Melisse - An Amazing Dinner
I took my mother and stepfather to Melisse tonight for a belated birthday celebration. She has been wanting to go to Melisse for several years, but, for some reason, the fates have conspired against her. Feeling that she could only justify going for a special event, she has suggested going for a couple of past birthdays, only to have the only available days be Sundays (when Melisse was not opened). Last month, we were supposed to go on her birthday, but she got the flu. And then, this week, it appeared that my stepfather would have a last-minute conflict which, thankfully, fell through. Needless to say, by the time we finally got to Melisse, this was a visit that was long delayed and highly anticipated.
Fortunately, the dinner lived up to expectations. With our menus, we received an amuse -- concord grape and goat cheese prepared two ways. One preparation was served in a spoon with the reconstituted grape formed around the cheese with a little oil. This was very tasty, but I found the texture a little mushy. The second was a crispy disk with the cheese/grape flavor that I found phenomenal.
After taking our orders, we received bread from Melisse's fantastic bread selection. I still think the bacon bread is beyond decadent, and also tried a basil brioche.
Another two amuses arrived after the bread. One was a house-cured salmon in a spoon with a small slice of orange. The other was a layered cup -- valencia orange gelee under fennel cream (almost the consistency of flan) with a topping of carmelized pecan emulsion. The flavors mixed together fabulously.
I should mention wine. Taking advantage of Melisse's corkage policy, I planned on bringing a red for the entree course and ordering champagne to pair with the appetizer and fish course. On the online wine list, I had seen a champagne that I would have liked to order, but it was no longer on the list. However, the sommelier recommended a similar champagne (the name now eludes me), which was very similar. One thing that jumped out at me was the champagne the sommelier recommended was the least expensive champagne on the menu (I think it was $85). Despite the lower price, it was a perfect match for what we ordered and for our preference in champagne. I appreciated that, because I think a lot of restaurants would have pushed more expensive wines, especially when that was the only bottle we intended to order.
For our menu, we ordered from the four-course tasting menu, which has a lot of options and can also include a lot of substitutions from the special and ala carte menus. The base price is $105, but that is before supplements. I love this option because it allows a couple of people to try a bunch of different dishes and share them.
For the appetizer course, stepfather had the seared foie gras with apricot puree, mom had the egg with lemon chive creme fraiche and osetra caviar, and I had the truffle egg, described as a "melting organic egg, shaved black truffles, truffle sauce." All were supplemental dishes, with the truffle egg costing $60 more.
It was absolutely worth it. The truffle egg will be a dish I remember for years. The egg was unlike any I've ever had. It was poached perfectly, but the white was light and airy -- like an airy omelette. The portion of black truffle was extremely generous and the sauce was earthy and like distilled truffle. It was served with two slices of brioche that we used to try to sop up every bit of that incredible sauce. This also was a big dish, almost the size of an entree.
The other phenomenal dish was the foie gras. It was perfectly cooked and complemented well by the apricot. Mom thought it the best foie gras dish she ever had.
The caviar egg was very good -- possibly great -- but my mom felt it was not as good as the other two dishes. Her biggest complaint was that the lemon creme fraiche was not tart enough, because it was made with meyer lemon. She thought the dish would have been amazing if the lemon creme had been a little more tart.
Next came the fish. Stepdad had a special wild Norweigian salmon, while mom and I had truffle-crusted Dover sole with gnocchi, oyster mushrooms and spinach. The salmon was a very pale pink (almost white) and unlike any salmon I had ever tried. It was incredibly delicate. The sole was perfectly cooked, and we absolutely loved the mushroom sauce and gnocchi.
By this time, we were already getting full. For entrees, stepdad got duck breast and confit with turnips and grapefruit. Mom and I substituted the cote de boeuf from the regular menu (for $17.50 each).
The consensus was that the duck was the best duck any of us had ever had. Pink and perfectly cooked, the breast came in two long blocks. The leg meat was wrapped in pastry. On the side was a turnip/grapefruit puree -- much better than it might sound.
The beef, imo, was even better. This was a huge portion; definitely made for ala carte. It was brought in a braising pot and carved tableside. We each received five of six slices of perfectly cooked beef served over braised leeks, with sides of roasted wild mushrooms and mashed potato and leek cooked in a round pastry. Every part of the dish was fantastic. Mom and I each took home more than half of the beef and most of the mushrooms. Dinner for tomorrow night. Yum. (Points to our server for not even hesitating when we asked if it would be possible to take the beef scraps from the carving home for our dogs.)
Despite being stuffed and still having dessert to come, we decided to split a cheese plate. For $15, we got four cheeses, poached pears (with star anise) and kumquats, plus apricot/nut bread. The cheese cart at Melisse is one of the best in the city and the server are very knowledgeable about cheeses. We shared some Epoisses (a pungent, but mild-tasting creamy cheese), a very mild French goat cheese (the name I did not catch), a sharp Gouda, and a Valderon (a very strong blue cheese wrapped in leaves), Even though we all said we would just have a taste, we ate every bit.
Dessert followed. Mom had "the best apple tart" ever -- a thin layered tart set on top of a thick caramel sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream. Stepdad had sticky toffee pudding served with malted chocolate ice cream and a red berry-hibiscus consomme served in a cup from which you are supposed to sip. I had the Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate dessert -- four different chocolate preparations, including a chocolate souffle injected with melted Valhrona chocolate, a chocolate-peanut-butter crisp cake, a chocolate/mocha mouse, and a white chocolate bon bon filled with chocolate mousse. I've had this dish before and did not hesitate to have it again. The souffle and chocolate-peanut-butter cake are two of my favorite chocolate desserts ever. Yes, we were still full from the prior courses, but we pretty much cleaned our plates.
With the check, we received several different cookies (four different types, three of each), but could not take a bite. They also gave my mom a little box with some homemade truffles for her birthday.
Mom declared the dinner the best meal she has ever had. Given that she has eaten at Pre Catalan and Taillevent in Paris, that was fairly strong praise. She is planning a return trip for her 70th birthday.
This was my fourth or fifth visit to Melisse, and I have never had anything less than a sensational meal. In my mind, this is the most consistent restaurant in the city and the egg and truffle dishes will go down in my mind as some of the best dishes I've ever tried. (A rabbit dish and truffle tagliatelle I had on prior visits to Melisse are already on that list.)
The total for the meal, including with supplements, champagne, and two cappuccinos, was $556 before tax and tip.
I wholeheartedly concur with your review, especially about the sommelier. When we went for the first time, it was for Valentine's day last year (I think I wrote about this around Valentine's Day this year in another post and also about having consistently great meals there). It was a splurge for us so our wine budget was on the lower end -- we wanted to spend about 100 on a glass of champagne, a glass of white, and a half bottle of red. The sommelier did a great job with this budget -- he advised us to get the cheapest glass of champagne and cheapest glass of riesling on the list, and put all of our budget toward this amazing half bottle of nebbiolo. We loved it. I think at a lot of places, sommeliers can be intimidating or snooty, but Melisse's is friendly and helpful, even for people minding their dollars.