• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
You wouldn’t know it from reading my blog, but Momofuku Ko is the restaurant I’ve been to most in NYC. I only ever reviewed my first meal there, because their no-photo policy meant that my reviews would just be words, and my dearest friends have let me know that no one cares about my writing. But I loved Ko for its creativity, its super-relaxed atmosphere where jeans were recommended and the soundtrack included everything from 70s prog rock to 80s alternative to current hip hop, and the way its counter seating allowed you to talk to your chef as he used tweezers to top your miso ice cream cone with puffed black rice. It was my favorite restaurant in NYC, so I was understandably worried when what everyone is calling “Ko 2.0” opened with its much-much-huger space, its revamped menu with a higher price and no extended lunch option, and its attempts at wringing that third star from Michelin.
The first big change I noticed when I walked in with my boyfriend is that service seems to be a bigger deal at the new Momofuku Ko. Someone was there to hold the door open for us when we entered, and it wasn’t a long-bearded hipster who would also act as our sommelier for the night. The general manager, Su, then checked the computer for our reservation (there’s no more printing out your confirmation at home and having to show it at the door), led us to our seats at the counter, and made friendly conversation with us.
At the old Ko, the seats were small wooden benches with no cushion and no back. They looked streamlined and minimalist pushed under the counter, but they didn’t seem so cool after twelve courses. The new Ko has tall stools with comfortable seats and leather backs that you can melt into with your after-dinner cocktail and your full belly. There’s also a gorgeous dark-wood counter now that looks richer than the blonde wood at the old Ko, and you’ll now get a printed menu in a textured cover at the end of the meal. So that extra money you’re paying now is being well-spent, and Michelin is sure to notice that Ko is now way, way more comfortable than Brooklyn Fare is.
We started off with a bottle of Riesling
and then took in the sights of the new kitchen and chatted with the chef in front of us while we waited for our first course:
And then, the food:
A Ko classic that keeps evolving, this little fried potato tube was filled with creamy pimiento cheese. Imagine eating a Lay’s cheddar potato chip, only way more delicious. And where you can only have one instead of half the bag.
A sweet little beet ball with the lasting tang of citrus. Followed by a slice of apple with the sting of horseradish, topped with smoky, crunchy rice.
The tiniest “lobster roll” with an unexpected mint finish (though not unexpected if you, unlike me, know what a paloise sauce is) tasted so fresh next to richer–but not any bigger–Caesar salad boat filled with avocado mousse. The woman next to us told me to put my very small iPhone in the shot to show how incredibly, incredibly adorable these little dollhouse dishes were.
This Arctic char roll hit us with jalapeño first, then cucumber to cool it down. The freshness of herbs finished off every bite.
Like the teeniest triple-decker sandwich, this was miniature toasted bread with a little hint of brine. Our palates missed the green tea on top because of the overwhelming toasty taste, but I sure did like squashing the roe with the layers of cracker.
I always think of Ko when I have madai thanks to the plate of sashimi included in their old lunch service that inevitably included some brand new take on the fish every time. Chef Carey wouldn’t tell us what he was misting the bowl with before he served it to us, but the scent of shiso filled our airspace. It turned out to be a spray bottle full of “shiso essence” he had, which we should all inquire about buying from them as perfume. Little bits of jalapeño and lime caviar made for occasional bursts of flavor in an otherwise very subtle dish of consomme jelly.
This was one of the most memorable dishes of the night, which isn’t surprising, since it reminded me of the wonderful halibut in whey I had at Atera. That was back in 2012, and I still vividly remember the experience of eating it. This was a New Jersey(!) scallop with an almond milk sauce that was slightly starchy to give some texture to the dish. The bamboo was tender, not woody, and the little slivers of green pepper packed so much perfectly-paired flavor that I felt I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of them. I can’t wait to eat this one again sometime.
This was a razor clam for anyone who’s afraid of the way it looks in its long tampon of a shell. This is one of the main reasons I love fine dining: eating things I wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise but having them presented so beautifully that I can’t resist them. The little slices of clam had a little chew to them, while the basil seeds were super slimy. The overall effect was slightly fruity and sweet thanks to the pineapple, but it was missing the little punch of flavor I expect from a good Ko dish, and we would’ve been fine had this been a very small serving, like a shot.
Mackerel sushi with lots of ginger and scallions. A layer of fermented sunflower added a grainy texture.
This broth was made with the bones of the mackerel from the previous course’s sushi, with slivers of onion, king oyster mushroom, and Asian pear. It was really subtle, and we liked how the pear absorbed some savoryness from the other ingredients present in the bowl but a little sweetness sung through every now and then.
This sunchoke with its skin still on was dry-aged in beef fat and did indeed look like a little morsel of meat. It was very sweet, like it was covered in a marmalade. We guessed the flavor to be apricot, but it wasn’t distinctive, just fruity and sweet next to the earthy interior of the choke. It turned out to be blood orange sauce, but we blame the restaurant for not making the flavor pronounced enough, not our own palates for not being able to discern it, OF COURSE.
Sweet soft eggs with an even sweeter dollop of potato, cut with a pop of savory caviar and with crunchy wisps to contrast all of the creamy texture.
This ricotta cavatelli was rolled in a sauce made with stinging nettles to keep it very fresh and light despite the aged cheese flavor. I sort of felt like I was eating mossy caterpillars, but please ignore my imagination.
We got a little overexcited for pure carbs and took a big hunk out of this butter for our bread before I could get a picture. The combination of the bread and black radish butter made this a sour and funky interlude.
More lobster! The super fresh sugar snap peas gave this a bright crunch next to the rich, buttery seameat.
I’ve had this every time I’ve been to Ko and hope to have it every time for life. The foie gras is shaved cold into the bowl and then melts as it mixes with the jelly, pine nut brittle, and whole fruit slices. I thought it was better than ever, and the chef told me it might be because they’re not plating it using cold bowls anymore. I love the idea that something like the bowl temperature could affect the taste for me.
When I got this slice of duck breast, the lady next to me at the counter learned over and told me to savor it. It was sweet and sour, peppery, and had a thick crunchy top and bottom, like there was a piece of brittle on both sides. I never got used to the pungent lime pickle, in that every single bite was as delicious as the first. The side of XO vegetables reminded me of the first time I ever had XO sauce, which also happened to be the homemade one at the old Ko. This dish was maybe the best thing I’ve eaten at Ko yet, and you can bet I did savor it while that lady watched me in envy.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’d taste like if you stuck an entire garden in your mouth, this is the dessert for you. The sorrel ice cream tasted exactly as green as it looked, but its savoryness was offset by the sweet diced rhubarb, which also added texture. The cake had a slightly crunchy, caramelized exterior, and it was entirely unfair that they hollowed out the middle of this for the ice cream, because I needed every last crumb.
I had no idea what bee pollen was before I ate it, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain it to you now. It’s pollen, nectar from whatever the bee was collecting the pollen from, and bee spit, all made into a little pellet by the worker bees for some reason. I have no idea why we would ever eat this, except oh wait, yes, I do–because it’s delicious. It was crunchy and tasted like honey, and this dessert would’ve been nothing without it. The funky creme fraiche made this a challenging dessert if you’re someone who wants ice cream and frosting after a meal, but the huckleberry sorbet was just sweet enough with the bee pollen to top it off.
To finish, we had chocolate cookies that tasted like the herbal liqueur Fernet-Branca and a sunflower macaron that tasted like buttered popcorn. And then we got a little drunker and hung out, just enjoying the sights of the kitchen.
So did I need to be worried about missing the old Momofuku Ko? Well, not really. I did miss some of the cutesy things that Ko used to do, the novelty things like the miso ice cream cone, the bento with the pork fat rice ball, or the lunchbox with fried chicken. It was fun to reminisce with Executive Chef Sean about the soft shell crab sandwich I once had in the early days, and even he seemed a little nostalgic about the magic they made over in that tiny kitchen on 1st Avenue. But Ko 2.0 is legit fine dining now. It’s comfortable, it’s beautiful, and all of the extras–from the printed menu to the mignardises you’d get at Per Se or Eleven Madison Park–are included.
Plus, with the huge kitchen upgrade, so much more food is being made right in front of you now. We watched a duck being carved, fruits being juiced, fish being finished on a Japanese charcoal grill–all things that would’ve happened behind the scenes at the old Ko. Ko used to be about watching beautiful pre-prepared things being plated from little boxes, but now it’s about also watching things actually get cooked.
And the bones of the old Ko are still holding the place up. You’ll still hear Radiohead, The Cure, and Cat Stevens on the soundtrack, and you’ll still get really delicious, sort of Asian, very tiny, extremely imaginative, wildly well-composed plates of food. And hey, with all of the extra space, you can actually get a reservation now.
My relationship with Eleven Madison Park caused a little bit of a ruckus once. The first time I dined there, I thought the meal was generally fantastic but not as life-altering as I’d expected. I gave it meal 4 out of 5 donuts without an ounce of malevolence intended. But the restaurant wanted me to be completely happy, so they invited me back for a meal on the house and the opportunity to be wowed. People on the food-related message board where I posted the review called me a whiner, and donuts4dinner got mean comments for the first time in its history. But I didn’t care, because my second meal at EMP was so phenomenal that I regretted my first review and became an EMP fan for life. My third visit was also excellent and had me asking if this was the best restaurant in NYC.
I went back for the fourth time almost a year ago and had a meal that easily bettered my third and may have been more delicious than even my second. I had decided after my third time at EMP that while I loved it, it wasn’t the best fine dining experience in all of NYC. My fourth meal there changed my mind. Everything was so exciting and new, so amazingly delicious, and coupled with such perfect service that there was no question anymore. I never posted a review back then, but feeling the effects of EMP withdrawal recently, I pulled my pictures out and decided I at least wanted that much of a record of the meal here. I’ve heard that the menu is totally different at EMP these days, so don’t use this as any indication of what you might see there now, but you can bet the food is still just as incredible.
Whole carrots, ground tableside.
What’s more exciting than a whole tray of fresh ingredients to play with?
The kitchen tour always includes a liquid nitrogen cocktail.
They presented the 140-day aged ribeye to us and then took it back to the kitchen to prepare it.
J.J. Prum is my absolute favourite wine, and it just appeared at our table out of nowhere. I wouldn’t put it past EMP’s amazing customer service to have researched the wine we liked.
At the time, EMP was known for its magic trick. The server brought our dessert plates to us and then asked us to pick a card from a deck. Each card had a different ingredient printed on it, and I chose a card with a rose. When I lifted my plate, the top separated from the base, and underneath was a rose-flavored chocolate that had been there all along. I’m weirdly a fan of magic tricks, so I thought this was the coolest. Other people thought it was gimmicky, but other people are curmudgeons.
So now you see why I can’t wait to go back.
The first reviews of San Franciso’s Mission Chinese Food outpost here in NYC were written by professional critics and were, by my estimation, universally adoring. The New York Times said James Beard Rising Star Chef award-winner Danny Bowien “does to Chinese food what Led Zeppelin did to the blues. His cooking both pays respectful homage to its inspiration and takes wild, flagrant liberties with it”. The blog reviews that came soon after were less excited. I read complaints about the prices, which range from $4 for the vinegar peanuts to $14.50 for the mapo la mian. I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly spicy. Then I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly bland. I didn’t know what to think, so I thought I’d just go find out for myself.
Since I’m a woman who loves making and having reservations, I was pleased to find that Mission Chinese Food takes a very, very limited number of reservations per night. The website begins accepting them at 10 a.m. each morning, and 5 seconds later, they’re all gone. I had a few mornings of absolutely no luck and one morning where I was offered a reservation but then double-checked my calendar and lost it before I actually got a spot for a Wednesday night.
Walking in the door, which itself was almost too tiny for a person to fit through, we were underwhelmed by the little room we found ourselves in. There was a counter, a cash register, a window into the kitchen, and this backlit menu with only slightly better photos than your generic Chinese take-out joint:
After an uncomfortable five-minute wait, though, we were led through a hallway past the kitchen to the dining room, which was like a whole different world. I felt like a soldier in Vietnam in the 60s, off duty for the night and looking to forget my troubles with help from the cocktail-slinging bartender in the corner. I have no idea why I thought Vietnam, since there were Chinese lanterns everywhere and a huge dragon snaking through the beams of the ceiling, but I kept expecting the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to start playing. The whole place glowed red, and the servers were in tank tops and frayed denim shorts, appropriate to the Lower East Side location. In a few words, it was really fuckin’ cool.
My boyfriend knew he wanted the pig tails, and I knew I wanted the thrice-cooked bacon, but everything else was off-the-cuff. Here’s what we went with:
Beer brined sichuan pickles, with Chinese cabbage, carrot, chili oil, peanut, and sichuan pepper, and Beijing vinegar peanuts with smoked garlic, anise, and rock sugar. I expected the pickles to be spicy and hoped that the vinegar peanuts would provide some relief, but these were equally loaded with heat. Being more a fan of chili than vinegar, I preferred the bowl of pickles and probably wouldn’t have ordered both of these had we known that the pickles would also be peanut-heavy.
Eeeeeasily the best thing I tasted here. And you just know it wouldn’t have been nearly as good had the bacon only been cooked twice. Like the rice roll at Congee Village, I could eat these rice cakes for every meal ever. They’re a little bit chewy, a little bit gelatinous, and a lot purely satisfying simple carbs. This dish was spicy in a way that I’ve never experienced spice. It wasn’t the eye-watering, nose-running spice of Thai food or Indian food. It was a red pepper spice that literally made my mouth go numb. In a good way. In an I-don’t-want-to-ever-stop-eating-this-why-did-we-also-order-the-whole-side-of-a-fish way. It’s hard for me to express how much I loved this plate without writing a full-on love letter in drool.
If you’d told me I’d someday find myself holding onto a fin and yanking the meat off not to torture a fish but to eat it . . . but this was a) fried, b) boneless, c) fishy as all get-out but strangely delicious. The breading was thick and crunchy, like a shell. And the fact that it was coupled with those fatty, buttery biscuit halves didn’t hurt.
I only ate one of these, because clams are weird. But: basil.
Everyone, including me, somehow assumed that pig tails would be curly and skinny. But these were big and thick and meaty. If I hadn’t known they were tails, I’d think they were ribs. Only the meat was a little tougher and almost gamier, like it was on its way to being venison jerky. The smoky sauce made it a spicy/sweet mess that evoked all sorts of backyard barbeques when we added the meat to the white bun and potato salad.
My descriptions of these dishes are a joke next to the actual flavors. As someone who’s suuuuuper picky about traditional Chinese food, I didn’t expect to walk away from Mission Chinese Food exclaiming over how delicious and exciting everything was. Especially since it was SO spicy. But in addition to loving the food, I really, really loved the cool, transporting-you-to-a-different-world-ness of the place in general. I’ve still been talking about it so much that my friends all want to go and have been, like, name-dropping it on their OkCupid profiles without ever having eaten there. I’ll just remember to bring a big flask of milk with me the next time.
My love of Per Se is much documented and includes an overusage of superlatives like most and best. Accordingly, my Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend this year was a lunch reservation that included all of the caviar and foie gras and general over-the-top-ness you want and expect from this restaurant that somehow ends up coaxing an entire paycheck out of you by the time you leave.
Our server tried to tell us that there’s no set wine pairing, which was either a change from our other visits or a very strange falsehood. The only time we’ve had to give any input on the wine was when we had the extended menu, which required extra glasses if we wanted one with each dish. This time, we had to tell her how much we wanted to spend ($200-$250 each), and the sommelier chose a selection of glasses and half-bottles for us. I want to feel like my sommelier has thought long and hard about the pairings (even though, you know, the menu changes daily), so this spur-of-the-moment tell-us-how-much-you-want-to-spend stuff didn’t work for me. That said, the wine was excellent, and the sommelier took great care of us.
One perfect bite of pastry stuffed so full of smooth cheese that immediately disperses and coats your mouth. And of course I love that giant handle-less spoon they’re served on.
I also liked these new mounts for the salmon cones, which weighed approximately fifty pounds each. The cone was better than ever, with so much citrus flavor in the salmon and so much red onion in the creme fraiche base.
The signature Per Se dish, where the main flavor is butter and the main texture is buttery and the main desire is for a piece of bread to sop it up with.
This supplement to the tasting menu is one we’d never think of skipping. Past iterations of the foie gras have included strawberries and creme fraiche, pistachio and turnips, and celery and leeks, but this banana version was the most surprisingly delicious. The hazelnut-banana cake base made it like eating candy; I couldn’t quite pick out the hazelnut and banana flavors when I ate them along with the creamy foie gras, but they instead all formed this amazing new flavor all its own. The nutty balls of banana were a textural pleasure, the tart of the yogurt cut through the richness of everything else, and the mizuna was just a nice little peppery juxtaposition to all of that sweetness.
A roll to spread the foie gras on, replaced at regular intervals to ensure sustained warmth for every bite.
A tasting of salts from around the world to top the foie gras. Amidst all of the pink Himalayan and the black volcanic salts, my favourite was the less-exotic fleur de sel because of the evident crunch it provided.
See those well-cooked carrots flanking the halibut? They’re red pepper piperade! And they were the best part of this dish that was my overall favourite of the day. I love red pepper for one, and the playfulness of the presentation delighted me. Sauce ravigote is meant to “reinvigorate” a boring protein, but this version of ravigote was itself reinvigorated with the addition of the sour, acidic squid ink and the most wonderful minced orange. The La Ratte potatoes (little guys from Denmark) seemed as if they had been soaked in olive oil for two days, and the halibut was firm, flaky, and succulent.
My boyfriend said the smoked foie gras sauce tasted like a Slim Jim and made the lobster taste like pastrami. (donuts4dinner.com can be counted on for the most high-brow descriptions, eh?) The crumbly texture of the chestnut was a standout, as was the bitter, tender, acidic radicchio. I always associate lobster mitts with Per Se and wasn’t let down by this surprisingly complex dish.
I don’t believe I’ve ever called a rabbit “creamy”, but this one was. The dish was a combination of salty bacon, a rich sticky sauce, the crunch of almond, sweet carrot, the unique texture of the sausage next to the loin, and that tender baby bunny. The perfect lead-in to an even richer beef dish.
The view out of the windows of the Time Warner Center, onto Central Park. Note the “beautiful” white NYC winter sky.
Another sticky sauce made this round of calotte rich and lip-smacking. It looked way too red on the inside at first glance but was of course tender and perfectly cooked in the end, especially thanks to the crisp sear on the exterior. The short rib cube on the opposite side of the plate was a fell-off-the-bone wonder that might have been slowly cooked for two days straight. The raw radish was beautiful but not my favourite accompaniment, but my boyfriend said it reminded him of the fresh vegetables and herbs you eat alongside Persian kebab. The hen-of-the-woods, which is my favourite mushroom, was mostly flavored like deep-fried batter, but no one’s complaining about that.
Past cheese courses at Per Se have been so memorable, but this one was merely fine. (Which is to say much better than the cheese course almost anywhere else but not at the level I expect from Per Se.) There was very little punch to this cheese; the flavor that really came through was that of the pear slivers, which I mistook for olives at first. Imagine the delight of putting what you think is a salty, mushy olive in your mouth and instead finding that it’s a sweet, firm pear. Bliss! The stack cake was fruity, moist, and understated, but like the cheese, it was too understated for me.
So sour! I thought I loved the slimy strips of young coconut mixed in, but now I’m wondering if they were actually rambutan, which I didn’t even realize I was eating. Every time I visit, I need my Per Se waiter to say, “YOU SHOULD BE IMPRESSED BY THIS,” so I know to look out for an ingredient I haven’t had before. Hmph.
I always consider Per Se desserts pretty sparse, so this big ball of cheesy ice cream had me drooling like a wide-eyed kid. I loved all of the freshness of this but was surprised to find that what seemed like a boring, old apple cake was actually the most delicious part.
For a lover of chocolate and fruit combinations and a lover of plates that have so much going on I don’t know where to put my fork first, this was dreamy. I found pave niçoise on a menu from 1933 where fresh beluga caviar was $1.75 and filet mignon was $1.45, so it’s kind of exciting to see that Per Se is recycling these old techniques in a completely modern way. Working my way through the “paved” dollops of orange was so much fun, and I loved the crunchy chocolate circle encasing orange foam and orange segments, but the best part was the simple but oh-so-sour orange sorbet.
Looked like Golden Grahams cereal but was actually shortbread with an orangey flavor.
Per Se famously brings around a wooden box with individual spaces for approximately 30 chocolates in the most exotic flavor combinations at the end of the meal, and my boyfriend and I famously only take two or three each both because we’ve been eating for three hours at that point and because we care about keeping up appearances. This time, we did the same, but I asked the chocolate guy how many people ask for the entire box, and he said A FEW TIMES A DAY. He added that the only couple he’s actually seen finish it was the pastry sous chef and his girlfriend, so that means a few people a day are taking that whole foot-long box of chocolates and wasting it. It’s only fitting for a meal this lavish.
Coffee semifreddo, thicker and richer than any ice cream.
Doughnuts, so full of air the kitchen has to roll them in sugar just to make them heavy enough to not float away.
I forgot to take a picture of the mountain of mignardises this time, so here’s a picture of the usual three-tiered behemoth from our last visit. There was fudge, French macarons, and truffles, and of course we didn’t have the stomach-room to even begin on them, and of course they only sent us home with one of each thing when I asked to have them wrapped up. I’m going to get that whole box of chocolates next time, eat two of them, and then casually melt all of the leftovers with my hands and hot breath so no one else gets to enjoy them. Because I can.
To take home. To remind you of how a month of anticipating that reservation and the food that comes with it is over. Tastes amazing with a side of your tears.
It’s almost boring to talk about how good Per Se is at this point. The place is perfection. It’s the best super-fine fine dining restaurant in NYC. If you’re not eating here, you’re wasting your time elsewhere. Although once you do eat here, you’ll be ruined for everything else. Take heed.
My boyfriend and I were looking for a tasting menu for last weekend. We mentioned Corton and then moved past it, figuring that there’s a whole world of NYC restaurants we haven’t been to. For days, we mulled over Gramercy Tavern, Corton, Scarpetta, Corton, Ai Fiori, Corton, Aldea . . . and then we actually read the menu on Corton’s website. SOLD. “Wacked-out modernist cuisine”, my boyfriend calls it. With two much-deserved Michelin stars to boot.
This is the $155 tasting menu with wine pairings also at $155:
This cracker with a micro shiso leaf (that’s Japanese mint, although it has a flavor all its own) came way too fast for me to have my memory-bearings about me. You can’t beat the cuteness of that leaf, though.
Soft and slightly bitter, with a kick of blue cheese.
The tuile (or crispy wafer) tasted like Froot Loops, and we seem to think the fried balls were cheesy, but don’t make this your sole reason for making a reservation just in case I’m wrong. They were served alongside a homemade XO sauce (that’s Chinese dried seafood sauce, although I think any non-seafood-lover would like it), and we love XO, but the fried ball was sadly the wrong vessel for the sauce, and I didn’t get the flavor of it at all.
Pretzels in the bread basket make me swoon. So did the candied square of chestnut at the center of this roll.
There was about an eighth of an inch of custard in this pot, but it packed a salty flavor punch with notes of bacon and leafy greens. The confit citrus peel was a deliiiiicious crunchy addition. Black bean and orange–who knew?
I love how the menu calls this a “classic foie gras and black truffle spiral”. I’ve never seen anything remotely resembling it before. The foie torchon (so smooth, so creamy) was surrounded by a gelee layer of black truffle that was unfortunately overpowered by the flavor of the liver, but the dish overall was really nice and really savory. For someone who likes the flavor of mushrooms but thinks they’re kind of weird-looking and weird-feeling, this completely homogenous sauce-like preparation was perfect, and the apple sliver and crisp kombu (kelp) strip added the necessary crunch. A scoop of radish added brightness and sourness. The toasted buckwheat roll on the side was perfectly soft on the inside but provided enough structure to make a great foie vessel.
The juxtaposition between the rich potato gnocchi and ham consomme and the fresh leaves and tiny romanesco (prettiest vegetable ever, right?) made this a much more complex dish than I expected at first glance. The egg nestled next to the gnocchi broke to spread a single drop of balsamic, making the consomme even richer.
I was excited to try my first cod cheek (foreground), but the sliver of smoked mackerel (background) was actually more flavorful and more tender. This wasn’t the first fish in whey I’ve had recently, and I still love the tenderness and simplicity it lends to a seafood dish. I also liked the crunchy whole-grain mustard and the meringue-like texture of the triangular black . . . thing.
This little sweet and sour ball was delivered in a box dotted with ripe calamansi (sour citrus) fruits. I almost didn’t expect it to be sweet, coming so soon in the meal, but it was a whirl of orange-y, lime-y, yuzu-y ice cream wrapped in a mochi skin. I loved the little speck of gold leaf, because I am a glutton for luxury.
Wonderfully gelatinous charred turbot belly (foreground right), a curry-like sauce, sweet apple gel, a tender mussel, cabbage stuffed with chopped chestnut and resembling a little brain (background left), a tiny caterpillar-like cylinder of something crunchy like a radish (background right). The “tarte rouge” served on the side was like a side salad with fresh beets and radishes and a cracker instead of croutons. The yuzu cream on the edge of the plate–heaven.
This dish was a huge mishmash of textures and sour and bitter flavors. I’m not sure how composed you can call a dish with so many elements, but I’m not sure I care about composition when everything is so delicious and interesting.
I’ve had a soup dumpling or two hundred in my time in NYC, but this sour-rich-deep-dark one was completely new to me. We debated about whether the oxtail, truffle, and sweetbreads were all necessary since none of those specific flavors came through, but we decided that the dumpling wouldn’t have tasted the same without each one of them, that the overall outcome was more important than the presence of individual ingredients. My boyfriend said it reminded him of a Persian beef stew with Persian lime.
Also: gold leaf.
Apparently the calotte de boeuf is the meat that forms that cap of a prime rib. This is either the best part of the cow or the part that butchers throw away, depending on which blog Google directs you to. Apparently this cut is sometimes called deckle but is different than the deckle used in pastrami. I’m confused. But I’m not confused about how totally tasty, totally homey, totally sausage-y this calotte was–completely at odds with the sour black miso and onion served on the side. I loved the tender artichoke slice (foreground right), but the best part of the dish was the little chilled cube of gelatinous tea (background left). Something about how delicious it was just sent me over the edge, and I had to stop eating for a second to keep from crying. WHAT.
Served on the side of the calotte was this tartare with chive and onion flavors and that sweet and fatty gelee underneath. The “bread” was a puffed beef tendon similar to the one we saw at wd~50 a few months ago. It’s like a packing peanut covered in movie popcorn butter. This one wasn’t as buttery as theirs, but I was happy to see it on another dish at all.
“These cows graze on shoots”, our server told us, “so it’s a very floral cheese.” What he meant was that this was going to taste like a really stanky barnyard. Luckily, it was diluted by the sweet fig and Malabar (Indian) spice-covered bread sliver that reminded us of gingerbread. The gelee was unfortunately unflavored, but overall, I thought it a well-composed dish.
This was shown to us whole and then whisked away to the kitchen so that we’d forget about it and enjoy the two bites that would arrive on our next plate.
The sommelier, if it’s not clear, was excellent.
This blood orange sorbet tasted like the white Smarties candies. My boyfriend observed this with his extra-attuned palate, and he was entirely correct. The tart was like an old-fashioned cream pie with a pink iridescent top, and the sorbet was almost too sour for how tame the flavor of the pie was, but both were delicious in their own right. They also made our glasses of Sauternes taste herbal. I can’t find any information about what a culinary dentil is that doesn’t involve Chef Paul Liebrandt, but its traditional definition calls it an architectural detail, so maybe the delicate slice of blood orange candy garnishing the sorbet is the architectural detail on this dessert in Chef Liebrandt’s eyes.
There was again no discernible flavor to this gelee, but the creamy dark Brooklyn chocolate with notes of peanut butter made up for that in spades. I loved the texture of the seeds in the fig and the fact that it was cold.
Also: gold leaf.
Just as bursting with flavor as you want them to be.
Is anything more seemingly-boring and yet actually-delicious than nougat? It was so good that I got distracted and have no idea what the pastry was. But I do know that the chocolate on top is Chef Liebrandt’s initials.
A tray of French macarons being lowered onto the table.
Included a grapefruit one that we both agreed was straight-up gross, and I say that as someone who simply loves grapefruit. Luckily, I had saved the salty caramel one for last and made up for it.
Even as someone who has given Corton a perfect rating both times I’ve visited, I can see why the reviews of it include extreme highs and extreme lows. It has, for instance, only three and a half out of five stars on Yelp but also two out of three Michelin stars on a list that only includes about fifty New York City restaurants. The “problem” with Corton is two-fold:
1) There are a LOT of ingredients on the plate. You can rarely taste all of them, which leads you to question how necessary they are.
2) The portions are extremely small. It’s not a matter of my being a glutton, because I always leave Corton satisfied with plenty of dessert left on the table. The problem is that I want to taste each element on its own and with the other elements on the plate. This just isn’t possible when there’s one bite of smoked mackerel, one petal of artichoke, a piece of turbot belly that isn’t even equal to a single forkful. Once you taste it, it’s gone. I think this could come off as too precious to someone who doesn’t have patience for rarefied food.
Despite these complaints, the overall effect of the dishes at Corton is still, for me, sheer bliss. To me, the preciousness feels special, not stupid. Because there’s so little of everything, every single bite has to be perfect. And I haven’t been anywhere in NYC that’s making this kind of tiny-yet-hugely-thoughtful food. But let me know if you do, because my life is pretty low on five-donut dinners at the moment.
The moment the four-star, accolade-laden reviews started rolling in for Atera–not all of them from people who had actually been to the restaurant, naturally–I called for a reservation. And then freed up every Saturday for a month in case the waitlist paid off and my boyfriend and I could get a spot. It was being compared to Momofuku Ko, our favourite restaurant in NYC, and Brooklyn Fare, our favourite restaurant in NYC to hate on. The chef, Matthew Lightner, trained at the #1 restaurant in the world and the #3 restaurant in the world, was named Best New Chef and Rising Star and everything else in Portland, and has brought his foraging-centric cuisine to NYC, where foraging is kind of foreign.
Luckily, this isn’t just nuts and berries but molecularly gastronomical concoctions made to look like nuts and berries. And also rocks. And moss. And it tastes just as natural as it looks.
This whipped frozen macaron started airy and sweet and melted within seconds, leaving a cheesy finish.
Crisp, with a note of coriander and pine nuts to add texture.
Sunchoke skin rolled into a crunchy/chewy vessel for bright herbs and sour buttermilk cream.
This meringue “bun” was made with yeast to add bread flavor and filled with some of the sweetest lobster meat.
Frozen but dissolved immediately, leaving behind nothing but pure horseradish flavor. The halibut was strangely lacking for both of us, but there’s a reason this is called a horseradish parfait and not a halibut one.
Sweet, salty, creamy, and just a little funky.
Not actually an egg but a thin skin holding a dollop of aioli. It was like eating a spoonful of garlicky mayonnaise, and I’m quite sure I couldn’t have eaten more than one.
The burnt bottom of this cracker helped to cut through the richness of the foie and aioli. The charred flavor was verging on unpleasant, which is how I like all of my food.
Slices of clam with a thick edible shell of bread. Plenty of ocean flavor packed into just a few slivers of shellfish.
Yes, lichen. As in algae. Really taking that foraging thing seriously. The dominant flavor was fennel, and a sort of rock salt formation covered the skin. A malt vinegar and herb emulsion dotted the underside like moss on a rock.
Another truly foresty dish, this combined the cool temperatures of spring with the florals of summer. The licorice-dusted disc broke to reveal a savory yogurt center surrounded by the ring of flowers. Artful and inspired with a perfect Austrian mead pairing that really accentuated all of the right flavors.
mead: Die Hochland, “Lime Blossom”, Austria
Strips of creamy scallop, the packing peanut texture of freeze-dry, juicy but sour pickled strawberries, a burst of citrus in the crevasse on either end. The meat was so mild it’s hard for me to imagine even my scallop-hating friends–yes, these people exist–resisting.
sake: Kamoizumi, Komekome, “Happy Bride”, Hiroshima, NV
Gelee studded with chewy tapioca, topped with sweet shredded crab and crisp, vegetal red snap peas.
chenin blanc: Francois Chidaine, “Clos Habert”, Montlouis, Demi-Sec, 2008
Salted rye bread with a distinct coffee flavor and a doughnut-like roll basted in mangalitsa pork fat, served with house-made butter made from creme fraiche and Winnimere cheese rind.
This bowl arrived with curlicues of noodles on one side and a packet full of herbs and spices in a thin gelatinous skin on the other. A server poured a test tube of mild but lovely chicken broth on top, disintegrating the packet so the noodles could be seasoned. I loved the powerful cilantro, but even better was the onion, which tasted just like French onion soup. We knew the noodles were too chewy to be pasta, but we couldn’t decide if they were tofu or squid. The smallest hint of ocean flavor confirmed the squid for us, and our server cemented it when she delivered the next dish. We were wondering, though; if we hadn’t asked, would she have told us? Did anyone without our vast food knowledge and achingly discerning palates (j/k) notice?
It looked like a chunk of stone fallen off the side of a mountain, surrounded by smaller shards, but our knives sank into it just like any old beet. The roe wasn’t just salty but added a real ocean dimension that the crustacean sauce was oddly lacking; it actually tasted just like Parmesan cheese.
riesling: C.H. Berres, “Urziger Wurzgarten”, Auslese, Mosel 1997
One of the simplest and yet most striking dishes I’ve had in a while. The line-caught halibut was poached in whey that draped over it like a warm icing, a cooking method that left it tender and unfussy. The garlic was roasted until sweet and provided the only strong flavor, yet it somehow seemed like a wonderfully complex dish.
furmint: Kiralyudvar, “Sec”, Tokaj, 2009
A tart vinegar sauce soaked this sweet, sticky squab and its accompanying pear skins. A lemony herb and the mild bite of the garlic scape rounded out the profile with bright, “green” flavors.
sangiovese: Felsina, Chianti Classico Reserva, “Berardenga”, Tuscany, 2008
Spice-rubbed pork as savory as bacon was topped with chewy sprouted wheatberries in a thick, rich duck egg yolk sauce. The oniony flavor of the leek the perfect compliment.
nerello mascalese: Calabretta, Etna Rosso, Sicily, 2001 Magnum
We opted for a cheese course in place of one dessert and were a little put-off that it didn’t have the same level of creativity as one you might see at Per Se or Momofuku Ko, but we nonetheless enjoyed what we were given, namely the Rupert and the Mountaineer hard cheeses. The supermoist apple bread with chunks of fruit baked right into it was a lovely accompaniment, but with all that space left in the breadbox, we wanted jams and honeys, too.
Bergamot orange sorbet in a shell with the consistency of chocolate but the taste of a popcorn hull on a bed of brown butter crisp. It was super acidic, wildly tart, and as clever as it was delicious.
muscat: Jaillance, “Cuvee Imperial”, Clairette de Die, Rhone Valley, MV
A study in textures from slick banana ice cream to chewy marshmallow to crisp shards of milk skin. It may have been delicate in presentation, but the banana flavor was bold.
semillon: Chateau Petit Vedrines, Sauternes 2007
This is evidently . . . salsify? We’ve had it roasted and caramelized and used in place of potatoes, but never have I seen it like this. Sure, the churro was uncharacteristically chewy, but I never would’ve guessed it was anything but dough. I may have taken embarrassingly small bites of it to make sure I had enough churro to pick up all of the Nutella, but I may not be sorry about it.
bual: Vinhos Barbeitos, “Boston Bual”, Madeira, NV
The perfect amount of booze in a super-melty ice cream that was more icy than creamy. This was so simple but left a big impression on both of us.
As chocolatey as they look.
Actually salty caramels, presented in the most beautiful way.
I’m not sure we said a bad word about this place. Maybe we wanted more substance on the cheese plate, and maybe I could’ve used some spice on the churro, but the overwhelming sense was that Atera was everything everyone said it was and more. Never once did it seem kitchy or schticky. Never once did we question a flavor pairing nor a preparation. Mostly, we compared it to the restaurants it’s being compared to and found that it comes out on top. The one thing Momofuku Ko is lacking in–desserts–Atera had so many of we gave one up for a cheese course. (Oh, yeah, and you can take pictures at Atera, unlike at Ko.) And Atera was basically everything we’d hoped for from Brooklyn Fare: cool music, unstuffy service, comfortable chairs, and an atmosphere worth dressing up for. Maybe the food at Ko and Brooklyn Fare is more assertive, but I loved the subtleties of Chef Lightner’s food, the pear skins and the milk skins and the lichen. Where food like this can often come off as frou-frou, these dishes all tasted like they really had just been plucked from the forest. And at $150 for 22 courses, it’s the kind of place you can return to as often as the menu changes. Not that you can get a reservation.
The last time my boyfriend and I left Per Se, we were unexpectedly underwhelmed. We’d called ahead and requested the extended tasting menu, a many-extra-course/many-extra-dollar fine food feast that left us feeling as if we were actually treated worse by spending more. The responses to my review were generally along the lines of “it’s a privilege to get to eat there, and you’re paying for the opportunity to be one of the elite, so quit complaining”, which left me with an even more sour taste.
But Per Se is the best restaurant in the city. It’s the most lavish and the most luxurious, and it lends any special event the sort of weight that only a bowl of caviar and oysters served six plates high can. So when my boyfriend passed the California bar exam recently, we considered other options momentarily but probably knew all along that we’d ultimately go with Per Se once again.
And this time, there was nothing to complain about.
The setting was simply elegant as always, with big comfortable armchairs you don’t mind settling into for three or four hours. We were seated at the same table as last time and given a set of menus congratulating my boyfriend. I chose the usual chef’s tasting menu, this time with non-alcoholic beverage pairings, and he chose the vegetarian tasting with wine pairings.
The usual Gruyere gougères started the meal in the huge handle-less spoon I love so much, but if it’s even possible, they were warmer, filled fuller, more flavorful than ever before.
My cone was the traditional salmon with creme fraiche and was just as much like a sour cream and onion chip pulled from the ocean as I remembered. His was markedly lemony with a nice grainy texture from the pureed beans.
A clever accompaniment to my caviar, his salty, umami-ful panna cotta was flanked by “roe” formed from dashi broth. Scallion was the stand-out flavor, but the dish wouldn’t have been the same without the spice of the jalapeño sliver.
On my third time enjoying this signature dish, I found still more to love about it. The oysters were still as melt-in-your-mouth as always, but the tapioca in the creamy base seemed larger and more abundant and acted as a link between the smaller but firmer caviar and the larger but more tender oysters.
One of the densest foie gras preparations I’ve seen, this torchon was thicker than peanut butter and barely wanted to spread on our soft rolls. It was sweet and mild, complimented by the strawberry slices and contrasted by the sour pickled onions. The bread, sprinkled with cartoonishly large cubes of salt and replaced three times by our server to ensure its freshness and warmth, peeled apart in crescent-shaped hunks to form the perfect vessel for foie gras filling.
From the black lava salt to the 3,000-year-old pink salt to the flaky fleur de sel, I’ve thought the salts that have accompanied our foie gras supplement have been interesting in texture each time, but this is the first time that I’ve actually tasted flavor differences as well. Either my palate is improving or my imagination is.
Our server told us that a woman with six Jersey cows makes the salted butter for Per Se. You kind of want to roll your eyes and give her a hug at the same time.
My dish may have been mushroomier, but they were more the star of his dish, highlighting the egginess and the density of the custard with their savory flavor and airy texture. He loved the crunch of the honey nuts especially.
Perfectly cooked, of course, with a hardy crust that I welcomed amidst a bowl of otherwise tender elements. The thick, near-gelled sauce tasted of dill, and the array of tiny marinated mushrooms seemed like they must have been labored over back in the kitchen all morning.
non-alcoholic pairing: chamomile tea with cardamom and a strong honey/lemon flavor
Tender, peppery, with an incredibly flavorful little cake, the so-called “subric”. Amazingly, we both liked this better than the lobster.
With the sweet carrot and fresh peas, this was the perfect representation of summer. Though I loved the texture of this lobster in particular–ignore what they say about avoiding shellfish in months that don’t contain an R–I like my lobster a little richer and less healthy.
non-alcoholic pairing: grapefruit tonic with basil leaf (two of my favourite things in life together in one glass)
This was the only dish of the day that we weren’t gaga over. It wasn’t as flavorful as endive should be, and the breading was at odds with the stringy vegetable. Though the breading was delicious, it seemed like a way to cover up a sub-par filling, though of course everything at Per Se is meticulous, so I’m sure the endive wasn’t supposed to be an afterthought. The fava beans with Parmesan were the highlight of the dish; I could’ve done without the endive entirely.
I can’t say for sure that it was invented by him, but chef David Chang of Momofuku Ko made famous the shaved frozen foie gras torchon, and we’ve had it on all four of our visits. There, it’s paired with sweet elements like pine nut brittle, lychee fruit, and Riesling jelly. Here, it took on an entirely different personality over the peppery pastrami-style spices of the squab. The burnt-bread-crumb flavor of the sauce had me scraping my plate for every drop.
I’ve eaten more peeled grapes in the past month than I have in the rest of my life combined. I love the attention to detail, but who doesn’t love grape skin?
Pasta! Truffle! Onions! Citrus! It was all of my favourites in one dish. Creamy, truffley, cheesy, and orangey.
The peppery coating on the tender, not-the-least-bit-funky lamb went so well with the fresh cucumber spheres, which tasted to me like the green rind of a watermelon.
non-alcoholic pairing: English breakfast tea, cola, black pepper (“Cola and tea?!”, I thought. But they were perfect together.)
Everything on this plate tasted green, from the mint sauce to the pea pastry. I’m only just developing a taste for the salty bitterness of olives and thought the flavor worked well here with the overall sweetness of the dish.
I was worried that the summer menu would include tomatoes (still my most-feared ingredient) in every dish, so I only cried a little when this was put in front of me, and I even tried a little bit just to make sure that yep, I still hate them. Otherwise, I loved the fresh, salady flavors of this dish, which managed to make cheese–which is a shell of semi-soft mozzarella with creamy super-soft mozzarella inside–seem like a light, summery affair. It didn’t compare to the tempura-battered Hittisau we had last time, but the cheese course at Per Se is always memorable.
These flavors were at odds. The super-moist banana bread and sorbet were so sweet themselves, and the pineapple only added another dimension of sweetness. The dollops of white gel–no clue what they were–tasted like lavender soap might. It was a sweet, flowery, romantic dish. And then I got a taste of the black sesame buttercream. It was bitter and sour and never got any less intense, but it wasn’t uncomplimentary to the banana, and I loved the complexity of the dish.
Fizzy and ultra sour with a cooling yogurt center and a buttery, crunchy base. The different crunches of the frozen top layer and cookie bottom layer made this a pleasure to dig a spoon into.
My final non-alcoholic pairing. It was fizzy like an egg cream, and our server refilled it when I finished it halfway through the mignardises, god bless him.
I’ll never know if my boyfriend really wanted this dessert or not, because I exclaimed so much when I saw it as a choice on his menu that he might have just ordered it to be nice, but I don’t think he regretted it either way. Because this used the best. maple. syrup. ever. (BLiS Gourmet, I’m coming for you and your $20 bourbon-barrel bottle of glory.) The dish was sweet and sour, warming and cooling, haute and homey.
At the end of your lunch at Jean-Georges, your server will bring out a giant glass pharmacy bottle full of housemade marshmallows and pluck one out for you with a pair of tongs. She’ll make a ceremony of it, and it will seem like a big deal at the time. But hidden in this dish at Per Se was a much, much better marshmallow, and no one made a big deal of it at all. Except for my boyfriend and me, I mean. I believe the word we used was crazy. “This marshmallow is crazy.” I loved the crunchy honeycomb, the fruit-leather-like compressed cherries, the rich honey of the ice cream. The sponge cake was too light for me and needed about a pound of icing on top, but I appreciated the airy texture amidst the other dense elements.
In celebration of my boyfriend’s bar exam achievement, he was presented this simple, elegant little mousse cake. I’ll take any chance to eat more of Per Se’s chocolates.
The famous tiered mignardise box with dark chocolate, vanilla, and coffee fudge on top, passion fruit and mint chocolate French macarons in the center, and root beer, salted caramel, and lemon truffles on the bottom.
Arnold Palmer, maple, and grapefruit chocolates from a wooden box full of approximately thirty, which a server opens for you before reciting the flavor of each chocolate from memory. And all of them sound amazing–balsamic vinegar, curry, fennel–and you want the box to be left at your table, but your stomach is nearing implosion at this point, so you only take three or four.
One of the desserts I hope for (and receive) each visit, the creamy coffee semifreddo with sugared beignets. Behind the “coffee”, you’ll see the tiny frozen balls of buttered popcorn ice cream, which are so savory as to be closer to popcorn than ice cream.
The parting gift: a bag of cherry nougats, caramels, hard candies, and a mint chocolate wrapped in gold.
Think of the taste of any food you like and multiply that times ten if you want to understand what it’s like to eat at Per Se. Think of the taste of any food you just feel ambivalent about, and suddenly you’ll be Googling to find out when fava bean season is so you can have more. We’re always terrified when we see the bill–our drink pairings were $300+ even with me getting the non-alcoholic ones (which I highly, highly recommend)–and we always leave saying things like, “For that much at such-and-such, we could’ve eaten twice,” but the truth is that every now and then, I like my food a little precious. I like houndstooth plates stacked three-high and half-eaten bread taken from me because the kitchen wants each bite of my foie gras eaten on a fresh piece and take-home boxes of fudge tied with branded ribbon in branded gift bags. And no one does any of that better than Per Se does.
I’ve never seen a negative review of Jungsik. And it’s lucky that people are talking about it, because it’s not the kind of place this American-comfort-food-lovin’ gal would seek out on her own. Luxury Korean food? In Tribeca? It seemed so exciting when I made the reservation, but in the days leading up to the dinner, it started to seem scary and foreign. In the moments before we entered the restaurant, I was almost dreading it.
And then I loved it. And then I couldn’t stop exclaiming over it.
• squid ink chip with kimchi aioli: the salty familiarity of a light-as-a-feather potato chip with the sourness of squid ink
• tofu with soy gelee
• shrimp with cucumber cloud
• fried chicken with spicy mayo: pure comfort food; perfectly crisp shell with the juiciest chicken inside
The perfect little bite, with a substantial bun that didn’t buckle under pressure. With the slice of tomato (have I mentioned that I hate tomato? I loved this tomato), it tasted exactly like a sloppy joe. And I mean that as the greatest compliment.
These very hefty bowls arrived at our table carrying a folded bit of prosciutto and a couple of brioche croutons, and a server followed with the soup itself. We thought this dish a little “precious” in its presentation, as we’re not sure that pea-sized croutons and a one-inch square of meat needed to be brought separately from the liquid, but we had no complaints about the taste. The soup was smoky and onion-flavored, gel-like in consistency, and accented by the crispy sourness of the croutons.
The menu at Jungsik offers three courses or five courses with wine pairings using one-word titles, much like the menu at Eleven Madison Park. Unlike EMP, though, Jungsik offers a little more description to help in the ordering process; someone who might not order a dish based on the word “apple”, for instance, might be convinced by the words “light foie gras mousse” underneath. The back of the menu displays the chef’s suggestions for the perfect tasting menu, and while my boyfriend and I are usually happy to put our palates in the hands of the chef, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to try as many dishes as possible and each ordered different things.
The thinnest spread of smooth foie gras topped with a layer of apple gelee and studded with apple shavings and cilantro leaves. The sweetness of the apple made the foie subtle and less bitter than usual, and spread over the warm housemade rye bread, it was like butter and honey on toast. I took a cue from the incredible foie gras and salt tasting at Per Se and dipped each spoonful of foie into the chunky salt provided with the table bread and went into a blissful sodium coma.
The one bite I tried of this seasonal salad left me feeling like it was almost too fresh, the flavors too subtle; I know it’s a sin, but I prefer my salads deep-fried and covered in ranch powder, like the one at Tenpenny. My boyfriend, who actually got to deconstruct the thing, said there were enough powerful flavors–sundried tomato, beet, herbs–to suit him, though. We both liked the hearty zucchini base, the thick herbaceous sauce, and the apple foam.
The ingredients in these mod-looking bowls arrived separated with instructions for us to mix them together. This worried my boyfriend, who finds that this preparation leaves dishes tasting one-note, but he was impressed by the strong flavor of ginger, the meatiness the foie added, the sweetness of the port wine reduction, and the risotto quality of the overall mix.
My favourite way to eat uni is to hide it in other foods so I can taste it without looking at it–I can’t get over how gloopy and tongue-like it is with those ridges on top–so the mixing entirely worked in my favor. The regular quinoa with the crispy puffed quinoa added unexpected crunchiness to every bite, and the uni’s organ-y iron flavor managed to be noticeable without overpowering the onion and rice.
So beautifully presented, this char was accented with smokiness, sourness from the kimchi, and even a little cheesiness in the sauce. My boyfriend said it was rich enough to stand up to the sauce but delicate enough to feel refined. The grapes and chips provided a juxtaposition of sweet and salty and soft and crunchy.
This was easily–easily–the best lobster I’ve ever had. Even my boyfriend agreed, and he’s not prone to melodramatic, absolute statements like I am. It was just simply the most buttery sauce covering the most tender lobster mitts and tail with the most perfect accoutrements. The $10 supplement to the tasting was so worth it I felt the urge to get up from my table and dance around the center of the room, making sweeping gestures with my arms, declaring my love for the lobster, and not sitting back down until everyone in the room had thrown their plates on the floor and demanded a helping of it for themselves.
Raspberry and lobster? With pimento chutney? There’s no reason it worked. But it was spicy and sweet, bright and rich, buttery and citrusy. The sauce was so lobster-flavored itself that it tasted as if the lobster shells had been cooked in it. The lobster was the perfect amount of chewy and the perfect amount of tender. I don’t have a bad word to say about this dish–nor even a so-so word–and if what the manager says is true and we can walk in any time and have this at the bar, you can bet I’ll be doing so. Forgive my capitals, but this was SO GOOD.
My boyfriend and I fought over who was going to order this dish, but I luckily gave it and let him have it. This was the only misstep of the night, and it was partly a misstep just because we expected so much from it. Pork belly is like pizza, right? You can’t do it wrong. But like pizza, some pork bellies are righter than others, and this one just wasn’t flavorful enough. In terms of texture, it was outstanding, with the very crunchiest skin and fat cooked down to near-disintegration. But in terms of taste–well, there almost wasn’t any. We didn’t get the spiciness nor the sweetness; the pickles were more flavorful than the pork. It’s a shame, because the chef who created that lobster dish should do wonders with pork belly, so I’m going to hope that it was just a fluke that night.
The galbi, on the other hand, was succulent, rich, homey, and fork-tender. It tasted like it had slow-cooked for 36 hours and then simmered for 24 more. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but still able to soak up the beef broth. The whole dish reminded me so much of a Sunday dinner made by a mom who really cares, and we both agreed that it was far superior to the pork.
Dessert began with a palate cleanser of an Asian pear sorbet topped with a goji berry granita. It was tart and fresh, crunchy on top and smooth on the bottom. The texture of the sorbet was like the actual texture of an Asian pear.
My boyfriend ordered the baba, which was so good on its own it didn’t even need the “side dishes”, but I loved them all. The dish was a study in opposites, with plays on cold and warm, smooth and crunchy, soft and hard. The apple ice was intensely flavorful and complimented the pear flavor so well.
I can’t resist the flavors of fall and was filled with all of the warmth and sentimentality of pumpkin pie with my first bite of this creamy, spicy dessert. The top layer of panna cotta was sweet, the bottom layer almost savory, both leading to a flavorful crumble with a texture that tied together with the crisp squash strip adorning creamy topping.
Though it wasn’t on the menu, this post-dessert was my favourite of the sweets. The creamy chocolate was complimented by the crunchy, nutty cocoa nib topping and crystal clear sesame tuile, and the whole thing had a slight celery flavor that we loved. Our server told us it was angelica root, which is used as a digestive aid; she said that made it a healthy dessert. Wink, wink.
• yuzu macarons: not the least big yuzu-y, these actually tasted like peanut shells (what?)
• mango balsamic truffles: mango yes, but balsamic no; still fruity and delicious
• mugwort financier: buttery!
To think that I was worried Jungsik wouldn’t be “comforting” or that it wasn’t “my kind of food”! The amuse bouches alone were enough to convince me that my fears about it being too far removed from the French and New American upscale food I enjoy so much were unfounded, and then every subsequent course only served to prove more and more that there’s a place for Korean cooking in the high-end New York food scene (and that place is in my mouth). The flavor combinations were inventive, the presentation was pitch-perfect, and even the service–which some have said is too stiff–was friendly yet professional, helpful, and never intrusive. Aside from not giving me enough pork in my pork, Jungsik was spot-on and on-par with the best restaurants in NYC, and I expect to continue to see nothing but positive reviews coming out of it.
Stepping through the sliding glass partitions to the left and right of Per Se‘s unmistakable and infamously nonfunctioning blue door should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a country gal like me, but I’m fortunate to have a boyfriend with an insatiable appetite for tasting menus (okay, okay, it’s not just him with the appetite). So when I was finally able to make a reservation for my birthday (after an hour and a half of nonstop calling and then holding), he started tossing around the idea of the extended tasting. He’d read that it was a couple hundred dollars more for a number of extra courses, and since we’d also heard that repeat visitors are lavished with attention, we figured we’d have a nice, simple, four-hour, 21-course lunch and then quietly explode later that evening at home.
We’d called ahead with our request for the extended tasting, so our server told us that a special menu had been prepared for us and sent the sommelier over to discuss pairings. Knowing that in the past, we’ve hit the outer limits of enjoyment after the 10th pairing, we requested eight glasses, including one Riesling and one cocktail. The sommelier asked our budget, and when my boyfriend said he was looking to spend about $150 per person, the sommelier very matter-of-factly told us that the restaurant recommends $250 per person. Which divides out to a little over $31 per glass. Which is about what our favourite wine costs by the bottle. But what was my boyfriend going to say? “I know it’s her birthday and all, but she’s not that special to me, so could you stick to the $12-a-glass wines? Thanks.”
The meal started with two familiar sights from our first visit to Per Se earlier this year:
Ridiculous? Or ridiculously cute? This little guy packs a lot more filling than you’d think possible; the creamiest cheese oozes onto your tongue the moment the bread is broken.
I mostly loved the serving vessel, which is like a giant spoon without its handle. I may have picked this up and pretended to scoop things off the table and shovel them into my mouth with it, and my boyfriend may have given me The Look.
I’d somehow forgotten that there’s cream cheese at the bottom of the cone. This is everything I want a Philadelphia roll to be but never is. The best part is the oniony cone, thicker and crunchier than you’d expect.
A shallow bowl of truffles arrived,
and a thick almond soup was poured around them.
We’re right between truffle seasons at the moment, so Per Se boils and then freezes their summer truffles, our server told us, to preserve them for these non-truffley months. They had a different flavor that I would describe as more like above-ground mushrooms; they were still earthy and rich and slightly crunchy but not quite as intense. We were impressed that the grapes in the soup were slices from the midsection instead of just halves and loved imagining the chef using the intricate work as punishment for some back-talking line cook. The bottom of the dish was lined with chopped almonds that added texture and coaxed more flavor from the soup.
Per Se’s famed “oysters and pearls” can be described in one of two ways:
1) sour cream and onion chips from the ocean, or
2) chicken and dumplings made with seawater.
It’s just not what you’d expect, at every level. The caviar doesn’t pop in your mouth like salmon roe does, nor does it get stuck in your teeth like flying fish roe does; you wouldn’t know you were eating it if it wasn’t for the saline taste. The oysters, tiny to begin with, fall apart in your mouth at the slightest notion from your teeth. It seems as if the texture of the tapioca would be too similar to that of the roe, but it really adds to the sense that you’re just eating a dish of mama’s creamy dumplings.
We thought this presentation was hilarious. Four dishes for four bites of food? Probably not necessary. But for me, little luxuries like the opportunity to dirty four plates are what’s missing at your less-acclaimed restaurants. It seems like a lot of thought goes into not just the arrangement of the food on the plate but the plate that it’s being arranged on. The houndstooth pattern is supposed to mimic the design on a chef’s pants. The lined plate you’ll see later with the uni dish made for what I think are some of my prettiest photos ever. And there are of course the very specific dishes for the egg custard and the salmon cornettes. These are the kinds of things that make Per Se feel special.
I loved the texture of this fish. It was citrus-cured, so the very smallest bit of each edge had a slightly firmer feel, while the interior was left tender and fleshy. The first flavor to hit my mouth was citrus, and the dish in general was all fresh, bright, and light. The very hearty radish leaves complimented the crunch of the tempura, which complimented the crisp of the radish bulbs straight from the French Laundry garden.
I love to taste each component separately, which many times leads to a realization about how important each ingredient is. Here, the hazelnuts added a saltiness, the cauliflower panna cotta was like buttery mashed potatoes, and the dab of coffee gel was the most unexpected partner to the bitter uni.
This had much more of the distinct truffle flavor than the soup did, and the richness of the white truffle custard under the black truffle ragout was like a direct punch to the wallet. The custard was airy, the ragout more of a syrupy gel. Paired with a leggy Madeira, this could have been a dessert course.
This dish elicited a response my boyfriend heard from me several times that afternoon: “I won’t even have to describe this in my blog based on how awesome the ingredients are!” It was sticky and sweet, hearty and tongue-coating. The turnip puree provided a smooth, vegetal contrast to the succulent, tender beef and the brittle papadum. This was a standout course for me and really needed to be a full-sized entree.
I really can’t praise this dish enough. It turns out that the parsnip, when not shunned to the bottom of a plate as a puree, is a meaty and firm-textured, much like a cooked carrot. The banana was so unexpected it confused me at first–my boyfriend had to name the flavor for me–but the sugariness of the fruit paired perfectly with the spiciness of the curry-like vadouvan, used here as a sauce and a layer of gelatin that contrasted the caramelization of the parsnip. This is what lesser Indian desserts (I’m looking at you, gulab jamun) aspire to be.
Dr. Boyfriend and I had the foie gras during our first tasting menu at Per Se as a $40 supplement and didn’t understand that the flower-shaped display of salts that arrived just before it was actually part of the course. Of the foie, I very ironically wrote, “We secretly wanted to spread it all over the soft rolls from the salt tasting course, but the crusty brioche was nice if extremely messy.” Hilarious! We seem so inexperienced, looking back.
This time, we were old salts. (See what I did there? Salts? Haha! No? Okay.) We had each had one bite of brioche before our server brought a fresh slice for each of us; it’s amazing how fast the stuff goes cold and stiff. Even though all of the salts tasted the same, I was really able to appreciate the texture of each. The courser salts were an incredible contrast to the smooth foie and its sweet vanilla gel. The bready pistachio base and the gelled duck consomme topping made the plate of foie its own dish, but the salt pushed it into five-donut territory.
This time, this was definitely a $40 dish.
This somehow tasted like fast food French fries and a fried fish sandwich. We thought it pretty funny that the server specifically mentioned the potatoes were fork-crushed, but the bit of texture did add to the dish. The tomato marmalade was sweet and chunky, the Pommes Maxim crisp and delicate.
My boyfriend told me about visiting relatives in Paris as a kid and standing outside Maxim’s and watching as a couple walked up and jokingly pretended to open the door; Maxim’s was too expensive for just anyone to dine at. I loved the irony of the story as we sat sipping champagne in a three-Micheline-star restaurant overlooking New York City; I guess I should congratulate Kamran for having “made it”.
How adorable is it to call them “lobster mitts”? The mushroom was one of the major flavors on the plate, while the taste of the “lost bread” was really only evident when combined with other elements like the Hollandaise, which looks mayonnaisey in the photos but was actually formed into a dome that “broke” under the pressure of our forks. We loved the texture of the spinach bread and really wanted more of it; it’s funny how when you read the menu (which we did for weeks leading up to our visit, as it changes every day), you assume that every ingredient is going to be some massive, plate-hogging thing. And then it turns out to look like this tiny, one-bite afterthought. In the most well-balanced dish, though, every bit of the plate is important.
It’s almost too simple to be good and too simple not to be. My boyfriend called it “singular”, which is a nice way of saying that it’s just some pasta, but of course this ain’t Olive Garden, and “just pasta” at Per Se is pasta covered in, you know, one of the most expensive ingredients in the world that had to be plucked out of the ground by pigs. (I love that part.) It was perfectly al dente, creamy, and sinful. And you can bet I scraped every last one of those truffle shavings off the side of my bowl. I think the gnocchi with black truffle at Eleven Madison Park was superior, but that may just be because I’m biased toward big, fat gnocchi.
The only way to make pork more delicious is to wrap it in pastry; the shell was crispier than skin alone could ever be. I appreciated the juxtaposition between the sweet fig and bitter olive, but I have to admit that I just wasn’t sold on the olive puree, even by the end of the dish. Now, I’m an active olive-hater, but I’m really open-minded about it and have actually enjoyed it in other preparations; here, it was just overpowering, and I found myself avoiding it so as to not ruin the pork.
I wonder if our servers, who had to be watching us from the sidelines to be at our sides the moment we finished a dish like they were, screamed “Noooo!” when they saw me cut into this without taking a picture first. If you can get past now knowing how badly I massacre my plates enough to keep reading, you’ll be pleased to note that I ripped this dish apart out of enjoyment. Sure, the lamb wasn’t quite tender enough, and the eggplant was far too vinegary for my taste, but as my boyfriend said, “They really captured the essence of the halal cart here.” With the deliciously spicy oregano-flavored sauce and the red peppers, it also reminded me of a pizza. A pizza with falafel.
Slightly sweet to begin with, this Hittisau cheese made for the perfect transition from the savory courses. First, there was the fact that it was tempura-battered, and you know a country girl loves her fried cheese. Then, there was the sweet walnut spread, which retained its nutty texture and complimented the nugget of homogenous cheese. The celeriac was the slightly less-sweet element on the plate, but even it reminded me of a sugary cole slaw full of apples and raisins. The crunchy freshness of the tiny pear bulbs was the perfect finishing element.
I don’t think this was meant to be anything more than a way to get our tongues ready for the real dessert, but it may have been the highlight of the sweets. It was so intensely flavored I could’ve been drinking straight out of a bottle of slushie syrup. With the fizziness and the acidity of the lemon, it was a dessert fit for a five-year-old. And that’s basically what I am.
Dr. Boyfriend complained that I never take pictures of the wine, so this is for him alone.
We had this on our first trip to Per Se, even though we don’t believe it’s usually included in the regular tasting menu for first-timers. I actually think I liked it better this time, when we had done far fewer wine pairings and hadn’t already eaten enough dessert to keep five pastry chefs employed. The semifreddo was thicker than ice cream and more flavorful, too; it was like a half-frozen triple-thick milkshake. The donut was so delicate it was ready to deflate at the slightest touch.
All of my favourite dessert flavors on one plate! The wafer crust had a wonderful crunch, the vanilla marshmallows a super stickiness. I would never have thought to match chocolate and peanut butter with a cinnamon foam, but it really worked. And flavors aside, it’s just exciting to eat a dish like this, all deconstructed and ready for my custom rebuilding.
This was served with a firefly, a cocktail of vodka, grapefruit juice, and grenadine, and it was easily my favourite pairing of the night. The drink itself is so much like a dessert that it felt like an extra course.
A little milk chocolate mousse round for my birthday. Simple but elegant.
A server brought around a wooden box as wide as his torso with indentations in the base to hold individual chocolates. I obviously wanted him to just leave the entire thing at the table, but we controlled ourselves and chose pineapple tamarind, orange marzipan, Arnold Palmer, madras curry, maple walnut, and dulce de leche. Each was interesting and flavorful.
At the end of every meal, Per Se famously serves guests a three-tiered tray of petit fours. For me, a meal couldn’t end any more perfectly. I mean, I love a plated dessert. I think those little dabs of peanut butter placed so deliberately next to the s’mores are the most perfect thing in the world. But I also get a real joy from just stuffing myself heedlessly, Willy Wonka style. We were of course already quite full by this point, so I asked our server pointedly if it would be too much trouble to wrap the tray up for us; my boyfriend had seen another blogger’s photos of three little boxes of mignardises, so we knew it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but I wanted to be polite.
Well, this is what we ended up with. One little box, with one of each treat inside. Not even two of each, so we could at least both sample everything without having to hand over a half-crushed French macaron to each other after taking a bite. She really thought the people ordering the extended tasting menu wouldn’t want all of their mignardises? And more importantly, what did she do with the rest of them? Throw them out? Because that’s almost offensive. Save them for the next table? Because that’s much worse. I’ll tell you what–if I had known this was what I was going to find in the bag I was handed on my way out, I would’ve sat there all afternoon and finished every last one. And used a lot more of the fresh hand towels in the bathroom. And stuffed the entire bread service in my purse. How many thousands of dollars do we have to spend before we get to take all of our leftovers home?
Per Se is the most technically perfect restaurant in New York City, and Per Se knows that it’s better than you. It knows that I’ll have to force myself to say a negative word about the food just to write well-rounded reviews, and it knows that the service is so impeccably timed that I’ll feel like Big Brother must be watching me. It knows that I’ll be on the phone the moment the reservation line opens up 30 days in advance of the date I’d like to visit, and it knows that if I’m not, someone else will be. And that I won’t complain when it doesn’t seat me by the window as I requested and that I’ll still want to go back.
In Sam Sifton’s much-talked-about final review as The New York Times‘s restaurant critic, he wrote of Per Se: “No restaurant in New York City does a better job than Per Se of making personal and revelatory the process of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on food and drink.” And I think that the problem for me was that this time, it didn’t feel as personal and revelatory. We spent a full $800 more than we have at places like Daniel, EMP, and Momofuku Ko. It was our second visit, and my birthday, and we actually felt like we weren’t treated as well as well this time despite letting them know this time before we even came in that we were going to spend $200 more per person on the extended tasting.
And the extended tasting, by the way? It came out to about six extra courses, making each course more than $30 each. For two bites of short rib, two slivers of fish, and one fewer dessert than we had the time when it wasn’t my birthday. While I think Per Se’s regular tasting is well-priced at $295 per person including service, the extended tasting seems to be just for the expense account guy who doesn’t really care what he gets in return for a month’s rent.
We’re not that guy, and we felt the sting of that this time at Per Se. With the mignardises being held back at the end, finding that the wine list couldn’t accommodate our paltry budget, and being told that “a la carte items are served in the salon” (the less-formal area) when I was just trying to tell the server that I liked some of the dishes so much I’d come back more often just to order them. I almost hesitate to complain about these things, because like I said, Per Se doesn’t need us. We’ll never buy its most expensive bottle of wine, and we’ll never bring “high net worth individuals” by for expense account lunches. My hard-working Ph.D. and I are just a drop in their bucket, and anyone who’s going to quibble over a couple hundred dollars probably shouldn’t be eating at Per Se.
But I still want to.
Corton wasn’t on our restaurant radar for a long time. I knew it had two Michelin stars, and I’d never heard a bad thing about it, but it took my boyfriend seeing someone else’s review before we figured out that this is exactly our kind of place. “Wacked-out modernist cuisine”, he calls it. Like wd-50 and Momofuku Ko before it, Corton’s Chef Paul Liebrandt is making familiar foods unrecognizable and unrecognizable foods fantastic.
We opted for the nine-course, $155 tasting menu, with wine pairings. Wine pairing isn’t mentioned on the menu, but sommelier Shawn Paul introduced us to some really unusual bottles and knew when to give us more extensive information on a particular grape, so I’m glad we knew to ask. (So was the couple next to us, who immediately requested the pairings, too.)
The amuses came at us fast. Before a menu was even presented to us, these crackers and croquettes arrived on a bed of wild rice; I barely had time to get my white balance in check before Dr. Boyfriend snatched his away. The color was indicative of that spicy turmeric flavor that puts me in the mind of curry, but it was the textures that I really remember. The cracker was thick and airy like a graham cracker, and the croquette was creamy with a liquid center. I probably should’ve stolen my boyfriend’s and made s’mores out of them.
Presented on an invisible layer of plastic wrap, these tiny treats appeared to be floating above their metal dish. I was pretty juiced about the one that looked like a Totino’s Pizza Roll, but it was actually a very, very crisp cracker filled with a buttery cheese sauce. I honestly can’t remember anything about the taste of the financier (nutty?), but I definitely remember its pound cake texture.
Maybe I had my hopes a little too high for an amuse combining one of my very favourite flavors on Earth, corn, with its favourite Southwestern companion, the black bean, in my favourite presentation, the egg cup. I loved the idea of it, but the corn jelly at the bottom of the egg was basically unflavored. The black bean was airy like a mousse and stained our teeth wildly, so we used our champagne like mouthwash. The really enjoyable part was the corn itself, which was slightly chewy and reminded me of the excellent freeze-dried corn in a soup at The Modern.
Even back when I was a major fish-hater, I was eating tuna salad, because, you know, mayo makes everything palatable. Now when I think about myself eating fish out of a can–out of a can, people–it blows my mind that I could’ve been having this instead. Raw tuna is just so beefy. And this piece in particular was just so salty. The grilled lime added brightness, not to mention a little pink-salted ambiance.
I had no idea what chaud-froid was and found this description when I Wikipediaed it: “a meat jelly that includes cream is called a chaud-froid.” Who can resist a good creamed meat jelly, right? Apparently–and excuse me if you already know this–the name means hot-cold in French and refers to meat that’s cooked but then chilled again and glazed with aspic, or meat stock gelatin. Mmmmouth-watering.
This was the most elegant presentation, from the gold leaf to the contrasting colors to the watermelon dashi our server poured into each bowl at the table, melting the clear jelly coating the bottoms. The jelly was acidic like the watermelon but wasn’t itself flavorful. The green orbs were beautiful but puzzling; were they baby watermelons? caper berries? cucumbers? They were crunchy and not sweet, and I would eat them on everything every day. With the chewy razor clams, the crisp vegetables, the gritty melon, and the smooth, rich foie gras, it was a delight for the texturally-inclined. This was one of those dishes where the sum total was much greater than the individual parts.
Our server used a spoon to tap a layer of dried chanterelle mushroom shavings over our plates.
When we saw this blowfish, my boyfriend I gave each other the “whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?” look. “Aren’t these things poisonous? Am I really going to eat a fish with its tail still on? What about the bones?” Any trepidation we had was forgotten before we were done chewing the first bite. I love Indian food, and this fish was soaked through with tandori and curry flavors. There were about two bites of meat on the thing, but I ate enough bones to round it out, and those two bites were tasty enough to make the potential for a slow, lingering poison death worth it. The leaf underneath seemed to be soaked with citrus, probably lime, and was a bright accent to the spicy fish. The octopus was just too thin to really make an impression on me, but I loved the creamy gnudi with the chive blossom.
I would never ever order something described as “vegetables, herbs, lettuces”, and yet this was one of my favourite dishes of the night. Hence the joy of the tasting menu. The beet was perfectly earthy, the fennel extra salty, the yuzu a pleasant citrusy surprise. There was a crispy, thin-as-can-be eggplant chip to provide some contrasting texture, along with a “crumble” underneath it all that tasted like spicy buttered breadcrumbs. Even the tomatoes were fresh and unoffensive to me, which is really saying something; I assume it was the wonderful herbs overpowering the acidity I don’t care for.
The way to my heart is through savory ice creams in the middle of a meal. Unfortunately, there was approximately a thimbleful of sweet potato ice cream hidden under all of this lemon foam. I just loved the cold of the ice cream, and the foam ruined it with its room-temperature-ness. The foam, admittedly, was very exciting to a lemon-lover like me, and I was also a fan of the tiny textured cubes of what I think were scallions at the bottom of the dish. There was also a smooth olive puree to add a little bitterness.
If someone could explain to me what a laquet is, I’d appreciate it. Bewilderment was the general feeling surrounding this entire dish, but I’m not complaining. The confusion centered on the following:
1) What the hell is anything on this plate?
2) Why am I not eating black garlic every day of my life?
3) Is that cous-cous inside my tomato?
Whew. “Wacked-out modernist cuisine” indeed. The turbot was a nicely firm, not-fishy fish. I approve. The black garlic puree was smoky, thick, and sticky; I’m having mind-drools just thinking about it, and I barely even like garlic. The “tomato”, definitely the weirdest part, was a gelatinous tomato-flavored skin encasing what reminded me of cous-cous. Most of this dish left me absolutely befuddled, though. I liked everything, but I would finish a little log of something with a Jell-o texture and just be like, “Welp, I guess that’s that.” I’m not sure why I see this as a positive thing, but I guess I like a challenge to my know-it-all-ness.
These were the side dishes to the turbot, although we’re not sure how they were supposed to be connected to it. The snapper was super fishy and served over a puffy rice cracker. The quail egg tasted neither pickled nor even eggy; it was more like a floral, herbed spherification, which was actually preferable to me.
These little birdie cylinders seemed to be wrapped in fat, but the fat wasn’t melty, and it wasn’t crisp, either. It was certainly much beefier than a chicken dish would’ve been, though, and I took a lot of joy in picking up that bone with my hands and chewing the unctuous meat off with gusto in a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The disc of plum with the gelatinous top was both a nice flavor pairing and continued the gelatin texture theme. The log of coconut was an airy, savory foam.
On the side was a dish of consomme jelly with a center of brunoised fennel and crispy, crumbly top like the breadcrumbs in previous dishes. It was honestly more weird than delicious, but I really appreciate the work that goes into a consomme.
Dr. Boyfriend and I had a nice Caerphilly at Per Se, so I was maybe a little disappointed to be served the same cheese here, but this turned out to be one of the best dishes of the night and certainly the one we still talk about most. The cheese was funky, the frozen olive oil intensely bitter. The gooseberry was sweet (is that husk edible? ’cause we ate it), and the tomato and basil combination made a marinara sauce in my mouth. But it was that tomato clafoutis that really sealed the deal. I’m under the impression that clafoudis should be sort of like a cheesecake in texture, but this was straight up cakey. It really mellowed the cheese and provided a texture contrast. The truly beautiful presentation wasn’t lost on us, either.
Again, looking at this dish was almost more satisfying that actually eating it. The blueberry tapioca looked like individual black raspberry drupelets (I just learned that word!) but were chewy. It was surprising and delightful–my favourite part of the dish. The fennel was a major flavor player for my boyfriend, but I cared much less about the ice cream than anything else. The rice balls provided crunch, and the base of a shortbread-like cookie made it a heartier dessert. It was really a complete plate, from flavor to texture to leaving me completely satisfied even without chocolate.
But of course there was chocolate. And caramel. And some character written on the plate that we could only assume was Arabic for “you’ve overstayed your welcome”. This was a spongey chocolate cake, a chocolate disc that was really way too firm to be cut without ruining the rest of the dish, caramel that reminded me of the best ones from my childhood, and an intense vanilla flavor that we both loved. This was salty almost to the point of being savory, but there were plenty more sweets to follow.
Our server came around with a tiered acrylic box full of truffles, chocolates, and French macarons. We have a history of feeling awkward and not wanting to appear gluttonous when the petit fours arrive, but this time I sucked it up and asked for one of everything. Well, I actually asked, “May I have one of everything? Is that too much?”, as if our server was actually going to say, “Hey, fatty, take it down a notch and just get two or three like a normal person.”
There was a caramel, a raspberry, and a mint chocolate, a Pimms and a Mai Tai macaron, a truffle . . . and some others. They were all wonderful, and I was glad I got one of each, because I could’ve eaten twice as many.
I know pate de fruits are easy to make, but that doesn’t keep me from loving them unconditionally. They look so unassuming, but they always punch you in the face with flavor. These were grapefruit . . . and something else. Sorry, but I was really too fixated on the fact that the girl in the silver lamé dress at the neighboring table had left hers behind to commit the second flavor to memory.
I have to admit that I’m a little torn about this rating. On one hand, I have very, very little to complain about. There were a few dishes with components that were throwaways, but there were more dishes where every single ingredient seemed to matter. I really missed the pork and the beef, but there was a salad that I actually took joy in eating, and there was so much creativity all around that I probably didn’t even appreciate it all.
On the other hand, I didn’t quite feel the overwhelmed sensation I usually do at my five-donut restaurants. The desserts were absolutely spot-on as far as delivering me exactly the quality and quantity I needed, but I don’t remember many moments in the savory courses where my boyfriend had to quiet me because I was embarrassing him with all of my exclamations like he usually does. Maybe that’s a side effect of the creativity, though; if there’s not a pile of potatoes and butter, my vocal cords don’t emit the requisite yummy sounds.
It also may have something to do with the fact that the space doesn’t feel as luxurious as your Crafts and your Asiates. Nor as cool as your wd-50s and your Momofuku Kos. It’s somewhere in the middle, with an interesting flower-textured wall and an overall cave-like feel but a patch on the seat next to you and no maître d’ to greet you at the door so that you’re left feeling totally awkward as you just stop a random server to help you find your table. It’s perfect for the diner who feels intimidated by the plushness of Daniel but doesn’t want to sit at a counter and listen to indie rock while he eats, either.
I don’t mean to say anything negative, though. I think most of the food is great, the rest of it exceptional, and all of it wildly imaginative.