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Surf Yes! Turf, Not So Much

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“It’s like tasting the ocean,” remarked my dining companion as we tried the eight types of raw oysters in the Cold Tower at KEE Oyster House. The White Plains restaurant, which opened in February, labels each oyster variety, allowing diners to determine which types they prefer. (A chalkboard by the entrance reveals what’s available each day.) After sampling Kumamoto and Fanny Bay from the West Coast and Wellfleet and others from the East (16 oysters total), we experienced firsthand how oysters from the Atlantic Ocean are brinier, while those from the Pacific are sweeter. 

Our friendly and solicitous waiter, Savarino, told us that even the oyster-averse become converts, especially after tasting the West Coast varieties. “I tell people to try the Kumamoto and Fanny Bay first,” he revealed. For the ultimate experience, pair the saltier East Coast oysters with the restaurant’s slightly sweet and textbook-perfect cocktail sauce. Meanwhile, vinegar and fresh lemon balance out the sweeter West Coast varieties. 

Although oysters take center stage at KEE Oyster House, the impressive Cold Tower also includes fresh, impeccably cooked crab, shrimp, lobster, and raw clams served over crushed ice. Meanwhile, a Hot Tower features baked clams, grilled shrimp and oysters, lobster with tarragon butter, and a (non-creamy) bay scallop-and-crab gratin. Melted butter and garlic perfume the seafood, while breadcrumbs gild the clams. At $45 for the Cold Tower and $48 for the Hot Tower, these majestic offerings are well-priced starters or entrées—reasons enough to visit this restaurant. With some exceptions, I wish we had stopped there.

Although the owners have extensive experience at steakhouses, the “turf” at KEE was a disappointment. I ordered a tenderloin and a sirloin cooked medium-rare, yet one came medium and the other medium-well. Both slightly dry and bland pieces of steak were accompanied solely by Béarnaise sauce (the restaurant does not offer a choice of sauces). In steakhouse fashion, sides (such as grilled asparagus, fries, or creamed spinach) are extra. 

Meanwhile, the lobster that accompanied a dry-rubbed prime sirloin in the shockingly pricey $82 surf and turf was overcooked, although I appreciated that the staff cut the lobster for us. (The restaurant offers five different surf-and-turf options, with lamb, beef, chicken, and pork.) Roasted halibut with grape-tomato stew (also pricey, at $34) was tender and generously portioned. Yet, the dish was uninspired and lacked sufficient sauce—an issue with the majority of the entrées. Since we brought our children one night, we tried an off-menu offering: fried chicken tenders and fries. Although golden and crispy on the exterior, the dish was under-seasoned. 

That said, the day-boat scallops and head-on prawns with lemon-caper vinaigrette entrée pair a flavorful sauce and well-cooked seafood. Potato chips add crunch to the tuna tartare with Dijon vinaigrette (a solid rendition, though pricey at $16). The rolls, meanwhile, were bounteous, warm, and fresh.

Fortunately, meals here end on a high note, with the desserts. We tried four: the cheesecake, chocolate cake, apple cobbler, and “KEE” lime pie, and all impressed us. The cheesecake features a graham-cracker crust and creamy, slightly lemony filling. The chocolate cake is not too sweet, incredibly moist, and intense with chocolate flavor. The tart-like KEE lime pie balances buttery richness with the pucker of citrus, while the cobbler brims with tender apple slices and is topped with French vanilla ice cream. Also winning are the cocktails, including the Oyster House Amigo, with its sweet-sour melding of tequila, fresh lime and lemon juices, peach nectar, and agave nectar. For the ultimate experience at KEE, order cocktails, the Hot and Cold Towers, perhaps the prawn-and-scallop entrée, and dessert. 

Despite overly long wait times for entrées during both of my visits, the service excelled. The wait staff, dressed in crisp white shirts, black pants, and suspenders, was uniformly friendly and positive, and our water glasses were constantly replenished. 

Similarly noteworthy is the sophisticated and uber-stylish interior. Amber pendant lights add splashes of color to the black-white-and-gray design. The lofty black ceiling, arches, and tall windows lend airiness to the space. The atmosphere is appealingly lively, though the restaurant can be quite noisy at busy times. (Consider asking for a table away from the oyster bar if you prefer a quieter meal.) Either way, some discriminating ordering at KEE will leave you feeling like the world is your oyster.  

KEE Oyster House

126-128 E Post Rd, White Plains
(914) 437-8538

www.keeoysterhouse.com 

Food 2.5/4★
Service 3/4★
Atmosphere 4/4★ 
Cost $$$$ 

Cos Cob-based writer Dina Cheney is the author of The New Milks; 100-Plus Dairy-Free Recipes for Making and Cooking with Soy, Nut, Seed, Grain, and Coconut Milks (Atria/Simon & Schuster).

 

The seafood towers are exceptional at KEE Oyster House

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