NEW YORK, NY
It was a rainy evening with bad traffic through downtown New York. This was not the greatest start to the magical evening that I had planned but I had very high hopes for this restaurant given that it was a fusion of my favorite cuisines – Japanese and French. I eagerly and sometimes a bit impatiently awaited my arrival at the restaurant. I was a little tired as well so you can well imagine what was going through my mind as I watched all the cars around me very slowly move by inch by inch. Funny thing is that this restaurant is located next to the Trump tower. I got a little scared seeing that as my driver pulled to the entry way. I really did pause for a moment and reconsider going in as I thought that I had maybe made a reservation at the hotel restaurant. Upon walking into the entrance, I was greeted warmly by the maitre’d who very quickly found my reservation and escorted me to my table in the back dining room. You have to walk through a rather large open bar area and I might have to return there to explore it further. This was quite a contrast from my experience at Per Se as you can well remember. The restaurant is clean and streamlined, exquisite in temperament and inviting to those seeking a mature dinner experience. At my table, I was very quickly offered a beverage to start, Champagne. I had not planned on ordering one but the level of welcome that I had experienced from the entry promptly pushed me to accept the offer. The back dining room is perfectly lit with that romantic mood lighting that makes this space a perfect place for a date and as I mentioned earlier an elegant crowd. Well, mostly elegant. There was one table that was not appropriately dressed and the couple next to me noticed and commented the same while giving me a compliment on my appropriate attire. Given, the nature of the environment, I was a little hesitant to record the experience with photo taking but when the couple at the table next to me asked if I was a reviewer, it made me feel better. A little smile on my face appeared because well… moving on.
A little more about the champagne, it was dry and crisp, La Caravelle was the name I believe. I generally do not name wines that I drink as I just do not know enough yet to comment but I am working on it. They have quite a wine list though, the book was VERY heavy to lift and a quick glance left me speechless as to the wealth of options. At this point, I was well beyond excited and ready to begin the evening. I perused the menu and for the first time in a long time, I was stumped. There were so many good and interesting options. They had sweetbreads which as you know is my immediate choice on any menu but the presence of a gulf shrimp option as well as a parsnip soup option in the same category made it a rather challenging decision to make. I did what I always do in this situation which is to ask my waiter’s opinion and I was delighted to find out that it was truffle season and they had a special. So to join in the party, truffles won the competition. In the end, my complete menu for the night was:
- Caviar on lemon gelee with creme fraiche
- Sea urchin (uni) with toasted black bread yuzu and chili
- Pasta in butter sauce topped with truffle
- Lobster with herb ravioli and gruyere broth
There was so much more on the menu but it is in fact a very seafood forward menu. With those choices made, I eagerly waited for the start of my meal, well… the consumption of my meal I should say.
I was not impressed by the taste of the bread though they had quite a few options. Sourdough rye, Swedish rye, black olive and rosemary, ciabatta and one more that I forget. While I have mentioned in the past that if I restaurant can get me to eat their bread that they are a keeper, in this case, they are a keeper even without that. I very much wanted to make another reservation as I sat there for my next visit but I am going to London for Christmas so I held back my desires to proceed with that action. Looking around while I waited for the round of snacks, I noticed the rather grand chandelier-esque lighting fixture on the ceiling. I tried to take a photo of this but it did not turn out well, I guess you will just have to visit to see it for yourself. I also thought about my reasoning of selecting caviar but once again, it was an attempt to recover from the two disappointing experiences that I had had recently. Additionally, the combination of lemon and caviar is a first for me and it sounded quite original. They do have the traditional caviar on egg item for those of you who are interested to know. There was also a caviar on potato option but well… carbs. Next time, I will not have any carbs that day so I can try it or maybe I will go traditional with the egg. Ah! This place is so good it is frustrating.
Finally, I received the first round of snacks. There was roasted fennel, broccoli soup and tuna on a fried rice cake with a potato croquette presented next to it.
I started with the tuna. There is a dash of salt on it that plays on your tongue as you eat it. When you eat sushi that “salt” is that of soy which is smooth but this is so unexpectedly good. It presents itself in uneven appearances as you eat it. Think about a peep show or maybe… don’t. Ah! I think you get the point. There is also a creamy, savory and peppery sauce that is spread between the fish and the rice cake. The fish is fresh and delicate but there is no need to mention that given the caliber of the restaurant.
The croquette is crunch and earthy. It tastes almost as through they picked it up out of the ground and very lightly washed it before preparation. It is simple and untainted in its flavor. I was floored beyond belief at how much I was enjoying my meal at this point and it was only the starters. This place was well worth the wait.
After the first set, I moved on to the roasted fennel. I am not sure what it was topped with but it tasted like fresh goat cheese to me. I was unsure of what the fruit atop it was as well. The dish was introduced but it was a lot of information all at once and I really find it hard to remember when I am given that much information at one time. The fennel was roasted to perfection. It fell apart as I put my fork in it. The salt was light which allowed the fennel to do all the talking with this plate.
And finally, the broccoli soup. It was refreshing as to be expected but what was particularly interesting about it was that you could smell the onion as you drank it. It may not have been onion but it was certainly something in that family of vegetables. The light swirl of cream atop the soup was a nice touch and made for the perfect goodbye to the snacks event.
Now time for the caviar. I should mention jokingly that since I was so eager to get to the caviar, I actually completely forgot that I was going to get snacks first. I have quite a love for caviar as you must know by now. This was osetra caviar but what was interesting here is that it was selected especially for the restaurant. That is to say, you can get it in no restaurant other than this one. It was served on a lemon gelee with creme fraiche as I had previously mentioned. Ok, here is the ultimate warning, do not eat each item individually! It does not do the flavor together any justice but as you also well know by now, that is my process. On to the taste, we have salty caviar, creamy creme fraiche and tangy lemon all on one spoon. Do not forget that I still had the champagne to accompany this and it had a burst of fruit forward sweetness when combined, an unexpected but very welcome surprise. The best part of this plate was when I scooped all the way down to the bottom of the gelee and got a heaping scoop of the lemon which gave a resounding explosion of refreshing flavor followed by the heavenly creamy salty combination of the creme and caviar. I can still taste this dish and I am certainly going to dream about this for weeks to come. The tanginess of the lemon almost tastes like lime and it made me wonder if a drop or two was added. I felt as though I was reintroduced to the usage of the lemon fruit as I experienced it in a whole new light.
The next dish was the sea urchin on black toast with jalapeño, brown butter and yuzu. As with the caviar, I proceeded to eat each of the items on their own, starting with the jalapeño. This is a VERY BAD idea, I cannot stress that enough. It set my mouth on fire and all the other items are required to temper down that heat. The first flavor that asserts itself is the yuzu when the dish is eaten properly i.e. all together. And the uni… oh god the uni. It is SO CREAMY and fresh. It is better than the uni that I had at Shoji which was my top ranking place thus far. This was by far the best four bites of a dish that I think I have ever had. The fact this this dish is on toast and I do not even mind that it is, makes it a winner. The creaminess of the uni is not all that is a standout here, the salt is no back pedaler. The salt acts as the finisher to the flavor as the bite goes down your throat. I miss this bite already.
As I waited for my next dish, I started to reflect on my thoughts of L’Appart. It is as many of you know my favorite starred restaurant but I am sorry to say to L’Appart that they have been bumped to second. Between the elegance of the room and the first few phenomenal bites, I just cannot gush enough about this place. I asked about how frequently the menu changes and it is seasonal as with the Musket room not to say that there is no change before the seasons change but it is only then that you have a major overhaul. They are very driven by the produce of the farmer’s market so that is a thought for you to consider as you decide whether or not to visit. You should visit… and stay awhile… and visit again… and stay awhile again. I think you get my point.
My next dish was the truffle on pasta as I had mentioned that it is truffle season and I wanted to join the fun. The truffle on its own is basic and same for the pasta. The pasta is a bit on the firmer side but that is preferable to me so not an issue. Some people like their pasta soft and leaning on the over cooked side so this I think is worth mentioning. Now put the two together and magic happens. It was with this dish that I decided to not eat each of the items individually as that is not providing a good impression to my palate. Back to the pasta, the butter from the sauce mixed in with the truffle caused quite the stir in my mouth… and I have three whole grams of truffle on here. My waiter had actually asked me to order more per chef’s recommendation. Apparently, someone had ordered twelve grams earlier even shaving it on ice cream. I wondered what that would taste like but it is not something that I would try. I was fine with my simple three grams though so I stayed there. The truffle, even in its light quantity is powerful when combined with the butter but do not be fooled, the butter is no side contender. They were both battling it out for who the winner would be on the most delicious flavor. The butter sauce was pooled on the bottom, I realized as I finished the pasta and I scooped it up like a soup, leaving none behind. I certainly would not regret a heart attack if I were to have one from that soup. In case you missed it, this was pasta, read: carbs… and I did not care one bit.
Finally, I was served the Maine lobster poached in butter with a herbed ravioli, green chili foam and gruyere sauce. The gruyere sauce was the last thing poured on, table side and it was quite the sight to see as it rose up filling the bowl, covering the lobster and ravioli. I must mention that even at this point, the jalapeño was still burning my throat so I must stress that you do not eat that thing alone. While this dish is delicious as well, it was not my favorite of the night. The lobster was succulent and tender and given that I had not had lobster in months, it certainly was a good reintroduction. The gruyere broth was understated and seemed to taste more like chicken broth to me. I wondered if I maybe just forgot what gruyere tasted like as that too had been absent from my palate for a while. Halfway through the dish, I was full. This made me especially happy since I have been hungry the last two places I dined at the end of the meal.
It was time to select the desert at this point. I dare say that I was maybe leaning to uncomfortably full but I’ll be damned if I miss dessert at this restaurant. Dessert options were offered as a collection. You pick a theme and you receive everything within that group. There was chocolate as was to be expected, pumpkin for the season, coconut and orchard. I wanted to be indulgent so I went for the chocolate. The group consisted of honey roasted peanut ice cream, caramel devil’s food and passion fruit. Joking to myself, I said to myself that it was healthy since it had fruit. No, it was not. Decadence is an understatement when it comes to this dessert. This was the kind of dessert that you want to eat as you curl up on the sofa watching a movie. Before I go into more detail here, there was the palate cleanser, a white chocolate bonbon with a grape filling. The grape explodes in your mouth as you bite down and this dish made me dislike white chocolate a little less. To be honest, I honestly would not have known it was white chocolate if my waiter had not mentioned it. Back to the dessert, there is a lot of chocolate so if you are such a fan, you have a winner here. Tasting from the piece closest to me and then moving on to the next one, it was almost like playing a piano scale with the last taste being the ultimate last and sweet note. It was the peanut and butterfly pea flower that created that apex note. Running the length of the dish was also dark chocolate devil’s food as well as passion fruit. The combination gave me a flavor of decadent and refreshing at the same time. I really did not think about calories and healthy eating as I consumed this dish. The treadmill would have to do the trick here.
Finally, at the close of the meal, I was presented with petit fours in one of the elegant presentations that I have seen in a while. It was more chocolate and given the overload I had had with dessert, I took them up on their offer to take it away. What is interesting about that is that I never take home leftovers but in this case I did as I did not want to miss out on even the smallest of treasures from this restaurant