Posts Tagged ‘French food’

Being Someone in “The World”

Upon arriving for your date with an unknown, your first impression is mostly based on appearance. You walk in the door; your eyes trace the surroundings – left to right, up and down. You can quickly sense what your level of expectation should be: how you will be greeted, how you will be treated.

Are you addressed personally by name, or are you just another paying date? Are you made to feel like you are the only one who matters in the room, or do you immediately get the sense that this is an eat and run? Once you sit down together, you absorb the wonderful, or not-so-wonderful smells, the colorful appearance and artistic presentation in front of you. But does what you are about to dive into make you feel special, or are you just another face in the crowd?

Yes, I am talking about a restaurant, not a Match.com meetup. Oh the reviews can be outstanding. The cuisine can be delectable, but what sets it all apart from others is not you simply being present beneath a French chandelier or behind a plate of  yellowfin tuna tartar with fresh mango and avocado mousse, but rather that you are recognized and celebrated for being there.

The maître d’ is key! My first visit to Le Monde (translates to: The World) on the Upper West Side (UWS) of New York City was somewhat out of location necessity. It was a weekday, late afternoon, following my 83-year-old mom’s doctor’s appointment. Lunch was overdue, and she enjoys trips over the GW Bridge if they’re not too long. A solution would be to stick to the UWS. In my never-ending research for worthy dining establishments, I came across Le Monde, but French always comes with a warning sticker for me: extra dollar signs or escargot and other dishes that mom would no longer experiment with these days. While those little buggers are on the menu, the rest of it celebrates “the cuisine of the Loire Valley”, and it seems more familiar everyday food than not.

Entering at an off-meal hour (3:00), the restaurant was maybe 20 percent occupied. Scott, the maître D’, sat us by the glass doors with a sidewalk view of Broadway. We connected immediately with the topic of pets somehow. I explained that Mom needed a “soft” dish due to her dental issues. He offered the French Onion Soup with gruyere, the Tomato and Burrata Tart with fresh basil, olive oil, balsamic glaze and the French Omelette with caramelized onions, spinach, gruyere. Yes, I said, to all. And she must have “French” fries! It’s her new weird addiction.

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Scott checked in several times, engaging in personal conversation with us. He felt like a long lost friend. And now, when I think of where to take Mom after her uncomfortable appointments, other restaurants come to mind and pass through quickly. The warmth that flows over me when made to feel like a celebrity or someone who might write a critical blog or just someone that MATTERS, embraces my decision-making process and satisfies my soul for an hour or so. The coffee doesn’t hurt either!

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You Say Boulud; I say Bouley, Just a Matter of Taste

It was the evening of an annual surprise location dinner. We were walking on 65th Street, not quite sure how much further, until I noticed the number 210. We had to go to 60. “How much further?” he questions. “It is already 7:30.” I mumbled something about it being in the next block. I wasn’t confident. But then, looking up, I saw the name on the marquee. It is his name too, so I quickly called ahead, before he could notice, “Daniel, turn around.” I whipped out my camera and asked IMG_5862him to pose while I smirked at the label above his head. He irritatingly responded, “Like we have time for this. We’re already late.” I basked in the pleasure derived from the revelation of a surprise. “We’re here, Daniel!”

The revolving door that says ‘keep coming back’, the lounge, and at last the dining room, which appeared  to me as a Roman atrium – all were inviting and not too imperial. However, an aura of affluence surrounded me when the waiter handed me the menu and addressed me by name. That was the golden ring of ambiance. All the while, as exclusive as Daniel was making me feel, I reflected momentarily on David and Eric. I had already been unfaithful to my first love Le Bernardin with Bouley, and now I am cheating on the guy I cheated with. One always searches for the greener grass, but I can tell you from the second I was teased with the amuse bouches (yes, we got two plates), this Daniel guy was going to have to work real hard at winning my taste buds because slots one and two are already full. The chickpea theme was a clever beginning and got my attention.

Bread is just as sweetly satisfying as dessert for me, so I take it seriously. Four small roll varieties were presented: olive rosemary, garlic parmesan, five-seed whole green, and a butter roll – served with farm-fresh butter with and without sea salt. I thought back to the bread “cage” at Bouley as I was biting into the five-seed role, and the image evaporated. At that moment, I believed it was the best roll I had ever tasted, but sometimes that is biased because it is the most current memory. At this point, doesn’t someone always say, “Don’t fill up on bread.” To which my response would be: ‘Shut up! I am swallowing every crumb of both rolls that I selected and am sampling the other two he chose.’

Then came our first courses:

SHIMAAJI “AU VIN BLANC” – Poached with Riesling and Celery Mustard Salad; Tartare with Northern Lights Caviar

SICILIAN PISTACHIO AND LICORICE CRUSTED MAINE SEA SCALLOPS – Gourgane Panisse, Spinach, Sauce Diable

Then our second courses:

OVEN BAKED BLACK SEA BASS WITH SYRAH SAUCE – Aleppo Pepper, Caramelized Red Onions;  Roasted Parsnip, Yukon Gold Potato Confit

DUO OF SUCKLING PIG – need I say more? It went like this: crackle, crunch, soft fattiness, bursting flavor and juice, crispy crunch, oh wow, yum.578469_10200824087904726_1094870266_n

Our dessert course was a delightful end, and our stomachs squeezed the additional celebratory mini-dessert they brought us. The waiter announced: “We’re not done with you yet,” as he held a paper bag filled with warm, just-made madeleines. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to reach in with my fingers. I hesitated, and he continued to hold the bag and then placed it down for us to finish.

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The final ratings of Top 3 Food Loves so far are:

1. Le Bernardin – my true love

2. Bouley (maybe just because we had more courses to taste than at Daniel). Bouley is #1 in decor/atmosphere, which includes the bathroom (see my blog on Bouley)!

A very close 3. Daniel – If you treat me just as well next time, and I get to know you a little better, you could be my first choice to cheating on LB.

Bouley Affair

Sorry guys, but we women tend to take mental comparative notes in every aspect in relation to our true love. I wish I had met you first David Bouley because you are exquisite, but I went into this dining experience unable to put Le Bernardin (LB) out of my mind as the benchmark. There is nothing negative to say about Bouley, but with Eric Ripert leading the race, Bouley came in with a photo-finish second place. Perhaps I just wouldn’t allow my labeling of LB as near-perfect to be challenged.The scent of fresh apples in the foyer of Bouley awakened my culinary senses and prepared the eyes, nose and mouth for the journey. The lounge, although nobody in it, drew in and roused my sight with a large orchid painted on the side wall and fresh orchids along the windows on the opposing wall. It’s like the snooze alarm. Now I understand. First, the smell, then the sight; it was all building up to taste, wasn’t it? The dining room felt like home – not my home, but some rich, French lady’s home. It still earned a tenth of a bonus point in the Bouley column under ambiance versus LB.

While waiting for our appetizers, the waiter presented two dishes from the chef: a tomato infusion with a dollop of ricotta at center and truffles; and an amuse bouche. He stood there holding the first bowl looking at me and said, “Your napkin.” My quiet voice spoke to me as I had an instant recollection of the French waiter at LB gracefully placing the napkin from the plate onto my lap. Food snobbish self (and one is allowed to be so at these prices) said to self: “He wants me to move my own f%*$ napkin? Aren’t I supposed to feel like a princess?” Mental pen to paper scribbled a minus tenth of a point in the service column. The house-made bread warden arrived with a cart that appeared to have imprisoned loaves of bread. We sampled five of the eight variations available.

Tomato infusion with ricotta and truffle

 

Forager’s Treasure of Wild Mushrooms, Sweet Garlic, Special Spices, Grilled Toro, Black Truffle Dressing

North Carolina Pink Shrimp & Cape Cod Sea Scallops, Alaska Live Dungeness Crab, Point Judith Calamari, Ocean Herbal Broth

Oh but as you can see by the photos, dish after dish racked up many tasteful points, and each one was absorbed into my digestive system from lips to stomach as slowly as humanly possible. Like the fine French art with the velvet frames on the walls, I wanted to appreciate and savor every morsel.
To do so, a ten-minute break was required before dessert so I could allow the food to somehow flatten and make room in my belly for a few more bites. A trip to the ladies room was mainly for observation: this restroom was like a royal master bedroom. I wanted to party inside the maroon-velvet walls.

“What do you recommend for dessert? They all sound good.” Waiter: “I like the chocolate soufflé and the pear tart. The rest I don’t like at all.” Yes, it came out of my mouth…”You’re not supposed to say that!” For a moment, I forgot I wasn’t Mrs. Bouley or the manager, so I followed it with laughter. The pre-dessert of blueberry sorbet challenged the little remaining space I had left, and the post-dessert of mini cookies was sadly neglected for lack of stomach space. There was barely room for the actual dessert, but I survived happily full. Upon exiting, we were handed a white bag from the hostess with “a lemon pound cake made in house”. I couldn’t think of anything that resembled food at that moment, and it seemed so inferior to everything we just ate, that I offered an insincere thank you that she probably didn’t detect. I’m usually much more appreciative, but tonight I was an epicurean princess and was pressed in my head to declare a winner over last year’s anniversary dinner at LB. My heart still belongs to Eric, but I would rendezvous with David any time.