The Main Street Manayunk spot is ill-conceived.
Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares may be one of the great guilty pleasures of my week, but it became apparent recently that experiencing confrontation in a troubled restaurant from the comfort of my couch and being subjected to it in person are very different things.
Restaurateur, chef and Manayunk mainstay Tom Konidaris expanded his old standby Zesty’s with the more bar-food Munk & Nunn this spring. After some tweaking, highlights of the old Zesty’s menu found their way onto the more eclectic menu of Munk & Nunn.
Sadly, despite all the work on the space and on the food, the enterprise is still mired in the sort of problems that, if not remedied quickly, could very well cause the bell to toll for this perplexing and vaguely abbeylike space.
The decor is It’s a Small World proto-European and the wine list is riddled with misspellings. The menu is inspired, it seems, by the cuisine of the fantastical borderland between Greece, Belgium and Italy. Continental is one thing; nonsensical is another.
The meal was bookended by highlights: Warm house-baked bread that greeted us—chewy and yeast-sweet—and a pleasant, creamy (and purchased) lemon cheesecake that saw us off.
But in the middle much was amiss, and much went against the laws of dining nature as our creator-god of restaurants—some sort of great Gordon in the sky, perhaps—intended it.
Even with the dishes that made sense geography-wise, execution proved to be an Achilles’ heel: Greek-style baklava, for example, tasted as if it had been sitting around in a fridge or freezer for a few days getting mugged by an angry cinnamon stick, and had attained a texture more cake-like than phyllo-crisp.
The menu itself was a perplexing mishmash of cultural references, influences and cuisines, and many of the constituent dishes were just not prepared particularly well. Jamaican jerk “Nunn Wings” were plump and moist, but the dusting of jerk seasoning was desultory at best, and the side cup of sweet-and-sour sauce tasted as if it had come directly from a jar (turns out, upon further investigation, that the base of it did).
As for the three-cheese margherita flatbread, the dough was well-considered and blistered in all the right places, but the toppings were brought low by a sauce that tasted unpleasantly like little more than sweetened and warmed-through tomato paste.
Hummus was our only redeeming starter, and though the near-overabundance of raw garlic in the rough puree came close to throwing off its sense of balance, there was an honesty and exuberance to the dish that was missing from so much else.
Entrees, too, were underconceived and sloppily prepared. Steak frites, ordered medium rare, arrived overdone and underseasoned. The frites, nearly as thick as a baby’s wrist, were far too filling and mealy to eat more than a few. Moussaka possessed virtually none of the layering of flavors or sense of detail that a well-crafted one should: Eggplant, zucchini, ground beef, lamb and béchamel formed a homogenous hunk on the plate, each bite the same narrow range of muddied flavors as the last.
Moist, grilled whole dorado could have been a highlight had it been seasoned more aggressively: The occasional funky snap of caper was not enough to rescue this fish from a similarly boring fate.
Only the lamb burger stood out; while the meat itself leaned precariously close to dry, its pleasantly gamy flavor was balanced out by a sweet-ish tzatziki and the fresh zip of sliced red onions.
Then it happened. None of us had finished our entrees, and the waitress, as expected, asked if everything was OK. We assured her that it was: It was hot out and difficult to eat a lot, we weren’t going to be home the next day so wrapping up the leftovers wasn’t necessary, etc.
She got a pained look on her face and informed us that the chef wouldn’t be happy. And it was no more than a minute after she left our table with the half-eaten dishes before he appeared with a look on his face somewhere between utter disbelief and flat-out pissed off and proceeded to badger us about our lack of appetite.
You didn’t like my food? Be honest with me. You can tell me. What was wrong with the food? You didn’t want to eat everything? Conversation—and the evening itself—came to a screeching halt.
He eventually sulked away from the table after an uncomfortable minute-long interaction, but it was the bizarre coup de grâce of a night that had been on life support from the moment we walked in.
Next time, I think I’ll just stay home. Kitchen nightmares are far more fun from the comfort of my couch.
Munk & Nunn
4382 Main St.
Lunch at Rybrew is quick and cool