perhaps there’s more to life than food and film.

i originally started this blog so that i would keep writing.  that being the intended ambition, it may have been unwise to impose such smarmy limitations, or to even suggest that the only two things i actually enjoy are the aforementioned f-words.  quite the contrary–there are probably at least four, maybe five other things in the world that make me happy.

what i wanted to avoid was keeping a public diary.  there’s something about hyper-personal blogs that’s always struck me as disingenuous–an admittedly arbitrary stigma–and while i have no desire to make my blog a text-only reality show of my life, i find that i’ve gotten little to nothing out of simply judging things.

so a new mission statement for my blog, one as broad as what i believe the purpose of writing is: the fearless, honest formation and articulation of ideas and insights, and wordplay in various forms.  there will also be pictures.

animal

remember two dudes catering?  animal is exactly the kind of restaurant one would anticipate from those guys.  glorified stoner food for hipsters, animal seems to aspires to be the west coast answer to momofuku–fine dining-quality food made affordable and casual.  suffice it to say that they don’t come anywhere near touching david chang.

the food isn’t bad.  sweetbreads, far too small, are deep fried to high hell and served with panchetta viniagrette.  i waited about a half hour for this dish.  next came foie gras on a biscuit with maple sausage gravy.  my piece of foie wasn’t particularly well cooked but still delicious (such is the nature of the greatest food on earth) but the biscuit was at once light and dense, very buttery and the maple sausage gravy, i could’ve had in a bowl and eaten as a soup.  it would’ve been great as a simple biscuits and gravy dish.  the foie seems an arbitrary indulgence that only sets forth expectations that the dish doesn’t meet.  for dessert, a pound cake with macerated strawberries and whipped cream and a bacon chocolate crunch bar.  pretty self explanatory, both decent.

not bad, but certainly not worth the time or money it took and cost for me and my friend.  few things are worse than getting the check after a meal and wondering why it costs so much.

animal
435 n fairfax ave
los angeles, ca 90036

house of pies

everything great about food in l.a. is epitomized at this restaurant.  radiating with its fluorescent illumination, the dingy, dilapidated coffee shop interior seems a microcosm of the city itself.  it was love at first sight.

i only ordered pie and a lemonade, which for some reason was addictive beyond reason–way too sugary, a slight effervescence from god knows what, and i couldn’t get enough of it.  pecan pie a la mode may have been the best pecan pie i’ve ever had.  the menu itself is pretty standard fare.  my friend ordered a hypnotic monte cristo sandwich, a true gastronomical abomination that i wanted to bathe in.  sugar overload left my stomach unwilling to take on a bite of it.  next time… next time.

house of pies
1869 n vermont ave
los angeles, ca 90027

6.30.09

whatever works (woody allen, 2009)

why is it that when woody allen ends his movies with a shrug of the shoulders and a “that’s life” sentiment, i’m satisfied, moved even?  allen’s newest ranks among his out-and-out funniest and in its self-consciousness and conceding to the heart over the mind is his most felt effort since sweet and lowdown.  inferior as it may be to that, or any great woody allen film, it satisfies anyone familiar with and helpless to allen’s “charms” and is certainly a welcome deviation from his globe-trotting phone-in: the abysmal cassandra’s dream, the misogynistic vicky cristina barcelona, and the concussive scoop. larry david is hilarious as larry david; his lack of any true acting talents outside of his own schtick is on full display here.  nevertheless, he’s charismatic enough to sustain my attention and forgive more than i should how awfully miscast he is.  this may be the first time i enjoyed a performance by evan rachel wood, or found her remotely attractive.  patricia clarkson, among my favorite actresses, is predictably fantastic in a role that’s contrived at best.

despite the plot’s misgivings (whatever works suffers from a very daunting lull in the middle of failed humor, silly plot conveniences, and a lack of larry david) and allen’s directorial complacency, there is much to be enjoyed here, admittedly (and aforementioned) more for the allen fan.  wordy and fast dialogue recall classic hollywood, aided by harris savides’ gorgeous, glossy photography, most evident in the exchange between wood and matthew goode on a boat–romance runs high, and the reverse shot close-ups are the most beautiful you’ll see in anything in theaters now.  music does a lot of heavy lifting in allen’s films, and i have no problem with that.  let it be to his credit that he chooses such wonderful tunes and places them to lift the sublime, however briefly.  whatever works is a cynic’s defeatist surrender to optimism and the enjoyment of life in all its frivolity and uncertainty, an easy sentiment but an important one.

black narcissus (michael powell & emeric pressburger, 1947)

more the case than in any of the other powell & pressburger films, this is cinematographer/technicolor savant jack cardiff’s movie.  color cinematography has never been more expressionistic or perfectly executed.  the plot is certainly worthy if not in need of such visual bravura: a group of nuns led by deborah kerr go to a convent in the himalayas, the stage for the ultimate expression of the spirit vs. the flesh in cinema.  there isn’t much to say: this is one of the greatest films ever made.  see it.

the dead (john huston, 1987)

i would want james joyce as the scribe of my swan song, too.  huston’s austerity and deft direction allow for joyce’s words to take front and center–huston’s son may have written the adaptation but one gets the sense that the screenplay consisted of little else than reformatting the story, which i haven’t read.  it’s a reverent adaptation and ultimately made me wish i spent the time watching the film reading the story instead, though that’ll probably be the case for any adaptation of joyce to the screen.  a very good, lovely movie.  if ever in the mood for an elegiac chamber drama, this is the way to go.

moon (duncan jones, 2009)

david bowie’s son made a good movie.  moon manages to avoid the stigma that comes with playing in the shadows of established masterpieces–in this case, 2001: a space odyssey, (tarkovsky’s) solaris, and to some extent, blade runner–by learning the basic lesson that these films have in common and applying them to his own: science fiction is, at its best, an excellent vehicle for exsitential exploration.  true he may borrow his fair share of imagery and cadence, and his insights may not be entirely earth-shattering, but the film is directed with a sure and steady hand with a near-mastery of tone and rhythm.  in no other decision is jones’ ingenuity more evident than in his casting of sam rockwell–no other actor would have done.

wise blood (jhon huston, 1979)

yet another film adaptation of a literary giant from huston.  hilarious and sad, and one of the strangest and most ambivalent stories about spiritual redemption i’ve ever seen.  were it not for the cartoonish and deflating music (which doesn’t include the perfect use of “tennessee waltz” throughout the film) and the lack of inspired imagery–this is, after all, flannery o’connor–this movie would be a masterpiece.

everything you always wanted to know about sex* but were afraid to ask (woody allen, 1972)

a hilarious movie that’s funnier upon reflection.  allen’s facetious take on the sex tutorial is unbelievably silly, though i think i prefer bananas.  burt reynolds gives his best performance.  ever. as a performer, woody allen is at his funniest in this movie.  i can’t decide if my favorite is him as a sperm with the willies (“what if he’s masturbating?  we’ll end up on the ceiling.”) or the italian womanizer.

empire of passion (nagisa oshima, 1978)

there might not be a more frustrating director for me than nagisa oshima.  my experience with his films has been consistent: amazing imagery (his compositions are immaculate) amounts to trite, drawn out, and unbearably obvious insights.  as one of the most celebrated contemporary japanese filmmakers, i would like to believe there’s more to him than what i’ve witnessed for myself.  empire of passion is the postman always rings twice posing as a japanese ghost story, and that’s about as interesting as it gets.  the transfer on the criterion dvd is one of the best they’ve done though, so at least it looked pristine.

you only live once (fritz lang, 1937)

the prototypical love-on-the-run film, fritz lang’s near masterpiece offers more than the fatalistic romanticism typical of the sub-genre.  characteristically steeped in social commentary, lang’s interests are rather in the tragic forces that create these characters (the judicial system!) than simply telling the story of star-crossed lovers escaping an unwanted fate, not that there’s anything wrong with that (nicholas ray’s fantastic they live by night).  henry fonda broods and yells in probably his darkest role this side of once upon a time in the west.

6.19.09

the bells of st. mary’s (leo mccarey, 1945)

this isn’t a movie i would’ve watched had it not been for the fact that it’s directed by leo mccarey, one of my favorite directors and among the most overlooked, underappreciated american filmmakers from his era.  jean renoir once said of him that no one in hollywood understood people better.

the bells of st. mary’s is too long and suffers from a brand of overt moralism that feels obligatory given the film’s subject matter. also permeating the film is a do-gooder attitude that verges on suffocating, but mccarey’s impeccable sense of humor, depth of humanism, and unparalleled ability with actors–the performances in mccarey’s films are consistently uncanny–make it a wholly edifying experience, charming and warm.  it’s a bit of a chore but the delights to be had are well worth it.

6.18.09

the jerk (carl reiner, 1979)

not nearly as funny as i anticipated but it’s one of the most compulsively likable movies i’ve seen in a while.  it’s stupid beyond belief (with some truly hilarious moments) and has an all-too-familiar trajectory, yet by movie’s end i was won over and i have no idea why.  maybe it’s bernadette peters’ adorable, weepy, trumpet-toting marie or a dog named shithead.  the disco scene is also golden.  it could also be that this kind of silliness is rarely matched with heart, trite as it may be.

tetro (francis ford coppola, 2009)

impressive in its ability to be both overstuffed and too thinly laid, coppola’s tetro is a bombastic and sprawling mess whose ambition outreaches what the film comes anywhere near achieving.  a slow-burning two acts gives way to an unwieldy and semi-retarded third that renders the entire thing vacuous.  there’s too much of an emphasis placed on conventional story elements and characters to simply be content with coppola’s filmmaking prowess–coppola may be a great director but a third rate writer at best, at least when it comes to original material.  (i haven’t seen the conversation but that can hardly be considered original as it’s essentially a remake of blow-up.)  there are some very good performances in the film, especially from maribel verdu.  imagery and style recall other great films and filmmakers, but there’s no love or joy to be found–tetro instead plays out like the desperate act of an artist out of his time trying to assert himself in a new context that has no room for him and his dated sensibilities.  give me wong kar wai’s buenos aires paean cum aesthetic free-for-all happy together over this any day of the week.

star trek – delivers in a way few hollywood trifles come near matching.  sci-fi geek out complete with obligatory chase scene featuring obscene and large space creature on deserted planet.  what was with the stunt casting?  excellent use of sound, lots of great set pieces.  i want a spin-off buddy comedy of simon pegg’s scotty and that strange looking alien.

world on a wire – fassbinder straddles the apparently uber-thin line between high art and kitsch.  a two-part tv movie based on the same source material for the thirteenth floor, which i haven’t seen but i’m going to assume is horrible.  among fassbinder’s more atmospheric works.  impressive in its economical means of achieving science fiction; in that sense, undoubtedly inspired by alphaville.  in short, cool shit.

julia – tilda swinton gets ugly for this one, a drunken homage to cassavetes.  human desperation is painted in broad strokes here, and  it features some of the craziest plotting i’ve seen in movies, past or recent.  write-ups all tout swinton as the major performance here but i loved saul rubinek’s understated turn as julia’s enabler and only friend.  director erick zonca seems to have asked his actors to leave it all on the line to a fault, brilliant at times and at others too thickly laid.  an exhausting and very good film.

up – pixar’s rebuttal to the adage “they just don’t make ’em like they used to,” an old school action-adventure “picture” with a heart of gold.  this is the near-perfect studio at top form.  in its cheekiness and earnestness, the witty interpretation of the disney talking animal is indicative of the ingenuity and heart fueling the movie, at once wildly entertaining and deeply resonant, perhaps the most thematically complete and substantial offering from pixar to date.  with  up, pixar transcends their tendency to be content with visual showmanship and candy-covered cuteness, providing a movie-going experience full of pathos and joy.

the girlfriend experience – at best a superficial time capsule, as it does accurately depict the kind of vapidness that’s rampant in these times but does little to avoid being guilty of the same flippantness.  the incessant references to the economy and attempts at timeliness are embarrassingly bad, and the fractured structure adds nothing.  soderbergh will go down as the most prolific creator of mediocrity among his generation of filmmakers.  i once loved traffic but i wonder what a revisit will reveal.

ariel – aki kaurismaki tips his hat to vigo’s l’atalante by naming his film after a boat that starts with an ‘a’.  typically droll but surprisingly warm.  to say that it’s the least of the other two films in the proletariat trilogy is a testament to how good the other two are.  this is a lovely film and a great place to start with kaurismaki.

this is a long overdue update, so my memory is hazy.  bear with me.

daniel

unbeknownst to me, daniel boulud’s (semi) self-titled flagship restaurant underwent a thorough revamping.  upon entry one isn’t greeted with “stuffy” as i was warned by my cousin but an oversaturated clusterfuck of classy and trashy, the inexplicable harmony of random elements that shouldn’t work together but do.  i imagine during the renovation mr. boulud exclaiming, “i love it” when shown any and every potential decorative flourish.  most hilarious, as pointed out by my namesake jew and short-lived dining partner, is an extremely large and life-like painting of a man looking at his cellphone.   the elegant frivolity makes for, if nothing else, a fun setting.

got the night started with a champagne mojito, which is as good as it sounds and the best mojito i’ve had this side of cuba.  daniel offers the familiar three-course pre-fixe dinner menu, with the option of various tasting menus.  the amuse bouche consisted of a trio of canapes.  the night’s theme was white bean, if i remember correctly.  i don’t remember much passed that except they were all delicious and much more appetizing than the description led me to believe.

because i can never not order it when it’s an option, my first course was a terrine of foie gras with kumquat and such, served with brioche.  truly excellent, and until i had a terrine at per se, was the best prepartation of the unctuous treasure i’ve had.  for the longest time i erroneously believed that foie gras is seared or bust.

next was a boulud signature dish, recommended to me over the degustation of suckling pig (which i now wish i had ordered).  braised short rib and seared rib eye served with a carrot gratin, pomme dauphine, and shallot confit.  braised short rib is quickly becoming one of my favorite foods, and the carrot gratin was exceptional in its sweet savoryness and texture.  the rib eye however was overcooked and flavorless.  it looked pretty, though.

daniel flaunts a comprehensive dessert menu, splitting its wares between fruit and chocolate, offering about five or six per category.  when our waiter came around with the dessert menu i asked right away how much more it would cost if i wanted to order extra desserts, something i had planned on doing from the get-go.  he thought for a second before saying, “merry christmas.”  i responded by telling him that was a dangerous thing to say to someone like me.  “what, do you want to order half the menu?”  “yes.”  “okay, well, i’ll have the pastry chef do small portions for you and you can order as many as you would like.”  ask and you shall receive.  fine dining restaurants aspire to please, in which case it can never hurt to ask for things that will make you happy.  the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.  anyway, between the two of us we got six desserts.  two stood out: an intensely flavored and refreshing blueberry vacherin and the guanja chocolate coulant, in which the use of fleur de sel elates the palate.

daniel
60 e 65th st
new york, ny 10065

blue hill

tucked away in greenwich village, the unassuming and utterly charming blue hill may be the sleeper hit of my month of gluttonous extravagance.  dan barber bridges the gap from farm to plate with as few degrees of separation as possible, his dedication to quality as well as honoring ingredients evident on every plate.  after ordering the farmer’s feast tasting menu (5 courses), we were treated to a procession of things to “start [us] off”: a selection of garden fresh vegetables (a leaf of romaine, a radish, a turnip), some savory goodies (parmesan tuile, fried kale chip), some fantastic bread and a very impressive and addictive spread of butters and salts, among which was one of the best things i’ve ever been served at a restaurant: a generous quennelle of whipped lardon (aka PIG FAT) sprinkled with smoked paprika.

1. grilled cobia – a fish i hadn’t really heard of until these adventures in fine dining.  very meaty, very flavorful, cooked beautifully.  i wish i remembered what it was served with.  i think ramps were among them.  really lovely start to the meal.

2. soft-shell crab – a little limp (would’ve liked a crunch to it), but juicy and tasty.

3. berkshire pork – belly and tenderloin.  at the time, the best pork dish i had ever had.  it’s rare that i get a pork tenderloin that isn’t impossible to chew.  the belly was equal parts crispy and fatty juicyness.

4. poached rhubarb with yogurt sorbet and red wine sauce – clean and very pure in its flavors.  absolutely smitten with this one, really loved it.

5. chocolate parfait with hazelnut crispies and chocolate sauce – i hate to use the word, but i found this pedestrian albeit enjoyable.

the price to quality ratio here makes it an absolute must, though the food speaks for itself.

blue hill
75 washington pl
new york, ny 10011

lupa

this was the first glimpse into the new york food scene i ever got back in 2001, when i visited before starting high school.  i think it may have been my first experience with what, at the time, seemed to me fine dining.  i’d been there since and always like to come back for sentimental reasons but also because the food’s really great.  ordered an assortment of small plates including some of their house-made concoctions of meat, namely the head cheese (a warm terrine-cum-sausage of fatty, pork-y goodness) and beef tongue.  the beets were especially delicious that night.  braised ox-tail gnocchi is rich and rib-sticking.  the tartufo at lupa was and always has been a must-get anytime i’ve gone.  our waitress very correctly vouched for the fennel gelato, which was amazing.  lupa’s consistently offered an easy-going atmosphere and simple, tasty food, the italian equivalent of an exceptional bistro.

lupa
170 thompson st.
new york, ny 10012

jean georges revisited

while the lunch deal here is the best fine dining bargain in town, i’m not sure how many more times i’d want to take advantage of it.  the food is consistently very good but the service is lacking and i’ve never liked the feel of either the fine dining room at jean georges or nougatine.  i got artic char again (this time served with olive oil foam, butter-ramp ravioli, and rhubarb compote… a nice if unbalanced dish) as well as the sweetbreads, a disappointly small presentation but very good.  ordered two desserts from the nougtaine menu: muscat grape vacherin and some sort of chocolate creme.  both were okay.

what wasn’t okay was the way in which they fucked up the bill, and proceeded to be unremorseful about the mishap.  we were charged a random gratuity (we were only a party of four) that i didn’t catch until we were on our way out.  we went back and had the issue fixed, but were met with silence, as if a mistake isn’t spoken of, it never happened.  i found it inexcusable that a michelin three-star restaurant make an error like that, but of course i lack the clout and gaul to make a scene and demand satisfaction.  someday, i tell you.  someday.

per se revisited… thrice

by thrice, i mean three times.  yes, i went back THREE times.  to be fair, the last two were in the salon.

revisit number one was the full experience.  rather than write another epic, some quick notes comparing and contrasting the two best meals of my life.  this time around, i got to try the white truffle egg custard with black truffle ragout and chive-potato chip. near tears  upon tasting it.  i’m convinced that there’s no better beginning to a meal than the series of three (with this one, four) dishes that open the meal at per se.  the grougeres, the cornets, the oysters and pearls, and THIS culminate in luxury epitomized.  the foie gras terrine was the absolute best foie gras dish i’ve ever had.  served with brioche which they swapped out about halfway through my finishing the dish “in case it got cold.” i love this place.  halibut was on the menu again and i asked for something else, and i received black bass instead, which was very good.  instead of butter poached lobster, it was langoustine a la plancha.  by this point, langoustine has to be my favorite shellfish by far, as it has the succulence of a lobster and the flavor of a shrimp, exemplified beautiful in this perfect dish.  a degustation of rabbit was truly a run in the gamut of what rabbit can be, the lamb, though good, was forgetable, and i don’t remember the cheese course much.  raspberry sorbet was unreal, and the snickers bar is out of control.  so excellent.  i mistakenly declared it the best dessert i’ve ever had, a title that should instead go to either the coffee and doughnuts or the chocolate egg from le bernardin.  either way, it’s incredible.

per se opened the salon for a la carte dining and i somehow convinced some people to go on two occassions.  the first went from an idea of going for dessert into dinner.  if you order as little as an entree, you get the per se treatment on a smaller scale.  we each ordered an entree and dessert, and were then treated to the grougeres and the cornets, as well as a gazpacho and the bread basket.  i ordered the degustation of pork, and it will forever be the most memorable and amazing pork preparation of my life.  if it gets any better than what i had that night, my face will explode.  belly, tenderloin, sausage, braised shoulder served with what i believe where grilled ramps and the most amazing corn bread i’ve ever tasted.  it was so incredibly good i had to share it with the other two just so i could see them react to it.  has to be among the greatest plates of food in human history.  you also get a smaller selection of mignardises in the salon.  it came out to $55/head for a very satisfying meal.  HIGHLY recommend it if you’re curious about the place and want to glimpse what it’s like.

my fourth and final time at per se came in the form of a farewell dinner from my roommate.  knowing that it was his mother’s dollar paying for the meal, i was perhaps a little more persuasive than i should’ve been in terms of the liberty with which i thought we should order for the sake of making the most out of the night.  we both ordered the tonic and gin ($20 a pop) and went nuts from there.  it seemed appropriate it being my fourth time in three weeks that i see everyone that i had met along the way there that night, including the waiter from my first time around who remembered that that night, i didn’t get to try to truffle egg custard because they had run out.  so after the grougers, the cornets, and oysters and pearls (yes, i ordered it from the salon), he brought out the egg custards for us, saying that he wanted to make sure i got it this time around.  after that came a beet salad of peach coulis.  at this point it goes without saying that anything i had at per se was the absolute best of that respective dish.  in this case, it was the best beet salad i’ve ever had.  compelling me to revisit the butter-poached lobster were the accompaniments of bacon emulsion and what was described to me as bacon snow–cured bacon given the texture of snow sprinkled all over the plate.  fiendish.  so excellent.  giddy delight, blah blah blah.  for dessert, i asked for something new because i had literally tried every dessert on the menus as well as the go-to off-menu dessert, coffee and doughnuts.  i was brought a pecan… something, with burnt marshmallow and vanilla ice cream.  so great.  part of me wishes the other desserts at per se were as simple as this or the coffee and doughnuts, as they are the most successful of the bunch.  instead of the mignardises-lite that normally gets served to the salon crowd, we were brought the most extensive tray of chocolates i’ve ever seen.  they were every single variety that they make in-house, two of each.  i asked if the tray could be left on the table.  that wasn’t an option.  i ended up with about 15 chocolates in front of me and i ate every single one.  i was told after that we set a record for most chocolates taken.  my finest hour.

easily my favorite restaurant.  next stop: the french laundry.

superlative.

5.19.09

per se

“i would choose coming here over sex any day.”


reasons were myriad as to why i considered per se the unattainable ideal: astronomically expensive, notoriously difficult reservation system, consistently ranked number one in food and service and most recently declared the “best restaurant in the americas” by s.pellegrino’s world’s 50 best restaurants list.   there’s also the fact that it’s the east coast twin of napa valley’s french laundry, whose reputation is as, if not more superlative.  for food geeks, these are the holiest of holies.

to think, then, that a little graduation money and some luck on opentable.com would dash what i considered an unfordable gap between me and per se.  i guess it was silly for me to have put so much distance between us.  it is, after all, just a restaurant (…), and given the ridiculousness of my eating habits as of late, it was only inevitable.  a cousin of mine has been wanting to go for longer than i have so i always knew i would have someone to go with.  the ease with which everything fell into place confirmed that it was indeed fated, and so on may 19th, at 9:30 pm, i had dinner at per se.

it started with “a tonic and gin per se“, a $20 cocktail containing junipero gin, house-made tonic water w/ raw quinine powder, lime and simple syrup.   some searching around found me at an interview with per se mixologist brian van flandern, whose reasoning for making his own tonic water comes down to the fact that commercial tonics just aren’t good enough.  raw quinine powder apparently gives a tonic water a tighter effervescence and a natural sweetness that allows for the flavor of the alchohol and supplements to sing on their own.  one would think then that they’d distill their own gin, grow their own limes, but why bother when the gin is this smooth, nearly undetectable save for floral notes and the warming sensation of imbibed liquor.  lime tastes as it should but in surprisingly large proportion, making it at first taste seem like a glorified limeade.  but it’s a complex drink, its nuances revealed in subsequent sips, and there’s certainly a lot of it to enjoy–it comes in a large glass better suited for a pint of guinness.

after waiting a half-hour for my cousin, fearing that we’d lose our table and nursing the shit out of my immaculate cocktail, she arrived in a huff and we were led to our table.  as i got up from the waiting area with drink in hand, one of the waitstaff warmly informed me that they would bring it to the table and that i should leave it there.  god forbid a guest do any work while at per se.  figuring that there isn’t a better place to be ruffied, i oblige.

describing the dining room isn’t a task i’m willing to undertake at the moment.  all that needs to be known is that it’s flawless, a two-tiered palace of a room with a view of columbus circle and central park from the perfect level of elevation that contributes to the sense that one has achieved nirvana.  i believe the entryway to heaven is not, as popularly assumed, marked by pearly gates but rather the blue door that adorns the facade of per se.  (a note must be made of the lampshades, subtly marked with laundry tag symbols as if hieroglyphics, an endearing nod to the french laundry.)

before elation and the giddy euphoria of being at a thomas keller restaurant could fully take hold, we were greeted by our waiter whose sardonic humor and down-to-earth warmth and charisma brought about a much needed reality check: i am still in new york, i am here to have dinner.  the waitstaff at per se are in fact the greatest service providers in new york but they also avoid putting on airs.  despite the lavishness of it all, there isn’t an ounce of pretension in the place.  no arbitrary high-brow highjinks, no snobbery; per se is what it is, and with the harmonious reconciliation of idealized projection and direct experience, what was expected to be and would become the greatest meal of my life began.

the meal:

(as with the name of the aforementioned cocktail, the per se menu is rampant with word play.  i’m including the dishes verbatim from the menu–they gave me a copy in a folder to take home)

amuse bouches (two thomas keller classics)
1. gruyere gougere – a crisp, light, buttery choux pastry filled with the silkiest melted gruyere.
2. salmon cornet w/ red onion creme fraiche and chive – a play on an ice cream cone.  the cone itself is made of a black sesame tuile, piped with the unspeakably intense and delicious red onion creme fraiche and topped with a “scoop” of fresh salmon, a lone “sprinkle” of chive.  ineffable in its expert combination of flavors and textural contrast.

oysters and pearls – “sabayon” of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar
another thomas keller classic.  words fail me here.  this dish absolutely floored me and i’m not about to try to define what it is that gives this dish that quality. i will say that this was my first experience with sturgeon caviar and i now understand what the fuss is about.  our waiter put it best: “it’s stupid good.”

at this point in the meal, two different types of butter were brought out: one from california seasoned with fleur de sel and an unsalted sweet cream butter.  (i don’t remember where the second was from)  along with the two butters came a roll that i’m convinced wasn’t actually bread but a cloud, so soft and airy.  we were also offered an assortment of breads: french baguette, potato sourdough (my favorite of the bunch), alsacean rye (didn’t try this one, for some reason), and a pretzel roll.

sauteed hudson valley moulard duck foie gras w/ “gateua au pruneaux d’agen” (prune cake), purple top turnips, celery branch and duck jus
$30 supplement.  there was no way i was going to have dinner at per se and not have the foie gras, even if it meant adding to the ransom it already cost.  sauteed to perfection with a nice caramelized skin encasing the fatty, silky perfection that is foie gras.  turnips and celery branch make for lovely supplement, but the prune cake was a little overpowering when eaten with everything else.  it was best enjoyed separately as a sweet element to counter the savoriness of the rest of the dish.  i got to try a bite of the alternative course, the clean and refreshing asparagus salad with heirloom beets, confiture of meiwa kumquats, frisee lettuce and black winter truffle emulsion.  earthy deliciousness.

pan roasted fillet of atlantic halibut w/ globe artichokes, confit of meyer lemon, and “piperade” with nicoise olive oil
an overcooked piece of fish at per se is unfathomable and yet there it was, sitting in front of me.  easily my least favorite dish of the night and the only real misstep.  it doesn’t help that i find halibut to be boring and almost unpalatable in its blandness.  to be fair, somehow only half of my fish was dry and stringy–the other half had the moist flakiness of a perfectly cooked fish and there was a nice crust on the top for texture, but it was still flavorless.  the “piperade”, a confit of what tasted like peppers and maybe tomato, was fantastic, its savory robustness countered by the acidic bitterness of the meyer lemon.  the dish had an unidentified black streak on the bottom of the plate that held everything together, though on its own wasn’t exactly pleasant.

butter poached nova scotia lobster w/ compressed belgian endive, thompson grapes, wood sorrel and verjus emulsion
an unexpected texture in the lobster made for a very unique experience, and while it wasn’t as euphoric as the langoustine i had at le bernardin, it was a stellar preparation.  borderline chewy, there was a resistence in the lobster that allowed for a prolonged appreciation of its succulence and the awesome flavor of having been poached in butter.  the verjus emulsion enhances the richness of the whole thing exponentially, itself tasting like it was made with a healthy dose of butter.  endive and grape provide a much needed acidic counterpoint while the bitter wood sorrel grounds the dish from being overwhelmingly decadent.

herb roasted thomas farms’ squab w/ “boudin de cuisse”, “pommes maxim’s”, creamed nettles, butter poached morel mushrooms and “sauce perigourdine”
if i remember correctly, the “boudin de cuisse” was a very moist, very delicious sausage made of squab thigh(?) sitting on top of the creamed nettles.  “pommes maxim’s” was a disc of thinly sliced, layered potatoes fried to a crisp.  “sauce perigourdine” is made from madeira (a portegeuse red wine) and truffles.  the squab was sigh-inducing, the kind of utterance that can only be the result of pure satisfaction, dwarfed in comparison to the absolute silence forced by the butter poahced morels.  upon sticking a fork in one, opaque and creamy butter came oozing out of every little pore.  it was by far the best mushroom i’ve ever consumed.  one of my favorite dishes from the night.

snake river farm’s “calotte de boeuf grillee” w/ horseradish croquette, pickled sweet onions, watercress leaves, and north star cherry jus (also had radishes)
upon first bite, i uttered–very maliciously according to my cousin–the words, “fuck peter luger.”  this is the single best piece of beef i’ve ever put in my mouth.  the “calotte” of the dish’s name refers to the cut, the cap of a ribeye which is heavily marbled and fall-apart tender, expertly grilled.  rarely is beef this elegant and subtle, its depth of flavor almost making the tenderness regrettable–i wouldn’t have minded chewing it all night.  the horseradish croquette was as great as it sounds, the briney sweetness of the pickled onions–plated as a vegetable-as-pasta component better than any where else that i’ve seen it done–and the lovely cherry jus rounding out the gamut of flavor in this dish.

cheese course:
piave vecchio w/ “pain de campagne” melba, spring pole beans, ramps, garlic scapes, pickled mustard seeds and aged sherry vinaigrette

served with two cheese breads, one i can’t remember (but it was great), the other i recall being told was a lemon poppyseed bread.  the cheese itself was firm and reminiscent of a sharp parmigiano reggiano.  the “broth” of sherry vinaigrette along with all the other elements made for a very lovely cheese course.  it was also surprisingly refreshing.

dessert

strawberry sorbet w/ pistachio “panna cotta”, rice wafer, and pistachio “pain de genes”
very refreshing; a very good palate cleanser.

coffee and doughnuts (cappuccino semifreddo with cinammon sugar donuts)
edges out the chocolate egg at le bernardin as the best dessert i’ve tasted.  yet another french laundry classic, it completely redefines the familiar, at once evoking memories while providing a new experience.  the presentation of the semifreddo is adorable, served in a cappuccino cup with a dollop of foam and cinammon.  the perfect dessert.

“mud pie” – dark chocolate mud cake, liquid caramel, chocolate “cremuex”, and caramel parfait with sassafras ice cream
unfortunately not nearly as successful as the dessert that preceeded, this is more interesting than delicious as it features some very unconventional, perplexing flavors, starting with the sassafras ice cream.  the caramel elements didn’t taste like any caramel i was familiar with and the chocolate was overpowering, muddling the whole thing.  it’s a nice dessert but one in which ambition is prioritized over taste.

“mignardises”
a bevy of treats, starting with a selection of nine truffles–we asked for all of them, each–ranging from cherry vanilla and creme fraiche to coffee cardamom and bacon chocolate (i was most excited and subsequently disappointed by this one).  they were all very high quality, some tasty and others “interesting.”  there was also a to-die-for peanut cherry nougat, similarly fantastic butterscotch, a few more truffles of the traditional sort (tempered shell encasing ganache), and some small hard candies.  if ever one wanted to know what it would be like to be inundated by sweets, per se is more than happy to oblige.  to cap things off, they brought us a packages of some sort of confection the name of which escapes me at the moment–i ate them as i started this entry.  they were fantastic.

nearly four hours had gone by.  the restaurant was empty when we received the check, and at that point i was too deliriously full and sated to the point of hyperbole to be phased by the ungodly amount of money this one meal set me back.  i can say with full confidence though that i would gladly do it again, that for an experience like this, the price is but a number.  payment at per se is an act of patronage in the oldest sense of the word.  what you’ve paid for, or supported rather, is the work of artists and craftsman of the highest order.  to be in the presence of such skill, dedication, and passion, and to enjoy the fruits of their labor is truly moving.

who wants to go?

per se
10 columbus circle
4th floor
new york, ny 10019

gotham bar and grill

it’s as plain as day why gotham bar and grill is a perennial favorite.  its appearance indicates impeccable taste, a quality that the restaurant prides itself in for every aspect of the dining experience.  simply being in the place gives the sense of being in good hands.  the dining room is effortlessly modern, a nearly monochromatic color palette with punctuations of contrast, its high ceilings “draped” with space light curtain covers–in short, it’s gorgeous.  flowers, a dim orange lighting scheme, and waitstaff uniforms consisting  pin stripes and lavendar add an aesthetic touch of whimsy that speak to the restaurant’s ambiance.  everything here is designed for its diners to have a good time.

a special note on the service: at what other restaurant would your waiter look up and print out information on the flowers that make up the centerpiece?  our waiters were extremely personable, cracking jokes and making it seem as though our happiness was their priority.  absolutely wonderful.

we were a party of 10, and one of the stipulations of large-group dining at gotham is a pre-set menu.  for a three course meal, we had to choose a selection of three dishes for each course from the a la carte menu.  i started with an alaskan king crab risotto w/ braised artichokes, prosciutto di parma and pickled ramps.  few things are more delicious than perfectly cooked (see: succulent) hunks of alaskan king crab meat, unless of course it’s strewn throughout risotto, its richness cut with the briney smoothness of braised artichoke, the saltiness of warmed prosciutto, and what doesn’t benefit from the addition of pickled ramps?  a little more filling than i like my first course to be but fantastic nonetheless.  other options were the tuna tartare and beef carpaccio (the best beef carpaccio i’ve had).  as a main course, i had 5 spice peking duck breast w/ a hoisin ginger glaze, seared foie gras (!!!), roast plum, and chinese long grain rice. duck is among my favorite proteins, and this was exceptional.  all duck breast should be accompanied by a huge piece of seared foie gras.  the roast plum was a touch i’d never had before.  other options: roast pork chop that was served with a really delicious grilled mango with a touch of scotch bonnet pepper, and a perfectly cooked black cod.

dessert: among the other diners was my cousin cherie, who has the most unsatiable sweet tooth i’ve ever come acrossd.  we ended up ordering the entire dessert menu save for the cheese plate and the chocolate cake.  our favorite was the rhubarb and pineapple souffle w/ pavlova, rose jam, and strawberry ice cream. the s’more and meyer lemon pudding were delectable as well.

easily my favorite of the more casual fine dining restaurants in new york–infinitely better than wd~50–and one i plan to frequent in the future.

gotham bar and grill
12 e 12th st
new york, ny 10003

prune

i’ve wanted to dine at prune ever since i saw anthony bourdain and co. munch on buttered radishes and marrow bones there on no reservations.  smaller than small–that is to say, cute as a button–there’s an endearing dilapedatedness to the restaurant that i’ve always loved about neighborhood eateries.  prune is tightly packed but homey, and given the nature of the food and the kind of environment they aspire for, it’s the perfect setting.

we started with a dish of radishes w/ sweet butter and kosher salt, the simplicity of which speaks volumes for what it is that prune seems to be about–unpretentious and delicious foods made in reverence to the ingredients on the plate, adorned with little else.  fried sweetbreads w/ bacon and capers are, in fact (or at least to my knowledge) the best sweetbreads in new york city.  roasted marrow bones w/ parsley salad and sea salt coat the palate with its fatty goodness.  poissun “pot au feu” w/ spring vegetables, parsley dumplings, and liver stuffing came in a fantastic broth and the vegetables were lovely.  the poissun however was pretty unremarkable.  as far as preparation of poultry goes, boiled is my least favorite.  for dessert, i had a ricotta ice cream with salted caramel croutons.

food is the absolute star at prune, simplicity and awesome flavor over trendiness or arbitrary technique/complexity.

prune
54 e 1st st
new york, ny 10003

graduation week has been long and full of food.

momofuku bo ssam
so.  full.  got the bo-to-go for my graduation dinner.  unfortunately meant that there were no oysters.  oh well, still delicious.  does anyone do pork like momofuku?  david chang, you have my heart.  really, i think i’ll have a heart attack before i’m 30 because of you.

sarabeth
really good, standard offerings.  great breakfast spot.  loved the french toast.

l’artusi

despite its best efforts, l’artusi is more scene than restaurant, chic to a fault and loud as all hell where young pretty things go to be seen and older folk hover to live vicariously.  there’s undoubtedly an energy to the place but it isn’t one i like to be immersed in while having a meal.  the menu sports gourmet ingredients and preparations at very affordable prices, and for the most part the food is decent–the crudo is very nice.  cocktails are pretty horrible, and the quail i had was a little rubbery.  desserts are pretty good: a very intense and rich chocolate budino and a glorified rhubarb pie.  nothing about the place makes me want to go back.

momofuku ko revsisted for lunch
confirmed my suspicion that i was short-changed the last time i went.  one course was missing!  an exceptional dish at that, possibly my favorite from the meal: raw diver scallops tossed with meyer lemon juice, shiso, freeze dried soy sauce, and meyer lemon zest.  scallops are one of my favorite seafoods and this is one of the best preparations of the unctuous mollusk that i’ve ever had.  christina tosi was there to make a new dessert.  instead of the apple cider sorbert, we got arnold palmer ice cream with yellow cake crumbs, ice tea gelee, and mint.  this time around was somehow better than my first lunch experience at ko.

peter luger
suffice it to (redundantly) say that one has not had a steak until they’ve had one from peter luger.  hype and expectations are transcended by the unpretentious (lack 0f) ambiance, the worn interior, the relic-like waitstaff, and the FUCKING FOOD.  the bacon, thick cut and cooked to a juicy crisp, made me want to cry.  potatos and creamed spinach make for nice trimmings but the steak is truly marvelous.  i have no words other than to suggest you go immediately.  great ice cream sundae to cap off the gut-buster of a meal.  the schlagg (homemade whipped cream) is as good as everyone who’s been to the restaurant claims.