date, and in fact there appeared to be quite a few happening there last night. I went with a friend and former colleague (yet another book fairy; this time I received Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, one of the best-reviewed books of the fall, which I’m dying to read.) We met on the early side, 6:30; fewer than half a dozen tables were taken, which pleased us—we had a lot of catching up to do, and through our first course the closest other diners were three tables away. For the first half-hour we did nothing but talk, sip a wonderful glass of cabernet, munch on the small bowls of olives and spicy roasted chick peas (better than mine—I think they cook them for longer at a lower heat. Something to try next time!), and slather an astonishingly flavorful roasted red pepper hummus on thin, soft baguettes. Our server came over occasionally to check on us, but we never felt pressured to order, which is a lovely thing indeed.

Kitchen 22’s menu changes frequently—each night there are five appetizers and five entrees to choose from, with a featured dessert. Last night’s options included beef carpaccio, two very interesting salads (one with figs and feta), and what my companion and I both chose, a three-bean minestrone with wild rice and parmesan broth. A wide-brimmed bowl bursting with perfectly-cooked beans, nutty rice, and bits of vegetables in a warm, salty bath, it was filling and comforting and the perfect start to an early Autumn dinner. I even ate the decorative celery leaves, stirring them into the broth until they wilted, then savoring the little pows of flavor.

For entrees, we twinned again. There was a seared salmon and a roasted skate, which both sounded interesting but didn’t thrill me—normally I order fish when I eat out (S doesn’t like it so I can’t really cook it at home), but salmon and skate happen to be two I don’t much care for. Our server raved about the pork loin, but I’ve got that whole formerly kosher thing happening… And the rigatoni with tiny meatballs sounded pretty interesting, but I can eat that at home. So when my friend expressed interest in the roast chicken, we decided to go all the way and eat entirely duplicate dinners—that way there’d be no jealousy if one of us ordered the “better” entrée.

When it came, we were both thrilled. It was a boned half-chicken, divided into Frenched breast and thigh, and cooked under a press of some sort—the skin looked so crispy and golden I wanted to tear into it with my teeth, without wasting time on silverware. (Good dieter that I am, I managed to resist most of it. Most of it, I said, not all, and it tasted just as good as I expected.) Strongly seasoned with salt and pepper, the breast had a surprising amount of chicken flavor—these people know how to roast a chicken. It was so good, in fact, that I even ate some of the dark meat, and I don’t like dark meat. The pieces were perched on a scattering of crisp-tender Brussels sprouts, soft porcini mushrooms, and toothy chive gnocchi, all napped with a light hand in a rich mushroom sauce. All I left behind was a bit of the dark meat—it was so good I wanted to tear off chunks of bread and get every last bit of that sauce.

We were both too full for dessert (must’ve been the chick peas), but since on the a la carte menu the appetizer and entrée come to just $.50 less than the prix-fixe, I asked if we could get the desserts to go. The waitress didn’t see why not, so I took them home for S, two servings of chocolate mousse napoleon with peanut brittle and berries. By the time he got around to eating them, several hours later, the puff pastry had gone quite limp, but I imagine it’s just dandy served in the restaurant. (Why yes, I did taste it, why do you ask?)

So: Looking for a place to catch up with a friend? Try Kitchen 22. Looking for a place to impress a date, without intimidating her/him? Try Kitchen 22. Looking for a place to have a relaxed, satisfying dinner just because? Try Kitchen 22. You get the idea: Try Kitchen 22.

Kitchen 22 is located at 36 E. 22nd Street, 212.228.4399.