Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Modern Bar Room

I went to New York this past weekend primarily to attend the fragrance event, Sniffapalooza, but also to eat. Sniffa lasts two days, both of which include a prix fixe lunch, but after last year's debacle at Opia, I wasn't going to waste my money, taste buds, and sanity on grilled chicken breast and two extremely long hours of guest speakers. Being cooped up in a room with over a hundred gabbing women (and a handful of men) makes me a little, well, homicidal crazy, so I opted instead for a nice quiet luncheon elsewhere with Anthony Bourdain as company.

That is, my copy of his most recent book, Medium Raw.

I asked the good citizens of the Manhattan Chowhound board for suggestions for a Saturday lunch in the vicinity of Bergdorf Goodman and the restaurant that got the most mentions was the Bar Room at The Modern. I made a reservation post haste and was glad for it.

After nearly four hours at Bergdorf's and already laden-down with perfume samples and purchases, I was happy to check my overflowing tote bag and settle down in a comfortable chair in the middle of the restaurant and peruse the menu. Divided into three pages of starters, fish, and meat selections, the menu suggests that diners choose one from each category to create a personalized tasting menu. Bucking the trend, I decided to order two courses from the fish category, with a third meat course possibility waiting in the wings were I still hungry afterward.

Grilled Diver Scallops with baby carrots, spring peas and rhubarb broth
I couldn't decide whether I wanted to start with the scallops or the skate; my very able server suggested that the scallops would be an appropriately light appetizer, and he was right. Two half-dollar-sized mollusks, lightly grilled and still translucent at the centers, were served with a carrot puree, grilled yellow baby carrots, very tender young peas, and a tangy broth. There was something vaguely Southwestern in the scallops seasoning, definitely a hint of cumin, but overall the dish was the essence of Spring. I just wish those scallops were, oh, twice the size. At least.

Alsatian Buckwheat Späetzle with Yellowfin tuna paillard crudo,
roasted foie gras, pine nuts and black pepper gastrique
My second course was perhaps one of the most unusual restaurant dishes I've ever eaten. It was certainly not going to win any beauty contests: a slab of heavily-seared foie gras rested atop a blood-red piece of raw tuna, from under which oozed some brownish liquid and a few nubbins of gray stuff. I first lifted the edge of the tuna to sample some of the large colony of buckwheat spaetzle that was hiding under the fish. They were very tender and buttery, but without the pleasant chew of other spaetzle I've eaten. Then I took a forkful of tuna and was immediately disappointed that even though it was raw, a state of being that my brain normally registers as "cold," was actually warm. As I continued eating, however, I began to realize that not only was the tuna not cold, but the spot under the seared foie was actually being cooked by its heat. At that point, I thought the dish was brilliant. I never cared for the textural contrast of seared tuna, with the dried-out edges and cold, raw insides. The lightly cooked portions of this tuna, however, were moist and delicious, bathed as they were in hot duck fat. As for the source of that duck fat, the foie gras, it was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The top was a bit crusty and salty, and the inside was quivery and melty. Swoonworthy. Perfect, if the spaetzle brought a texture other than soft to the party.

With the savory courses, I enjoyed some of The Modern's terrific bread, including lovely little torpedo-shaped rolls schmeared with sweet butter that had been topped with sea salt.

After clearing my plates, my waiter brought the savory menu just in case I did need to try the pork belly I had been contemplating earlier. He also had the dessert menu, which I barely glanced at after he mentioned its newest addition: panna cotta with pistachio ice cream. I love panna cotta. I love pistachio ice cream. Sold!

White Chocolate Panna Cotta with blackberries and pistachio ice cream
The custard itself was extremely rich, the ice cream accompaniment smooth and delicious and almost light by comparison, but my favorite elements on this plate were the little surprises of a sesame biscuit under the panna cotta and a tiny square of lemon-infused cake under the ice cream. I also enjoyed the white chocolate wafers which were flecked with not only bits of lemon rind, but also sea salt, which gave them a bit of a potato chip quality. (Potato chips and vanilla ice cream were a favorite childhood treat. Don't knock it until you try it!)

With my meal I enjoyed a pint of draught Brownstone ale and a rather strong cappuccino. And my Bourdain, but only between courses. I didn't need his snark interrupting my enjoyment of the food.

Overall, I enjoyed my lunch - the food, the service, and the ability to relax in comfortable surroundings after having been on my feet for several hours, doing strenuous shopping. It was an excellent choice, and I would definitely go back.

The Modern
9 W 53rd St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 333-1220

 The Modern on Urbanspoon

  Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

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