Lunch today was a relaxing affair. Alex and I like to go our for long lunches when we have the time. Restaurants are much more mellow in the afternoons with sunlight streaming through the windowpanes. The food is usually almost as good if not better at lunch, service is more leisurely because restaurants are not trying to turn the table and we are not facing bedtime with a stomach full of food and wine when the meal is over.
So, for our first lunch in NYC this trip we decided to visit the Modern. We had eaten at the Bar Room at the Modern last year and had a lot of fun doing so. Gabriel Kreuther's menus read as much more exotic than they actually are but the food is solid with a balance of textures and flavors to please the palate. The bar menu is much more whimsical and based upon old classics. The Modern is a bit more formal, seasonal, with an approachable eclectic menu based upon commonly accepted ingredients with a bit of esoteric flare. It reads as though it were a bit edgy but in reality it is a very safe menu with tried and true flavor pairings that seeem to come together into balanced, elegant dishes.
The amuse was fun and a great expression of shrimp. It was served on a long plate with a delicate poached shrimp with wisps of herbs and a few tiny, pickled honshimeji mushrooms. At the other end of the plate was a demitasse cup with a bit of sunchoke foam. The servers poured a bit of shrimp bisque over the foam to create an intense, slightly rich shrimpy brew to pair with the miniature chilled salad. At lunch, the prix fix is basically a bargain. Four courses for $52.00. I chose this option and began with shrimp which were paired with chickweed, black olive-cornichon (tartar) sauce and rye toast soldiers griddled in butter. Alex began with the foie gras, a slice of terrine served with quince jelly (which was beautiful but had no real flavor) and walnuts. The foie itself was wrapped on one side in what appeared to be serrano ham and lined with foie fat on another. The foie itself had good flavor and was well seasoned, both dishes were solid, tasty, and mostly well executed. My fish course was lovely. It was steamed Chatham cod with spinach and an anchovy foam that was dribbled with an acidic white romesco sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, juicy and fork tender with the assertive flavors of the oil and foam and the silky, slightly bitter spinach as counterpoints to the mellow sweetness of the fish. Alex had ordered the slightly less successful mint and coriander risotto with wild Georgia shrimp which were incredibly similar to the Louisiana shrimp served with the previous course. The risotto itself was gluey and slightly too al dente and although the fresh mint chiffonade came through, the flavor of the coriander was weak and almost invisible. We were served a mid-course of olive oil poached salmon with horseradish, fennel and daikon radish. The fish was silky, meaty and nicely cooked. The fish was crusted with small flakes of crunchy salmon skin on one side and black and white sesame seeds on the other. It was served in a bowl on a bed of shaved vegetables in a horseradish broth which ended up tasting like a soupy asian slaw. The flavors were assertive and paired well with the fish but although tasty, it felt as though it were just short of everything the dish could be. For our main courses I had the short ribs served with simply steamed broccolini with garlic and a beautifully roasted marrow bone topped with gremolata. The short ribs were tender and juicy, seemingly braised the old fashioned way from a time before immersion circulators. We were slightly divided on the texture, Alex felt it was bit stringy but I enjoyed the toothsomeness of each bit. The gremolata crusted bone marrow was beautiful and inspired a flurry of ideas jotted down in a notebook and soon to be seen on this website. Alex had the roasted lobster with incredibly chewy tripe and crunchy chickpeas in a fines herb sauce. It was probably the weakest of the savory courses, the claws were overcooked and the tail had that almost crunchy texture that comes from cooking at too high a temperature.
The desserts were probably the weakest link in the meal. I ordered a caramel parfait which arrived with two types of caramelized bananas and a "ten flavor" sorbet that tasted strongly of mango and passion fruit and not much else. Alex ordered a baba served with calvados with tarte tatin apples, garnished with apple chips and a vanilla sauce which was poured table side. The desserts seemed somewhat one dimensional, sweet and somewhat cloying. The caramel parfait was prettily presented and seemed very light in comparison to the heaviness of the baba.
With the meal we drank a 2001 Conn Valley Vineyard Reserve Cabernet. It is a vineyard whose wines we enjoy and the 2001 was drinking particularly well today. It paired very well with several of our courses and was simply set to the side when we tasted courses where it did not partner quite so smoothly. We first visited the vineyard on our honeymoon and have very fond memories of our time there. The raw weather outside had us browsing for a lighter red but we were unable to resist when we saw it on the menu for a reasonable price.
All in all it was a lovely experience. There were a couple of hiccups in the service, but nothing that couldn't be rectified with a smile. We were able to catch up with an old friend who is working there now and the dining room was a prime stage for people watching. Not a bad way to spend a chilly February afternoon in New York.