Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Miscellaneous Food: New York 11

The next couple of days passed in a cold freeze and warm companionship. Our friends had returned from their trip and when I picked up her call, the first thing she said was, "Jean Georges has $29 prix fixe for lunch, and I heard its good, want to go"? Don't we all need friends like that?

Thanks to her reservation (a brilliant site, we need a more developed system in Singapore - I hear there's one being started called, we secured a table for the very next day and duly arrived in the well-lit and high-ceilinged dining room, which boasts good views of the very newly-constructed area of town at the crossroads of the Time Warner building and Central Park West. I have to say the place was very polished - it was very three-star-looking, if you know what I mean. It had that combination of shine and minimalism, even in decor and as we were to find out, the service was discreet and the cooking was excellent.

We managed to taste a fairly large assortment from their prix fixe lunch, we had the Foie Gras brulee and Pineapple-Meyer Jam, the Goat Cheese Royale, Roasted Beets and Toasted Pecans, the Sesame Crab toast, miso-mustard, Asian pear and Shiso and the Hamachi Sashimi, Sherry Vinegrette and Toasted Pecans. The restaurant follows the nouveau (read: atas) tradition of listing the ingredients and only where necessary, the cooking method. We ordered an extra appetizer of frog's legs (pictures above).

Of the four choices, the Sesame Crab was the runaway winner for its full, savoury crispness (not an easy combination to create!) and the Foie Gras brulee for its smooth, rich custard. Although my choice, the Goat Cheese Beets, was neither the most unique nor the most power-packed, I really liked it and enjoyed its pretty pink spring-like hues and flavours.

This dish probably explains why there were so many Asians in Jean-Georges, the mouth-feel of his food is very light, with a lot of clarifying ingredients and sensations. The plates also came decorated with pleasing colours and dibs and dabs of this and that candy, gel and taste, rather like but stopping short of the nameless goos that make up kaiseki. It was focused but creative, a bit like the big brother of Fifty-Three in Singapore.

The mains were Roasted Veal with Quince-Pineapple Compote and Roquefort, Caramelized Sweetbreads with Candied Pumpkin, Liquorice and Sherry Vinegar Emulsion, Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Crunchy Potatoes and Pear Horseradish and the last was Slowly Cooked Cod with Black beans, Sake, Cilantro and Ginger. After the strong tastes of the appetizers, what struck me about the mains was that they were smooth. The roasted veal was wonderfully balanced and despite the interesting mix of ingredients, there wasn't a taste that was out of sync.

We tried all four desserts on offer: Spiced Star Anise and Ginger sticky bun; Pecans and Thai Pepper Creme Caramel; Late Harvest-Spiced Poached Pear; Beet, Walnut and Sour Cream Ice Cream; Chocolate - Jean Georges' signature chocolate cake, Vanilla Bean ice cream, cocoa noodles, peppermint broth and chocolate sorbet - and Apple - Sparkling Apple, Fennel, Pomegranate and Pistachio Cake.

The funny thing about the desserts is that they did not much represent their titles and they were a little deconstructed, for example, I worried about the peppermint in the chocolate dessert, as I don't like mint but it turned out to be a completely separate green broth in a bowl and it didn't seem to have much purpose - a dipping sauce? Similarly, the Sparkling Apple turned out to be a drink - like clear cider in a shot glass, which was cute but not really much of a counterpart to the otherwise very good Apple Pistachio Cake. At the end of the meal, there was the much-hyped dessert tray of hand-cut marshmallow snakes and some chocolate.

Having such a meal at such a price though, is definitely one of the reasons to miss New York and you should definitely go if you are visiting. It is however, a meal from which a large guy may not feel completely full. We left the restaurant for a walk through Central Park and Whole Foods at Time Warner, where we bought some pork ribs, fresh greens and Chilean sea bass for laksa fish at dinner.

After dinner, we made reservations for lunch at Morimoto the next day and took the cross-town bus to Cafe Lalo, a campy French, dark wooden yellow lit dessert cafe or else famously known as "the cafe where she waits with a rose in You've Got Mail". I've been returning to this cafe since my first college trip to New York, too many years ago to own to and I do love the atmosphere, the warmth and cuteness of this little place. The desserts are actually not that good anymore, although that could just be the sweetness of nostalgia talking, but they are still pretty decent- we had the crème brulee and the tres leches cake, which started my obsession with this Cuban-Mexican dessert (more on this in a later post).

I must have slept soundly after all that fat and sugar- I arose near lunch and had to jog along to Morimoto, which was thankfully, just a couple avenues away. The first thing that stuck me was that Morimoto was a converted warehouse space, it's location on one of the very most western avenues means that it is actually fairly close to the water and docks, so the space has soaring ceilings and a wide floor, which they've made the most of with wow-some curving translucent installation walls (made entirely of empty plastic bottles) and a deep light parquet dining floor and a wide white standing sushi bar. The second thing that struck me was that lunch was very affordable- $24 for 3 courses and in fact, $18 for 3 courses if the main was gyu-don.

Unfortunately, the service was rather curt, once they realize we weren't going to build up a huge sushi bill or order sparkling water and we quickly realized that the Morimoto signature omakase dishes were only available at dinner. Still, the lunch sets were very adequate, we tried three- the buri bop, which turned out to be seared hamachi-don in a hot stone bowl, the unagi and foie gras bop and the chirashi.

Of course, we had to try his signature toro tartar (the one featured on all his websites) and discovered that instead of a steak, it was a microscopically-shallow mandolin of crushed toro, which you scooped up with a flat jelly spoon and swiped across a plate of garnishes including crushed seaweed, wasabi, sesame, and puffed rice balls. It was tasty and surprising in taste but poor value and somehow seemed a little trite and showy. It reminded me of how, since Morimoto's reign on Iron Chef, the pendulum of food culture has really swung back from the snazzily-creative and molecular to the solid, neo-vintage comfort- think Julia Child, beef bourguignon and cupcakes.

We followed Japanese upon Japanese with dinner at Sugiyama that night, with a simple chef omakase that included their uni tempura (available upon request), black grilled cod, monkfish liver and sashimi. We didn't try the kaiseki, which is also known to be good. Sugiyama used to be located in Soho and with their move to the Theatre District, I had heard that the food had seen better days. The decor is certainly a bit dated but the food was simple and tasty. I'm not sure I would go back but it's somewhere where you can get a good meal and a quiet table, in the warm embrace of Nao Sugiyama and his staff.

One interesting place is the yakitori grill restaurant above Sugiyama, I didn't make note of the place, as we were just looking for a place to escape the cold but they served us fried crispy tofu and seared chicken skewers. The place smelled something amazing and their menu looked vast and sublime (and I don't even like fried Japanese food), especially, I'm sure, if you were having one of those beery boy nights.

The next day was Wednesday, which I got to spend with my old friend Y, we shopped the day away quite effectively, egging each other on and spending far more than we probably should have (there's just nothing like shopping with friends, it is definitely one of precious perks of the working woman life. That night, Z. and I had a reservation that I was really looking forward to, as Eleven Madison Park had been my favourite restaurant when I worked in NYC a long time ago.

Back then, the restaurant was a slightly clubby but very chic restaurant, it had high vaulted ceilings, befitting a building that used to house the Federal Reserve and candlelight- the kind of restaurant that would be filled with stylish people and low chatter and definitely a fancy date restaurant. Since then, the restaurant had changed hands and joined the Relais and Chateau group. It has also earned, recently, its fourth NYT times star and was it the third Michelin star? Which explained why we were eating at 9pm at night. I don't have pictures in part because the lighting didn't really allow for it and also because their website has stunning photos of the dishes.

What I noticed is that the restaurant had also been remodelled, less gotham and more LA, with the addition of more light and white orchids in test tubes. We were also impressed with the service, which was discreet but friendly and prompt. We had barely sat down when the waiter came by with hot rolls and olive bread, with some lovely French butter. They also brought the amuse bouché swiftly, which was a piping hot and filling chestnut cauliflower soup. This greatly enamoured Z. to the place immediately.

We decided to have the very reasonable $68 dinner prix fixe, I chose to have the Heirloom Beets Salad with Lynnhaven Farm Chèvre Frais, Rye Crumble and Nasturtium, which was, although beets had been a frequent ingredient in New York, the most beautifully presented and wonderful tasting of the lot. It was so fresh and clean-tasting, think I must have looked like I inhaled and poked up the whole plate. Z. had the Knoll Krest Farm Egg, Slow Cooked with Vin Jaune, Winter Mushrooms and Everglades Frogs’ Legs, which we both agreed, was the best dish of the meal, perhaps the best dish of New York. Smooth and rich, the egg was soft-boiled and coated the mushrooms, somehow producing an almost risotto-like texture, quite amazing.

Z's main was Bouillabaisse-Dover Sole with Bouchot Mussels, Bay Scallops, Nova Scotia Lobster and Chorizo, it was very good and the chorizo is a good idea, it added an interesting spicy element. I chose the St. Canut Farm Cochon de Lait, Variations with Butternut Squash, Plums and Black Trumpet Mushrooms ($20 supplement) which was a bad choice. It wasn't bad exactly, the variations were quite interesting but crispy pork belly is crispy pork belly and pork roulade is quite chunky, it's like mouthfuls of pale meaty striated pork, so I was quite disappointed, it definitely did not melt in the mouth and wasn't worth the supplement. I should, I think, have stuck with my first choice of the beef.

For dessert, we couldn't decide between the Tahitian Vanilla Soufflé, Vermont Quark and Passion Fruit Sauce and Gianduja, Amedei Chocolate, Espresso and Hazelnut Sorbet and the Caramel Apple-Toffee, Walnuts and Granny Smith Apple Ice Cream recommended by the waiter and he brought us a complimentary plate of the third dessert! The desserts were fairly classic and very well executed, I think if I were to do it over, I would have picked those with more esoteric ingredients, given my now high level of confidence in the chef! I would also, if I could, come back for their lunch set which includes a selection of tarte tart in and lemon meringue tart for dessert.

Later in the night, the chef Daniel Humm came out to talk to diners and I was impressed by how young he was. After dessert, the waiter brought us a plate of colourful mini macarons. I am not the biggest fan of varied macarons, I tend to feel that some macarons invariably get compromised but this plate was good, the dark berry, pistachio and passion fruit tastes were all very natural. After the macarons, there was separate place for tea and a plate of canele, chocolate, then we barrelled out of the restaurant, feeling full and sated. I think this continues to be my favourite restaurant and the best dining experience of the trip.

Jean Georges Restaurant
1 Central Park West, New York
(212) 299-3900

88 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011-4721
(212) 989-8883

251 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019-5202
(212) 956-0670

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

JG is a US$29 lunch prix fixe :) not $98. your post makes me hungry all over again :) btw, we found a new tres leches cake at this venezuelan restaurant my Venezuelan friend introduced us to -- we'll bring you next time!