NEW YORK, NY
I love L’Appart as is evident by my continuous visits to try their new menus which change every month.
Upon entry this month, I was presented with a pink drink made of rose, lime, raspberry and lemonade as a welcome. With my drink in hand, I was introduced to the chefs in the kitchen which is a clear line of sight from any table that you sit at. As I am more or less a regular, I am most probably going to stop this practice. I would advise that you keep this in mind though as it is not every restaurant that introduces you to the kitchen before you begin your meal. I think the only other place that I have experienced that is Ricard Camarena in Valencia. Anyway, back to L’Appart. They are effortless, precise and professional even in their attempt to be leisurely and approachable via their French apartment style presentation. It is a inviting welcome that I enjoy everytime and does indeed make me want to return.
L’Appart always has a snack before the snacks and tonight it is the mushrooms in a steamed bun. The texture of the bun is spot on and it almost made me think that I was about to taste barbeque pork but that was derailed by the flavor of the mushrooms. They left me confused and I think that there were two issues that contributed to that. First, I could not identify the type of mushrooms that were used in the bun. Second, I decided to have the wine pairing (which I almost never do) and for this I was served Champagne. The champagne was delicious BUT it was overpowering the bun and mushroom flavors. It is a tasty first bite but I just wish I could more accurately describe what I am tasting.
One of the things that I love about L’Appart is that they are very open to feedback. They asked my thoughts, I shared it with the kitchen and they were gracious with explaining when I was unclear. So please, feel free to comment upon your visit, they are willing and eager to know more which is yet another reason I love returning.
After the initial snack, comes the flight of appetizers on a single flight. I ate left to right, starting with the butternut soup with coconut foam and crunchy coconut latik topping. The crunchy element sitting on top of liquid is thankfully not soggy and it remained crunchy through my tasting of it. Timing is everything with this because that transformation to soggy may have just happened if I had had this last. I am doubtful of that though. Another element to the dish, is the coconut foam. For something that has been transformed into light and fluffy, it certainly still maintains the full flavor and richness of the coconut.
Next up is the arancino with pecorino cheese, served on a tomato coulis. These are fried rice balls and they are thankfully not greasy. I have had more than my fair share of those which is not always the fault of the chef. After all, rice is an ingredient that swallows up everything that it is prepared in especially oil when it is fried. Their preparation speaks to the care and balance that they put into this and every dish that they serve.
The final bite is a beef cheek samosa in red leaf lettuce served on lemon aioli. I am not the biggest fan of mayonnaise and by extension aioli but this was such a delicious bite that it made me reconsider for a moment. I am doubtful that that feeling would last though if I go to another restaurant. It is a rollercoaster for me with the aioli-mayonnaise journey that very much leans on the low, crashing and bad flavor for me than a good bite.
Now we move on to the first course, a chicken liver mousse with a port reduction, roasted plum and chanterelle mushrooms. This was spectacular. They hit a home run with this. I have had many interpretations of what chefs think mousse should taste and feel like but this is most certainly what I would call perfection. The texture is right where it needs to be, balanced between firm and soft such that it can be easily scooped up with a spoon and not be messy as it is spread on to the toast. The roasted plum is so tender that it can be scooped with the provided spoon without the need for a knife to initially cut through. It also additionally adds such a divergent and perfect flavor to this bite. Finally, the sticky consistency of the reduction, I think it was balsamic but I forget plays a critical role in being the finisher on the toast. All together, the flavors dance around from sweet to savory from the rich mousse, the sweet reduction and the buttery toast. Every element on its own delicious and playing a role to the whole.
Then there was the salsify panna cotta topped with salsify crisps, balsamic and cippolini mash and dotted with olive oil. I have never had salsify and to be honest I had to ask what it was. It is a an edible root whose flavor brings the taste of parsnips to mind. The crisps are the crunchy variant of the vegetables and I love it when chefs have multiple preparations of the same ingredient in one dish. It speaks to their boldness and creativity. The cippolini is a bit bland on its own and it needs the rest of the dish to lift it up particularly the olive oil. That confuses me to be honest as this onion has always been sweet in flavor to me. I may have been wrong in what that item was but I am fairly certain that that is what I was told. Nevermind the deconstruction in my thoughts and understand that sweet, earthy and savory at the same time is hard combination to achieve but they have achieved that flavor profile here. It quite frankly is a bit of a game being played between my head and taste buds to be honest. My eyes see panna cotta and my brain tells my taste buds to prepare for soft and sweet but instead this delicious and well rounded earthy and savory flavor prevails. I am doing a happy dance internally with delight. Another thing that I love about this dish is its presentation. Tastefully placed dots of olive oil both in flavor and color are a delight to the eyes as are the brown colored swirls from the crisps. I would highly suggest that you scrape the bowl unashamedly… I know I certainly did.
The next item on the tasting was the langoustine with chile oil and parsnip mousseline. Unfortunately, I seem to have been in a rush to taste it and as such forgot to take a picture! My words will do their best to recreate the image for you. I will start by saying that I love langoustine and this was quite the pleasurable preparation. In eating a steak, you will very often hear the phrase of “fall off the bone tender” and it was quite the same experience texture-wise here except that it was with seafood. My curiousity got the better of me and I asked about the preparation. As I was told, the crustacean is cooked slowly but in what I am not sure and the sauce on the mousseline is cooked with a lobster reduction. This was a rather spicy dish for me. I am really not a fan of spice but as mentioned, I partook in a wine pairing tonight which was a slightly sweet Riesling from Germany accentuating the fruitiness of its structure. Something else that I love about this dish is how the spice does not burn but plays a little game on the back of my throat instead especially with the Riesling that this dish is paired with.
The plating and presentation of these dishes is also quite good and I do not believe that pictures quite capture that. This is especially the case with the tortellini with honeynut squash, ricotta and topped with pumpkin seed. This is the first week for this menu and is an introduction to fall. You can see this with their selection of ingredients and coloring on the plate. I do believe that they have achieved a fantastic display of colors and flavors of the season. I love the flavors on the plate but this dish also did leave me a little bit confused as with the mushroom bun at the start of the meal. I was not clear on what they were aiming for even though it was a delicious few bites. It hit all the marks of a good dish but I yet still cannot explain what I am tasting cohesively. Ricotta. Check. Tortellini texture. Check. Crunchy pumpkin seeds. Check. Creamy. Check. Savory. Check. I love to describe dishes to the depth of mental recreation in a readers mind but I do not feel that I am able to do it justice in this case.
There is a bass fish from Spain on the tasting called Lubina. It is served in a soup of potato and leek. The texture of the fish is perfect but for me, there a bit too much leek in the soup. As with some of the other dishes on the menu this month, this one needs a bit more improvement. A reduction in the leek and maybe a different kind of fish would have made this a winner for me. I should probably also mention that I was in here for the August menu which was spectacular. As such I am not only judging this menu by its flavor profile but also by what had been done in the past.
The next plate was the duck served with Concord grape curry and Japanese turnips. This was quite a delightful bite such that I forgot to put down my normally detailed notes about what I was tasting. It may be best to just say that the duck was perfectly cooked temperature and texture wise. The sauce was the delicious pairing needed to drag the meat through for that extra pop of salty. For the texture, the added turnips are just what is needed to play jazz music in my head. I love jazz and I always hum it when I have a tasty bite of food.
As a palate cleanser before dessert, I was presented with a pineapple sponge with pineapple sorbet and granita. The texture is more ice like than spongey and it is thankfully not too sweet which is what you want in a cleanser. The sweetness in this case is that it is a fruit forward sweetness versus sugar forward. It is possible that the pineapple selected was at the point where it was just beginning to ripen.
The finale to the tasting is the chocolate cake with crisped oatmeal and chocolate ice cream. I am not the biggest fan of dessert but this is one that I could have several repeated servings of as it is outstandingly delicious. I should have been placated by the fact that the crunch was oatmeal or at least this is what my waiter said jokingly to me. To finish up the meal and say goodbye, my digestive in traditional french fashion was a financier with pineapple. As I pondered the flavor of the sweetness of the bite, I was poured another glass of wine to enjoy. I am a regular here… it has its perks.