Kaya’s Offers a Great Fusion of Cuisine
Dishes are a combination of taste and delight.
This three-year old restaurant advertises itself as Kaya’s Fusion Cuisine. Why “fusion cuisine” is not instantly apparent? It is not a fusion of two distinct cuisines, for example Thai-French, or other such Asian fusion menus.
Rather it signals that many of chef-owner Michael Hawthorne’s dishes are eclectic, multi-cultural combinations using elements of two or more cuisines, frequently resulting in unusual food and flavor juxtapositions on the same plate.
A number of his dishes are certainly creative, his food sense on target; i.e., the combinations are not absurdly out of synch taste-wise, texture-wise, and otherwise, as is sometimes the case from chefs with a proclivity for doing oddball combinations just to be ‘creative’ and different.
On my most recent revisit, I found that Hawthorne has changed things up over time, both to satisfy his regulars and perhaps to keep his creative juices flowing.
This family-run BYOB is co-owned by Hawthorne’s wife, Jessica. Her sister Krista was our attentive server. Krista’s brother also is a server, and was a main contributor to the dining room’s attractive interior design.
One of Hawthorne’s most popular and best dishes is his shrimp cocktail appetizer (a reasonable $11). It combines—ok, it “fuses”—some of the more wonderful foods on the planet: grilled jumbo gulf shrimp, guacamole, mango, papaya, and pico de gallo. Any Mexican restaurant would be proud of this starter.
The plump shrimp were marinated in “Cabo Wabo” (a brand of tequila)—what fun just to say the name—and were expertly grilled with lime juice and fresh herbs, leaving them moist and imparting a lovely grilled taste.
A hot bowl of cream of wild mushroom soup was another perfect starter on a cold night. The soup was transcendently delicious. Among the different mushrooms were many thin strands of spaghetti-like anokhi gourmet mushrooms.
From the three salads listed, we chose the smoked duck salad ($13), the slices of gamy duck supported by very fresh fronds of frisee dressed in a subtly sweet ice wine vinaigrette, creamy dreamy fried goat cheese, and a sunny-side-up quail egg. How’s that for unusual fun ingredients?
We almost went with the fish-of-the-day, grilled Mediterranean sardines, which Krista assured us were not at all fishy like canned sardines. Instead, my Lovely Dining Companion’s choice of the pan-seared salmon filet ($19) was “to die for.”
The medium-sized filet was cooked to her very rare liking, and was intriguingly complemented by the flavors of a divine mango ginger glaze, rice noodles, blood orange infused olive oil, ginger, and a carrot & cucumber pesto.
My main course selection, jumbo lump crab cakes ($22), turned out to be much less fortunate. The two cakes were fashioned into the shape of a large marshmallow. As a result, the panko outer breading, though thin and tasteful, had the effect of giving the crab cakes a high complement of filler when eaten.
Only a few pieces of crab survived preparation as “jumbo lump.” The in situ (“on the plate”) sides—a puree of cannellini beans with chablis wine and tarragon, asparagus spears, and a saffron champagne sauce—were, however, another display of Hawthorne’s culinary genius.
For the more carnivorous, the menu includes a daily chef-selected steak special. That evening two steak specials were offered.
Our bottle of Frascati went perfectly with our fish focused meal. Kaya’s supplied us with large sparkling clean, quality stemware. Their corners gently curved upward, square white porcelain dishes attractively set off all the various foods.
A sign proudly told that Kaya’s had won a Best of Philly award in 2009 for its cheesecake. Of course, we had to share a wedge of the excellent chocolate chip cheesecake with a crust of graham cracker crumbs. This delightful dessert was made complete by a hot cup of fresh-brewed One Village Coffee, a fair-trade company that Kaya’s purveys.
Overall Rating: mmmm 1/4 (out of 5 m’s) great little BYOB.