OK so are you ready? Here comes another mini-novel from me. Sorry guys I know it is very long and probably too long. But then again you guys always say you enjoy reading my reviews right? Lol in any event here goes....
I must say I really enjoy the concept behind the menu at The Bar Room at the Modern. It is very fun because you basically can make your own "tasting menu" from the over 30 menu items. For those unfamiliar, the first two pages are appetizer portions, while the third is labeled as half entree sizes. For someone like myself, this really works well, since I always find myself wanting to substitute a course here or a course there from a restaurant's prefabricated tasting menu designed by the chef and not the diner. So, this concept takes out the "hassle" of having to ask the waiter if you can substitute a specific dish in the tasting because well YOU create the tasting yourself. This also seems to be very appealing because most places require "the participation of the entire table" when it comes to tasting menus, however here diners with lighter appetites can go for 1-2 dishes, while heavier ones can order to their hearts content. In addition, those who are on a budget can partake in the festivities by ordering less. As for atmosphere, I thought it was just ok. It is very dark, kinda small, and for some odd reason I felt like I was in a movie taking place in outerspace in the year 3009 (maybe its too "modern" no pun intended haha) but definitely lively which I like. The main dining room is much nicer, fancier, brighter, etc. But who cares I want great food. Now onto the actual review.
Service- Admittedly, I had arrived for my 5:30 reservation at around 5:10 and was seated immediately. This was great I thought. However, after being presented the menu by who I thought was my server, I waited 25 minutes for someone to come back to take my order. Now the menu is very long and I do appreciate when a restaurant gives you time to peruse the menu to make your final selections (having read the menu online ahead of time I was fairly certain on most of my order), however 25 minutes is a bit much if you ask me. Usually, after around 10-15 minutes the server will come around and ask if you have any questions and are ready to order. So right off the bat they kind of lost some points in my book.
One thing that I suspect is that the kitchen is not actually ready to start the service until 5:30 pm, therefore the servers may be instructed to wait until that time to take orders? I realized this because at about 5:25 an army of chefs dressed in their "whites" all packed into the kitchen at once. And the cool thing? The last person at the end of the line was the general of this army himself Gabriel Kreuther (voted #1 Chef in New York City by James Beard). I thought that was terrific, and I credit him for actually being at his restaurant. I am not sure how much actual cooking he was doing (as much as supervising), however it annoys me when many of these elite chefs "get too big for their britches" and are completely non-existent in "their" kitchen. So they do get points for that. As far as the whole 25 minute wait thing, I will give them a semi-pass and have to go back after 5:30 next time to see if this is the case again.
Onto the food. I knew coming in as an avid lover of duck that I was getting the duck breast and the duck confit. It was in my mind to also order another course, which is where things got difficult. As usual, there are always several items on a menu that appeal to me and it tends to get very difficult when trying to pick just one. The three dishes I was contemplating were the lobster in a jar, pork belly, and the lamb chop. My original plan was duck breast, pork belly, and confit and call it a day. But, I had heard rave reviews about this "lobster in a jar" and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Hmmm but then again, I am a meat lover and whenever I see pork belly or lamb chop on a menu how could I resist? And yes, the portions here are smaller to give you the flexibility or sampling more dishes than usual (trying to convince myself that I wasn't overordering). So I did what any indecisive, hungry, meat loving glutton would do. I ordered both the pork belly and the lamb chop (hey when in Rome....). After all it was MY tasting right? I'll get the damn lobster in a jar next time (waitress said it was a rather small portion for $20). Alright so the order was in.. duck breast from page one, pork belly (which I knew would be more like an appetizer portion), duck confit, and lamb chop from page 3. Basically, meat followed by meat followed by meat followed but some more meat.... yummy.
Duck breast with peppercorn crusted apples and pistachio-truffle dipping sauce- This was my first course. You get three slices on duck breast and two mini pieces of apple which are breaded and possibly even deep fried. The duck was cooked rare as ordered and had a nice crisp crust on the outside. I found the first piece to actually be quite difficult to cut through, however the other two slices were very tender. The apples were a nice sidekick and you probably wouldn't even know they were apples in the menu didn't say it. The pistachio-truffle sauce really made the dish. When paired with the apples and the sauce this becomes a very delicious way to start your meal. The duck was rich and tasty, the skin slightly salty, a slight sweetness from the apples, and the nuttiness from the pistachio sauce. It was not the absolute best duck breast I have ever had, but very good nonetheless. I did prefer it to the duck confit though (which is coming next).
Duck Confit with passionfruit sauce and shishito pepper hash- This was the next course presented to me. I actually was caught off guard, because I figured the next course would be the smaller pork belly. However, it is my assumption that the chef figured it would be wise to have both duck courses back to back. As I had mentioned earlier I LOVE duck, and it does not get much better than duck confit. I had read many reviews saying this was one of the best duck confit around, so I was excited to try it. The duck leg was quite small, however knowing that I had two more courses and dessert ahead of me this was fine. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a big letdown for me. I expected this to be my favorite dish, ironically it actually turned out to be my least. I had requested the skin "extra crispy" because nothing is better than a crispy fatty skin and the contrasting soft, succulent, dark meat of the duck confit. Unfortunately, they didn't deliver on the extra crispy request. There was only a small portion of the skin that was actually very crispy, while the rest was just...eh skin. The meat inside was extremely tender and delicious but I mean cmon it is duck confit... how can you mess that up???? The worst thing about this dish was the passionfruit sauce. If there was any passionfruit in it you could have fooled me. It tasted more like a sweetend soy sauce from your local chinese take out place. And the shisito pepper hash was nothing more than mini diced potatoes and peppers that you could easily get at your local diner. The actual best accoutrament to the dish was the small butter lettuce that topped the hash, which was there more so as just a garnish. So all in all this dish really disappointed. But I think it could definitely be saved.. I mean cmon its duck confit for christ sakes. Here are my tips- get a crispier skin, ditch the passionfruit sauce and the shisito pepper hash and you can make this a winner.
Overall, I have had indulged in better duck compositions at other restaurants- most notably Eleven Madison Park and Babbo. Chef Humm's duck from EMP is simply the best preparation of the dish I have ever had. While Kreuther is indeed a talented chef, he could not hold a candle to Humm in this department (that's for you RGR! lol). Moving on....
Pork Belly with sweet pea puree and ginger jus- Now came the pork belly. Once again a tiny portion, but pork belly is extremely rich. Still it was enough to satisfy what you want as an appetizer (def not a main course). It was a three ounce cube set atop pea puree and was encircled by ginger jus. At this point I have to admit, overall I wasn't thrilled with how the experience was going. But things started to get better with this dish. While they didn't make my duck skin crispy, the skin on the top of the pork belly was SO incredibly crispy (think potato chip like), giving way to the unctuous, fatty pork meat. The textural contrast was amazing (how in the world do they get the skin so crispy, while keeping the meat so melt in your mouth delicious??). Very similar to the suckling pig preparation at EMP (still my favorite). It is things like this that make cooking an art and makes a chef worth his/her weight in gold. Aside from the pork, the pea puree was a nice compliment and the ginger sauce was slightly sweet and was great! I actually think this sauce would have gone very well with the duck confit (hint hint Gabriel lol). Pork belly is definitely a food from the gods. I simply cannot pass it up when on a menu and this certainly did not disappoint. I would say this and Craft are the two best versions of this great dish that I have had. If you like pork belly this is a must order.
Lamb Chop with artichokes and manchego crostini and pesto olive oil sauce- So this was the "red headed" step child of my order. The last minute addition. To be completely honest you weren't even on my original radar, however by some divine intervention I decided to go for broke and order you.. and I'm sooo THRILLED that I did. All I can say to this lamb chop is.. I am deeply deeply sorry for not having ordered you FIRST. Yes, this was that AMAZING. Without question, my favorite dish of the entire night. If the pork belly raised the quality of the meal up a notch, the lamb chop pushed it into another stratosphere.
The lamb chop is a double lollipop lamb chop, served with a nice portion of artichokes and manchego cheese crostini in an incredible pesto-olive oil sauce. The chop was cooked perfectly rare and cut like butter. The taste was sensational. That intense minerally funk that you get from a great lamb chop came through perfectly. And when paired with the delicious, light sauce and artichokes the dish was nearly flawless. I am not huge for crostini so I didn't even waste time on them. But oh.. that lamb chop. Wow, I probably could have gone for about three more of those.
I did compare Humm's duck to Kreuther's, so I will do the same here. Admittedly, I only tried a small piece of my friend's lamb at EMP and remember it being great but that was awhile ago. I will have to go back to try it again for a true comparison. But I will say this may possibly be the best lamb chop I've ever had (right there with the one my dad had at Gotham Bar and Grill). I have only recently started eating lamb chops and I am so glad that I discovered how great they are. It is a very very rich dish so the portion size after eating everything else turned out very well. If there weren't so many other choices on the menu I would probably triple my order of this. I'm not kidding.
So at this point, while the start on my meal was rather lackluster, the last two dishes really made up for it and at this point I was feeling very positive overall. While the portions see to be small, they actually add up very quickly, especially if you are ordering such rich meat dishes like myself. But hey it was dessert time. I don't play games.
Dessert- Having just scarfed down 4 very rich meat courses, I still had room for dessert..as always. Now as much of a carnivore as I am, my sweet tooth is just as large. I am a lover of all things sweet. Ice cream, cake, pastries, cookies, you name it I want it. And when hearing that they had some of the best beignets around I knew it was a must order. But, cmon... there was also coffee and vanilla sundae on the menu. I... love.. ice cream. And I cannot pass up a sundae.. ever. So yeah I succumbed to my sugar cravings (I am so weak) and ordered both desserts.. again. Hey it worked with with the lamb so why not this too.. right? RIGHT.
Coffee and Vanilla Sundae with Pecan Biscuit- Coffee and vanilla ice cream topped with candied pecan crumble, pieces of pecan biscuit jutting out all over the place and topped with whipped cream? Um, ok yes please. Can this be bad? Nope. Was it worth ordering? What the hell do you think? The vanilla had flecks of vanilla in it and the coffee was one of the most intense coffee ice creams I have ever had. But it got better. As you make your way to the bottom of the bowl, there is a little surprise- a small block of some kind of cake-like confection sitting in a pool of caramel sauce. It tasted like a combination of banana bread and bread pudding. Wow is all I can say. The sundae was the perfect size. Large enough where it isn't that stupid thimble of ice cream that these places love to give you, however not so big that its a gut bomb and you are leaving in a sugar coma.
Beignets with maple ice cream, caramel sauce, mango marmalade- Ahead of time my plan was to just eat 2 and save the rest for home. But, in the back of my mind I knew that probably wouldn't work out and I'd wind up eating the entire thing which usually happens. So after a short wait, these little doughy works of art came to the table. I spooned some mango, caramel sauce, mango ice cream and dug it. Yep, and thats when it happened. I was boosted out of my astronaut seat and into dessert heaven (maybe that's the reasoning besides the oddly designed "outerspace" feel.. now it all started to make sense!). Awesome. They were nice and warm, soft as pillows, and when you added all of the other stuff to it was just phenomenal. I admit I didn't stick to my plan of eating just 2, but I didn't eat all 5. I wound up splitting the difference and ate 3 and took the other 2 home. While the raves about the duck confit were unwarranted, the beignets lived up to their billing. Get the damn beignets when you go. My hands are starting to hurt from all this typing so I'll leave you with that.
Final notes- Waitress was rather aloof. After taking my order she seemed to get lost. I find that a lot lately unfortunately. She disappeared so long that as I conveniently was finishing my last spoonful of that glorious sundae she walked by my table and I basically jumped out of my seat to ask for the check. Lol, hey I didn't know the next time I was going to see her! Anyway, the other members of the waitstaff always seem to be much more attentive. Busboys were extremely attentive. Constantly refilling water, replacing silverware and dishes and cleaning off the table between courses. Each course came out within 5-7 minutes of each other and the pace was nice. The meal took about two hours.
Overall, while there were some bumps in the road early on, from the pork belly- dessert courses they kickstarted the meal's resurgence and saved the entire experience for me. Even though portions are smaller, I left pretty full, but not uncomfortably so (this is a great thing). I could have definitely eaten just 3 courses plus dessert and been satisfied. If you just want a light meal I think you can definitely come in and order 2 rich courses and dessert and definitely leave full. It does turn out to be quite pricey though. My total bill before tax and tip was over $100, but then again it was six courses and your own customized tasting menu. I will definitely be back because there are many more dishes I'd like to sample. I think where the true value of the Bar Room is is if you are with a very large group of people, which allows more sampling. For a solo diner, you may feel inundated with too many choices.
But for my money, if you take any pride in treating yourself do yourself a favor.. get the damn pork belly, lamb chop, sundae, and beignets. Was it as good as Eleven Madison? No, not close but then again I don't know if it is fair to compare the Bar Room and EMP. Maybe the dining room would be a better comparison? But then again, I wouldn't think any proud chef would turn out lesser quality just because one part of the restaurant is more casual than the other. So then maybe the comparison is fair. Who knows. Nevertheless, if you are a foodie who appreciates a great meal I give the Bar Room a positive review and recommend you give it a try.