If there is one interesting, and arguably positive, development that has come out of the COVID pandemic it is the ascendency of the ghost kitchen. As I wrote in May, ghost kitchens (ala “cloud” kitchens, “virtual” kitchens, or “dark” kitchens) are essentially restaurants that are all-kitchen — with no accommodation for on-site dining.
As I also acknowledged back then, restaurants have more to gain by catering to customers who phone their orders in through Seamless, GrubHub, and the like than they do from those who dine in-house. For one thing, takeout customers are far more likely to leave reviews than customers in the flesh, which if the restaurant is worth its salt, is a great — and cost-free — source of publicity.
If it seems like an inevitability that ghost kitchens are here to stay, it follows that the more ambitious of these eateries will work hard to perfect their craft. Enter CS DAK, which joined the New York restaurant scene on Jan. 7. The CS in the name stands for “Cuisine Solutions,” the DAK for “Dark Assembly Kitchen.”
The specialty of CS DAK, which operates out of the Pret A Manger at Madison Avenue and 49th Street, is dishes cooked sous vide (French for “under vacuum”). Food is sealed and slow-cooked in water at precise temperatures, which gives the chef total control over the flavor and texture of the finished product.
The question that naturally arises is how well the food fares during its journey from the restaurant kitchen to your home table. Regrettably CS DAK hasn’t solved the time-temperature conundrum either, which means some of the items arrive a degree or two south of where you’d prefer them.
Not so the lobster bisque, which reaches you piping hot: creamy, too, the thick, umber-hued potion generously studded with chunks of the sweet crustacean. Steak tartare challenges orthodoxy by dint of the beef selected: The kitchen starts off with sirloin, rather than tenderloin, which all else being equal is a much more flavorful cut. It breaks with tradition again via inclusion of a sprightly remoulade among the chopped onion, capers, chopped parsley, and other predictable mix-ins.
The menu at CS DAK, or perhaps I should say menus — there are half a dozen of them with numerous others in the works — range from casual fare, including breakfast items, to knife and fork offerings. Among the latter are two octopus selections. The harissa-rubbed variant has a nice tang, though you wish the accompanying white beans were more aggressively seasoned and weren’t quite so tepid. Osso buco, which requires a slow braise when cooked conventionally, is one of those dishes especially well-suited to sous vide cooking. The hefty knob of fork-tender veal is served for a change of pace with a creamy parmesan polenta and roasted veggies, on some nights Brussels sprouts speckled with spots of browning.
No desserts are offered at present.
Prices range from $7.99 to $17.99 for starters, and $24.99 to $34.99 for main courses.
CS DAK, 325 Madison Avenue (at 49th St.), is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for pickup or delivery.