Friday, October 12, 2018

Le Kon Food Review

Fried Chicken Torta

One hour to, one hour from. Traveling long distances to review food (even if it's delicious) isn't easy. Harder still for lunch, when time is "of the essence," and you have to rush back to work. But who said being a food critic is easy? Sometimes you have to (literally) go the extra mile, so my readers don't have to. Yesterday's first visit to Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe's Le Kon (in Clarendon) featured a few shining moments, but not enough to make a good, lasting impression.

What a shame, given Le Kon's hip and inviting interior (which comfortably seats about 200.) I had a reservation for 2:00, but sensed trouble when the hostess asked me why I was there. "To have lunch," I replied. Why else would I be there? To fix the air conditioner? She offered me a table at the very front of house, which I happily accepted. She then asked if I wanted a menu, which seems a little strange. I mean, how else would I know what to order?

Crab Guacamole

Minor hiccups aside, I quickly ordered a Crab Guacamole (12 bucks) followed by Chips and (three kinds of Salsa, $6) plus a Fried Chicken Torta with Fries (also $12.) Service was relatively quick at first, beginning with a striking plate of the aforementioned crab guac. It's advertised with citrus segments, but mine featured cherry tomatoes, edible flowers, jalapeƱo slices and onions. Alas, no citrus to be found. On the other hand, the jalapeƱos delivered a (nice) surprise jolt of heat to an otherwise cool, creamy and luscious mixture of avocado and fresh crab meat. It came with two crunchy blue corn tortillas, but the dish is more salad than dip, so they wound up going to waste. Overall, creative and light. A promising start.

Blue corn tortillas

Next up, Chips & Salsa. Five varieties of salsa are available (mango chipotle, pepita, pico de gallo, tomatillo avocado and white habanero.) I ordered three (mango chipotle, pico de gallo and the white habanero.) All three were flavorful and generously sized, but the mango chipotle was nothing short of addictive/delicious. So much so, I barely touched the other two. Here's hoping someone sticks it in a jar, and sells it. If so, I'll take half a dozen.

Chips and...

The hostess checked in a few times, and told me my sandwich would be along shortly. I'm a big fan of such announcements: It gives me a chance to finish my current course (and ask for more time, if necessary) and helps prevent the untimely delivery of one dish on top of another. So far, no complaints.

Salsa (white habenero, pico de gallo & mango chipotle)

Until my entree arrived, that is. The sandwich is enormous (see top) and stuffed with cole slaw, fried chicken, covered in an orange chipotle glaze with two crispy slices of piloncillo (unrefined Mexican sugar) bacon, one thin slice of tomato and cheddar cheese, which I asked not to have. It's served next to an odd mix of curly and regular fries, thrown into an ugly paper bag with visible grease marks. Presentation-wise, a B+ for the torta, and an F for the spuds. As for taste, not much better. The curly fries were crispy and hot, but the other fries were flimsy and (practically) cold. Neither had any kind of seasoning to speak of, but at least the curly fries were edible.

A brown paper bag?

My request for no cheese apparently fell on deaf ears. I'm not allergic (thank Heaven) but I like what I like, and I don't like melted cheese on an already messy sandwich. There's an awful lot of slaw (way too much, in fact) but it's tasty. The sandwich is so big, I actually had to cut it in half, which was a first for yours truly (insert big mouth joke here.) The bacon was crisp but lacked saltiness or sweetness, which was disappointing. The chicken was hot and flaky, with a sweet/tangy glaze, but it got lost in all that slaw. Less slaw would not only bring out the chicken, it would make it a heck of a lot less messy. The bun was visibly toasted, but I found it doughy, soft and surprisingly fragile (especially the bottom half.)

Normally, I wouldn't mind a few shortcomings, but I never had a chance to voice my displeasure. Once my entree arrived, the service ended. This, despite a total of two other diners in the restaurant. In addition to not having a chance to return my sandwich (because of the cheese,) I had to sit in front of my plate for 15 minutes after "finishing" it. I actually turned sideways on my seat for the final five minutes, to no avail. A second server finally arrived, and I explained that I had been finished for quite some time, and gave her my credit card. No questions asked, in regards to an almost full plate. No chance to order dessert. Not even a good-bye (from either the hostess or the server.) Again, I could understand if the restaurant was packed, but it wasn't.

On a positive note, the restaurant looks really nice. For starters, this space is custom built for busy Friday and Saturday nights, not to mention weekend brunch. I can't speak for noise (the restaurant was almost empty, while I was there) but the design provides optimal spacing between a 25-seat bar area, a communal table that holds up to 15 and the rest of a colorful/vibrant dining room. Chairs are comfy, and there's lots of interesting street art/murals all about. Music is old school Latin (Fania All Stars, Cheo Feliciano) and plays at a comfortable level. There's also a few seats outside, which fits the neighborhood to a tee, especially for a few drinks and that to-die-for mango chipotle salsa & chips after work.

It's worth noting, Le Kon has only been open for a month, so a second visit is in order (perhaps for Sunday brunch, when the staff is at full throttle.) Early reviews have been very positive, and you can't really get a feel for a place during off-hours. Until the next, hopefully better time...