New York: June 2022
Jamal James Kent and Jeff Katz are on a roll with their new ventures, Crown Shy and Saga. Enticed by Crown Shy’s more casual setting, we decided to drop by. No wonder it’s a hit – the food speaks for itself.
Profile: Jamal James Kent
Born and raised in Greenwich Village, New York, Jamal James Kent has passed through some of New York City’s most iconic kitchens.
He studied at Johnson & Wales, followed by further training at the Le Cordon Bleu. By 2001, Kent was already working at Babbo, moving to Jean-Georges by 2003. But 2007 marked a significant turn, as he joined Eleven Madison Park. Starting as a chef de partie, his dedication and skill quickly saw him rise to chef de cuisine by 2011. It’s no coincidence that Eleven Madison Park secured three Michelin stars the next year.
In 2013, Kent took on a new challenge as the Executive Chef at the NoMad, joining this side project led by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara. However, the pull to start something of his own was strong. In 2017, partnering with Jeff Katz, formerly manager of Del Posto, Crown Shy was born. By March 2019, the restaurant opened to public acclaim, earning a Michelin star and two stars from the New York Times’ Pete Wells within the year.
But Kent and Katz didn’t stop there. 2021 saw the duo unveiling Saga on the building’s top floor, flanked by a cocktail bar, Overstory. Not surprisingly, Saga clinched two Michelin stars the following year.
The concept behind Crown Shy
Crown Shy’s venue in the Financial District is a real eye-catcher. Thanks to its Art Deco architecture, it blends beautifully with the district’s historic charm. Once inside, you’ll find a spacious, modern restaurant that makes good use of the building’s classic Art Deco elements. During the day, the large windows flood the restaurant with natural light, but it can feel a bit dim in the evening.
Kent and Katz’s vision for the restaurant continues the departure from the traditional norms of fine dining, offering a laid-back approach. There’s no need to dress up, you won’t find fancy tablecloths here and most dishes are designed to share. The atmosphere is lively, especially in the evenings, creating an energetic backdrop for your meal. This relaxed sophistication resonates with what diners have been gravitating towards lately, and the rising popularity of the restaurant confirms it. It’s worth noting that this is a large operation, able to accommodate up to 300 guests with the help of a staff of 50.
Regarding the cuisine, Crown Shy’s menu strikes a balance between familiar comfort and a touch of creativity. The cuisine is indulgent without going overboard in complexity. It doesn’t attempt to mirror the sophistication of Eleven Madison Park, but evokes feelings of a more refined Contra or RavioXo by David Muñoz. The result is a style that balances on a thin edge between the uprising food porn movement and refinement. While the cuisine leans towards Western influences, it incorporates flavours from New York City’s multicultural heritage. You won’t be shocked by the offerings, but you certainly won’t be bored either. At its core, the restaurant deliver flavourful, memorable meals.
A glimpse into the menu
The wine list was great, but we happened to have some great wines from Kongsgaard BYOB.
We started our meal with their popular Gruyère Fritters, Chili, Lime. At first glance, they might seem like short, stuffed churros, but they are made from a special pommes dauphine batter and filled with a rich Gruyère sauce. Soft on the inside with a gentle crispy shell, they’re adorned with a chilli and dehydrated lime powder mix that brings to mind a blend of citric acid and cayenne. This flavour pairing provides a interesting contrast that ties the dish together.
We continued with some Bucatini, Morels, Peas, Pecorino. Great pasta with good chew and density. The sauce leaned heavily on pea flavour, resembling a pea and Pecorino pesto. The presence of morel pieces was subtle, their flavour almost elusive. In contrast, the sautéed peas and snap peas delivered a pure green freshness, echoing spring. The pairing with our 2018 Sauvignon Blanc from Kongsgaard was excellent.
Our first main course (no, we can’t get used to calling main courses entrées) was a Pork Chop Katsu, paired with Fennel, Gooseberries, Sorrel. The katsu was exceptional, perfectly crisp outside, with a crust that resisted the heavy saucing and salad on top. The pork was succulent, tender, and packed with flavour, marking it as the best katsu we have tried so far. A mixture of yoghurt/sour cream and mint was spread on top. Alongside it went a salad of julienned fennel, sorrel and gooseberries that provided some freshness. The plate was finished with a glace of pork jus with an orange zest, adding an umami boost similar to the traditional tonkatsu sauce that goes with katsu.
As everything can be shared in Crown Shy, we shared our second main too. Their signature 48-hour sous vide Short Rib took center stage, elegantly sliced and presented over a rib bone on a bed of salt, coriander seeds, and pink peppercorns.It is accompanied with a Snap Peas, Favas, Quinoa salad and chimichurri. This prime cut of American beef was exceptionally tender and flavourful. When in the USA, do yourself a favour and try American beef. It was a great pairing with our Kongsgaard The Fimasaurus 2011.
As for the salad, the citric notes of lemon dominated, with some greenness from the snap peas, while the quinoa added a wonderful texture. Simple, but tasty. Not to be overlooked was a bowl of airy potato foam (resembling the texture from Opheem’s), which concealed sautéed and browned bacon bits.
Finally, for dessert, we had pastry chef Renata Ameni’s Sticky Toffee Pudding for Two, Pecan, Apple Sorbet. This version was less dense and contained fewer dates than what’s typically expected. Its texture is reminiscent of an apple cider doughnut, yet its rich molasses flavour made it undeniably sticky toffee pudding. It’s complemented by an indulgent dark caramel sauce, with pecans and hazelnuts adding crunch and a whisper of nutty bitterness.
For such a heavy dessert, the solution is provided in a separate bowl, a green apple sorbet topped with vanilla Chantilly. The green apple flavour was pure an intense, and the texture of the sorbet was textbook perfect.
Crown Shy offers an appealing dining experience, albeit with a premium price tag, which is expected in the Financial District. It’s true that one might find other establishments with comparable quality at a lower price. However, if you appreciate a mix of classic charm, a great wine list and a modern laid-back flair, Crown Shy is certainly worth considering.