This week's installment of Opinionated About Dining comes in two parts. Beginning this week, and continuing every other Wednesday, Opinionated About Dining will publish a summary of the raves and pans that our members reported on during the prior two-week period (as decided by yours truly). There will be no editorializing by OA management, just dishes they felt strongly about one way or the other, and how the members described them. I've also included an overall comment about the meal, and I've posted photos when they were available. This week's installment covers restaurants that members reviewed in the two-week period ending April 10, 2005. Also starting today, and continuing every other Wednesday, I will write an opinion piece on what is happening in the world of dining or wine. This week's piece focuses on how the Manhattan restaurants L'Impero and Tabla, handled service issues which came up at two recent meals. Each restaurant is being sent a copy of the article, and they will each have the opportunity to post a response in next Wednesday's edition of OAD. Also, if any of our readers have recent stories to share about services issues at restaurants, feel free to send them to me by email. I am going to try and post them in a "letters to the editor" format along with the responses from the restaurants if they decide to post them.
Member Raves and Pans - Per Se, Mas, Devi, Kabab Cafe, Katz's Delicatessen, Fiore's, Jean-Robert's at Pigalle, Slanted Door, Tartare, Urasawa, The Hump, Hibiscus, The Plough, Anthony's of Leeds, Pierre Gagnaire, Guy Savoy, Troisgros, Alle Testiere, Fiaschetteria Toscana
Anthony's of Leeds Red Mullet, Fried Chicken Skin, Enoki Mushrooms, Langoustines and an Almond Creme Caramel; Rib Eye of Beef, Seared then Cooked in a 55 degree Low Oven since 11.30 that morning, with a Skewer of Baby Octupus on Pomme with Cubes of Braised Oxtail
Urasawa's Fugu Liver first wrapped in Shiso then the whole wrapped in Fugu Sashimi topped with 24 carat Gold Leaf, Chrysanthemum Petals; Steamed dish of Cherry blossom, Red Snapper and Shrimp with Ankake Sauce
Michel Troisgros's "“Foie Gras aux Truffe”, Foie Gras layer at the bottom and an intense Black Truffle layer on top, garnished with a thin round of fresh Black Truffle; Breast of Canette de Challans Laquée, Aigre-Doux de Mangue/Fenouil, Pommes Soufflés
Opinion: Restaurants Are a Service Business, Some Restaurants Know It, Others Don't
When you eat out a lot, you are bound to run into less than perfect dining experiences. Most of the time, issues with dining have to do with the level of execution in the kitchen, but sometimes service issues put a damper on your meal. What really sets restaurants apart is how they handle these situations. Some restaurants have trained their staffs properly, and as a result, they manage to turn a situation with the potential for disaster into one that satisfies the customer. But some restaurants are less customer-friendly. In my experience, when something goes wrong in one of those restaurants, you can be sure that the staff will do everything they can to turn an incipient disaster into an actual one. Here are two stories of what happened to me within a ten-day period while dining out in Manhattan.
Coming April 20 Steve P's reviews of Per Se, Craft, Annisa. Mosaico, Tuscan Steak, Nobu South Beach and more; April 27, member raves and pans of Lumiere, Michiaki, Zuma, Lampreia, Christopher's, Locando Locatelli, Can Peio, L'Avant Gout and more.
Seared Hudson Valley Duck Foie Gras with roasted apricot - Wow, nothing like a seared piece of perfectly tender foie. Gimme seared over terrine any day
Aiguillette of Liberty Valley Pekin Duck Breast, confit of Cara Cara oranges, wilted arugula, pistachio crumble, and foie gras mignonnette sauce - Rare slices of duck with sweet and rich foie sauce. Again, beautifully complex all cylinders firing on this dish
Brigid's Abbey, Per Se cole slaw, caraway melba, and Dijon mustard vinaigrette - To me the cheese course at Per Se is a weak link in the meal. Very pedestrian cheese.
Overall Comment - A solid A to A+ in NY dining. Friendly professional and welcoming service.
Tuna in Beurre Noisette - Was just as good as the members described.
Braised Short Ribs - Were amazing, melt in your mouth delicious, and much better than the ones at Craft the next night.
Sturgeon on a Bed of Lentils - I thought the fish, while good quality, was overcooked.
Overall comment - Very comfortable room with a great staff - I see why everyone likes it so much.
Goan shrimp - The freshness of the seasoning in the sauce complemented the flavor of the shrimp, rather than drowning it out.
Lamb Chops - Excellent -- good quality lamb and a nice, not mushy, flavor to them.
Overall comment - This was Indian food cooked at a quite high level with good ingredients
Goat Shank with Chickpeas and Dumplings - Tender meat that just fell off the bone in a fragrant sauce flavoured with cardamom.
Braised Rabbit in Tomato Sauce with Vegetables - Exceptionally tender, couldn't resist picking it up and chewing the bones.
Overall Comment - "I want to go back to Ali’s" and you can bet that as soon as is possible we will.
Corned Beef Sandwich
Overall Comment - The pastrami just blows the corned beef away.
Fiore's Delicatessen (Hoboken)
Rare Roast Beef and Homemade Mozzarella on a roll dipped in Gravy
Overall Comment - Leaves the Katz pastrami sandwich in the shade, capiche?
Jean Robert's at Pigalle - Cincinnati, Ohio
Escargot Provençale with Butter Sauce, Soft Polenta with Thyme, Serrano Ham, Shiitake Mushrooms, Tomato Confit - The whole effect was merly eating something that nutrified without pleasure.
Rack of Lamb, Cabernet Sauce, Fennel Confit, Garlic Flan, Fingerling Potatoes, Spinach, and Mushrooms - The lamb meat itself was virtually tasteless and was randomly salted to the point where one section was like a pretzel and another had nothing.
Overall comment - Despite a very enjoyable evening, I have to say avoid this restaurant.
Spring Rolls - Were on par with what you would find at any decent pho restaurant.
Steamed Bass - You could find something like this at any Chinese restaurant.
Overall comment - The food definately lacked the punch that it once possessed.
Ostrich Tartare - Dish of the evening, served in a halved ostrich egg, the ostrich was mixed with a quail egg and a host of diced vegetables and herbs.
Smoked Duck Tartare - Unbalanced, with too strong an emphasis on mint.
Overall comment - OK place, but nowhere I would rush back to. After having dined at Hearth and Devi earlier in the week, Tartare was not in the same league.
Fugu Liver Wrapped in Shiso, Then Wrapped in Fugu Sashimi, topped with 24 carat gold leaf, chrysanthemum petals and shiso flower - Absolutely wonderful.
Steamed Cherry Blossom, Red Snapper, and Shrimp with Ankake Sauce - Excellent, almost soufflé-like in quality.
Toro - Just wasn’t as good as Masa’s.
The Hump - Santa Monica Airport
Overall comment - I preferred it to Nozawa and Mori. I think I would go back again - Sushi Yasuda beats The Hump hands down - no contest.
Palamos, seafood broth with a mix of tiny squid and prawns, small dishes including pork skin, squid, and an aspic with clams - Raw ingredients were superb, but the flavour and texture of each individual item was perfect. A strong 18/borderline 19.
Lièvre Royale - This was fantastic stuff – wonderful theatre in the serving – and faultless cooking, definite 19/20
Langoustine, tartare apple granite, poached and set in a mousseline with herbs, grilled on a skewer with a lime vinaigrette, spiced and pan-fried in a consommé - The actual quality of the raw ingredients in all the preparations didn’t impress me in the way it did with the langoustines at L’Ambroisie. 17/20
Sole in a Jus of Chicken with Spanish Ham - Weak. The fish was overcooked, the sauce too overpowering and slightly grainy, and altogether it was a dish to forget. 14/20
Overall comment - Despite the sole and my slight disappointment over the langoustine, this was a great meal and I would return to Gagnaire at the first opportunity.
Black Truffle Soup with Mushroom Brioche - Very good, perhaps the truffle flavour could have been a little more intense and clean ,but overall this was an old classic still well done. 17/20
Wild Duck Stuffed and Served with Wild Mushrooms in a Wild Duck Reduction - Good, some elements very good, flavour of the duck was excellent, and the sauce was superb with a lot of powerful but clean flavour. A strong 17/20 borderline 18
White Truffle Risotto - Both as a white truffle dish and as a risotto it did not quite hit the expected heights. 16/20
Lievre Royale - Meat was very good, with a lot of flavour and very well cooked, but the sauce lacked the requisite punch. 16/20
Overall comment - Food was good, no dish was disastrously poor. But as a three-star restaurant, charging three-star prices, I found it underwhelming in pure gastronomic terms.
“Foie Gras aux Truffe," warm flan consisting of a foie gras layer at the bottom and an intense black truffle layer on top, garnished with a thin round of fresh black truffle - The most amazing thing about this dish was how the texture could be so light and the flavor so intense at the same time. If I ever commit a crime worthy of the death penalty, I think I now know what I would request as my last meal.
Savoureux Bouillon de Bar au Riz "Koshi-Hikari" - We found this dish utterly delicious, and I found it to be a welcome and refreshing palate-wakener after the rich foie/truffle flan.
Canette de Challans Laquée, Aigre-Doux de Mangue/Fenouil, Pommes Soufflés - Because of the long contact with the spices, the dish has a very intensely aromatic character -- as soon as the kitchen door opened, everyone in the restaurant could tell the duck had entered the room and all turned to watch it be presented and carved.
Overall comment - In sum, although Michel’s cuisine will never be quite as inventive as that of Gagnaire, Passard or Veyrat (let alone the crazy Spaniards), there is a counter-balance against pure inventiveness at Troisgros that anchors the restaurant at least somewhat in a tradition of pure and simple deliciousness. If I haven’t said this clearly enough above, Troisgros is well worth a trip across the world, and that is a trip I hope to take many many times again in the future.
White Onion Risotto with Parmesan Air - Although the air seems dense on a spoon it evaporates instantly on your tongue - an almost etheral taste.
Pig's Cheek, Pomme Puree, Baby Parsley Leaves with a Potted Shrimp Sauce - A real stunner. Parsley was grown in Tony's greenhouse
Overall comment - Although I really enjoyed the meal, because we were trying the new a la carte dishes, I found it was just slightly too rich and heavy.
Hibiscus - Ludlow, United Kingdom
Tartare of Asparagus Bound in Salted Butter, smoked coconut milk, veloute of asparagus - The asparagus was beautifully sweet and crisp, contrasting with the rich smooth veloute which was very deeply flavoured.
Grilled Razor Clam with Chicken Kidney and Gingerbread with a creamy veloute of spring onion and Menton lemon - one of the dishes that stood out most. Tender nuggets of clam and kidney with a dusting of gingerbread.
Roast Scottish Scallop, turnip and vanilla puree, confit of baby turnips, truffle and vanilla - I confess I can remember nothing about this at all
Overall comment - This was a very good meal, possibly slightly suffering by comparison to two pretty much 'great' ones in January.
The Plough (Winchmore Hill)
Roast Rib of Beef (accompanied by the usual suspects) - Perfectly cooked beef which had bags of flavour.
Salt and Pepper Squid, French fries, and lime aioli - Pleasant enough, although the odd mouthful was sometimes a little heavy on the pepper. The French fries were wholly redundant.
Overall comment - Certainly a very nice place to visit if in the area.
Alle Testiere - Venice, Italy
Scallops Appetizer - Escargot like, very buttery and garlicky served in the shells.
Gnocchi with Scallops - Kind of tasteless.
Overall comment - Cute place, excellent service (he even speaks Japanese) and good enough food.
Fiaschetteria Toscana - Venice, Italy
Black Fettucine with Lobster - Very good.
Fritto Misto of Seafood and Vegetables - Fine, but I don't think it holds a candle to the clam shacks north of Boston. (Editor's note: my favorite comment of this week.)
Overall comment - Some things were quite expensive, but we ate well without spending tons. One of the guys complained about gritty clams.