Fresh Morel Mushroom and Fava Bean Salad
The Modern, New York, New York
I have to tell you about one of the best meals I had last year.
It was at The Modern in New York.
I’ve eaten twice in the The Modern Bar Room, the restaurant’s sprawling European airport lounge-like attachment (2007, 2008). It shares the same kitchen and chef and, therefore, the same Alsatian leaning with its higher-end, one Michelin-starred half.
The food in the Bar Room is good, but like most museum cafe food, it’s a hair overpriced.
The food in the Bar Room is a casual version of the modern Alsatian cooking you’d get on the other side of the wall at The Modern: indulgent richness cut with a line of tang. There’s veal terrine layered with goat cheese – served warm; and a creamy mushroom soup topped with a tangy creme fraiche froth. There’s liverwurst, served with pickled vegetables, and braised pork belly choucroute. There’s tarte flambée, of course, and cassoulet, and baekeoffe, here with conch. If the service weren’t so absent, I’d be tempted to move in and get fat.
Executive Gabriel Kreuther takes a somewhat lighter and much more refined approach in The Modern, conquering the challenge of modernizing the unapologetically hearty and homey Alsatian cuisine.
In my opinion, Kreuther is one of the most creative and talented chefs in New York right now. And many seem to agree. Kreuther won the James Beard Award for Best Chef New York just hours after my lunch at The Modern. I was there to see him win.
His food is not only delicious (but then, I’m partial to Alsatian cuisine), but gorgeous. Every plate was visually stunning, a mesmerizing construction of colors and shapes, every bit as dynamic as the art that the MoMA houses. The “Rabbit Terrine,” a beautiful cube of rabbit and gelatin coated in an herb emulsion, has served as this blog’s banner photo since my meal in May of 2009.
Ms. Toidy Toid & Toid, Mr. RBI, and I ordered the seven-course Chef’s Tasting and added a supplement from the prix-fixe.
CLICK HERE to see all the photos from this meal.
Cooked in Riesling and Anise Hyssop, Fine Herbs Coulis.
Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna and Diver Scallops
Seasoned with Yellowstone River Caviar.
Fresh Morel Mushroom and Fava Bean Salad
Roasted Spotted Prawn.
Ravioli of Escargot
Slow Poached Quail Eggs, Escargot Caviar and Mustard Greens.
Maine Lobster Cappuccino
White Coco Bean Purée and Harissa Oil.
Pennsylvania Duck Breast
With Black Trumpet Marmalade, “Fleischschneke”, and Banyuls Jus.
Candied cilantro, passion fruit gelatin, and pineapple sorbet.
Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquoise
With Raspberry Sorbet
Strawberry and creme fraiche.
Top to bottom, our meal was brilliant. Every dish was wonderful, some more inspired than others.
The one hiccup were the fried morels on the “Fresh Morel Mushroom and Fava Bean Salad” dish. They were limp and tasted stale. They clearly had not just come out of the fryer.
A lot of Kreuther’s cooking isn’t entirely straightforward. You won’t find clear passageways to comfort and familiarity in his flavors. They weren’t quite challenging, rather, just slightly askew of expectations. In that morel dish, for example, he tossed the mushrooms together with fava beans, pea shoots, and roasted spot prawns, all very normal. But then he accents the salad with mint oil. It was served warm, the menthol glowed. It worked.
Beneath the velveteen green veil of herb emulsion, the “Rabbit Terrine” secreted a goodly amount of aspic. That wasn’t the unexpected part of the dish. The unexpected part was the tiny canon of apple served on the side, which unlocked a whole new set of flavors. It was one of my favorite dishes.
The “Ravioli of Escargot,” too was a highlight. Garlic is the cornerstone of any good escargot dish. Here, it was used with great effect. You sensed it more than you tasted it. The ravioli were wonderful, the soft pasta yielded a buttery gush and garlicky, plump escargot. The gently poached quail eggs and beads of escargot caviar (yes, snail eggs, which looked and had the texture of tapioca) added an extra layer of richness.
I’m so tired of chorizo-crusted cod that I almost asked if I could substitute another dish. I’m glad I didn’t. Kreuther’s “Chorizo-Crusted Codfish” was magnificent.
The “crust” was more like scales of very thinly sliced chorizo sausage. I’ve seen cod topped with everything from chorizo puree to chorizo paste. The use of thinly sliced chorizo was wonderful. It did take some knife skills to separate the coins so that I could get a bit of chorizo in each bite. However, it was well worth it.
The cod was excellent; soft, supple, and incredibly tender. This dish had arrived with a cloche. I was so afraid it would be overcooked. Overcooked cod is bad cod. This was sublime.
And the coco beans were perfectly cooked: a state between creamy and gritty. The use of harissa was not as strong as I expected. It was perfect. In fact, everything about this dish – including the wine pairing – was perfect.
Belinda Chang, the award-winning sommelier wasn’t in during our lunch. But the wine steward who took care of us was great. She knew the pairings like the back of her hand. A number of them, including the Mongrana, Querciabella in Maremma, Toscana, 2006 paired with the”Pennsylvania Duck Breast,” were incredibly well-matched.
Desserts here were extraordinarily good. The “Baba Grand Marnier,” the dessert on the tasting menu, featured a fluffy little bun soaked with rum and bobbing in a frothy citrus sabayon along with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream and bits of mango.
I asked for the “Pineapple ‘Chartreuse’” instead of the baba.* This presented a cylindrical fort of pineapple batons filled with a tangy buttermilk panna cotta. It was served with a coconut and herb sorbet over which inched a lime marshmallow. Tropical and light, this was tremendously refreshing.
Mr. RBI fancied something chocolatey, and he got to indulge his craving in an incredibly decadent “Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Dacquoise,” a banker’s candy bar. Crisp and light, the strip of dacquoise was coated in a thick and rich chocolate and hazelnut ganache inlaid with a crunchy, toffee-like strip of cocao nibs. It could ruin even the most disciplined chocoholic.
The dining room, with its wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out into the MoMA sculpture garden, being half empty, we nearly had an entire section to ourselves. Sadly, that didn’t make our meal a peaceful one. We happened to sit across from a break in the wall that served as an exit to The Modern Bar Room and bathrooms. The din from the bar area was beyond an annoyance. It was so loud that it actually deters me from wanting to return to the restaurant. And that’s a pity given how flawless the rest of the experience was.
Unlike The Modern Bar Room, however, service at The Modern could not have been more present or attentive. Jose, our server, was Danny Meyer hospitality at its best. He was warm, well-spoken, informed, and incredibly polished in every move and gesture. My only regret is that I didn’t personally pull Jose over to Mr. Meyer later that evening at the post-James Beard Awards party at The Modern to sing his praises to the bossman. By pure chance, Jose spotted my guests and me as we walked into The Modern later that night for the post-party. He ran over to greet us with flutes of Dom Perignon with which to toast Chef Kreuther.
Needless to say, I had a fabulous day at The Modern. If they could only find a way to insulate the restaurant’s dining room from the bar area, it would easily be on my short go-to list for high-end restaurants in New York.
The Museum of Modern Art
9 West 53rd Street
(between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
New York, New York 10019
* I asked for the Pineapple “Chartreuse” because I have a nagging allergy to mango, which was in the baba dessert. Had I known that the mango in the citrus sabayon could easily have been avoided, I wouldn’t have bothered with anything else; I love baba.