I want to begin by talking about my favorite restaurant in the world. Not the 'greatest' restaurant, or the place where I've had the best meal, but the restaurant that appeals to me the most; and it's a diner in my hometown that's been open 24/7 since 1939. I love a restaurant that's open at all times of day and year because food takes on a new level of pleasure at the hours when deep down you know you shouldn't be awake. At night when you sometimes wonder if you're the only normal person still up, when civilized society doesn't want to leave the comfort and responsibility of its beds, there you are out and about, taking in everything this crazy city has to offer.
All this brings me to a Hollywood establishment frequented by the late night recording techs and the partiers called Kitchen 24. Kitchen 24 may not quite have the decades of baked-in history, but in its place you get a very modern and hip atmosphere. A pair of televisions in the back are probably the only distractions from the people watching, but even when the restaurant is empty there's still a lot to focus on. Yes, the light fixtures are made from cutlery woven together. And yes, a whole section of the menu is dedicated to cupcakes and is well worth a long look.
The rest of the menu is just as much worth a long look, if only for the fact that there is a lot to look at, even when you take out the sections dedicated to shakes, desserts, drinks, and catering. Breakfast is served 24/7 and covers all of the options fairly expansively, and lunchy-type sandwiches, salads and soups feels like it serves everything you'd ever want between bread, in a bowl or on lettuce. The handful of entrees only get to come out from 5 pm to 5 am, and even though six options manage to cover a wide territory, it looks skimpy by comparison. But from tiny acorns, mighty oaks come, as we are told.
The grilled salmon entree was on the small side, but boy did it look good sitting on that plate. The outside had developed just the right amount of a crust, and biting into my filet, I eagerly awaited the rush of unmistakable salmon flavor. Twenty four hours later, and I am still waiting for that flavor rush. It's as though they built a flavor knob that you can see goes to eleven, but someone's taped it in place at five. The mashed potatoes were unremarkable, but the vegetables were astonishingly good. I normally eat just enough of them to be polite, but these were bold and lemony florets of broccoli and rounds of carrot and zucchini. I liked them for not only being probably the high point of the meal, but also because I felt like I was making smart dietary choices. In spite of all their goodness, I can't shake the feeling that something is wrong with an entree when the best part of it is the side dish.
Other dishes on the menu have their share of “a bit toos” and “not quite enoughs”. The meatball sandwich? Not quite enough fat or seasoning in the meatball. The citrus-pineapple chicken wings were tender, and the sauce had a simmering kind of chili hit, but I couldn't taste enough of the pineapple. There also wasn't enough of the sauce for my liking; when the menu refers to it as a 'glaze' they're very accurate in their wording. The pulled pork was fall apart in your mouth tender and paired well with the house-made potato chips, but it just wasn't fun enough to eat. As with the chicken wings, there was not quite enough sauce, and there was a bit too much coleslaw.
All three of those dishes feel a bit too sanitized. Where the animal instinct in me wants a sandwich or wings that are messy, saucy, and juicy, instead it gets a meal that feels a bit neutered. Easier to handle, sure, but you can tell that part of the fun is gone. The flip side of this is that the dishes are far more drunk-friendly. You would really have to try hard to wind up with sauce stains on your clothes; the inadvertent spill is something that just can't happen.
It's flavors that don't quite get there and dishes that compromise to become a little neater and daintier that wind up coloring most of my experience here. Kitchen 24 falls into the category of restaurants where the food is good, but not great. But it's a place where the experience and the things at which it excels can only be truly appreciated well after dark. It's clean, it's comfortable and the servers are polite and attentive. Kitchen 52 is for those nights when you don't want the night to end, but don't want to keep on partying your hardest. It's the slow decrescendo at the end of your favorite song. In and of itself, nothing to get too excited about. But as the moment where your whole night gets a chance to catch up with you and sink in, a place like kitchen 24 is what makes the whole experience.