review: in vino…
Houston was supposed join us. It was, after all, her birthday dinner.
But by the time Ms. Toidy Toid & Toid, Mr. RBI, and I were seated at Veritas, late on a rainy Friday (now, nearly a year ago), she was still circling the skies high above LaGuardia.
Pity, it was a wonderful dinner.
In fact, I was ill-prepared for just how good the food is at this intimate Michelin one-starred restaurant in the Gramercy/Flatiron neighborhood of New York City.
The last time I encountered Grégory Pugin’s cooking was at l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in 2008, where he was chef de cuisine.
Now the Executive Chef at Veritas, Pugin is cooking his own food, offering flavors from his home in southwestern France, like slices “Ossau au Pimente d’Espelette,” a fine cheese course.
My friends and I ordered the 8-course tasting menu ($155) and ordered some wine to be paired with a couple of courses. CLICK HERE to see all of the photos from this meal, or click on the course titles below for photos of the individual dishes.
Cream of Asparagus
Lemon Marinated Langoustine
Osetra caviar, citrus cream.
Lobster in vin jaune, white asparagus, morels.
Madiran-poached foie gras, dried fruit in Sauternes, red wine gelee.
Sauteed Frog Legs
Coco blanc bean and garlic puree, parsley coulis, fried spring onions.
Zucchini scales, baby fennel confit, bouillabaisse bouillon.
Morels, baby spinach, broccolini, sauce Château Chalon.
“Les Bassets” Domaine Laurent Cognard, Montagny 1er Cru (2006)
Pommes amandines, sauce Perigourdine.
Ossau au Pimente d’Espelette
Raisin-walnut bread and plum “membrillo.”
White Pepper Madeleine
Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Dried Fruits
Crunch Choux Puff Filled With Salted Caramel
Yogurt and Mango-Passionfruit Parfait
Hibiscus soup, pink grapefruit sorbet.
I feared that the “Lemon Marinated Langoustine” would be mealy, rubbery, like most ill-prepared “ceviches” I’ve had. Quite the opposite, the langoustines remained plump, succulent, thoroughly infused with citrus. For nibs of white pepper pinned down the four corners of a sheet of “citrus cream,” painting the dish with sophistication. It was a discovery of flavors and textures.
Not everything on our menu was as surprising or eye-opening. Both the “Lobster Nage” and our “Amuse Bouche,” a warm cream of asparagus soup, were straightforward, but exceptional. So was the “St. Pierre,” a tender, soft filet wearing a silky armor of zucchini scales bejeweled with bits of black olives and oven-dried tomatoes; a beautiful John Dory from Provence.
Like the “Dover Sole” that the restaurant generously allowed me to substitute for the John Dory, everything was perfectly executed and packed with flavor. The dishes were blissfully minimal, each ingredient or element essential, distinct, distilled.
The Chateau Chalon sauce that came with the Dover Sole, for example, was intense, a beefy, savory cream that paired wonderfully with the Chardonnay suggested by the wine steward [“Les Bassets” Domaine Laurent Cognard, Montagny 1er Cru (2006)].
While the Chateau La Roque, Pic Saint Loup (2005) wasn’t something I’d want to drink on its own, when combined with the sweet, rendered onions that accompanied the “Wagyu Filet” course,* it sent sparks flying. As with my Dover Sole course, the wine pairing defined this dish. And I suppose that’s not surprising (if not expected) given that I was at Veritas, a restaurant with Parker B. Smith’s war chest of wine.
You probably know this: Veritas is a place for wine lovers.
In 1999, then-New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, said of the restaurant, “Veritas is an early clue to a new direction, a sign that restaurants may be changing. And frankly, I’m not sure that I like the implications. Because at Veritas, the wine is more important than the food. It is, in fact, so important that the place could be called a wine cellar with a restaurant attached. It is so important that wine snobs have been known to sit for hours poring over the amazing document that is the wine list. It is so important that the wine list, all 1,300 entries, is on line.” And so it is.
What I especially admired about Pugin’s cooking is that he marries the bottle to the plate. His dishes not only complement wine, but are themselves showcases of wine.
That “Lobster Nage,” with its marvelously cooked morsels of lobster meat, had a healthy injection of vin jaune. So too did my Dover Sole, with its Chateau Chalon sauce. The “Wagyu Filet” came with a rich Perigueaux sauce, flavored with Madeira. And a pretty, pink slice of “Foie Gras” came stained a deep shade of purple from a gentle poaching in Madiran. It was accompanied by dried apricots soaked in Sauternes and an unforgettably heady square of red wine gelee. It was marvelous.
If there was one spot on our rather stainless meal, it was the “Sauteed Frog Legs.” These delicate little lollipops, bedded on a thick, delicious coco bean and garlic puree, ran a bit stringy in parts. To me, frog legs, like watermelon, nectarines, scallops, and stand-up comics walk a fine line between perfection and tragedy. They’re either blissfully brilliant, or tortuously traumatic. These fell short of the line. These frog legs weren’t inedible. But I would have rather had something else.
Curiously, what appeared to be petits fours arrived before our dessert, a quadruplet of rather forgettable sweets. The best of the four was a buttery madeleine perfumed with white pepper. The worst was a stale and limp “crunchy choux puff” filled with a runny, salted caramel.
Dessert, thankfully, was awesome, a blushing “Blancmanger” that struck the right balance among sweet, bitter, and sour. Gorgeous to boot, with a thin tuile stick dusted with fragrant lime zest, it was a refreshing and bright end to a wonderful meal.
Though not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the service wasn’t entirely one-starrish. It could use a little polish, a crisper pleat. But overall, the staff was pleasant and helpful. The general manager, especially, was extremely warm, chatting with us between courses and after our meal with interest.
Veritas isn’t showy. The interior is an understated, intimate oasis from the trendy and the hip. The restaurant is one part elegant, one part modern, and two parts simple.
Why hasn’t any of Reichl’s (three) successors at the New York Times re-reviewed Veritas? I don’t know. Perhaps our sitting supper specialist, Sifton, will weigh in soon. I hope he does: Veritas deserves the attention.
Regardless, still young, Grégory Pugin is a chef I have my eye on. This year (2010), he’s a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Chef Award (finalists will be announced on March 22, 2010, the winner will be announced on May 3, 2010). I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully, he’ll stick around Veritas long enough for me to swing by during the colder months for his “Truffle Paper,” a dish I missed on my last visit.
43 East 20th Street
New York, New York 10003
* One of the best bites of the evening was a beautifully golden pommes amandine – a whipped potato croquette studded with slivered almonds. Within, a treasure: a cube of creamy, melting foie gras.