Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spanish 101

Walking into Tertulia in the west village, I see an old, familiar face: Frank Bruni. The former Times critic who had once haunted me in New York restaurants sits one table away from me in Seamus Mullen's newest haunt, across from the unsurprisingly rotund Michael White. Let the party begin.

Tertulia is billed as a play on an old Spanish cider bar, but diners will be just as happy drinking cold and clean manzanilla sherry, or room temperature, nutty oloroso as they will be drinking funky, geuze-style cider. The food is equally appealing. A selection of cured meats did not include the old standby Jamon Serrano (you have to order that separately), but it did include a funky an unctuous selection of cuts from different parts of the pig, some lean and some fatty. Pan con tomate was just as toothsome and satisfying as it is in Barcelona. Croquetas seep with a warm bechamel of ham and quince paste.

The restaurant has only been open for lunch a few days and counts among its lunch time specials sandwiches of all competing kinds. We ate a mushroom and goat cheese version, with pine nuts and spicy pickles and a side of house made potato chips. Rice cooked on the plancha is the perfect combination of creamy risotto and crunchy socarrat, filled with tender snails, ribbons of oyster mushroom, and shards of Spanish ham.

Because the plates are small, you might feel inclined to keep eating; we did. As our closing number, we chose a plate of fried piquillo peppers--some mild and some debilitatingly hot--as well as two open faced toasts topped with a creamy crab salad. The crab is the perfect antidote to the intermittent spice of those salty little peppers. Verdict: get there if you can.

359 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10014

Monday, October 24, 2011

Modern Chinese

I can forgive the unacceptable wait at Redfarm last night, only because the dumplings were so damned good. The drinks, even for a Chinese restaurant, were a little too sweet--watermelon rum punch that tasted more like a Jolly Rancher; a shiso cucumber martini with too much simple syrup--and by the time our food came we were famished. But still, small plates were an inescapable success. Shrimp and pea shoot dumplings in a thin, steamed skin tasted more of fresh peas than anything else. I mean that as a compliment.

Soup dumplings rivaled those of Joe's Shanghai, whopping, steaming, and filled with pork and broth. Shumai shooters, over a hot orange soup, tasted mushroomy and rich. Smoked cucumbers with sesame seeds almost tasted of meat, they were so rich. A Katz's pastrami egg roll, served with spicy deli mustard, was a Jewish fantasy--Chinese and butcher shop wrapped up into one, hotdoggy treat. A special of pork wrapped around rice, negimaki style, came with stewed and sweet tomatoes and concord grapes. Crispy beef with lotus root and sliced onions was salty and sweet and impossibly crisp, like the best version of General Tso's you've ever had. The only small plate failure came in the form of crisp crab and pork dumplings. They looked good enough, small battered pucks with mayonnaise eyes added on by a playful kitchen. But they maintained their shape from an internally intact crab shell and the pieces of pork were large chunks of fatty belly. We could have passed on the whole thing, even the curry broth dipping sauce.

As for entrees, by the time they came we were ready to throw in the towel. A selection of sauteed mushrooms with baby bok choy was light, delicate, and lovely. A richer platter of lamb and asparagus won my vote for best in show. Fried rice included corn and bean sprouts and snow peas and goji berries, but I had no room left once it arrived. Desserts were throwaways--a lackluster jelly roll with "creme fraiche" whipped cream that tasted only of regular cream; a poached pear over out-of-season fruits. Save room for extra dumplings, instead.

529 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

per se

It is everything you expect, and more.

Canapes of salmon coronets, onion-infused cream cheese, and gougeres filled with Sauce Mornay.

A hollowed egg with custard and black truffles.

Keller's famous oysters and pearls: tapioca, Island Creek oysters, white sturgeon caviar.

Bread service: two types of butter, five types of salt, pretzel bread, miniature San Francisco sour dough loaves.

Garnet yams wrapped in something crispy and served with compressed apples.

Torchon of foie gras, quince poached in wine, micro mache, a never-ending arrival of warm brioche.

Long Island striped bass wrapped in swiss chard, a perfect pommes puree.

A slightly overcooked (my one gripe) kanburi with tiny carrots, cucumbers, and a pickle emulsion.

Butter poached lobster with equally buttery pumpkin porridge, butternut squash, tart cranberries.

Four Story Hill Farm rabbit, salsify, soft farmer's cheese.

Elysian Farms' lamb--one piece, bone-in--with bitter and sweet endive, navel oranges, and lamb jus.

A cheese course served with tomato marmalade, cornichon, roasted eggplant.

Huckleberry sorbet with Swiss meringue and red wine granite.

S'mores deconstructed and served with peanut butter mousse, pucks of marshmallow, and caramel ice cream.

Bitter orange and chocolate composition with quenelles of ice cream, chocolate mousse truffles, and bergamot as far as the eye can see.

A purple cow of vanilla genoise, concord grape soda, and grape sherbet.

Beignets with coffee semi-fredo.

Chocolates--Arnold Palmer, curry, balsamic vinegar, chocolate mousse, tamarind-pineapple, and so many others that I have since forgotten them.

A tiered box of fudge, caramels, and truffles.

Buttered popcorn ice cream bonbons.

Mocha brownies to bring home.

It was near perfect. Get there if you can.

per se
10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019

Friday, October 14, 2011

The King of Fish

If I had any sincere doubt about whether or not Le Bernadin deserved four stars--or about whether or not Eric Ripert remained the confirmed king of the sea--I doubt no longer. Last night's four course dinner (ten people, two grand, thank you very much) blew all us little fishies out of the water. It is an occasion restaurant, as marked by the fact that we ran into not one but two other tables of culinary school grads. And it is a restaurant for the wealthy, as marked by the fact that a very famous comedian couple sat in a corner banquette, sharing wine and looking deliciously unkempt.

Thanks to the tip off from a friend, the restaurant began our meal with a gratis magnum of champagne. The dining room is larger than a lot of four stars (per se has sixteen tables and Jean-Georges is the kind of precious, carpeted room that makes people afraid to speak loudly), though smaller than Del Posto. It is carpeted, as is tradition in these kinds of places. It is filled with warm and sophisticated touches--a flowing wall pattern resembling the ocean; a seascape mural at the restaurant's rear; white orchids on the tables and in large standing vases. It is a hospitable, warm room, if not one that is terribly memorable.

And then: the food. An amuse bouche arrives of poached golden and red beets, wrapped in tiny burritos filled with goat cheese and a puck of tuna tartare and a bowl of lobster knuckle in some kind of emulsion. It points to the luxury of the meal and made even this beet hater a convert.

A raw course of black bass, sliced green grapes, celery, and olive oil packed crunch and punch. It was sweet and savory, silken and crunchy. A foie gras and tuna carpaccio arranged in the shape of a fish was equal parts decadence and allure. Striped bass with crispy artichokes reminded me that raw fish can be powerful in its excellence.

My langoustines arrived next, bathed in a salty, sweet beurre blanc and garnished with various mushrooms and cubes of foie gras. I preferred it to an admittedly well-executed crab cake with potato chips. My entree stole the show--crispy black bass with a mushroom reduction as rich as duck stock, served with a plate of spicy pickled cucumbers. A poached halibut in beet broth rivaled my fish, as did a soft and steaming striped bass with Thai inflections. The meat dishes ordered by two in our party did not measure up to the rest of our meal. One would do best to stick with the sea at Le Bernadin.

Then: dessert. Pre-dessert was a pot de creme of chocolate, layered with caramel and custard and salted cream in a hollowed egg with a demitasse. Panna cotta with figs was a textural dream. A comped mango cheesecake was the best of its ilk and a composed plate billed as apple cinnamon brought me back to an autumn fair ground. Petit fours of chocolate and pate de fruits and a tiny pate a choux filled with cream reminded me that in four star restaurant every touch matters.


Le Bernadin
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019