lunch at le bernardin

my flight from cleveland arrived early; my bag was waiting on the belt; there was no cab line and virtually no traffic. from boarding the plane to walking into the apartment was just about two hours. the worst part of the trip was arriving at hopkins 2.5 hours early and sitting in the food court and gate area, waiting for my flight. drew served a late breakfast (my third of the day) of croissants, scones and coffee. we got ourselves together and headed out to the museum of modern art. the highlight of that visit was the retrospective of
tim burton’s work. drawings, sketches, paintings, film, video, puppets, costumes, props, and other ephemera were all jammed in together to make for a wild and almost nightmarish exhibition space. we also strolled through the photography and design archives, as well as spending a few quiet moments with monet’s water lilies.

we had a late lunch reservation and when we arrived the restaurant was really buzzing. we settled into our chairs in the center of the room and ordered a couple of big fat martinis. almost immediately we were presented with one of my favorite parts of lunch here: the salmon spread and toasts. a luscious preparation including fresh and smoked salmon, mayonnaise, lemon and chives, it is an integral part of the moment wherein we leave the outside world behind and allow the restaurant to envelope us.

for the first course, I chose a progressive tasting of kumamoto oysters en gelee. the six mollusks arrived atop a hillock of crushed ice woven through with a strand of seaweed. each was topped with a dice of differently flavored jellies, from yuzu to shiso, dashi to kimchi. each was a bracing mouthful of briny goodness. drew was presented with a salad of grilled bacalao (salted cod). the strong tastes of salt and the grill were tempered by a cool, white gazpacho, almonds and sliced white grapes. alongside, we nibbled at an assortment of breads that included parkerhouse and seven grain rolls, sliced raisin bread, and an olive baguette. when we finished these plates, I was brought a silver fingerbowl with which to wash away any traces of oyster.

for our entrees, we chose two different types of bass. drew had baked striped bass. two skinless pieces of fillet shared the plate with a corn “canneloni.” a fine mince of black truffle was scattered across the fish; the light perigord sauce spooned around the plate was also flecked with this precious fungus. i was served a beautiful piece of crispy skin black bass, laid across two stalks of melted celery. the sauce here was a sharp combination of iberico ham and green peppercorns. alongside arrived a ramekin of parsnips three ways: custard, foam and chips.

after a lengthy pause that included a consultation on dessert wines with the sommelier, we commenced with the sweets. a pear composition that included a cinnamon caramel parfait, fromage blanc sorbet, smoked sea salt and “liquid pear”–a colloidal suspension filled with the essence of pear. a hazelnut themed plate featured gianduja cream, brown butter ice cream, caramelized banana and roasted hazelnuts. we topped this course off with a trio of seasonal sorbets: coconut, blood orange and pineapple buttermilk. these arrived with a pair of butter cookies. there were also served a basket of warm almond madeleines and pistachio financiers. to drink, we tasted a lovely fortified muscat wine and rich, dark roasted coffee.

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new york in winter part two

we were up late the next morning, so i dashed out for coffee and some breakfast pastries in the neighborhood. after our usual morning gabfest, we got cleaned up and headed down for a walk around midtown. we took a look at the recently opened new york times building. there is a fascinating installation in the lobby, entitled “moveable type.” i could not stop looking at it as it cycled through several incarnations: numbers, words, sentences, maps, etc. it all became strikingly personal when a sentence from frank bruni’s review of dovetail popped up on the screen directly in front of the two of us: Did Mr. Fraser need both of those sidekicks for the venison? not only was this about a restaurant we had just visited, but about one of the dishes we had eaten.

at noon, we stopped in to le bernardin for lunch. we had such a great experience at lunch here a couple of years ago that we decided to try it again. after being greeted and seated next to some enormous flower arrangements (the glass vases of which were filled not only with water, but yards and yards of crinkled cellophane!), we finally were able to choose our food. a visit from the sommelier led us to an austrian wine–a gruener veltliner. this varietal is popping up on menus everywhere and it was an excellent accompaniment to our meal.

first to arrive at the table was the restaurant’s signature salmon spread with lightly toasted, paper-thin slices of baguette. it is rich and smooth and slightly smoky and is always something to look forward to. Our first courses came shortly thereafter. drew’s appetizer was a composed salad of thin sliced salmon carpaccio with a jalapeno emulsion and watercress sprouts, presented with toasted pain de siegle. mine was a warm “crabcake” of peekytoe lump crabmeat topped with shaved cauliflower and ringed by a dijon and creme fraiche sauce. these were both absolutely luscious!

next came the entrees…a delicate piece of codfish, sauteed and served atop a bed of curry lentils, finished with a tandoori broth and a spoonful of yogurt. there was also a perfectly cooked chunk of pan-roasted red snapper, set atop a complex tomato chutney and garnished with miniature pappadums. despite the french name and tone of this establishment, chef eric ripert is clearly embracing more international influences. both of these dishes really sang with flavor.

unable to choose just two desserts, we narrowed it down to three. a thin slice of star anise poached pineapple, topped with a warm almond financier and pineapple buttermilk sorbet; miniature panna cottas, served with a brunoise of tropical fruits; and a vibrantly colored, delicately flavored blood orange sorbet, accompanied by two petits galettes brettonnes. afterwards came our coffee service and a napkin-lined basket of tiny almond madeleines and pistachio financiers. as we got up to leave, it began to rain so we hopped in a cab and headed down to chelsea.

we spent some time at the fashion institute of technology, viewing their show of gowns by the fabled madame gres of paris. it featured more than seventy of the legendary designer’s pieces, many of them loaned or donated by some of her most famous clients. they were, and are, just breathtaking.

in keeping with our theme of beauty, we headed across town to the morgan library and museum. housed in j.p. morgan’s (formerly) private library on madison avenue, we looked into a pair of shows there that could not have been more different. the first was a collection of renaissance drawings from michelangelo and his contemporaries, on loan from the uffizi in florence. across the hall we viewed a collection of photographs by irving penn. taken over the course of sixty-plus years, they were all of artists and writers and all in black & white. both groupings spoke to us in different ways, but both were simply exquisite.

from here we headed to the east village to check out my old neighborhood. we checked out my old street (barely recognizable!) and the places we used to go to drink, eat and dance. almost all of it is changed over to something else now. without looking at the street signs, i would have been completely lost. we accomplished a bit of shopping, stopped in for a coffee and a piece of cake and then wandered some more.