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Bar Room at the Modern (non-RW) Review

pictures are on the blog: http://thecollegecritics.com/2011/02/...

When my brother came to New York to see an exhibition of 20th century drawings, he met met me for lunch. The Bar Room at The Modern seemed like the logical choice: attached to his destination (MoMA), reliable, and without the more formal Dining Room’s dress code. Settling down for an hour lunch, we took a quick tour through Alsace, or more properly, chef Gabriel Kreuther’s imagining of Alsace. What a pleasant daydream, too, a meandering voyage into the boundary between France and Germany. [Pictures after the jump.

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Full within minutes of throwing open its doors, the Bar Room necessitates reservations and an open mind to navigate its unwieldy menu. Initially, the division into three categories (labeled One, Two, and Three) seems intuitively logical. The dishes must progress in heaviness and portion size, right? No, the categories serve mainly to distinguish between courses Americans consider more “appetizer” than “entree”—for instance, a plate of “Modern Liverwurst” with four pickled vegetables falls under the “One” heading, because a spreadable meat served on toasted bread must precede composed plates.

With a dab of searing hot mustard and a tart mushroom cap, this liverwurst refracts rusticity through a refined lens. This optical distortion of German, French, and Alsatian classics characterizes all of Kreuther’s creations.

Just as the liverwurst arrived, horseradish-crusted Scottish salmon with cabbage and Reisling came to the table. The lunch’s weakest dish, the salmon drowned in a bubble bath of puerile foam. Although the salmon, cooked to a glistening medium-rare, tasted bright and hot under horseradish house lights, the bland, inexpressive foam detracted from the composition.

Not surprisingly, the conceptual differences between the salmon (a “Two”) and pan-roasted veal sweetbreads (“Three”) are minimal—similar portion size, similar “plated” appearance. Fortunately, the sweetbreads far surpass the salmon. Plump organ meats rested in a thin maple jus, accompanied by a rather fussy pile of caramelized turnip cubes. Predictable flavors, but predictably appealing: sweet, bitter, and salty rarely fail to excite The Modern’s urbane clientele.

Finally, a more substantial allotment of beer-braised pork belly concluded the meal. An inventive rutabaga choucroute brings needed acidity to the fatty belly, but the pristine, crispy skin elevates this dish above its more mundane competitors across the city. Ginger provides a kicking heat, emphasizing the rutabaga’s winter sweetness.

During this brief lunch, the food sketched a contemporary portrait of Alsace. A natural site of hybridity (what now passes for “fusion cuisine”) Alsace synthesizes competing European food traditions into a cogent whole. On previous trips to the Bar Room, other dishes confirmed this assessment: the tarte flambée, an Alsatian thin crust tart like a pizza; wild mushroom soup with spectacularly salty chorizo ravioli; fresh grilled shrimp with green cabbage and gruyere salad; duck confit a l’orange with Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes. Gabriel Kreuther is one of New York’s most talented chefs; his impressively coherent vision demands respect.

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

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  1. Nice review! Next time try the egg in a jar, pan seared foie gras, duck breast, or lamb saddle.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kathryn

      I've had the egg in a jar in the dining room, it was pretty fantastic.

    2. No dessert?

      4 Replies
      1. re: peter j

        no my brother had a meeting he had to get to. i have yet to try the chocolate dome that i keep hearing about

        1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

          That chocolate dome is amazing!

          1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

            The beignets are amazing!

            1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

              The cheesecake is also amazing.

          2. Excellent review beautifully written!

            For future reference, The Modern Dining Room does not require jackets at lunch.

            http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

            5 Replies
            1. re: RGR

              thanks! i'm not sure whether i'd feel ok in jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt in the dining room even at lunch though

              1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

                You might not feel comfortable, but I don't think they'd bar you from eating there since there is no dress code at lunch.

                I have seen jeans, sneakers & t's at EMP at lunch, and nobody on the staff bats the proverbial eyelash. It's amusing seeing a guy dressed super-casually sitting a table right next to a couple of guys in suits having a business lunch. But that's in the spirit of EMP's guiding principle of hospitality, i.e., letting folks dress, as the French would say, "comme vous-voulez." (For the French impaired, that's "as you wish.") However, at dinner, most men do wear jackets even though they are not required.

                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                1. re: RGR

                  right, I agree, I don't think they'd bar me from eating there at dinner either there would just be some serious unpleasantness. I think it's an issue of respect really, both for the other diners, the restaurant/food, and the chef

                  1. re: RGR

                    Not to take the thread entirely off topic, but this is true. Met a friend there for dinner one night, I came in a suit. He was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. Staff treated him no differently than anyone else in the restaurant. Chef came to chat that night and we also got a 2nd amuse, which was the only time this has happened to me at EMP.

                    Ive seen jeans and blazers at dinner there quite often actually among the younger crowd, which is quite different than other starred restos (Daniel, Bouley, Del Posto)

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                    Del Posto
                    85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                    1. re: doubledoc

                      I've never been to Del Posto and have only had lunch at Bouley where I did not see a lot of jackets. Daniel, of course, is only open for dinner and requires them. Of the 7 NY Times 4-stars, EMP, Del Posto, and Masa do not require them.

                      I'm no fashion experience, but I think jeans with a blazer are considered by some to be "fashionable."

                      http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

              2. Great review and photos on one of my staple "go to" restaurant in the city..

                I do agree with your take on the dishes, especially with the Salmon not in the same caliber as the others. However, taking the Bar Room's food as "a contemporary portrait of Alsace" may be too generous (for a lack of a better term), especially as there seem to be more of "fusion" (as you called it) and non-Alsace based dishes in the Bar Room, while some key and almost-necessary Alsace staples like choucroute and trout-in-riesling are not represented.
                I do think that their Alsace wine collection is fairly deep and robust, though.

                1 Reply
                1. re: RCC

                  Idk, there is "rutabaga choucroute" and salmon-in-riesling lol

                2. Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking review -- thought-provoking not least because it was challenging. Parts of it were, perhaps intentionally, as hard to navigate and interpret as the Bar Room menu itself. Starting at the start and ending at the end, here's how each dish registered:

                  The "liverwurst refracts rusticity through a refined lens. This optical distortion of German, French, and Alsatian classics characterizes all of Kreuther’s creations."

                  The "salmon drowned in a bubble bath of puerile foam".

                  The sweetbreads "rested in a thin maple jus, accompanied by a rather fussy pile of caramelized turnip cubes. Predictable flavors, but predictably appealing: sweet, bitter, and salty rarely fail to excite The Modern’s urbane clientele."

                  Are you enjoying the meal? Are you having a kick-ass time, a kicked-in-the-ass time, or just a bored-to-my-ass time? Hard to say till we get to your final dish: "beer-braised pork belly concluded the meal. An inventive rutabaga choucroute brings needed acidity to the fatty belly, but the pristine, crispy skin elevates this dish above its more mundane competitors across the city. Ginger provides a kicking heat, emphasizing the rutabaga’s winter sweetness." It does seem that you're having a good time. The impression is confirmed by your final sentence "Gabriel Kreuther is one of New York’s most talented chefs; his impressively coherent vision demands respect."

                  I enjoyed the review because it kept me guessing till the end, but also because it made me think again about One vs Two vs Three on the menu. We spend a lot of time at MoMA, and eat at the Bar Room often. Along with the Taiwanese restaurant Shangri La in Belmont, MA, and Taqueria El Bajio in Santa Barbara it's our favorite "Go to often" restaurant (requirements for this are that it be unfussy, let you wear what you want, be equally accommodating if you want to eat a little or a lot, and have superb food). We have speculated idly on what separates the three parts of the menu. Your theory is interesting, and like Chef Kreuther's vision demands respect, but I'm not sure I agree that it's mainly a question of managing expectations of what's an appetizer and what's an entree. There is that, but there *is* also a progression in heaviness, nature of the food, price (somewhat) and number of offerings. In the current menu, page One is significantly weighted toward salads, soups, cured meats, etc., page Two has one soup, but largely offers pasta, seafood, the famous egg, and one organ meat (no prizes for guessing which), and page Three is all meat and fowl. If that's not a heaviness progression, then I'm a lightweight. There are 13 dishes presently on page One (price range $14--26, average $17.77), 10 on Two ($16--29, avge. $21.50) and 9 on Three ($17--32, avge. $20.56). There are several ways the menu progresses, I think, not just in playing with expectations. You may disagree, of course.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                    For me, 1, 2, and 3 just indicates the suggested sequence of courses.

                    If you think the menu at the Modern Bar Room is confusing, wait til you see Fish Tag's.

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                    Fish Tag
                    222 W 79th St, New York, NY 10024

                    1. re: fm1963

                      Yes, we have always taken 1, 2, and 3 as a suggested sequence. But *why* do they make these suggestions? To me it's because the food clearly progresses from light to heavy, and the price from heavy to extremely heavy.

                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                        Yes, no argument from me :)

                      2. re: fm1963

                        these were my comments on Fish Tag's menu: "Unfortunately, the menu design is asinine. Ordered from lightest to heaviest dishes, the menu ignores conventional “appetizer” and “main course” categories. Instead, smaller plates appear in red, larger plates in black. Did I mention that brackets subdivide the entire menu into suggested drink options, from sparkling wines at the top to peaty scotches at the bottom? But some of the brackets overlap, meaning that those dishes work with either intersecting bracket. Intended to facilitate drinking–and probably extreme inebriation—the menu concept needs serious work. If the wait staff tries to explain the concept four times to a table, something is not quite right."

                        from: http://thecollegecritics.com/2010/12/...

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                        Fish Tag
                        222 W 79th St, New York, NY 10024

                      3. re: FoodDabbler

                        thanks, glad you liked the review.
                        I just think the menu format is intentionally confusing and intended to drive up the average check total. There are probably some conceptual forces behind the organization. but they're poorly thought out. That said, the Bar Room is one of my "go-to" restaurants too and one of my most heavily recommended restaurants to tourists.

                        1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

                          I have to be a dissenter on Bar Modern. I was visiting New York last week and had one free day and wanted to take myself somewhere wonderful for a solo lunch. I chose Bar Modern, and with all the great restaurants in New York, I really wish I had chosen better.

                          The first issue was that I found the loud music very annoying. I'm not necessarily opposed to music in the restaurants, but I found the particular songs they were playing to be disruptive to a nice dining experience (I guess I like Mario Batali's taste in music better then whoever is curating Bar Modern's soundtrack, since I don't mind the music in Batali's restaurants).

                          Second, I didn't find the menu very appealing -- very Alsatian - very heavy on pork and onions, neither of which I eat. I would caution anyone coming from out of town to really study the menu online and make sure it appeals. I ended up with some kind of shrimp salad. It was miniscule and consisted of a few overcooked shrimp and a small portion of greens. I would have ordered a second course, but nothing else on the menu really called out to me and, with the loud music and indifferent service at the bar, I wasn't in the mood for a leisurely lunch.

                          Third, the bread was mediocre, as was the butter, which was served overchilled. Now one doesn't necessarily go to a restaurant for the bread and butter, but good bread and butter does add to your overall impression of a restaurant.

                          Fourth, one of the reasons I chose Bar Modern was because I had read they had a good wine by the glass program. However, I found the choices, for the most part, uninspired and middle-brow. Ended up with a $28 glass of Pinot Gris because it was the most interesting wine by the glass on the menu. Not bad, but nothing I would be anxious to pay $28 a glass for again. The reds by the glass in particular were full of the usual suspects from California, which was why I ordered white. If you are a wine person and will be ordering by the glass, I advise that you check out the wine menu online and make sure it appeals to your taste.

                          Fifth, the service at the bar was indifferent. The place felt like a factory.

                          I really see Bar Modern as a place not for tourists looking for something special, but more for office workers who work in the area. I ended up feeling quite cheated that I had "wasted" my one New York lunch at Bar Modern.

                          P.S. I ate at The Modern when it first opened and was equally unimpressed save for the wonderful view of the Sculpture Garden, but decided to give Bar Modern a chance based on the raves on this board, particularly as a nice place for a solo dining experience.

                          1. re: omotosando

                            Well you have me worried as I was planning lunch at the Modern when we are in NYC (from San Francisco) in April. Loud or annoying music is a huge turn-off for me. Could you tell me more--was it loud and what is was?

                            1. re: John Lowrey

                              You have to distinguish between The Modern and Bar Modern. I don't remember any annoying music when I dined at The Modern. Bar Modern is the more casual restaurant that you walk through to reach The Modern. So I'm not sure if you plan to dine at The Modern or Bar Modern.

                              Yes, the music at Bar Modern was loud enough to be jarring. I couldn't identify it -- it had a loud and annoying beat. Perhaps it was to some taste of some patrons, but not mine.

                            2. re: omotosando

                              You don't eat onions at all? Including red, white, scallions, spring onions, etc?

                              I have never noticed the music at the Bar Room at the Modern at all, and I find the restaurant to be pleasantly buzzing, but we typically go for dinner or weekend lunch.

                              IMO I've had good to excellent dishes there sans pork, including lamb, duck, swordfish, the egg in a jar, foie gras, the lamb/goat cheese terrine, various fish tartares, the steak tartare, some pasta dishes, and the sweetbreads.

                              1. re: kathryn

                                I'm with kathryn on this one. I went with two others and we had three savory dishes apiece and loved all of them. None had pork and I really don't remember the onions being prevalent. I thought the restaurant had a very lively atmosphere and really didn't notice the music. We were there for dinner.

                              2. re: omotosando

                                I am sorry that you had such a disappointing experience in the Bar Room at The Modern.

                                As has been pointed out, there are many dishes on the menu that do not contain pork. When we were there for lunch a week ago Sunday, none of the dishes we ordered did. Nor were there any onions -- at least, not that I could discern. The bread was excellent, and the butter was at perfect spreading temperature. Since I drink very little, my husband, as usual, did wine pairings and thought all three were brilliant.

                                Bar Room at The Modern Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                                There have been complaints about service, but our server Allison could not have been more pleasant or attentive.

                                Regulars on this board know that I am extremely noise-sensitive. In fact, one of my complaints about The Modern Dining Room is that when the noise level in the Bar Room is very high, that noise filters into the Dining Room. Very annoying. However, though the Bar Room that Sunday was very busy, the noise level was not especially high, and the music's volume was kept so low that I hardly noticed it.

                                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                1. re: RGR

                                  When I was there, the music was blaring. Maybe it is worse depending where you sit (I was at the bar) and maybe you notice it less if you have a dining companion to distract you (I was solo).

                                  Many of the dishes have onions that aren't noted on the menu. I originally ordered the tuna tarte, but canceled the order when I inquired after-the-fact and found it had onions that couldn't be omitted. The shrimp I ordered also came with onions in the salad, but they were able to omit.

                                  And I definitely stand by my criticism of the wine by the glass offerings, although it looks like they have a good list by the bottle. The wines by the glass are limited and largely unimaginative. They had exactly one Chardonnay -- a tropical fruit bomb from California - for $14 a glass (and which retails for $17 a bottle). I don't mind paying high restaurant mark-ups for by the glass, but only if they have something imaginative.

                                  I think it was a matter of expectations -- I was expecting something completely different. I should have studied the wine list and menu more carefully online before going.

                                  1. re: omotosando

                                    I haven't noticed loud music at Bar Modern either, and I've eaten there many, many times. Your experience there seems so different from mine it's almost as if we're talking about different restaurants.

                                    1. re: FoodDabbler

                                      I can assure you that I did not imagine loud thumping music.