DH and I decided to celebrate our one-year anniversary at SHO Shaun Hergatt last night. I had read great reviews here and knew the restaurant had a Michelin star, so I figured we’d be in for a treat. We made our reservation through Savored.com, and I was eager to find out how that process worked as well.
First impressions: we were the first or second couple in the place when we arrived at 6:55 for our 7pm reservation. There seemed to be a TON of waitstaff hanging around, not knowing what to do with themselves. DH and I both liked the Asian-inspired décor, but I found certain aspects to be a little too dark, particularly the bathrooms. The room started filling up a bit around 7:30pm but when we left at 9pm, it was still only half full, if that. I guess that's what you get on a Monday night in the Financial District.
Service: I was pretty surprised at how awkward the service was for a restaurant of this caliber. It was quite clear to me that this was a “training” night, as they had people shadowing the various waitstaff who served us. The waiter who took our order was relatively competent and very friendly, but his timing was off - we were interrupted several times in the middle of a conversation or in mid-chew. This happened with the bread person as well. The waiter (or runner?) who actually served us our food was clearly nervous and his English was a bit lacking, so it was very hard to understand exactly what we were being served. There was no sommelier available, which was really unacceptable given that the waiters had no clue about most of the wines on the list (which is heavily French and somewhat expensive - for instance, there wasn’t a single Riesling to be had for less than $125). I had a question that our waiter couldn’t answer, and when I asked if there was anyone on duty that night who might be able to help he said no, that only the sommelier would know (it was a relatively simple question too - I wanted to know what a GSM from Australia was. Turns out it’s a Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre blend. I should have just whipped out my phone and Googled it then and there!). We had to refill our own wine glasses, and were left waiting for the check for about 15 minutes after we had finished our mignardises. I wasn’t looking for a Daniel-type experience here, but I definitely expected more from SHO.
Food: We decided to go with the regular 3-course menu as the tasting menu didn’t interest us. It featured tomatoes, which we both enjoy, but seven courses of tomatoes just seemed like a bit of overkill. The regular menu is somewhat limited IMO, with only 6 choices in each category. I also thought it a bit odd that there was neither a chicken nor a beef option in the main courses. DH is not a huge seafood eater, so he went with the fingerling espuma for his starter and the veal tenderloin main. I chose the foie gras torchon and prawns.
We received several lovely amuses that actually turned out to be highlights of the meal. First were a pea puree with coconut foam and a dish of “truffles,” little balls of foie gras and potato coated in brown breadcrumbs and fried. Both very delicious. The coconut foam was savory and complimented the sweetness of the pea puree nicely. The foie truffles were molten and luxurious in the center, just really magnificent little bites. A few minutes later we received a tiny shrimp atop a pickled cucumber slice with a little caviar - also tasty, with a hint of ginger. The bread was quite good (especially the rosemary olive) and the black truffle butter was a nice touch (although I found the truffle flavor to be quite subtle).
DH thought his starter was a real winner, although I was less enthused. If you like cold potatoes and poached eggs, you’d probably love it (I don’t like either). It was a very pretty presentation and the quail eggs were perfectly cooked. My torchon was less successful. It came on two plates - one with a cylinder of foie gras on top of an apricot fruit leather, coated in apricot powder. The other plate held a folded napkin with a slender rectangle of “French toast” on top, which was actually more like untoasted brioche coated in nuts (maybe blanched almonds?), topped with an apricot compote. The presentation was weird (why on earth would I want to eat off a napkin?) and the dish as a whole didn’t work at all. The actual foie gras and apricot dust were good (nothing special, but good), but the fruit leather was completely stuck to the plate - to the point where I wasn’t sure I was supposed to try to eat it because I could barely scrape it off, even using the point of my knife. It tasted like a fruit roll-up and was completely unnecessary. The side of French toast was neither really savory nor really sweet, and I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with my foie. Also, the menu description said there would be chocolate involved, and the chocolate was nothing more than a couple of miniscule dots on the plate - I thought they might be part of the porcelain.
As for the mains, DH got lucky again. The veal tenderloin was scrumptious - tender, nicely seasoned and beautifully presented with a dab of lentil puree and some sprouted lentils and heavenly garlic scapes. The lambsquarters looked quite nice as well but didn’t do anything for me, flavor-wise. My dish, however, was something of a disaster. There were four beautiful, large prawns that unfortunately were a bit overcooked, topped with ginger foam. Or so they said. I could not discern one iota of ginger flavor in the foam - it just tasted like vaguely salty air. DH (who detests ginger) tasted it as well and confirmed - no ginger. Anyway, there was also a random smear of avocado on the plate (which wound up being a blessing, as I used it to “sauce” my shrimp since the foam was so lackluster), three or four severely undercooked baby eggplants (and I like my vegetables crisp, but these were just NOT cooked), a couple of undercooked and terribly pungent radishes, and three plugs of undercooked purple potato. The peekytoe crab was two dime sized piles of shredded crabmeat tucked artistically into the forest of undercooked potato and eggplant. The plate was beautiful, but none of the elements were cooked properly nor did any of them seem to relate to each other in any way. This was the first time I have ever considered sending a dish back in a restaurant of this caliber, and honestly if our waiter had been more available or more interested in our experience, I probably would have sent it back.
Finally, dessert. I was the winner this time with the chocolate cremeux, which was a gorgeous plate with a bar of soft chocolate cookie topped with mousse alongside a ball of milky ice cream. There was a white chocolate tuile decoration that was hideously sweet, but pretty. The chocolate mousse was nice and silky and the perfect balance between bitter and sweet. A very nice dessert, although not a particularly creative or interesting one. DH ordered the corn ice cream with cheddar and caramel, which seemed to have come from a different restaurant. Up to this point, every item we were served at SHO was a work of art, even if the flavors were lacking. This was a white plate with a smear of beigey caramel (which tasted like peanut butter) holding an off-white cracker-like thing, which held a scoop of off-white ice cream topped with an off-white cheddar powder. No color, no design, nothing interesting in any way. Flavor-wise, this was a loser as well - the ice cream tasted more like leftover cereal milk than actual corn, and the cracker might as well have been sawdust. I liked the accent of the sharp cheese, but that is about the only positive thing I can say about it.
Mignardises were delivered promptly and were mostly quite good. There was a little sesame macaron with mango and chocolate that didn’t do it for me, but the shortbread, chocolate-passionfruit, chocolate-peanut butter, white chocolate-pistachio and burnt salty caramel were all tasty, although DH thought the burnt caramel was too burnt.
As I mentioned earlier, we had made our reservation through Savored.com, and that went off without a hitch - 30% subtracted from our bill without having to say a word. With the 30% off I felt that the meal was reasonably priced, but I would have been VERY irritated if I had paid full price. Portions were about what I expect from this type of restaurant, perhaps a bit on the smaller side - I was full enough but DH wanted a snack by the time we got home (this is not unusual for him!). The service issues and hit or miss food were the real problem. I wanted to like SHO, but at this price point I feel there are MANY better options in NYC, in more convenient locations and with more interesting menus. I don’t think we’ll be back anytime soon.
SHO Shaun Hergatt
40 Broad St, New York, NY 10004