Thicker waist – and thinner wallet

AEJ and I were in NYC last week for the wedding of our friends Ray and Tania. The wedding was fun, and while we were in town, we also met MiniNewSchlachtMan (they call her “Amelia”), and ate a lot of incredible food.

I think the craziest Only-In-New-York day was on Monday. We slept late, then headed out looking for a simple lunch. Our hotel was right across the street from the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, so we headed there to see what we might find. (It’s basically a fancy shopping mall — and the building that houses Jazz at Lincoln Center, the flagship Whole Foods, condos, and the Time Warner corporate offices. But really, it’s a shopping mall.)

Chef Thomas Keller has a restaurant in the Time Warner Center called Per Se. Keller is one of those superstar chefs. He has a restaurant in Napa called French Laundry, and it’s considered one of the best restaurants in the US, if not the world, and it takes 6 weeks to get a reservation. Per Se, his New York restaurant, just received three stars in the fancy-pants Michelin Guide. Only three restaurants in New York received three stars (the Michelin top rating), and Keller had one of them. (One of the other two 3-star restaurants, Jean Georges, just may be coming up later in this entry…)

Before any food freaks reading this get too excited, no, we didn’t have lunch at Per Se. It’s not even open for lunch, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have afforded to eat there had it been open. However, Keller has another restaurant — a restaurant for us common folk — and it was open. It’s called Bouchon Bakery.

Bouchon Bakery is not nearly as fancy as even, say, the brunch at Bouchon, Keller’s restaurant in both Napa and Las Vegas. I’ve written about (and photographed) the incredible breakfast at the Vegas Bouchon. What it is, though, is what I suspect to be the best food ever served at a mall food court. The crispy on the outside, warm on the inside rolls that came first were a fine start.

For my appetizer, I had the chicken and dumpling soup. I can only describe it as delicious and… earthy. It tasted like it could have been prepared the same way 200 years ago, with free range chicken, fresh herbs, and dumplings made from scratch.

My main course was the beet salad. I know it doesn’t look like much (AEJ described it as looking like rabbit food), but it was fresh and light.

It’s not that my salad wasn’t good, but AEJ had the much better idea: grilled cheese with tomato soup. Best grilled cheese ever? Possibly. It was pretty exceptional.

The tomato soup, by the way, is for dunking. (Duh.)

For dessert, we had the apple parfait with green apple sorbet.

Very tasty meal, all around. It’s not the same as Bouchon, and I’m sure if you expected Per Se, you’d be a mighty sad panda, but it was fun and yummy. Here’s a shot of another grilled cheese, waiting to be picked up from the kitchen.

We also picked up some food from the carry out area — to take on the plane the next morning. (That was AEJ’s brilliant idea. I gotta say, a Bouchon coffee cake for breakfast on a plane certainly beats a nasty airport Starbucks bagel.)

Oh – and here’s a shot from the floor below the restaurant. (The view from the restaurant was like this only, you know, one floor higher.) Central Park is purdy.

Speaking of Central Park, we had some time to kill before dinner (thank god — I was stuffed), so we went to the park for a bit. We met this old dog. Hello, nice old dog.

It was miserably hot the entire time we were in NY, so we could only stand being outside briefly. We decided to head back to our hotel to hang out in the game room. We played pool…

… and chess. (Okay, we didn’t play chess, but we played with the pieces.)

Then it was time to get liquored up. I got us a few glasses of wine and decided to be skeevy. I’m so happy to see myself looking cheesy. “Why, hellllloooo, ladies… Care for a drink?”

No, ladies, you can trust me. I’m such a good listener.

(Some day, I’m going to figure out how to be earnest, I really am. This look fools no one.)

Then it was time for dinner. Earlier in this entry, I mentioned that Per Se was one of three New York restaurants to receive the top 3-star rating from Michelin. One of the other two is Jean Georges. That’s where we went for dinner…

The amuse-bouche (the expensive name for the pre-appetizer course) was fig with homemade mozzarella, a tiny corn fritter, and chilled cucumber mint soup. I hate cucumber. I don’t know what my deal is with it, but I hate it. Love pickles, hate cucumber. But I loved this soup. If cucumber always tasted like this, I’d be down with that.

Course number one: egg caviar, with vodka-infused cream.

Course number two (for AEJ): kanpachi sashimi, sherry vinaigrette, and toasted pecans. This was a new item, and it was the best thing I tasted that night. Just insane. AEJ described it as sushi that tasted like bacon but had the texture of butter. I love sushi, and this was like… jesus sushi.

My second course: Sea scallops, caramelized cauliflower, and caper-raisin emulsion.

Often at the restaurants of the big chefs, the Big Chef is nowhere to be seen. Uhh… that guy in the white? That’s Jean Georges, talking to a visiting chef at the table across from us. (The visiting chef is the chef at Oro at the Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio. I’ll be looking him up when I’m out there for TMEA in February…) I can’t believe Jean Georges was actually working in the kitchen on the night we were there. He kept stepping out into the dining room to see what was going on. It was a little intimidating

Course number three: thyme! What do you expect for a $200 dinner, people?!

Ah, I see. That wasn’t the actual dish. It was pretty funny, really. The waiter brings out the bowl with a metal hood over it, raises the hood dramatically to reveal… fresh thyme. But then she pours broth over the thyme to reveal the actual course: young garlic soup with thyme and sauteed frog legs.

You eat the frog legs with your fingers. Then what are you supposed to do? You have fried frog leg juice on your fingers! No worries; they bring you a bowl of rose water.

Course number 4: Turbot with Chateau Chalon sauce. This Jean Georges guy knows how to make fish, I gotta say.

I substituted the 5th course (to have been lobster tartine) for our favorite Jean Georges course, the black sea bass crusted with nuts and seeds and a sweet and sour jus. (Sorry for the focus problems; it was mighty dark in there, and this Sigma lens just couldn’t lock focus.)

Course number 6: Broiled Squab, onion compote, and corn pancake with foie gras.

And then… dessert. AEJ went with the “Market” dessert tasting: brandied cherry souffle’ with dark chocolate chantilly; sweet roasted tomatoes with blackberries, a tomato-sweet basil sorbet, and almond; fresh peaches with balsamic glaze, crispy pistachios, and farmers cheese; and Santa Rosa plum sorbet. (To clarify — that’s four things.)

I think it’s worth taking a look at one of the most radical parts of her dessert — the peaches with balsamic glaze, pistachios, and farmers cheese. It was one of those combinations that strikes you in layers, each one surprising and amazing. Who puts balsamic on peaches — and then puts cheese on top?! A. Maze. Zing.

I opted for the “Strawberry” dessert tasting (clockwise, from lower-right): chocolate spaetzel with balsamic-strawberry and a chocolate meringue; orange brioche with almond cream and roasted strawberries; strawberry ice cream with lavender fruit leather (sort of an expensive — and insanely yummy and slightly crispy — Fruit Roll-Up); and strawberry soda with birch beer cream.

The strawberry soda was my favorite. It was like fresh strawberry juice with a root beer foam on top.

Some people opted for a cheese course.

And when you think you can’t eat anymore, they bring you homemade marshmallows (hand-cut at your table), and other little treats like homemade chocolates.

What could top a day like that? What’s better than Bouchon Bakery for lunch, Jean Georges for dinner, and a game of pool in between? Is there any way to add excitement to that day?
Why, sure — if a taxi slammed into your hotel 20 minutes before you got back from dinner. Only in New York.


Sarah says

jesus sushi. classic.

Montoya says

I now have a new picture to put on my album artwork for your music. Thanks "earnest" Mackey!!

Fosco! says

Wow. That was a heroic day, JM (although, in the future, I hope you can manage three epic meals in a day...)

Jake Wallace says

We went to the bar at Oro last year for that ridiculous reverse happy hour (remember?). That was pretty much the bomb.

R&T says

Greetings from Santorini, Greece. Thanks again for coming out to NYC, it was great seeing you and A. I love the "listener" picture, thats an instant classic. See you in a few weeks in LA.


Holy crap, the Buckeyes are #1

Leather Briefcase says

Lovely post. Please add my email address to your list and email me the updates if possible. I always like to read your blog and comment on it.

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