Ai Fiori’s Exquisite Italian Food

A blogger who I respect quite a bit waxed poetic about his meal at Ai Fiori, Michael White’s new upscale restaurant at the Setai Fifth Avenue.
Well, let’s just say that I respect this blogger with damn good reason.

The restaurant is quite large, with dark furnishings and beautifully bright floral arrangements.

The amuse bouche was a sunchoke, chamomile and apple veloute.

This was just delicious. I am a huge fan of the rich, nutty taste of sunchokes, and mixed with sweet apples and just the faintest bite of garlic, the amuse bouche was really excellent. I could not taste the chamomile, but since I think chamomile tastes like bathwater anyway..this was just FINE by me.
Sardines – Mediterranean sardines, tomato confit, chickpea mille-feuille and olive oil

WHOA! If sardines have you thinking of smelly, oily fish that impoverished old ladies eat every day, you need to try these STAT! Luxurious, tender fillets of fish so mild that they were almost like very tender chicken. The confit was sweet, acidic and intensely tomatoey, and the concentrated drops of olive oil were a sour counterpart to the rich fish. Celery provided a fresh and vibrant crunch and the mille-feuille was delightfully hearty and carbo-loaded. This was a perfect combination of light and rich…what a way to start the meal!
Diver Scallops, celery root, black truffles, bone marrow, thyme.

This was unexpected on every level! Who would pair scallops, truffles, and marrow? Chef Michael White, that’s who, and he is on the money with this dish. The scallops, usually so buttery and sweet, seemed meatier and brinier next to the sweet unctuous-ness of the marrow. The black truffles were deep and heady, and the thyme was almost citrusy next to those woodsy shrooms. The celery root puree at the bottom soaked up all of the oceanic and meaty juices and was a creamy addition to the incredibly well conceived dish.
Slow Poached Egg with lobster, crispy sweetbreads and nuage layon.

Slow poached, fast poached, poached from a secret government agency…I don’t care how this egg was prepared, it was prepared PERFECTLY. The entire egg was silken and unctuous, and beneath its delicate white shell lay a swath of thick, golden yolk. This would have been perfect on its own, but with the luxurious lobster tail and those crispy sweetbreads, more reminiscent of great fried chicken than anything else, this was a dish for the ages. The light, winey foam with citrus notes was a welcome addition to the otherwise very rich, decadent dish. A truly sensational course.
Foie Gras Torchon with Spiced pears, mostarda, pistachios and brioche.

This was the only non stellar part of the whole meal. Surprising, considering who much I totally love foie gras. This was smooth and well prepared, but lacked the rich, fatty taste that makes foie so sensational. The pears and mostarda were also a bit too sweet for the foie, which craved a slightly tart-er counterpart. 
Risotto with parsley, Parmesan, garlic chips and escargots.

OUTSTANDING! Creamy but still firm rice melded with SUCH a vibrant, earthy parsley taste, that nutty salty Parmesan, and escargots. Ever had escargots? They have the gentle salinity of clams with the tenderness of mussels. You would never guess they were snails.
If you didn’t know they were snails, just forget I ever said that.
The garlic chips were gentle and sweet, and this was an unexpected but total hit for everyone at the table.
Veal Agnoletti with Butternut Squash.

Chef White is known for his pasta, and this dish proved that his repute is well earned. The pasta was see-through thin, but with perfect elasticity, surrounding sweet, sage-seasoned parcels of veal. The butternut squash brought out the veal’s inherent sweetness and the pasta’s buttery and floury tastes. It was simple. Simple and perfect. And that is not an easy feat.
Saffron gnocchi with sea urchin and crab.

Oh for the love of all that is holy…this was a RIDICULOUS dish. The gnocchi was tender but not mushy, with the intense and pervasive floral/heady scent of saffron. The saffron perfectly complimented the sweet lumps of crab and the salty, creamy urchin. The raw tomatoes in the dish provided a lightness and acidity to the pasta, and the whole dish was textbook perfection – well balanced, filling, rich, acidic, salty and sweet. 
Wrap that up, put a bow on it, and you could call it Christmas.
Truffle Risotto with Parmesan and Veal Jus.

Funky, deep truffles. Creamy, buttery rice. Nutty, salty cheese. Meaty, sweet veal jus.
Any other questions?
Branzino with mussels, saffron and chorizo-stuffed piquillo peppers.

This dish brought out the Mediterranean side of the menu. the branzino was flash grilled on the plancha so the outside was crispy and lightly charred but the inside remained moist and flaky. The saffron was applied with a light touch so the clean, mild flavor of the fish shone through, only gently accented by the floral saffron. The mussels were tender and SO sweet, and the tart piquillo peppers stuffed with the spicy, garlicky pork chorizo brought the whole dish to another, complex level.
Butter poached nova scotia lobster with root vegetable fondant and chateau chalon sauce.

This was one of the main reasons I came here…I had heard that the lobster was unmissable. While it was tender, buttery and delicious, it was not as good as the lobster at Tocqueville. Not as tender, not as rich and…dare I say…not as large? I am not someone who needs huge portion sizes to enjoy a meal, but I thought this serving size was a wee bit paltry. The dish was delicious…don’t get me wrong…just not the #1 best version that I have had in NYC. The root veggie fondant was like the best mashed root veggies in the WORLD and the sauce was light but creamy…really a great dish. But, like I said…not the best.
Braised beef cheeks with pommes puree, orange zest and olives.

This was from the French influenced part of the menu. Tender, velvety beef that fell apart in the mouth with the bright orange zest and briny olives playing perfectly off the rich meat. The pommes puree were nothing less than perfection. Creamy, rich, utterly over the top. They were even better than the pommes puree at Joel Robuchon. Yep. They were that good.
Amish Veal Chop with sweetbread-stuffed cabbage and sauce periguex.

Um…whoa. This is the BEST veal that I have EVER had. thick, caramelized and salty on the outside, moist, tender and so very veal-y within. Veal has a sweeter, milder taste than beef, but a more assertive savory taste than pork. This did not have any special spices or cooking techniques to cover up the true taste of the meat. It just showcased the meat in all of its perfection. Of course, the tart/sweet apple, cabbage and sweetbread ragout and the rich, meaty, truffle-scented sauce didn’t hurt either.

I clearly hated it.
We tried several desserts, but the one that really stood out was the Baba au Rhum with vanilla ice cream and tropical fruit salad.

This was the finest Baba au rhum I have had outside of Paris. Light, sweet, crunchy without and custardy within. The taste of buttery rum permeated the cake and the incredibly vanilla-y ice cream went perfectly with the cake. The fruit salad lightened up the whole affair, and made it citrusy and tart to avoid sweets overload. Buttery avocado was a surprising and welcome addition!

We finished off the meal with some pretty outstanding mignardises-the salted fleur de de sel caramel filled chocolate was my idea of heaven.

This whole meal came pretty close to heaven, actually. The four course prix fixe was only $79, and even with a few supplemental dishes that we ordered, the value was just outstanding. The wine list includes many half-bottle options and the staff was elegant yet unstuffy. I would recommend this restaurant for anyone…who eats.
And can you really get a better recommendation than that?

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  1. I went here recently in January but haven't posted about it yet. I agree, it was HEAVENLY.

  2. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Hungry-well…want to go back for lunch?? 😉

  3. Pizzaria Muenchen says:

    Italian food pyramid different? Italian food pyramid mainly concentrated on foods that make up the Mediterranean diet. It is much more emphasis on the consumption of foods that have a plant origin. Not only are fruits and vegetables consumed much of the Italians and the Mediterranean, but they also eat a lot of smaller grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil. It will always make healthy food rich in vitamins and minerals. It is also much more emphasis on eating seafood at least twice a week.


    all of those dishes look really delicious