It’s not often one comes across a restaurant that serves Itameshi, a fusion of Japanese and Italian food, with seamless finesse. Kimika, located at The Nolitan Hotel, 40 Kenmare Street in New York City, does just that. The menu delivers a pleasing mosaic of flavors and textures from Italy and Asia.
The woman-run kitchen is overseen by Executive Chef Christine Lau and Pastry Chef Clarice Lam, who share many similarities in addition to first and last name initials. Both their parents emigrated from Hong Kong to the West Coast. Lau grew up in Oakland, California and Lam in Los Angeles.
Each developed a fascination with food early in their lives.
A competitive soccer player throughout her youth, Lau started cooking with her brother while their parents were traveling. At age 17 she was assigned a senior high school project to work 100 unpaid hours. Lau opened the San Francisco Zagat Guide and contacted the top restaurants, eventually landing an externship at One Market Restaurant where George Morrone was serving as executive chef. Expecting to do office work, Lau was instead assigned to work a food station. Though Lau ended up studying Media, Communications and Culture at New York University and for a time worked in the corporate world, her desire to work in restaurants never left her.
Her initiation into Italian cooking started with Chef Scott Conant and Chris Cannon at their Manhattan restaurants, L’Impero and Alto. She also worked alongside friend and mentor, Chef Patti Jackson, at I Trulli and Centovino. Between jobs, she traveled to Asia to explore the cuisines. “I spent a decade working in Italian cuisine and left it for Asian,” Lau said.
Lam’s parents traveled extensively and moved from Los Angeles to Hong Kong for her father’s work. A fashion model for over a decade, Lam traveled extensively on assignment in Europe and Asia and enjoyed immersing herself in the cuisines. She ended up enrolling in the French Culinary Institute (now part of Institute of Culinary Education). Drawn to the pastry side of the business, Lam worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market in Manhattan and The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn. “Pastry was much more zen than working the line in a kitchen,” said Lam.
Lau and Lam enjoy exploring Manhattan dining spots. Their energy is contagious, and their dishes are both playful and thoughtful. Kimika’s menu offers plenty of options for those who eat meat and for those who do not. Everything is shareable. “At Kimika it is about finding the intersection of two cuisines, but we do not try to force them. We want the ingredients and techniques to shine,” said Lau.
Crispy Rice Cake Lasagne is an umami rich dish of sweet Italian sausage, spicy cabbage, scallions and provolone, delivers a savory creamy, cheesy and crunch. “I was inspired to create this dish after making numerous bowls of Bolognese in my career. The crispy rice cake is a type of Tteokbokki, a Korean rice cake, that I’d often eat after getting off work late at night,” said Lau.
Whole Grilled Branzino topped with dungeoness crab, shrimp, manila clams, sepia and a savory ponzu-shiso ankake sauce is pure heaven. This is one of the best branzino dishes I have tasted and easily shareable.
Desserts are a creative twist on a traditional sweet. A miniature Tiramisu Baked Alaska features mascarpone ice cream, coffee chiffon cake and croissant crunchies.
Lam’s Mochi Bomboloncini is derived from mother’s mochi recipe. Similar to popular Asian fried sesame balls, Kimika’s version is meant to resemble Ferrero Rocher candy which Lam shared is considered the “gold standard” of bon bons in many Asian cultures. The mochi is filled with Nutella and hazelnut, coated in sesame and ground hazelnuts and rolled in sugar.
The popular Yakult soft serve sundae was inspired by a fast-food visit to Wendy’s. The frosty milkshake is topped with macerated strawberries crispy chicken skin streusel and pocky pearls.
Kimika offers a nice selection of craft beers and cocktails and a reasonable wine list. Hours of operation are Monday through Sunday for dinner, and weekend brunch Saturday and Sunday. www.kimikanyc.com