Sunday, February 20, 2011

Osteria Morini and Cici-Cela, New York NY

Rustic Italian pastas and Emilia-Romagna region brunch foods from the kitchen of a man who’d produced some of my favorite all time Italian meals; I figured the last meal of my most recent trip to New York to be a slam dunk. First a stellar impromptu dinner at Alto, later a superlative lunch at Convivio, and last a slightly less than excellent experience at Marea – Osteria Morini by Michael White was on my dining radar before it even it opened its doors. With glowing reviews rolling in and nearly four hours at MoMA and Barney’s plus the long walk down to SoHo (with luggage in hand) my expectations were admittedly high…

Planning in advance and leaving a plentiful 4.5 hours between the start of my brunch and my plane’s departure from LGA I walked up to the small space expecting a crowd, but on entering the doors it was quite the opposite – perhaps 1/2 of the restaurant was full and the “deafening” noise I’d heard rumored was largely absent. Approaching to podium my reservation was confirmed by a young woman who asked whether I’d prefer a table or the “chef’s counter” – essentially the bar up front where salads, salumi, and cheese were being prepared. Opting for the counter given my proclivity for watching the kitchen I was seated quickly while my bag and coat were checked.

With two young ladies working the line in relative silence, my server Sarah P. would soon arrive with the daily menu and inquire as to whether I would prefer iced or bottled water. Opting for iced water I was additionally offered coffee – an offer I assented to before turning back to a menu I’d already studied online and comparing it to the daily specials, none of which sounded all that special. Returning with my water Sarah asked if I had any questions and when I asked unfortunately informed me that half-orders of pasta could not be accommodated, even though I’d planned to order three to taste. Disappointed but understanding I asked her which of the three she would suggest and went with her choice plus a secondi.

Waiting for approximately 15 minutes while listening to one of the line cooks gripe about her hours and her social life to other cook and the bartender my coffee would arrive first – a 20oz Bodum French Press that was dropped off by an ancillary server without a word. A bold and nutty blend I cannot say who the provider was, but I will note that had I known it came in a press that did not include refills I’d have held off till dessert as it didn’t particularly pair well with either my pasta or my secondi.

With another delay of perhaps 10 minutes I noted that every other table and every person at the bar had bread to pair with the bottle of house olive oil at the table save for myself. Inquiring with the line cook who continued to sulk she mentioned this to one of the ancillary servers who eventually returned with a basket of cool but tasty rustic Italian bread with a hearty crust and spongy crumb. With no plate to contain the Olive Oil I set my coffee cup on the bar and used my saucer to taste the oil – clean, grassy, but not as tasty as I recall from Alto or Marea.

Shortly after eating a first slice of bread my pasta would arrive with zero description and the ancillary server who delivered it would then proceed to pick up the still-full bread basket and waltz away. More than a little frustrated at this point but not wanting the food to suffer, I picked up my fork and took a bite of the tortellini a piaciere with duck liver panna – what I tasted, largely, was…nothing. Thinking the coffee may have blunted my taste buds a second bite would follow and offer a bit more – a hint of salt, the faint smack of duck, and an interior that was so benign that it could have been foie gras, I guess, but when paired with the tough parcels of pasta it was tough to tell. Compared to the foie gras pastas at Scarpetta and Babbo this was a letdown of the utmost proportions.

Disappointed, water glass empty, and French Press spent I still would not see Sarah – just the ancillary servers who I’m 90% certain spoke no English; they would collect the French Press, the coffee cup and its oil soaked dish, and my empty plate to return to the kitchen – thankfully they also thought it fit to refill my water. A short wait, some jotted notes, and my main course would arrive – thankfully it would prove vastly superior to the pasta. Titled “Musseto” with baked eggs, braised cockscombs, sweetbreads, trotters, and salsa verde this was the sort of flavor profile I expected at Osteria Morini – hefty, rustic, salty, and satisfying. With three poached eggs floating in a tomato and cinnamon stew laden with unctuous offal the flavors and textures were varied with the heat of chili driving each flavor home. While I cannot even fathom the caloric load of this course the golden buttered toast only upped the ante and was perfect for soaking up all the left over juices…at least until the same bread thief as prior appeared and literally grabbed the plate while I still had toast hand asking “are you finished.”

With Sarah finally returning after I was *actually* finished and offering a dessert menu I finally had the opportunity to do something I rarely do in restaurants – complain to a server. Explaining to her the bread issues, the overzealous plate collecting, and the frankly bad service I received the only thing I expected – a sincere apology without excuses – plus she offered to buy me dessert, an admittedly nice gesture since I was planning on the Budino di Noce the moment I spotted it on the menu. Vastly more traditional than that at Lincoln but certainly less so than others, this lovely little dish featured creamy walnut custard topped with Meyer lemon sorbetto, crisp caramelized apples, rum-soaked raisins, and a puff pastry hat – a tasty amalgam of parts I’d have never thought to mix the overall flavor profile was actually that of an early season apple pie.

Settling the bill and collecting my bags I was assured by Sarah that my complaints had not fallen on deaf ears and that she would pass the information on to management – certainly the best I could have hoped for, all things considering, but not enough that I would return any time soon – for my dollar there is better rustic Italian in New York, better Michael White in New York, and vastly better service.


Leaving Morini with more than 3 hours before my flight home the final stop of my visit to New York City would be to grab a couple of items for the road – specifically the much praised pastries of Cici-Cela – a shop so small and unsassuming that I’m sure many don’t even realize it is there in the heart of SoHo despite it’s nearly 15 years of existence.

Entering the shop it was merely a second before I was greeted – first by the clerk and moments later by owner Laurent Dupal himself – hands and apron covered with flour and in the process of delivering freshly baked goods from the bakery in back to the front of the shop. Taking a moment to browse the tartes, cakes, cookies, and confections I immediately spotted my first selection and then inquired of the chef what he would recommend – the answer was definitive and therefore the only choice. With my trip to LGA explained to the clerk everything was packaged nicely and I was back on the street in minutes.

Stopping first to snap a picture before taking the subway up to Harlem in order to catch the M60 I’m proud to admit I resisted the temptation to enjoy my pastries all the way through the security check-point – I assure you this took willpower. Taking a seat with over an hour to spare, however, nothing would make it onto the plane – not a single crumb. Beginning first with the standard by which I judge all French pastries, the almond croissant was superb – filled with frangipane and topped with powdered sugar and sliced almonds. Crisp on the exterior, fluffy and loaded with butter inside the almond filling struck a great balance between sweet and savory without ruining the structure – a feat only seen once before, at Francis Payard in Las Vegas.

Moving on to the chef’s suggestion I’m still not sure if he recommended it because it was his favorite or if it was because he had just baked it, but regardless I’m glad he did – it has given me yet another thing to obsess about for my upcoming trip to Paris; the Paris Brest. Apparently meant to be shaped like a bicycle tire – or a circle – this lovely puff of buttery pate à choux was essentially a sliced cream puff stuffed with thick and nutty praline cream and topped with toasted sliced almonds and as you would expect from a place using real butter and top grade flour it was sublime – not too sweet, not too heavy, crispier than an éclair but only barely – like the chef, I would recommend it. Actually, all things considering, I’d recommend Cici-Cela wholeheartedly and if France is making better pastry than this…well, call me excited for April.

The Breslin, New York NY

If one were to attempt to explain the “boutique” ACE hotel to a friend the descriptors would undoubtedly include brash, hipster, unique, and *gasp* affordable considering its location. With a fresh flower man in the doorway, an eclectic souvenir store in the lobby, and more fedoras and skinny jeans than you can shake a stick at, the ACE also contains three eateries and a coffee shop – the most notable of which is the newly Michelin Starred “The Breslin.” Owned and operated by April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig fame and considered “nose-to-tail” and “meat-centric” I have to admit the concept screamed “gastropub” to me, but a quick review of the breakfast menu also suggested I check it out to find out for myself.

Taking the early train from New Hyde Park to Penn and greeted by far less friendly weather conditions than the day prior I made my way expediently to the ACE Hotel only to walk right past the main entrance before stopping at Stumptown and making an about-face. Entering through the lobby entrance as the front doors were not yet open I was greeted by two young ladies at the hostess stand and led to a table without delay. Opting to keep my bag and coat with me the bag took a chair while I took the booth and within seconds my water and coffee were filled and a menu presented.

Already well aware of what I’d be ordering before I arrived I next spent some time examining the interior – heavy, dark, “pub-y” quite like The Girl and The Goat in Chicago, but significantly smaller. With the kitchen wide open to public view and myriad animal sculptures of various materials and forms aplenty the feel was essentially a gussied up hunting lodge. Sipping my nutty Stumptown blend it wouldn’t be long before my server would arrive – a cute and bubbly young woman named Allison who called everyone dear, babe, or hun regardless of age or gender. Pleasant, fun, and upbeat despite being the only primary server on duty that morning (all the while training another young lady, as well) I have to say that the service was great from her end but lacking from the ancillary staff as coffee often sat empty and required requests for a refill.

With a soundtrack of stereotyped 80’s kitsch playing overhead and orders placed it would be perhaps 15 minutes of reading my Relais & Chateaux guide before my first course would arrive – the $18 Oven baked 3 cheese sandwich with house smoked ham and egg. Thinking to myself that for $18 this had better be the best egg sandwich ever – well, I’ll just say that if it wasn’t the best, it was certainly close – this was a damned good sandwich. With at two hefty slices of savory ham tucked between thick slices of buttered sourdough and loaded with cheese the sandwich was rustic and hearty at baseline – the addition of a barely cooked farm egg simply put it over the top.

With Allison returning to collect my empty plate a new pair of diners sat down next to me and while browsing the menu I overheard them discussing my follow-up to the egg sandwich – the lady of the pair referring to it as the most decadent thing she’d ever eaten for breakfast. Described on arrival by Allison as “the devil’s doughnut,” the fried peanut and banana sandwich with bourbon and vanilla was most certainly decadent, but I’d suggest it a creation from the heavens rather from below. This time replacing sourdough with hollowed out brioche roll this sandwich was much more a doughnut and absolutely stuffed with bourbon and vanilla poached bananas and gooey peanut butter. Topped with cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar as though it weren’t already sweet enough, it isn’t the most decadent thing I’ve ever eaten for breakfast, but I think that says more about me than it does about The Breslin.

With another coffee refill plus one for the road my check was delivered – pricey for breakfast to be sure, but worth every penny given the quality of the food. Thanking Allison and leaving just as the opening notes of Guns n’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine started overhead I made my way to street after wandering the hotel for a bit – the flower guy was still there and so were the hipsters lined up out the door at Stumptown, like Tribeca or Soho had migrated uptown - perhaps for good reason given my experience at The Breslin.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen, Forest Hills NY

Despite it’s newly awarded Michelin star I cannot say that Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen would have been at the top of my list of “must visit” restaurants in the 5-Bouroughs – as a matter of fact, under most circumstances it would have most certainly never even entered into the differential. Truth be told, the decision to visit DBWB occurred entirely as a logical compromise in the life of someone who rarely lets logic get in the way of his dining logistics – first my friends, admitted “non-foodies,” stated they wanted to join me for dinner prior to the Kings/Islanders game at Nassau Coliseum, then they noted that if possible they’d prefer not venture into Manhattan, and finally they requested a modest priced place that sold “steak and burgers.” With those stipulations in place, a location in Forest Hills, an opening time of 5:00pm, and the convenience for me to get there via LIRR the logic was simply too great to overlook.

With the best restaurant lunch of my life wrapping up just prior to 2:30pm I was glad for the long walk from Bouley to Penn Station – for the first time in a while I was actually quite full. Graced by the suddenly pleasant weather and carrying my gift-loaf in a bag the 2.5 miles went relatively quickly and before I knew it I was on the 4:04 train to Forest Hills where my friends were waiting. A quick drive through the lovely old community and we would find ourselves at 104-02 Metropolitan Ave. before the doors even opened for business – we even managed to find free parking.

Walking up to the restaurant just prior to 5:00 we were welcomed in like old friends – first by an elderly woman who would later joke with us for being “too quiet” and next by the man who would turn out to be our waiter for the duration of the visit, a lean fellow with a well manicured beard and voice so soft that I never really caught his name. Competent, helpful, and ever circulating to fill glasses I must say our server’s mild demeanor would have been welcomed in almost any other place serving similar quality cuisine but it did present a slight problem in hearing dish descriptions since a rather poorly behaved pair of children one table over spent the evening coloring on themselves and the tablecloth (and later white paper provided by the restaurant) while yelling as their oblivious parents drank cocktails.

Sitting and chatting while sipping our beverages – water for myself and diet coke for the rest – it quickly became evident that Queens’ first Michelin Star has actually become a bit of a destination as both the bar and the dining room would be filled by 5:15. With the bar up front, the open kitchen in back and the 44-seat space largely filled with cream walls, black chairs, and white table cloths the restaurant itself was not really much to behold, but the reason we were there was the food and after making our server aware of our time constraints the first course would arrive quite promptly – a $30 small board of Charcuterie and Cheese featuring Rosette de Lyon, House Made Pâté de Campagne, Pork Rillets, Brillat-Savarin, Bûcheron, and Idiazabal paired with Fig Compote, Whole Grain Mustard, Cornichons, Aged Balsamic Vinegar, plus Baguette & Walnut-Cranberry Raisin Bread. Having never really experienced such a board before my friends were impressed by the pork salami while I was personally wowed by the lovely rosemary and four-spice accents of the rillets. Amongst the cheeses, the buttery triple-créme was the table favorite while I fancied the Bûcheron just as I always have.

Still chatting and slowly working on the board, our next round of courses would arrive perhaps fifteen minutes later – not rushed, just right. Orders amongst my pals would include the Serrano Ham Croquettes with Saffron Aïoli, the Tuscan Bean Soup with Parmigiano Broth & Truffled Crouton, and the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Black Trumpet & Chanterelle Mushrooms, Parmigiano Fricco. Offered one of the Croquettes I’ll note it was more subtle than my previous experiences with similar tapas dishes – creamy and savory but not overly accented by the ham. Significantly better would be the risotto – toothsome but creamy, the mushrooms plenty earthy with the grated parmesan and cheese tuille adding characteristic savory notes and texture.

For my appetizer, the Torchon of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Quince and Pomegranate would be the obvious choice – and at $21 quite the portion. A solid terrine, perhaps a bit too chilled and unfortunately served only with room temperature Baguette the texture was spot on – the sort of torchon that was equally good spread on bread of by the forkful with the balsamic tinged quince smear or the sweet pomegranate seeds.

With appetizers and charcuterie finished save for a few bites of risotto our main courses would arrive in short order – each cooked nicely and enjoyed by their respective recipients; the Grilled 10 oz. “Black Angus Blend” Burger on English Muffin with Crispy French Fries and Cheddar for the guys while the lady opted for Creekstone Farms NY Strip Steak “Au Poivre” Potato Gratin & Wilted Watercress.

For my main course of the evening the choice was made the minute I saw the Hand Made Tagliatelle with Duck Confit, Red Swiss Chard, Toasted Sunchokes & Sage – and shockingly it would prove to be my favorite pasta on a trip that included visits with both Benno and White plus the crab dish at EMP. Rustic in presentation yet refined in flavor the pasta itself was hand torn and perfectly al dente – a bit of resistance to the tooth, no more and no less. Topped with crispy sunchokes and savory sage, bitter chard, and a ragout of confit in a thick gravy hefty garlic and nutmeg the flavor profile was diverse and well conceived – a dish worthy of its persistent status on a menu that changes regularly.

Debating dessert as we’d hoped to make the game on time our debate ended when we saw the menu – little known to me one of my co-diners has quite the taste for Carrot Cake and with that in mind both he and another opted for the Rum Raisin Carrot Cake - Cream Cheese Mousse. Hefty with boozy plump raisins and dense with sweet carrots the base of the cake was without a doubt the best carrot cake I’ve ever had, though admittedly it is not my “go to” dessert. Large in portion and not overloaded with the frosting, a sweet and light smear, my friends were appropriately satisfied.

Not wanting to order the same as the others, my dessert would prove the worst of the bunch – a decent Banana’s Foster Crêpe with Brown Butter-Rum Sauce & Whipped Cream that suffered from Bananas that were simply not quite ready to be served. Thankfully light on the tail end of a day full of eating I will say the crepe itself was textbook, but the with the bananas still slightly sour I have to imagine this dessert would have been vastly improved with the bananas a day older.

The final dessert, ordered by the lady of the table, was Warm Apple Tarte Tatin - Crème Sucrée. With a fluffy pastry shell at the base and buttery cooked apples and cinnamon atop the dish wish simple, straight forward, and tasty – though the crème really did not add much.

With the clock inching towards 6:45 our server would return with the bill – a tab I can guesstimate but did not see as my friends opted to pay. Thanked by our server we made our way to the street and were it not for getting lost along the way we’d have likely made the game just past the National Anthem – instead we arrived with two minutes left in the first and the Kings already down one. While the Kings would indeed go on to get shut out, I have to say I mostly enjoyed Danny Brown Wine Bar and the rest of the evening – while the restaurant may not be a destination, I’d say it defines “very good cuisine in its category,” and apparently Michelin and the locals agree.

Bouley, New York NY

I’ll admit I was skeptical – I’d heard negative comments from a pair of trusted palates that the restaurant was old and tired – a relic resting on past glory despite the new location and positive reviews from Bruni and Michelin – it was actually these comments that had kept the Bouley off my agenda on previous visits to Manhattan. With that noted, aside from the aforementioned thoughts there were others that urged me to go – another trusted gourmand and also my dining partner from the night before at Corton who considers it one of her very favorite restaurants in the city. Exploring the rumor that Chef Bouley was back in the kitchen and everything was firing on all cylinders a quick e-mail only days before my departure for New York confirmed that the Chef would indeed be there for Saturday lunch service and that although they were full for later seatings a table for one could certainly be accommodated if a 12:45 reservation would suffice.

With meetings out of the way and a quick stop at Bloomingdales my walk south would be brisk – the sun was out for what seemed like the first time in months and being just before noon the streets were bustling…the scene was everything I love about New York (save for the odd folks dressed as Elmo.) Making good time and arriving at the easily missed location just before 12:30 I entered a foyer almost too grand to be true – hundreds of fresh apples lining one wall, hundreds of ornate flowers lining the other – the smell intoxicating. Greeted by the hostess my reservation was confirmed and I was told my table was being readied if I’d like to take a seat and wait; it would be a mere 5 minutes before I was led through the dining room to my two top in the back – every other table in the restaurant full.

With a heavily padded chair that could have likely supported two beneath me and thickly linened table, flowers, and silver before me the scene at Bouley is certainly one to behold – it is beautiful and the floral patterns dominating the room from chandelier to wallpaper to floor strike a safe balance between ornate and ostentatious, no small feat. Opting for iced water and against wine I would next be greeted by my server, a man named Marcellin who would not only provide his contact information at the end of the meal, but would also lead one of the top five service teams I’ve experienced in Manhattan – to say the least I was never left wanting for anything. With the menu presented and my selections from the 4-course prix fixe confirmed along with an added supplement I asked to make sure photos were allowed…what followed, in my opinion, was near perfection.

Kicking things off, the amuse for the afternoon would be a Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Ricotta Cheese and Roasted Chestnuts – a creamy potage balancing the natural sweetness of the pumpkin with the mellow ricotta and smoky chestnuts. Tasty albeit somewhat conventional the portion was surprisingly large for an amuse – I’ve certainly received smaller “cups” of soup at a number of restaurants.

Following the soup one of the most impressive bread services I’ve experienced in a restaurant began – I guess it doesn’t hurt to have your own bakery. Beginning first with an apple raisin roll and flaxseed baguette that were offered as a warm pair to every table, the rest of the meal would be a revolving door of flavors that changed nearly every time the friendly and gracious bread man passed through the room. With a semi-sweet butter and fine sea salt on the table the selections I remember out of the dozen offered included Black Currant-Anise, Walnut Saffron, Fig, Olive, Pistachio, Garlic Focaccia, Miche, and a warm Brioche. Needless to say I sampled a few too many.

Beginning the 5-course (or so I thought) $45 prix fixe my first course would be Carpaccio of Kampachi, Young Big Eye Tuna, and Striped Amber Jack ‘prepared in a Mediterranean manner.’ A substantial portion of high quality ceviche-style fish paired with unseasonably bold tomatoes and an array of microgreens with a mild dusting of salt and black pepper the course was dazzling both visually and texturally – an appropriately delicate way to begin the meal.

Following the fish there would be a bit of a delay – twenty minutes perhaps – but the time went rather quickly between the bread and conversing with my captain; plus what would come next was every bit worth the wait. Described as a “gift” from Chef Bouley – a gift I saw no other table receive – Sea Urchin Terrine with Golden Osetra Caviar and Vodka Crème Fraiche would prove to be quite present indeed. Served as two fresh tongues of uni – one raw and the other encased in a gelatin block tasting like the essence of the sea the dish was anchored in a bitter yet tangy cream amplified by small dots of briny caviar and basil oil. While admittedly homogenous in texture, the flavor of the dish was anything but – at times sweet and at others savory it was just a beautifully executed composition.

With little delay following my wowed response to the terrine, the next dish to emerge from the kitchen was another gift – this time Sauteed John Dory with sweet peas, celery root puree, and black Truffle Sauce. Featuring my favorite fish there was little chance for this dish to fail, though I must note it was not as impressive as the uni. Flaky and sweet the St Pierre itself was quite tasty – clearly sautéed in butter and all the better for it. Where the dish missed for me, however, was actually the black truffle sauce which although good was so potent with the nose of truffle that it overwhelmed the delicate fish and celery root.

Returning to the prix fixe, my next course would be perhaps Bouley’s most famous at the current location; Porcini Flan, Alaska Live Dungeness Crab, Black Truffle Dashi. Served in a small dish and uncovered tableside with a bit of steam and plenty of earthy aromatics greeting the nose the first thing to note about the dish is that it tastes much better than it looks. Clearly Asian in influence the heady dashi dotted with large chunks of crab is lovely – it makes the dish despite getting second billing in the title. Digging deeper, to the bottom, the creamy custard greets the palate with earthy tones – a sort of balance to the savoriness above – and when mixed thoroughly the amalgam simply “works.”

The followup to the flan was ordered a la carte in addition to the prix fixe – though I will admit it did not appear on my bill at the end of the afternoon. Never one to pass up an egg dish or polenta the Organic Connecticut Farm Egg, Serrano Ham, Steamed Polenta, Artichoke, Sunchoke, Coconut Garlic Broth dish was an obvious choice and perhaps my favorite course of the meal. With the cured ham actually served in four strips cupping the egg the breakfasty aspect of the dish was spot on and melded nicely with the substantially buttery polenta. Adding nuance, crispy artichoke and shaved parmesan plus one of the most unique “broths” I’ve ever experienced – on one hand milky and sweet but on the other potent with garlic.

When Marcellin arrived to collect my empty plate and asked how it was I merely pointed – I’d admittedly wiped it clean with some miche. With a smile he said “good, the chef is making up something special for you to try” and true to his word the next dish was another gift – another egg. Presented on a similar plate to the first, Scrambled Connecticut Farm Egg, Black truffle, Mascarpone, and Comte was not nearly as complicated as its predecessor, but was every bit as good. With the egg itself whipped with black truffles and mascarpone to form an aromatic cloud of flavor, the dish was topped tableside with grated 24 month aged compte – a decidedly luxurious touch.

Once again returning to the prix fixe – course three (or eight counting the amuse – but who is counting, right) was Organic Long Island Duck Roasted with White Truffle Honey, Vermont Chanterelles, Pencil Asparagus, Porcini Puree and a side of buttered pommes puree. Beginning with the mashed potatoes – they aren’t Robuchon – a tad more texture – but they aren’t too far off. Moving on to the duck – rosy on the inside and bronzed on the exterior the flavor was quite excellent – sweet and supple, but unfortunately not fatty or crispy enough on the exterior to rival the fowl at Eleven Madison Park or Corton. Certainly a competent dish and again impressive in portion I’ll note the accompanying vegetables and fungi were quite nicely prepared – tender and flavorful, nicely paired with the earthy mushroom sauce and sweet foam.

Rather full at this point the next course would be the only fixed option on the prix fixe – a transition from the savory to the sweet in the form of Chilled Coconut Soup with Pineapple Granite and Organic Yogurt Sorbet. Interestingly tasty and tropical much like the palate cleansers at Eleven Madison Park and Corton the day before I actually enjoyed this dish better than either of them – the pineapple was exceedingly sweet and juicy, the coconut quite restrained, and the sorbet tangy and smooth. With the added crunch of crumbled macadamia nuts this dish was more Hawaii than New York and more summer than February, but it was also delicious and light.

For my final course of the afternoon – well, it was anything but light. Loved by some and loathed by others, Chocolate Frivilous with Chocolate Brulee, Chocolate Parfait, Hazelnut Dacquoise, Chocolate Walnut Spice Bread, White Coffee Ice Cream, Prune Armagnac Ice Cream is certainly a plate to behold – if I had to guess I’d say the composition of six desserts easily weighs a pound or more. Arranged randomly and not all that attractively with the ice-cream starting to melt on arrival, this mixed bag of varying tastes and textures was largely a success with the chocolate flavors running the gamut though interestingly it would be the non-chocolate options that appealed most. A solid ending to a great meal I can’t say I loved it – but I didn’t loath it either.

As a final treat before my departure, a tower silver tower of mignardises was delivered with the check – shockingly only $45 + $4 coffee (a mellow cocoa accented blend.) Featuring White Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Rum balls, sesame cookies, almond tuilles, vanilla chocolate shortbreads, coconut cookies, and strawberry macarons the macarons were absolutely textbook while the sesame and coconut cookies were disappointingly dry and the rest good but unmemorable. With bill paid, including a substantial tip, I thanked Marcellin and his crew for a fantastic afternoon and made my way to the door with a requested copy of the menu in hand to collect my coat – plus one last gift, a nearly one pound loaf of maple cornbread.

To this moment I cannot imagine why I was treated so well at Bouley – no special requests were made, I was dressed no better than anyone else in the restaurant, and aside from my e-mail inquiring whether photos were allowed and if Chef Bouley would be cooking on Saturday my reservation was no different than any other. A substantial bargain for amuse/five courses/mignardises my meal turned out to be so much more – not only was it amuses and mignardises plus nine course and a delectable gift to take home for myself and my friends, it was also an experience I will always remember and to this date the best lunch of my life – a meal so good that I’m tempted to go back on my upcoming March visit to the Big Apple with my only reluctance being that it seems impossible Bouley could repeat such magic.