A new restaurant has opened in West Palm Beach, but it's not a Clematis Street or City Place establishment. Instead, it's a tiny bistro a few miles south of the city's downtown area, a new hidden gem for a scene in desperate need of a few diamonds in the rough.
It's kitchen, so-named because chef-owner Matthew Byrne and his wife, Aliza, are all about simplicity. Here, the philosophy is: buy nothing but the highest-quality, freshest ingredients, and do as little to them as possible. Labeled a contemporary American brasserie, Byrne and Aliza are hand every night, there to ensure your experience is no different than walking into their own home.
A Philadelphia-native, Byrne began cooking at the age of 12, working in the kitchen after school at the restaurant next door to his mother's office. There, he fell in love with the industry, helping chefs to do the small chores and eventually working the line right alongside them. During his earlier years, Byrne was fortunate enough to work with some of the area's top chefs, including those at Bistro St. Tropez, where he was introduced to a family that would later ask him to be their private chef in both Pennsylvania and -- for several months out of the year -- South Florida. Later, he was introduced to Tiger Woods, and became not only his personal chef, but also the estate manager of his Jupiter home.
"I saw myself opening my own restaurant, but never thought about being a private chef. Looking back, it's something that's allowed me to hone my skills and refine my cooking," Byrne told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview. "When [Aliza and I] decided to do something on our own, we knew we wanted it to be small. Making the transition from being a private chef back into high-volume cooking, size was very important to me because I wanted to be able to control everything."
Both Byrne and his wife envisioned kitchen as an extension of their West Palm Beach home. They are close enough to walk to work -- and often do -- Aliza greeting you at the door when you arrive, while her husband cooks the line each night, just two sous chefs by his side. To keep the neighborhood bistro vibe strong, they transformed the space - formerly Vagabond's - into a living room of sorts. It's a small space, just ten tables inside and six outside, with a separate chef's room for private events. Inside the decor is clean and contemporary, a striking mix of dark wood against stark white linens and walls.
Like the decor, the menu is also clean and simple. Here, Byrne's refined taste is the focal point, the culmination of 14 years worth of experience cooking for people with sophisticated palates and the money to spend on high quality ingredients. That means daily deliveries of everything from seafood and meat, to produce delivered by local farmers.
"Our motto has really become 'use the best ingredients and do as little to it as possible.' [My wife and I] don't put anything on the menu we don't eat ourselves," said Byrne.
At kitchen, the day's dishes change often; sometimes once or twice a week -- or daily, depending on what is available. If something is in season, it's used across the menu from appetizers and small plates, to side dishes and desserts -- until it runs out. While the menu rotates entrees often, there are a few staples Byrne loves, including his personal favorite dish: chicken schnitzel. Organic chicken breast is pounded thin, then dressed in a parmesan and Panko bread crumb crust fried in olive oil. It's finished with charred lemon zest and a special arugula mushroom salad, and topped with a fried egg.
One thing Byrne wants you to keep in mind: keep it simple.
"We don't take ourselves too seriously. At the end of the day we enjoy our success, but don't want this to be the new destination restaurant for special occasions. This is the type of place you can feel comfortable to come by as often as you like, never have the same dish twice, and enjoy a good meal."
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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