Opened in June, 2005, Kunkel’s Seafood and Steakhouse restaurant is like finding the pearl in the oyster from the looks of it. Standing alone at the end of a mostly abandoned strip of stores who’s primary resident is Tony Soprano’s Pizza, Kunkel’s looks like a charming little restaurant that you would find in a much more upscale neighborhood. When you walk inside, you really are transformed into what you might think of when you think of a dinner club – rich woods, warm colors, roaring fireplaces. Everything from the beautiful mahogany bar to the lovely yet subtle paintings on the wall gives you a feeling of warm and cozy.
Back in September, we ate at Kunkel’s for my birthday. At the time, we found service to be a bit lacking and the food needing a heavy hand with the salt and pepper shakers. That was okay. The atmosphere was lovely, we were out of the house without our children, and we had a nice, leisurely meal that lasted nearly 2 hours.
When we were trying to decide where to eat on this particular evening in February, 2006, Jim decided he wanted to go back to Kunkel’s. It was, afterall, much cooler now, so those roaring fireplaces would be roaring and making the place even more comfortable. We arrived just after 8 on a Thursday evening. The bar had a couple of patrons seated there, but the restaurant was virtually empty. There was one couple just finishing their meal, another couple close to finishing, and one couple who must have arrived shortly before we did. By the end of the night it was just Jim and I, leaving at about 9:20. We were seated immediately, and after a couple minutes of a wait, our waiter came over to introduce himself and describe the specials. Jim interrupted him and ordered drinks right away (It should be noted here that Kunkel’s is a BYOB restaurant). Another few minutes passed, and he came back with the drinks, then gave us the list of specials. We placed our order, and after some confusion with the clams Jim ordered, a large plate of a dozen top stone clams was delivered to the table.
I want to mention that when we were here last, they spoke of the awesome raw bar that they would be putting up at the front of the restaurant. I think one of the reasons Jim wanted to go here was because of the raw bar, that would surely have been up and functioning by now. Well, the waiter explained that the raw bar was closed because of the smell and because it was just easier for them to open the seafood in the kitchen. That was disappointing. Jim had not really looked at the raw bar options, so he placed an order for “cherrystones” – meaning clams. Our waiter finished taking our order and said, “I’ll be right back with your oysters.” I waited patiently to see if that was just a mix up in vocabulary, but a minute later, he came back and told Jim which kinds of oysters they had, since they did not have cherrystone oysters. Jim told him they were clams, so the guy set off again. I heard someone giving him a lesson on clams and clam sizes, and he came back yet again to let Jim know that they had no cherrystones, only little necks and top necks. Jim settled on the top necks, and eventually, they showed up.
I do not eat clams, but I did order a salad, which Jim did not. It would have been nice if the waiter had brought my salad while Jim was eating his clams, but perhaps he thought we would share the clams. After the clam plate was cleared away, he brought our soup. Jim ordered the winter vegetable soup and I ordered the crab soup. I only took a bite of Jim’s vegetable soup, but was completely unimpressed. The crab soup, however, was a huge disappointment. The broth was tomato based, but there was so little crab in the soup that there was absolutely no crab flavor. There was a ton of corn in it, so most of what I tasted was the corn. In addition to lacking crab flavor, the soup was terribly bland, and I was grateful for the salt and pepper shakers to add my own bit of spices.
About mid-way through my cup of soup, my salad arrived. It was a mixed green salad and I ordered the poppy seed dressing. The dressing is essentially honey mustard dressing with poppy seeds in it. It had a nice flavor, but I am a big salad dressing lover. The tiny portion that was served in a cup next to the salad barely covered the top layer of greens and one or two of the grape tomatoes. The rest of my salad, I ate dry 🙁
Next up, the entrees. I have to say, the menu here, although it calls itself a seafood and steak house, is rather limited in both options. Jim asked me several times to check the menu for a broiled seafood platter or something more than just one type of fish. I could find nothing. He settled instead for one of the pasta dishes – billed as spaghetti with lump crabmeat. I ordered the chorizo encrusted Mahi-Mahi, which was served with greens and chipotle sweet potatoes. Jim’s “spaghetti” turned out to be more of an angel hair pasta, and the thin tomato sauce, which seemed to have been mixed in with the pasta, had just a hint of crabmeat. There were definitely no “lumps” of crabmeat – more like strings of crabmeat mixed in. The biggest pieces of anything we found were a few pieces of sliced garlic, which really were the only flavor powerful in the dish.
The Mahi-Mahi was a bit of a mixed bag. The fish itself tasted fine – if a bit bland. The problem was, as soon as the fork was set to it, the chorizo crust crumbled and fell apart on the plate. You had to scoop up the fish, then scoop up some of the chorizo to get both flavors together. And can I just say, continuing on with the bland theme of the evening, I have never had a more mild chorizo in my life. I am not a spicy food lover, but I don’t mind a little kick to things. I enjoy a nice chorizo mixed in with seafood, rice, pasta, but this had literally no true flavor. The mashed sweet potato did have a bite from the chipotle peppers – almost too much for me. Again, not being a lover of hot and spicy foods, I thought the peppers in this dish over powered the sweet potato. But, knowing that lack of flavor was one of the problems we encountered on our last meal here, I never expected there to be as much heat in the potatoes as there was.
That brings me to the greens – the highlight of the evening. To use an old Southern saying, the greens were so good, they made you wanna slap yo’ momma!! They were smokey and delicious, and I could have eaten a whole plate of just those and left the fish and potatoes behind. YUMMY.
Because we were enjoying being in each other’s company, we took a chance on dessert. We ordered the caramel apple and pumpkin strudle. The strudle was almost egg roll in shape and was cut into two generous pieces. It was served drizzled with caramel and next to a small scoop of a maple ice cream. Oh man, the ice cream was so good – and served topped with a few sugar coated nuts. The strudel was okay – I only tasted one bite of apple in the half I ate, and the rest was basically a pumpkin pie filling. I’m not sure I like warm pumpkin pie, but when you took a bite of the strudel with the cold ice cream, it was very good. The ice cream was the star on this plate.
Service – well, considering the fact that we were the only table our waiter had, it was awful. Our drinks were never refilled in the nearly hour and a half that we were there until we ordered dessert and asked for them to be filled. During the whole time, our waiter only came over once to see how everything was. Dirty plates were left there too long, and when dinner was served, I had to clear away my salad dish myself, even though it had been sitting empty for quite some time.
It really is a shame that such a beautiful restaurant is so disappointing. You really want to love the food here, because you love the atmosphere. I am sorry to say we won’t be back – and I mean that. I love the cozy, warm ambience the restaurant has, I just don’t love the food. And since for two of us to dine, without alcohol, it cost nearly $90, I would have to LOVE the food to go back.