Monday, October 7, 2013

U.S. Adventures: NYC- Part 2


Our next NYC meal was at Babbo—which is Mario Batali’s first restaurant (recently awarded a Michelin star again). Friends had been and really enjoyed it, and the menu is one of those Italian menus I see and wonder yet again, why can’t we have nice (Italian) things in Indy? (I felt the same way after reading the Locanda Verde menu). Anyway, it was one of the best experiences of all the dinners we had in New York. It is certainly a nice place, but not as formal as the others (although you could dress just about as nice as you wanted to). Our waiter was great. One of the best I have ever had. He cared about his job, and making sure you got the right things. I loved the wine guy too who suggested our first course based on the wine we chose.

That first course was the grilled octopus ($15). It was served with marinated beans and a Limoncello vinaigrette. It was grilled quite crisp, but the octopus was amazingly tender. And I was worried the vinaigrette might be too sweet, but it was perfect. Love the tanginess in the beans too.  We both had a pasta course because we were so excited about the choices (I really wanted the pappardelle with white truffles and parmigiano but hubby balked at the $120 price tag). So I had the fettuccine with house-made pancetta and radicchio ($23) and it was outstanding. Again, a simpler light butter sauce made richer with some of the pancetta fat. The pasta was extremely fresh and stood out because it wasn’t overwhelmed by some heavy sauce. The pancetta added just the right amount of salty meatiness and the radicchio a bit of crunch and a bit of bitterness. Hubby’s was good as well—homemade garganelli (smooth tubes) with mushrooms and butter and fresh parsley ($22). Very good, but very similar to a dish I make at home, so it was hard to be as impressed. The waiter recommended the grilled guinea hen ($29) for a main dish, so we got it and split it. It was dark meat that was grilled again quite crispy and served with sweet corn fregula (like big pasta couscous) and black truffle vinaigrette. Great flavors, and I liked that they were using all the dark meat, but I enjoyed the simplicity and freshness of the pastas more. We also had a lovely sampling of sorbets and gelatos for dessert.

The next day was a crazy hectic day of museums, musical theater and lots of food. We started the day off at the Modern, which is one of the restaurants in the Museum of Modern Art (also has one Michelin star). We sat in the more casual bar area.  They weren’t completely packed, but I was glad we made a reservation because the tables you got without one weren’t nearly as good. We just decided to split three small plates here, because we knew what was coming later. Everything we had here was great. Really great. One thing was spectacular. Regardless, this would be a place I would put on my list to go back to for a full dinner.

The first two things we had were the salmon tartare ($18) and a Alsatian thin crust tart ($14). The tart was more of what I would call a flatbread, and when I saw it, I had my doubts, but then I tasted it. On top were crème fraiche, onions, and Applewood-smoked bacon. Sounds simple, but it was the perfect combination of salty bacon, a super crisp crust and a bit of tanginess and creaminess of crème fraiche. It was great along with the other things. The salmon tartare was good too- the finely diced salmon was mixed with some diced tomato. It was interesting because color-wise, you couldn’t really tell them apart, but the tomato gave it acidity it needed. I also really enjoyed the crunch of some puffed barley. There was cilantro gelee on top as well, which didn’t have a ton of flavor, but gave it a slight herby taste when mixed in. There were some tiny flowers decorating the top as well (small chive flowers perhaps?). The only thing I missed about this dish was some sort of cracker to eat it on—although they had wonderful soft baguettes that they brought to the table with the best soft, creamy, salted butter so we made do with using a little of the crust.

But the best thing here, and something that will go on my mental list of best things I have ever put in my mouth (yes it really exists) was the last dish we shared. It was Alsatian buckwheat spaetzle with a thin piece of yellowfin tuna on top of it with a piece of roasted foie gras. The tuna was put on the dish raw, but was slightly warmed/cooked by the heat of the spaetzle and foie. The whole dish was dressed in a black pepper gastrique. Everything about the dish was perfect. The creamy, intense foie, the light flavor of the tuna and the spaetzle was hearty but was so fresh it wasn’t heavy at all. The gastrique had a bit of balsamic vinegar so it was acidic, but was also slightly sweet and then the addition of the black pepper made it spicy and savory. There were also some pine nuts sprinkled on top adding a bit of texture. It was a perfect dish.

After an afternoon at the theater and some sightseeing, we ended our day and our trip at Le Bernardin (3 Michelin stars). This is the place that hubby and I both had agreed was the one place we had to go in New York. Everywhere else was negotiable. This one was not. The pricing here is fixed at $130 for 4 courses (well, plus all the extra ones they throw in).

This meal was overall the best one we had. It’s a modern room, but not stark like some. The service is extremely professional, and generally very friendly (there was one guy that was a little cold for my taste, but otherwise, they were great). They served us an amuse of tuna tartare, an oyster and a bisque. The tartare was amazing. It was all good, but that was my favorite (shocker).

The menu is divided into 3 sections—“almost raw,” “barely touched,” and “lightly cooked.” You are meant to order one from each although we negotiated 1 almost raw, 3 barely touched, and 2 cooked because we were having trouble making up our minds. To start we had the tuna from the almost raw—it was really, really good.  It had similar flavors to the tuna at The Modern, but more refined. The tuna was pounded really thin and draped over a very thin piece of toasted baguette that was very lightly spread with like a foie gras pate. The fish was dressed with olive oil and chives.  The other first course we had was Le Bernardin’s take on a crab bisque with large medallions of possibly the most tender king crab I have eaten. And the broth had an intensely rich shellfish flavor. Hubby and I argued over which was better and it was hard to decide. He leaned toward the crab, I leaned toward the tuna. They were both pretty mind-blowing.

After a lengthy discussion with the waiter about sharing different things, we decided we could not share the next course and got two of the same things. These were the langoustines and we learned there were only two on a plate and knew we would be sad if we each only got one. And we were very happy with this decision. This may have been my favorite of the evening. There were two succulent, tender langoustines (sort of like a cross between a large shrimp and a baby lobster) on the plate on top of a rich creamy chanterelle based sauce with just a touch of balsamic. Oh, and did I mention the white truffles? Yeah, they were on top. Amazing.  And perfectly balanced with just the hint of acid from the vinegar.

For our main dish, hubby had the sole and I had the skate.  Funny thing, when they set our plates down, they had brought the wrong dishes, and they were absolutely horrified. No big deal to us, but it earned us a free course (I say, bring on the mistakes!). They instantly whisked them away and brought our entrees. The skate was definitely the better of the two—it was poached and very tender and the sauce was a citrus-mustard emulsion. It was a clean dish. Fairly simple, and very tasty, but not as mind blowing as the others. There was also a side of “Caesar gratin” served with it, which was just okay—like a Caesar salad that had extra cheese and was broiled.

Hubby’s sole was probably the least favorite dish of the evening, although it was still good.  It was sautéed and had a brown butter tamarind vinaigrette, which was what drew us to the dish. But it was just not as refined as the other dishes. The rice alongside--even with the little bits of edible gold leaf --was not memorable.

The next course, which started the barrage of desserts, was the freebie they brought us for setting down the wrong plate and it was amazing. It was a real eggshell with a crumbly caramel (I think) bottom and layers of various flavors of creamy smooth custards—one layer was chocolate. This was easily my favorite dessert so I was glad they screwed up earlier. We then had a nice chocolate dessert and a small cheese plate and then an additional freebie chocolate cake-type thing for our anniversary. Oh and then there were the little petit fours. Honestly by this time, I could barely eat the desserts there was so many of them. I tasted them all. They were all good, but ideally I could have the egg and be done.

My plan if I ever have the pleasure of returning to Le Bernardin is to skip the main course (the “lightly cooked”) and go with all “almost raw” and “barely touched.” They were smaller bites and just had more wow factor going on.  And if I were particularly bold, I might ask if they were still doing the eggs and see if I could get one of those. 

Babbo
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
212/777-0303
Babbo on Urbanspoon

The Modern
9 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
212/333-1220
The Modern on Urbanspoon

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019
212/554-1515
http://le-bernardin.com/ 

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

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Thanks, Erin