It's not often that one sits down to an extravagant four-course meal in a master chef's kitchen, but this is just one of many unique elements about Chef Poon's Kitchen Table. If you are looking for a traditional dining experience, the plethora of more traditional Chinatown options may be more suitable. Poon's new venue requires reservations and is geared towards special parties and events, so the menu and price vary greatly. Still, renowned master chef Joseph Poon's unorthodox yet progressive vision continues to delight guests.

Poon's humble beginnings are most present in his new location, which just opened in September. Born into abject poverty in Hong Kong, he was a self-proclaimed "beggar" throughout his childhood. He worked 18-20 hour days to pay his way through the Culinary Institute of America. "My insatiable appetite for learning has allowed me to succeed," remarks Poon. "I am very lucky. That is why I like to give back to the community by cooking for charities and disadvantaged kids."

The essence of Poon's operation is twofold: to teach underprivileged Chinese youth about their culture and to instruct them in the art of Asian cuisine. He stresses, "I don't operate a restaurant; it is a place where individuals can learn." He values having fun in the kitchen above all, which was clearly on display during his guest appearance on Jay Leno, where he carved watermelons and bananas.

Practically speaking, the decor in Poon's new locale is stunningly minimalist, and the extensive stainless steel lends an air of prison-cell frigidity. But since the primary function of Chef Poon's Kitchen Table is to host banquets and instruct individuals, the decor naturally has far less importance for the Hong Kong native. However, the food leaves little to be desired, as Chef Poon skillfully incorporates exotic ingredients to form "nutritious dishes that have wide appeal." Wild mushroom soup was garnished with spinach nachos and red Chinese herbs that perfectly counterbalanced the soup's salty chicken broth. The second dish was a mixed green salad with chicken satay and a traditional Chinese spring roll. Served over an energetic sesame sauce, the chicken was moist and the greens especially crisp. The main dish was Poon's specialty, General Joe's Chicken. It included deep fried spinach, zucchini and green beans among other vegetables. The stroke of genius was in the sauce, which utilized hot sauce, soy sauce, vinaigrette and Chardonnay as the base ingredients. The dessert was perhaps the only disappointment of the meal. The homemade almond cookie lacked imagination, and the low fat cheesecake left me clamoring for something sweeter and more filling.

Although Chef Poon's Kitchen Table may not be the ideal dining spot for a Saturday night, its interactive setting allows the restaurant-goer to gain new insights and an overall greater enjoyment for the cooking process.


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