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Detaild NYC trip report with in depth food/restaurant descriptions

Detaild NYC trip report with in depth food/restaurant descriptions

Old Jun 20th, 2006, 10:11 AM
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Detaild NYC trip report with in depth food/restaurant descriptions

I have learned so much from this board for traveling abroad I thought I'd offer a domestic weekend trip report. It's a long read but if you're interested in other people's travel experiences,(and why else be here on this board?)but in particular restaurant reviews, you might enjoy my account of my birthday weekend in NYC in May.

After living within a 2 hours drive to NYC for my whole life, this was only our second foray into the city for a weekend because to do it "right" we have always felt we needed to be prepared to spend some serious money. Finally, in our middle age, with the kids out of the house, that day has arrived and this was our second time to NYC for a weekend in the last year. Everything that could possibly have gone right did and the days were full of the most fabulously serendipitous events imaginable! This was a birthday celebration to end all celebrations and though it was belated, I felt feted through and through.

We had planned for an action packed few days and we accomplished all we set out to do and more!

Friday morning we were on the road by 8:30 and after a quick stop to gas up and buy bagels and coffee for the road, we were off. The sky was bright blue and the highways were as clear as the sky so we arrived in the city without a hitch and pulled up in front of our hotel at 10:45AM. The car was valet parked for us and a most polite and helpful bellman helped us with our bags. We expected to have to leave our baggage in storage and head out into our first day without the benefit of a wash up after the drive, but we were most pleasantly surprised to be told that our room was ready and we could check right in!

Our hotel, a Klimpton hotel called “The Muse”, was a lovely little art deco gem, with cherry wood panels and a whimsical ceiling painting of the seven muses flying around the crystal chandelier in the lobby. The room was "deluxe king" and with a travelzoo promotion we paid $199 for a room that is regularly $359. Our room was on the twelfth floor and was quite large by New York standards, with a king sized bed, a desk, a good sized closet with an in room safe and a lovely big bathroom filled with swank accessories including 2 very soft and cushy bathrobes. Located on 46th street, between 6th and 7th, we were right around the corner from Times Square and the theater district, but tucked down a quiet street that was lined with tiny hole in the wall eateries and small businesses.

After quickly unpacking and adjusting our clothing to suit the weather and the occasion, we set out for our planned afternoon. It was bright and sunny, but the air was brisk and cool, especially in the shade, but we were ready for it all. Our plan was to take the metro downtown to South Seaport to purchase half price tickets for a broadways show that night, and then meander on foot up to the Tribeca area for a 2:00 reservation for lunch. Our destination for the afternoon was Bouley, one of New York’s premier French restaurants, so we were elegantly attired but knew how to be comfortable and chic. Paul carried his tie in his pocket, ready to be slipped on moments before entering the posh establishment, and I wore my black sneakers for walking but carried my elegant sandals in my large but beautifully fashionable Calvin Klein bag.

At the South Street station TKTS booth we debated between buying tickets for Sweeney Todd or for The Producers. After discovering the only available seats for The Producers were in the nosebleed section, far back in the third balcony, we opted for Sweeney Todd, knowing nothing about the show except that the words and music were by the genius Stephen Sondheim and that somehow the story included something about eating people. Orchestra seats in the 15th row clinched the decision. We quickly purchased our tickets (a 2 minute wait in line as compared to the 300 person queue we saw at the TKTS booth on 42nd!) and started our stroll to Bouley.

New York in the spring is such a wonder to behold. Droves of people, hungry for warmth and sun after a cold, bleak winter, were out walking briskly, wandering aimlessly, shopping frantically and sitting on every available bench and patch of grass in the city, soaking up the warmth of this glorious spring day. We stopped for a bit in City Hall Park and enjoyed the magnificent view of the imposing building with the purple plum trees in full blossom and the apples and dogwoods bursting at their buds, ready to pop. The gorgeous fountain gurgled in harmony with the madly chirping birds, and pigeons everywhere rejoiced in the return of outdoor brownbag lunchers in the park.

Soon we arrived at our destination: Bouley. The restaurant is located on a street of numerous trendy eating establishments and as we approached we enjoyed the scene of so many “beautiful people” eating al fresco with their oversized sunglasses and oh so New York shoes and bags. We took a quick stop on a sidewalk bench in front of the restaurant to appreciate the gorgeous spring blooms spilling from the window boxes and for Paul to don his tie and me to slip out of my walking sneakers and into my stylish heels. Then it was into Bouley for one of the most luxurious and delicious dining experiences of a life time.

From the moment you enter this gastronomic heaven, you feel like pampered royalty. It was like a world away from the world, all muted tones of rouge and gold, low ceilings and posh chairs and banquets, lined with an assortment of beautiful pillows designed to add to the luxury and comfort of the experience. The restaurant had a cave-like feel to it, dark and mysterious, the windows filled with the flowers so artistically planted in the boxes outside. Inside, each table had its own beautiful lamp casting a soft glow over the crisp white linen, the Limoges china with a green ivy pattern and the beautiful silver vase filled with eight roses blooming in shades of red, pink and white. Huge vases of calla lilies and hydrangeas were placed about the room and our mouth watered as we caught sight of a bread cart that boasted at least 10 different assortments of yeasty pleasure.

It will be no surprise to hear that each bite of each thing we ate at Bouley was sublime, and no written description could ever do justice to the culinary marvels we reveled in, but I will give you my best account. We began with an amuse bouche that was literally like a bite of summer; cucumber gelee and tomato sorbet with tiny chunks of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese and garnished with a sprig of fresh chervil. Our charming French waiter, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie, then offered us menus while a young table man delivered the most delicious rolls, one was classic French; crusty outside and soft and chewy within, and the other a scrumptious raisin brioche. Slathered with sweet cream butter, we tried not to scarf them down, knowing we would need the room in our bellies for the meal to follow. We noticed that the entire wait staff was male and commented on the fact that while perhaps sexist, how European and right it felt.

Paul ordered a glass of Australian Sauvignon Blanc and I enjoyed sparkling water with lemon as we perused the menu. We decided on the four course prix fixes, an irresistible steal at $45 per person. A gourmet extravaganza followed that will remain forever imbedded my personal hall of memorable meals.

My first course was a mélange of seafood which included crispy phyllo encrusted Florida shrimp, a juicy seared scallop, and a whole baby squid cut into sections and cooked to tender perfection. This taste of the ocean swam in its own sea of lemon parsley sauce, the last drop of which I sopped up with a piece of that perfect French roll. Paul had sashimi tuna, raw tuna so fresh you could taste the ocean in each bite although the meatiness of the tuna was reminiscent of beef. The fish was cut into bite sized chunks, mounded on a small bed of garden fresh greens and dressed with a delectable herb vinaigrette. Fabulous!

Next, we both ordered the Alaskan king salmon in citrus sauce. Gorgeous pink under a blanket of rich yellow tartness, every bite a pleasure! Paul followed the salmon with pork tenderloin, served over a small mound of fresh porcini mushroom fettuccini and parsnip puree with a Bordeaux wine sauce. I indulged in long island breast of duck with kumquat clementine sauce over a bed of garlic oil dressed spinach and pieces of ruby turnip. And in case this wasn’t enough opulent food, they also brought us a plate of the most spectacular mashed potatoes I have ever eaten. Fingerling potatoes were pureed with (I’m afraid to imagine how much) butter and cream and topped with just a sprinkling of fresh chives. We polished off every bite on every plate.

After such spectacular lunch, Bouley wisely determined we would need to cleanse our palates before moving on the main attraction: dessert! So we were presented with a deep bowl that contained a small portion of goat yoghurt sorbet, grapefruit granite, and elderberry froth. Each bite was a tongue tingling sensational combination of sweet, acidic, sour, cold, smooth, icy, crunchy and frothy. Our palates were certainly cleansed and ready for the sweet delights that awaited us and dessert did indeed turn out to be outrageous!

I ordered the chocolate soufflé cake, a small mound of chocolate heaven, light and airy on the outside with the crunchy exterior giving way to a thick and then liquid warm, oozing, chocolaty center. Three small scoops of ice cream were the perfect foil for this intense dessert, one vanilla, one mocha and the third the richest milk chocolate ice cream one could imagine. I thought I had died and gone to heaven eating this thing. Paul ordered granny smith apple and almond dacquois with cinnamon meringue which was also served with ice cream; vanilla and cinnamon. Hot well roasted decafe coffee completed the dessert course, so I thought. As we began to eat our scrumptious desserts, the waiter brought out another treat with a candle and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” written in chocolate on the plate. My birthday dessert was creamy rice pudding, nothing like anyone’s mom ever made, bathed in a meyer lemon sauce. Rice pudding is one of my all time favorites and although I was coming close to bursting after this amazing meal, I had to polish off the last bite of my birthday ambrosia.

But we weren’t even close to complete. Next came, compliments of the chef, a strawberry parfait; fresh berries and strawberry granite, layered with white chocolate mousse. It was irresistible, even after all the preceding extravagance and we continued to indulge right through the petit fours which included crisp brandy lace cookies, sesame caramels, pistachio macaroon, bittersweet chocolate tartlet, linzer shortbread tartlet, chocolate truffle and finally one thing I could pass on: a jelly square!

It was time to roll on out of our blissful gourmet retreat and as we bid a sad farewell to this opulent den of foodie bliss (surreptitiously loosening our belts before hitting the street) they handed us our final parting gift: a beautifully wrapped lemon teacake from the Bouley bakery. I suspected I wouldn’t be eating it any time soon, but knew that when I did it would be as delicious as everything else this fabulous restaurant had served.

Our stomachs filled to the bursting point, we decided to walk some of the calories off and headed uptown, enjoying the sights of such a vibrant and multifaceted city. After the doldrums of Hartford, New York City is like manna to the starving soul and we drank in the place with every step.

After twenty blocks or so, we decided to hop the metro back to the hotel to rest for bit before we headed out to the lights of Broadway. We managed to navigate the New York subway system fairly well for a couple of out of towners and enjoyed coming up to the street level right in the middle of Times Square. From there it was a few short blocks to The Muse and the haven of our home for the weekend.

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Old Jun 20th, 2006, 10:13 AM
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After a quick rest and change of clothes, we decided to leave a little early and explore the neighborhood of our theater, the Eugene O’Neill. Although we were still full from lunch, we knew that by the time our show let out, we would be wanting something to eat so we thought we’d see what was available for after theater noshing. We strolled, looking at menus and contemplating whether we’d be in the mood for a slice of classic New York pizza, good Jewish deli food, or trendy American bistro fare. We stopped outside an unassuming little place called Pigalle and checked out the menu which was classic French brasserie food and we agreed this looked like good candidate if we were really hungry after the show. It was right around the corner from our theater and the menu had a good assortment of choices and seemed like a place where we could order only appetizers if we just wanted a snack. That settled, we headed to our theater and into the unknown adventure of Sweeney Todd.

As we were seated we realized just how great our seats were and I felt the excitement rising as the lights dimmed and the spectacle began. And spectacle it was! Each character in the show played a musical instrument, live onstage accompanying themselves and each other throughout. The lyrics were so incredibly clever and complicated it took great concentration to catch all the twists and turns and to fully follow the plot. Paul was so taken by the music he was a little lost at times with the story but I was able to fill him in as it went along. I did feel a little sad that he was missing some of the amazing lyrical gymnastics that Sondheim had created but I knew how much he was appreciating the music. It was haunting and jaunty and romantic and frantic in turn and the story a tragedy that was incredibly comedic in its presentation. In short, we both loved it.

When the play let out we sped over to Pigalle, expecting to have to wait for a table, but miraculously were seated immediately. Within moments, there was a crowd in the entryway, clamoring for tables, but we were comfortably ensconced at one of the best locations in the place. Glancing around, we realized that at the table directly behind Paul and in my full view sat Oliver Platt and then one table over from us we saw a group of 6 well known TV actors, one from Desperate Housewives (not one of the wives), one from a long running sitcom called Just Shoot Me, and another from Law and Order, as well as 2 people we recognized but could not place exactly from where. How fun to be rubbing shoulders with the stars! And, of course, since these folks must know where to eat, we realized then that we had stumbled onto a really good restaurant totally by chance! And we were right. We were joyfully reminded of our experience at Balthazar’s last year where we met Brooke Shields (actually had dinner conversation with her!) and had a fabulous French brasserie meal.

The food at Pigalle was fabulous. We shared escargot, each of the six little pots filled with a huge tender snail and chopped parsley, swimming in garlic butter and served with a huge basket of crusty French bread, unlike anything we can ever find in Hartford. We mopped up every drop! We also shared an incredible onion tart; caramelized onions in a house made puff pastry tart shell with cream poured over and baked. A Caesar salad with anchovies rounded out the meal and we finished by sharing one of the best crème brulees ever. Our waiter was a charming young Frenchman who really made us feel welcomed and at home and we lingered over coffee without feeling rushed at all, even though there were still hoards of people waiting for tables when we left at 12:30 or so. Once again bursting at the seams, we walked the six blocks back to our hotel and brought our first day in New York City to a happy, calorie laden end.

Saturday morning we headed into the diamond district to have for ourselves what I had read was a not to be missed New York experience. Our mission was to gather some information about the diamond Paul had given me for an engagement ring (his grandmother's ring, a huge, ugly thing) and to look at all the jewelry offered. I had done my homework and had learned that the diamond district in recent years has become quite overrun with disreputable dealers and that while there are great deals to be had; unless you really know what you’re doing it is easy to get ripped off. Mostly the lesson to learn before you go is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The diamond district on 47th is a world unto itself, a solid big block of shop after shop of jewelry dealers, many of them employing someone to hawk their wares on the sidewalk frantically trying to draw you into their store. Each shop has its gimmick and it’s impossible to tell the shysters from the experts. We ventured into three different stores, avoiding like the plague those establishments with hucksters outside trying to rope us in. Each of the places we visited was a different little universe, the first with a friendly older Jewish man who, when he found out I was a therapist, told us how he lost his wife of 54 years and has been unable to find any real meaning since then. We heard about their devotion to each other and how in all those years, not a week went by that he didn’t bring her flowers. “The secret to our long happy marriage was that we each gave 100% and expected 0%” he said. This sage advice was interspersed with advice about our ring (he valued it around $4,000 but said that no one would ever buy it for close to that much because the diamond itself has many large occlusions and the setting is so old fashioned) and a gentle attempt to sell us a lovely 1.4 carat diamond that sparkled beautifully and cost $5,500!

We moved on to another den of sparkle where we met Hershel, an Israeli man who described how much the diamond district had changed since he first started working here in 25 years ago. He then explained how people from the Middle East are the most honest in the world because their culture has such a strong mandate against stealing. He reminded us that in Arab countries, to get caught stealing often means death or perhaps the severing of a limb. He also told us our ring was only really worth about $1500 but would be valued higher for insurance purposes and also pointed out the many imperfections in the diamond and the areas of damage in the setting. He told us that the small rose cut diamonds surrounding the stone would likely begin to fall out (a few are already missing) if the ring was worn regularly and suggested we might want to have some restoration done to it at some time in the future. Hershel told us that when he came to America, where it is “practically legal to steal,” although he knows he can get away with it, his conscience won’t allow it. He told us this with such fervor and sincerity, we wanted to believe in him as he showed us his beautiful diamonds without trying to pressure us to buy something. I had to wonder though: with all that honesty, how could he make a living in the diamond district!

The last shop we entered afforded us an experience we’ll remember for all of time. This store was like a huge emporium of diamonds with 20 separate counters each manned with a hungry salesman. After a pleasant exchange with salesman number one, (who told us a similar tale about our ring not really being worth much due to the poor quality of the diamond) he asked if he could show it to the owner for a second opinion. This is where the adventure began. The owner was like a used car salesman of the worst sort. He began by showing us an incredibly sparkling diamond that appeared to be of amazing brilliance and telling us that I deserved to have something of quality that was modern and the right size for my hand. He said that he would take our ring, which was worth next to nothing to him, and for an extra $4000 we could walk away with that ring which had a price tag of $11,000. Of course I had to question his opinion that our ring was so worthless if he was willing to value it so highly in the trade. “Well, young lady,” he said,(I'm pushing 50!) “I just got in and I’m not thinking straight yet. It’s an amazing deal and only offered for right this minute.” Of course I said that I wasn’t willing to give up my ring which was a family heirloom. “Well then, why did you show it to me?” he asked. I told him we were just gathering information which is what smart people do, since supposedly the diamond district is filled with people who really know diamonds. He then said “Well I don’t want your ring. It’s really pretty worthless for resale as is and if I re-cut the stone to try to get rid of the inclusions I would likely shatter the whole diamond or end up with a quarter carat! But I’ll tell you what…you like that gorgeous ring on your finger?” (I was still wearing the beautiful sparkler he had shown us)” It’s yours for $5,500. That’s a steal.” If the ring were really worth the $11,000 price tag it would be a steal but I remembered the adage: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. By the end of another 10 minutes or so, he was offering us the ring for $3,500, telling us, of course, that the deal was only for right now. If we walked away he wouldn’t offer that price if we came back later and we’d be crazy not to take it since he would hardly “make lunch money on the deal!” What he didn’t realize is that I never respond well to pressure and I’m too smart to think a salesman will sell something and not make a serious profit. The diamond was so sparkly and perfect I started to doubt it was even a real diamond and even if it were, we were not planning on spending thousands of dollars on a new piece of jewelry for me. We made our getaway with the salesman still talking at us about how we’d be nuts to pass up such a bargain. Phew! I’m glad we weren’t really in the market for anything! Perhaps we did pass up the bargain of a lifetime but I realized that one would have to really know something about diamonds to feel sure enough to buy something in the diamond district of today.

Because we had eaten dinner so late the night before, we had skipped breakfast but by the time we completed our adventure on 47th street we were feeling our bellies grumble and decided to head down to SoHo to seek food and to check out the artsy galleries and upscale shops that the area is famous for. We needed to time our food just right for maximum hunger at the right times so we decided we’d look for a really good bakery and have a bread and pastry lunch to hold us over until a snack in the very early evening and then our dinner resrvation at 9:15. I remembered that our beloved Balthazar’s had a bakery next to the restaurant and I knew it was located on Spring Street, right in the district we wanted to be in, so we jumped on the metro and headed downtown. We quickly located the bakery and were dismayed to find a line out the door to purchase the delicious treats that they had baked fresh that morning. Paul suggested we see if we could sit in the restaurant and I scoffed at the idea that we could be seated anytime soon but we decided to try. There was quite a crowd packed just inside the door and the place was buzzing with activity and seemingly every empty space was filled with a stylish young person. I squeezed my way through to the woman taking names for the waiting list and asked, “How long a wait for a table for two?” “I have something right now!” she said and led us to the one open table, close to the window along the edge of the noisy room, affording us an amazing view of the whole crowded restaurant and all the delicious looking food going by. I have no idea why we were seated before all those people who were packed into the doorway as well as everyone on the long list of names the hostess had on the paper in front of her, but as they say, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” so we didn’t and simply enjoyed our amazing good fortune and totally decadent 2:00 PM brunch.

We ordered two things off the brunch menu and shared them along with a basket of the most heavenly chewy bread and continuous refills of hot dark decafe coffee. Paul ordered a hazelnut waffle with crème fresh and berry coulis. The waffle was crispy on the outside but tender within, full of nutty flavor and the crème fresh and raspberry, blueberry and lingonberry coulis were the perfect balance of sweet and sour to accompany the waffle so we passed on the real maple syrup they served on the side. I ordered eggs scrambled with portabella mushrooms and asparagus served in puff pastry. The eggs were creamy and delicious with the vegetables perfectly done and full of flavor. The puff pastry was flaky and buttery and made a perfect marriage with the eggs. We “mmmm”ed our way through the entire meal, thoroughly enjoying the whole scene and the serendipity of the occasion.

The last drop of coffee imbibed, we headed out to stroll the avenues and window shop what we could never afford to actually buy. We wondered out loud how those stores that seem to have 4 items hanging from 3 racks with one pair of spiked heeled shoes on a table could ever stay in business. Their windows were incredibly artistic but with only three items for sale, what if someone came in to actually buy something but it wasn’t their size? Wandering in and out of galleries we saw some very ugly art and a few very lovely pieces and at one point, attempting to cross Broadway, we came upon a peace march with thousands of people carrying signs yelling, “What do we want? Peace NOW!” It was exciting to see so may people standing up for what they believed but I felt a pang of guilt that I was here on vacation, living the ultimate consumerist life; enjoying fine food and shopping ‘til dropping. The guilt didn’t last long though, and soon we were back to our mission of having a great time in the city and enjoying the crowds, the weather, and the culture that is special to New York City.

Late in the afternoon we headed back to our hotel for a quick change into elegant city swank clothes and then, due to sore feet, jumped in a cab to Columbus Circle. We had a reservation to see Joe Lavano and Hank Jones at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola club and the doors opened at 6:00PM for the 7:30 show. We were there at 5:55 and when the doors opened we were the first to be seated at the best table in the house, right up front with a fabulous view of the city skyline and both musicians. We knew that we had reservations for one of the most sought after restaurants in New York for later that night, so we carefully considered what to order to fulfill our $10 per person minimum at Dizzy’s. We decided on a big bottle of sparkling water for me, a glass of red wine for Paul and shrimp cocktail with coconut lime cocktail sauce. We nursed our drinks throughout the show and left the waitress a really big tip, feeling bad that we ordered so little, but we were saving room for the big meal to come.

The music was such a treat and the atmosphere at Dizzy’s a delight. Hank Jones, though well into his 80’s, played with such joy and passion, a big smile often appearing on his face when he particularly liked what was happening musically. Joe Lavano, while obviously amazingly talented, had a style that neither Paul nor I loved; very breathy and busy although clearly quite complex. I really enjoyed their repertoire, which was apparently primarily obscure tunes by little known artists, but Paul said he would have preferred them to play more standards since he enjoys hearing music he recognizes and seeing what other musicians do with the harmonies (he is a professional musician.) Even so, he enjoyed Hank Jones tremendously and we left feeling uplifted and filled with good music, looking forward to another amazing meal at another top New York Restaurant.

Dinner Saturday night was at Jean George, a restaurant that in order to get a reservation you must call exactly at 9:00AM one month to the day before you hope to go. Even then, many hopefuls don’t get in as the restaurant just received four stars from the New York Times food critic for the second time and it only has about 20 tables. We were able to get a reservation for 9:15, ideal for after the set at Dizzy’s that ended at 8:30. We simply strolled across Columbus Circle to the International Trump Towers and were in the restaurant at 9:00PM. Miraculously, our table was ready and we were seated without a wait.

The inside of Jean George is very stark New York style, posh in a minimalist way, decorated in tones of ocher and slate gray with very comfortable chairs and plain white china. Each table had a bouquet of fresh roses in pink and red and the wait staff was very friendly and highly professional. The idea of eating in such a revered culinary establishment was so exciting to us both as we looked forward to experiencing food the likes of which we had never tasted before. In this respect we were not disappointed. Every morsel took the palate by surprise, shocking the system as flavors that one would never imagine combining exploded in the mouth. The only truly comfortable old friend was the crusty sourdough French bread that was served as soon as we were seated. One of the best of it’s kind, it became a respite of the familiar on this culinary adventure we soon embarked upon.

Chef Jean George clearly has a preference for “tastings” and much of the menu consisted of small servings of a variety of flavors on one plate. We could choose from a four course tasting menu ($95) with numerous choices available for each course, or one of two chef’s tastings ($125) which each offered 9 tastings of chef selected delicacies. We opted for the four course dinner preferring to have choices as opposed to having the chef dictate our entire meal.

To begin, we were served an amuse bouche that, true to the chef’s form, had three separate parts. First was tiny spoon filled with roasted fava beans, nutty and grainy, dry yet moist as only fava beans can be. Next was a tiny square of toasted brioche topped with a peeky-toe crab salad. The final piece was the precursor to what I would soon discover was this chef’s signature flavor: piquant. It was a tiny cup of cream of white asparagus soup and floating at the bottom was a puddle of real balsamic vinegar. The smooth delicate asparagus flavor mixed with the shocking piquancy of the intense vinegar and brought tears to my eyes. I adjusted to the surprise and discovered how delicious it was just as I was swallowing the last drop.

Our first course soon arrived and I was treated to one of the most scrumptious things I have ever eaten, though once again, a combination of flavors one would never expect. Foie gras brulee, with pistachios, dried cherries and wine gelee! The dish began with a three inch round of toasted brioche topped with a matching sized disc of the smoothest duck liver pate which had a thin layer of bruleed sugar on the top. It was then covered with dried cherries and pistachios, all set on a bed of white wine and duck stock gelee. Each bite was a carnival of consistencies and flavors with the smooth richness of the pate, the sharp crunchy sweetness of the brulee, the nutty crunch of pistachios, and the chewy tartness of the dried cherries. The jelly like wine flavor of the gelee rounded the course out to complete the dish in amazing style. Truly worthy of four stars!

Paul’s first course was equally brilliant and just as surprising in its debut on the palate. Sashimi trout with trout eggs and lemon foam was a shallow bowl with strips of raw trout mixed with trout roe and swimming in a sea of pale yellow frothy foam topped with crunchy bits of fried trout skin. With each bite, a seemingly unbearable tartness explodes in the mouth but as you chew the flavor of the trout emerges from behind the lemon, fresh as a babbling brook and the crunch of the skin and popping of roe between the teeth adds to the intense pleasure of this dish. Truly remarkable.

That first course was a hard act to follow but this was truly ambitious food and the second course tried to take the lead and mine came in close but Paul’s was a little too hard to swallow for me. He ordered sautéed foie gras with green apple cracklings and foam made from some Asian herb that was unpronounceable. The brown frothy stuff was bitter past my tongue’s tolerance, ruining for me the silkiness of the liver but Paul (being a much bigger fan of bitter flavors than I) seemed to enjoy it although he did say he wouldn’t order it again.

My second course was described as fresh green pea soup, a name which didn’t come close to doing justice to what was placed before me. A deep bowl contained a few fresh green peas, chunks of crispy lardon, a wide squiggle of seasoned carrot puree and a few chinks of brie cheese. Our waitress then poured over the mélange a small pitcher full of steaming velvet smooth puree of fresh pea soup. The heat of the thick broth melted the brie and each spoonful of this fresh ambrosia was like a taste of spring.

Main courses came next and here the chef’s leaning towards pucker-powered food truly emerged. I ordered lobster with ramps ravioli (a particular type of green onion) dressed in warm vinaigrette. Two whole claws and an entire split tail were layered in a wide rimmed gleaming white bowl with four fresh made ravioli, filled with the dark green ramps. The entire dish was bathed in a vinegar sauce that shocked and puckered with each bite, and while the lobster flavor came through with briny and rich satisfaction, my mouth craved a mellower napping of hollandaise or tarragon butter sauce.

Paul’s main course was black sea bass, a good size fillet encrusted with various seeds and nuts, sautéed until crisp and brown and swimming with pearl onions, red peppers mushrooms and a few fava beans in a peppery broth of fine fish stock and assorted mouth puckering citrus and vinegar flavors. Again, the nutty bass flavor emerged strongly after the shock of the tart broth and the crunch of the seeds added a fabulous texture to the dish but these were flavor combinations we just weren’t used to and I again found myself longing for the more classic French butter and cream laden sauces.

Dessert followed the form of tastings with choices from one of four categories: chocolate, exotic fruit, rhubarb, or citrus. After examining the choices we both went with chocolate and were each presented with a large square plate divided into four sections each containing a fanciful chocolate inspired dessert. As with dinner, most of it was not what you would expect, but fascinating to experience these artfully designed unusual combinations of flavors.

One quadrant of the plate held a small cup of chocolate granite layered with dark chocolate mousse and topped with a bittersweet hard chocolate disk flavored with cardamom. The bitter almost outweighed the sweet, but not quite.

The next quadrant contained a shallow bowl of white chocolate custard flavored with a hint of lavender and topped with a froth of uzu mint foam. Uzu is an extremely tart Japanese citrus fruit, once again showing the chef’s delight in insanely tart flavors. It was a nice compliment to the almost cloyingly sweet white chocolate custard and was served with a tiny lavender infused shortbread cookie.

The next corner of the plate held the most recognizable of the treats and the most delicious; a tiny molten chocolate cake with a gooey center of the best quality chocolate and a small scoop of rich vanilla ice cream. We greeted this like an old friend and happily inhaled every crumb.

The last quadrant held the most bizarre of the desserts, a layered chocolate and peanut butter confection with a tiny scoop of peanut butter ice cream. What sounds like it should be delicious, reminiscent of a Reese’s peanut butter cup, turned out to be salty and strange with not a hint of sweetness to be found. Fortunately, we were stuffed to the gills at this point and had no trouble leaving it on the plate while we relaxed and enjoyed the delicious decafe and the ambiance of one of the world’s most highly rated restaurants.

True to form, the petit fours offered with the check were unlike any we’d ever seen before. Our waitress wheeled up a cart that we had noticed earlier with a large, covered glass urn containing multi colored stripes of a mysterious concoction. We were then told it was house made marshmallows, coffee, vanilla and orange flavored, which were served along with licorice flavored chocolates, tiny green and orange meringues, and fruit flavored jelly squares. We tried a few nibbles of these strange gelatinous sweets, but passed on most of it.

One thing about this food was that we tasted it long after each bite was swallowed. The tart peppery sauces lingered on the tongue and continued to work their magic even after the plates were taken away. With all the great restaurants in the city, New Yorkers must get jaded by all the fine food and Jean George offers memorable meals unlike any other place around. I understood why this restaurant had received so many stars over and over again even though we knew that we wouldn’t choose to dine here again.

It was fabulous to step out of the opulent Trump Towers into Columbus Circle at midnight and find the street bustling with people, and although it was chilly, we decided to walk the twenty or so blocks back to our hotel. After so many decadent meals the walk felt fine and when we finally made it to our room, we fell gratefully into bed and slept the sleep of the dead.

Sunday morning we awoke and decided to spend the day in and around Central park, even though it would mean paying for another 24 hours if parking. We packed up and checked out, putting our luggage in the hotel’s storage room to be retrieved later with our car. We decided to take the metro uptown and try to find a good bakery to have a picnic in the park.

Central Park is huge, spanning many blocks, so we randomly picked 77th street to get off the metro and lo and behold, right there on the corner we found the most fabulous bakery! We bought croissants and coconut custard tart and headed to the park for a wonderful day. The weather was perfect, 70 degrees in the sun and cool in the shade. The trees were all in bloom and the park was packed with people.

There is no place in the world like Central park in the spring! We sat by a small pond and ate our bakery treats and chatted pleasantly with an older couple who live in the city and were enjoying a Sunday morning in the park and then set off for a meander through the rambles and over to the west side. We took a hiatus on a rolling expanse of green grass and soaked up the sun for a while and then made our way out of the park into the upper west side. As was the case all weekend, we serendipitously found ourselves in the most perfect place: a high quality sidewalk craft fair selling beautiful handmade clothing, visual art and jewelry. We thoroughly enjoyed looking at the beautiful items and all the fascinating people but the New York prices inhibited us from buying anything.

As we strolled down Columbus Boulevard we enjoyed looking at all the restaurants and reading the menus in the windows and had to stop at at a small establishment where we spotted through the window the most amazing looking fries. Although we were more than satisfied from our fine bakery brunch, we had to eat those French fries so we sat at the bar happily scarfing them down. All of the food looked delicious and we took their card, vowing to return here for a meal next time we were in town.

Finally exhausted, we decided to take the metro back to the hotel and head out of the city and back home. By the time we got back and our car was retrieved from the parking garage we were ready to go but wondering what we would do for dinner back in East Hartford, knowing we'd be hungry later but coming home to bare cupboards. Paul suggested we drive around for a bit and look for something appealing to take home but I was opposed to doing any more in city driving than necessary and didn't want to try to park so said that I'd make scrambled eggs or we could go out for Chinese and he agreed.

We should not have been surprised that as we were on a little residential cross street that led to the expressway out of Manhattan we spotted an unassuming little bakery and decided to pull over. here was no traffic on the street and I expected the bakery would be closed on a late Sunday afternoon, but we were overjoyed to discover that not only was it open that it had an array of fabulous looking things to choose from, perfect for dinner for later that night. We purchased thin slices of potato and rosemary and also zucchini, onion, and romano foccaccia as well as a chocolate croissant and a chocolate fudge cake brownie. Later that evening, after the uneventful ride home, we thoroughly enjoyed this last taste of New York, snuggled comfortably in our own bed watching West Wing!

So that's my trip report! Sorry it's so long but the weekend was so filled with so many marvelous experiences I had to record them in detail. I hope you enjoyed reading it! I'd love your comments.
plafield is offline  
Old Jun 20th, 2006, 10:55 AM
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Wow -- thanks for the great trip report. I'm stuffed just reading it!!

We also loved Sweeney Todd. Glad you got to see it.
lisettemac is offline  
Old Jun 20th, 2006, 11:37 AM
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Wow, that was quite a report. Glad you had a good time in our city. I'm surprised that living 2 only hours away, you are not a more frequent visitor, especially since you seem to enjoy all the good things New York has to offer.

RE: the diamond district. I am amazed to hear that any booth was open on a Saturday. And if you want to purchase something, you need to be referred by someone who personally knows the dealer.
Old Jun 20th, 2006, 12:03 PM
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Bouley, Jean Georges, Balthazar, Pigalle ... you guys sure know how to dine good!!! New York style !
bill_boy is offline  
Old Jun 20th, 2006, 12:45 PM
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Super report - thanks for the details!
grantop is offline  
Old Jun 20th, 2006, 01:20 PM
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As a New Yorker, hope that you don't wait another 25 years to visit! Happy you had such a great time
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Old Jun 20th, 2006, 01:29 PM
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What a great report; my favorite in a long time. Thanks so much.
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Old Jun 20th, 2006, 03:08 PM
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Old Jun 20th, 2006, 06:48 PM
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Glad folks are enjoying this very long report. We definitely won't wait long to visit again. We've already decided it'll be a yearly spring venture. Next time we hope to eat at Per Se!
plafield is offline  
Old Jun 21st, 2006, 03:23 AM
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I really enjoyed reading your detailed report. Thanks! Wow to the desserts at your birthday lunch. Just WOW!
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Old Jun 21st, 2006, 08:19 PM
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Magnificent report!

Amazing that you enjoyed Pigalle just as well as the pricier French restaurants.

You may want to consider Chez Josephine. We love that place. And, Jean-Claude is threatening to retire.
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