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Al Fiori - new and recommended

A brief summary of a recent meal a few friends had at newly opened Al Fiori, in the Setai Hotel:

Al Fiori is another Michael White restaurant, of Marea and Osteria Morini fame It opened to the public about two weeks ago. The restaurant is located in the similarly brand new Setai Hotel, part of a small luxe chain of hotels. The NY Setai is located at 36th and Fifth Avenue, a neighborhood in which one would not expect to find such a hotel. If the area around Koreatown is undergoing a renaissance its the first I am hearing of it. Al Firoi is on the second floor of the Setai.

Our meal was delicious. Great, knowledgeable service, good menu, nice wine list, pretty and large room, well spaced tables. It seemed that the restaurant was holding back tables during this opening period since only half the tables were filled, yet it is difficult to obtain a reservation. Front staff are welcoming and polite. When we were led to our table and seated, there were likely four or five staff persons simply there to greet us and or watch real customers sit.

I believe the menu is available on line. Food wise, Al Firori is similar to Marea, mostly Italian seafood, or at least that seems to be White's strong point. I thought the food similar to Marea, where we also have had an excellent meal. Price was it is not inexpensive but, for a hotel restaurant, the prices are in line with other places and, I think, perhaps a bit less than Marea. Portions, like Marea, are on the small side. And the restaurant has the same unwelcome "recommendation" that you order three courses to make a meal. Charge me a few dollars more and let me eat just two courses please.

A lobster veloute (I would call it a light bisque) made with a chestnut puree and with small bits of lobster and truffle at the bottom of the bowl was excellent. Light, flavorful, perfect. Best I have had in quite awhile. Other apps were a beautiful composed salad, blue crab with grapefruit, seared scallops and risotto. Main dishes were mostly pastas and fish for us. All were excellent. The pasta with sepia and bread crumbs, like the one at Marea was flavorful and light. It was not a terribly large portion. The friendly wine steward came up with a good recommendation when asked to pick something in a specific price range. Desserts looked good, the petit fours were very good.

All in all a good new edition to the Italian dining scene. Yes, the location is odd (though the view over looking Fifth Ave is nice), and it is in a hotel but, the food is very good, service on the ball and the restaurant itself very comfortable. Good place for friends to meet, a business meeting or for a comfortable meal. Less of a "scene" than Marea, though that may change.

We did not see the chef, perhaps he is opening yet another spot.

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Marea
240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

Osteria Morini
218 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012

Ai Fiori
400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

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  1. I had a great lunch at Ai Fiori today. Some very classic and perfectly executed French items on the menu. The bisque with lobster chunks and thin slices of chestnuts and black truffles was indeed amazing, and so was the seared steak with pommes dauphine and sauce bordelaise. The agnolotti with veal, butternut squash puree and shaved black truffles, and the chocolate and salted caramel tart with stracciatella gelato were also perfect.

    A new direction for Michael White? My server explained that the menu concept is "French Riviera with Italian influences." I'm definitely going back soon.

    1. Here is the well deserved three star review from the New York Times:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/din...

      1. Ai Fiore definitely lives up to the standard we have come to expect from Michael White. Thanks to the posters who have enthusiastically recommended it, my partner and I tried it last week, and were very impressed. It reminded me very much of Alto, and though it is more expensive than Convivio (which we miss terribly) it was well worth the price.

        46 Replies
        1. re: rrems

          Once again, rrems, we agree! So glad you loved Ai Fiori as much as we did. We'll be making a return visit a week from tonight.

          I'm wondering if you had any of the dishes we had? Or, perhaps, others that I should consider next week?

          Ai Fiori photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

          http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

          1. re: RGR

            RGR, went a few weeks ago and felt that although service was a bit rough around the edges on a Saturday night, all of the food was fantastic.

            Looking at the pics of your meal, we really liked the Uovo which had sweetbreads, lobster knuckle meat and a poached egg, and the Crudo that had sea urchin and caviar with fluke.

            We also had the Agnolotti, but thought the Gnochetti was very similar to the Malloreddus at Convivio.

            As for the entrees, we had the Astice and Vitello. The lobster was poached perfectly, and while I didn't think it was better than that of Per Se or The French Laundry, I did think it was extremely good. The veal chop was quite large and cooked nicely, but perhaps a tad heavy with the sauce.

            For dessert, we had the Coulant di Cioccolato which was just OK, and another dessert thats not currently listed on the online menu. Niether were particularly noteworthy but hopefully, things will improve considering Robert Truitt's pedigree. Enjoy your meal, hopefully we'll be back soon to sample the tasting menu!

            -----
            Per Se
            10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

            1. re: TheDegustationAsian

              Foie
              Uovo (add on)
              Gnochetti
              Lobster
              Baba

              I don't need a menu for Monday, though I may be interested in hearing about the 6-course chef's tasting menu. :-)

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              1. re: uhockey

                uhockey, sounds like the menu was custom made for you. I will say that when I asked about the tasting menu, our server strongly suggested the 4-course prix fixe over the 6-course tasting menu. He said that the tasting menu was conservative and will most likely expand as the restaurant gains a bit more traction.

                Also, had a recent meal at Ma Peche that would have been very much to your liking:

                - Fluke
                - Gnocchi
                - Foie
                - Duck
                - Apple Tart

                -----
                Ma Peche
                15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                  that was likely to be my order at Ma Peche had we not had to cancel.

                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  -----
                  Ma Peche
                  15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                  1. re: uhockey

                    Sorry to hear. From what ellenost and my server told me, the foie (which was seared when I ate) rotates between hot and cold preparations. I'll be sure to keep an eye out on the menu when it changes and make a visit. I guess it'll be something for you to try on your next visit.

              2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                Thanks, TDA! Unlike my good friend uhockey, I'm not an egg fancier. Also, I don't eat caviar and am very cautious about sea urchin, i.e., depends on where it comes from. So, that lets out the two apps you had and the gnochetti.

                I have my eye on the squab to start and will probably follow with the agnolotti since that was my husband's pasta and I only had a small taste. Definitely the lobster for my main, especially since anything prepared with Chateau Chalon sauce has my name written all over it. For dessert, probably the vacherin. As for Truitt's pedigree, I was not a fan of his desserts when he was at Corton (particularly the first time when I thought they were horrible!). But the desserts we've had at Ai Fiori were more to my liking.

                Of course, all this could change if there are new things on the menu that strike my fancy more. That's certain a possibility given that we are now into early spring.

                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                1. re: RGR

                  No problem. I'm just sorry that I haven't gotten around to upload the pics of my meal onto flickr. That said, your selections sound great. I loved the agnolotti, very rich but completely satisfying and the lobster which was flawlessly prepared. Sounds like another great meal, please let me know if there are any significant changes to the menu, always looking for an excuse to revisit.

                  1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                    Will do, TDA. And, of course, there will be photos though it may be several days before I upload them to my Flickr. When you do get around to uploading yours, please put up a post with a link. I'd love to see them.

                    http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                  Have you ever had the veal chop at Alto? Curious how this compares because that was the best veal choper I ever consumed.

                  1. re: steakrules85

                    I never made it to Alto before it closed, sadly. Sorry I can't give you a more accurate comparison, but it did remind me of the thick-cut veal chop I had at Convivio sans bread crumbs. In addition to its impressive size, it was quite good.

                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                      Hmmm, very interesting. I would assume Convivio and Alto would be using the same veal so I am sure they were similar. However, Alto did not put bread crumbs on their veal chop like Convivio. Personally, I'd prefer to have my veal chop sans bread crumbs anyway. I just know the sauce on that veal was superb.

                      1. re: steakrules85

                        Just because you seem so interested in it, below is a pic of the veal chop at Ai Fiori. I haven't edited all the pictures yet, but feel free to browse the rest of the pics from the meal.

                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/lawandfo...

                        -----
                        Ai Fiori
                        400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

                        1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                          Looks very good. What was stuffed inside the cabbage and what was the sauce like?

                          1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                            Excellent photos, TDA! The lobster looks wonderful. Re: the plate with the foam cap. What was underneath?

                            Btw, since they were right next door to the Ai Fiori photos on the stream, I looked through your ABC Kitchen photos. It's on my "go to" list. The food looks very good. Black sea bass is one of my favorite fishes. How's the noise level there?

                            http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                            1. re: RGR

                              RGR I believe the foam dish is the Uovo with lobster and sweetbreads that uhockey and I are salivating over!!!!

                              1. re: steakrules85

                                Thanks for the kind words re the pictures.

                                steakrules - the cabbage is stuffed with sweetbreads. It was good, but combined with the chop and sauce was really rich. The sauce is a perigueux sauce, heady with black truffle.

                                RGR - steakrules is correct, the foam dish was the Uovo with plenty of lobster knuckle meat and sweetbreads. The egg is soft poached and I remember there being a strong acid component to help balance the dish. I ended up supplementing this dish to our 4-course prix fixe and loved it.

                                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                  Wow both sound incredible- I'm starting to think the Uovo will definitely be my selection should we all add in another course in addition tot he 4 course prix fixe. And yes I agree with RGR your pictures are awesome.

                                  I started scanning through them as well and I love how you have so many detailed pics of the same dish with different views. The Le Bernardin tasting looks great and I have been meaning to go there for a long time. How was it and what were the standouts at LB if you don't mind?

                                  -----
                                  Le Bernardin
                                  155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

                                  1. re: steakrules85

                                    LB was hit and miss for me. I was largely unimpressed with both food and service during my first visit in 2008. I tend to agree with RGR that the interior feels like a conference room and needs to be updated, a la Daniel. I will temper this statement with the fact that we did the prix fixe, and in hindsight, probably would have gone with the tasting menus.

                                    Because I felt like we missed something, we visited again and ordered both tasting menus and supplementing the famous "egg." In addition, I supplemented an additional course because the two menus have a different number of courses. While there are certain staples, compared to similar restaurants, the menu rotates quite frequently. Having said that, I always go with the Langoustine, which is enhanced even more with foie gras. The lobster carpaccio, both tuna preparations, red snapper and oyster progression were also incredible. Our second visit was much better all-around. Service was good without being overbearing, the sommelier helped us with an excellent riesling and the desserts were incredible as ever.

                                    Having been multiple times, I will say that LB is better suited for those who appreciate subtle flavors.

                                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                      Thanks a ton for the info and again the pics. People like you, uhockey, and RGR who provide such incredible photos and insight are really doing the world a great benefit.

                                      As for LB, it does appear from the pics that it needs some refurbishing. However, for me I am more tuned in to the food and service before the ambience. Over the past year and a half I have really become quite the seafood lover, so it is only fitting that I pay a visit. And yes, I would be going with the LB tasting and probably ask to add the egg as I have heard it is a signature. One thing though is I would like to supplement something for the octopus as I'm not a real huge fan of octopus or the accompaniments that come with that particular plate. Would they have any objection in your experience?

                                      1. re: steakrules85

                                        Definitely not. In fact, they seemed more than accomodating towards any of our requests. Be sure to request the "egg," when making a reservation, as I've read they only prepare a certain number each day, and ended up being better than either dessert. Haven't been to Providence in L.A., and will be visiting L20 in Chicago shortly, but along with Esca, LB seems to remain one of, if not the best, seafood restaurant in the U.S.

                                        -----
                                        Esca
                                        402 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036

                                        1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                          Super, thanks. I will keep that in mind about the egg. I would like to also sub out the desserts that come with the tasting as neither really appeal to me but I do see some on the regular dessert menu that are of supreme interest.

                                        2. re: steakrules85

                                          Well, steak, as the expression goes, "A picture is worth...."

                                          It's well-known that I don't care for the ambiance at Le Bernardin. But I'm also not crazy about the service which, though polished, I find too stiff and aloof.

                                          The last time we were there, we actually did what TDA did, i.e., three in our party did the longer tasting menu while I did the shorter one and added a dish. Also, there was one dish on my menu that did not appeal, and they allowed me to substitute something else. So, they are accommodating in that way. We also added two special ordered dishes: the tuna with foie gras and the egg.

                                          This was only the second time we'd been to Le Bernardin because the first time, ten years early, nothing about the experience had me craving to go back. While I thought the food this time was excellent and I don't think another ten years will pass before I return, I haven't exactly rushed to do so. Most likely, I'll go again after they refurbish.

                                          http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                2. re: RGR

                                  ABC kitchen was incredible. Definately somewhat of a "scene," given all the press its recieved. The dining room is loud, but managable when we went (Saturday night around 9ish). But the food is worthy of the hype. The manager surprised us with a sampling of every housemade soda they offer when I told them how much we enjoyed them at Jean-Georges.

                                  The Carrot salad is incredible...really. One of the best vegetarian dishes I've had this year, on par with the the carrot dish we both had at EMP and the roasted Marcum carrot I had at BHSB. Crab toast was loaded with crabmeat and the seabass was expertly prepared. IMO, I've always felt that no one utilizes acid better than at JG restaurants. In any event, I highly recommend going, even if you pick a weeknight where it may be "slightly" quieter.

                                  -----
                                  Eleven Madison Park
                                  11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

                                  ABC Kitchen
                                  35 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

                                  1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                    Thanks for the detailed reply, TDA! You can be sure that we will *not* be going to ABC on a Saturday night. Since Saturdays are such a busy night in restaurants, we are careful to choose places, often more upscale, where we know the noise level will not be extremely high. We went to Ai Fiori on a Saturday (pre-Sifton review) fairly late -- around 9:30. While it was busy, there were a few empty tables in our section (as you know, it is a huge space separated into several dining areas), and noise was not an issue.

                                    A vegetable dish can be the unsung hero of a menu. I agree with you about the carrot dish at EMP though I thought the cauliflower composition was even better. If the carrot dish is available at ABC when we go, I will order it. However, with spring here (though you cannot tell it by today's weather), my guess is there will be other enticing vegetable dishes -- think asparagus! :) -- on the menu.

                                    http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                    1. re: RGR

                                      Np RGR. From our discussion with the manager, it seemed the carrot salad was somewhat of a signature dish of the restaurant and should definately be ordered if available. The portions were large, however, the chicken was one of the largest dishes we saw. With spring arriving, I'll be sure to keep track of any menu additions, if only reservations were easier to get...haha.

                                      Also, if you are open minded, I had a wonderful 7-course menu at Kajitsu that featured some great bamboo shoots and white asparagus! Finished off with a complimentary homemade sweet potato ice cream with a whipped tofu-sesame topping and some cocoa nibs, it was great.

                                      -----
                                      Kajitsu
                                      414 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

                                      1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                        True, getting a table at ABC can be difficult especially on the weekend. However, a quick check on OpenTable for this evening shows a table for two at 8 p.m., but we won't be in the city again until Sunday. Actually, a better option for us would be lunch. ABC is walking distance from our apartment, and that's a much easier reservation to get.

                                        Although I enjoyed some of the dishes when we had dinner at Kyo Ya last year, Japanese food is not one of my favorites. I have yet to eat sushi. We had a reservation for this coming Saturday at Yasuda with our daughter and son-in-law (he's a sushi addict). However, considering the situation in Japan, we decided to err on the side of caution and canceled.

                                        http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                        1. re: RGR

                                          I understand completely. Lunch would be great option. If only I didn't have to work...Hope you enjoy ABC Kitchen as much as I did.

                                          Have you seen this NYTimes article re the Japanese situation: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/din...

                                          -----
                                          ABC Kitchen
                                          35 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

                                  2. re: RGR

                                    Gotta say I really like the ABC menu - perhaps there over Manzo?

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                    -----
                                    Manzo
                                    200 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010

                                  3. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                    Portions look pretty large, jeesh.

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                          2. re: RGR

                            hi RGR,

                            Sorry I could not reply earlier today. We had the following:

                            uovo
                            squab
                            lobster risotto
                            agnolotti
                            guinea hen
                            beef filet
                            budino
                            olive oil cake

                            Of course, everything was delicious, but particularly memorable were the egg,squab, agnolotti, and guinea hen. The risotto was perfectly done, with lots of tender lobster, though not as creative as the pasta. Like you, I am not normally a fan of eggs, but I will sometimes order it just to see if the restaurant can wow me. I had one last year at EMP, and it was disappointing, sort of gloppy and one-dimensional. Ai Fiori's version puts it to shame. This is light and rich at the same time, with a wonderful combination of distinct flavors. It's certainly the best egg dish I can remember. I hope the scallop and bone marrow dish is on the menu when we go back. It looks fabulous.

                            1. re: rrems

                              Thanks for the reply, rrems! No need for an apology.

                              I really want to start with the squab. However, if we all decide to add on a course (which seems likely), I may very well try the egg. I've pretty much settled on the lobster, but I do love guinea hen, so that may end up posing a conundrum. Mr. R. had the olive oil cake. I had a taste and thought it was o.k. but not nearly as delicious as the one I had at Scarpetta. I don't see the budino on the on-line menu, so perhaps it's new.

                              The scallops dish was Mr. R.'s first course. I like scallops but I'm not big on bone marrow. He loved it. I, of course, started with the foie gras. Fabulous!

                              http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                              1. re: rrems

                                Tell me more of this budino - traditional, IE a pudding, or one of these new fangled pseudo-budinos they seem to be serving everywhere (Lincoln, Osteria Morini, etc)

                                Roz, you don't need to add a course - but I don't see how it could be a bad idea. ;-)

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  uhockey,

                                  In the list of the dishes you plan to order, you parenthetically mentioned the egg as an add-on. You don't think the rest of us will want to just sit there watching while you eat it?!

                                  The only budino I've ever had was at Maialino when we did the maialino al forno with steakrules last year.

                                  Budino photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                                  http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    That is more a bread pudding or cake - perhaps a steamed pudding. It looks delicious, though. A traditional budino is a pudding.

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                     
                                     
                                    1. re: uhockey

                                      Where did you have those?

                                      As for what the budino at Ai Fiori might be like, I'd be surprised if it turns out to be traditional. Even though Truitt's desserts there are not as strange as -- and taste far better than -- the ones he created at Corton, they still don't seem to follow traditional lines. The baba certainly didn't -- square instead of round. My complaint was that it didn't have enough rum. :(

                                      http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                      1. re: RGR

                                        All this talk about or upcming meal at Ai Fiori has my mouth watering. And yes if uhockey wish to add on a course, I won't say no lol.

                                        As for the selections so far.. I pretty much had an idea of what you guys would pick- reading uhockeys blogs and of course dining with you RGR.

                                        The lobster was named the best dish in the world by the NY Post. I had been pondering it but since both of you seem to be settled on that, I will look elsewhere. I am leaning towards either the dover sole or the lamb chops, wich nymag named best lamb chops in New York. RGR, about those lamb chops- I see they are on the bone now which is right up my alley but am curious about that "crepinette". What is the lamb actually filled with? I am not a sausage fan so if it is sausage then the lamb dish would be a no go for me. I have read though, it is lamb breat but not sure if its accurate. So I look to you for help.

                                        Still though that dover sole really has my name on it. As for the other courses..

                                        I am thinking..

                                        Scallops with bone marrow- two of my favorite things.. and that egg sounds amazing but seems like we will have that at the table in one form of another. Oh yeah and the jumbo lump crab sounds wonderful.

                                        I've already had that gnocchi at Convivio and it was great. Since uhockey seems to have chosen that I will get something different. I have to be honest the pastas didn't really wow me. The trofie nero sounded interesing but since my app and main will most likely be fish, I think I am leaning towards the agnolotti with veal and squash.

                                        For dessert, the mandorle seems to be calling me. Or the chocolate savarain... or well you know me and desserts. I have a sweet tooth the size of Antarctica.

                                        And like you said RGR, the menu may not be the most up to date so we may have some other options to choose from come Monday.

                                        -----
                                        Ai Fiori
                                        400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

                                        1. re: RGR

                                          Marc Vetri Osteria
                                          Mario Batali Pizzeria Mozza

                                          The Osteria version is my second favorite dessert ever - behind Karen Kranse's Croissant Bread Pudding in San Diego........and Osteria sent me the recipe, which is awesome.

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          1. re: uhockey

                                            Is Karen Kranse from that place Extraordinary desserts in SD,CA?

                                            I have been eyeing that place for years and have been dying to sample her creations. The cakes look and sound so amazing. It is a real disappointment that she does not ship her cakes.

                                            1. re: uhockey

                                              I just checked the dessert menu at Manzo and there is this: Chocolate & Date Budino -- Pudding Cake with Caramel & Vanilla Gelato.

                                              http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                              1. re: RGR

                                                I am welllll aware. ;-)
                                                My guess is that this is something like a steamed date "sticky" pudding which could make it the best thing ever.

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                1. re: RGR

                                                  Stop talking about Manzo... I'm getting envious!

                                                  -----
                                                  Manzo
                                                  200 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010

                                            2. re: uhockey

                                              When I saw chocolate coulant on the menu I immediately thought this would catch your eye!

                                          2. re: uhockey

                                            This budino is definitely the new-fangled pseudo kind. It was good, but not what I was expecting. It is also intensely chocolatey, which for me is not always a good thing. I liked the olive oil cake better. On the whole, I have to say the desserts were the weakest part of our meal.

                                          3. re: rrems

                                            Rrems,

                                            Is the online menu still the same as what you experienced? Is the dover sole still on the menu because I really want that!

                                            1. re: steakrules85

                                              I know there are some changes from the online menu, but I can't remember if dover sole was on my menu. I think I would have noticed if it were, and in fact if I see it next time I would probably order it. If you really want to make your decisions in advance, I would call them and ask what is different on the current menu, or see if they can email the menu to you.

                                      2. Exquisite dinner Friday night at Ai Fiori. I was lucky and was able to get a last minute reservation. Wonderful way to start the weekend. Service was very attentive and friendly (wine and water glasses were refilled before I even noticed that they needed to be refilled). Food was fantastic: lobster veloute with big chunks of lobster and black truffles; soft cooked egg with lobster (again), crispy sweetbread; gnocchetti with crab, breadcrumbs and sea urchin (couldn't really taste the sea urchin--but the dish was delicious anyway); lobster (yes, again and a huge portion) with root vegetable fondant and chateau chalon sauce--one of the best lobster preparations; and for dessert: sformato (chocolate mousse-like cake) with stracciatella gelato and lemon honey--yummy!

                                        Look forward to many return visits. Definitely deserves the three stars from the NY Times

                                        -----
                                        Ai Fiori
                                        400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ellenost

                                          Sounds great we'll be there tonight can't wait. Im sure one of us will have a nice and detailed report as well.