Mike's Bistro -- Follow-up Report (very long)
When we last left off (see the thread I started on October 28th), Mike's Bistro had turned us away because we arrived at 10:05 for a 9:45 reservation and the kitchen had closed at 10:00. And even though we had not called to tell anyone we were going to be late, Mike himself subsequently called my cellphone and apologized, saying that they shouldn't have closed the kitchen without calling us first to see if we were still coming. As a result, Mike offered to have us back for a seven-course "tasting menu" with wine at a "special table," on the house.
Well we finally went back last Wednesday and it was indeed a very special experience. We were seated upstairs in a newly-renovated room with well-spaced tables. Ours was next to the fireplace -- no logs burning, but some nice candles instead. Soft background music, low lights; definitely workable for a romantic dinner. The first floor seating looked good too, but I think the upstairs looked better.
The thing about having the tasting menu is that the kitchen makes almost all the choices for you. You end up sampling items you would never have ordered from the menu yourself. Our seven courses were:
Mystery appetizer (see below)
Roasted beet appetizer
Sorbet (apple cinnamon?)
Your choice of dessert
The mystery appetizer was 2 pieces of sliced cucumber covered with a finely diced topping. We assumed the topping was some bruschetta-like vegetables, but later, the waiter told us that it was raw fish-based. There was also a third something on the plate; can't remember it well, but there was potato involved.
The three middle courses were the highlight. The roasted beets were delicious, and we never ever would have ordered it on our own. The duck gnocchi was fantastic, as has been mentioned before on this site. And the filet was soooo soft. It came with steak fries, asparagus and a poached egg, which we could not bring ourselves to eat (gotta draw the line somewhere).
It was all very delicious, and the service was very good too. We may have gotten some extra attention (visits from the maitre D and from Mike himself) because of the circumstances, but it turned out the waiter didn't know we were getting "comped" and neither did the busboy, so I'm betting on good service the next time there too.
Some other positives:
The wine list was not just the usual standards. It had choices you don't often see and some I never heard of. A little short of white wine selections for our tastes, though.
Nice dessert options, and not just out of the bakery box. We had one molten chocolate cake and one warm apple tart.
Freshly-baked (not merely reheated) rolls.
A few minor complaints too:
The rolls came with a dipping oil that was pretty much tasteless.
After a while, the chairs got a little uncomforatable. If I remember right, they're made from wood and cane, and after a while we started to feel them digging into our thighs.
No one asked how we liked our meat, and like any good chef, Mike seems to like his very much on the rare side of medium. That worked for us (close enough at least), but it wouldn't work for everyone (not most Jews I know) and they should've asked.
The tasting menu costs $70 per, which I think is pretty reasonable for a memorable experience. There's also a 5-course tasting menu for $50; that would work too, assuming the right dishes stayed in. According to our waiter, we probably would've gotten the same dinner had we come back the next night and ordered the tasting menu again, but he believed that after a few months, the kitchen mixes it up. (Note: According to the menu, you can only get the tasting menu if everyone at the table is getting it too.)
All in all, I'd say that Mike's can compete favorably with any of metro-NYC's kosher meat restaurants that aspire to offer more than just steak (e.g., Levana's, Abigael's, Bistro Grill). I'll know more after an "anonymous" visit. It is definitely a place to bring non-kosher diners to (which is what the two frum guys in the party of eight next door to us had done that night).
The most important point is that we'll be back again, which I guess is what they were aiming for in the first place. The location that Mike's occupies was a real "kiss of death" spot for many years. I think that curse is over.