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Jan 12, 2011 10:21 AM

The Modern at MoMA Review + Photos

Photos of all dishes can be seen here:

The Modern inside the Museum of Modern Art always shows up on NYC's Restaurant Week list and always gets completely booked well before I'm even aware Restaurant Week is upon me. This summer, my boyfriend and I attempted a walk-in and almost got laughed out of the place, so we decided to plan ahead and save it for our anniversary.

Here's the tasting menu, served in the formal dining room:

• amuse bouche: porcini- and rosemary-dusted popcorn

The flavoring on this was too uneven to make much impact, but we liked the idea of it a lot.

• amuse bouche: deconstructed vichyssoise: russet potato, leek soup sphere

Between this and the spork, the flatware coolness wasn't lost on us.

• amuse bouche: nori rice crisp, celeriac purée, hackleback caviar

Surprisingly, though, this was my favourite of the amuses. Surprising because I haven't traditionally been the world's biggest fan of the flavor of the ocean. This was just so fresh-tasting and so salt-concentrated, though, that I couldn't help myself.

• amuse bouche: pâte à choux, avocado purée

• my boyfriend's red bell pepper cocktail

• fennel souflée, tomato confit, tomato gelée, candied fennel

Tomato even a bona fide anti-tomato activist like me could enjoy. I guess everything tastes good when you cook it in fat and garnish it in sugar.

• "milles feuilles" of summer truffle, diver scallops, and watermelon, arugula coulis, sustainable Osetra caviar

This was the only total miss of the night, probably because it had such potential to be a hit. With all of those luxury ingredients, you'd think it would've blow our minds with flavor, but it was bland and mushy. The truffle taste wasn't detectable at all, and the only texture interest came from the caviar.

• chilled sweet corn soup, pearl onions, poached quail eggs, hickory smoke

The corn was freeze-dried! And it totally made the dish. I love corn anything to begin with, but everything about this soup was a delight, from the temperature to the herbs to the smoke to the soft eggs with their liquid interiors.

• grilled Sullivan County foie gras, champagne-vinegar-preserved strawberries, harissa tuile

• Maine lobster tart, fennel purée, red sorrel, "lobster granité"

To be completely honest, this dish didn't pack a whole lot of flavor. But chewy, gummy lobster and flaky crust are such a good texture combination. Is that a terrible way of describing the way lobster feels in your mouth? It's one of the few seameats I really, really like, so I don't want to do it injustice, but you have to admit that it's totally weird to eat.

• bulgur-wheat-crusted john dory, roasted black cherries, lemon verbena oil

I basically just wanted to try the john dory because Chef Gordon Ramsey serves it a bazillion times on every season of "Hell's Kitchen". It was a little too fishy for me, but I liked the earthy tones of the wheat and cherry.

• Modern "pot au feu" served two ways: New York prime strip loin, summer vegetables, basil emulsion; braised cheek, pommes fondantes

The little copper pot of ultra-tender and sweet beef cheek was definitely the best of the entrees for both of us.

• strawberry basil gelée, pistachios, strawberry balsamic foam

• buttermilk panna cotta, strawberry soup, pistachio ice cream, caramelized tuile

Dr. Boyfriend didn't care much about this dessert, but I thought each component was delicious in itself and that the sum of the parts was even greater. The strawberries were refreshing but not too light in their syrupy cold soup, and that sweet, crunchy tuile was such a great texture addition. Dipped in the caramel on the side of the bowl, the tuile was probably my favourite part of the dish.

• chocolate petit fours

We made a major mistake at this point, and I want our blunder to serve as warning to you. We had seen this wheeled cart <b>brimming with chocolate treats</b> making the rounds, and figuring it was an additional charge, discussed whether or not we had the room in our stomachs to make it worth our while. Of course it turned out to be included with the tasting menu, and of course we pansied out and only got four pieces for the two of us. As soon as we tasted them, we realized what idiots we were and wanted to call our server back over, but we were too embarrassed to be seen as double-dippers.

LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKE. Take one of everything on the cart and store it in your cheeks for later if you need to.

• Chocolate Cones with Maple Ice Cream and Raspberry

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. This was a solidly delicious and inventive meal and probably would've received 4.5 stars had we not been to other restaurants that just plain packed more flavor into their dishes. I do agree with the single Michelin star it's had for several years, and I certainly think it's a worthwhile member of the Danny Meyer restaurant group, but it just didn't live up wholly to my expectations. There's really something special about eating inside a museum, but The Wright at the Guggenheim is a better bet for your money.

The Modern
9 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019

The Wright
1071 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10128

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  1. It's the Bar Room (front area) that does Restaurant Week, not the formal Dining Room (in the back), BTW. Did you try to walk in for the Bar Room or the Dining Room? The Bar Room definitely takes walk ins, you may just need to wait a while during RW.

    4 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Oh, yeah, it was the Bar Room we tried during RW, but it was PACKED. Having heard such great things about it, we decided just to wait and plan for the Dining Room. And I'm glad we did, but I think maybe our expectations were too high.

      1. re: plumpdumpling

        I'd encourage you to try the Bar Room at a different point in time -- the menu is very different from the Dining Room.

        1. re: kathryn

          My wife and I just got a RW reservation for the bar room. Do you know what the menu tends to look like for RW? We're excited!

    2. My two cents, as much as I like The Wright, I don't think it is even in the same league as The Modern.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Spiritchaser

        comparing The Modern to The Wright is like comparing Gauguin to your kid's finger painting--absolutely absurd. If anything, The Wright is a restaurant that survives entirely on the merit of its location and design, not food. in contrast, the modern serves some of the best executed food in the city.

        1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

          I must be one of those blinded mommies who thinks all her kid's fingerpainting pages are masterpieces. I understand the general feeling is that The Wright isn't as good, but it didn't make sense to me at all as I was eating there. Either The Modern was having an off night when I went or my palate was.

          1. re: plumpdumpling

            Nice write-up. I really like The Wright too. It's not as ambitious as The Modern but still a very good restaurant.

            1. re: plumpdumpling

              LOL, I go to The Wright quite often. The food is better and more interesting than Cafe Sabarsky, including desserts IMO. I'm going back to The Modern Dining Room in a couple of weeks.

              Cafe Sabarsky
              1048 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

              1. re: plumpdumpling

                @plumpdumpling - I think what some of the other posters were saying is that conceptually, The Modern Dining Room and The Wright are vastly different. The Modern Dining Room is fine dining, and is more closer to other NYT 3-star restaurants, whereas The Wright (haven't been) seems to be more casual. That said, there is nothing wrong with having a different opinion about a particular restaurant, and kudos to you if you prefered The Wright.

                @Riverman500 - please report back on your experience at The Modern Dining Room. I had a great meal there last summer/fall and would like to hear about the new menu/format since I haven't been back since.

        2. We went last night for RW and had one heck of a meal. We had reservations, I canceled them, due to the weather, and then decided to just walk in and sit at the bar. Martinis and popcorn, I admired a drink the barkeeper was making (Blood and Sand) and she gave me a generous taste to try. Deelish. On to the upside down tuna tarte and the steak tartare for starters, crispy cod for me and the lamb for the mister, a glass of Barbera with the mains, and Hazelnut Dacquoise and the apple strudel for dessert with coffee. We were there for almost three hours the bill was approx. $135.00, and it was money well spent. Would I go back if it wasn't RW? You bet.