Showing posts with label New York City Restaurants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York City Restaurants. Show all posts

NYC Mandarin Oriental's Asiate: Sensational Lunch


Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, advised nutritionist Adelle Davis. I ascribe to any theory that supports my illusion of grandeur.

So I had a royal lunch at Asiate in the palatial Mandarin Oriental in New York City with Mary Ann Williamson. She puts the amorous in glamorous.

We rise in the elevator as if in a champagne bottle. We pop out onto the 35th floor and float into the dining room to drink up a bubbly view of sparkling Central Park.

Bouley: New York City -- A Connecticut Yankee in King Louis' Kitchen

I paused before a closed antique store in Tribeca, staring in the still and vacant space that disregarded the city's busy outside noise. Movement in the next building caught my eye. Busy bakers rolled dough on huge marble counters. Flour dust filled the room like sawdust flying out of a lumber mill.  A short, white-hatted factory worker reached up, opened a high oven, and pulled out a long tray of bread, holding promise that pushed me onward.

Bouley Exterior

I stepped off Duane Street and into chef David Bouley’s mind. Apples purposefully line the vestibule's walls; they are a taste of what’s to come. Orchids spray confidently up and out of a Japanese jar, just as some of Chef Bouley’s food inspiringly springs from his loved time in Japan. Let the room spin, the French bench will catch you, and foreshadows the gilded dishes inside.

Bouley Foyer lined with Apples

The hostess politely handed me a pin-striped jacket, which I was humbled to wear; I was unprepared today. Passing through the lounge into the dining room, I looked up at the lacquered gold groin vault ceiling – those deep dents and joints must have been caused by countless pops of champagne cork assaults, echoing shouts down at me that lunch at Bouley is a celebration.

Bouley Vaulted Ceiling

Chef David Bouley was born in Connecticut, but the doting kisses from his very French mother touched his heart and linger there. Her influence rattles and shakes in his soul, uncontrollably pouring onto his plates. His modern restraint uses butter sparingly, replaced with health-inducing herbs and vegetables for flavor.

Bouley's famous five course lunch tasting menu for $55 isn’t a secret, it’s a thrill. He dispatches his perfectly executed food in personally designed dishes as uniformed soldiers to the tables, on the able-bodied arms of well-trained and passionate waiters. An effective general must be loved by his troops. Here they share a belief in his mission.

Nicholas was posted to my table. He walked me through my meal like an expert docent at the Louvre giving a tour of the most important pieces for a first-time visitor who hadn’t enough time to see the entire collection.  

Anyone can see the Venus de Milo, but don’t miss the intimacy of Van Hoogstraten's “The Slippers", at Bouley became The Carpaccio of Kampachi is fantastic, but today you shouldn’t miss the Big Eye Tuna in Apple Foam. We went course by course through the menu, like I was picking college classes and he knew how far the campus walk between each one was. When he says, and then you’ll have the Valrhona soufflé it's a hint at my graduation.

I held my menu close to my chest and looked around hoping the other diners couldn’t hear him.

That's how they run out of food in a kitchen like Bouley, founded on the belief that only seasonal ingredients are to be used, and when they are used up, poof, it's over.

Bread is wheeled out on a cart and hawked by a slick carb Carny. Chef David plucked an apple from the entry wall, and held it in his hand, daring his baker, Aboubacar Diomandé, to snatch it. He did. And among the olive, fig, saffron, and walnut, baked a masterloaf laced with al dente apples.

Take several different slices, you'll need them to dredge sauces from the bottom of your bowls. Yes, I do that here, careful not to also dip in the sleeve of my borrowed jacket.

The flow of amuse bouche started with an apple blini of Scottish smoked salmon. I was puzzled: it looked like a makeup sponge, resting on a puff of foam base.

Bouley apple blini of scottish smoked salmon


I threw a panicked glance to the different cutlery on my left, then to my right – I knew they were all lined up in a specific order that I did not wish to rube-ishly violate. I am one fish knife shy of drinking the finger bowl.

I shot Nicholas that help me look Julia Roberts threw to Hector Elizondo when unsure of the escargot procedure. Nicholas narrowed his eyes and nodded a silent it’s cool to pop the entire thing in your mouth – we’ve all done it. My tongue effortlessly lifted the blini to the roof of my mouth; it flew up and was gone before I knew it, leaving me with smoked salmon to savor and chew, enjoying trace amounts of sweet honey.

An oyster with kiwi carpaccio and a tiny sansho pepper is Bouley’s respectful and playful amuse bow to Japan. I gently closed my mouth around the oyster and popped it in one bite. The sweet and sour kiwi instantly turned briny into sparkly.

Bouley oyster and kiwi carpaccio

Bigeye tuna swim peacefully in the Atlantic ocean, but even the keenest can't keep one eye, big as it is, on every hook, and sometimes one gets yanked from the sea. The chefs here lovingly rehab the tuna, cuddling it in a protective, puffy bed of tart, lemony apple foam. Osetra caviar is applied as ointment.

Bouley apple foam, big eye tuna,osetra caviar

I know booths at farmer’s markets sell professionally foraged mushrooms, but I like to think that Chef David did the foraging personally for my plate.

Busy as he is, he wakes early, and decides to skip the fish market. He dons rubber boots, grabs a bucket and walks into the figurative woods that all chefs live nearby. This is his quiet, reflective time, and he contemplatively solves sauce-breaking problems as he picks up a wild hen-of–the-woods mushroom, scratches the flesh, sniffs it, and tosses it into the bucket. Dawn turns into day, snapping him out of his trance and he heads in the kitchen to pluck a chicken.

The roasted mushrooms were sprayed with a garlic foam. Each has the good taste and inherent common sense to stay unique in the crowd and offer distinguishable flavors.

Bouley forager's treasur of wild mushrooms

The plate is a fungilicous wine tasting, and I held each bite-sized mushroom up on my fork and twirled it as if spinning a glass of wine to watch the "legs" form. The toro I love and heretofore have only eaten raw, was broiled, turning it a singed brown, and making it appear as a mushroom, hidden on the plate as the mushrooms themselves were hidden in the woods. The little poofs of truffle paté dabbed on top were perfectly rich, and the welcome gilding of the lily Bouley's lobby had promised.

I looked down at my plate and wondered, what is Chef David smoking? Milk. He covers his black cod, seared like foie gras, in the inventive stuff like a starlet taking a sudsy bath.

Bouley's black cod in smoked milk

Kumquat foam from his own Kent, Connecticut farm is cozied up on the side, adding refreshingly citrusy effervescent bubbles.The milk hints at a French fish stew Bouley's mother might have made.

I watch a trail of uniformed waiters march out of the kitchen in single file. They match the taupe walls, preferring that the stark white china they hold be the pop of color in the lavish, perfectly-lit room. Each course is presented all at once to the party. Diners lean in close over the table to look at each others plates, and into each others eyes.

This room is so sexy you could have wild, acrobatic sex in a secluded booth, stuffing chunks of soft bread in your limber lover's mouth to quiet them down. Hush darling, it's lunch and deals are being made.

Nicholas orchestrates the staff with quiet cues and gestures -- as a plate is whisked away a fork swings in and lands to my left, as a film trailer's coming attraction. Nicholas did time at Daniel's Boulud Sud and it shows. He believes one year at Bouley is ten years knowledge elsewhere.

Chef David spent time with Joel Robuchon, and presents a savory homage  -- a crispy bread made from health-fortifying Kuzu, spread with Robuchon's potato puree and Bouley's truffle paste. I felt better immediately.

Bouley's kuzu bread, Robohon's potato puree

Many of David's dishes are thrilling, as represented by his signature porcini flan. I dredged my spoon in and scooped what I thought were all of the components, and savored the peppery bite with the skepticism we all reserve for sure it's famous, but why? We cast that same doubt as we gaze at art, staring up at the thick black slashes of Motherwell and tsk-tsking, I could do that. But you didn't. I dug deeper and hit the golden paydirt of flan, the smooth thin custard layer lined the bottom.  Now as I ate these fully-intended and complete bites of Alaskan crab and Japanese dashi, the reputation was validated.

Bouley's signature dish, porcini flan

His Rouget fish is fried so crispy I thought I was eating delicate fried fish fins, like my brother used to love as a kid at family fish frys. The bowl was dotted with rare and still-firm steamed bright green romanesco -- the delicate beauty of this exotic vegetable reflects the intricacy of a Cambodian dancer's headdress. I grabbed each tiny one and dragged it through the tangy sauce as if I had conquered a beauty.

Bouley's Rouget

I hated myself for picking up the sharp, bone-handled knife the assistant waitress had placed beside my bowl before my dish was presented. She had a new, cute haircut as precisely trimmed as the slice I was served of slow braised Kobe style beef cheeks with blue kale gnocchi. 

Bouley's beef cheeks

In a split second I over thought the need for the knife and poked it in. The beef met my knife and fell apart with the fragility of a crushed lover. I felt foolish and tucked the soiled knife's blade under my plate, wanting to go in the kitchen and first apologize to the chef for doubting his skill to make impossibly tender meat, and then to the overworked dishwasher for making him wash the knife.

I stabbed each teensy tiny gnocchi, and if I sent one scooting across my plate, good, I deserved to miss. I guiltily enjoyed the braised Hungarian-style flavors accented with the delicate sour taste of creme fraiche.

Nicholas carried the hefty pot holding the chicken en cocotte with alfalfa and clover hay out to the dining room and placed it before me. A hero's trophy after battle. I looked inside the pot and realized that this was the kindest, most benevolent way to be cooked. It's as if the chicken is still in his warm coop, laying on his familiar bed of hay and alfalfa. As the dough is packed around the lid to seal his fate, he is slowly and obliviously lulled to tender perfection at a high, bone-numbing heat.


Bouley's chicken en cocotte with alfalfa and hay

This is how the Egyptians entered the afterlife. Throw in some food and a cat or two, seal their tombs, and they'd phoenicianly rise on up into eternal happiness, just as the steam arose from the glass pot as Nicholas unsealed the baked dough and pried it away.

I have no idea if I ate thigh or breast meat, or a part I'd never known before and perhaps magically sprang up from this baking method. It was as tender as Adele singing to her own baby.

Bouley's chicken en cocotte with alfalfa and hay


The kale puree made a bright, healthy, flavorful foundation for each cheese-soft bite. Looking good is the best revenge I told the pretty purple brussels sprouts as I led them through the reduction provided by the roasted chicken's grassy bed. 

A white chocolate cloud appeared, floating on torn Origami paper. I was told to eat it quickly, that it's truly a cloud and disappears.

Bouley's white chocolate cloud

Green tea is dusted on top as fingerprint dust, to prove it's existence. I dug past the foam, greedily scraping the more formed, icy bottom, not caring if I ate paper.  One can ponder the fragility of life, or devour it completely before it's gone.

If service could be ordered as a meat temperature, I'd always order mine well-done, as opposed to rare, which is the way I eat meat. I can't swallow well-done meat nor disinterested service. In either case, I just chew and chew and end up frustrated, wishing they both could be sent back.

Nicholas has a passion that peeks out of his eyes, curls into a pleasant smile, runs down his arm and out his steady, confident hand with which he places a plate on the table. His expertise on the Bouley craft made my meal taste better. Well done, Nicholas. So rare.

The parade began of sweet courses, sending my brain a note that my meal was winding down. The stem on the tall parfait glass was very long, and looked fragile and top heavy. I wanted the glass to be okay; it deserved Betty Grable's leg treatment and needed to be insured by Lloyd's of London to protect it from breaking and ruining the contents.

Bouley's vanilla mousse, lychee sorbet parfait

Like closing credits on a film, the ingredients rolled onto my spoon. Vanilla mousse, clementine puree, lychee ice cream. My tongue spotted the glittery drag queen star demanding top billing -- I loved her in everything -- Crystallized Honey.

Chef David lives upstairs. Most of us pad into the kitchen late at night and have cold cereal for a snack, but when Bouley gets hungry, he bolts downstairs, his open robe flapping in the breeze. He cranks up Vivaldi, and in the lyrical solitude of the night, wracked with insomnia and inspiration, he creates my decadent dessert: hot Valrhona chocolate souffle, coffee ice cream, and chocolate mousse. The white coffee cloud is impossible, but it's there, too, subtly curved into a smile on the side of the bowl.

Bouley's Valrhona chocolate souffle

I lingered in the dining room, then passed back into the chic lounge. I'd been wearing Bouley's better coat for a while and it was deliciously comfortable, so I took a little extra time as I surrendered the loaner jacket and pulled on my own overcoat.  I paused in the apple-lined vestibule, appreciating it more the second time around, and wondering if the closed door led to the kitchen.

I hung on a bit before leaving, as if I had been kicked out of a bar at closing time but wanting another drink. I made a promise to someday take one of his cooking classes and visit his Japanesey sister-kitchen, Brushstroke.

Back on Daune Street, I passed multi-colored tulips springing up from their planter reminding me Nicholas had tucked a bag of Bouley macarons in my pocket. I patted them as I walked away, smiling.

Bouley exterior

Bouley. 163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013 (212) 964-2525

Boulud Sud: New York City -- Daniel's Club Med(iterranean)

Daniel Boulud takes you cruising through the Mediterranean at his Boulud Sud restaurant, near Lincoln center in New York City.

I'd be happy if Boulud Sud (sud is French for south) stuck to cuisine from the South of France. But Daniel gives you a peek at Greece, teases you with a little Africa, and waves Spain right under your nose, waking you up. Monaco is there too, along with her poor cousin Tunisia, who huddles in the corner reeking of Harissa.

It's only a short walk across Central Park, but as I entered his bright, wide-windowed Westside Boulud Sud, it hit me that this is a far cry from Daniel's original East Side establishment, or house of skilled repast -- the dark, sexy room where he pimps the world's most gorgeous dishes. They sidle over to your table, paraded by as if they were high-class hookers. I lick my lips and devour his French cuisine, savoring the flavor pheromones as they race down my throat. I swallow, and my tongue pops a boner; the chef's work is done.

But his new Boulud Sud had special appeal for me this night.  My raison d'être was their offer of a prix fixe, pre-theater, three-course dinner for $60. As the hostess pulled my chair away from the cozy table, I reminded her that we had tickets to Book of Mormon. I said it too loudly for emphasis; had I tickets to a lesser show I'd have kept my mouth shut. The young, dark-eyed girl looked at me and sweetly smiled. She didn't speak, but I could smell the confidence coming off of her. It wasn't condescension; I hated that smell and avoided places that served it. This was more like saffron, but it might have just been actual saffron wafting from a dish a passing waiter brandished.

We opened the menu and were pleased with the selection. The menu covered the bases with beef, chicken, fish, and then rounded third and came home using fennel, spigarello, socca, and chickpea.  I could start with hummus and falafel -- but why? I grabbed the waiter by his skinny, trendy tie and pulled him close. Did Daniel do something funny to the hummus that makes it special? It better be amazing fucking hummus and the falafel better literally sing if he's going to have something so banal on his menu, especially on my special night. I have Book of Mormon tickets!

The waiter wriggled free, begging that I look towards the kitchen. I saw a white chef wearing a coat to match his pallor. The waiter rubbed his throat to speak, imploring me to listen to his tale.

The chef was Aaron Chambers, a British progeny of Daniel himself. The waiter suspected that Aaron once headed to Morocco on holiday, traveling alone because all of his little chef friends went to Paris, again.  He didn't speak the language, but he found his way to a cafe and sat, looking confused by the menu. He caught the eye of an old man who wore a spice-stained apron. Just before the old man ducked back into the kitchen, he sent his beautiful young daughter out to the pale stranger. He looks like flour, the old man muttered in Arabic.

With a lot of pointing and miming, the girl guided the chef through one of the most flavorful, inventive meals of his life. He bedded the waitress that night. Hungry for more, they sneaked into the old man's kitchen. Giggling, naked, she took his hand, and through the unspoken language of spice and sex, together they cooked eye-opening traditional dishes. By sunrise, Aaron was culinarily walking funny.

His trip ended, and as he tearfully said goodbye to his hot, spicy lover, he vowed to continue what she showed him. In the kitchen only, he assured her with a wink. The old man tucked some old, wrinkled recipes under the boys arm and kissed him, hard.

Trust me, the waiter whispers to me, leaning in close, his hummus is amazing. And so is Book of Mormon, I've seen it twice. We all have.  

As I tasted the hummus, a food you can buy at any 7-Eleven in a personal-sized squeeze tube, I knew that Aaron had paid attention in Moroccan cuisine school.  It was brilliantly laced with English peas. The bread was so thin and crispy it was like fried butterfly wings. The dash of cumin had a purpose other than to offset the green.


Boulud Sud hummus, falafel, and baba ghanoush

I picked up a falafel, and split it open as I always do. I was taken aback by the bright green inside. I called the waiter over to alert him that they had served me old, moldy food. They work off tips, and he kindly whispered, That's mint, it's traditional.

Octopus was softened by Jerez vinegar to the point that this normally frightful and tough animal could be gummed by a granny without her teeth. I picked up a little arugula, orange, and slivered almonds, along with a bit of cruel Ursula with each stab of my fork.


I discovered that, prior to this meal, I had been eating some mild, watered-down excuse for Mediterranean cuisine. The scallops with fennel and frisée spoke a language I had heard whispered, but never tasted. The chicken tagine, bright with lemon, kept poached turnips captive in its broth of coriander and ginger, long enough for me to dredge warm, crusty bread through it like I was at a church picnic soppin' up gravy. 


It was at this point that we went off the prix fixe script. They paced the dinner so well that we had extra time, so for an extra fee, they augmented our three courses with a shared sea urchin and crab tart, plopped on a cracker slathered with lemon creme. They could have slathered that with Pond's cold cream and I would have paid twice what they charged. Best decision of the day, and I had had a long day.  


Dessert sneaked up to my table, a sultry woman in harem pants, disguised as a cardamom chocolate cake with surprisingly non-pungent goat-milk gelato as her veil, looking me directly in the eyes and asking me, Do you want to split a tart? I hoped she was talking about the lemon cake served with lemon-basil sorbet in her other hand.

I am a strong believer in sharing plates. If I weren't, I feel that there was a fat man in a dark, shadowy corner of this room who would pop out and hold a scimitar against my throat and threaten to split me in two if I didn't.

We paid. I dashed downstairs to the bathroom before our short walk to the theater. When I came out, I thought I retraced my same steps, but the basement has several choices to make -- it's like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. When I emerged upstairs, I was in a totally different, very busy, crowded restaurant!  I saw hams hanging from the ceiling and smelled roasting coffee. Had the world changed? I had eaten food from cultures that freely trade spices, women, goats, and phone numbers, so I figured I might now be in Jordan or Philadelphia. I suddenly regretted whispering to my dinner companion earlier, I would give my left nut for more hummus. This might be the testicle market.

A kindly old spinster woman approached me. My eyes adjusted to the light and I could see that she was in fact a young, unmarried New Yorker working as a hostess. She explained that I was in a different Boulud. Apparently Daniel owns the whole block, and has about a dozen different bars, eateries, and shops all under one giant Bedouin tent. I'm sure there's an ice rink, but I had a show to see. Book of Mormon.

It's a funny show, riotously funny. I looked around at the Midwestern businessmen and grandmothers who probably had no idea what the show they just had to see because everyone went on and on about it was actually about. I wondered what was going through their minds as Jesus tap-danced with the Devil on the Broadway stage.

I wondered if I could stomach the play because my stomach was so full of passion and flavor that was still coursing through my body as I sat in my theater seat.

Just as Chef Aaron did when he released the hand of the spicy Moroccan slut and returned home, I too would be smiling inside for a very long time.