Alain Ducasse! (long)
Last week (Dec 10-17) I spent in New York. It was my first time visiting the city on any kind of large budget. As such, I tried to visit a number of good restaraunts. In particular, I reserved well in advance for Nobu, Alain Ducasse and Daniel,
First came Daniel. We came for lunch and my girlfriend and I ordered a five course tasting menu, with some of Daniel Boulud's smoked salmon to start. The salmon may have been the best I've ever had, but lox is lox and at this point it ain't gonna blow my mind. The room was nice, if a little bizarre. Lots of curtains, strange roman influenced mosaics. The rest of the meal was good, very good. Perhaps, in the top ten of my life. The service was very polite. My girlfriend conversed with the waiters about Paris in her perfect french. It was polite but, it wasn't spectacular. I never felt like I was special. Like I was the king of the world. This is the way I like to feel when I'm eating three-star cuisine.
Next was Nobu. We ordered a 160 doller Omakase menu. It brought delightful things. (Kobe beef, ocetre caviar... I will go into more detail at the slightest request.) The place is only slightly more attractive than a Starbucks and the service is about as good as at your average really hip restaurant. That is to say, erratic, friendly/scary, just weird.
Finally ADNY. I had heard so much bad stuff about this place, it really gave me a chill to think I might be dropping so much coin. Maybe the restaurant really did suck in it's early days. Maybe not. Either way, ADNY is the greatest. Nearly every dish we had was a model of it's kind. Crabcake and shrimp froth amuse guele, sea urchin mousse and crawfish bisque or velouté. Black angus ribeye (the best steak I've ever had.) The sole was somewhat bland but the peppers that accompanied it were stuffed with cheese and were incredible. The baba au rum was magnificent. The candy cart blew my mind. The bread was better than I've had in Paris. The sorbet was worthy of Berthillon. Only one problem. Arizona beef sucked. It was very tender, yes. Unfortunately it had been covered in so much pepper that you couldn't taste it. Though it didn't appear to have much flavour, anyways. I mean, you might as well have just eaten the fancy pepper he gave us in a little bowl. At least there wasn't much of it. I'm not lying it was painful to eat. Oh also, their cheeses are priced at 18 dollers per person. Their preperation of these expensive cheeses would embarass most three-starred restaurants. (obviously Alain Ducasse NY has no stars)
That said, the service was perfect. This is the kind of restaurant that makes you feel wonderful. They complemented me on my tie. They escorted me to the washroom. They carved things artfully in front of me. They wheeled around gorgeous wooden carts and recommended things to me. The servers were so talented that they took on personalities as if they were actors in a play. I can still recall their faces and gestures. If I had dined at ADNY alone, I would have felt in the company of friends.
So there. I visited many fine restaurants in New York. I was quite often impressed by the cuisine. But, if any of these places wants to compete with Paris, (or even London these days!) they'd better take a few pages out of m. Ducasse's book. Dining out isn't just about food. Otherwise we'd eat sitting on paper boxes in empty wherehouses where all of the money could go to the ingredients and the chef. Not only was the food at ADNY (for the most part.)superior to any other I tasted, the total experience wasn't even comparable.
Very evocative posting, thanks for taking the time, Michael! But am I the only one who read this part:
"Dining out isn't just about food. Otherwise we'd eat sitting on paper boxes in empty wherehouses where all of the money could go to the ingredients and the chef"
and raised his/her eyebrows at the possibility? I like atmosphere and service as much as the next hound, but there is a definite chowhound fantasy element to what you'd intended as a reductio ad absurdum...
re: Jim Leff
No, Jim, you weren't the only one. Sit on the box? I imagined myself sitting on the concrete floor, with the box as my table, set with plastic dishes and paper napkins, if the lack of amenities would have put the sublime food that Michael so beautifully described within my budget! I'd have to stop short of condoning surly staff, but "Hi, I'm Bob and I'll be your waiter" would be a perfectly acceptable tradeoff.
yeah, budget is one consideration. But aside from that, I like to focus on the food, and while I do enjoy fancy decor and cushy service, there are times I'd like to be able to eat high end cooking in a situation that distills the experience to its raw essence. I do indeed consider set and setting to be part of the complete dining experience, but flourishy service/luxe atmosphere are just one possibility along an immense spectrum. I don't always want someone guiding me to the restroom, though pampering's nice once in a while...
All in all, I think I'd be likely to patronize a cinderblock warehouse serving exquisite cooking (discount or not), and I'd suspect that many hounds would feel the same. Sounds like an interesting set and setting...one which lets the food speak for itself. And that's a goal I respect, even if it's not the ONLY goal I respect.
re: Jim Leff
There is a restaurant in London that sort of fits this description called Wapping Food. It's a converted hydraulic power station, and the conversion has been minimal enough to retain chains, piping, valves and engines.
The link below will take you to The London Evening Standard Food and Drink. You can then use the restaurant finder to search for Fay Maschlers review which includes a picture of the place. Not quite 4 star food in a warehouse, but along those lines.
By the way, if you're visiting London, I can think of no better way of finding somewhere to eat than relying on Fay Maschlers reviews.
re: Seth Ditchik
1. Toro tartare w/ scallions and ocetre caviar, sitting in wasabi spiked citrus soy sauce.
(gosh, the combination of spice that burned in your nose with the smoothness of toro was crazy. Really one of the nicest dishes I've ever had.)
2. 3 lightly cooked kunamono oysters w/ a japanese pepper. (I was warned that 1 in every 11 peppers is extremely spicy. This one tasted like okra but, more interesting. The oysters were great.)
3. King salmon wrapped around sea urchin, topped w/ a jalapeno slice. (The first sea urchin I've eaten that didn't bother me, more of a textural experience though.)
4. New style sashimi yellowtail (mmm so perfectly fresh.)
5. Sashimi salad (also yellowtail, w/ gorgeous baby asparagus.)
6. Lobster ceviche (except the lobster was cooked which is probably just for the sake of my ignorant tourist palate. I'm a little scared of raw lobster anyways. Very good salad though.)
7. Miso Marinated black Cod (It's all been said.)
8. a fish whose name I don't recall (good not extraordinary.)
9. Braised Kobe beef sitting on red lentils (All I can say is what pot-roast must taste like in heaven.)
10. Miso soup (o.k. I mean it's miso, it's kinda like a baked potato. No offense potato fans.
11. Sushi: (Raw clam, cooked eel, toro, fluke, white salmon, lobster rolls, something else I don't recall. All were wonderful. Just blew away all sushi I'd had in Toronto.)
12. Japanese plum sorbet w/ a plum. (to cleanse the palate.)
13. Moist chocalate cake and green tea ice cream(perhaps models of their kind, but so what. There are places back home that do them just as good.)
14. Good little chocolates.
(So the desserts were kind of ordinary but, after ten really good courses my extraordinary senses were all warn out. )
Thanx - Mike Stacey.
re: Seth Ditchik
Yeah it was the $160 per person. Kind of a shame that
everbody gets nearly the same bunch of dishes. I'll probably be back in New York in a couple of months. Does anybody know a way to get an equally good but, totally different array of dishes from Nobu. Or does anybody think that there's a much better Japanese place out there?
re: Michael Stacey