August 22, 2018
It’s going to be interesting watching them duke it out. The new Four Seasons just opened a few blocks from the old one (now part of Major Food Group and named The Pool and The Grill). Will the faithful return to the tender ministrations of Alex Von Bidder and Julian Niccolini? There are no better front of house people than these two, who know exactly how to seat a room. The question, however, is going to be this: does it matter any more? And in this #metoo era, are people going to give Julian, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for groping a woman, a pass?
The new place designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, is splendid, but there’s no way it could possibly equal the grandeur of the soaring space designed by Philip Johnson. A contemporary interpretation of mid-century modern this one’s comfortable (the seats are upholstered in suede), and almost cozy but it’s not the grande dame that the old place is. The Bar, on the other hand, is really swell. At the original Four Seasons sitting at the bar ale ways had a wistful feeling, as if you had your nose pressed up against the window, looking at the chosen people dining in the restaurant. Here you drink in a separate room dominated by a glowing sunken rectangle of a bar (which is meant to remind you of the pool you left behind). It feels both powerful and sexy.
And how’s the food? It’s no secret I’m a fan of the chef, Diego Garcia. This is what I wrote about what he was serfing at his last post, Gloria. Here, however, he’s really in his element. Consider the skate, which he makes entirely his own, pairing it with a celery sabayon and almost translucent sheets of kohlrabi. Skate has never looked or tasted so delicious.
And that raw fluke at the top, with its little cucumber and caviar hats, is just what you want to eat in the heat of summer. I loved the giant carabinero shrimp too, simply grilled with lardo. (The point, incidentally, is to suck all the juices out of the head. And yet I felt a kind of shock run through the dining room when I picked the first one up in my fingers. Someone at the next table gasped as those seductive juices came spurting out. This is a very polite place.)
There are all the old favorites too – the duck, of course, the steak tartare, the ubiquitous Dover sole, steaks, salmon… If you’ve read up on the old Four Seasons, you know the drill.
Desserts – at least the ones I tried – were fantastic. The great Bill Yosses (he worked in the Obama White House) is making a creamy peach tart that is just about perfect…
And a deep, dark, very grown up chocolate confection
And the prices? If you have to ask, this place is not for you. They are as astonishingly high as they were at the old place – or as they are in the restaurant now occupying that space. This has never been our Manhattan; it’s the one that belongs to the very, very rich.
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I remember these restaurants from my childhood, these cozy Village warrens that wind back and back, filled with people who all seem so much hipper than you are, so much more knowing. It’s so familiar that I am instantly happy to be at The Beatrice Inn.
Then the chef, Angie Mar, comes out and asks if we’d like her to make a meal for us. I’m a little apprehensive – I’ve heard the place is killingly expensive – but what the hell? – my book is done and it’s time to celebrate.
We start with oysters; the Shigokus from Oregon, all firm sweet plumpness, blow the drab east coast Blue Points out of the water. They’re almost chewy, with a haunting delicacy.
Then there’s caviar, with butter-soaked brioche. Who could possibly complain?
And this savory plum tart is an almost guilty pleasure. Despite that frill of peppery arugula with its rumors of Parmesan, it feels a lot like starting with dessert.
Then there’s that duck – at $100 the menu’s best bargain (it easily feeds 4) – with its coat of flaming cherries. The duck is aged, much massaged, roasted – and completely satisfying. We even get to take the carcass home, so there will be duck soup tomorrow.
The room is dark – great for romance, hard for photography – and I missed most of the subsequent dishes. But take my word that the milk braised pork shoulder is the other don’t-miss-dish. The pork, braised until it is more like pudding than meat, is so seductive you just want to put down your fork and purr. And the rice soubise – a perfect little puddle of deliciousness – is incredibly hard to stop eating.
Then we had beef, but by then my eyes were glazed, and this wonderful little tartiflette: it is a tiny island of richness, all potatoes and cheese, and a strangely wonderful thing to be eating on a hot summer day.
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Apologies; facing a lot of deadlines, I haven’t been posting a lot lately. And at the moment I’m at the airport, on my way to Italy where I’ll be on the jury for The Basque Culinary World Prize.
But my last meal in New York was so wonderful – in every way – that I can’t leave the country without giving a quick shout-out to Contra. The small, modest restaurant on Orchard Street is serving truly lovely food, and at $78 for 6 courses – plus an amuse bouche – it is, by city standards, a bargain.
Another note: the room is small, but surprisingly quiet. We sat, for hours, just talking and eating and enjoying ourselves. I could hardly believe it when I looked at the clock and realized we’d been at the table for more than three hours.
A little tidbit to start, a single raw shrimp, wrapped in shiso with a faint touch of fermented vegetables. One startling little shot of texture and flavor.
Could anything be lovelier? Raw slices of scallop nestled between crunchy little bits of lemon cucumber. On top of all this gentleness, a couple of loud shouts of hyssop.
I really loved the way the chefs didn’t try to draw these ingredients together. They just let the ingredients mingle, so that the Japanese uni, the various summer squashes and the nasturtium leaves stood alone, waiting to dance. It was up to you to start the music, introduce them to each other, and then experience how well they played together. This is very confident cooking which relies on the purity of ingredients.
This pollack was nearly translucent, and it positively reveled in the peas and peppers in that sauce.
Guinea hen is the loveliest bird – the flesh more texture than flavor – and here it’s paired with agretti – a Mediterranean herb, with a crisp saline quality that’s extremely hard to find in the States. Those creamy potatoes were the perfect counterpoint.
To end, a couple of perfectly cool and simple summer desserts. This is a semifreddo of blackberries and bitter almonds
And this the most delightful little ode to cherries.
I’m off. I expect I’ll be eating very well in Italy. I’ll let you know.
One day we drove deep into the Negev to dine in a Bedouin Village with family friends. They invited us to an underground restaurant built deep into a cave; it was cool down there, shielded from the midday sun.
The meal was extraordinarily generous: it began with lentil soup, then went on to an array of salads, flat breads, rice pilaf, grilled chicken and ended with sweet tea and sweeter cookies.
By the time we got back to Tel Aviv it was dark, and we strolled through the deserted Carmel market, closed stalls dotted with forlorn rejected vegetables. HaBasta takes advantage of its proximity to the market, filling the menu with everything currently on offer.
Cherry salad with chiles and cilantro.
Grouper neck, fried, with aioli, lemon and fresh tomatoes.
Grilled yellowtail skewers.
Grilled okra with preserved lemon and tomatoes
Tiny okra with taratur sauce
Brains a la plancha with fresh vegetables.
Black pasta with salmon roe, bottarga and egg yolk.
On our last night in Tel Aviv a great group of us ate at the charmingly modest and utterly raucous Ouzeria. It may have been my favorite meal of all. The food was everything that’s great about the new Israeli cuisine: fresh, local, inventive and completely delicious.
A vegetarian triumph: ravioli made of thinly sliced beets wrapped around fresh cheese.
Lovingly fried squid
A gorgeous beef and burrata salad
Grilled herb-flecked shrimp
Grilled whole sardines.
It was dark by the time we left, and the line to get into the restaurant snaked around the corner. People in Tel Aviv definitely know a good thing when they find it.