The Michelin Quest Revisited: Take Two

So, following the completion of my 3 Star list, I still had about 3 days left of my trip. What a perfect time to do a second take on a couple key restaurants, namely, Le Bernardin and Daniel. As I had mentioned in previous posts, I wanted to try the dinner experience at Le Bernardin and also try to figure out why Daniel had been demoted to a two star restaurant.

Le Bernardin: Dinner: Same space, but this time the ambiance was more of a darker/cozier feeling. To my not so surprise, on the menu again was the Maine Lobster and the Langoustine. If you had read my previous post on Le Bernardin, you would know the issues I had with their lobster. This time, no problems with the lobster, masterfully executed and well balanced. This time however, I did have an issue with the langoustine. Langoustine was a bit overcooked, giving it more of a chewy shrimpy texture than the desired lobster texture. Other than that, the rest of the meal was on point. Really the only other complaint I could give was the portion size of the Wagyu beef was a bit on the smaller side, but that is to be expected.

And here is the photo dump:

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And a shout out to all the Houston Bellaire readers out there: Even at a nice restaurant in NYC, we still do Hennessy.img_20161013_212616

Summary: Le Bernardin: In summary, this dinner solidifies my previous rating of a 4.5/5 (or current 10 point scale, 9/10). An overall very enjoyable experience with just some minor hiccups here and there keeps Le B from reaching full marks on my list. Still, at Le B, you cant really go wrong with lunch or dinner.

 

The Lost Star: Daniel: So coming into this dinner I was biased, I really wasn’t sure what to expect coming back to Daniel after losing a star but a world class experience the first time. After the first couple courses, however, it soon became clear why Daniel is now a two Michelin star restaurant rather than a Three Star. Once again, the photography policy at Daniel is one where pictures of food or phones at the table are frowned upon. On several occasions I saw some individuals take a quick picture of their food, only to be quickly reminded by the waitstaff that pictures were not appreciated. Foodwise, every dish was on point. Upon ordering, I asked the waiter if there was a special Chef’s menu other than the traditional tasting menu, (as chef had recommended me ask the previous visit I had). Initially the waiter said that the 7 course menu presented was the only such menu, which I obliged and accepted. Later on, the waiter came back and said chef was able to do a special menu for me and asked if I had any preferences. Aww yeah, you bet I did. My only request was that chef go less on the truffle (anyone who’s read my previous posts knows how much I dislike the excessive use of truffles to elevate a dish). My resulting meal was a 9 course menu, which largely followed the more traditional 7course menu but with a couple changes and modifications. The 9 Courses were as follows: Poularde (Foie Gras and Truffle), Flet (Fluke, Uni, Caviar), Ormeaux (Abalone), Turbot, Foie Gras (Flambeed tableside), Lapin (Rabbit), Coq de Bruyere (Scottish Grouse), Fraise (Strawberry Sorbet), Sambirano (Madagascar Milk Chocolate).

First course out the gate: Foie Gras and Truffle: This after specifically relaying that I was not a big fan of truffle. A bold statement by chef, laying a sliver of black truffle right next to the foie. To my delight, even as bold a statement for the truffle as it was, the dish was very well balanced and the truffle only remained a subtlety rather then an imposition. This was when I knew the food at Daniel had not wavered since the last time I had visited. If anything, the dishes this time around were more bold and creative, almost as to signal thumbing the Michelin reviewers that his restaurant should indeed be a 3 star restaurant. Dish after dish, course after course, everything was immaculate. Cooked perfectly, finished perfectly, conceived and executed perfectly. If based on food alone, there was no doubt that Daniel is one of the best, all the way through the last dish.

And on top of that, Chef Daniel Boulud has been the only head chef at a Michelin Restaurant (other than the ones at a chef’s table/counter) to actively come out of the kitchen to greet his patrons. This, in my eyes speaks volumes towards his character and his genuine passion for delivering a world class experience.

Then why the downgrade to Two Stars? I can only speculate, but throughout the course of dinner there were several things I noticed. First off, the main dining room is big, very big. I think it is one of the largest open dining rooms for a 3 star restaurant I’ve been in. On top of that, the ornate vaulted ceilings and sunken middle area does not lend well to proper dining acoustics. It is loud when the dining room is full. Not just loud, but you can hear conversations from across the room. This detracts from the intimate feel that you would like at a restaurant like this. Perhaps a few less tables or more sound deadening features could solve this issue. Another issue I ran across was the timings of the dishes that came out. Some dishes came promptly following the previous, while others had a prolonged wait. This meant that with the wine pairings, sometimes the pourings preceded the dish by a large duration. On a couple occasions I found myself having to ration out the wine just to have some left for the dish it was supposed to accompany. Again, this could be attributed to the large amount of tables which can back up the kitchen, or some other factor. All I know was that I was just sitting there people watching for a good amount of time between certain courses. Lastly, there is an insane amount of waitstaff. Probably lined up, there is roughly a little more than one waitstaff per table for the entire restaurant. While this would seem like a good thing where your every need would be promptly addressed, it does create a consistency issue to be able to have everyone perform to the same standards. There were on several occasions I noticed some slip-ups or confusions in the waitstaff.

Summary: Daniel: In terms of food, hands down 10/10, for overall experience, because of the environment and some inconsistencies in service, unfortunately I have to rate a 9/10. In my opinion, does Daniel feel a whole star less than other three star restaurants such as Per Se, or Le B? I think it still deserves to be mentioned in the same category, but I can see why certain critics may feel otherwise. Pricewise, Daniel is still positioned in the same range as a 3Star Restaurant with the traditional tasting menu at 240 with two options of wine pairings at 160 or 230. $400-500 depending on your wine preference. Still, don’t count out Daniel Boulud just yet as I’m sure Daniel will return to a three star status if they just make a couple minor adjustments.

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The Michelin Quest Revisited: Day 2

Following a disappointing $700 snack at Masa, we try to redeem ourselves by rounding out the three star list with a visit to Per Se. All indications from other diners pointed to an amazing experience so fingers crossed it lives up to the hype.

Day 2: Per Se is located, conveniently right next to Masa, in the Time Warner Building. There is a front waiting area, for guests waiting for the rest of their party. After entering the restaurant, you are brought through the ‘lounge’, a la carte area. Apparently this area is for walk-ins or no reservations on a first come first serve basis. There are about 5 tables here, and you can order the same chef’s tasting menu as well as a la carte items. So for those who don’t want to commit to a date in the main dining area, or want to go spontaneously, you may want to try out this option. The main dining room is two tiered separated by a short staircase, overlooking Central Park. My suggestion is to request a window table if you can if you don’t mind a little foot traffic but want an amazing view. There is no set wine pairing list, but according to the level two sommelier who was assigned to our table, the way the menu is designed is to be easily paired by a limited selection throughout the course. Splitting three people, we went with a progression of Champaigne, Reisling and Red wine.

The Food: 

The Menu is an eight course tasting menu with some courses having an option for substitutions.

1: Oysters and Pearls || Royal Kaluga Caviar
2: Salad of Roasted Belgian Endove || Slow Poached Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras
3: Sauteed Fillet of Mediterranean Turnbot
4: Hokkaido Sea Scallop “Poelee”
5: Diamond H Ranch Quail || Hand Cut “Tagliatelle”
6: Saddle of Elysian Fields Farm’s Lamb || Charcoal Grilled Miyazaki Wagyu
7: Consider Bardwell Farm’s “Pawlet”
8: Assortment of Desserts

Pre-Course: Salmon Tartar: What a lovely starter. Not exactly sure what all was in it, but this little savory salmon tartar server in a little cone was on point.

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First Course: Oysters and Pearls: First impressions: could there be any more plates? Not to take anything away from the actual dish, but three plates seemed a little bit excessive for presentation. The oysters and caviar were absolutely delicious, well balanced and a strong start to dinner.

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2: Foie Gras: Foie Gras 6 ways. Served with an assortment of salts each with a different flavour profile, this dish really showcases the different ways of enjoying foie gras. Another note of this dish, it is served with a warm buttered brioche, and apparently it is heresy to eat foie gras with a cold brioche. Quite literally, every couple minutes, the waitstaff would come by and replace the brioche with a warm one, regardless of how much of it was eaten.

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3: Turnbot: Nothing extremely stand-out about the fish. Solid dish, well executed.

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4: Sea Scallop. Hands down the best scallop I’ve ever had. Perfect sear. Perfectly cooked all the way through, even with just sear on one side. Delectable sauce and well balanced accompaniments.

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5: Quail: If there were one complaint about this dish, it would be the complexity of the dish. My belief when it comes to complex dishes with a lot of different elements is that on a plate, each element should be able to be eaten with any other part and have the same level of enjoyment. The problem with this dish was unless every element was eaten all together, the sauce seemed overly sweet. Everything together, and it was fine and well balanced. I just have a problem with being forced to eat a dish a certain way.

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6: Wagyu: If I wasn’t willing to spend an extra $150 for the Wagyu beef at Masa, boy am I glad I spent the extra $100 for the Wagyu at Per Se. I guess that is the effect of having a base price at $325 rather than $595. The dollar amount for the extra doesn’t seem as overlooming. But boy, the difference between the beef and the lamb was like night and day. Best $100 spent this trip so far.

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7: Pawlet: Eh, well thought out but not quite executed the way it should have been. Kind of a let down after the Wagyu.img_20161011_223512

8: Assorted Desserts: After getting knocked down by the previous dish, it was all made better with the dessert course. Only complaint here was that after this, I was stuffed to the brim. Just barely able to finish everything.

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But wait, there’s more! Similar to 11 Madison Park’s ‘I dare you’ jar of granola, Per Se just plops down a tower of confectionaries as if they didn’t know you cant possibly fit anything else into your stomach. Luckily, we were able to get this packed to go.

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Summary: Overall the few little dings throughout the course pushes my rating to a 9/10. Miles above the previous night at Per Se though. Total of about $600 with all the extra substitutions and wine, it was a much more enjoyable experience, but not quite on the same page as Chef’s Table and a hair short of EMP. Still I would put this on a try again list.

Fine: So with this visit, I’ve finally completed the 3 Michelin Star tour of NYC. Chef’s Table, Daniel*, Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa, Per Se. As for what’s next? Likely a revisit to some of the lunch restaurants to see what dinner holds. Also, a revisit to Daniel to see if Daniel less one star is the same.

The Michelin Quest Revisited: Day 1

Picking up from two years ago, we revisit the incomplete list.

3Star:

  • Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
  • Daniel
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • Jean Georges
  • Le Bernardin
  • Masa
  • Per Se

Since then the major change to the list: Daniel has dropped out of the 3 star category to a 2 star restaurant. This doesn’t really change what needs to be done. So NYC 2016 will focus on rounding out the 3 star restaurants with visits to Masa and Per Se.

Day 1: Masa

As usual, another one of these, no phones, no pictures restaurants. When you make a reservation, (if you call early enough) you get the option of either sitting at a table, or at the sushi bar. Obviously the sushi bar is the better option, but there are only 10 seats, so reserve early if you are planning on going. First impressions feel like an upscale version of Chef’s Table but with less structure and less chef interaction. Actually, unless you show up well early and one of the first to get seated you will be left to the mercy of one of the assistant chefs to prepare and serve your food. There probably isn’t much of any difference between Chef Masa and one of his assistants serving you, but the fact that you weren’t served by THE Chef Masa does take some points away. There was no wine/sake pairings, so again, unless you know what you want, you’re at the mercy of the waiter who will predictably recommend one of the more expensive reserve sakes. We ended up getting one of the cheaper sakes which seemed to match fairly well.

The Food: Starting off with a sea bass sashimi. Definitely one of the best sea bass courses I’ve had. Light and refreshing start to what would be an epic meal. Quickly followed by a Tuna Tartar with Caviar, another solid dish. Third course, Roasted Sea Urchin with White Truffle. Those who have read my previous posts know how much I criticize the overzealous use of truffle. Surprisingly, this dish was well balanced, truffle wasn’t too overpowering and complimented the sea urchin well. Next up Hairy Crab salad with something something, couldn’t remember. Nothing special, but it was well executed. Highlight of the first portion of the dinner was the crab leg topped with sea urchin. Perfectly cooked crab legs, topped with just the right amount of sweet uni in a broth filled crab leg shell. I could have eaten that all day. Spoiler alert, they asked if we wanted to have the wagyu beef dish for $150/person. I don’t care what kind of beef it is, but I’m not paying $150 for a piece of beef that i can swallow in one bite. Needless to say, I kindly declined. Then came the second (main) part of the dinner. This is where the chef just goes on rapid fire and starts spewing out sushi after sushi. Honestly I could hardly keep up with trying to remember what was served and what I just ate. All I knew was that it was some of the freshest fish i’ve ever been served. Chu-Toro, Snapper, Gooey-duck, Scallop, Sweet Shrimp, Mushroom, Uni, O-Toro, and more. And then came the dreaded ‘truffle ball’. WHY TRUFFLES?! Seriously, this was literally a little ball of rice (about the size of a grape) covered with shredded white truffle to the size of a golf ball. Needless to say, it tasted like truffle. A lot of it. Very strong. Truffle… Don’t get me wrong, the taste of it was like the taste of pure luxury, but to me it had very little culinary value. Anyone can go out buy a truffle, and recreate the same exact thing… Truffles! Shortly after, the dinner came to a bit of an abrupt end. A mint/taro wrap, and persimmon and that was all she wrote. Overall food-wise I would give Masa a 9/10. That truffle ball just left a bad impression.

Cost: Here is where I had the biggest issue with Masa. At $595 per person, it is the single most expensive meal of any restaurant I’ve been to. Without drinks. Even with splitting a bottle of sake with my sister and her husband, (which we were then charged $10 x2 for water) each of our totals came out to around $720. $720 for a meager 20-ish bite meal which left two of us not ready to burst at the seams is a hard sell. In terms of value, it is seriously lacking.

In Summary: My overall review of Masa would be a 7/10. The high cost and extra add-ons they try to sell you, really detract from the experience of the food. They could probably do away with the truffle ball and knock off ~$100 from the cost and it would be a win-win. But what do I know? All I know is that I will not be returning to Masa as it is now. Especially when there are literally streets full of good sushi at a fraction of the cost. But at the quest of eating at every 3 star restaurant in NYC, I will suck it up and accept it, but just this once.

Up Ahead: Rounding out the list Per Se. Later on, revisiting Le Bernardin (for dinner) and a visit to Daniel NYC to see why they lost a star.