Ok, this is a bit long, but I have lots of time here at work ;-)
Went last night for the first time and was very impressed with everything. The first impression is daunting when you walk in with what looks like a hotel check in desk and 1000 employees. I just wanted a drink! So, we sat in the front room and had a few drinks, snacked on some olives and nuts and proceeded to enjoy a wonderful martini and some very nice full-bodied buttery Oregon chardonnay while watching the parade of diners take to their tables.
We were seated a bit early, which was fine for us; we had an 8:45 reservation and were seated at 8:30.
The amuse broche were an aged goat cheese in a delicate rice cracker bowl, which was delicious. The cheese had such a soft delicate flavor not overpowering but not meek with hints of onion and well spring. Then the smoked salmon with a pastry puff type thing. The salmon was very mild fresh and light. The pastry was boring and nothing memorable or exciting, but popped right into my mouth with no complaints. The third is escaping me right now but was something in this amazing basil foam .. this is when we ordered the first bottle of the 1999 Talbots chardonnay, leading me to have difficulties this morning remembering what I ate.
But we opted for the 5 course-tasting menu and shared one of each dish offered. So here it goes .
Foie Gras Terrine with Bing Cherries, almond cream, purselane salad and sauternes Gelee. Absolutely amazing. The tastes of the cherries, almond cream and the foie gras left my mouth aching for more. Melt in your mouth delicious.
Squab and Foie gras Terrine with apricot chutney, Pistachios, Mache, and pickled goose berries with dry mustard powder. Not nearly as good as the other, but a very interesting play on the squab and the chutney with the mustard powder. The sweet apricot with the gamey squab was held together by the foie gras almost sensual quality that brought all the flavors into the mouth and let them roll over the tongue rather than spike and bounce from one flavor zone to the next. Not what I would have guessed from such a eclectic mix of ingredients.
Spring Pea Ravioli with duck prosciutto, Chanterelles and Foie Gras Emulsion
Again, mind blowing. This dish was my favorite of the evening. The peas were so flavorful fresh and crisp, yet subtle and soft and mixed with the salty full flavor of the duck and the softness of the foie gras emulsion the result was an absolute orgy in my mouth.
And.. Fricasse of Flordia frog legs provencale basil emulsion and frog beignet with Aioli. This dish was very well prepared but lacked the mix of tastes that the previous 3 dishes had managed to pull off. The basil emulsion was fabulous and I have no clue how he can get so much flavor into such a light fresh emulsion, but the frog in the dish was all but absent from the palate.
We both opted for the dover sole (we both dont care for pancetta wrapped monkfish) with fresh morels, Louisiana crayfish, , pea coulis and a paprika tuile. Delicious!! The fish was prepared to perfection. Light tender and perfectly consistent throughout the piece of fish. The morels were very nice and added a wilderness factor to the dish giving it a little musky kick offset by the freshness of the peas (these peas were highlights in every dish). The dish tasted like he had run through the forest after a spring rain and somehow managed to grab the feeling and translate through my taste buds.
Duo of Dry Aged Angus Rib eye and braised short ribs sautéed Porcini, ramp mashed potatoes and a spring bean Fricasse. By far the best entrée of the three. The braised short ribs were hidden underneath the rib eye and accidentally accompanied the rib eye on a fateful journey to my mouth and WOW! Flavor was 100x better than the rib eye, which I thought was fantastic. Tender and fell apart, melted and mixed so perfectly with the ramp mashed potatoes.
Organic New York State Veal medaillons Rotis Au Jus with Mousserons and Shallot Pommes Dauphines. The veal was prepared lightly pink but lacked any flair or kick. It may well have been the best quality veal I have ever tasted, but in the line-up of the menu it was lackluster.
They were kind enough to give us the Chocolate upside-down soufflé with Café Brulot Ice cream rather than the Pink Grapefruit Orange Trifle since we are both chocoholics, along with the Single Estate Venezuelan Chocolate Fondat with Nougitine, Milk Jam and Almond Parle Ice Cream. Both were delicious, but by this time I was so full and drank 2 bottles of wine I could barely eat anything else. The soufflé definitely was the better of the two, but the soufflé I had at Vela the other night IMO is much better.
The madeleines were a perfect touch with the coffee and almost put me over the edge. I had to be rolled out of the restaurant.
All in all one of the most memorable meals in a long long time. Daniel Boulud came out to the table when we had finished and was a very nice guy. I love the fact that he cares enough to listen to what customers have to say and it was nice to see the personality behind the effort (if not direct effort, over all effort and planning) we had just witnessed throughout the meal.
His ability to translate not just a taste, but a feeling and an overall sense in each dish and throughout the meal is absolutely amazing and IMHO what you are really paying for. Dining here is allowing him to tell a story or express himself through a multi course menu rather than dining at someplace like hearth or Craft where the food is delicious and prepared as good as any, but lacks the coherrence behind it or rather leaves the thought and gives the freedom to the diner in offering so many pairings. That being said, I dont think that I could dine like this every day or that often, but to sit back and allow a master to express his interpretation of the fresh seasonal ingredients with every minute detail obsessed over, is worth the price of admission.