Recommendations for a Three-Day Trip in June
I'll be visiting New York for three days in June--three dinners and two lunches--and was hoping to get some help in reifying my dining agenda. Last summer I ate at Per Se, Le Bernardin, Corton, Daniel and Eleven Madison Park. And while I might return to one of those, I would really like to branch out and try a new set of places. The menus at wd~50, The Modern and Jean-Georges caught my eye on first glance, but I'm wondering, for the latter two, would I be missing out if I went for lunch instead of dinner? What would be some other places to consider?
Thanks in advance for your help!
Last report of The Modern Dining Room. The rest of the photos are on my blog: http://degustingdiary.blogspot.com/. Thanks again for your help in making my trip so memorable.
I didn't expect The Modern to reach the three-star altitudes I had witnessed earlier in the week. And it didn't. The lemon verbena and cinnamon-laced popcorn was stale. The yuzu marinade on four formidable langoustines masked any trace of top-of-the-sea freshness the crustaceans once bore; that plate also had a bewildering abundance of cucumber, far more than I knew what to do with.
But there were also moments rich with excitement: a tantalizing cloud of applewood smoke filled the air as a server removed the plate's carapace, revealing a smoky, caviar-laden sturgeon-sauerkraut amalgam in a flaky tart shell. And that was soon followed by a delicately poached farm egg that explodes across the bowl upon knife pressure as if it were in a Tarantino film. Now I'm not one to profess a meretricious devotion to egg dishes, but the one-sided salt onslaught--parmesan, olive tapenade and Iberico ham--paired with the egg worked wonderfully. Dessert became a delightful ordeal, a hedonistic treadmill, highlighted by a towering pineapple-citrus macaron that went on being a joy for ten minutes.
Service was stellar throughout with my section of the dining room managed deftly by Erin, blonde and bespectacled, with an endearing awkwardness, the kind characteristic of many academics. I'm convinced I had one of the best seats in the restaurant: looked after by Erin, overlooking the MOMA sculpture garden, far away from the blaring bar and next to an investment banker on a date--with nary a chance of amatory success-- with a woman palpably oozing boredom as the hours passed; when not enmeshed in the complexities of a course, I was sustained--nourished at times--by the catastrophe-prone confabs of these two. I couldn't have planned it better if I had tried.
Here's my report from dinner at Corton (only two write-ups left!):
Chocolate-covered scallops, espuma of calf's brains and foie gras, apple-wasabi sorbet with olive oil, braised pork cheeks and caviar. Those are just a sample of combinations that appear in A Matter of Taste, the HBO documentary chronicling Chef Paul Liebrandt's post-Papillon peregrinations.
During my most recent meal, there certainly was no shortage of tantalizing dish descriptions: roast chicken ice cream with white asparagus velouté (or "milk" as described on the menu), crayfish tortellini with burnt eggplant meringue. And yet, the food never came close to generating the same level of delight as it did on the first go-round, wherein I wrote a real gusher.
That white asparagus soup was watery, resulting in a Sisyphean struggle just to get it to stay on the spoon. At least on that occasion our table was marked with utensils, which wasn't the case with the morel mushroom chawanmushi, as we waited and waited some more before spoons finally arrived. And the unpalatable saffron-yuzu mochi is a memory on which I hope darkness will soon descend.
Let me not give the impression that Corton has somehow atrophied beyond recognition. There was the seductively salty Scotch quail egg tempered by apricot gelée and an august arrangement of rabbit, including a burger with ramp mayonnaise, tender loin and shoulder meat and a cucumber gelée-topped mousse. In the backdrop hid a tiny supreme of grapefruit that jolted the palate amid the carousel of leporine parts. And pastry chef Shawn Gawle's graceful sourdough ice cream sitting atop a terrine of smoked maple and sour cherry proved to be one of the tastiest desserts on my trip.
But in the end, the stentorian conversations from some of the larger parties detract from the ambiance. And the uninviting, amateurish service becomes too annoying to brook. I hope my experience was abberational, but I'm in no hurry to find out.
Below is my paean to Eleven Madison Park (with the entire set of photos on my blog):
"Eleven Madison Park Sodomizes Its Roasted Ducks with Lavender Shrubs: Help Stop the Abuse."
So would read the newsletter headline if PETA opted to take its crackpot antics--protesting outside of restaurants (Melisse), sabotaging restaurants (Son of a Gun) and threatening chefs (Laurent Manrique, Bryan Pease etc.)--to New York. As is often the case, though, they would be wrong: EMP treats that fowl with the utmost care and prepares it faultlessly.
During my two lunches and over six hours in the high-ceiling palazzo, Executive sous chef Bryce Shuman --charm incarnate--kept his hand on the pleasure spigot and increased the intensity with each succeeding hour. Meals started with canapés that progressed in a cascade of tastes and temperatures: chilled Greek yogurt lollipops studded with fried lentils, room temperature rounds of toasted brioche topped with a sunny side up quail egg and the most deliciously torrid corn soup it has ever been my pleasure to eat.
And then there are the final introductory treats; these are to dramatic what David Hasselhoff is to dipsomania: its very essence. On one visit, the restaurant offered its interpretation of a modern New England clam bake, replete with the aforementioned corn soup, a palate-cleansing bowl of cool viands and a small nugget of zucchini bread that is without tension. On another, Bryce approached the table carrying a cloudy glass enclosure and with an impish grin requested, "No peeking." The visually stunning tribute to New York fare included, inter alia, smoked sturgeon, a magnanimous tin of caviar and crème fraîche and house-made pickles.
When you finally get to the actual tasting menu over one-hour into the meal, you're bowled over by the beauty of the kitchen's offerings. Indeed, the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park seems to be working in HD, painting each porcelain plate with resplendent hues, while other restaurants on my trip seem to have only just discovered VHS.*
There's tender lobster with elegantly undulating charred leeks, all of which rests on a glistening squid ink-laced shellfish bisque so flavorful you'll have no choice but to make copious use of a whole wheat roll, the texture of which is tantamount to the most ethereal croissant. A morel composition with al dente peas, gelatinous tripe and fried quinoa that encourages you to conduct a series of experiments with your fork. And a chocolate and lavender dessert with the faintest dusting of orange zest. And before you leave, your pockets are lined with a collection of confections--granola, a house-made Twix bar, cookies--which have the effect of extending the meal's thrills for days.
In two lunches only once did a dish venture slightly out of equilibrium when a hamachi crudo was dwarfed by bracingly bitter sorrel and shaved horseradish. This very likely could have been a case of the kitchen revealing that they are, indeed, human.
Gary Vaynerchuk has been wont to say that the internet is dominating and only just hit puberty. Well, Eleven Madison Park, under Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara, has experienced an even quicker maturation, dominating while still in toddlerhood. After enjoying the extended tasting at Per Se and the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park back-to-back, I asked my dining companion, if you could only return to one restaurant which would it be? "It'd be a coin flip," he said. If it came to that, I surely hope the folks at EMP tamper with the coin!
* To be fair, I think Per Se deserves the same compliment.
Below is my short write-up from lunch at Jean-Georges (the rest of the photos are on my blog):
Four courses. And four separate exercises in deceptive complexity, perhaps none more so than the terrine of foie gras and seared scallops. The puck of cholesterol is veiled by a litany of crisp viands: pumpkin seeds, granola and almost undetectable flecks of fleur de sel. Then there's the salty-sweet amalgam undergirding three molluskan coins; the sauce on first glance may seem to be plated heavy-handedly, but trust me, you'll want to sop up every last drop. And I succumbed to the herd of independent minds--blush--and ordered the molten chocolate cake and couldn't have been happier because it was delicious, tout court.
Almost as enjoyable as the food were my dining companion's reactions: the sealed lips ceding to a gaping smile, the inquisitive stare yielding to eye-widening disbelief. It was his first time in a three-star Michelin restaurant and gave me a glimpse into what my expressions must have been like at Per Se last July.
With Shahin, our omnibeaming captain, handling our table, there weren't any toe-stubbing moments during lunch proper. I will say, however, that I was a bit put off by the discrepancy between the $98 six-course lunch tasting menu the reservationist described thirty days before our meal and the actual $130 price tag that doesn't even include Egg Caviar,* but it's not enough to prevent me from re-visiting Jean-Georges' flagship nor from recommending it to those looking to experience a three-star Michelin restaurant at an affordable price.
*Carrying a $30 supplement, it's one of five items that carry a surcharge.
Thanks for all of your help and recommendations! I still have one more day in New York but wanted to share a short write-up of a disappointing dinner I had tonight at wd~50 (the rest of the photos are on my blog):
It's not everyday that one hears a server and a bartender joking about bedding a mother and daughter two-top (and the ensuing therapy they would need) in a Michelin-starred establishment. Indeed, I have a fairly large sample from which to draw, and I can't say I've ever been within earshot of such a sordid confab in a restaurant.
Even if I were to overlook that cassoulet of claudication, I still wouldn't have much praise to shower on wd~50. Yes, the dense soufflé-like scrambled egg ravioli was as delicious as I hoped it would be, but that plate also included wholly superfluous slices of kanpachi, as if someone placed them there when Chef Dufresne wasn't looking. The one course for which I couldn't find fault was the slightly tart but also thoroughly refreshing aerated yuzu ice cream. The same could not be said of the "Amaro Yolk, Chicken Confit, Peas 'N' Carrots": while a clever use of trompe l'oeil with carrot orbs made to look like peas, it was marred by a gummy cured duck yolk and an unpleasantly mealy chicken confit.
Initially, I was miffed when seated at the bar--despite making a reservation thirty days in advance--unable to occupy a table as a solo diner.* It didn't take long, however, for me to be thankful, as I was able to order four courses that piqued my interest and leave within forty-five minutes, having incurred minimal financial damage, and with no intention of ever returning.
* A compact two-top, I noticed, remained vacant throughout my brief meal.
The service and experience at The Modern are the same, lunch or dinner, the only question is whether there are dishes on the dinner menu that you "must have" as there are some dishes only served during the evening.
I had a sub-par experience at J-G, but similarly the service/experience are the same, save for "dinner specific" items.
I'm working on my wd~50 review currently - it should be on the 'must' list, because while not as 'good' as Alinea, it is just completely 'different.' If you don't get the dessert tasting, you are missing out. I'd put Malcolm Livingston II on a very small pedestal for pastry chefs in the US right now.
Since you've already done many of the 'big names,' I contest that Per Se, Corton, EMP, and The Modern are the best restaurants in New York (that I've been to, and in that order - I cannot comment on Brooklyn Fare or Masa) but if you wanted to do something new I'd recommend checking out:
Roberta's - E-mail NOW, see if you can get in for the tasting.
Bouley - The lunch is an absolute steal.
Lincoln - Best Italian in the city, imo.
Ai Fiori - Did not like it as much as Lincoln, but close.
Manzo (or Babbo) - Apparently both doing lunch now.
Momofuku Ssam - Lunch if you like duck, dinner otherwise.
Minetta Tavern - If you just want some damned good food at midnight.
The Dutch - lunch, or brunch, or just for dessert at midnight.
Thanks for sharing your insights, uhockey. It was the dinner tasting menu at The Modern that I found spellbinding, and based on the company in which you put it, I'm definitely going there.
I read mixed reviews of Bouley: your meal seemed really good, whereas ulterior epicure described two lousy experiences.
And yes, I was planning on doing the dessert tasting at wd~50; I hold some of Jordan Kahn's sweet creations in high esteem, so I'm curious to see how Livingston's compare. Looking forward to your review!
No way to tell - the menu changes (literally) daily. They stamp the menus with dates. That said, the gnocchi is always there (with different toppings) and I've heard his treatment of duck and chicken are outstanding.
As he is just as controlling in the kitchen now as he reportedly was at Per Se (I could see him from my seat all night) I'd recommend ordering whatever sounds best to you and trusting that the ingredients and execution will be up to the standard of one of the city's 5 best chefs.
I usually only get a Sat. Lunch/Sat. Dinner/Sun. Brunch each time I visit NYC, and generally try to parlay a big, quasi-upscale Saturday lunch into, like, a 2nd dinner. I've had a great time at Tocqueville ($68 5 course tasting, I think, available), an impressive yet mixed time at Bouley ($55 for a relative bargain prix-fixe), and a briefer-but-still-solid $29 steal from Seasonal Weinbar, all on Saturday lunches within the past few months, and would recommend any of them.