Adour by Alain Ducasse – One Glamorous Night

I have great taste in restaurants. This isn’t natural – it isn’t like having great taste in food. It is work. It is reading blogs, posting on message boards, and poring over menus. It is calling a place every day for a week at exactly 9 AM to get a reservation, and it is budgeting both appetite and wallet carefully in preparation for the big night.
Okay, it might not be brick laying, but it’s work.
And when someone else takes the reins…I am utterly shocked.
Which brings me to my decadent Valentine’s Day date.

Since this meal was a complete surprise to me, I had no idea what the restaurant would look like or what the food would taste like. I knew only that it is located in the glitzy St. Regis hotel, specializes in fine French cuisine, and that Alain Ducasse is the executive chef.
The room itself is exquisite – a jewel box of a room. Elegant and extremely luxe, this is not the place to wear slacks. Ladies, throw on some heels, and fellas, bring a coat.


Torchon de Foie Gras with Apple and Date Marmalade and Toasted Baguette
Seared foie gras is my favorite food on the planet. Foie in torchon form, where it is lightly poached, then served chilled or room temperature, is a definite second place. It is more one dimensional in flavor and can have a somewhat sinewy texture, since it is very hard to devein- properly.
This changes all that.
The entire torchon is as smooth as butter, with just enough give without being soft. The genius in this dish lies not only in its expert texture and rich taste, but in its perfect seasoning. This is one of the most highly seasoned torchons I have ever eaten, and the results are amazing. The pepper brings out the meat’s sweetness, and the salt brings out the savory, umami tones of the torchon. The accompanying marmalade cuts through the fat of the meat and the baguette is airy, its warmth melting the foie. The greens add a final, crisp note to this perfect torchon.


Red Snapper “Vapeur” Fennel Fondant, Piperade Pauce
An evenly thick piece of snapper, beautifully filleted with nary a bone. Steamed until it is flaky on the outside and just barely opaque within, so it remains moist and soft. It sits on a pool of luscious piperade sauce, made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic. This Basque sauce manages to be zesty-spicy without being hot-spicy. It’s earthy, fragrant notes anchor the delicate fish and give it body. The fennel, sweet and licorice-y, adds a final sweet note to this savory dish. This could not have been prepared more perfectly.

Venison Medallion Poiverade with Roasted Chestnuts, Butternut Squash, and Root Vegetables
Having never tried venison before, ordering this was a no brainer for me. It is tender, but has a bit of chew – similar in texture to duck, but with the deep taste of boar. It tastes wild and earthy, much richer than beef but with that same full, rich flavor. At the same time, it is incredibly lean – I polished off almost this whole plate with no feelings of grease or fat overload. The seasoning is minimal to allow the venison’s natural flavor to shine through. The poivearade sauce is thick and glossy, with the texture of maple syrup and a taste similar to the rind of pastrami – peppery and herbaceous. The vegetables are delicious  -sweet chestnuts, buttery squash, tiny perfect beets, but nothing outshines the venison.

Colorado Lamb “Persillade” with Confit Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Potato Gaufrette, and Scallions
This is my boyfriend’s dish, and though I didn’t try it, it received rave reviews. Of particular mention is how beautifully each of these plates is presented. Each is a work of art -not a spot of demi glace out of place, not a lettuce leaf anything but pristine. The meat is butchered to perfection, the vegetables are trimmed to look like jewels, and the tableware itself is designed to showcase the color and aroma of the food before you even take a bite.

Dark Chocolate Sorbet with Buttered Brioche Croutons, Chocolate Sauce, and Gold Leaf
A thin disc of intensely cocoa-flavored chocolate (very dark and very rich) covers sweet vanilla creme brulee and creamy chocolate sorbet, icy cold and sweeter than it’s chocolate sheath. The hot chocolate sauce melts the disc, mixing hot and cold, sharp and soft, bitter and sweet all in one bite. The croutons add crunch to what has to be the most delicious chocolate dessert I have ever eaten.

Apple Sable with Granny Smith Sorbet, Calvados Emulsion, and Vanilla Cream
The world’s most elegant apple cobbler. Creamy sorbet so tart it is almost sour sits directly above apples that are caramelized deeply so that they fall apart, laden with sugar and butter. The cookie beneath the apples is perfect in its simplicity – more buttery than sugar, more crumbly than crisp. The Calvados emulsion is foamy and light, adding a slight alcoholic tang to the sweet, sour, delicious dessert.

I can’t do a wrap up of this meal like I usually do. I don’t know how much it cost. I didn’t go in with any expectations. And, quite frankly, I was too dazzled by the surprise of it all to care.
What I do remember is the delicious food. The unobtrusive, but ever watchful service. The romance of the place.
If you want your date to feel like royalty, take him or her here. Order the foie gras. And sit back and enjoy the look on your date’s face as (s)he realizes all of the work and planning of the evening has already been done. All that is left is to enjoy.
Which anyone surely will.
Sometimes, it’s its delightful to take the backseat.
Adour (St. Regis) on Urbanspoon

Grand Central Oyster Bar – The Grand Dame of NYC

Anyone who loves Mad Men or wants to go dancing after dinner should come to Grand Central Oyster Bar. This restaurant, which has been around since long before my grandmother’s legendary lunches (6 oysters and 2 martinis is still her favorite lunch), is a tribute to everything retro NYC.

I come here occasionally for delicious and very fresh raw oysters, but a recent visit had me craving something more substantial.

The decor is retro, but it wasn’t when it first opened. The signature cavernous room, filled with casual red checkered tablecloths, is only the first room that you see. There are also u-shaped counters where you can slurp bowls of rich oyster pan-roast, and a saloon in the back where you must order oysters with ice cold vodka shots. Go in jeans or suits, alone or with a whole group of people. Don’t worry about being quiet or sober

Bread Plate
Though I prefer the onion-y seeded crackers, my sister loves the dense biscuits, floury and hot from the oven. We both like the sourdough biscuits, just not enough to give them first place.

Oysters Rockefeller
Named for THE Rockefeller because they are so rich. Oysters broiled underneath a blanket of creamed spinach, topped off with bechamel. The salt of the oysters, the sweetness of the nutmeg-laden creamed spinach, and that creamy, thick bechamel make these the best Oyster Rockefeller in NYC.
 
Clam Chowder
Serviceable, nothing more. Sweet clams, creamy potatoes, and a touch of paprika in the background. The flavor was very pure, but the soup is far too thin and the clams are a bit sparse.

King Crab and Rock Shrimp Panzanella with Arugula and Tomatoes
King crab makes regular crab look like cat food. It is the most indulgent shellfish in the world – the sweetest, the butteriest, the richest. I love it when it is warm and served with fresh pasta, but here it is served chilled with snappy rock shrimp in a tart lemony vinaigrette. The tomatoes are a little mealy, but the arugula is properly spicy, the croutons garlicky, and the portion is extremely generous.

The Oyster Bar is an NYC institution. Come here for anything oyster oriented – the pan roast, the Rockefeller, and the extensive raw bar. Everything else is good to middling, and expensive to boot. But the atmosphere and the truly great oysters are a wonderful tribute to old NYC.
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Smith – Midtown East’s Dining Destination

The Smith is just way too good a restaurant for Midtown East. Of course, that’s why it started in the East Village and is only now making its uptown pilgrimage. But, really…this place is destination worthy, which I rarely say of a restaurant east of Park Avenue in the 50s.

The Smith is an American brasserie serving from breakfast through late nights, with a huge menu including a raw bar, soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and a bevy of desserts. The Bloody Marys they offer for brunch are great to boot – spicy and full bodied, with a nice kick of vodka. The decor is casual brasserie – dishtowel napkins, tiled floors…

and this eclectic display of vintage liqueur bottles. 

Water

This place offers complimentary sparkling water. Glory be and the saints be praised, because, as a gal who can down 4 club sodas at one meal, this is both welcome and a huge money saver!

Oysters

It was a risk ordering oysters in a non-seafood based establishment, but it paid off. The oysters here – Beau Soleils, Fanny Bays, and Cotuit Bays – were fresh, briny, and full of oceanic oyster liqueur. I expected good oysters, but these were great – easily as good as the oysters at Mermaid Oyster Bar. Served with some of the fiery housemade habanero vinaigrette, they were an unexpectedly fantastic start to the meal.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese

French Onion Soup gone American Tomato Soup. That is the brilliance of this dish. A steaming layer of gooey melted cheddar cheese covered a thick slice of sourdough bread that became soft and tangy in the creamy tomato soup. The tomatoes were clearly roasted, bringing out their sweetness before being mixed with fresh cream. I thought I detected chicken or beef stock in the background, but it could just be that the stock was simmered for long enough that the flavors all fully developed that umami taste. Perfectly seasoned, with enough salt to bring out the tomatoes’ savory qualities, this was a stand out dish.

Simply the best tomato soup I have eaten in the city, and one that I aim to recreate at home. Serving it French Onion Soup style was a stroke of genius.

Chicken Paillard with Mozzarella, Roasted Peppers, Arugula, Marinated Tomatoes, and Parmesan Dressing

If you feel like this, this is just what you feel like. Know what I mean? This tastes exactly like you think it will. Thin, juicy chicken cutlets with charred, smoky edges, topped with bitter arugula, silky red peppers, juicy tomatoes, and salty, nutty, Parmesan dressing. Filling but not heavy, savory but not overtly garlicky or spicy…this just fit the bill.

With a few of my sister’s very tasty, lightly salted fries (that reminded me quite a bit of In-N-Out, actually), this was a perfect lunch.

The Smith is just so great. The portions are huge, the atmosphere is festive, the price is right, and the service is expedient. 

And even though the food is way too good for Midtown East…I’m not complaining.
The Smith Midtown on Urbanspoon

West Bank Cafe Measures Up

West Bank Cafe is one of the most popular pre-theatre restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, and for good reason.

It has an elegant atmosphere, a reasonably priced prix-fixe, and a small but eclectic menu. But few pre-theatre restaurants can be considered serious dining destinations. My question was – did this place measure up at lunch service?

Bread and Hummus

I am a sucker for a unique bread service, and this one did the trick for me. The bread was thinly sliced ficelle that had an airy, slightly sour interior and a slightly stiff crust. The hummus was out of this world.  Smooth but not too thick, with a looser texture than the norm, and a very bright lemony kick. There was the sweet, savory taste that can only be roasted garlic, and paired with the excellent bread, it was a really fantastic starter. 
Fresh Roasted Turkey with Rocket, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, and Rosemary Aioli
The most boring thing on the menu. Why did I even get it?! Well, because I have great instincts - this thing was outstanding. Why is fresh roasted turkey so great on a sandwich? It was juicy, hearty, and paired so well with the slightly bitter rocket and the woodsy, rosemary scented aioli. The oven roasted tomatoes were well paired with the sandwich – they were sweet, juicy, and tender, with a taste in between tomato jam and sundried tomatoes. Paired with lightly dressed greens, this simple sandwich was delicious.

Lobster Spaghetti

My dining companion got the lobster spaghetti, which she inhaled before I could taste…I guess that means it was tasty?
West Bank Cafe, while not a destination restaurant, is far beyond the standard pre-theater meal. It is well priced, with great atmosphere and a really delicious menu. I have had the huge and juicy burger and freshly cut fries, and can vouch for that, too. Though the service can vary from efficient and professional to slow and confused, it is good more often than not. Whether you have a theatre date or not, this is a great neighborhood spot.
West Bank Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wild Edibles Oyster Bar – A Hidden Seafood-centric Gem

I’m an oyster lover. Can’t get enough of those briny bivalves.

So when a girlfriend suggested that we get together at Wild Edibles Oyster Bar, I was game. Wild Edibles is a seafood purveyor that has a stand in Grand Central Station and its own small restaurant in Midtown East. It carries incredibly fresh fish and offers a sustainability guide so you can see how sustainable the fish is that you are buying or eating. I haven’t ever bought fish from them, but have often ogled the goods in Grand Central Station.

The restaurant is tiny, with a small bar and a few tables. It is definitely casual and extremely focused on seafood. If you don’t like fish, or shellfish, don’t eat here.

But if you do…prepare to be amazed. You can choose from a variety of menu items, specials, or even just choose a fresh fish from the market case and design your own spices and marinades for it!

We went with a few oysters:

Kumamoto – small, sweet, creamy. A great beginner oyster. 
Skookum – like the Kumamoto, but with more body and richness. 
Salt Aire – Large, briny, pleasantly metallic. An oyster for oyster lovers. 
Beau Soleil – a classic oystery flavor. Mild, briny, with a very “oceanic” taste
Blue Point – Incredibly fresh and mineral-y. Full of body with a plump texture – one of my favorites of the night.
Canada Cup – Juicy and meaty, with a very tart, briny finish. Delicious with some cocktail sauce and a slice of buttered bread to cut through the salt of it.

These oysters were around $2.25 each  -not cheap, but absolutely worth it. So fresh, so delicious, so unpretentious. And every day there is a happy hour, where oysters are only a dollar. I will definitely be back for more of those marvelous mollusks.
Wild Edibles on Urbanspoon

44 and X

Midtown west does not stop at 9th Avenue. In fact, when most of the restaurants on 9th are stuffed to the gills with pre-theatre patrons, you can mosy over to 10th Avenue and find a few delicious restaurants. One of these is 44 and X

The restaurant is small but well designed, with many windows and spacious booth seating. In the daytime, the space gets plenty of light and in the evening, there is candlelight and a buzzy, sophisticated atmosphere. This is a great place for a fun dinner with friends, though its a little crowded and crazy for a first date.

Caesar Salad

This Caesar was just what the doctor ordered. Fresh, crunchy romaine lettuce dressed but not drenched in a cheesy, tart dressing. The Parmesan crisp on top was thick and salty – the perfect counterpart to the greens. The croutons were of particular note – thick and crispy with an incredibly intense garlic taste – it really added a savory note to the salad. Caesar salad might be a simple dish, but it is one of my favorites and I would highly recommend it here. 

Short Ribs

My dining companion ordered these and although he inhaled them too fast for me to get a bite, he assured me that they were delicious. Not that I would know. 
I need to get some less hungry friends.

Peanut Butter Mousse Cake with Vanilla and Chocolate Malt Ice Creams, Caramel Sauce, and Honey Roasted Peanuts

Remember Oreo Madness? It was this dessert at TGIFriday’s with two ice cream sandwiches that looked like giant Oreos, and it was just the best dessert ever. When TGIFriday’s took it off the menu, part of me died. 
Well, after having htis peant butter mousse, that part of me came back to life. It tasted JUST like Oreo madness – the cool, creamy frozen center, with the texture of marshmallow fluff, but this time with the faint hint of salty peanut butter. The cookie crust was buttery and chocolaty and the caramel sauce was thick, rich and sweet. This was an outstanding dessert.

And the meal, while not outstanding was delicious. Now, be warned, it isn’t cheap – most entrees are around 30 dollars. In fact, I would say the food is slightly overpriced. But sometimes you want convenience, great food, and no tourists. When that’s the case, you are willing to spend a wee bit more. And its worth it to learn that Midtown west doesn’t stop at 9th Avenue.

Why Do I Love Koi?

I keep on asking myself, “why do I like this restaurant?” It is corporate. It is cliche. It is stupidly expensive.
And yet…I LOVE it!
 Koi is a modern, dark, sexy restaurant located in The Bryant Park Hotel, and as such is frequented by businesspeople and fashionistas year round. During fashion week, models can always be found there. 
Nothing like having to look at a gorgeous model while you eat to make you feel like a cow, am I right?
 Koi specializes in Japanese fusion food – the type of stuff that you would imagine entitled trust-fund teens eat. Fancy, city-fied food. Why am I obsessed with it?!
 Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice
Unctuous, silky tuna was chopped into tartare-like pieces – smooth but not mushy. Mixed with hot chiles(no mayonnaise here), the tuna’s natural sweetness and meatiness became even more apparent. Served atop sticky-sweet sushi rice that had been sauteed in soy butter, the outside was crunchy like the bottom of Korean bibimbap. The thick, salty crust broke through tho that vinegary-sweet rice inside and the heat from the rice warmed the tuna without cooking it. The sliver of jalapeno atop was spicy but not hot, the crowning jewel to this bite-sized morsel. This is the best interpretation of fish atop crispy rice that I have ever had. Others have tried it, no one has matched this interpretation. 
 Roasted Shisito Peppers
What the heck was in these peppers? Soy? Ponzu? Crack cocaine? Whatever was in them, they were NOT like regular shisito peppers. Normally, these peppers are tasty enough – ranging from mild to medium spicy, they char on the grill and remain soft and juicy on the inside – a little salt is the only usual accompaniment. At Koi, the peppers were sauteed in a tangy, salty, sweet sauce that made the peppers’ heat linger and brought out the vegetal, earthy taste of the peppers. I ate 16 of these. I counted. They seem simple, but they are sublime. 
Daily Special – Spicy Tuna Roll Topped with Toro, Wasabi Mayonnaise and Tobiko
Fatty, melting-upon-contact-with-my-tongue tuna tasted mild and actually did almost dissolve on my tongue. Layered between warm, sticky rice and sharp wasabi mayonnaise and tobiko, the toro was truly the star of the dish. The spicy tuna was just as delicious as it was on the crispy rice, but here it was more of a backdrop than the main event, adding heft to the delicate and standout toro. 
This meal was just what I felt like. The surroundings were beautiful, the food was just delicious, and our server, Bonnie, went above and beyond(really, if you go there, ask for Bonnie. She is efficient, funny, and really loves to eat and loves diners who love to eat!).
The price was high. The food was trendy. But it was also so delicious. And in the end, the only real question I should be asking is…what’s not to love?
Koi on Urbanspoon