Aliza Byrne lights up the doorway when she welcomes diners to Kitchen, the small bistro she opened with her chef-husband, Matthew Byrne, early last month. A woman of striking, Palm Beach-svelte looks, she greets you in the disarming way of an expert dinner party host welcoming you to her home.
Moments later, you’re catching snippets of often juicy conversation from the adjacent tables (yes, the place is that intimate) and discerning the berry-spice-oak notes in a glass of Hitching Post pinot noir, feeling very much at home.
You may not realize it, but you have hit upon the reason the Byrnes opened Kitchen in the first place – they envisioned the space as an extension of their home and hearth. It’s a tiny, well-utilized space in a small plaza on Belvedere Road near downtown West Palm.
Tiny but not trivial.
There’s nothing trivial about chef Byrne’s approach to ingredient-driven, modern American cooking. Byrne, a former personal chef who spent seven years cooking for golf great Tiger Woods, offers a menu that’s as inspired by the season as it is by his comfort food likings. A simple asparagus appetizer ($14) is made lush with a salty wrapping of prosciutto, a smear of French goat cheese, a poached egg crown and a bed of toasted bread crumbs – meet chef Byrne’s rendition of bacon, eggs and toast.
In his Farmhouse Tomatoes salad ($13), he offers a composition of locally grown, hydroponic heirloom tomatoes with fresh burrata cheese, arugula, basil, balsamic vinegar and virgin olive oil. The best part of the salad: The chef makes no attempt to manipulate its stellar ingredients.
Among entrée options of sumptuous duck ragout atop fettuccine, seared diver scallops with creamy bacon-accented Brussels sprouts, and filet of beef with tomato-blue cheese salad, you’ll find the Kitchen Burger ($18), a loaded-to-the-hilt burger of three cuts of meat (brisket, grass-fed chuck and short ribs), luxed up foie gras and caramelized onions.
“It’s a manly burger. It’s for a big appetite,” offered our genial, well-informed server. Indeed, but I can think of quite a few ladies who might love this beast as well.
Kitchen does offer options for the portion-conscious – there’s a simply grilled fish served with charred lemon (market price), a seared salmon with corn-leek risotto ($28) and the Simple Chicken with garlic spinach ($24). But my eyes skipped past those options and landed on the dish touted as the chef’s favorite: a buttery chicken schnitzel ($26) topped with a seasoned tangle of arugula and sweet onion and a gorgeous fried egg.
That egg breaks over the lightly acidic greens, finding an echo of richness in the crispy cutlet. Never mind that the well-heeled diners at the adjacent table are exploring topics from world travels to cocktail parties to the social anxieties of acquaintances – you’re having schnitzel with a fried egg on top and it tastes like home.
You’re having such a nice time, in fact, that you order a homemade pumpkin crème brulee ($9) for dessert and savor its whispers of fall.
In the end, if you were to be absolutely brutal, you might take another look at the menu and decide that it may be too simple to truly challenge the chef. But then you realize this simplicity is deceiving when you consider the menu will change regularly and that even the simplest dishes here have considerable nuance.
Besides, you’ve eaten too darn well to entertain any such thought.
R E V I E W
ADDRESS: 319 Belvedere Road, #2, West Palm Beach
PRICE RANGE: Moderate to expensive
NOISE LEVEL: Intimate
FULL BAR: An interesting, nicely curated wine list and several beer options are offered.
HOURS: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m.
CREDIT CARDS: Major cards accepted
RESERVATIONS: Strongly suggested – the place is small and busy.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother