Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fun Food

New York is place where one can eat extremely well, but many times the restaurant-going experience is frazzling. It is a drama to get a reservation in well reviewed places, it is a drama if you show up and the rest of your friends haven't or if you are 2 minutes late. In most places the noise level is insane. For the outrageous prices that seem to keep mushrooming to the stratosphere, the experience and the food are a letdown many times. Expectations are ultra high, and sometimes previously well reviewed food is not up to par with the hype; service is peremptory, if not downright smarmy, and utterly charmless.
SO, last week I had some lovely friends in town who love to eat well. They actually had lunch at Per Se and I asked them to tell me every single thing they tried on their tasting menus, which probably cost the budget of a small country. They ate very well and came back happy and very full.
I decided to take them to Room 4 Dessert, the place Bill Buford wrote about in that week's New Yorker. I imagined that everyone was going to be clamoring to get in, but in fact, it was not so hard. Except we had to eat dessert at 8:30 pm. Chef Will Goldfarb answers the phone himself and takes the reservations. He is quite a character. He welcomes you in, he chats, he shows you his cookbook library and makes sure to tell you that he studied with the guy from El Bulli (which I thought was a bit much). It was his birthday so we sang him the Mexican birthday song, Las Mañanitas.
Room 4 Dessert is a really fun experience. We were 5 adults and one 11 year-old girl, which was great, because the more people, the more desserts you get to taste. We all had the dessert tasting menus and ooohed and aaahed passing the beautiful rectangular plates around. The wine list is excellent and affordable and some of the desserts are fun and fantastic. It's a great idea for a romantic date or to go with a couple of friends and have little paroxisms of sweetness.
My friends went crazy for a red Lambrusco sparkling red wine that was gorgeous and tasty and fun.
The desserts are newfangled, fun, intriguing and quite a few of them amazing (others not so great) They are never overly sweet, and some of them play with not being sweet almost at all. I ordered the red dessert plate: A vaccum packed raspberry meringue slab that was unbelievable. A beet sorbet that was sheer concentrated beet flavor, super-refreshing and strange and not that sweet, a vodka-hibiscus jell-o that was a perfect little cube of freshness, really subtle with the kick, not of the vodka, but of the hibiscus. There was a sort of cheesecake that wasn't that great but it was covered with a red wine glaze that was delicious. Those are the ones I remember. Other desserts were a pistachio financier which is one of the best cakes I've ever had, an incredible apricot sorbet, a delicious olive oil chocolate cake, an amazing foam of white beer and grapefruit, mango "gnocchi:" etc. The flavors and textures explode in your mouth and it really is a fun, delightful experience.
The piece de resistance was that I had sung the glories of the sushi bar at Jewel Bako to my friends so much that they wanted to go there. I hadn't been there in about 2 years and was afraid that maybe the amazing, handsome chef Masato was gone, or that with the Lambs opening other restaurants, the place could not be the same anymore. We were easily able to get a reservation at the sushi bar at 9 pm on a Monday, which made me wonder. To make a long story short, after having the omakase dinner, my friends said they liked the experience and the food of Jewel Bako better than Per Se. Jewel Bako and chef Masato rule. And again, it isn't only the food, which is the best sushi I've ever had, but the delightful, pleasant, civilized, wonderful, graceful experience of the place. If only more NY restaurants were like that.

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