This is an annotated (believe it or not) review of last night's dinner. For info on the other dishes I tried (but didn't order for myself), check out the link below.
Having tried Otto and Lupa and knowing that this was his current flagship restaurant, I could guess as to the experience that was to unfold in service, ambiance and of course food.
We walked into a completely packed and uncomfortable but lovely, perfect temperature-controlled ante room that smelled of fresh pasta, truffles, herbs and freshly crushed pepper and was abuzz with people that clearly appreciated the fact that they were there but with sophistication, not of touristy ogling.
We were early and the bar area was swamped, so we stepped outside for a few minutes.
Hoping we didn't have to sit in that cramped front area/bar room where even my ass got in diners faces accidentally, I was relieved to see our hostess take us past the large round table in the middle of the dining room, which had a beautiful bouquet of branches that had small autumn-colored flowers at their tips and up the double-wide staircase to the sky-lit dining room.
This was "half a restaurant" different than downstairs. The buzz was still there, but not as feverish, the music was softer (I'll get to that in a minute), the table spacing afforded greater elbow room between both party members and other tables. If the downstairs floral centerpiece represented autumn, then the upstairs' represented winter, as only bare twigs, entangled in a large vase brought diners together.
The chickpeas were not the typical superdry and mealy variety. These were a nice, simple starter.
Warm Lambs Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a 3-Minute Egg
I just had to have this after what I've heard. The egg was nearly perfect, most of the yolk running out all over the salad. One small area of the yolk had solidified, but hardly noticeable and certainly didn't affect the dish. What a delicious egg too. Farm fresh and similar in taste/quality as that of the Blue Hill @ Stone Barns that I've lauded previously. It's hard to describe the dish though as I've never experienced these flavors before but the tongue, in both method of cooking, texture and maybe almost taste were akin to Marco Canora's hen of the woods mushrooms at Hearth. I was surprised at how many pieces of tongue were in the dish, though I confess that I was happy that they looked more like mushrooms than tongue. The vinaigrette was excellent, never cloying, and the running egg glued all of these remarkable textures and flavors together. Very different and certainly worthy of the recommendations I'd been given. The chanterelles were lovely, of course, especially the little, full ones.
Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles
The raviolis were shaped like triangular envelopes and came approximately seven per dish. Grated pecorino romano was added tableside and neither helped nor hindered the dish. Perhaps if I'd let him grate a little more it would have made a difference. The black truffles were, unfortunately, devoid of any flavor, but added a nice snappy, toothsome texture to the dish. The innards of the ravioli, a nearly purple puree of beef cheeks and squab liver was manly or earthy in scent and in taste. Bold and in your face. You knew what this was and the smell is hard to forget, in a pleasant way. What I notice about nearly all of Mr. Batali's food is that the smells/odors never reach beyond a foot or two above one's plate. This allows for the restaurant to have a lovely odor and not an overpowering one, and one that blends together nicely without battling for attention. Obviously this is something that most fine dining experiences should provide, but was appreciated here just the same.
Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo
Another dish that was recommended by fellow 'hounds, this was delicious and a nice portion size as well if you like bigger desserts. I thought all of the other dessert portions were skimpy. This "cake" of pistachio "ice cream" covered in chocolate with a crunchy, chocolatey base was topped with a luscious, rolled chocolate stick and sat in a lake of pistachio milk with scattered chunks of chopped pistachios. Delicious.
This were traditional...chocolate biscotti, pistachio loaf and a buttery confection as well.
I think, but don't hold me to this we had Bovia, Rio Sordo, 1997. I'm fairly certain that was it. Great wine for most of what I ate. Big cherry flavor, similar color as well. Nice medium bodied wine that could go with just about anything or nothing at all.
The host and hostess were nice. He being the cheerleader so to speak (perhaps ringleader would be a better word), she being the pretty face in the FOH. A very similar format exists at Lupa. Our waiter, who looked seasoned, was either trailing another waiter, was new, or was simply in the weeds. He gave us menus and then disappeared for awhile. Drinks took a bit longer than I would have liked, especially since we ordered three glasses of prosecco, though the sidecar (which looked too good to drink, including sugar-in-the- raw along the rim/edge) might have taken some time...but still.
We'd had our drinks for some time when a younger waiter, about 29 or so, pulled up to our table to let us know that he'd get the ball rolling to help his coworker out of a jam. This, and the subsequent service he provided, was stellar and as professional as you can get without any fluff.
At one point, my wife asked about nuts in a dessert dish. Our original waiter was unsure, the younger pro wasn't sure either but offered to go in the back to find out, which was more of a courtesy to the other waiter than it was for us.
Overall, I wish I could eat here regularly...like once or twice a week. One could never get bored with this menu, especially with the litany of specials that they have. Every dish on the menu looks fantastic and I'd bet all of them are. I truly felt priveleged to be eating there last night.