• 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)
Had you asked me a week ago if I had any interest in Nordic cuisine, I would’ve given you something like a polite, “Sure, I’m interested in all cuisines!” And then, you know, gone back to eating my tacos. But if you’d prefaced that question by mentioning that the chef at Agern, the restaurant inside of Grand Central Terminal, has a restaurant in Iceland called Dill, I might have thought differently. I LOVE dill. And it doesn’t hurt that the owner of Agern is the same guy who helped found Noma in Denmark, which has been named the best restaurant in the world, oh, I don’t know, four times?
Good luck trying to find Agern. It’s tucked away behind the food hall on Vanderbilt Avenue side of Grand Central, and the sign for it should be, like, studded with flashing lights and possibly a siren, but instead it’s quietly painted on a door at the same height as all of the signage in front of it.
The good thing is that while you’re busy being lost, you can stop at Almanak in the Great Northern Food Hall, also owned by Claus Meyer, and get Brussels sprouts with crunchy croutons
or pastrami and lamb sliders
and then notice that Agern is right behind you. It’s a cozy little space with no windows but tons of pastel and chevrons and swivel chairs. It’s the kind of stylish throwback space you expect to find in Alexander Skarsgård’s grandma’s house. It was already 8pm, and our very sweet server told us a tasting menu would take us two and a half hours, so we jumped right into the Land & Sea tasting for $165 (including service), some of us with wine pairings and some of us with cocktails. We got through the initial little bites, or “snacks” as the restaurant called them, with, you know, reasonable fanfare. The soda topping the oyster was a nice touch, the guy who doesn’t care for celery thought the sliver of celeriac was really tasty, and who doesn’t love a little pocket of deep-fried bread? We were getting a lot of dill, a lot of creaminess, and plenty of salt, but we didn’t think a lot of it.
But it turns out that’s the essence of Agern. A little something green, a little something creamy, a good amount of seasoning, and then just a little something special to put it over the top. The Arctic char was our first real dish, and we were all just looking at each other like, “Are you tasting what I’m tasting?” Here’s this seemingly simple plate covered in fresh ingredients all familiar to us, but the sum is greater than its parts. Was it just the crunch of the pumpkin seeds? Or pumpkin seed puree, which we’d never had before? Maybe it was just that the pea tendrils tasted so much like peas.
The butter was made with skyr, the Icelandic yogurt. The beet, baked in a husk of salt and ash, was studded with caraway seeds. The Guinea hen thigh came wrapped in brown paper so we could pick it up with our hands and still maintain our overwhelming classiness. Everything was a little bit tart and a little bit bitter and a little bit challenging in a way that makes it really exciting to eat.
(Drank these all night long. Can’t resist a coffee cocktail.)
One of our servers added some phytoplankton to some water in a French press contraption and then made us drink it. It was like swallowing a wave, except on purpose.
These little extras were maybe a little too challenging for our group. The aerated chocolate had the texture of a kitchen sponge and immediately dissolved in our mouths in an expected, not altogether pleasant way. And here are the faces my two friends made while eating the vinegar-flavored caramel:
But everything else was an absolute hit! I swear!
I’m not sure people think of creative fine dining when they think of Poland, so it’s not surprising that Warsaw’s Senses restaurant only has one Michelin star, even if that’s a crime. My boyfriend and his family are from the area originally, so he took me there last month to see where he grew up, and naturally, I checked the Michelin guide. There are only two Michelin-starred restaurants in the whole country, and one just received its star this year, so we decided to give the new kid a try.
I emailed the restaurant for a reservation two weeks before our trip and was able to get us in at 8pm, although we admittedly were trying for a probably-not-so-popular Monday night. They offer 7- and 9-course tastings, which my boyfriend’s family all laughed at the impossibility of. They were super skeptical about their ability to eat so many courses and for so many hours, especially when his dad doesn’t even like seafood. But I basically forced them to forge ahead, and it ended up being one of the very best meals and experiences I’ve had anywhere.
In NYC, this meal would’ve been on par with Eleven Madison Park or Brooklyn Fare. It would have easily had three Michelin stars, and it would have cost $300. In Warsaw, it cost $99 and included about 20 extra treats not listed on the menu. And even value aside, the service was phenomenal. The servers spoke in English to me and then repeated everything in Polish for my boyfriend’s family, and just like at our two-Michelin-starred dinner in Vienna, everyone was hilarious. Just always anticipating what would delight us and making us laugh through every course. Having just visited Eleven Madison Park last month, I noticed a huge difference between the polite professionalism of the servers there and the way the Polish servers made us feel like we were guests in their home. Which might make sense when you remember that Chef Andrea Camastra is Italian and French.
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Last year, I spent a week on a yacht touring some of the islands of Greece with my boyfriend and three of his friends. One of those friends was visiting NYC last week from Romania, so I wanted to take her someplace new and well-rated. A co-worker happened to mention Bowery Meat Company to me that very week, and not only had the New York Times given it two stars, but it had meat right in the name.
I try to avoid carbs and sugar in my day-to-day life, so I never let myself have cereal for breakfast. I can’t tell you the last time I ate it, but I’m guessing it was in college, and it was probably something with “fiber” in the name so I could feel like an adult. But I secretly love cereal and was delighted to learn that Kellogg’s NYC opened in Times Square and that I’d need to eat a huge bowl of the stuff in the interest of reviewing it. The sacrifices I make, you know.
Chef Gabriel Kreuther left the Michelin-starred Modern a couple of years ago and took his pastry chef with him to open up his new namesake space in the Grace Building across from Bryant Park. Beloved from the get-go, the restaurant earned a Michelin star of its own in its first year, but having tried the 4-course, $125 tasting menu a few weeks ago, I can’t imagine that it won’t gain another star or even two in the coming years.
It wasn’t as fussy as the three-Michelin-starred favorites in the city thanks to touches of whimsy here and there in elements like a stork-patterned wallpaper (the stork is a symbol of rebirth in Kreuther’s native Alsatian homeland), but the main dining room felt classic and elegant with its cushy cream banquettes and exposed wood beams. The food was stunningly beautiful but still at times a little silly, and I mean that in the best way. Who doesn’t want a mezcal cocktail served in a coconut shell in the middle of a frou-frou French meal?
Last week, I was surprised by a visit from to Tom Szebeni, the CEO of Duran Sandwiches with a huge box of his handmade European-style open-faced slices of wonder. I knew I was getting a complimentary taste of his creations, but I never expected that the President himself would walk over from their first U.S. location in NoMad to deliver them. But after talking to him for ten minutes, it made perfect sense. The guy just oozes passion for what he’s doing. He explained to me that he worked on the Budapest version of the reality TV show “Big Brother” for years and used to leave the dark studio (and his 48 monitors showing people stuck in a house doing the most mundane things) to get sandwiches across the street at one of the Duran locations. He wanted something more, though, so he decided to leave TV and spend weeks in the shop learning to make the sandwiches so he could bring them to NYC. He kept emphasizing how this is real food. Food that someone cared about when they made it.
I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve eaten sandwiches before, buddy.” And then I opened the box, and a light shone down from heaven.
Luksus, the Nordic tasting-menu-only restaurant hidden behind a door in Greenpoint’s Tørst beer bar, has been on my list for a long time as a Brooklynite who’d love to never have to leave the borough for her fine dining. I was scheduled to go see my family in Ohio over the July 4th weekend, but when my flight got canceled despite clear blue skies, I consoled myself by booking a table for two there in the hope of getting to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work. The OpenTable reviewers had given Luksus a 4.5, and Eleven Madison Park, which I would call one of the standard-bearers in the city, had a 4.8, so I congratulated myself on my good choice. But when I started talking to my friends, the consensus was that Luksus was good but probably not somewhere they’d return to. I thought about changing my reservation, but then I remembered the optional beer pairings and just had to try it for myself.
The only thing better than being invited to try out a complimentary dinner at a new restaurant is being invited to try out a steakhouse. Rocco Steakhouse is the mastermind of owner Rocco Trotta, who put together a staff of big names from old school NYC steakhouses, including the man who served as the general manager at Wolfgang’s for a decade. (And Wolfgang, of course, started his steakhouse after working at Peter Luger, so you just have to love all of the entanglement within the NYC steakhouse strata.) With another well-known steakhouse on the same block, I asked GM Pete Pjetrovic why he partnered with Rocco and beverage director Jeff Kolenovic to open the space on Madison Avenue; he said he knew they could create a better steakhouse with the best ingredients, the best chef, and the best head waiter.
It seems like the neighborhood agrees. When I sat down right after work, the completely enclosed dining room was nearly empty, but by the time my thick Canadian bacon with just the right amount of char arrived, it was full of regulars. Or maybe that’s just how the waiters treat everyone who walks in the door. I heard lots of “how are the kids?” followed by handshakes and pats on the back. The staff was warm and friendly and let me annoy them for a picture where they wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders like brothers. But of course when it was time to serve the steak, they were all business.
The little group of friends I eat all of my cow stomachs and whole suckling pigs with all love Eleven Madison Park but don’t want to necessarily drop $300 on a tasting menu on a random Wednesday night. Luckily, there’s The NoMad restaurant in the NoMad Hotel, where Chef Daniel Humm is serving the same elevated food for, you know, the same elevated prices, but at least you can only order two or three courses here if you want to save your pennies. The service was as kind and polished as you’d expect from a restaurant by this chef, the atmosphere as dark and cool as you’d expect from a hotel that’s as much known for its bar as anything. As with EMP, most of the food you get at The NoMad is a really great version of a thing you probably already like–I’ll never forget the “picnic” I had there once–but this is also the kind of place that’ll also make you like food you thought you didn’t.
I get restaurants offering me free meals every now and then, and having no soul like I do, I’m usually wont to take them up on that offer. But Industry 1332 tried a different approach: they just asked me to come in. I was talking about empanadas on Twitter, as usual, and their social media person started up a conversation with me. There was absolutely no reason for me to visit a random Latin restaurant in the middle of Bushwick, but it did have great reviews, and their tweets to me were cute and personal, just pushy enough to interest me without turning me off. So I made a reservation for four on a random weeknight and took the G train with my boyfriend to an L stop I’ve never been to before. It was just seedy-seeming enough to be exciting to a couple from the family-friendly part of Brooklyn as we hurried down the dark street beside the building, which seemed to be surrounded mostly by warehouses. Inside, they had used some of that industrial feeling in their design, with exposed brick and beams. Our friends Jon and Lara like to order ALL THE THINGS, so we tasted a good bit of the menu, and the menu sure was good.
I was trying to stick to my low-carb diet that night, so I was bowled over by the fact that this didn’t arrive with any chips. Most restaurants are like, “Here, fill up on these greasy things so you don’t notice we only gave you three spoonfuls of fish.” Industry 1332 was like, “Here, we made this giant bowl of fish for you and didn’t want to hinder the flavor with some dumb chips.” I don’t want to talk in superlatives, but let’s just say that this was an incredibly complex ceviche and is certainly the one I’ll hold up as my standard-bearer in the future. It was fluke marinated in citrus with onions, peppers, mango, cilantro, and fresh avocado. Sweet, sour, and spicy. The mango was sliced almost like a noodle to give the bowl some heft, and the avocado was this amazing creamy mousse that also popped up in some other dishes, because the restaurant must have realized it’s the bomb.
Fresh ahi tuna cubes marinated in a ginger ponzu sauce with an avocado mousse. Looks like watermelon, tastes like the ocean! Again with that avocado, because it should be on everything this restaurant serves.
Mini corn cakes topped with shredded braised beef, avocado, smoked gouda cheese and mushroom aioli.
Tempura fried sole filet, in a corn tortilla topped with pico de gallo and yellow aji aioli.
Pastry turnovers served with a chipotle aioli in beef, chicken, or vegetable.
Sautéed ginger marinated beef, tri-colored fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, green papaya slaw served with basmati rice.
Chicken breast stuffed with manchego cheese, chorizo, roasted pepper sofrito and a cilantro pesto basmati rice. When you’re on a low-carb diet, meat stuffed in meat with a bunch of cheese is your dream. This was all of the flavors of Mexican pizza without any of the carb face the next day.
Sesame ahi tuna, served with roasted vegetables and a mango sriracha chutney. Tasted as beautiful as it looked.
Fried pastry dough rolled in cinnamon sugar served with dulce de leche crème sauce. Tasted better than it looked, my dinner guests told me, although I’m never going to complain about a heaping mound of whipped cream no matter its appearance.
What we initially heard was that the neighborhood was a little upset about Industry 1332 being there, evidently because it’s too “nice” and will attract too many people to one of the still-cheap-ish parts of Bushwick. But now all of the Yelp reviews are by people who live down the street and love it. I’m gonna say it’s all thanks to that avocado mousse.