Christina Wan is a dynamo. Not only does she run her popular restaurant serving traditional Cantonese, Szechuan, Mongolian and Peking dishes, she’s part owner of the recently opened Kitchen Four Twenty, located a few blocks down Federal from her original restaurant.
It’s obvious that she’s not the type to be a silent partner; on a recent Saturday when we visited the breakfast and lunch spot, she was wiping down tables, serving guests and greeting customers. It’s that kind of hands-on management that gives me hope for Kitchen Four Twenty. The first two times I visited the food was delish but the service, while friendly, left a lot to be desired.
The menu is made up of modern breakfast and lunch American classics served in a casual, diner-like setting. For those, like me, who are clueless, “Four Twenty” is police code for marijuana and, while the restaurant’s name is derived from its address, the service tends to be the kind of friendly, but spacey, behavior that you’d expect from someone sampling the product in question.
On our first visit, I ordered the breakfast combo #2; 2 eggs and 2 large sausage links with a choice of Belgian waffle or pancake. I opted for the “Giant” pancake, which was not so giant. First disappointment. The second was that I’d ordered a “banana crunch” pancake and got a regular one. I pointed out the mistake to our waiter who apologized and said he’d bring me the correct one. It took him more than 15 minutes and that was after we flagged him down a second time. However, my eggs were perfectly poached (it’s one of the dishes I use to judge a restaurant), the sausage cooked to my specifications and a side bagel delivered warm and toasty. Pretty good. My hubby got the “giant pancake trio (blueberry, banana nut and a plain) still not so giant, delivered without butter and one tiny ramekin of syrup (for three pancakes).
The majority of the breakfast items run about $8-$10. In addition to the pancake trio, there’s a lemon ricotta version as well as French toast and Belgian waffle. Egg dishes include a variety of Benedicts (bacon, nova salmon and fried green tomato), a chorizo hash, breakfast burrito, omelets and frittatas and a whole section labeled “healthy fare,” which this fat old queen passed on, but proved to be popular with the hipsters and gorgeous men that crowded the place. In fact the clientele is so good looking that I joked that there must have been a porn shoot around the corner that was on break.
We returned a few days later (to sample the food a second time-although the eye-candy was a nice bonus). Our friend ordered the Southern Cobb salad (black-eyed peas, corn, blue cheese, roasted poblanos and tomatoes tossed in a mixture of iceberg and kale then topped with a H-U-G-E piece of perfectly fried chicken. My hubby, as easy to predict as can be, ordered pancakes again. They are delish, I’ll give him that. I opted for the chorizo and roasted poblano frittata and asked the waiter if it came with toast. He offered a choice of sourdough or whole wheat. As he was doing so, Christina Wan popped in and corrected him saying it came with cornbread. I said that would be perfect. Of course, when the dish was delivered it had whole-wheat toast. After flagging down our waiter (where do they disappear to?), I asked for the cornbread. It took more than 10 minutes for it to arrive. By then I’d given up hope of it ever arriving and ate my frittata before it got cold.
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I got home and realized that even though I’d been back twice, I hadn’t sampled the lunch menu, so we returned a third time (what I won’t do for my readers!). This time we hit the restaurant during a less frenzied time, and I have to say that the service was markedly improved. Although it took a little longer for our food to arrive than I would expect, it was well worth the wait. My brisket sandwich featured a healthy portion of tender, melt in your mouth beef served with a side of jus for dipping (if the bowl had been larger, I would have been tempted to bathe in it). If you opt for this sandwich, order it on a po’boy roll, the sour dough bread it is served on isn’t sturdy enough to support such an abundant sandwich. A sturdier bun would benefit the veggie burger as well. Although tasty (and obviously freshly made), the burger fell apart and toppled off the flimsy, too-small hamburger roll.
A fried green tomato based BLT was delightful and the shrimp po’boy suffered from too much shrimp (if only all problems were so delightful). That just meant we had to eat a few from the top of the sandwich before lifting it to our drooling mouths. All sandwiches come with a choice of sides and the fact that there is no up-charge for a vegetable instead of fries, keeps you from being penalized for being healthy. The roasted Brussels sprouts and sautéed spinach are delightful, but you can opt for fries, (regular or sweet potato wedges), potato salad, slaw, corn, beans, grits, kale or braised cabbage.
Executive chef Brett Redstone, formerly of Il Migliori in Aventura, has put together a solid menu that the kitchen turns out well, if incompletely. The waitstaff seems to be a bunch of space cadets wandering around the dining room without purpose. If you manage to avoid the front of the house problems (try stopping in during a weekday, before or after the lunch hour), Kitchen Four Twenty will live up to the motto on the back of the server’s shirts, “highly addictive.”
Kitchen Four Twenty
420 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale