Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The Dining Room at the Modern: A True Masterpiece
While MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art) is world renowned for their priceless art collection, it also lays claim to another priceless gem: The Dining Room at the Modern. Since the arrival of Alsatian-born chef, Gabriel Kreuther, the Modern has created food that rivals the museum's most famed treasures in both skill and artistry. After having dined in the restaurant's more casual "Bar Room" on several occasions and always coming away impressed, I selected the more formal Dining Room to celebrate MW's birthday. While last year' celebratory meal at Le Bernardin left me unimpressed, the Dining Room at The Modern more than exceeded all expectations, making for an unforgettable evening.
Arriving right on time, we were promptly led to a table situated at the far end of the dining room, overlooking the museum's beautiful sculpture garden. Taking advantage of the remaining sunlight, the dining room was brightly illuminated. Although eerily reminiscent of some futuristic lounge, its two floral centerpieces prevented the space from feeling too austere and was much quieter than the adjoining Bar Room. Being a special occasion, we skipped The Modern's highly regarded cocktails and instead, opted for two glasses of Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur (NV).
Service was nothing short of spectacular, a given from any Danny Meyer restaurant, and we were soon presented with several canapés to enjoy while we sipped our champagne. The Porcini and Rosemary Dusted Popcorn was chef Kreuther's playful take on this typically lowbrow snack food.
Sitting on a small tray were Nori Rice Crisps with a Celeriac Purée and Hackleback Caviar which was a nice mix of crunchy, smooth and saltiness. Pâte à Choux with an Avocado Purée served warm, burst with additional avocado filling when bitten. Rounding out the bunch was a deconstructed Vichyssoise with a molecular gastronomic twist. Served on a bent spoon were small cubes of Russet Potato next to a Sphere of Leek Soup, utilizing the familiar flavors of this reinterpreted classic.
We each selected a different tasting menu: MW, choosing the more classic Chef's Tasting Menu, while I picked the seasonally-inspired Summer Tasting Menu. Menus selected, our amuse bouche was a delicate Fennel Souflée, topped with Tomato Confit and a piece of Candied Fennel in a Tomato Gelée. The subtle aromatic quality of the fennel, combined with the bold flavor of the tomato confit and refreshingly cool gelée was sensational, a wonderful mix of temperatures and flavors. This was a testament to chef Kreuther's skills.
Bread service consisted of a choice between a French Baguette or an Olive Roll. Each were crispy and had soft and chewy interiors. The bread was served warm and practically begged to be slathered with the cube of softened butter.
MW's tasting menu began with a Foie Gras Terrine Marbled with Roasted Artichokes, Green Peppercorns and Baby Turnip Salad. The dish was finished table side as a server drizzled Canadian Maple Syrup over the terrine of foie gras and offered a crustless piece of toasted Brioche. Always welcoming of foie, the sweetness of the maple syrup was just the right compliment to the unctuous liver, but the true genius of the dish were the floral notes of green peppercorns speckled throughout the terrine.
Unfortunately, my "Milles Feuilles" of Summer Truffle, Diver Scallops and Watermelon with Arugula Coulis and Sustainable Osetra Caviar was less than successful. Despite the refreshing combination of seafood and watermelon, the scallops tasted fishy and the truffle seemed like a superfluous element on the plate.
Before proceeding MW ordered a glass of the Riesling Georg Breuer Charm, Rheingau (2007) while I ordered a glass of the Viognier Bedell First Crush, North Fork of Long Island (2008).
MW's next course, a Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna and Diver Scallops Seasoned with Yellowstone River Caviar was visually stunning. Sitting atop a base of paper-thin slices of cucumber was a tartare of impeccably fresh tasting tuna and scallops seasoned ever so slightly by the briny caviar which pleasantly popped in your mouth with each bite.
My Chilled Sweet Corn Soup with Pearl Onions, Poached Quail Eggs and Hickory Smoke was also stunning. Covered until table side, a plume of hickory smoke envelopedus as the server lifted the bowl's lid while another proceeded to pour the soup. The soup's flavor carried the essence of sweet summer corn with a hint of smokiness that permeated throughout the bowl and was fortified with the poached quail eggs and pearl onions.
MW's Ravioli of Escargot with Slow Poached Quail Eggs, Escargot Caviar and Mustard Greens arrived in a rich garlic sauce that married harmoniously with the perfectly prepared snails. My only critique was as a whole, the dish tended to be on the heavier side, reinforced by the addition of the poached quail eggs, yet overall, the dish was comforting and satisfying.
My next course, Grilled Sullivan County Foie Gras with Champagne Vinegar-Preserved Strawberries and a Harissa Tuile, was an every bit as rich as MW's corresponding dish. Although I wished the strawberries were sweeter, their acidity flawlessly cut the fattiness of the foie. The spicy harissa tuile, was so good, it had me wishing they sold these by the bag.
For her next course, MW was instructed to sip her Maine Lobster "Cappuccino" just as you would a normal one. Concentrated in flavor thanks in part to some serious time reducing, the "cappuccino" contained a deep lobster flavor with pieces of sweet lobster meat providing some texture.
My next course was a Maine Lobster Tart with Fennel Purée, Red Sorrel and "Lobster Granité." Large chunks of sweet Maine lobster meat were stacked on a buttery rectangular tart and was an ethereal combination with the the anise flavor from the fennel purée.
For her fish course, MW received a Chorizo-Crusted Codfish with White Coco Bean Purée and Harissa Oil. While chef Kreuther risked overpowering the delicate flavor of the cod with such strong flavors from the chorizo and harissa, this dish was well thought and executed as the white bean purée helped mellow the heat from the harissa and the salty chorizo seasoned the fish.
My Bulger Wheat-Crusted John Dory with Roasted Black Cherries and Lemon Verbena Oil impressed me with its ability to stand up to the sweetness of the roasted cherries. Chef Kreuther achieved a wonderfully crisp bulger wheat-crust, all while managing to keep the meat moist and flaky.
The final savory course on the Chef's Tasting Menu was the Pennsylvania Duck Breast with Black Trumpet Marmalade, "Fleischschneke," and Banyuls Jus. The gaminess of the perfectly cooked duck breast paired exceptionally well with the earthy trumpet mushroom marmalade.
Having heard many positives about The Modern's lamb, my request to substitute the Spring Lamb with Fava Beans, Radishes and Goat Ricotta for my final course was graciously granted by the chef. In somewhat of a surprise, the lamb was prepared by shredding cooked lamb and reshaping it into a brick-shaped mold. Surrounded by sweet favas, spicy radishes and a yogurt-like goat ricotta, the rich and gelatinous lamb was a tasty substitution.
Our pre-dessert course was a Strawberry Basil Gelée with a Strawberry Balsamic Foam and Pistachios, served in a shot glass. The basil and balsamic foam were complex and helped revive our palettes.
Not to be outdone by chef Kreuther, pastry chef, Marc Aumont impressed me on my previous trips to the Bar Room and once again showed why his sweet concoctions are every bit deserving of the praise showered onto the restaurant. The first dessert was a Manjari Chocolate Palet with Tahitian Vanilla Crémeux and Orange Cacao Arabesque Tuile. Dense and chocolaty without becoming numbingly sweet, this dish would surely satisfy even the most hardcore chocoholics.
Not listed on the Summer Tasting Menu, my Strawberry Soup with Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Lemongrass Gelée and Pistachio Ice Cream was truly a celebration of the season. The smooth vanilla panna cotta combined with the double whammy of strawberry (freshly cut and soup) and rich pistachio ice cream left a lingering taste of summer.
As a birthday treat, MW was given a complimentary Pistachio Cake, complete with a candle. The pistachio flavor was prominent, in both the moist cake and thick frosting, in this otherwise forgettable dessert, but was nonetheless a kind gesture by the entire restaurant staff.
Last but not least, we were given two miniature Chocolate Cones with Maple Ice Cream and Raspberry. Refreshing and unique, these were a perfect ending to our meal that includes a mandatory visit by the restaurant's candy cart filled with house made mignardises.
Though often overshadowed by its award winning sister, Eleven Madison Park, and not as accessible like the exponentially expanding Shake Shack, The Modern is another gem in the Danny Meyer empire. Led by a James Beard Award winning chef of its own, The Modern also boasts a Michelin star. Like the countless priceless treasures housed in the museum next door, The Modern is a gastronomic masterpiece, forever challenging people's perception of museum food.
The Dining Room at the Modern
9 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
To see all our pics click the flickr link.