lunch at the museum of modern art

the next day we had lunch at the modern. we arrived a few minutes ahead of our noon reservation, so we took a seat in the bar room to have a cocktail. i selected a caipiroska, the vodka version of the caipirhina. it involves slices of english cucumber, muddled with fresh mint and shaken with hangar one buddha’s hand vodka, fresh cucumber and lime juices and a splash of soda. it was quite refreshing on a muggy july day. drew chose a gigondas, following up on our success with the one the night before. after a brief interval, we were shown to a spacious banquette in the dining room. the space overlooks the abby aldrich rockefeller sculpture garden which is currently home to a couple of large curving pieces that are a part of the forty year richard serra retrospective which the museum has on view.

the tabletop accessories in the room are all drawn from pieces in the museum’s permanent collection. there are some really beautiful elements here, including the water pitchers and a uniquely shaped sauce spoon. after making our choices from the menu, we were presented with amuse geule of a baby zucchini salad with basil oil, black radish seeds and creme fraiche. it was light and summery and really set a nice tone for the plates to come.

for my first course, i chose a melon salad. there were ribbons of juicy honeydew, crisp balls of watermelon and paperthin discs of charentais melon wrapped around a cloud of creamy chevre to form unctuous little pillows. this was accented with pistachios, oven roasted tomatoes and aged balsamic vinegar. drew’s selection was entitled “schupfnudeln with duck rillettes.” these were the lightest little potato dumplings tossed with slivers of meltingly tender duck and garnished with sweetgrass. this dish really captured the alsatian roots of the chef, gabriel kreuther.

i inserted a second appetizer, given that my access to dining experiences like this is somewhat limited here in cleveland. i had a slice of sullivan county foie gras, roasted in butter and served with a tart red currant puree and fresh red, white and black currants. there were two little leaves of baby escarole for garnish. this is my favorite way to eat foie gras….hot out of the pan, with a bit of crispy edge to it. this was the single largest piece of this i have ever been served…probably 3 ounces. i was in heaven!

for the entree, drew chose a cocotte of monkfish with morels and asparagus. it was served with a lovely little sauce of vin jaune and cream that was light and rich at the same time. i ordered a long island duck breast crusted with black trumpet marmalade. it was served in four perfect little slices with pickled bing cherries, banyuls-enriched duck jus and a “sandwich” of slices of sauteed daikon radish enclosing a slab of (what else?) foie gras. you read it right…i ate this TWICE in one meal! but the best part of this plate was a little tidbit called “fleischnecke.” imagine the thinnest possible sheet of noodle dough, spread with duck rillettes, rolled up jelly roll style, sliced and crisped ever so delicately under the broiler. it was mah-velous.

now it was time for dessert. unable to narrow it down to just two choices, we picked our three faves. a warm tart of poached figs in phyllo was served with fig almond marmalade and olive oil ice cream. a sliver of a dark chocolate tart was plated with a quenelle of chocolate mousse and a perfect sphere of mocha ice cream. the third plate was a warm ricotta flan, layered with tender crepes and finished with stewed red fruits. topped off with a couple of cups of french press coffee, we were stuffed to the gills. but of course then we were served a tray of mignardises and a little porcelain box of chocolates. there were raspberry tuiles, pate de fruits of red and white currant, pistachio financiers topped with a cube of apricot gelee and a tiny pinch of a raspberry almond cooky.

this is a gorgeous room with many interesting materials used in unusual ways. the bar is honed (but not polished) marble. there are curving, milky glass walls lit from the bottom. the end of the room is finished with silk panels that rise up two stories. the black leather banquettes are enhanced with red leather pillows. of course the most striking feature is the wall of glass that overlooks the garden. the presence of these two massive works by serra repeatedly draws your eye outside (even when the woman seated at the next table is none other than annette benning!).

while the food was outstanding and the room was stunning, the service slipped a couple of times. they were minor missteps, to be sure, (an incorrect identification of a garnish; the failure to anticipate our desire for more bread or a second glass of wine) but enough that we commented on them. it made us aware of how little there was to comment on the night before. the most impeccable service is that which you don’t even notice: unobtrusive, anticipatory and subtle. when the service you are receiving has you talking about it as you eat, that’s not a good thing.

the pictures from my trip are here.