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Image 1: This was the very last stop of my New York trip three years ago. I even had to bring my suitcase here in order to get a taxi directly to the airport for my return flight. So to continue where I left off, I came directly from the airport after landing and again with my suitcase! Though the scenary of this park was pretty much the same but something major had happened here shortly after my last visit.
Image 2: Yes, my favourite restaurant of the city at that time had achieved something that no one thought was possible. For the first time in history, a restaurant had jumped from 1-star to 3-star! I was excited but at the same time, I was concerned. What I liked about my previous experience here was the food; no tricks, no gimmicks, but simply delicious food course after course. Sadly, things would never be the same again!
Image 3: I was the first guest to arrive and interestingly, I got the same table as last time! The dining room was still the same, high-ceiling with sunlight coming down from the huge windows, but the menu had a complete makeover. No more simple four-course a-la-carte and the only option, which meant no option, was a surprise tasting menu!
Image 4: It didn't take me long to realise this restaurant where guests once used to come for good food had now transformed into a theatre where guests come for a good show! The performance began with a punch-out card on a knife where I need to pick one of the four symbols that made up the restaurant logo. The manager refused to tell me what the choice was for so I randomly selected maple!
Image 5: A staff then delivered a small gift to me.
Image 6: Inside was New Yorker's black and white cookie. The server provided me a brief history about the traditional "New York" snack. Instead of the original chocolate and vanilla version, they created a savoury version with New York cheddar and apple.
Image 7: Followed by an oyster served on its shell with vichyssoise underneath and a few caviar balls sprinkled on top. Delightful texture with creamy potato and moist oyster, but it was a shame that either the oyster had a weak flavour or it was overpowered by the vichyssoise.
Image 8: Resting on a scallop shell serviceware was mini cubes of apple and scallop marinated in lime and water chestnut. They then brought out a huge branch from a pine tree that was covered with apple and pine snow. The staff then spooned a bit of the snow on my plate as garnish. Refreshing; I could taste the intense apple, I could feel the strong acidity from lime, but the scallop flavour was unnoticeable.
Image 9: The manager then came over and said the first beef serving is beef tartare! Well, all I could see was a cross-section from a bone…
Image 10: … but there was treasure hidden behind the crème fraîche - tiny cube of tartare mixed with marrow and complemented by a decent amount of caviar. Tender and moist beef, buttery mouthfeel from the marrow, natural seasoning from caviar, excellent creation. Moreover, I loved the presentation of this amuse bouche.
Image 11: The second serving of beef was Pastrami, the staff explained this popular American street food is similar to corn beef. The pastrami wasn't actually being heated, the hot pan was just for display.
Image 12: On the side was a wooden board with endives and a piece of rye bread decorated with mustard, maple, and black garlic mayo. Basically, you just put the meat on this tiny bread and eat it like an open sandwich.
Image 13: To complete the street food experience, they even made their own soda just to match this course! The soda was flavoured with maple and that was what the punch-card in the beginning was for. Geez, after all the story telling, the serviceware display, and the mysterious punch card, it was just for two bites of sandwich and a soda. Come on!
Image 14: Warm bread came with plain butter and duck fat butter.
Image 15: The first proper course arrived. A very unique looking cured foie gras, thinly sliced and rolled to provide a melt-in-mouth sensation.
Image 16: Decorated with Jerusalem artichoke skin crisps, fermented mustard greens and gherkins which overwhelmed my palate. I was not convinced that it could work well with the foie! Not a good meal so far!
Image 17: One of the staff then rolled out a big trolley and started a history lesson on Waldorf salad, one of the historical dishes in New York City served at the iconic Waldorf Hotel at the end of 19th century. Chef Daniel was really trying hard to incorporate some local history into his cuisine.
Image 18: All the manager did with the trolley was to grate the apple.
Image 19: It was a simple salad of apple with mayo, candied walnut, pickled cranberry, and a few flakes of blue cheese on top. The apple had a nice sweetness without being too sharp, but other than that, nothing really struck me.
Image 20: In contrast, they created a modern take of Waldorf salad - Savoury granola with celery yogurt. I wasn't a fan of this salad course, both versions! It was incredible how much they could "dress up" such a simple salad to generate two courses out of it. Shocking!
Image 21: Onto a cold Seafood trio dish. Lobster tartare was presented like the previous beef tartare course. My only complaint was the portion, not in a good way. I really meant the portion was way too small! The tiny bit of lobster didn't provide me with enough of a satisfaction.
Image 22: The sea urchin, served in a cute porcelain in the shape of a sea urchin shell, was a bit better in portion; at least enough for me to tell that it was of a very decent quality with a clean aftertaste.
Image 23: A chopped razor clam, served on its shell with kale purée, again was not enough of a portion. I have never described a restaurant to be stingy but I have to for the first time. I wasn't asking for a whole lobster to be served in a tasting menu, but at least it ought to be enough to provide the diner a good mouth bite of the produce.
Image 24: The next course was interestingly the same Seafood trio but a cooked version. Great to see the rest of the claw from the previous course was served. Poached in olive oil, the lobster was paired with a small piece of razor claim and blanketed under sea urchin foam and fried kale. Alright, at least I felt like I had some lobster but I failed to detect any trace of sea urchin in the foam. Oh well!
Image 25: Before the main meat course was a ball of braised celery root coated in black truffle sauce. Next to it was a white disk with black truffle purée underneath. This simple celery root was actually the best item of the meal - sweet and meaty root, buttery and aromatic sauce, very enjoyable course!
Image 26: I was so looking forward to the meat course as I was starving. And to make it worse, the staff brought out a beautiful roasted duck! He then talked about the farm where they source the duck and Chef Daniel's cuisine focuses on locality and sustainability. I didn't bother paying too much attention at that point and if he was going to show off this duck any longer, I would have definitely taken a bite out of it straightaway.
Image 27: First serving was duck sausage carefully arranged on a thin cracker together with rosemary, mustard seeds, and drops of smoked and melted Gruyère! Nice, just a bit too salty. The second part was the duck consommé which had a lovely intense flavour.
Image 28: And finally, the duck breast arrived! The duck was from a farm near Finger Lake. It was dried for two weeks to reduce the moisture inside the skin before being slow-roasted in the oven. The skin was then coated with honey, lavender, cumin, fennel, and mixed seeds. The skin wasn't that crispy and the flavour of the meat was rather blend.
Image 29: On the side was a creamy mash with foie and minced meat from the legs and duck foie gras. This duck course was a slight disappointment. I wished Chef Daniel would just stick with proper food. The simple celery root and this roasted duck was by far the best courses of the meal.
Image 30: Well, back to his theatre, the staff informed me it's time for a picnic! Ya, another one of those!
Image 31: An interactive course where you basically dig into the basket and sort it out yourself. Greensward cow cheese, pretzel bread, onion purée, dried fruit marmalade and they even brew their own ale just for this course! The beer was also used to make the bread.
Image 32: Moving on to pre-dessert, a very original dessert consisted of orange sorbet, sweet potato purée, and meringue of expresso. It sounded like an awful combination, and it WAS an awful combination - sharp and acidic sorbet, creamy and sweet purée, then dry and bitter meringue. No, no, no!
Image 33: I wasn't surprised that they were going to serve the most patriotic dessert of America, yes, the Baked Alaska! So to finish off the 3-hour performance, more history lesson related to the purchase of Alaska before they perform a flambé at the table with Jamaican dark rum. They then took the whole cake back to the kitchen...
Image 34: ... and returned with a small piece. So you got vanilla ice cream, burnt meringue, raisin, and maple, all very sweet in particular the molasses cake base. Then at the bottom you have a thick, gluey, extremely salty, salted caramel. Simply put it, disaster! I left most of the plate untouched.
Image 35: The dessert came with a glass of apple gin brandy which was what I needed after such a disappointing meal. The manager then came over for a conversation about how the cuisine have developed in the last two years. At one point, they even performed a magic trick as part of the dessert! I was so glad that they recently removed such a gimmick from the menu.
Image 36: Déjà vu! They ended the performance with the same opening scene.
Image 37: It was the same New Yorker's black and white cookie but surprisingly, it was the traditional sweet version with cinnamon. I like this clever twist at the end!
Image 38: After I enjoyed my petits-fours, chocolate pretzel dusted with sea salt, with a cup of tea…
Image 39: … I was invited for a behind-the-stage tour. The service team wasn't exceptional, but was decent and paid just enough attention to every guest. Moreover, they prepare a gift bag for every guest to take home on their way out!
Image 40: Wow, the kitchen team was already preparing for dinner service as they only got less than two hours before guests arrive for dinner!
Image 41: Don't get me wrong, theatrical cuisines could still have delicious food. The Fat Duck is a prime example where the experience is built upon great food. Unfortunately, the food here lacked quality and the experience was a bit too artificial as if the cuisine was built upon a "checklist": tableside display, set fire on the table, incorporate some story telling, try to create a picnic experience, bring in some history, overemphasis on sourcing local food and sustainability, kitchen tour, souvenir for guest...
Image 42: Back in the hotel, I opened the gift bag from the manager and he did mention save it for breakfast tomorrow. What else is more popular for an American breakfast than granola? Overall, it was another disappointment revisit. Check out another of my disappointing revisit in that same week - Alinea!