lunch at the museum of modern art

the next day we had lunch at the modern. we arrived a few minutes ahead of our noon reservation, so we took a seat in the bar room to have a cocktail. i selected a caipiroska, the vodka version of the caipirhina. it involves slices of english cucumber, muddled with fresh mint and shaken with hangar one buddha's hand vodka, fresh cucumber and lime juices and a splash of soda. it was quite refreshing on a muggy july day. drew chose a gigondas, following up on our success with the one the night before. after a brief interval, we were shown to a spacious banquette in the dining room. the space overlooks the abby aldrich rockefeller sculpture garden which is currently home to a couple of large curving pieces that are a part of the forty year richard serra retrospective which the museum has on view.

the tabletop accessories in the room are all drawn from pieces in the museum's permanent collection. there are some really beautiful elements here, including the water pitchers and a uniquely shaped sauce spoon. after making our choices from the menu, we were presented with amuse geule of a baby zucchini salad with basil oil, black radish seeds and creme fraiche. it was light and summery and really set a nice tone for the plates to come.

for my first course, i chose a melon salad. there were ribbons of juicy honeydew, crisp balls of watermelon and paperthin discs of charentais melon wrapped around a cloud of creamy chevre to form unctuous little pillows. this was accented with pistachios, oven roasted tomatoes and aged balsamic vinegar. drew's selection was entitled "schupfnudeln with duck rillettes." these were the lightest little potato dumplings tossed with slivers of meltingly tender duck and garnished with sweetgrass. this dish really captured the alsatian roots of the chef, gabriel kreuther.

i inserted a second appetizer, given that my access to dining experiences like this is somewhat limited here in cleveland. i had a slice of sullivan county foie gras, roasted in butter and served with a tart red currant puree and fresh red, white and black currants. there were two little leaves of baby escarole for garnish. this is my favorite way to eat foie gras....hot out of the pan, with a bit of crispy edge to it. this was the single largest piece of this i have ever been served...probably 3 ounces. i was in heaven!

for the entree, drew chose a cocotte of monkfish with morels and asparagus. it was served with a lovely little sauce of vin jaune and cream that was light and rich at the same time. i ordered a long island duck breast crusted with black trumpet marmalade. it was served in four perfect little slices with pickled bing cherries, banyuls-enriched duck jus and a "sandwich" of slices of sauteed daikon radish enclosing a slab of (what else?) foie gras. you read it right...i ate this TWICE in one meal! but the best part of this plate was a little tidbit called "fleischnecke." imagine the thinnest possible sheet of noodle dough, spread with duck rillettes, rolled up jelly roll style, sliced and crisped ever so delicately under the broiler. it was mah-velous.

now it was time for dessert. unable to narrow it down to just two choices, we picked our three faves. a warm tart of poached figs in phyllo was served with fig almond marmalade and olive oil ice cream. a sliver of a dark chocolate tart was plated with a quenelle of chocolate mousse and a perfect sphere of mocha ice cream. the third plate was a warm ricotta flan, layered with tender crepes and finished with stewed red fruits. topped off with a couple of cups of french press coffee, we were stuffed to the gills. but of course then we were served a tray of mignardises and a little porcelain box of chocolates. there were raspberry tuiles, pate de fruits of red and white currant, pistachio financiers topped with a cube of apricot gelee and a tiny pinch of a raspberry almond cooky.

this is a gorgeous room with many interesting materials used in unusual ways. the bar is honed (but not polished) marble. there are curving, milky glass walls lit from the bottom. the end of the room is finished with silk panels that rise up two stories. the black leather banquettes are enhanced with red leather pillows. of course the most striking feature is the wall of glass that overlooks the garden. the presence of these two massive works by serra repeatedly draws your eye outside (even when the woman seated at the next table is none other than annette benning!).

while the food was outstanding and the room was stunning, the service slipped a couple of times. they were minor missteps, to be sure, (an incorrect identification of a garnish; the failure to anticipate our desire for more bread or a second glass of wine) but enough that we commented on them. it made us aware of how little there was to comment on the night before. the most impeccable service is that which you don't even notice: unobtrusive, anticipatory and subtle. when the service you are receiving has you talking about it as you eat, that's not a good thing.

the pictures from my trip are here.

dinner at per se

we spent the afternoon shopping in midtown manhattan. the bergdorf goodman men's store was our first stop, as i had arrived in the city sans cravat. there were hundreds and hundreds of ties to choose from. i wasn't really seeing anything i liked until i got to the very last table, where i found a lovely cream and grey number by charvet with tiny little paisleys woven into it. we drifted through the rest of the store, fingering $780 shirts and $1340 suits, ultimately deciding that we didn't really need anything else. we then headed down the street to takashimaya. we glided through the fine tabletop and home furnishing sections, as well as the florist's workshop and the tea shop. we lingered as long as possible, dreading our return to the steamy streets.

dressed in suits, re-entering fifth avenue was like stepping into a sauna. businessmen, tourists, shoppers, street vendors, park avenue matrons, security personnel, construction workers, bicycle messengers, taxis, delivery trucks, private cars, limos, and giant black SUVs all combined with the sun and the humidity to make it seem more as though we were swimming through the canyons of the city than walking. we stepped into stores whenever possible and ultimately ended our hike in the king cole bar of the st. regis hotel.

entering through the lobby on 55th street, we made a left and passed through the high, bright space that is the astor court. there were ladies having tea and tourists having their pictures taken across tables scattered with gleaming silver and fine bone china. beyond this lay the sanctuary that is the king cole bar. we settled into a couple of stools at the bar and were greeted by the bartender, gavin. after ordering a gin rickey and a vodka collins, we turned our gaze to the maxfield parrish mural of old king cole which stretches across the entire length of the room. the airconditioning began to seep in, along with the coolness of the drinks, and we felt refreshed. we got to gabbing, bantering with gavin, ordering a second round of cocktails....and suddenly it was time for dinner! we settled the bill and headed across town.

after a few minutes in the frenzy and heat of the street, we entered the time warner center. a quick visit to the whole foods downstairs was our first stop. at 5.30 pm on a tuesday, it was absolute mayhem! it made me grateful that i no longer live (or work!) in manhattan. after the crush of people and a few glances at the breathtakingly high prices, we escalated ourselves upstairs to the oasis of per se. cool, calm and collected....that was my first impression. we were greeted with a serene smile and warm welcome by the reception staff, who offered to take our packages and gently led us to our table overlooking central park. all sense of hurry and worry fell away as we sunk into the soft cushions of the chairs and settled into the luxury of the experience.

the space is all high ceilings and glass, which gives a feeling of openness. coming down the hall from the front desk, there is a salon comprised of several small nooks outfitted with velvet couches and coffeetables on the left and a glass topped bar opposite. past that and to the right awaits the dining room, with a two story high wall of glass overlooking columbus circle and the park. the diner's gaze is above all the hustle and bustle of the street, meeting first the statue of columbus, then the treetops and finally the buildings of fifth avenue beyond. we ordered a glass of laurent perrier "grand siecle" mv and had a glance at the menu.

chef thomas keller offers two prix fixe cartes each night...a tasting of vegetables and a chef's tasting menu. the menu changes every day based on the seasonal availability of the ingredients. nominally there are nine courses on each, with very few choices that one is requested to make. drew and i agreed that we would get one of each menu and share, and he made the decisions where they were required. a brief visit from the sommelier was next. we let her know we were interested in a flight of three wines matched to tonight's menu, and that ultimately we were fans of big burgundies and bourdeaux. she nodded her acknowledgment and we were off.

the first amuse bouche to arrive was a pair of miniature cones made from black sesame tuile....one filled with creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare, the other with tomato confit. presented in their own specially crafted sterling silver stand, they were cool and rich and whimsical all at the same time. then came a couple of gougeres, filled with with warm bechamel and gruyere cheese. just enough food to quiet any hunger pangs while waiting for the kitchen to get revved up. after placing two kinds of butter on the table (salted from california and sweet from france), we were offered breads. we tasted four of the six selections over the course of the evening: pain au lait, similar to brioche; pain complet, a whole grain roll shaped in a ring; a miniature baguette; and a beer bread, made with french ale. at this point, the dishes started rolling out of the kitchen. much to my relief, the portions were quite small. with all the luxury foods involved (there would be caviar, foie gras, lobster and truffles, along with copious amounts of butter, eggs and cream) it would be impossible for either of us to eat more than a couple of bites of each without feeling unwell. here we go......


whipped yogurt, marcona almonds and dill-infused extra virgin olive oil

this was a creamy smooth soup given a bit of texture with ground almonds

"sabayon" of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters
and sterling white sturgeon caviar

this is one of keller's signature dishes, featuring two tiny, briny oysters
and a perfect quenelle of caviar

mosel, 2006

this selection was fairly sweet with lots of perfume and fruit...
an excellent match for the richness of this course and the next.


yuzu sorbet, shichimi togarashi "brittle,"
daikon radish and petite cilantro

the main attraction here was the pineapple,
which seemed to have been poached in tamari.
the flavor and texture were almost meaty.
the brittle was scented with chiles and orange peel.

terrine of hudson valley moulard duck foie gras
marinated frog hollow farm's peaches, peach jelly, red onion,
cilantro shoots, "melba toast" and puffed carolina rice

this was an extremely successful dish.
the richness of the liver was perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the fruit.
textural contrast came from the toasts and from the rice, which was added tableside.


castelvetrano olives, roquette leaves and italian caper salt
with Armando Manni "per mio figlio" extra virgin olive oil 2005

there were red, gold and zebra-striped tomatoes.
this vintage olive oil was like a sauce unto itself,
heightened by the caper salt.
we greedily spooned up every last drop.

"succotash," sweet corn "pudding"
and red pepper syrup

the star here was the succotash,
which brought together corn, peppers and fava beans
with the smoothest, most luxurious corn pudding imaginable.

burgundy, 2005

this was a white with lots of body.
it stood up well to the fish and the tomatoes.
it comes from a very small, private producer.


globe artichokes, greenmarket carrots, pearl onions
and garden tarragon with verjus vinaigrette

it was easy to see why these are called lobster mushrooms.
they have a rosy glow to them and the texture is quite similar.
"a la grecque" is a slightly sweet, slightly sour combination.

celery branch batons, sweet 100 tomatoes, pickled pearl onions
and young celery leaves with "mosseline choron"

while the lobster was tender and delicious,
we were both amazed by the celery, of all things.
the flavor was bright and clear...wow!

carneros, california, 2004
half bottle
fruit forward with a touch of acidity
to cut the richness of the lobster and the pork.
the carneros region is known for its pinot noirs.


basil "pain perdu," young basil and squash blossom pesto

this was one of our favorite dishes of the night.
the squash blossom pesto was bright yellow, l
ike a streak of mustard across the plate.
the garnish was a tempura of squash blossom that shattered under the fork.
the best part was the pain perdu,
which had an incredible rich texture that exploded with basil flavor.

braised swiss chard, poached brooks cherries,
tokyo turnips and "sauce perigourdine"

after its all day braising, the pork was finished in a saute pan to give it a crispy edge.
the cherries provided some welcome relief to all that richness.

[at this point, we felt the food was coming just a bit too fast.
we asked them to slow things down a bit and they readily complied.]

sweet corn kernels, tokyo turnips
and shaved summer truffles
with corn "pudding"

after placing the plate,
the server pulled out the biggest truffle i have ever seen
(the size of a tennis ball--seriously)
and shaved and shaved and shaved
until the plate was covered in a drift of truffle slices.
the aroma was intense.
here we also saw a much-welcomed return of the summer pudding.
i could have eaten a big bowl of this!

crispy bone marrow, bluefoot mushrooms,
fork crushed red thumb potatoes,
green asparagus and "sauce bordelaise"

this cut is the cap of the rib-eye,
which is my favorite cut of beef to begin with.
it was perfectly cooked and garnished with
an amazing slice of crispy bone marrow.

gigondas, 2004
half bottle

this was clearly the best wine of the evening
(although the others were also excellent).
the sommelier explained that 2003 had been a drought year.
in 2004, the stress from that drought carried over in the vines,
pushing them to produce even better fruit.
it was outstanding.


red currant jelly, "quatre epices" shortbread
and purslane with balsamic glaze

this blue cheese was creamy and mild.
the housemade red currant jelly
came nestled alongside in a spoon.

roasted heirloom beets, star ruby grapefruit "supremes,"
bulls blood greens and red beet essence

this cheese, produced in canada,
rivaled any chevre i have had from france.
it was perfectly aged and garnished
with a dusting of red beet powder

slices of dried cherry baguette and hazelnut baguette


coconut "nuage," poppyseed "moelleux"
and juniper "gelee"

an intensely flavored break in the meal.
the fruit flavor sang out,
foiled by the little cloud of coconut heaven atop it.

red currant "gelee," "pain de epices,"
and toasted "meringue"

the intensity of the cassis was even more bracing.
the meringue was brushed onto the plate and then fired.
the toasty marshmallow accent was perfect with the berry flavor.


orange-scented "pain de genes," poached bing cherries,
white chocolate "granite," ginger custard
and brooks cherry ice cream

at this point, both our stomachs
and our memory banks are starting to get full.
the best part of this was the ice cream.

caramel "jam," candied pecans, caramelized banana
and banana sherbet

this rectangle of chocolate held a deep, dark flavor,
highlighted by the sweetness of the caramelized banana.
the sherbet alongside was perfumey and rich.

Espresso and Peppermint Tea


cappuccino semifreddo with cinnamon sugar doughnuts

a doughnut, topped with a doughnut hole,
served alongside a coffee cup half-filled with a partially frozen cappuccino mousse.
this was topped with foamed milk and sprinkled with cinnamon.
although not on the menu, i had requested it specifically.
another keller signature, this arrived with a candle in it for drew's birthday.
mercifully, no one sang.


with madagascar vanilla bean seeds
and butter shortbread

just when we thought dessert was over, these arrived.
these little dishes were quite wee...
perhaps 3 inches across, including the handles.
the shortbread were tucked into a little napkin
and plated on the side.

after this point, we cried uncle and pretty much stopped eating.
while everything else was still presented to us at the table,
we had all of it packed to go for our breakfast the next day.
we also had them pack up the last bits of wine left in the two half-bottles.
(and no, we did not drink the wine at breakfast.)


milk and dark in flavors of
pineapple rum, vanilla, green tea,
raspberry, espresso and white chocolate

these were presented on a silver tray,
with the server listing off the flavors.
almost all of my senses had shut down by then,
and the flavor list here is the best reconstruction
we could achieve the next morning as we ate them.
they were picked from the tray using a folded piece of heavy paper,
so that the chocolate would not be tainted by metal tongs touching them (!).


honey nougat with pistachio and almond
fleur de sel caramels
truffles: caramel, milk and coconut

served from a three tiered silver stand that is
custom made for the restaurant


pistachio, raspberry and orange

these were presented with the check,
packed in a cellophane bag tied with per se ribbon


all told we were served some TWENTY-FIVE different plates and five wines over the course of four hours. as we left, we asked for a list of the names of the wines. we sat in the salon while we waited. the list was brought to us, along with our two bags of sweets and our bag of wine. it was a lovely little transition before we headed back out into the street. we walked back across central park south, breathing in the fresh air, laughing and stumbling a bit after all that wine! what an incredible experience it had been.

drew and i have been eating together for twenty-four years. we have dined in new york (chanterelle, lutece, restaurant daniel, blue hill, le bernardin, babbo, etc.) as well as london, paris, amsterdam and berlin. between us, we have many other extraordinary dining experiences under our ever-lengthening belts (chez panisse, charlie trotter's and jean-georges, just to name a few). we agreed that this meal, out of all those, was (probably) the best one we have ever had. (i insert that "probably" only because we still need a bit of perspective on it. check back in a couple of months and see if i have removed this qualifier from the review.)

we did not take photos during the meal, but here are some links to other people's pictures, including the food (not necessarily the same as what we ate) and the room. bon appetit!

a lunch set

a dinner set

another dinner set

yet another set

can you stand one more?
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