Posts Tagged 'NYC Restaurants'

Torrisi Italian Specialties, NYC

As our recent Euro-eating-trip was approaching, Rocky and I were supposed to be going easy on the eating out and saving money for our Copenhagen-Denia-San Sebastian line-up. But coming up on my last night off work before departure, I couldn’t help but call up Torrisi to see if they could get us in for their Chef’s Tasting Menu. After a moment on the phone, on and off hold, we were good to go. The menu was composed of roughly 20 ‘courses’, each paying homage to the history of NYC dining and food culture.

OUR AMERICANO. American in Italy. A bitter drink started the night. I believe it was something like Grapefruit, Wormwood, Cherry Bark, and Ginseng.

THE QUAIL’S OLIVE. Canned Bar Snack. Olive-brined quail eggs. They seemed more about the novelty than an attempt at a great flavor combination.

PRETZELS. Street Cart. Soft pretzel bites with caraway and mustard. A great little snack, but a stretch to be called a course.

SABLE CIGARETTES. Stork Club. Gnocco fritto, wrapped in smoked sable, dipped in cod roe, with poppy seed ash. Despite the gimmicky nature of this snack, I thought it was delicious.

OYSTERS. Bloch & Guggenheim Deli Peppers. The peppers left a nice spice on the finish to follow the brine, but were a little strong for the oyster.

LITTLE NECK CLAM. on the Half Shell. The foam had great acid and a little bitterness to compliment the clam and balance with the neighboring half shell.

BUCKWHEAT CAVIAR KNISH. Yonah Shimmel Celebrates. Brilliant. The crunch of the buckwheat, the Hackleback salinity, a little red onion. Great snack.

RABBIT TERRINE. Toasted Italian Bread. Another winner. Rich rabbit game, nicely seasoned, countered by sour cherry jam, lemon zest, and rosemary.

CASHEW CHICKEN. A Southern Mulberry Classic. Fried chicken oysters rolled in chopped cashews, served on century-old Tiffany & Co. spoons. Outstanding.

PROSCIUTTO’D MELON. Eldorado 5-8654.  A lovely slice of melon, with a beautiful cut of prosciutto. Some livening freshness from the herbs, and a few big salt crystals. Simple, classic, and perfect.

RAW CAPONATA. Bensonhurst BBQ. The feature of the dish, the BBQ eggplant, fell pretty flat. Though the caponata was nice, with good vegetable crunch and a little spice. The raisin creme fraiche ice cream gave a pleasant cooling effect.

MACKEREL IN CRAZY WATER. Atlantic Aqua Pazza. A pretty slice of Mackerel, barely touched, accompanied by seaweed ash, sea beans, and tomato compote, and finished with a fantastic acqua pazza.

FOIE GRAS NEWBERG. Wenberg & Ranhofer. Excellent foie. Rich and smooth. Topped with brandy gelee. A fowl take on the original Lobster Newberg.

DELMONICO STEAK TARTARE. 25 William Street. A bold flavored tartare with a good amount of black pepper, petite cornichons, and encapsulated béarnaise.

SHEEP MILK RICOTTA GNOCCHI. Dancing Ewe Farms. Well-executed ricotta gnocchi tossed with buttery sweet corn. This plate was damn delicious.

OCTOPUS SPAGHETTONI. A Sunday on Long Island. The octopus was nicely tender with a strong ocean flavor. Toasted bread crumbs were a plus, texturally. The dish was initially too spicy for me, but I numbed to it fairly quickly.

LAMB CAPELLACI. Pope John Paul Goldstein III. Artichoke hearts, matzah, mint, Manischewitz. Good pasta, the lamb was cooked well, and none of the components were overbearing. A pleasant dish.

DRY-AGED GUINEA HEN. French in Italian. Black truffle. Boudin noir. This was a great plate. Nothing ground-breaking, but honest and impeccable.

CHEESE DANISH. Bagel Shop. A fluffy, buttery, poppy seed danish, with sweet onion jam and cheese. A tasty, balanced, composed cheese course.

GINGER ITALIAN ICE. The Corona King. Pretty much what one could expect from ginger italian ice. Densely packed, and almost spicy in flavor.

MARASCHINO FLOAT. Soda Parlor. The root beer financier was great. Sour cherry ice cream over pretzel crumble was great as well. The milk straw and cherry soda were a nice novelty.

PASTRIES. Ferrara Bakery. Let’s see if I can name all these…Ricotta cannoli with orange zest. Polenta cake with ricotta and rhubarb. Peppermint truffles. A honey something that just kind of poofed away. Seaweed Taffy, dry and bitter. An interesting and kind of unpleasant olive wafer. A pistachio thing. Celery cake with concord jelly, which was much better than expected.

A take-home menu and some rainbow cake/cookies.

Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone certainly have good things going with their current restaurants. They make food and experiences that are fun and honest. I’m excited to check out their new endeavor: Carbone, which is aiming for a late fall opening.

Date of visit: September 5, 2012

Torrisi Italian Specialties. 250 Mulberry Street. NYC. 212.965.0955  http://www.torrisinyc.com/

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Atera, again

Atera, the multi-course chef’s counter experience headed by Wonder-Chef Matthew Lightner in Tribeca, is in my opinion, the most exciting restaurant in NYC at the moment. Lightner’s creative vision, technical precision, and new naturalism perception make for a dining experience unmatched by any other in the city. So when I had a night off, and they had an open seat for me, I returned without hesitation(even though I’m supposed to be saving for my upcoming dining trip across the pond with Rocky).

I just posted a brief recap of my first meal at Atera to accompany this post. My second visit to the small Worth Street dining room started with a beer cocktail. Voisin Belgian Saison was the base, mixed with rhubarb, wildflower honey, lemon, and bitters. It was a great way to start off. If I don’t have bubbles, I’ll usually always have a bitter drink to begin. This had a slightly-more-than-subtle bitterness matched with fresh citrus and herb layers. It played nicely with the series of opening bites as well.


Snacks:

Flaxseed Cookie, Pine Nut Butter, Dried Mushroom. Served cold, the cookie was crisp and crunchy, with a little sweetness, and a light earthiness from the mushroom.

Lobster Roll. Lightner’s small-bite-play on the east coast classic. The claw meat in mayonnaise had a nice chew. The yeast meringue ‘bun’ had a nice puff to it.

Horseradish Parfait, Salted Halibut, Mustard Seed. Mild fresh fish taste, with a little horseradish heat on the finish. I was a little unsure how to eat this. I didn’t have utensils yet, and this was somewhat cumbersome for finger food.

Beer & Creme Fraiche Macaron with Caviar. I’m still not sure what was going on here, but it was damn delicious; I wish I had asked for an explanation. Light, crisp texture, a little something sweet, and caviar salinity to finish.

Foie Gras Peanut. Creamy, peanutty, with more foie flavor than I remember from last time. I liked it much more this time for some reason.

Pickled Quail Egg. Quail egg made into an aioli, reshaped into an egg, and pickled. Still more of a miss than a hit for me.

Pig’s Blood Wafer with Whipped Pork Fat. This was very interesting, if nothing else. I couldn’t decide if I liked it overall. I definitely like the crackle of the cracker, and there was some pleasant bitterness.

‘Whole Razor Clam’. Razor clam mousseline, poached razor clams, and seaweed in a baguette painted with squid ink. Between the clam and the ink, this had great ocean flavor. I love the texture of the crust too.

Rock Tripe, Herb Aioli, Malt Vinegar. As far as I know, I had never had rock tripe, a lichen, or algae, that grows on rocks. The taste was very mild until enhanced by the tang of the aioli.

Smoked Tomato Ice, Fresh Sea Urchin, Shallot Oil. I’m actually not sure if this was intended as part of the snacks or as the first course. Since it wasn’t printed on my menu, I’m putting it with the snacks. Either way, this was amazing. Nice, smoky aroma. Delicate, chilled urchin. Beautiful balance, spot-on umami.

Menu:

1st Course: Diver Scallops. Purslane. Pickled Green Tomatoes, Sesame. Scallops cured in gin botanicals. Tomato juice ice. Not so much balance, as a fun imbalance. Dynamic, sharp flavor. The scallops had a much better taste and texture than in the scallop dish I had last time. The seeds had a fun snap.

2nd Course: Peeky-Toe Crab. Artichoke. Cold Herb Infusion, Strained Buttermilk. A Creative course. The artichoke petals were beautifully tender and a fun textural play with the crab meat. The sour of the buttermilk set everything off and made it sing.

3rd Course: Lamb Tartare. Wood Sorrel. Smoked Tomato. The smoked Beefsteak Tomato was a wonderful compliment to the tartare. The black malt cracker tasted like a space-age Triscuit, and made a great vessel.

4th Course: Seared Duck Hearts. Nasturtium. Tender Young Vegetables. Blanched roots and vegetables with herbs. Mushroom vinaigrette, with sunflower oil and fish sauce. Pastrami-cured duck hearts. Amazing. There was a couple dozen different veggies, leaves, petals, roots, and alliums, all individually treated or barely touched. Every bite was fresh and different. It was like eating Michel Bras’ famous Gargouillou, with the bonus of the superb duck hearts.

5th Course: “Ramen”. Salad Burnet. Noodles, shallots, dissolving spice packet, chicken bouillon. Though this wasn’t presented as a Mugaritz-style ‘Guess what it is?’ mystery, I was left on my own to figure out the noodles were made from squid, which wasn’t that tough to do. The squid was lightly blanched with a nice density. This bowl had lots of savory punch without being in-your-face salty.

6th Course: Dried Beet “Ember”. Bull’s Blood Beet Green. With smoked trout roe, toasted bread, and a sea urchin & crustacean emulsion. This dish is the only repeated course from my first meal. Since it was my favorite plate then, I was happy to see its return. The compilation on this slab of slate is an episode of brilliance that I hope never leaves the menu.

7th Course: Brined Hake. Milkweed. Wildflower Honey, Yogurt. A nicely treated, honey-brined piece of Hake. Nice flavors, good balance, and a little dance on the palate. While this had no faults, it wasn’t a huge wow.

8th Course: Barbequed Veal Sweetbreads. Garlic Scape. Hazelnut. The sweetbreads were in a spiced veal demiglace and hazelnut sauce that was lick-the-board good. The garlic scape was pickled and seared. This reminded me of a dish one might find at Mugaritz, with the two complementing/contrasting elements on the plate. A dynamic, almost transcendent back-and-forth. This is in a toss-up with the dried beet and the vegetables with duck hearts for my favorite of the night.

9th Course: Four Story Beef Strip. Lobster Mushroom. Marrow Ragu, Smoked Onion. A gorgeous piece of meat from Four Story Hill Farm. Amazing flavor, especially the fatty end. Pickled and frozen bone marrow was a very interesting item, and great when mixed with the sweet ragu. The dry mushrooms, simply just shaved, absorbed the other flavors on the plate and made for some very special bites.

10th Course: Square Cheese. 80-day raw goat’s milk cheese from Twig Farm in Vermont. With blueberries and apple bread. Semi-soft and rustic, a nice choice for a single cheese plate.

11th Course: White Rose. Sea Rose Mallow. Wildflower Sherbet. A beautifully presented flower made of rose water ice. The petals peeled off like a real rose, and had a pleasant floral flavor.

12th Course: Peach. Magenta Spreen. Sunflower Toffee. I love poached peaches, and this didn’t disappoint. The sunflower ice cream ‘pit’ had a perfect seed taste. The herbs made good refreshers between bites.

13th Course: Strawberry Shortcake. Cinnamon Basil. Wild Strawberries. Raw Milk Ice Cream. The shortcake batter was aerated and frozen and made for a fun take on the classic dessert. Some menthol-ish anise hyssop brightened and elevated the ice cream and fresh berries and left me feeling fresh and minty.

14th Course: Dried Tomato. Parsley Powder. Goat’s Milk Ice Cream. The dried tomato was almost candy-like with its chew and sweetness. This was a nice pairing of creaminess and acidity.

15th Course: Churro. White Cardamom. Salsify, Cinnamon. A salsify ‘churro’ rolled with cinnamon, sugar, and white cardamom. Served with salted hazelnut chocolate. A nice rendition of the Spanish classic. Nice nutty savoriness.

16th Course: Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich. Oak. Almond, Vanilla. Ice cream aged in bourbon cask. The chocolate cookie was made with flour flavored with toasted oak chips, in addition to cocoa and almond flour. Another fun play on a classic to finish the menu.

Petit Fours: Black Walnut. Nutty Sweetness.

Petit Fours: Hazelnut Truffle. A dense, chocolatey, rich bite. Perfect finisher for an amazing tasting.

Bread Service:

I was served three breads throughout the meal: Salted Rye, Sourdough Roll basted with Pork Fat, and a Whole Grain Seeded Roll. The cream for the butter is aged in house with Jasper Hill Farms Harbison Cheese.

Some wines I was served:

I won’t belabor details about each of these wines and their placement in the meal because I’m running short on time and I want to finish this post. Though I’ll say that the pairings offered are eclectic, intelligent, and exciting. During each of my two visits, I was impressed and wowed a few times by the beverage team.

As I’m sitting here typing, I’m texting back-and-forth with my good friend BLT(The Beltless Tiger), trying to plan a visit to Atera on his next trip to NYC. At this point, I’m planning to take every opportunity I have to experience Lightner’s cuisine before the price doubles and reservations become even more difficult obtain.

Date of visit: August 23, 2012

***Update: A small disclosure: Since having these two meals and posting about them, I’ve joined the Atera team.***

Atera. 77 Worth Street. NYC. 212.226.1444  http://ateranyc.com/

Atera, NYC

I never made it to Compose. And Compose never made it onto my to-eat list. Though when I learned of the space reopening as a new seasonal-forage-inspired/half-molecular/chef’s counter concept, Atera quickly made it onto my list. Before long, after learning more of Chef Matthew Lightner, and reading some of the early words regarding his new work, the small Tribeca restaurant was number one on said list.

The Bro was planning a combo birthday-slash-James Beard Awards trip, and left the eating decisions up to me. I told him Atera was my number one at the moment, and he didn’t argue. Get ready for an amazing run-on: After a night of heavy drinking at the JBF ceremony, after party, after after party, etc, followed by an earlier than desired wake-up for lunch at EMP(which was the best meal I’ve had there since my first(and also an amazing clean-up from the previous night’s festivities)), then an afternoon of notaries, wire transfers, and lease signing, The Bro, Rocky, and I couldn’t wait to sit at our barstools at the thirteen seat counter(right next to my new friend Doc Sconz and his friend, whose meal can be seen here(on a much fancier and more eloquent blog than mine)).

Now this meal was 3+ months ago, and I’m posting this simultaneously with my meal from last week, so I’m going to be fairly vague and brief for this one.

A bottle of 2000 Gaston Chiquet to begin. It was everything it should be, and a great match for the upcoming ‘snacks’.

Snacks: Sunchoke Skin, Buttermilk, Flowers, Herbs.

Snacks: Mustard, Flax, and Sunflower Seed Granola coated in Black Sesame Butter.

Snacks: Lobster Roll. Claw meat and Mayo on a dry yeast meringue.

Snacks: Malt Cracker.

Snacks: Foie Gras Peanuts.

Snacks: ‘Pickled Quail Eggs’

Snacks: ‘Whole Razor Clams’. Razor clam mousseline, poached razor clams, seaweed, baguette painted with squid ink.

Snacks: Seaweed Cracker. Seaweed pounded and dried with hay ash. Herb Aioli.

Snacks: Spring Garlic Roots, Garlic Aioli, Dill.

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1st Course: Yogurt. Shad Roe, Rhubarb, Licorice.

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2nd Course: Diver Scallops. Citrus, Gin Botanicals, Buttermilk.

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3rd Course: Fluke. Barbequed Onion, Coriander, Fennel Seed.

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4th Course: Squid. Cured Lardo, Squid Broth. This was presented in the guessing game/blind tasting fashion I encountered at Mugaritz.

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5th Course: Dried Beet. Trout Roe, Crustacean Sauce. My favorite dish of the evening. I believe The Bro’s as well. And I think it was Rocky’s favorite, aside from dessert.

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6th Course: Softshell Crab. Brown Butter Consommé.

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7th Course: North Coast Halibut. Young Garlic, Whey.

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8th Course: Squab. Caramelized Ramps, Pear, Tarragon.

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9th Course: Lamb. Sprouted Wheatberries, Leek.

At this point we were told we had a choice to sub out one of our dessert courses for a cheese course. I thought it was a silly offer. Substitution, no. Supplement, yes.

10th Course: Cheese. Ascutney Mountain-Cobb Hill Farm, VT. Moses Sleeper-Jasper Hill Farms, VT. Mountaineer-Meadow Creek Dairy, VA. Mossend Blue-Bonnieview Farm, VT.

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11th Course: Rock. Meyer Lemon, Wild Ginger.

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12th Course: Parsley Root Split. Banana Ice Cream, Chiffon, Milk Skin.

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13th Course: Charcoal. Chocolate Meringue, Goat’s Milk Ice Cream. Rocky still talks about this dish every time someone mentions Atera.

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14th Course: Oak. Bourbon, Malt.

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Petit Fours: Hazelnut Truffles.

Petit Fours: Black Walnuts.

A few more wines we were served:

Certainly a great first impression from an outstanding first meal at the hands of Chef Lightner and his team.

To see what I had for my second visit, with a little more detail, click here.

Date of visit: May 8, 2012

***Update: A small disclosure: Since having these two meals and posting about them, I’ve joined the Atera team.***

Atera. 77 Worth Street. NYC. 212.226.1444  http://ateranyc.com/

Battersby

Several times a week, Rocky saunters along Smith Street in Cobble Hill before or after work. For about a month, she kept mentioning passing by a small restaurant she had read about and how cool it looks. On our most recent night off together, it was her turn to choose our dinner spot. So I hopped on an F train to Brooklyn to join her at Battersby.

Since they operate primarily on a first-come, first-served system(and since it worked perfectly with our schedules), we planned to meet right at opening time(5:30). We were the first guests in the door and were offered our choice of seating. We opted to sit at the far end of the bar, since it provided the best view into the open kitchen, and we wanted to see co-owner/co-chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern in action.

True to form, we started with some bubbles. Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs, always a welcome friend. I didn’t care for the small glass glasses(as opposed to crystal) which they served our Champagne in, though I’m sure if I had asked to switch to crystal stems they would have graciously obliged. We gave a quick look over the dinner menu and without hesitation ordered the 7-course Chef’s Tasting(a 5-course tasting was offered as well).

Amuse: Chilled Corn Soup. The first bite to hit the table was light and delivered a satisfying sweet corn flavor. It was also a nice treat to have alongside the bubbles.

Bread: Rosemary Flatbread, served hot and fluffy, and generously seasoned. Accompanied by whipped ricotta with olive oil and black pepper.

Amuse: Cod Brandade Croquet, Shishito Pepper, Tomato Compote. The sweetness and acid of the tomato balanced well with the croquet, while the vegetal pepper made for a well-rounded few bites.

1st Course: Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Basil. A straight-forward plate. Beautiful for the season, and not over-treated. I appreciated the Campania-born Burrata much more than the domestic attempts I’ve been faced with recently.

2nd Course: Heirloom Carrot, Greek Yogurt, Crispy Quinoa. A variety of heirloom carrots treated in a variety of ways. Some had a fresh snap, while some had a tender sweetness that reminded me of my mom’s brown sugar carrots. The tang of the yogurt, with a little dill, livened the plate. The crunch of the quinoa was brilliant. An impressive dish.

3rd Course: Homemade Pork Tortelloni, Cherry Tomato, Dandelion Pesto. The pasta was very well executed; great pork flavor, but somehow very light. The tomatoes are a welcome addition to most any dish this time of year. While I loved the bitter flavor of the greens, for me they were far too strong to balance with the light tortelloni. Even between bites the leaves left too much astringency and overpowered the pasta.

4th Course: Poached Hake, Mangalica Ham, Piperade, Garlic Chips. Fantastic fish, confit in duck fat. The lively, robust flavor of the piperade made me dance in my bar-stool a little with each bite. Of course adding garlic and ham didn’t hurt. Great layers of savory and acidity. This was my favorite dish of the meal. Pretty damn tasty.

5th Course: Chicken Roulade, Spaetzle, Shiitake Mushroom, Bacon. So far, the richest dish, by far. Rocky commented on the heavy salt; I have to agree with her. Though she loved the spaetzle. I thought the roulade was overall well-executed, but a little dry.

We had one more savory course to go. I asked if it hard already started plating, because it if hadn’t, I wanted to supplement the kale salad that Battersby is becoming well-known for. We were told that the chefs had already fired our dish, but that it was built around that salad.

6th Course: Short Ribs, Crispy Kale, Green Papaya, Radish, Cucumber, Peanut. This was the best short rib dish I can recall being served as I’m typing now. They tend to be served either too rich or too sweet for me, but the freshness of the kale setting(which I believe lives up to its acclaim) made for a beautiful, fresh counter-balance. Bravo.

Pre-Dessert: Blueberry & Bay Leaf Panna Cotta. Nice little bite; light and addictive. The panna cotta was slightly herbaceous and soft, not too set. The berries were mild, not too tart or too sweet.

7th Course: Sweet Ricotta, Honey, Pistachio, Black Mission Figs. Rocky was really unfair to this dessert. She felt she had been ripped off by not getting chocolate. So I got to eat most of hers. I thought it was great.

Chefs Ogrodnek and Stern certainly have a great thing going in Cobble Hill. It was fun watching their passionate performance in the kitchen. Judging by the line out the door when we left, they’ll be at it for a while

Date of visit: August 22, 2012

Battersby. 255 Smith Street. Brooklyn, NY. 718.852.8321 http://battersbybrooklyn.com/

Governor

Governor, in DUMBO, Brooklyn, the latest effort from the team responsible for the hip and wildly popular restaurants Colonie and Gran Electrica, is a modernist farm-to-table concept headed by chef/partner Brad McDonald. I’ve been encouraged by a number of friends to try out the first two of the brand, but still haven’t been to either. When The Gov opened, and I found out a friend of mine was working the kitchen, I made a point to pay a visit sooner than later.

So on our big night off together for the week, Rocky and I called in a reservation and requested to sit at the chef’s counter. We started dinner with a bottle of Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Green apples and yeast on the nose. Citrus acidity and brioche on the palate with light minerality and beautiful bubbles. A fun bottle.

Looking over the savory menu of the night, we found about ten things we wanted to try. Chef McDonald(who was genuinely welcoming, super cool, and enthusiastic) came over and introduced himself and asked how we were doing with the menu. After a little back-and-forth, we gave him Carte Blanche, and this is how our night went:

1st: Poached Oyster Toast, Lobster Emulsion, Sheep’s Sorrel. Island Creek Oysters gently poached, served on crunchy crostini. I’m not sure of the base for the emulsion, but it was balanced, savory, and still light. I always love the citrus-like acidity of sorrel, and in this instance, it was thoughtful condiment to the oysters.

2nd: Lobster Consomme, Apple, Fennel. A chilled consommé with impressively strong lobster flavor, with poached lobster, Pink Lady apple granite, shaved fennel, and fennel fronds. Rocky thought the consommé was ‘Too Lobstery’, but I thought it was fantastic, especially set off by the herbaceous fennel. And I loved the scent it left on my lips.

3rd: Grilled Chicken Wings, Cucumber, Thyme, Mustard Barbecue. Confit boneless chicken wings grilled ‘Japanese Style’ and plated with grilled and pickled cucumber, mustard bbq, and onion flowers. The sauce, which they called ‘South Carolina Style’, was a hit. I like the char-to-freshness ratio of the cucumbers. The onion flowers gave a potent, vegetal, allium spice. A fun play on a classic bbq dish, and a definite winner with my date.

4th: Beef Tartare, Mussel Emulsion, Watercress, Ramp Capers. On crackers made of tapioca and pickled ramp water. This bowl smelled like the ocean. And left a feeling and flavor in my mouth like I just ate seafood. Lovely beef flavor is prominent on the palate and set off by brilliant ramp capers. Very creative. I’ll surely order this if I see it on the menu next time. Rocky wants a bag of the tapioca chips.

Bread, Butter and Radishes. Warm sourdough baked in-house. Light, but firm crisp to the crust. Fluffy crumb. Spicy fresh radish. Butter, topped with salted rind of Timberdoodle cheese.

5th: Gold Bar Squash Gazpacho, Zucchini Blossom, Fresh Chèvre. Yummy. Not at all overly-sweet(unlike most squash based soups I’m fearful of being served). A tempura-like blossom is always a plus.

5th: Tomato ‘Tartare’. Smoked Tomato Water. Mint Oil. Poached Mackerel Cream. Toasted Bread. This didn’t pack as strong of a seasonal tomato deliciousness as I had hoped for, but the combination of the tomato with the smoke and mint certainly put me into deep-thought-mode for a moment.

6th: Summer Beans, Whipped Salt Cod, Chorizo Oil. A selection of beans, all cooked appropriately, peas, pickled peppers. The whipped cod was pleasantly subtle, and very light. The peas were great in the chorizo oil. Strong flavors restrained just enough to accentuate a beautiful plate of legumes. This was my second favorite dish of the night.

7th: Charred Baby Corn, Goat’s Milk Feta, Cilantro, Gulf Prawns. Lime Juice, Shrimp Oil, Cayenne. Big winner. The corn was marvelously fresh and juicy. The Prawns were cooked spot-on. My favorite plate of the meal.

8th: Glazed Celery Root. Embryonic Egg Yolk. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Mousse. Lemon Zest. I adore celery root; this example maintained the right amount of crunch without being tough. The embryonic yolks were cured and grated over the slices of root and spots of mousse. Deep richness was brightened by the lemon zest. I’m very happy to have had this and can still recall the dynamic flavors.

9th: Porgy Fillet, Swiss Chard, Fish Sauce, Tapioca, Chile Pepper, Cilantro Oil. My piece of fish was cooked perfectly; great flavor and texture. The crisped skin was lovely. The chard, described as ‘wilted’, had a wonderful strength still in the leaves as well as a nice spice. I’d have been pleased with just the fish and the leaves. I didn’t like the tapioca. I’d have preferred a more firm or crisp grain or potato to the gummy starch.

10th: Chicken Breast, Corn Pudding, Chanterelles, Sugar Plums. Buttermilk. Tarragon Oil. The breast was de-skinned, wrapped with activa(meat glue), re-skinned, poached, and quickly fried to crisp(I hope I have that right). A tender, tasty piece of poultry. The sweet and creamy corn pudding and chanterelles were a great accompaniment. I wasn’t a fan of the sugar plums and felt they were misplaced in this dish. A good plate of food, though the overall flavor seemed a little heavy for summer and more suited for autumn.

11th: Strawberry Sorbet, Brioche Macaron, Berries. A superb little dessert. The density I like in a macaron meringue, straight-forward strawberry flavor, and fresh berries. Simple and gratifying.

11th: Cucumber Sorbet, Sour Cherry, Soured Cream, Thyme. The sorbet had a delightful fresh flavor and was enhanced by the thyme. I would have liked more sorbet in ratio to the sour cherries and cream that took over the bowl.

12th: Apple Cider Soufflé, Cherry Kernel Creme Anglaise. An aroma like fresh-baked apple pie. A well-executed soufflé. Light and puffy with delicate flavor. I think the ramekin was sprinkled with sugar because there were small caramelized bits spotted throughout which were a fun surprise. While it was a little much for me to handle by the end of our menu(the photo belies its grandeur), I see this as an ideal dessert to follow two or three savories at the gov.

Something I often find of farm-to-table restaurants is they maintain high scrutiny in sourcing perfect ingredients(fresh, local, organic, sustainable, etc) and use them to deliver boring plates of food. Governor easily bucks that trend. Brad McDonald’s food is pure, honest, creative, and exciting.

I’ve been told the cocktails at Governor are excellent. I didn’t try any, but since Rocky is in DUMBO regularly for work, I anticipate we’ll be stopping in soon to see what’s shaking.

Date of visit: August 1, 2012

Drinks while typing: Tito’s with fresh citrus, blueberries, and seltzer(thank you Rocky for all the refills); Blue Point Toasted Lager

Governor. 15 Main Street. Brooklyn, NY. 718.858.4756  http://www.governordumbo.com/

Gramercy Tavern

Since I’ve started working in NYC, my nights off have become infrequent and much more valuable than they once were. Rocky, though her hours aren’t as late as mine, has found herself in the same situation. So when our free nights match up, it’s cause for celebration.

Leading up to our most recent such night, I presented Rocky with a list of six dining options for the evening and asked for her for a preferential ranking. It turned out her first choice was the same as mine, so dinner at Gramercy Tavern it was.

We arrived plenty early and had a couple espressos at the bar and dried off for a bit(the downpour was immense enough that even under umbrella cover we were half soaked). On the way in, we ran into our hometown friend the ulterior epicure, who was in town doing his usual fooding. Before long, we were comfortably seated at a great corner table and ready to see what 2012 James Beard Best Chef: NYC, Michael Anthony, and his team have been up to.

To get started, we ordered up a couple glasses of Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs from Cramant, Champagne. I was unfamiliar with this producer and shocked at how great the juice was for the price. Light citrus, orchard fruit, a little floral, mild yeast, light-medium body, delicate finish. Balanced subtlety, sublime elegance, clean cut, pure, delicious. It worked wonderfully to get us started and is what Rocky stuck with through the meal.

After looking over the menu, we opted for the vegetable tasting, plus a couple supplements(big surprise).

For the welcoming bite we were given: Ricotta ‘Cheese Puff’. Warm, cheesy, and salty, which I love. For bread service: Farro Bread and Sourdough. We both particularly liked the grainy crunch of the toasted farro on top of the thick crust.

1st Course: Sweet Corn. King Crab, Shiso and Pickled Ramps. I imagine it has something to do with my mom growing up on a farm in central Nebraska and instilling an appreciation for ‘real’ corn, but I’m a fanatic(and a huge snob) when it comes to sweet corn. This dish, dressed in corn stock with lemon juice and white balsamic, certainly didn’t disappoint. Rocky liked the corn to crab texture and described the dish as ‘so juicy but not soggy; chewy[in a good way] but not tough’. And as I’m typing now, she just exclaimed: ‘Absolutely, 100%, the best dish of the night, hands down.’

2nd Course: Snap Pea Salad. Goat’s Milk Yogurt, Cucumber and Radish. The yogurt had a good tang, and a bright mint note. The peas, as always, I adored. The cucumber added freshness. The radishes added a subtle, pleasant bitterness. The vegetables, all lightly blanched, all had a great snap, and were tossed in an appropriately acidic dress.

3rd Course: Bok Choy. Broccoli, Black Soy Beans and Hakurei Turnips. Wonderful vegetable aromas here. The broth of bok choy, broccoli rabe, and veg stock had a balanced savoriness. The soybeans were fun to eat: tender outside, and textured like a braised peanut inside.

4th Course(Supplement): Sugar Snap Peas, Radish and Cucumber Gazpacho. This was listed as the setting for the Flounder on the prix fixe menu. I asked if the chef would be willing to make a small dish out of the setting for an extra course. So out came this. Aromatics of cucumber and dill. A great gazpacho livened with lime juice. Sugar snap peas, radishes, and turnips that echoed the sentiment from the 2nd course of the fresh vegetal snap. Micro celery greens added a slight tang and tartness. I’m sure this is a fantastic playground for the flatfish.

5th Course: Warm Bean Salad and Squash Sauce. A variety of beans with radish, squash, and pickled carrots, swiss chard stems, and curried turnip. The pickled elements were varied and interesting and broke up the starchy fricassee-like mix of legumes. Dynamically presented and flavored, a very sound dish. And Rocky’s choice for second best dish of the night.

6th Course(Supplement): Soft Shell Crab. Sugar Snap Peas, Pickled Burdock and Carrot Mustard Vinaigrette. This was listed on the menu as a course in the Seasonal Tasting Menu. Same as my tendency with dishes involving peas, it’s hard for me to pass up a dish with soft shell crab. The crab here had a super-light tempura-style batter and was cooked spot-on. Texture-wise: the natural crisp outside/tender inside contrast of the crab coupled with the snap peas still hidden in their chopped pods made for the funnest most fun few bites I’ve experienced in awhile. The condiments of carrot vinaigrette and strips of burdock completed what for me was a perfect plate. Looking back, this dish edged out the sweet corn and crab for my dish of the night.

7th Course: Spinach Spaghetti. Tomato, Shishito Peppers and Basil. Well..I can’t say I didn’t like it. The pasta was almost textureless. The shishitos and toasted breadcrumbs added a little crunch to otherwise mushy bites. Flavor-wise, the tomato and basil were yummy, but didn’t hit as hard as I would expect for the final savory of the tasting. Rocky(who is a pasta enthusiast, and was dubbed the ‘carb queen’ by her grandma years ago) commented: ‘Isn’t it strange my least favorite dish is the pasta?!’

Pre-Dessert: Salvatore Ricotta(from Brooklyn), Raspberry, Fennel Cookie. Straight-forward, delicious bites to transition into sweets.

8th Course: Tasting Dessert. We were given a choice of two desserts to round out the menu. I don’t remember at all what the other one was, but Rocky and I both got this: Chocolate Whip Cream, Pistachio Ice Cream, Pistachio Crumble, Candied Pistachio, Strawberry, Strawberry Meringue. For as light as the whip cream was, it packed some great chocolate flavor. Likewise, the meringues tasted delightfully of strawberry.

9th Course(Supplement): Fresh Mint Ice Cream. Chocolate Stuffed Raspberries and Brownies. I wanted a broader scope of what Pastry Chef Nancy Olson has been up to, and Rocky wanted more sweets, so I ordered two more dishes to follow the tasting dessert. The mint in the ice cream struck the ideal balance of power and subtlety. The chocolate filling of the berries also had a crisp component that was a fun surprise. A beautiful, elegant dessert.

9th Course(Supplement): Peanut Butter Semifreddo. Chocolate Macaron. Caramel. Roasted Candied Peanuts. Chocolate Sauce. Whip Cream. The semifreddo was perfectly peanut buttery. The meringue texture was nice(and impressive for the size). A tasty dish, but in its entirety, much to rich for me. Though Rocky didn’t seem to have any problem making quick work of it.


Petit Fours: Chocolate Peanut Butter Tart. Cherry Hazelnut Macaron. Honey Lavender Chocolate(amazing). Chocolate Mint Truffle(think refined Andes candies). Almond Tuille with Chocolate(loved the salt).

Chef Olson seems to be a master of balancing the perfect intensity of flavor for each medium and context. I look forward to returning with my good friend BLT(the Beltless Tiger) for a full dessert flight.

During the meal, I ordered two more wines. First, from one of my favorite producers, 2000 R Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia rose. Not among my first choices for vegetable pairing, but a personal go-to for soft shell crab. Still drinking fresh, with light berry, warming spices, nuttiness, and brisk acidity. Next, 1999 Vigna Gattera Barolo by Gianfranco Bovio. Seemingly just through the front end of its drinking window, this by-the-glass prize was a pleasure. Dark fruit, black cherry, dusty tannin, wood herbs, and a powerful structure. This made me wish I had supplemented a meat dish as well.

Take home: Oatmeal Cinnamon Coffee Cake. These treats were presented with the check and we were told that the additional dishes I ordered as well as my BTG still wines were on the house. It was an unnecessary gesture. Big thanks to whoever was responsible for it.

Chef Anthony, though we learned he wasn’t in the kitchen that night, has a talent for bringing out the best features of beautiful ingredients and working them into a cohesive plate. I’m sure his list of accolades is just beginning.

Date of visit: July 18, 2012

Drinks while typing: Tito’s and soda, Leffe Blonde

Gramercy Tavern. 42 East 20th Street. NYC. 212.477.0777  http://www.gramercytavern.com/

Dovetail

I’ve had my eye on John Fraser and his Upper West Side restaurant, Dovetail, for some time. In the past few years I’ve had a few brunches and a good number of libations there, but never a proper meal. The Bro was visiting me in NYC for a week and we found ourselves without plans on a Tuesday night. We had just returned from a run through Central Park and decided finding food was the next step. The Bro said he wanted to take me to a nice dinner somewhere we  had never been. I started coming up with options. Though we had both been to Dovetail, neither of us had been for dinner, so we decided it made the prospect list, and ended up being the first and only restaurant I called. The lady I spoke to one the phone said if we could hurry and get there in 15-30 minutes, she could seat us. Since I live just a mile and a half straight uptown, we accepted the challenge. Within 20 minutes, The Bro and I cleaned up, dressed up, and arrived at Dovetail’s front door.

We sat and browsed the menu. The Bro shares my preference for vegetables over proteins, so we opted for the vegetable tasting. I indulged my usual habit of supplementing extra courses. To drink, we got a modest bottle of The Bro’s favorite grape: 2009 Riesling Kabinett from Wehlener Sonnenuhr in Mosel by S. A. Prum. A little bit of floral and citrus, with racy stone fruit and mineral body, and slight spice on the finish. A fresh, high-acid compliment to our dinner.

Bread service included truffled arancini, white cheddar cheese cornbread, and whole grain crackers. The arancini had a good crispness outside and a generous truffle essence. I typically don’t like cornbread unless it’s accompanied by chili due to the usual dryness. This though, was great. Moderate sweetness, not dry, mild cheese flavor, and good snap of cornmeal. The crackers, whole wheat and flax-seed, had light herbaceousness from rosemary.

Amuse 1: Sugar Snap Peas, Breakfast Radish, Grapefruit Gelee. I like the strong bitter and tart flavor, but a few bites were too sweet.

Amuse 2: Tofu, Green Grape, Cured Green Almond, Green Tomato Gazpacho. This was perfect. Light, fresh acid. Delicate, subtle, pure. I would love to have a full-size dish of this.

Amuse 3: Rye Bread Pudding, Sunny Side Up Quail Egg, Gruyère Bechamel. The bitter chicories and the acid of their dressing made a distracting imbalance, but broke up the richness of the other elements.


1st Course(supplement): Avocado Salad, Wild Watercress, Fava Beans, Ramps. Ideally ripe avocado, rich and smooth. Crisp crunch of fresh radish. Small bites of ramps. This dish was perfectly calibrated and a great opener.

2nd Course: Turnip Ceviche, Quinoa, Habañero, Snap Peas. The turnips were wonderful, poached in butter, salt, and sugar. The habanero, pureed with apricot, was a little too spicy for me, but in small amounts really livened the dish. The honey-cumin-lime dressing added a playful dimension to the creative dish.

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3rd Course: Chilled Vegetable Consommé, summer bouquet, vanilla, mint. This consommé had a flavor that felt like it wanted to punch me in the mouth, but showed just enough restraint to stop short of it; very well done. I feel like if I could have a bowl of this every day as a ‘pre-workout power juice’, I would be much more productive in the gym. Of course, the peas had me at hello. One element(I think celery root) was beautifully cooked to meaty texture that almost could have passed for a dense fish or crab leg. Big winner.

4th Course(an extra from the kitchen): Compressed Tomato, Yellow Tomato Coulis, Romaine Punch, Crouton, Olive, Caper. My first great tomato experience of the season. The small pieces of olives and capers gave just a little character and influence for minor variations on tomato-focused bites.

5th Course(supplement): Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms, Leek Frittata. Listed on the Chef’s Tasting was a chicken dish served with asparagus and morels. I told our captain that if the kitchen would be willing to make a dish featuring the classic pair, we would love to work it into our veggie tasting. So out it came. The asparagus, not at all fibrous, still had a clean, crisp snap. The morels, deliciously earthy and seasoned spot-on. Rounded out with a fluffy leek frittata and a bright, rich puree. This was everything I had hoped it would be.

As we were moving into heavier flavors, I wanted a light-body, high-acid, earthy red to pair. I was offered 2009 David Moreau Clos Rousseau Santenay, which sounded better than the other options I saw by the glass. I was very happy with this. Red berries, with good earth and iron, and much more full and powerful than I typically find Santenay to be.

6th Course: Barley Risotto, English Peas, Summer Truffle. The grains were cooked well. The summer truffles were a welcome site, though I never get too crazy over them. Of course I adored the peas tossed in. I love leaves, but for me, they didn’t have a place here; dry and vegetal, they were distracting and didn’t add to the dish. There was preserved lemon which did well to brighten the rich butter and mascarpone binding, but left some bites very tangy.

7th Course(an extra from the kitchen): Cured Heirloom Carrots, Haricot Vert, Gigante Beans, Celery, Oloroso Sherry Sauce. This was fantastic. The sweetness of the carrot, the tang of the celery, the starch of the beans. The different pieces, all individually exquisite, were coherently tied together by the semi-sweet, nutty, deep complexity of the Oloroso sauce. A true delight to eat.

8th Course: Charred Cauliflower, Peonies, Chai Curry Spice. The cauliflower itself was executed superbly. Tender, and amazingly seasoned. The leaves and slices of raw cauliflower were great companions. The two sauces: a sort of rhubarb aioli, and a peonies gel, were far too sweet. So I enjoyed the vegetables and left the sauce on the plate.

9th Course: Roasted Eggplant, Porcini Mushrooms, Balsamic. There was a lot going on here. Eggplant, pine nuts, onion, eggplant puree, porcini, stracciatella cheese, creme fraiche, balsamic, and some type of (herb?) oil. The cheese was good. The puree was great. The porcini was fairly bland. The eggplant, the feature, was watery. I tried different approaches to building bites, but every try came down to the (lack of) flavor of the eggplant. This was sad, because the other components on the plate scraped together were delicious, but overall the dish fell short.

10th Course: Artichokes in Barigoule, peppers, spinach, sesame. A very refined take on the traditional Provencal Barigoule. I’m always back-and-forth with artichokes and my liking for them. Here, I appreciated the balance contrast of the light caramelization with the remaining natural astringency. The spinach was great, balled tightly with sesame seeds and oil. The alliums and legumes were tasty. If I hadn’t been told what the punches of pickled red pepper were, I likely wouldn’t have figured it out. Full-flavored and overall balanced, this was a beautiful dish.

Pre-Pre-Dessert: Cucumber Sorbet, Berry. A small, fresh, tart bite to transition.

Pre-Dessert: Bay Leaf Panna Cotta, Apricot Puree, Candied Almonds. Nutty, Herbaceous, Fruity. A small, complete dessert in itself, this got me excited for what Pastry Chef Michal Shelkowitz had coming next.

11th Course: Frozen Raspberry Parfait, Creme Fraiche, Mint, Sweet Pea Sorbet. This was a winner from the start due to the sweet peas involved. Aside from that, the paradox of the richness and lightness of the parfait, countered by the tart berry was sublime. Had we not been the last table in the restaurant already, I would have followed up with a dessert flight to see what else Shelkowitz was working with.

By the time we were on to the sweeter part of the meal, The Bro had finished the rest of the Riesling and was itching for another glass. Something sweet. After looking through the dessert wine list, we were down to two choices. Though based on the success on the Santenay selection earlier, I thought it best to ask the team what they would pair with our dessert. Since their choice matched up with one of ours, so it was. We were poured two glasses of 2003 Kiralyudvar Tokaji. Rich depth, tropical fruit, ripe citrus, honey, and good acid for a sophisticated balance. A great pair for the fruit-based sweet dishes.


Petit Fours: Salted Brownie, Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaron, Milk Chocolate Bacon. The bacon chocolates tasted remarkably more like pork than chocolate. The macaron meringues had a great texture. As for the brownies, I’m betting I could down a pan of them without regrets.

As our meal closed, we were offered a tour of the kitchen, which we accepted. When the bill arrived, we found we hadn’t been charged for any menu supplements or BTG wines, an unexpected generosity we hope we compensated for on the tip line.

Knowing that Fraser and his team at Dovetail have the vegetable spectrum down solidly makes me want to get back soon for the chef’s tasting to see if the animal protein side of things are delivered as diversely and elegantly. Being that the restaurant is so close to my home now(I signed my UWS lease two months ago), I anticipate my return will happen sooner than later.

Date of visit: July 3, 2012

Drinks while typing: 2005 Heredos del Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva; 2007 Domaine Cauhapé Jurancon Ballet d’Octobre

Dovetail. 103 West 77th Street. NYC. 212.362.3800  http://dovetailnyc.com/

Eleven Madison Park

Like every avid glutton enthusiastic diner, I keep a list of restaurants which I hope to visit soon. Naturally, some take precedence over others. Eleven Madison Park had been near the top of my NYC to-eat list for a little too long.

At the start of 2010, I made a New Year’s resolution to eat at more Michelin-starred restaurants than I did in 2009. Being that the year was now almost half over and I was under half-way to my goal, I decided to book a week of eating with my good friend BLT(the Beltless Tiger) during which I would only visit places I hadn’t been before(with exceptions of Jean Georges and Momofuku Ko). We planned to start the affair with a dinner at the hands of Daniel Humm and his team.

I didn’t make any plans for lunch on my arrival day, but I again found myself on the ground ahead of schedule and decided something great needed to happen. I’ve always liked doing two-a-days at the gym, and have adopted the same thought about restaurants. So with dinner already set at EMP, I figured I would try for lunch there too. On the cab ride to the island I called to see if they could get me a table. No luck. The dining room was completely booked. No worries. I figured I would show up at open and take a seat at one of the full-service tables in the bar area.

I arrived just past noon and was welcomed by troupe of young, good-looking ladies into the already bustling business place. I informed them I didn’t have a reservation but was hoping to find a seat in the bar. One of the ladies escorted me to the lounge and offered me a choice between a few tables or a bar stool.

I spotted my ideal seat immediately. A small round table where I could see most of the dining room floor, the front door, the service staff entering and leaving the kitchen, and also have my back close enough to the kitchen door that I could hear the chef calling out orders. I was happy already. The room was gorgeous and the staff all seemed upbeat and carried themselves well about the floor. This was going to be a great lunch.

The only service criticism I have for the meal(or any other I’ve had there since) is that I was fairly slow to be greeted at the table. I’m certainly not one to get upset about that, but I found it odd how long I sat looking around. But once the young lady came along to say hello with her winning smile, great things were set into motion.

I ordered a half-bottle of 1996 Saint-Chamant Blanc de Blancs to get started while I worked my way through the menu(which I already had half memorized from the website. I admit it was my plan all along to do an EMP two-a-day.)

Upon my server’s return, I ordered the lunch gourmand tasting menu and, given my compulsion to order every item I see involving peas, supplemented two dishes from the a la carte bar menu.

A small dish of warm gougeres arrived as my first sustenance. They were light, and just rich enough to play well with the yeast and acid of the Champagne. I planned to keep them around for awhile, but after two or three, a server asked to remove them and I didn’t object.

For the first course, I was presented with a Carrot Lollipop along with Garden Pea Soup with Buttermilk “Snow” and Bayonne Ham.

My first thought: this was easily the best play on peas and carrots I’ve had. The frozen carrot against the warm pea soup was immense. As I got more into the flavors, I became more impressed. The light, crisp, salty ham, the spice of the tendril, the richness of the buttermilk(which I suppose underwent some liquid nitrogen treatment) all based in that delicate soup gave me a food high I can still remember. Truly a magical moment for me. If this was an indication of what was yet to come, I knew my world was about to be rocked.

Next on the agenda was a Taboule Salad with Summer Crudites and Wild Herbs. Though I’m not too familiar with the traditional dish, this appeared to me to be a well-executed, refined take on a tabouli. There was a little Mediterranean influence, but this seemed to be more focused on the beautiful slices of vegetables, which is what I would prefer. While the fresh herb and veggie flavors were nice, and the textures pleasant, this was the one plate of the tasting that didn’t register a solid ‘wow’ with me.

To pair with the Taboule, I ordered a glass of 2007 Dirler Sylvaner, Vieilles Vignes. Alsace has for years been my go-to wine region when doing vegetable pairings, so this made sense to me. The pairing was fair, but not great. The minerality played well, but the Sylvaner was slightly too fruit-heavy and clashed with the citrus and vegetable notes of the salad. Had I known of Wine Director John Ragan’s adeptness at the time, I would have opted for a suggested glass. But the Dirler worked very nicely with a couple of the later courses, so all was well.

For the bread service I was presented a house-baked baguette, olive bread, cow butter, goat butter, and sea salt. The breads were both hard-crust country style. Both butters, especially the goat’s, were delicious.

Next came one of my supplements, chosen for that keyword that starts with a P:

Big Eye Tuna Tartare with Yogurt, Puffed Rice and Garden Peas.

Oh my. Peas, pea puree, pea pods, pea shoots, pea puree treated with liquid nitrogen. I’m in heaven. Couple that with an incredible tuna tartare, some puffed rice for texture, and some citrus for acidity. I had a lot of fun eating this. Some Champagne made it even more fun. While I did enjoy the tartare, I’m guessing that if the same setting were used for pretty much any other protein, I would be just as fanatic about it.

Back to the tasting menu..Organic Rabbit Rillettes with Foie Gras, Cherries and Pistachio Bread.

On paper, this dish sounded incredible. In the tangible, edible manifestation, this dish was incredible. To start, this was the best rillette I can recall eating outside of France. The flavors and mouthfeel were perfect. Would this rillette have been served with a pack of saltines, I would have been happy with it. But when combined with the variations of pistachios, cherries and alliums, the experience bordered on ethereal. The food runner told me the break the “cherry” at the top of the plate to make a nice sauce for the dish(Thinking back on it, that could be taken as(hopefully playfully) very suggestive. Though appropriate for my meal, being my first time.) This rillette, when combined with all the other elements, made for a highly cerebral, yet passionate, mouthful. I believe it took me roughly 30-35 minutes to work my way through this, constructing small, perfect bites, one at a time. This was the second moment, after the pea soup, that let me know Mr Humm played to win, and was certainly worthy of his recent acclaim(NYTimes 4* and James Beard best chef NYC).

Knoll Krest Farm Egg, Poached with Mushrooms and Asparagus Veloute. This was one of those instances in which a few simple ideas, executed perfectly, make a simply perfect idea. There was no flaw in this dish. The egg, poached precisely with a beautifully runny yolk. The veloute, ideally velvety. The mushrooms, mildly earthly and seasoned superbly. This was a harmoniously integrated masterpiece. The croutons added little in flavor(they surely had no need to) but gave the perfect crunch. This was my favorite course of the meal.

Nova Scotia Lobster, Poached with Young Carrots, Ginger, and Vadouvan Granola. Just as colorful on the palate as it was on the plate, Humm’s playfulness shined here. I tend to be more impressed by well-cooked vegetables than well-cooked proteins(not that any of either fell short this day). That being said, these carrots were certainly something special, and made a great compliment to the lobster, with just a little natural sweetness in each. Top them with a foamy ginger sabayon and a crunchy, mild Vadouvan granola and you’ve got the makings for a serious party in the mouth. I had a lot of fun eating this.

In anticipation of the lobster dish, I had ordered a glass of 2006 Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet by Philippe Colin. A dynamite, complex Burgundy. With great richness on top of light, tropical fruit, it seemed the right thing to do. Though when the time came, the food needed something with a little more residual sugar. Something like the last few sips of Dirler, which paired great, but was gone in a flash. My new friend Ryan(by now I was on a first-name basis with about a dozen staff members) happened to be passing by and I asked for another glass of Sylvaner. He took a quick glance at my table, then stepped behind the bar.

Ryan returned swiftly, but not with an Alsatian wine. Instead he brought 2004 Jean Thevenet Vire Clesse, another Burgundy. He explained briefly that it was a lightly botrytised chardonnay(which I’d never had from Burgundy) and gave me a taste. It had the fruit, minerality and sugar the dish needed, along with the richness that I like with the buttery lobster. I was impressed.

My second menu supplement, and last savory course of the meal: Colorado Lamb, Herb Roasted with Sucrine Lettuce, Garden Peas and Oregon Morels.

A pretty straight-forward, impeccably-executed plate of food. A tender, juicy cut of lamb with tender, juicy morels. Earth and game, delicious. The peas added a welcome fresh flavor between the heavy bites. The best part of this dish was the little lamb shoulder ravioli hidden under a tuft of pea shoots.

To pair with the lamb(actually, more for the morels) I ordered the 2000 Vigna dei Dardi Barolo by Fantino. A solid Barolo, though nothing life changing. Medium bodied, dissipated tannins. Fair acidity with mild earth made the pairing work well over all. Though if I were given a bowl full of those lamb raviolis, a bottle of this Nebbiolo would most definitely be in order.

On to dessert. “Red Velvet” Composition with Rhubarb and Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream.

I’m in a toss-up for the highlight of this overall creative dessert. It’s between the dome of cream cheese parfait, or the roasted strawberry ice cream combined with the dehydrated strawberries. They were both fantastic. The other parts of the dish, aside from the red velvet cake, were variations of strawberry and rhubarb. Lying under the ice cream was what I’m calling a rhubarb breath strip. I’m going to urge Angela Pinkerton(EMP’s pastry chef) to sell the recipe to Listerine.

Along with my “Red Velvet” dessert, my new friend Ryan showed up with another bottle. For a pairing, he brought 2005 Zweigelt Beerenauslese by Kracher. I had never come across a Zweigelt that I had liked. But I had only tried dry wines from the grape, never a late-harvest or a botrytised wine. And having loved anything I’ve tried by Kracher, I was excited to try this. It was a nice blend of light Pinot Noir-style red fruit with the concentrated, honey flavor of a BA, with a little of the botrytis spice on the back palate. A fun wine.

When I thought all was said and done and I was soon to be on my way, a plate of macarons arrived. As if the food, wine, service and atmosphere hadn’t already won me over, macarons are one of the keys to my heart. The flavors were fun. The standouts for me were the strawberry basil and the pink peppercorn with caramel.

By this time I think the dining room was empty, the bar cleared out, and I was the last diner of the service(a position I find myself in a little too frequently). When I got the bill and looked it over, I hadn’t been charged for my menu supplements or half of my wine pairings. Halfway through the meal I had let slip that I was returning for dinner that night with my friend BLT and was planning to eat and drink heavily. I’m not sure if the two-a-day had anything to do with the generosity, or if they just reward enthusiastic diners. Whatever the case, it was unnecessary, though appreciated.

It didn’t take long for EMP to become my favorite restaurant in the country. Since this first visit, seven months ago, I’ve had seven full meals, two small meals and been in a handful of other times for drinks and snacks. The menu approach has changed. There is no longer a gourmand menu, which I was fairly upset about, but got over. The food, staff and venue are all great enough to keep me coming back.

The little table in the bar remains my favorite seat in the house, though it has been replaced with a slighly larger square table. And during their remodel last fall, the kitchen doorway in the bar was removed, so there isn’t quite the amount of activity going by(which is probably preferable to most guests, but I miss it, along with hearing all the chef’s calls).

Why Eleven Madison Park sat unvisited near the top of my to-eat list for so long I’m not sure. But a meal there has become a priority when visiting NYC and I can’t justify being in the city and not stopping by. The list of accolades keeps growing for Daniel Humm and his crew(The latest of which is: sous chef James Kent is in Lyon, France as I type, prepping for the Bocuse d’Or, where he is representing the United States.) BLT and I have become well acquainted with much of the staff, and are treated extremely well. The food remains just as magical as my first meal. And I anticipate I’ll be paying many more visits in the future.

Eleven Madison Park. 11 Madison Avenue. NYC. 212.889.0905  www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Le Bernardin

The eve of my 29th birthday was one of those days on which the forces of the universe seem to be working in my favor. My flight into NYC landed nearly an hour ahead of schedule. My driver got me into midtown in roughly fifteen minutes. My hotel had a lovely room ready for me, hours before check-in. I had two meals planned for the day with my good friend BLT(the Beltless Tiger): a late lunch at Jean Georges, and a dinner at Per Se. Being all settled into my weekend digs with two hours until our lunch reservation, it seemed the next logical step was to get a bite to eat. So why not call Le Bernardin to see if they can squeeze in a one-top?

All suited up and amped for a weekend of excessive food and drink, I strolled over to Ripert’s mecca of marine cuisine. I was greeted at the door by two ladies, a gentleman, and a “Welcome back, Mr This Guy”, then promptly shown to my table, which was pleasantly near, but not at, the back of the dining room.

Comfortably seated, and eager to get the party going, I jumped right into the wine list with two thoughts: I was obviously going to have seafood; and I don’t want to get too drunk, too quickly today. A half bottle of white Burgundy made perfect sense. I ordered a 2007 1er Cru Meursault-Blagny by Domaine Matrot, then got into the lunch menu.

I certainly didn’t have time to do the tasting menu, so the three-course lunch prix fixe it was. I was tempted to supplement a couple extra courses, but decided it would be imprudent on my schedule. So I made my selections and put in the order.

Lunch started with the usual salmon rillette and toast, which I always have a little of, but never get too crazy over. Then some beautiful bread and butter, which I adore, and do get a little crazy for.

For my first course, I chose the fluke sashimi with crispy kimchi in a chilled citrus, soy, jalapeno nage. This dish was greater than the sum of its parts, and the only instance in which I remember liking anything with kimchi flavor.

A precision cast of salt, spice, sour, and acid delicately supported, and didn’t upstage the star of this show, the expertly sliced strips of chilled fresh fluke.

The next player in the line-up was baked lobster over black truffle and foie gras with red wine mushroom reduction. I didn’t think the dish sounded great as a whole, despite the decadent keywords, but I really wanted lobster.

As one would expect, each part of the dish was impeccably prepared and brilliantly flavorful on its own. They played together, but they didn’t play exceptionally well together. I wish I could say there was that one element which tied everything together to make perfect sense. Instead of a cohesive cast, this was a stage full of stars staring at each other, a little confused. But the lobster, the reason I ordered the dish, was rich, buttery and perfectly textured. And that made me smile.

When it came to dessert selection, I was stuck between two choices. The first: grapefruit sorbet, vanilla cream, tarragon coulis and crisp meringue. That was my captain’s choice for the best on the list. The other: vanilla yogurt parfait, blueberry, basil ice cream and yogurt sponge. That was his choice for the most comparable item to a dessert I had there the previous spring. I opted for the former. Shortly after it arrived, along came the latter as well, complete with candle and Happy Birthday scribbled in chocolate.

I have yet to eat anything from Laiskonis that isn’t a home-run. Between these two, I give the nod to my captain’s choice for best in show. The slight bitter from the grapefruit, the sweet, rich vanilla, the texture of the crisp meringue, along with the minty, peppery tarragon. Dynamite.

I’m more impressed with the service at Le Bernardin than anywhere else I’ve eaten in the US. Sure, many places are just as technically flawless, prompt, and formal while still being equally welcoming, humble, and gracious, but something about the flow of the enitire FOH team makes them such a joy to watch in action. Almost like Balanchine prescribed pre-shift warm-ups and choreographed their service.(Okay..not quite..but that’s the idea)

Along with a verbena tea that was selected for me to help my stomach continue the day’s culinary onslaught, came the usual folded napkin of warm madelines. And once again, just before departing, I was presented with an egg shell filled with chocolate, caramel foam, maple syrup, and seasalt. A simple, tasty ending to the beginning of a great birthday weekend.

Le Bernardin. 155 west 51st st. NYC. 212.554.1515   www.le-bernardin.com


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