Friday, January 27, 2012

le bernardin - new york, ny
155 west 51st street
new york, ny 10019

for our final meal in new york city, carrie and i walked just two blocks from our hotel to chef eric ripert's world renowned le bernardin. the restaurant was actually originally operated in paris in the 1970's by gilbert and maguy le coze, but moved to new york in 1986. after the untimely death of gilbert le coze in 1994, the restaurant's current chef eric ripert took the helm and never looked back. le bernardin currently holds four stars from the times, three stars from michelin, a place on gayot's top 40 in the united states list, and the 18th spot on the s. pellegrino list of the world's 50 best. while chef ripert can typically be seen at the restaurant on a daily basis, he has become quite the celebrity, having made several television appearances over the years including his own series "avec eric" airing on pbs. the menu at le bernardin has always been comprised predominantly of seafood, and many consider ripert's prowess with fish beyond reproach.

having made a 12pm reservation a month prior via opentable, carrie and i walked through the restaurant's revolving door about ten minutes early. with carrie's coat checked and our reservation's confirmed, we were led through the then empty dining room where we were sat side by side at a banquet giving us a nice view of the recently remodeled restaurant. as this was obviously our first time at the restaurant, i can't comment first hand on the new interior design versus the old, but based on the pictures i've seen, it seems as though it was definitely a change for the better. the theme is definitely aquatic, with the enormous wave on the back wall and window coverings that almost give an underwater impression...gorgeous to be certain.

after just a brief wait, we were greeted by one of the many servers that handled our table, a dark haired man with a thick french accent. while i may be wrong, i did feel a bit of pretension in his demeanor throughout the meal and sort of thought he was wondering what the two of us were doing at le bernardin. considering the excellent treatment we were shown at corton, eleven madison park, and per se days before, this was a bit perturbing, but overall not a major issue.

lunch at le bernardin gives diners three options: an eight course tasting, three course prix fixe with an abundance of options, or a lower priced "city harvest" menu without any options that donates $5 to charity. considering expense of the meals we experienced the last few days, we bypassed the $190 tasting (way expensive for lunch!) and went with the three course prix fixe. narrowing down the options proved to be quite a challenge, but after a few minutes we put in our order along with a pair of cocktails.

speaking of cocktails, my choice was the french connection, made with pimm's, yuzu, 5-spice, and absinthe. spicy and subtlety tart, this was a decent drink but wasn't overly exciting. carrie went for the aperol noir, which was aperol, pinot noir, orange bitters, and lemon champagne.

before our first courses arrived, we were brought le bernardin's signature starter. this was a wonderful salmon creme spread served with pieces of crisp bread. i knew this was coming, and honestly wasn't particularly excited for it, but after one bite it was obvious why this creamy, savory, and completely delicious offering has opened every meal at le bernardin for years.

a nice selection of freshly baked bread along with a smooth salted butter came next. while eating our bread, we noticed chef ripert in the dining room greeting a few guests who seemed like regulars. even though the chef never came by our table, it was nice to see him in the dining room as it certainly shows his dedication to his restaurant.

for my first course, i went with a menu staple. listed on the menu as "tuna", this was layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna with a crispy foie gras bagutte, shaved chives, and extra virgin olive oil. the the salmon spread before it, this item is a mainstay at le bernardin for good reason. the tuna around the edge of the baguette was super tender yet incredibly flavorful, but the centerpiece of this dish was the bites of tuna combined with the crispy bread and decadent foie gras. amazing.

carrie got things rolling with peekytoe crab, which was a play on a crab cake featuring tequila guacamole, potato crisps, and an aji pepper-lime emulsion.

for my main entree, i went for the poached striped bass in a pekin duck broth with wild mushrooms and baby turnips. the perfectly cooked fish fell apart beautifully with minimal effort using just a fork, and the flavor was subtle but amazingly clean. while the duck broth and meaty mushrooms added some oomph to the dish, what really captivated me was the depth and purity of the bass's natural flavor.

carrie's main course was bread crusted red snapper with saffron noodles in a chorizo-smoked paprika sauce. this was also terrific, with the crunch of the lightly bread fish giving way to tender and perfectly prepared flesh while the sauce had a subtle spice that really worked well with both the snapper and the spiral of pasta.

for the desserts, i am disappointed to note that i am unable to recall all the details of these two beautiful creations. pictured first is a black sesame semifreddo with an exploding cherry sphere. the second one i believe had components of mango, pistachio and white chocolate.

following the desserts was a basket of madelines that were decent if not maybe a little dry.

after finishing our coffee and a few of the madelines, we were unfortunately left to sit for a minimum of twenty minutes before our server stopped by our table to ask if we wanted anything else or if he should prepare the check. after stating that a check would be all, it was another ten minutes or so before everything was settled up and we were back on the surprisingly not so cold new york city streets. although this treatment at the end left a bad taste in my mouth initially, i am now able to see past it and look back at our meal overall as a success. everything i had read about eric ripert's cooking i found to be accurate, and i would certainly plan to fit a full tasting at le bernardin into a future nyc vacation.

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 26, 2012

per se - new york, ny

10 columbus circle
new york, ny 10019

when carrie and i were in the process of planning our first trip the big apple as a couple, hotel reservations and plane tickets were not the first order of business. on the morning of december 27th, 2011, the two of us dialed and redialed 212-823-9335 in excess of 150 times apiece only to be met with recordings and sometimes a busy signal. feeling dejected after about an hour or so of this process, i was ready to throw in the towel when carrie shushed me with the words, "it's ringing!" upon stating the date we were hoping to dine, we were given the options of either 5:30pm or 9:45pm, of which we chose the latter and after a short spiel about the dress code and dietary restrictions, we had our reservation at per se.

for those who may not know, per se is chef thomas keller's big city interpretation of his famous yountville, california restaurant the french laundry. when the restautrant was merely a concept, keller found himself constantly answering the question, "will your new restaurant be like eating at the french laundry?" to that he would often reply, "it won't be like the french laundry, per se..." and thus the name was born. the restaurant holds almost every accolade possible, including 3 michelin stars, 4 stars from the new york times, a place on gayot's list of the top 40 in the usa, and the number 10 spot on the s. pellegrino list of the world's best restaurants (alinea is the only u.s. restaurant currently ranked higher).

per se's current chef de cuisine is eli kaimeh, who replaced opening day chef jonathan benno in 2010.

following another annoying cab ride (me: "time warner center please" cab driver: "i don't know where that is"), carrie and i made our way inside the multilevel shopping center that houses per se. with the shopping crowd thinning out significantly compared with what we expierecned earlier in the day, the two of us ascended to the fourth floor, where we were met with per se's iconic blue doors. the blue doors are a tribute to the famous one at the french laundry, but at per se, they are just a decoy as a glass door to their right swooshes open as guests approach. the idea here is show where the restaurant came from, but also to say that it is its own entity entirely.

after checking in with the hostess, we were escorted to the salon as our reservation was still about ten minutes away. we were given a wine list to peruse (it's on an ipad!) and offered cocktails which we declined assuming we would be led to our table in the dining room at any moment. this turned out to be a good move, as we were quickly plucked from our seats and shown to our table. per se's interior was designed by hotel/restaurant designer adam tihany, and is done in what i called "stadium seating" style, as the two tiered space gives everyone a breathtaking view of both columbus circle and central park. the dining room is modern, but not overly so, and the earth tones and roaring fireplace help to warm the place up both literally and figuratively. some people may find it a bit off putting that a restaurant of this caliber is located within a shopping mall, but please trust that once you are inside the incredible space, any negative thoughts will be quickly washed away.

after settling in, we were welcomed by our captain, a man of asian descent who seemed to be about my age. i will note here that while i have unfortunately forgotten his name, this gentleman did a phenomenal job throughout the meal of making sure we were comfortable and that all our needs were taken care of. he was very friendly without ever hovering, and never once conveyed even an ounce of pretension or snootiness.

ordering was a breeze as dinner at per se consists of a nine course tasting menu (vegetarian option available) with a few luxury supplements available at an extra cost. the price of the meal includes both service and any non-alcoholic beverages. 

dinner at per se (and the laundry for that matter) always begins with the same three items. the first of which is a single gruyere cheese gougere for each diner. small in size and incredibly light in texture, the cheese puff had a much more concentrated flavor to it than i was expecting, making me wish for an entire bowl!

following the gougeres were the famous salmon coronets. here we have a black seasame cone topped with creme fraiche and smoked salmon. i really enjoyed the interplay of sweet and subtly spicy flavors here as well as the textutal constrast.

moving on to the meal's first proper course, we have chef keller's signature dish. titled oysters and pearls, this ever present opening course is a sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar. upon taking my first bite, i set the mother of pearl spoon down and sat back in my seat with amazement. looking over at carrie and noticing a similar reaction from her, i stated that this might be the best thing i have ever eaten. the key for me was to construct bites containing a bit of each component, with the end result being sweet, creamy, salty, and completely breathtaking. interestingly, the dish was smaller in size than i had pictured, but took me much longer than anticipated to actually consume.

our first pour of wine was meant to span the two canapes as well as the oysters and pearls, and came in the form of jose dhodt blanc de blancs nv champagne. this was a nice sparkler, possessing the typical notes of apple and citrus with ample acidity and a bready finish.

with the dishes from the oysters and pearls collected, the bread service began. we were each presented with a single parker house roll along with a salted butter from vermont and a standard butter from california. later in the meal, we were offered selections of bread that included. along with the bread and butter, an incredible assortment of salts was provided to go with my upcoming supplemental course.

it was at this point that carrie and i's meals diverged slightly, as i sprung for the supplemental foie gras offering in lieu of the salad course. carrying a $40 upcharge, this was definitely the most creative use of foie i have had to date. obviously a play on the famous pastrami on rye sandwich, this dish was "pastrami" of hudson valley moulard duck foie gras with heirloom carrots, compressed english cucumbers, lucky sorrel, and violet mustard. the dish was also accompanied by a warm rye bread roll that was replaced periodically with a fresh piece as it grew cold or was finished entirely. the smooth liver had a cured and smoked flavor to it, and spread well on the rye bread roll. an italian wine, passito di pantelleria, was poured for this course, and i really loved how its neutralized the rich and powerful flavor of the foie.

carrie's second course was a salad of globe artichokes with "petits oignons", crispy farrow, and sylvetta. this dish was paired with a gruner veltliner, and while i did not sample it, carrie reports that it was fabulous.

served with a pour of domaine andre perret "chery", the third course of the meal for both carrie and i was atlantic cod. the fillet was sauteed and plated with trompettes de la mort, melted savoy cabbage, green garlic, sunchoke cream, and parsley shoots. cod is a fish that i have certainly had a lot of over the years, but never before has it been so good. the flesh flaked and fell apart with minimal force from my fork, and even with a bevy of other components surrounding the fish, it was the cod's delicate flavor that highlighted this dish.

next up was butter poached nova scotia lobster with belgian endive, borage, and aged balsamic vinegar and blood orange-whole grain mustard vinaigrette. faring much better than the lobster we had at eleven madison park earlier in the day, the sweet lobster meat had a nice snappy texture to it and was complimented well by the sweet and subtly spicy vinaigrette. our wine for this course was a 2004 gagnard-delagrange "morgeot".

moving forward to the heavier proteins, course number five featured a puck of liberty farms pekin duck rillettes topped with a hazelnut "aigre-doux" and served alongside some wilted arrowleaf spinach and an asian pear and foie gras-madeira emulsion. served with a california pinot noir, the savory shredded duck meat was terrific with the hazelnuts offering a welcomed bit of texture to the mix.

for our final course prior to the parade of desserts, we were treated to the best bites of beef flesh either of us had ever tasted. coming from snake river farms in boise, idaho, this was a wagyu ribeye cooked to a wonderful medium-rare accompanied by new crop potatoes, cherry belle radishes, broccoli puree, upland cress, and sauce bordelaise. the meat was incredibly tender, and possessed a rich and intense flavor like no other beef i have ever eaten.

for the night's cheese course, a wedge of "pawlet" from vermont's consider bardwell farm's was served with young beets, apricot membrillo, fennel, and flowering mint. the cheese was somewhat creamy in texture and had a nice bright flavor that was lovely with the fruit flavors.

coming after the cheese was a palate cleansing coconut sorbet made with marinated pineapple, young coconut water, and pineapple chips. this certainly did its job of reawakening our taste buds and helped us make the transition from the savory finishing courses to the meal's only proper dessert course.

on most nights, chef kameth has two different desserts on offer, usually with the choice of either a chocolate or fruit theme. this was perfect for carrie and myself as i tend to like my desserts to be heavy and full of chocolate, while a light and fruity dessert is what carrie tends to chose. as such, my choice (pictured above) was the salted chocolate peanuts. this was candied spanish peanuts, smoked chocolate pudding, peanut butter nougat, and graham cracker ice cream. i am not going to go into any great detail here, but just trust me when i say that this was even better than it sounds! i was also brought another small cake with a candle in honor of my birthday which was a nice touch.

as stated above, carrie loves fruity desserts and was really taken by the "champagne apples". here we have new york state apples, sable brenton, champagne parfait, and bay leaf-juniper ice cream.

as i final treat to go along with much needed cups of coffee, an intricate serving piece filled with macaroons, truffles, and other goodies was brought to the table. at this point, we were both stuffed to the brim (and rightfully so considering our lunch that day!), and only had a few bites each which were all phenomenal as expected.

after settling the bill (our highest ever), we made our way back to the salon where carrie would make one last bathroom stop while i made small talk with our server about the new york restaurant scene as well as answering question about myself, such as where i was from and what i did for a living. with our coats collected along with a bag of treats and personalized "happy birthday patrick" menus, we walked back through the sliding glass doors and took a few more pictures before strolling through the deserted shopping mall and hailing a cab back to our hotel.

as i sit here weeks later writing this review, i reflect back at our experience at per se as the best overall meal of my life. prior to per se, last february's meal at alinea held that title, and while the two restaurants are so different in every way that comparing them is a bit silly, i am going to anyway. first things first, the food was better at alinea. what chef grant achatz is doing in chicago is so creative, visually stunning, and absolutely delicious that deeming the food superior is a complete no brainer for me. however, where per se edges ahead overall for me is in setting and service. while i really like alinea's clean and modern interior design, it does feel somewhat sterile, almost as though you are dining in an art gallery or museum of some sort. also, staff members were always in close proximity and there was a time or two when we were made to feel slightly uncomfortable. at per se, sitting side by side with carrie (snugglefest) in a comfortable banquet overlooking central park while eating food of this quality was absolutely sublime, and every staff member was incredibly professional. our captain along with his helpers were there when we needed them, but never lurked around awkwardly or did anything to damper the mood in any way. overall, this meal was the centerpiece of this new york mini vacation, and per se is certainly a michelin 3-star restaurant "worth a special journey".
Per Se on Urbanspoon

eleven madison park - new york, ny
11 madison avenue
new york, ny 10010

with only two nights in new york city and a list of well over ten restaurants on my radar, narrowing things down to three lunches and two dinners was a difficult task. after securing reservations for the trips most important meal (per se), our second dinner came down to deciding between corton and eleven madison park. as both restaurants came with high praise from both critics and bloggers alike, i knew there really wasn't a wrong choice, and ultimately booked corton as there was something about paul liebrandt's cooking style that made itself irresistable to me. with dinners out of the way, names like jean georges, marea, ai fiori, le bernardin, and the modern were thrown around for possible lunches. being that i really wanted the full eleven madison park experience, i did not really consider it for lunch thinking that i could make dinner there the centerpiece of a future new york excursion. however, with our reservations at per se being at 9:45pm and eleven madison park offering its full eight course tasting with all the extras for lunch, i began to contemplate the unthinkable...two full michelin 3-star tasting menus in one day. after talking things over with carrie, we decided that 5 hours in between meals should be ample recovery time, and i made the necessary reservations ensuring that january 26, 2012 would most likely be the most extravagant day of dining the two of us have ever had.

after having a slight bit of trouble hailing a cab (hotel novotel is not helpful in this regard!), carrie and i walked through the revolving doors of restaurateur danny meyer's crown jewel approximately five minutes late for our noon reservation. we were immediately greeted by an extremely friendly young man who quickly checked carrie's coat and engaged us in small talk. having read that eleven madison park tends to go the extra mile when they know the customer is a "foodie" as opposed to an expense account diner, i took this opportunity to express my excitement for the meal we were about to experience and also mentioned our other dining plans for the trip.

it was then that we were lead through the gorgeous art deco styled dining room to our two top against the back wall. the feel at eleven madison park is very open and airy, with the huge windows letting in plenty of natural light even on a dreary day. opting for tap water per our usual, carrie and i confirmed our desire for the full tasting menu in lieu of the abbreviated four course offering. a pair of cocktails was also ordered, and a request was made for our server to pair a white wine with our first few courses and a red with the heavier courses.

arriving before our orders were even placed was a bowl of gougeres. although these were trumped by per se's legendary cheese puffs later that day, the gougeres at eleven madison were terrific, and easily amongst the best i have eaten.

as for the cocktails, mine is pictured to the left. called the campfire, this excellent drink was made with scotch, nardini amaro, ginger, lemon, and demerara. living up to its name, the drink featured a marked smokiness, and was easily the best of the three cocktails i had in new york. carrie's drink, called the piedmont fizz, was prepared using london dry gin, cocchi americano, absinthe, lemon, and sparkling mineral water.

following the cocktails was a flurry of amuse bouche starting with a silky chicken veloute with parsley oil served alongside crisp brioche topped with chicken liver mouse.

next up were a pair of tart yogurt lollipops along with two chick pea fritters.

the final amuse was a smooth and creamy smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil.

course 1 - clam

for the meals first proper course, an atypical preparation of an east coast classic was brought to the table. presented dramatically in a large kettle, this was a rif on the new england clam bake. we have a rich and creamy clam chowder served with four single clam bites. the items on the left are clam madelines, while on the right are actual clams served with apple, chorizo, and potato.

following the clam bake, we were approached by the restaurant's hospitality manager and asked if we would like a tour of the kitchen. graciously accepting, carrie and i were lead into the vast space that was bustling with a frantic yet controlled energy. we were asked to step behind a small bar height table, and a pastry chef came over to prepare a special edible cocktail for us. made with apple brandy, pomegranate, apples, and a healthy dose of liquid nitrogen, this was a unique and particularly tasty offering that was greatly appreciated by both carrie and i.

returning to the main dining room approximately ninety minutes into our experience, we were served our first helping of bread. served with a smooth and sweet cow's milk butter, a tangy goat's milk butter, and sea salt, the bread was warm, flaky, and absolutely fantastic. i indulged in several helpings throughout the meal, and was not at all bothered that only one variety was offered.

course 2 - puntarella

for our second course, we were served a puntarella salad with anchovy, lemon, pain aux herbes, and garlic confit. literally meaning "little pointy thing", puntaralla is a type of chicory plant that grows naturally in the rome region of italy. although the leaf itself is rather bitter, when combined with the creaminess of the dressing and flavors of garlic, lemon, and anchovy, the overall result was pleasant. it was at this point in the meal that chef daniel humm himself approached our table to ask us how we were enjoying our meal so far. although his visit was very brief, i was excited to get to quickly speak with the michelin three star chef, and definitely appreciated him taking the time to say hi.

course 3 - foie gras

moving on, our third course featured a smoked foie gras terrine with black truffle, purple potatoes, and a rye bread crisp. the liver was smooth and luxurious as expected, and even carrie, who is still hesitant when it comes to foie, loved this preparation

course 4 - cauliflower

when our fourth course was set before us and announced as cauliflower, i will admit that i was a bit unsure at first. growing up, cauliflower was something i found to be absolutely vile, and although my tastes have changed dramatically over the last few years, i had still yet to experience cauliflower in a positive way. simply put, this dish further proved to me that in the hands of a great chef, any ingredient has the potential to be life changing. roasted with raisins, brown butter, almonds, and curry, the florets were great in both texture and flavor, and were not at all reminiscent of what i remember about the cauliflower i was forced to eat growing up.

course 5 - lobster

and finally we have a we have poached lobster with burnt leeks, bay leaf, and meyer lemon. while this all sounded good in theory, the lobster was simply overcooked and was very chewy. i probably should have mentioned something to our captain about the doneness of the crustacean, however i am honestly just not comfortable questioning a kitchen of this stature at this point in my dining career.

course 6 - squab

following the disappointing lobster dish was perhaps my favorite course of the meal. pictured above is breast and confit leg of squab plated with beets, onions, and a phenomenal chocolate jus. i really loved the way the subtle chocolate flavor complimented the savory breast of the pigeon, and the crispy leg was perfect all by itself.

course 7 - triple creme

for our cheese course, we were first presented with the whole rounds of cheese for viewing before they were taken back into the kitchen to be sliced. at this time (i don't take notes during meals), i am unable to recall the details or flavor profiles of the cheeses we were served. what i do know is the cheese was plated with a delicious apple butter along with some tart pieces of pumpkin.

following the cheese course, a classic new york egg cream was prepared table side for us. dating back to the early 1900's, the egg cream ironically contains neither eggs nor cream. at eleven madison, the drink is prepared with orange syrup, milk, and seltzer water. this was my first ever taste of this supposedly famous beverage, and i enjoyed its frothy texture and subtle orange flavor.

with our empty egg cream glasses whisked away, another small treat appeared before our proper dessert. this was another new york classic...cheesecake! always a favorite for me as a child, had high hopes for this dish and was not let down. accompanied by cranberries and lime crumbles, this was the best few bites of cheesecake i can ever remember having...sorry mom!

course 8 - chocolate

topped with a candle to signify my upcoming birthday, our final course of the meal was dehydrated chocolate mousse with malt sorbet, olive oil, and meyer lemon. as i have stated before, desserts can often be a let down for me. this was not at all the case here, and i actually found this concoction to be one of the meal's strongest courses, as i really appreciated the combination of textures and flavors present.

as if more decadence was needed, a plate of white and dark chocolate mignardise enhanced with white truffle oil and black truffle shavings respectively was brought to the table alongside a bottle of guillon-painturaud vsop cognac. with a small portion of the spirit poured for each of us, our server left the bottle at the table with the words, "have as much as you would like." with notes of fruit and caramel, the cognac acted beautifully as a digestif, and was excellent with the chocolates.

after putting a small dent in the cognac bottle (with very little help from carrie), we collected our menus and bid farewell to our captain before hailing a cab back to our hotel for a four hour nap before dinner. eleven madison park was carrie and i's third michelin three star meal, and while the food as a whole was not as good as either l2o or alinea, the overall experience was definitely in the same league. also, while i am still a newcomer to the fine dining scene, i am very familiar with restaurant pricing around the country and feel like the lunch we were served could definitely be in the running for the best deal in america. at $125 per person (before beverages), this is considerably less than any other full three star tasting menu i am aware of, and with the level of service considered along with all the extras (kitchen tour, nitro cocktail, cognac bottle) i don't think i have ever left a restaurant of this magnitude feeling like i got more for my money.

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon