How much hassle is it to arrange a surprise birthday meal in New York City from London? No matter how much upfront planning I did, it was still nearly impossible. I was going to treat my friend Darcy to a nice meal in NYC at the last weekend of August 2011 since it’s her big birthday. My plan A was to book Le Bernandin, but it’s closed for refurbishment in August; then I booked Picholine and they confirmed the reservation, with me thinking that it’s all sorted. However, about a fortnight before the visit, I got a cryptic e-mail saying that they cancelled my reservation. It’s only when I rang the restaurant that they told me they would be closed for refurbishment also (is that all they do in New York in August?). So in the end I opted for my safety net Per Se, which might be impossible to book (and Darcy would be able to guess) but worth a try.
Then what happened? Hurricane Irene hit New York that last weekend in August and nearly the whole of New York (including Per Se) was shut down. But at least Per Se managed to sort out a table for the weekend after for Sunday lunch, which I happened to be back in Manhattan anyway. Then it’s working out with Darcy’s boyfriend on how to throw the scent off the trail, and so I made up a story of going elsewhere but meet at Columbus Circle.
Luckily when the big day came, everything worked according to plan. Darcy got a birthday greeting from the restaurant as soon as she arrived, and once we settled down at the table, we had the tough task of deciding which menu to go for. In the end, I chose the vegetarian menu (which was unusual, but after a whole week of stuffing my face stupid, I could do with a lighter meal) while the rest of the table chose the carnivore menu.
The amuse-bouche reminded us of Mr Underhill’s in the UK, as they were more sophisticated versions of Gougeres, smoked salmon cones and sweet potato cone.
(1) “Oysters and Pearls” – Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling white sturgeon caviar
My first course was Sweet Corn “Veloute” with Hass avocado and thyme-scented buttermilk sherbet – Every time I saw sweetcorn soup of some form, I always thought of my most favourite version at Restaurant Sat Bains. Here, the combination of the avocado and sherbet actually worked really well with the sweetcorn. All the various flavours just came to life in the mouth.
(2) Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm with navel orange, cherry belle radishes, mache and black winter truffle puree
Torchon of Elevages Perigord moulard duck foie gras, with compressed Garden State peaches, fennel bulb, Marcona almond butter and petite basil
Braised fennel bulb with Per Se raisins, sunflower seed puree, nepitella mint and crispy Greek yogurt
Sauteed fillet of Atlantic striped bass, with Florida Creek shrimp, sweet peppers, cilantro shoots and saffron aioli
Yukon gold potato “mille-feuille”, broccolini, cherry belle radishes and black winter truffle puree
Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, glazed turnips, watercress and Oregon huckleberries
Swiss chard leaves “piccata”, with toasted farro “tabouleh”, violet artichokes, Cipollini onion shoots and black olive puree
Thomas farm’s pigeon “pastrami”, rye seed pancake, red wine braised cabbage and “Thousand Island dressing”
Hen egg omelette, Matsutake mushrooms, French leeks, Vldalia onion “soubise” and Mizuna
Snake River farms’ “Calotte de boeuf”, Squire Hill Farm’s butternut squash, young onions, tarragon puree and Nasturtium caper cream
Mascarpone-enriched cranberry bean “Agnolotti”, cherry tomatoes, haricots verts, parmesan crisp, basil and Armando Manni extra virgin olive oil emulsion
“Hittisau”, buckwheat crepe, seckel pears, broccolini, toasted hazelnuts and balsamic vinegar
“Pata Cabra” with charred eggplant puree, cucumbers, citrus blossom and greenmarket peppers
“Honeyed plums” with plum compote, honeycomb, whipped plums and burnt honey ice-cream. “Peach Lemonade” with toasted oat crumble, lemon soda and Pearson Farm peach sherbet
Ice-cream sandwich, and Thomas Keller Oreo ice-cream biscuit
“S’Mores” – Tcho chocolate torte, vanilla marshmallow, candied Virginia peanuts and caramel ice-cream
“Raspberries in black and green” – Macerated raspberries, black sesame, raspberry gateux and matcha-scented ice-cream
Variety of truffles, macaroons
Address: 10 Columbus Circle # 6-REST, New York, NY 10019-1219, United States
Telephone: +1 (212) 823-9335
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu 5:30pm-10pm; Fri-Sun 11:30am-1:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm
Total: 19/20 [Based on visit in September 2011]