Tag Archives: NYC

My Memorable Meals: La Grenouille, January 24, 1997

My first trials cooking sous vide reminded me of a truly memorable dinner I had many years ago at NYC’s La Grenouille restaurant. I wrote about that experience back then, included in notes I shared with friends on my Restaurant Week experiences in 1997. Here’s that write-up:

For the sake of completeness, I need to describe how I got involved with this group of bargain seeking gourmets [my fellow 1997 Restaurant Week diners]. Richard and Peggy Hsia invited me to dinner in January. Their hobby is eating at NYC’s finest restaurants. I introduced Richard into the Cuomo administration (he had been a Wall St. lawyer and was looking for something more fulfilling; he became a Deputy Insurance Superintendent). I first dined with them years ago at the old 4-star Restaurant Lafayette at the Drake Hotel (where the aforementioned Jean-Georges Vongerichten began his rise to stardom). Richard asked if I would prefer Daniel or La Grenouille. I picked the latter, having not eaten there for many years (I used to eat there often, when I took Andersen recruits to lunch there in the 1970s). They invited Ray Chen to be the 4th at our table. Once he was invited, Ray called the maitre d’ and asked if he could ask the chef to do something special for us for dinner, since it was Peggy’s birthday. Here’s what I can recall of the menu 6 months after the event (alas, I can’t find my notes on it).

When we arrived, the maitre d’ told Ray that everything had been arranged. We were started with a small timbale of cold mung bean noodles that we enjoyed while looking over the wine list. We selected a modestly priced bottle of Bordeaux (the wine markup in these restaurants is an outrageous 300 to 500%!). Then came a demitasse of soup, described as “tomato bouillon,” a clear broth with small chunks of tomato and a lot of intensely flavorful minced green herb of some sort—really interesting, fresh flavors.

Our first entree was a slab of grilled stripped bass, topped with an extravagant amount of shaved truffles. As we were waxing poetic about the flavors of the dish, the captains presented a tray of roast pheasants. They took them back to the kitchen to be carved while we had a sorbet intermezzo.

The pheasant servings were presented topped with a slab of truffled foie gras paté, all in a rich, heavily reduced sauce. I noted how I had stopped eating pheasant because it is always dry and stringy. Yet this pheasant was moist and tender! At this point, chef Daniel Orr came out to greet us. It also became clear why we were given a normally-thought-to-be-undesirable table near the kitchen: Ours was the only table that the chef stopped by to greet. As we complimented him profusely about the dinner, I started to tell him how I normally don’t eat pheasant. He interrupted, saying: “Yes, it’s normally so dry. But I’ve found that if you don’t overcook it, pheasant can be moist and tender.” I had to agree and promise to try it again—but only if he cooked it.

I knew we were in trouble when the waiter reset the table with silverware. We were given a 3rd entree: braised short ribs of beef in a heavily reduced truffled sauce. I had seen other diners having this from the normal menu. It’s a dish that’s been made popular by Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. This is a dish that is normally tender, but stringy (indeed, in dinner I had at Lespinasse a few weeks later, it was stringy). Yet the version here was fork-tender, yet held its form—something of a miracle! When the chef came out for a second visit, I tried to ask him about how he achieve this miracle, but was drowned out by the praises of my fellow diners. At this point, we cried “Enough!” and proceeded to dessert.

The 4 of us shared one round of 5 different desserts. The plates were cleared and were offered another round of 5 other different desserts, plus petit fours. Every kind of dessert was among them: from the classic French fruit tarts I recalled fondly from 20 years ago, to the more California-like presentations.

Although Richard treated, I managed to catch a glimpse of the bill and saw it was for the normal $75 per person, plus wine.

Dinner at Bouley

What a thrill to be told that one of the great names in food is “in the kitchen tonight, cooking”! That was one of the treats my NYC foodie friends, Tom & Patricia, had for me at dinner a week ago in David Bouley’s eponymous restaurant.

The “new” Bouley opened at 163 Duane St., around the corner from his former site several months ago. Tom & Pat have been Bouley fans from his start and wanted me to try his new digs. The restaurant is strikingly uptown beautiful! A big shift from the lovely, country home atmosphere of the former locale to a similarly elegant, yet more formal, high-ceilinged environment in the new.

We were greeted by George, the Maître d’ whom my hosts have known for 20+ years. He apologized that he didn’t have a table in the main front room available for us at the moment, but could seat us in the smaller, low-ceilinged back room: the Winter Garden. He showed us to the prime table in the center of the far wall where we would command a view of the room – and everyone would see us. We were happy with the table and settled in; we declined George’s offer to move us to the main room a few minutes later.

A hospitable captain took our drink orders, but we were dismayed about 5 minutes later when instead of bringing our drinks, a second captain plunked down our amuse-bouches and blurted out something unintelligible in an affected, accented French. Pat objected that we had yet to be served our cocktails and weren’t ready to start eating. This captain was oblivious to her complaints. I asked him to repeat what he had said; he again blurted out something none of us could understand. When I asked him to say it again so we could understand, he condescendingly said something that I could make out as the 3 ingredients of the little dish and he strutted away.

Our original captain came by within attention distance a minute later and Pat summoned him to ask where out drinks were, again complaining that we had been served inappropriately. He apologized and gently informed us that he had checked and that the drinks would be up shortly. George then came by and again asked if we’d like a table out front. Pat said we liked this back room, but would move if we could get more proper attention at the other table. George assured her that we’d be taken care of at either table, so we stayed. From then on, the evening was wonderful.

Tom ordered a Hendrick’s gin on the rocks. I’m normally not a martini drinker, but recalling that my niece’s husband recommended Hendrick’s, I tried a very dry Hendrick’s martini. It was quite delicious! A wonderful taste, much lighter on the juniper flavor (and now, reading about it on the Internet, I see it’s scented with cucumbers and rose petals), and it didn’t leave me feeling woozy, as most martinis do.

We ordered the 6 course Tasting Menu ($95), deciding the 8 course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($150) was simply too much food. Four of the 6 courses had choices, and we ordered so we could sample all the offered dishes. The pleasant captain happily accommodated Pat’s request to substitute the foie gras course from the Chef’s Tasting Menu for the Maine Day Boat Lobster on our menu, given her shellfish allergy. When I asked if I could keep a copy of the menu, the captain readily agreed and graciously asked if I would like David Bouley to autograph it, since he was here this evening cooking. What a treat and a great souvenir!

Bouley’s breads continue to be wonderful and it’s tempting to fill up on them. (Pat asked for a doggie bag with their signature little apple rolls. She was given a coat check tag for the rolls, which would be waiting for her as we left – the same, discrete service of doggie bags that Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester provides.) Each course was beautifully presented and served nicely. Each lived up to the presentation, being quite delicious and stimulating for our jaded New York palates. The food went very nicely with the magnificent bottles of white and red Burgundy wines Tom had ordered. (The white was a nice Chassagne Montrachet, but I can’t recall the wonderful red, which was new to me.)

George sent over a gift course of uni (sea urchin) en gelee. We each got a slice of a mini-pâté, with two layers of uni between 3 thick layers of aspic. An interesting and beautiful concept, but I thought the aspic overly muted the wonderful flavor of the sea urchin.

After the unfortunate service of the amuse-bouche, the dinner courses were well paced and nicely served. We noted that the other tables in our room had turned over three times during our dinner. When we started our 3-hour long dinner, most of the other tables in Winter Garden room (and a few in the main dining room) were filled with fairly young Japanese patrons. Tom explained that the Japanese liked to eat early, typically booking 6 p.m. reservations. Perhaps this explained the arrogant captain’s initial treatment of us: He may have thought we were Japanese and wanted to rush us through our dinner.

We were presented dessert menus and given free choice, instead of being restricted to the 3 dessert choices on our Tasting Menu. Tom wisely signaled that we would leave the choice up to the chef and would like to be surprised. Out came 3 luscious desserts, including the Chocolate Frivolous dessert from the Chef’s Tasting Menu, plus another gift, a 4th dessert that was the most notable dish of the evening: the best crème brûlée any of us have ever had! Its texture was absolutely silky and the flavor was delicate yet sublimely delicious. Even the burnt sugar crust was perfectly crunchy yet ethereally thin. Although all the other dishes were intriguing and yummy, the simple crème brûlée was utterly perfect.

Despite our initial treatment, Pat seemed to be happier with our evening than the one she had a couple of weeks before with other friends, when they almost starved, with long waits between each of the 3 courses in their meal.

Tom & Pat insisted that I inspect the restroom, and I happily obliged. They are downstairs off a magnificently vaulted hall that Tom said had been imported from Europe. The hall also leads to the large private dining room (at which a few individual tables were still being served, at 11 p.m.). I loved the vessel sinks, and even the red-flocked wallpaper wasn’t kitchy, as it usually is.

With the unevenness of the service, I can understand why the NY Times gave them only 3 stars, down from the 4 earned by the original Bouley. The wonderful cocktails and wines plus the tips tripled the $95 per person food cost – about normal for high-end NYC restaurants.

It was a wonderfully memorable evening out with good – and very generous – friends.

Here are some of the photos I took of the restaurant, menu, food, and friends. Alas, I had my camera on the wrong focus setting, so many of the pictures aren’t as clear as they should be. But they’ll give you an idea of our delightful experience.

NYC Wretched Excess (continued)

Last night, I was the guest of Tom & Pat Shiah at the 80th Chapitre of the Confrerie des Chevalier du Tastevin, Sous-Commanderie de New York. It was at the Pierre Hotel. Tastevins’ motto: “Jamais en Vain, Toujours en Vin.” Met the chapter’s Grand Senechal Will Zeckendorf and a few other of my friends from the Opera Club and Accenture. The lavish reception (caviar, foie gras, etc.) and dinner were accompanied by wonderful Burgundy wines from the club’s 10,000 cellar. Still, the evening paled in comparison to the wedding reception & dinner that Tom & Pat had at the Pierre for their daughter, Christine.

Wines:

La Caravelle Premier Cru Brut Champagne
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Chenevottes”, Domaine Bernard Morey et Fils 2002
Beanue 1er Cru Blanc, Clos de Mouches, Domaine Joseph Drouhin 2000
Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Paul Pernot et ses Fils 2000
Gevrey Chambertin 1ere Cru Aux Combottes, Domaine Dujac 2000
Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, Domaine Ponsot 1997

NYC: Wretched Excess


Arrived in NYC yesterday. Having not eaten, I tried out a Japanese AYCE restaurant that David & Laura’s friend Bill Darden had recommended. It’s now called IchiUmi, 6 E. 32nd Street. Unbelievable! For $18.95 + $2 for green tea, I luxuriated in trying 6 different kinds of whole fish, dozens of nigiri and sushi rolls, plus tempura, meats, veggies, soups, oyster congee, and desserts. Honestly, the sight was more savory than the food (quality: B-), but still, the value was impressive!