A loud restaurant in general, most of the noise was largely confined to the bar, much like Gary Danko – thankfully we were further from the bar than we were at Gary Danko. Sitting down we were unfortunately treated to a rather ugly spat between husband and wife at a table next to us, but this ended approximately 15 minutes into the meal when the man stormed off, thankfully. Sitting down I was amused by the cleverly folded starfish napkin and unique lights on each table. Moments later our waiter, an aloof yet friendly fellow named Carl arrived dressed in black tie with gold vest to pour water, offer drinks, and explain the menu. While everything on the menu looked delectable, I will admit I was a little miffed when I asked if I could order the tasting while my mother and aunt partook of the prix fixe and was bluntly told “no, the chef requires the whole table.” While I understand this, the least Carl could have done was ask Chef Manrique to be sure – to be fair, I’ve never once had a chef say no when I made this request as many like to show off their creativity (part of the reason we’d originally planned on The Ritz was because Chef Siegel stated he would be delighted to prep the 9 course for me while my family ate prix fixe, so long as they didn’t mind the wait between dishes.)
Drinks were poured we were next brought three types of bread from the ancillary servers – a wonderful multigrain, a ciabatta roll, and an olive-sourdough that certainly contended for best sourdough of the trip – all were brought warm and the butter was room temperature and well salted.
Carl returned a few moments later to take our orders and this time assented that I could add an extra course, if desired, to the prix fixe. Orders placed, Carl left and the staff returned approximately 5 minutes later with a trio of Amuse bouche. Californian Sardine with Meyer Lemon and Saffron (left) was a rather pungent dish and did not set well with me despite it being quite fresh – my mother and aunt wouldn’t even taste given their distaste for “fishy fish”. Butternut Squash and Turnip Soup with Pear (middle) was an excellent soup and although not quite as delicious as the similar amuse at Gary Danko, served as a great taste to clear the mouth of the sardine. The final amuse, an Ahi Croquette with Pepper Paste (right) was certainly the most delicious of the amuse and would have made an excellent appetizer in larger portion. Perfectly seared ahi was herb and potato coated and flash fried with a bit of tomato pepper compote beneath – like an even better version of Bouchon’s Cod brandade.
Shortly following my second appetizer, our mains arrived and were equally well presented, more substantial in portion, and possibly even more tantalizing on the tongue. My dish, Ahi Tuna with Quince paste, Coffee Scented Date, Lentil, and Cardamom Jus was the least impressive of the three selections, but still quite excellent. Flawlessly seared tuna that was light in the mouth and very well could have been alive moments ago from the texture was well complimented with the “al dente” lentils that had the faint essence of coffee and the sweetness of dates offset by the pungency of cardamom - lots of contrast, lots of spice, but nothing overpowering the other components. In the corner of the plate sat what I believe was a hollowed-out sprout refilled with a cheese and quince paste that was completely different from the dish and seemed somewhat out of place, but was still quite wonderful.
My Aunt’s dish, Striped Sea Bass with Saffron Rice, Chorizo, Green Almond, and Fruits de Mer with Mussel and Razor Clam was a very adventurous choice for her given her hesitancy to try non-perch or tilapia dishes, but honestly – how can you go wrong with line caught sea bass. While a great preparation with an incredibly moist and flaky fish, the hefty quality of the chorizo/rice/chopped fruits de mer combo significantly blunted the mild fish and while it was a great preparation for my aunt, I would have preferred the fish shine more at the forefront. That said, I will admit a particular fondness for the saffron foam and crunchy green almonds which added two unique textures to the dish and provided for an beautiful presentation.
My mother’s dish was the true “wow” dish of the mains and tasted just as good as one would expect from the citrus-infused appetizers. John Dory with Crushed Butter Potato, Citrus Escarole, Black Truffle, and Lemon Verbena showed off an incredible eye for detail with the seemingly sous vide fish resting on a bed of what I can only assume to be half butter/half potato and then topped with a crunchy escarole, shavings of black truffle, and mild lemon verbena that despite their contrasting woodsy/earthy and citrusy/vanilla essence somehow worked like magic. An incredibly complex dish that seemed almost from the realm of molecular gastronomy, the entire experience simply “worked.”
Main plates cleared (IE, I happily got to finish some of each of my companion’s foods) the next course was dessert and once again the dishes did not fail to impress. Ample in size and beautiful in preparation each dish selected showed the same eye and attention for detail as the previous courses and alongside Alex, Trotter’s, TRU, and The French Laundry there was not a single option on the menu that “played it safe” by sticking to boring ingredients and simple presentation.
The above noted, I admittedly went with the most boring – yet scrumptious of the desserts. Quite frankly, Quince is impossible to obtain save for 1 month of the year in Ohio, thus when I saw Quince Soufflé with Fall Fruit Compote on the menu I was thrilled. A good soufflé is heaven and rivaled only by bread pudding in my mind and this was the best fruit soufflé I’ve ever tasted. Without relying on heavy creams or chocolates, the pastry chef managed to create airy decadence with a butter poached fruit compote of quince, pear, and apple that was truly delicious. Ample in size yet light on the stomach – wonderful.
The second dessert, my mothers, was another wonderful exploit in citrus and the heaviest dish of the three. Tahitian Vanilla Bar Glacé with Walnut Cake, Pear & Lime Sorbet, Roasted Pear was essentially an ice-cream cake with a thin layer of dense cake at the bottom, then topped with a layer of pear and lime sorbet, and finished with creamy vanilla topping. Complementing the dish were juicy buttered pears, a pear chip, and some walnut brittle. Well presented, great tasting, and small enough to not be overfilling given its density.