High expectations for Gang Kitchen

New, pan-Asian spot downtown set the bar high, delivered in some respects. Still has lots of potential.

Gang Kitchen was hyped and hyped, and then hyped a little more in the months leading up to its opening. But, hey, it’s been open for a little while now and my curiosity was up, so I stopped by for a weekend dinner to garner some first impressions.

At first glance, it looked fabulous in there. The big, open, warehousey thing has been done to absolute death, but Gang Kitchen’s decor is sufficiently warm and smart that it doesn’t feel like eating in an airport hanger. True, there’s lots of black stone employed, ostensibly in an attempt at edginess, but the end result is that it just looks good in there. It’s hip and cool but still a restaurant, not a thinly veiled club.

With an obvious amount of ambition behind the scenes, I infer that Gang Kitchen thinks itself more high concept than it really is. An almost patronizing attempt by the staff to “explain” the complexity of the menu could have been reduced to, “we serve the entrees family-style.” I may look like a ratty, little punk sometimes , but even a dining noob could fumble through Gang’s exotic theme.

I give props, however, for including flavors other than Japanese in an upscale, Asian-fusion joint.

As things go, the food wasn’t as “inspired” as they’d have you believe. Fried spring rolls ($8) were filled with an indistinguishable mix of peanuts and chicken. Their saving grace was the use of Chinese hot mustard in the sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Feared by cooks and diners alike, hot mustard can be bomb when used correctly.

Spicy tuna ($9) might have been pilfered from the sushi rolls at ABC Sushi 123, or wherever. The crispy rice cakes had a cool texture, albeit a touch gummy in the middle, and the small allotment of fresh wasabi (the same stuff I’ve been keeping an eye out for) increased my opinion of the dish slightly. Overall, the verdict was that both apps were somewhat pedestrian, but also tasty.

Main dishes included pad thai (twice!), panang curry, fried whole fish, and what looked like a version of Korean bibimbap with shrimp and mushrooms. If you’re getting meat, entree prices are $20 and up. C’est la vie. At least they’re big. I some roast duck, cooked siu mei style served with some excellent scallion pancakes, sake-infused fruit, and a very salty, astoundingly savory vinegar sauce. It was a great dish, maybe a tad salty, but big enough to share (especially with an order of overzealously umami’d fried rice on the side) and fun to eat. It’s hard to say whether Gang’s duck is 250% better than the same thing from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese BBQ, and that’s the rub for Gang Kitchen. Asking me to drop $100 on dinner and drinks for two is risky business without truly delighting me at least once or twice during the meal. If the cuisine lived up to the ambiance, Gang could be a favorite place.

345 6th Avenue
Open daily at 4

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