For some reason I stop eating fancy meals in the summertime. Not that I stop eating completely mind you, but the idea of putting a jacket on and consuming a multitude of courses doesn't have much appeal to me when it's hot out. I'm much happier in shorts and a T-shirt, grilling up large slabs of prime beef sourced from places like Lobel's, Citarella, or Bryan Flannery on my barbecue, or throwing on chinos and a linen shirt (never tucked in) and going to places like Ssam Bar, Resto or Hill Country. It's funny but I'm not even conscious of the switch. But when July comes, the urge to consume a dozen courses at a time dissipates. But then September rolls around and all of a sudden the desire to eat as a pastime returns. And so it goes that in the first three weeks of this dining season, I managed to eat at Blue Hill Stone Barns, Per Se, Tailor and Atelier de Robuchon as well as sneaking in one course plus dessert at someone else's meal at Jean George.
The Stone Barns dining room was alive with scenes of the end of the summer when we visited on the first Saturday of the month with Captains parading though the dining room with baskets holding multiple varieties of heirloom tomatoes, long trays with four different types of wild mushrooms, and a tea cart holding large glass jars that were filled with herbs for tea. It was a great bit of dining theater and the show alone made one hungry. As you can imagine, those ingredients end up in the dishes we were served, which in our case included various tomato dishes, a slow-poached Stone Barns egg served atop bitter greens, some of tastiest boneless chicken wings I have ever come upon which were paired with wild mushrooms and greens, and a rack of pork and its bacon served with a sauce that had quinoa as its base. A truly delicious meal and I am eager to return for the next tranche of the harvest which is when fall vegetables are in season.
My meal at Per Se was less successful. Not that it was a bad meal, it just didn't rise to the heights the restaurant is capable of. It started well with superb servings of oysters and pearls and then a cup of a thick and creamy butternut squash soup with a bit of Per Se granola and a "Quatre Epices" mousse. But when it came to the dishes that were part of the tasting menu, only one dish really stood out which was an herb roasted filet of sturgeon served with pickled young onions, compressed English cucumbers, cauliflower florets, cilantro shoots and an onion beurre blanc. They fish was caramelized at the top making it slightly sweet as a result. Other than it being a hair overcooked, it was a good example of Per Se at its best. Another dish that was good but not quite up to the sturgeon was a butter poached Nova Scotia lobster served with a ragout of lady cream peas, pea tendrils and a creamy lobster broth. But the next three dishes, a whole roasted foie gras with hearts of romaine and duck jus, pan roasted Cavendish Farm's quail with rutabega, melted Savoy cabbage and Elysian Farm's rack of lamb served with Romano beans that were braised in San Marzano tomatoes were just not the same level of quality as the fish courses. But that's how fine dining goes. You can go back the very next night and eat the same meal and it can be stupendous.
Given that it was open less than a week, it isn't fair to do a complete review of Sam Mason's new restaurant, Tailor. But given that we ate every dish on the menu in the order they were listed, both savory courses and desserts, I thought I would give some impressions of the cuisine and the restaurant which has caused a lot of discussion on the web. First of all, it's a hip and groovy downtown place. If you do not like eating in that type of environment then don't go. Second, besides some poor wine service, we found the staff to be friendly and accommodating and not at all rude and unfriendly the way it has been reported elsewhere. But if you do go and loud music and a noisy environment is not your cup of tea, go early as it seemed they turn up the volume around 9:45.
As for the cuisine, well it is a work in progress. Some dishes do not work perfectly but some are simply sublime. The meal started with a mousse that was 3/4 foie gras and 1/4 peanut butter that was balanced in such a subtle way that one small bite made me stop and think about the dish. Other dishes we enjoyed were a pork belly with artichoke and a miso butterscotch, and char that was poached in a passion fruit fondue and served with lime pickle and coconut, and a superb dessert of roasted bananas and mustard ice cream that was so good we ordered a second portion. The issue with the restaurant at this stage has to do with the flavor palate. Some dishes are balanced in a style I will call Dufresnesque, but others, like the banana with mustard ice cream, are more intense in flavor and balanced in a more traditional way. Sam needs to find the middle ground in terms of palate, and keep the cuisine consistant to that standard. But all in all, this is an excellent addition to the New York dining scene and with time I hope it develops into one of my regular haunts. In fact I hope to go back this week to try the new seven course all chocolate sweet and savory tasting menu.
I still don't get what it is that people see about the Robuchon restaurant in the Four Seasons (sorry no photos). All of my friends love it including some people whose palates I respect. But the place leaves me absolutely cold. Not that the food is bad, but it is so conservative and boring compared to other places in town. I had three courses on Saturday night, an eggplant canneloni stuffed with a tuna confit, quail stuffed with foie gras, and turbot with artichokes in barigoule sauce. The best I could say about the food was that it is highly polished. But in terms of a compelling dining experience no. It's just high class hotel food and the meal was so offputting that it put in a bad mood which lasted until noon the next day. In my opinion, Wesley Genovart's small plates cuisine at Degustation blows this away.
But the best thing I ate this week was a Bo Ssam that David Chang sent out which was the size of a baby lamb. David also sent out a sneak preview of his short ribs dish which will be great when he is finished fine tuning it. I mean forgetting about the cost of a meal for second (my meal at Robuchon costs $200 a person with tip), the ten course extravaganza I had at Ssam Bar this week blew it away and cost half the money. Sorry to say it again but I really don't get it.