Four-Day Trip Report: Daniel, EMP, Jean-Georges, Del Posto etc.
Below is a short write-up of my visit to your wonderful food paradise last week:
Vacation started with dinner at Daniel, a restaurant I first visited in July 2011. In fact, it had been so long I forgot the entrance to Daniel featured revolving doors. I will always have fond memories of that initial visit: not only did the 15 courses lead a server to remark “that’s the best meal I’ve ever seen anyone eat here,” but it also marks the only time in my life where I’ve been sloshed (a partial wine pairing is to blame for that).
Exercising unusual restraint, I opted for the three-course prix fixe. Service was largely befitting of a three-star Michelin restaurant, but the meal dragged. Close to 35 minutes passed from the time my first course was cleared to when my main arrived. And I nursed a coffee for twenty minutes before finally flagging down a server to settle the bill. Two-and-a-half hours for three courses isn’t the worst thing in the world if the food is spectacular. But it wasn’t. A mushroom fricassée begged for salt—a rib of dry-aged beef was victim of the same transgression two nights later—and the server tasked with delivering the chocolate truffle portion of mignardises never made his way to my table.
The walk from E. 65th St. back to my hotel had me pass through Madison Square Park. Still peckish, I considered a Shake Shack burger but instead thought I would see if the folks at EMP would permit me to grab a seat at the bar to enjoy a few post-dinner vittles. Martha was at the door greeting diners that evening and was only too happy to walk me over to a table overlooking the dining room. Emily, the captain working the bar area, brought over a menu, from which I selected the terrine of foie gras and the honey-lavender roast duck. Two courses seemed ample, but Emily had other ideas, especially after hearing that I ordered a paltry three-course dinner at Daniel on my birthday. What followed included, inter alia, a resplendent green garlic velouté, a luxurious edifice of foie gras, the aforementioned roast duck, which was even better than I remembered with its crisp skin and incredibly juicy flesh, and to finish a chocolate brownie sundae fit for a family for four. It was a crystalline reminder that no trip to New York is complete without a visit to EMP.
Day 2 featured another full day of eating, beginning with a delightful lunch at Tocqueville: buttery brioche rolls, Diver scallops the size of a toddler’s fist and an array of desserts, including strawberry cheesecake and an assortment of creamy sorbets. And yet, for some reason that eludes me, the restaurant was all but empty.
I wouldn’t need to venture far for dinner, as 15 East is adjacent to Tocqueville. Bear in mind, I’m a sushi neophyte, and this was my first time in a Michelin-starred sushi restaurant. 15 East quickly disabused me of my preconceptions that sushi bars were necessarily austere settings. Servers were friendly and prompt, refilling my tea a half-dozen times, and the sushi chef was as jovial as could be, making jokes throughout dinner and often drawing on his small library to educate those of us sitting at the counter. While just about all twenty offerings were delicious, two outrageously successful dishes—a piece of Santa Barbara uni with the texture of a full-fat custard and a fried shrimp head bracing to detonate its top-of-the-seat essence—justified my decision to try the restaurant.
To cap off the day, I made my way over to the new NoMad Bar for a strawberry-pineapple soft cocktail and burger. Envision the tastiest cheeseburger you’ve eaten. Now exponentiate it. That’s the NoMad Bar’s burger. It weeps crimson tears at the slightest touch, and it is a bargain at $17.
On the penultimate day I would return to an old favorite, Jean-Georges, and I was pleased to see the service finally match the high level of the food. The kitchen has an inimitable talent for balancing salt and acid. Crispy salt and pepper sweetbreads mingle with pickled peaches; a succulent mound of parmesan-crusted chicken idles atop a pond of lemon butter; and a competitive eater-sized portion of suckling pig is paired with beets coated in a ginger vinaigrette.
Since it was terribly muggy outside, I had little desire to leave the area. Instead, I elected to spend much of the day within the air conditioned confines of the Time Warner Center. For dinner I would make the short trek over to Daniel, investigating whether Monday’s meal was an aberration. Alas, I was met with another bathetic experience; nothing was bad, but nothing had me hankering to go back any time soon.
My last lunch took me to Del Posto, a restaurant whose four stars from the New York Times is most often called into question. Based on the six-course tasting menu I had, there’s nothing about Sam Sifton’s rating with which I could possibly quibble. A snowy whipped lardo that accompanies the bread basket is addictive enough to merit designation as a narcotic. And Chef Ladner’s orecchiette was one of the best things I’ve eaten this year: heavily caramelized nuggets of lamb neck, stipples of sweet pea purée and ethereal ear-shaped noodles. The magnanimous portion allowed me to both savor each bite and also eat with a kind of desperation.
I ended with dinner at NoMad, knowing I’d be able to get my vegetable fix. Dinner started with a complementary bowl of Scotch olives; it’s finger-food par excellence. I appreciate a posh bar snack as much as anyone, but it was an old classic that had me swooning: tender carrots with a preternatural sweetness, hillocks of wheatberries interspersed with duck skin and the gentlest hint of cumin. It was just a series of simple pleasures and a perfect end to the savory portion of the meal.
I've included more photos on my blog: http://degustingdiary.wordpress.com/