(This entire post is going to sound like a schoolgirl gushing over Justin Bieber, but it really was THAT GOOD. Also, I love love love food but I can't claim to have the most accurate palate, so if I got any of the ingredients wrong mea culpa!)
I wanted to celebrate Philip and I's 'anniversary' of 5 years together with a fabulous dinner out. I originally booked a table at Blue Hill (NYC), where I had a fantastic meal with my co-workers last year and wanted to introduce it to Philip. But we had to cancel because it turned out he had to work the next day (there are a lot of good things about the TV/film business; predictability is not one of them).
Instead of rebooking at Blue Hill, I had another thought — why not try out Michelin-starred Restaurant Marc Forgione
I had become increasingly aware of Chef Forgione over the past few months, first from a few mentions on Grub Street
, then he started competing (and making some amazing dishes) on one of the best cooking competition shows, The Next Iron Chef
, and finally I was so impressed by his cooking demo at the New York Botanical Garden in October where he made barbeque baked oysters, chili lobster with texas toast, and olde salt clams with black garlic jus and braised pork belly (recipes here
and our photos here
). All of that plus the incredible-looking dishes (and specialty drinks) that are regularly posted to Twitter
, and I just had to try it.
I booked a Saturday night table (so there would be no chance of having to cancel) at 5:30pm — a time I know that most people (at least most people my age) would balk at, but there were no later reservations and I actually enjoy eating early. It tends to be more relaxed, and when you know you're going to have a multi-hour meal, starting early ensures you're not still eating past midnight.
We arrived a bit early so we went to the bar. I don't usually order specialty cocktails, but I heard they were very good here, so I decided to try the red & green apple vodka, ginger, rosemary, and coriander cocktail, and Philip had a beer. I was a little leery of ordering something with apple and vodka, that conjuring up images of sickly-sweet green apple martinis while I prefer savory drinks, but I needn't have worried — it was a great way to start off the evening! The cocktail was gorgeous (this
photo is exactly what it looked like), and the scent of the rosemary sprig along with the other spices were heavenly! The bartender told me the balls of apple are prepared somehow so that they taste like apple pie, sooooo good.
After a few minutes we were taken to our table, a cozy corner spot right past the kitchen (photo here
, we were at the table all the way to the left), and we loved it. The old stereotype is that sitting near the kitchen is bad, but that was absolutely not the case — in fact, it turned out to be a very good thing! (More on that in a bit.) The ambiance is warm, inviting, rustic, and romantic. There was rock music playing, but the volume was perfect, i.e. audible but not so loud that you can't have a normal conversation (similar to Babbo
a photo of the dining room. It's described often as a trendy place, which I can see (particularly on the bar side), but there is absolutely no attitude, everyone was so friendly and accommodating.
Our server Erica (who could not have been more pleasant and helpful) came over and introduced herself, and we took in the menu. I love tasting menus so I was so happy to see that they offer one. I did want to get our server's opinion first though, as I'd heard that at some restaurants the a la carte dishes are better. (I've read that over and over again about Babbo, and in fact our server there gently recommended against the tasting, but I had to do it anyway, lol. It was amazing nonetheless, and it's an excuse to go back and do a la carte to compare.) But Erica was very enthusiastic about the Forgione tasting, indicating that it really is something special where the Chef presents an overview of his cuisine. Sold! The chili lobster dish the Chef prepared at the NYBG was also on the menu that night, so we decided to go all-out and share that as well. Since it's a spicy dish, Erica offered to see if the Chef could serve it in the middle of the tasting so it didn't overpower the more delicate early courses. It turns out that was no problem, and we were on our way!
We were served some tasty potato rolls with herbed butter
. I later realized that they were being warmed inside a gorgeous cast iron-type stove in front of us (in this photo
you can see the stove on the left, our table on the right, and the entrance to the kitchen in between). Although I wanted to save room for the meal, I couldn't resist having them, yum!
I was hoping Chef Forgione would be in the restaurant that night, and I had read several interviews where he said he felt it was important to be in the kitchen. But Chefs can't be there every night, and this being the night before the Next Iron Chef finale there could have been a promotional event or something going on. But, I spied him walking through the restaurant and I was thrilled — Chef Forgione will be preparing our food, yeah! Little did I know what we'd be in for...
Our amuse bouche (or, more accurately, amuse bouches!) was served, and a few moments later Chef Forgione himself appeared at our table! We chatted for a bit about Next Iron Chef and the NY Botanical Garden event, and he joked about how he didn't want to be known as the lobster-killing Chef (at NYBG he demonstrated how to humanely kill a lobster and was shocked when it seemed like everyone in the audience was taking a photo — yes, including us
, lol). Then he explained the amuse bouche: we each had four small bites which the Chef explained were interpretations of sandwiches — corned lamb and veal, banh mi, pumpkin puree, and mushrooms that were inspired by one of his Grandma's dishes (aww!). They were all delicious; the banh mi blew me away because it was so tiny but it tasted *exactly* like a banh mi, how the heck did he get all of the flavors in there?? The mushrooms were surprising (in a good way) because it looked like it was warm but was in fact cold, and had (to me) a slightly bitter orange flavor. The adventure had begun!
By this point our drinks had dwindled, so we took a look at the wine list. I prefer red wine, so I asked Erica about the cotes du rhone, and on her recommendation we chose the Cotes du Rhone Les Peyrouses. It was incredibly complex, we loved it.
Then we were on to the first course: hiramasa tartare
, avocado, sechuan button, toasted pinenuts, and saratoga chips. The server who brought it out instructed us to start with the teeny, tiny sechuan button (actually a flower blossom) and roll it around in your mouth, then the metal spoon, then the dish of tartare. Wanting to have the full experience I started with the sechuan button and wow — it actually made my mouth tingle! Then on to the spoon (I believe some of the tartare was in there), and the dish of tartare, in a very flavorful sauce. The chips were very good too, a great start to the meal.
Next we were served a barbeque baked oyster, paired with a small glass of Stone Levitation Ale which the Chef came out and described for us. This is one of the dishes we saw the Chef prepare at the NY Botanical Garden, and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical — I really love raw oysters, would it be too cooked through? Would the barbeque sauce overpower the delicate oyster flavors? I needn't have worried, it was wonderful. The oyster was just warmed and the sauce was not heavy at all, there was still plenty of fresh sea goodness. How the heck did he manage to do that?!?
Then we shared the chili lobster
with texas toast, the Chef's take on singapore crab. Sliced up lobster tail, claw meat, and thick toast to soak up the spicy sauce, soooo good. Philip thought it was a bit too spicy for him — maybe because he was the first to dip his bread and the sriracha was floating on top? — but I thought the heat was just right (I like spicy, but not to the point where you can't taste anything). You can see the Chef preparing the dish here
Next came what I think was my favorite dish of the night, delicata squash ravioli with pumpkin seed oil and fried sage. This was just so sublime, at least as good as anything we had at Babbo. I could have eaten a HUGE bowl! I can't wait to go back and try more pasta dishes.
Then we had the whole baby halibut to share, with cauliflower puree and sauce "proposal". The presentation was gorgeous, the fish was filleted and the bones taken out, served with the intact skeleton bones standing perpendicular to the fish. Stunning! I adore halibut and it was delicious, the mild but incredibly flavorful white sauce pairing perfectly with the fish. After a few bites, I looked at the bones and realized, "Hey, the bones are fried — we can EAT them!" I heard about this, but never tried it before. I split the skeleton with Philip and it was fantastic, crispy and light. Chef Forgione came out to check on us again and I enthused over the crispy bones! More about the dish here
On to the meat course...we each could choose what we wanted from what was available on the menu, so I had venison (love it!) and Philip had duck breast. Both were very, very good. Then we had a palate cleanser, a small glass of moscato sorbet — wonderful!
Then we were served two different desserts. Philip had the peanut butter terrine
, which was wonderfully decadent. I had a dish that I thought I heard as apple sally or apple sandy, which was served in a glass with apples and ice cream (a rich vanilla I believe), with fantastic cinnamon-coated sticks of bread (or cake?) surrounding it, topped with whipped cream and candied bacon (yeah, baby!) and warm delicate little orbs of cinnamon-coated apple on the side. Of course we had to have after-dinner drinks as well; I went with the Osborne tawny port, and Philip had the banana-infused Jameson which sounds weird but it worked!
The meal was just outstanding, and the tasting menu was an incredibly great value. We were so well taken care of in every way, and I was so impressed that the Chef took the time out to explain the dishes and chat with us, that was totally unexpected! The thing I loved the most is how innovative and passionate for the food Chef Forgione is, it absolutely shows. There were so many wonderful surprises but not in a gimmicky way at all. Philip, who enjoys food but doesn't freak out over it like I do, was more enthusiastic than I've ever seen him about a meal. I actually felt a little bad that we ended up eating each course so fast, I didn't want the kitchen to think we weren't savoring every bite (we were, oh yes!), but after the first bite you just couldn't stop.
The next night was the Next Iron Chef finale, and it was GREAT to see Chef Forgione win while remembering our wonderful meal!