Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kaya (2/14/07)

Farofa and French Fries will take almost any excuse to have a romantic dinner out - and Valentine's day is no exception... except that all our favorite restaurants jack up their prices to high heaven. We decided on Kaya because it's been a long-standing favorite of ours for evenings when Farofa knows that she'll want meat, and French Fries wants 'fancy vegetarian' and their fixed price menu was actually comparatively reasonable - $45 for a vegetarian tasting menu, and $55 for the meat-eater's version. In the past we'd been really impressed by Kaya's small plates, and the idea of a chef's tasting menu with lots of small plates seemed like a sure bet for good food, even on night that is apparently the restaurant business version of 'amateur night'.

First Course: Farofa got seared rare tuna with avocado, ginger-horseradish pickle, and shiso leaf, and French Fries the vegetarian starter of papaya and mango salad with romaine, dressed with a chili-lime vinagrette.

Seared tuna

Farofa: Having been spoiled by my first sisho experience, I admit my hopes were way too high for such a standard dish. It was a fine piece of tuna (3 actually, which was 2 too many) and I really liked the shreaded ginger on top, but the sisho had no place in this plate and tasted like an elder house plant.


French Fries: In retrospect, I actually think that this salad may have been one of the better parts of an overall disappointing dinner. At the time, there was some grinching on my part about the not-quite-ripe mango, but the warm papaya, sweet corn and the cilantro and lime dressing made up for that slight failing. It was crunchy and fresh tasting - hard things for a salad to manage in Pittsburgh in the middle of a blizzard - and I cleaned my plate - which wouldn't happen again until dessert.

Second Course: Farofa had lobster beignets with a lemon-chili mojo and French Fries gobbled some shiitake mushroom dumplings with sweet soy dipping sauce.

Lobster dumplings and zesty chipotle sauce

Farofa: Yikes! This sauce was so hot the tears rolled down. Even though it was a bit too much to enjoy in larger amounts, it was tasty and zesty, a good combination with the would-have-been lobster beignets, had there been any lobster in them. At first I thought I couldn't taste it because the dipping sauce's flavour was too overwhelming, but it turns out it was just fried dough - maybe they had a lobster in the kitchen *while* they were frying it...

valentines-day 046

French Fries: I did gobble these - but it was hunger providing most of the appeal, as the balance of flavors was tipped way too far towards sweet, even for my notoriously limitless sweet tooth. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I like shitake and soy far better when they are savory and salty, respectively. I think most of the fault with this one fell on the dumpling wrappers rather than the actual choices made for the filling, but still, not an appealing dish aesthetically or gastronomically.

Farofa: The first thought that came to mind when French Fries plate arrived was how it looked like something from Top Chef, where every contestant used a porcelain spoon to serve sauce at one point or another.

Third Course: Farofa was given striped bass, served with littleneck clams in a coconut/chili broth with potatoes, corn and bok choy. French Fries instead had Tofu Pho.

bass and mussels

Farofa: The Striped Bass was flavourfull and the the tasty coconut sauce made me wish for a nice piece of bread for dipping, but I could have done without the clams (which were a bit chewy).

a huge block of tofu

French Fries: While I know that even the concept of vegetarian phở is blasphemy to true phở purists, I was looking forward to a nice big bowl of broth with, I had assumed, thin slices of fried or fresh tofu and lots of rice noodles and chile. Instead, I got a VERY large block of lightly fried tofu set atop some rice noodles that appeared to have had something of a passing acquaintance with broth in their past. I tried to keep my hopes up in the face of the lack of resemblance to the phở of my dreams - and, while the noodles were indeed flavorful and tender, the dish couldn't overcome the fact that the tofu hadn't been marinated (or had any attempt made to produce a flavor in it other than 'soy product') and the carrots were raw- their crispness in awkward contrast to the soft rice noodles.

Fourth Course: Farofa had a filet of beef with guajillo chili jus, served over warm chayote an hominy salad and French Fries had grilled tempeh served with fried pole beans, cauliflower puree and black olive mojo.

The most perect beef I had in the last 12 months

Farofa: Hands down the best piece of beef I have had in a months. Maybe one of the top 3 I have ever tasted in the United States. It was cooked to medium-rare perfection and and I delighted myself in it slowly and hapilly - the reduce wine sauce was a perfect match, just tangy enough but not too sweet - This was also my introduction to hominy, accompanied by seasoned carrots and chayote, complementing the stellar beef. The serving was probably larger than I needed, but I licked the plate clean.

Burnt seitan

French Fries: Farofa's meat came out before my 'main dish' and looked beautiful even to my vegetarian eyes. It looked even better in comparison when my dish appeared and the seitan not only suffered from the same lack of seasoning that the chunk of tofu had before it - it also had the addition of a centimeter of burnt char on the bottom. I tried a bite - it was inedible. I ended up eating the fried pole beans which were tasty, if a little over salted. I've never had burnt food at Kaya before, so I have to assume this was an aberration for the restaurant as a whole - but in the context of this dissapointing meal, it was the last straw.

Dessert: Farofa lived the V-day dream with a chocolate torte with raspberry-chili coulis and French Fries gratefully munched on Banana Cake served with caramelized banana compote and rum syrup.

Chocolate targe tasted really boring

Farofa: After this, I decided I don't like chocolate custards. I'm sure it was perfectly fine as a dish, but I need some flour in my chocolate dessert.

Banana cake, yumm

French Fries: Basically just banana bread with smashed, rum-drench banana on top, but it was filled with cinnamon and soft and tender in my mouth and so, blew the rest of the meal away by dint of not being burnt, bland or boring. If only the rest of the meal had stuck to these basics, I would have been so much happier. And while I haven't mentioned either the service of the ambiance up to this point (too distracted by complaining the crummy food) - both were warm and welcoming, especially nice because the weather outside was so lousy.

Farofa: **** out of 5
French Fries: * out of 5

Forks Down Verdict: An outstanding filet trumps any meal shortcomings. Unless you are a vegetarian.

2000 Smallman St
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

(412) 261-6565

1 comment:

PhilaFoodie said...

Mmmm...love Kaya. Looks a little more up-scale than I remember it from a few years ago.