Cha Kee: Bringing Asian flavor to American comfort food

Written by Gina Lucchesi, CNN

Chef Harold Dieterle takes the food of Asia and brings it to the ultimate American bar. Cha Kee is a restaurant within a bar that aims to make food that’s fine and classic elevated into what Dieterle calls “precisely crafted foods that represent [his] culinary imagination.”

The restaurant serves American-style food with an international flavor experience. The clientele ranges from entrepreneurs to celebrities, and it is located at the former Glenelg Hotel, built in 1914, and is now occupied by a series of bars and restaurants. The original bar opened in 1934 as an English restaurant with no food. The Grand Ballroom became a lavish red-tiled dining room in 1955. Cha Kee occupies the biggest room, on the ground floor, and combines Asian and American food into a modern take on a classic American menu.

1 / 9 James Perse for Architectural Digest Photographer Joseph Choi loves the Art Deco look of the interior of Cha Kee — quite literally. He explains that he had to brush aside “any qualms” of working in a place with such a starkly nostalgic exterior (cue grimacing Mona Lisa). “At the same time, you’re bringing this massive, iconic piece of architecture into a contemporary setting,” he says. Credit: Architectural Digest

Unlike many of the newly opened Singaporean and Chinese restaurants that are currently taking over Manhattan, Cha Kee stays true to its name.

“Our chef had very good track record of his cooking. The old Thai place up the street and the South African and French restaurants — he knew them all. So he took those knowledge into the kitchen and put his own stamp on them,” explained Alexis Bledsoe, cha ke’s master developer. The menu is very informal, which is perfectly suited to restaurant surroundings.

Cha Kee itself is informal and pretty simple — the only nod to Asian influences is a few dried fish candies tucked away in the staff restrooms. There are standard cocktail cocktails and fresh juices, but plenty of old school cocktail drinks such as the Martini and the Manhattan. Side dishes include teriyaki potatoes and salmon tartare.

The cocktails taste nostalgic. Two cocktails I tried, the Strawberry Daiquiri and the French 75, tasted as if they had never been before, much like Dieterle. I also had the roast chicken and black bean chili salsa. The most important thing is that they taste good — I’m hooked on the spicy kick of the black bean sauce. The Chef recommends a dessert of chocolate caramel pecan pie, but he’d welcome the most edible dessert of all: the drinks, please.

Cha Kee, 544 Canal St., Manhattan, New York

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