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Restaurant Kaya
Restaurant Closed - Cravin Thai now in this location.
4 Main Street
Hamburg, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 209-0300

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
December 11, 2006

Ensconced in a restored former bank building, once home to the much-loved Shelby's, Restaurant Kaya charms patrons with pomegranate-colored walls, yellow wainscoting -- and matching napery -- two tropical fish tanks, a copious collection of empty wine bottles, and silver pressed-tin ceiling. The ambiance exudes a spiffy, casual island flair but is still decidedly intimate and romantic.

If you should ever find yourself on safari in the wilds of Sussex County in need of civilized physical sustenance, Kaya is an absolutely essential addition to your little black book of restaurant possibilities. On the other hand, you might just decide to make the gastronomic pilgrimage for its own sake... Yes, Kaya is that good.

And proprietors Christian Skillen and Phil Prapopulos are always on hand to make sure your dining experience is a pleasant one. You're likely to find Mr. Skillen firmly entrenched behind the establishment's diminutive bar, shaking and/or stirring one of Kaya's premier cocktails; Mr. Prapopulos, on the other hand, may be seen animatedly conversing with customers on the subject of the restaurant's exceptionally fine wine list.

And speaking of wine... by-the-glass possibilities include a Domaine Roulot Bourgogne Blanc ($8.00), Sterling Chardonnay ($11.00), Glass Mountain Merlot ($7.00), and Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.00). The real gems, however, are to be found among the bottle selections. Prices of certain Bordeaux reach into the upper $300s, but there are a plethora of excellent mid-range choices. On two separate evenings, we sampled an excellent de Ladoucette Pouilly Fumé ($42.00) and an elegant 2002 Joseph Drouhin Savigny-les-Beaune ($41.00); the latter having been highly recommended by Mr. Prapopulos in lieu of my original selection.

The food, under the watchful eyes of executive chef Shawn Reid, sous-chef David Jenkins, and pastry chef Donald Shauger -- all CIA grads -- is an attractive amalgam of Caribbean, French, and Asian cookery. And the menu is a discriminating affair, headlining just seven appetizers, eight entrées, and a four-course tasting menu ($55.00) per person; $75.00 with wine pairings). Presentations are innovative but never intimidating, comforting rather than contrived, and portion sizes are ample but not prodigious.

You begin with an amuse-bouche -- recently enjoyed, for example, was bruschetta and apple, mango, and fig salsa kissed by a touch of honey, both reclining on crisp toasts -- and slices of rustic sourdough bread accompanied by a triptych of olive oil, hummus, and butter.

Kaya's salads make excellent starters. Mixed greenery is simply but elegantly presented with a profusion of crumbled goat cheese, circumscription of grape tomato halves, and mild balsamic vinaigrette ($6.00). Even better, however, is the salad of candy swirl beets and Brie cheese ($9.00). An epicenter of mesculin greens is surrounded by three beet-Brie "sandwiches" and grape tomato halves. And a lemon-sage dressing is a particularly pleasant culinary catalyst, defining rather than dominating the presentation with just the proper hint of acidity.

At the opposite end of the appetizer spectrum is an excellent seafood paella ($10.00). Three perfectly grilled shrimp encompass a diminutive mound of crabmeat-infused saffron rice. An exceedingly filling dish; but the portion size is just right, the seasonings perfectly balanced, and the inherent richness beautifully offset by crumbles of spicy chorizo sausage.

I also highly recommend the Asian-braised shredded beef ($8.00). The meat is marvelously tender and intensely flavorful on the wings of a heady hoisin reduction. Al dente glass noodles provide an appropriately pliable pillow and smattering of scallions a nice splash of color.

Entrées are equally appealing... and fish dishes are particularly noteworthy. The swordfish ($28.00) is encrusted with a sage & horseradish crust and pan-seared to a beautiful golden brown. The interior is firm and meaty and set on a cushion of luscious leek purée. Its traveling companions are a goat cheese polenta cake and spears of grilled asparagus.

The pan-roasted Atlantic salmon filet ($24.00) is cooked through (not translucent at the center), precisely as ordered, and luxuriates on a seabed of sautéed mushrooms and tender broccoli rabe. An armada of turned potatoes (potatoes whittled down to a diminutive football shape; idealistically, they are seven-sided and two inches in length), like the spokes of a wheel, are attractively placed at the periphery. The coup de grâce, however, is delivered by a superlative beurre blanc.

Meatier matters exhibit a comfortable and comforting rusticity. Three medallions of pork tenderloin ($25.00) are mouth-wateringly tender and wrapped in slices of shallot- and vanilla-infused bacon. These, in turn, recline on sautéed collard greens and slices of sweet potato. The crowning touch is a tiara of fig gastrique. An intriguing amalgam of tastes and textures... and the combination works beautifully.

For beef purists, the filet mignon ($33.00) is hard to beat. Garlic mashed potatoes furnish a sumptuous foundation, while a topping of herb compound butter adds a heady jolt to the velvety-textured filet. A mushroom ragout supplies a marvelously earthy note and sheaves of crunchy haricots verts a nice splash of color.

House-made desserts add a decidedly homey conclusion to your evening at table. The individual chocolate bread pudding topped with an espresso flan ($10.00) is rich and satisfying; the blueberry crepe is just the right consistency (not the least bit rubbery), packed with fruit, and embellished with two diminutive dollops of black raspberry ice cream and squiggles of passion fruit sauce; and a special walnut parfait ($8.00) is decadence personified. But if you really want to go out on a high note, opt for one of the ports, dessert wines, or single malt scotches.

Kaya's service is personable and professional, the casually-attired clientele suitably sophisticated, and the atmosphere decidedly romantic. Restaurant Kaya is a winner on all counts.

Cuisine: Caribbean, French, Asian
Hours: Dinner: Weds - Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Lunch: Fri- Sun, 12:00 noon - 2:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY & TUESDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended on weekend
Parking: Street parking
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.restaurantkaya.com

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