My husband and I just got back from a few post-christmas days of NYC dining, shows, and strolls. We ended up with reservations at Fleur de Sel, Bouley, wd-50, Norma's, and L'Impero.
The following are the reports for all but Norma's. Why not Norma's? We went for breakfast, and it was AWFUL. Truly bad. I can't understand the recommendations on this board. Hard, cold eggs, overcooked rubbery tasteless lobster in the omelette, and flavorless potato pancakes. Seriously, it was bad. Don't go there.
Here's all the rest.
FLEUR DE SEL
This was our first night in town, and we strolled twenty blocks through the snow-dusted, beatifully lit murray hill and then flatiron streets, through madison square park...just gorgeous and put us in the right frame of mind for the restaurant, which was delicious, unpretentious, gracious, generous, friendly and professional. We loved it.
We chose the six course dinner tasting menu (you had choice of two dishes for each course, and we had one of each for the most part).
First course, we both had the Spanish Mackerel Tartare, Paddlefish Caviar, Dijon Ganache, shallot mignonette. This was one of my favorite dishes of the whole trip. The dijon ganache...mmmm.
Second course, we had the Maine Lobster, Scallops, Roasted tomato emulsions AND the Vermont Goat Cheese & Artichoke Ravioli, American Sturgeon Caviar, Beet-Mustard Jus. Both were good but the ravioli was the winner...sounds mundane, but was sublime. The beet jus was marvelous.
Followed by the fish course...both were perfectly cooked, simple but extremely flavorful. Pan roasted monkfish, cauliflower puree, julienne of black truffles, carrot sauce AND the Sauteed red snapper, roasted chestnuts, fennel & red onions, lobster whiskey emulsion. The monkfish was the better of the two simply because the flavors were bolder. The snapper had a bit more predictable, albeit yummy, flavor.
Of all the course, the meat courses were the least successful. I'm not so into meat but my husband is a diehard carnivore, and these didn't jump out at him...One was a Confit of Veal cheeks, Wild Mushroom sauce, macedoine of root vegetables and the other was a Venison filet, celery root and venison sausage gratin, reduced beet sauce. The wild mushroom sauce was a fresh take on the old standard...and the beet sauce was different than the earlier one and just super.
Cheese course was Stilton with apple and warm walnut bread.
Dessert was a Warm chocolate souffle cake with chocolate ice cream and Banana mousse, creme de cafe, chocolate dentelle. My husband loved the souffle cake and I loved the banana mousse - fresh, not overly sweet.
Bread was a perfect crusty french. We also had cocktails before dinner and a bottle of Anderson Valley pinot with all. I think the bill was about $300 when all was said and done. We'd go back again!
The food here was the best of the trip. Every single dish was a standout. And the atmosphere was beautiful. But. But. The service...which started out fine if not great...got progressively worse. It seemed that no one was responsible for us and it was sort of lucky that the food got there but we couldn't catch anyone's eye to order more drinks or anything. The tables around us were served fine, so we wondered if we did something wrong or offensive. It was just weird. We tipped barely 15% on the bill and wrote a note about why.
But the food, oh that food...we were there for lunch and had the $45 tasting menu (a total bargain, really) and again each chose one of the two choices for each course in order to taste everything.
First: the Chefs Canapé of cauliflower puree with curry gelee and parmesan foam. We knew from the first bite of this intense dish that we were in for a treat. You've never tasted cauliflower like this. This was also one of my favorite dishes of the trip.
One was:Phyllo Crusted Florida Shrimp, Baby Cape Cod Squid, Scuba Dived Sea Scallop, Sweet Maryland Crabmeat in an Ocean Herbal Broth AND THE OTHER was Sashimi of blue fin Tuna with Shaved Fennel Dressed in Herb Oils and a Spicy Marinade
For both, the fish was impeccable- crisp and fresh...but it's clear that the food is all about deeply flavored accompaniments and sauces. The tuna was the better of the two here.
One was: Wild Washington State King Salmon with Sweet Georgia Corn, Sugar Snap Peas and Corn Sauce AND THE OTHER WAS Atlantic Halibut With Roasted South African Porcini Mushrooms, Braised Fresh Green Flageolet, Asparagus and a Mushroom Jus
The salmon. Now I've had lots of great salmon before...but this was the best I've ever tasted. Yes, perfect fish, but again the sauces. THE SAUCES. The corn sauce and the green pea sauce were both sweet but contrasted wonderfully in every other way. And oh yeah, that halibut --- it was lovely too.
One was: Pennsylvania All Natural Chicken Baked in Buttermilk and Herbs with Minnesota Wild Rice Risotto, Hen-of-the-Wood Mushrooms, Garlic potato purée AND THE OTHER WAS Loin of Milk Fed Veal with Georgia Sweet Corn, Peas Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Parsley Root Purée and Rosemary Sauce.
Again, I'm not so much about the meat but I tasted the chicken and I've never tasted anything like it. It was sooooo soft/silky/flavorful/velvety. Everything else was good, but this was a standout. You think, chicken, why bother? But I'd order this again and again.
Blood Orange Soup with Clementines, lemongrass Sorbet and Campari Sugar. Yummy, but I would have liked a tad more lemongrass flavor. Campari sugar...who knew? The bitter with the sweet was a knockout.
One was: Strawberry Cloud with Yogurt Caramel Crisp, Rose Petal Ice Cream, Amaretto Toffee Sauce and Apricot Anglaise AND THE OTHER WAS Hot Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé with Vermont Maple Ice Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sorbet
Both were good, the chocolate souffle was almost exactly like Fleur de Sel's version from the previous night (equally delicious). Liked the rose petal ice cream the best on the strawberry dessert and the maple ice cream on the second.
They also brought an additional dessert: White chocolate flan with green tea gelee. I liked this the best of all the desserts mostly because I like that contrast of sweet and savory...but judging from the other tables, I was alone in this opinion as most other diners barely touched it.
Two kinds of bread with the meal: a soft sourdough (I think) roll and an apple raisin roll (mmmm). We had drinks before lunch and wines by the glass. Total bill was about $180 in the end. Would I go there again? Yes. For the food. I'd get over the service, I guess...but the food was amazing.
Oh they gave us lemon tea cake as we left.
Let's get one thing straight. I love places like wd-50. Unusual combinations and little portions, that is. I dig it. It's not for everyone though. My husband was hungry after.
It was late (10:30ish) and we didn't feel like starting the nine-course tasting menu, plus it was too much meat for my taste. The guys at the table next to ours were having it...and they were just okay with it they said. Oh, the people at the table on the other side of us were having ALL the desserts. And they just loved them.
Here's what we had:
The mister had Foie gras, grapefruit-basil crumble, nori caramel. You slice into the foie gras and a black liquid gushes out. Despite not being so sure about the nori caramel, this was his favorite dish.
I had the Hamachi, pear, mushroom streusel. Two (and i think generous) triangles of rich, tender hamachi with this neato slice of pear and minced up mushrooms and swirl of some sort of creamy delicious stuff. As I was eating it, I thought I'd need to order a second one...it was that unusual and that delicious.
Mister had the Monkfish, oyster mushroom, squash, pumpernickel cocoa, pear consomme. He liked, but did not love this.
I had the Root vegetable 'lasagna', sweet and sour mushroom broth. I could have bathed in the broth. Again, really digging the savory/sweet combo...and the lasagna was great. It was about twenty layers of thinly sliced root vegetables pressed together (no pasta).
Mister had the Toasted oat panna cotta, granola, huckleberry. Mmmmm. I love panna cotta, and this was a gem. Nutty flavor, not too sweet.
I had the French Toast - a deconstructed sort of thing that starts with a raisin paste across the plate and then the individual elements on top: a square of crispy outside/moist inside french toast, a scoop of brown butter ice cream, a spoon full of maple jelly, a dusting of bacon and some crispy, thin raisin "paper"...again, this is not for everyone but PERFECT for me. Loved each element, thought I was gonna pick off the bacon but it really was dust and add the right salty touch to the whole thing.
The bread was an addictive salty crispy cracker thing that we liked very well. We had cocktails before dinner, wines by the glass, and after-dinner drinks.
The brought yummy, spicy, chocolate curry almonds with the bill, which was about $220 with everything. I'd definitely go again.
What a perfectly situated restaurant! We didn't realize it was up in Tudor city, and felt like we were in a little fairy land once we found it. Lovely, quiet and elegant decor (except for a tv in the bar??) and truly memorable food. If I was here more often, this would be the restaurant I'd take people to. Service was very attentive and friendly, if a little young.
We started with:
Puree of Truffled Chestnut Soup...tasted like what you'd expect (of course, if you're expecting chestnuts and truffles you can't really go wrong). Simple and yummy. I wanted to lick the bowl.
Fricassee of Seasonal Mushrooms, creamy polenta and truffle reduction...ummm, I can't really say enough about how good this was. It was verrrrry rich, very intense with the mushrooms, just perfect.
Then we had:
House-Made Macaroni, porcini, chive and tomato. You gotta have the pasta here. You can't make this at home, no matter how simple it sounds. The noodles are, of course, perfectly prepared and the sauce was deceptively simple.
Braised Suckling Pig, spaetzle and melange of root vegetables. I think this was my husband's favorite meal of the trip.
For dessert we had a cheese course. You get to choose three of about ten listed. Each generous serving comes with truly remarkable accompaniment. This was hands down the best cheese course I have ever had and among the top dishes I had on the trip. We chose:
Gorgonzola -Cremifacato- (cows milk) Lombardia doc, honey-olive oil emulsion and figs
Sottocenere (Cow's Milk) Veneto, spicy butternut squash agrodolce
Pecorino Ginepro (Sheep's Milk) Emilia Romagna, apple, pignoli and rosemary marmellata
I'd go back just for the sottocenenere with the squash - it was a semi-hard cheese, creamy, rich flavor. I loved the pecorino also. Oh, they were all good.
Bread was a choise of ciabatta, olive bread, and a roll of some sort. All good with lemony olive oil on the table.
We had drinks before, wines by the glass, and after dinner drinks. They brought a plate of various sweets with the bill, which came to about $220. A lovely last meal for our trip. Would definitely go back again, and order some of the "susci" - italian sushi (??) on the menu next time, or try their reasonably priced tasting menu.