Saturday, 17 October 2009

Trip to NY: two four-star restaurants

Two New York Times four-star restaurants in New York: Bernardin and 11 Madison Park

The New York Times rating system is closely followed by foodies and the rare four-star restaurant is a much pursued destination. During this wonderful trip to NY, I had the fortunate opportunity to sample two of these temples of cuisine: Eleven Madison Park (newly elevated to four stars) and Le Bernardin which has had four stars since its inception over 20 years ago. The lunch at Le Bernardin, for 68 dollars is well worth it. There are numerous choices in every category and everything is beautifully and deliciously prepared. I went with my cousin, Jenny, who loves delicious inventive cuisine as much as I.

At the table was rillettes de saumon (smoked salmon) served with toasted country bread. The bread server then made the rounds with several choices of wonderful bread including brioche bread which is my favorite.

For starters, Jenny had tuna that was pounded flat and layered with foie gras, and I chose soft shell crabs served with a lime sauce. We shared everything. For our main courses, there was codfish stuffed with sweet peppers and octopus and topped with a red wine reduction, and crispy black bass served with a braised celery and parsnip custard. The final touch was Iberico ham topped with a green peppercorn sauce.

Desserts were very light and interesting: Pear with cinnamon and caramel, Pistachio mousse with a caramelized white chocolate cream. Neither of us felt like drinking too much at lunch so we ordered wines by the glass. With coffee came a basket of warm financiers.

Le Bernardin is an exquisite New York institution that I discovered in Paris years ago before the Le Coze brother and sister moved west. I recommend the lunch as it is quite reasonable considering the calibre of the cuisine.

The other four-star restaurant I was lucky to experience is Eleven Madison Park. My cousins, Larry and Boots took me there and we had a splendid meal. The amuse-bouches alone were worth the trip: cornet of crisp sweetbreads, warm gougères, radish with butter and sea salt, tortellini of manila clams, quince gelée with foie gras on a savory butter cookie--all lovely and delicious.

I had an extremely superb and interesting appetizer: slow poached egg with farro, sweet corn, frogs legs and summer truffles--like a thin risotto (the farro) garnished with many textures and flavors. Boots had a gorgeous roulade of avocado, Hawaiian prawns, avocado, lime and yogurt. All my favorite things in one dish. Larry chose a lovely salad with jamon Iberico, melons, basil and heirloom tomatoes.

For the main courses, Boots and I shared the best duck I have ever had. It was rare, juicy and crusty at the same time, glazed with lavendar honey and served with butternut squash, figs and other spices. The duck legs came confits with fresh figs and herbs. Larry had a beautiful roast suckling pig with stunning vegetable garnishes. The wine we chose was spectacular: Edna Valley Topanga Syrah 2005. It was really a remarkable wine.

For dessert we had a chocolate-caramel tart, an ice cream sandwich with mint chocolate ice cream and a vanilla soufflé. Throughout the meal we were surprised at how consistently superb and splendid everything was. This is a great discovery and I just hope that chef is happy in his kitchen and stays there for many years.

A place 'pour toutes les poches'

This literally means a place 'for every pocket' (or every pocketbook). What follows are three Parisian restaurants at three levels of expense which are all noteworthy.

First: Chiberta which has one Michelin star (quite an honor) and which will run you around 100 euros per person if not a bit more depending on the wine you choose, of course. I went there right before a big trip to the states with a friend I had met at the wedding in Puerto Vallerta.

The amuse-bouche was a delicious and beautiful cold creamy pea soup with a dollop of whipped cream garnished with toasts slathered with fresh peas.

We started with gambas à la plancha (grilled large shrimp) flavored with grapefruit and served with a millefeuille (layers) of white and green radish and avocado. Very light and delicate but flavorful. Gail had marinated sardines with sweet Espelette peppers from the South of France, tomatoes, and a gazpacho sorbet. Both appetizers were lovely and light and a nice opening to an excellent meal.

For main courses, I chose duck sautéed with foie gras and stuffed zucchini. Gail had saddle of lamb roasted with thyme and eggplant served three ways. For dessert, I had a hot apricot soufflé and that was heavenly. It came with a verbena sorbet which goes very well with either peach or apricot.

Our wines were well chosen by me counselled by the sommelier--a not too expensive but very flavorful Monthélie by Pierre Morey. I know this name from long ago when I sat at the same table as Morey's father in law and then learned that his is a prestigious house in Burgundy.

Before she moved back to Japan, I treated Yuko (a wonderful Japanese friend with whom I have been doing a language exchange for about a year and a half) to a delicious meal in a place suggested by my dentist. His recommendations are always superb. This place is called Le Bistrot de L'Alycastre and is open everyday. It is in the center of St. Germain des Près. To fête this event, we had wonderful glasses of Laurent Perrier champagne. This bistrot, although in the moderate price range, has an excellent wine list.

For starters, I had a sauté of chanterelles (girolles in French) and Yuko had wild gambas (large shrimps) served in a carpaccio with lime and lemon-flavored oil. Lovely. I adore turbot and had it as a filet served with a wonderful risotto with cèpes. Yuko had something she will not get in Japan: succulent sweetbreads served with cèpes and small potatoes. We shared a dark and creamy chocolate soup and left the table sad to say goodbye but very pleased and satisfied with the meal. I will see Yuko the next time I go to Tokyo which should be very soon (for the cherry blossoms in early spring).

Finally, I tried Cucina Napoletana with my friend, Alex. This is a very small restaurant in the Marais which specializes in Italian food served family style. They have a marvelous antipasto plate for whatever number of people are at the table. We chose a superb linguine with a whole lobster in fresh tomatoes and were in heaven. Wines are served by the glass or by the bottle and the list is well representative of Italian wines.

There are several pasta dishes as well as daily fish and meat specials. Rare is it to get well-prepared pasta in France, but this place does the real thing. Depending on what type of main course you choose (lobster is on the expensive side), you can get away with paying very little at this lovely place. The owner of the restaurant is rather cold, but the level of the cuisine is well worth the frosty welcome. Reservations are necessary as there are just a few tables in the restaurant.