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Three of New York’s hottest restaurants right now offer sublime, inventive dishes – and a taste of culinary theatre

The city may never sleep, but it certainly can eat. We ventured to The Pool, Eleven Madison Park and The Aviary to get a taste of the fine-dining life – and they did not disappoint

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 10:30pm

When I die, I could think of worse ways to be sent off than with a wake for hundreds of friends at The Grill, New York’s hottest restaurant.

Located in the venerable Seagram Building on Park Avenue, the new spot from the Major Food Group (owner of restaurants including Carbone, which has a partner restaurant in Hong Kong) occupies the space of the former Four Seasons restaurant, a temple to modernist dining and an institution beloved like few others in the city since it opened in 1959.

Unfortunately, the day I visited The Grill – The New York Times’ top restaurant of 2017 – it was closed due to the aforementioned wake, the champagne flowing and the laughter raucous. But there was no begrudging the dearly departed, as two other exceptional restaurants were on offer in the same building, namely The Pool and The Lobster Bar. Together the three venues (which all share the same entrance) define see-and-be-seen dining in New York.

Unsurprisingly, The Pool is seafood-focused, the pool in question bubbling away in the middle of the room like a culinary jacuzzi under an enormous installation by artist Alexander Calder. It’s hard to imagine a more elegant, expensive dining room – one that makes a serious statement about its diners and their wallets.

There are the original shimmering bead curtains from the 1950s, the soaring ceilings, super-plush furnishings and one of the world’s largest collections of Chateau d’Yquem – the hugely coveted sweet wine from Bordeaux, including a priceless bottle from 1811.

While that is all lovely, the food is why you come.

To start, purple sprouting basil in a sour apple cocktail gave this drinker an eyeful of leaves on every sip, but negotiating the garnish was well worth it for the rye and Calvados underneath. Next, a home-made baguette that was warm and soft was happy paired with a salmon tartare butter topped with a little tarragon.

The Santa Barbara sea urchin, apple and spicy mustard was served with two small pieces of toast; the uni was sweeter than the Hokkaido version often enjoyed in Hong Kong. They were two tasty bites, but at US$24, they needed to be.

Their scampi ravioli dish reminded me how Dublin Bay Prawns have had some pretty poor PR over the years. When I was a kid, they were breaded and deep fried within an inch of their life, before being served in a basket – always in a basket.

In New York, they were the filling to perfect little pasta pillows, served in a cream sauce that was cut through by dots of San Marzano tomato, pepper and Calabrian chilli. It was a cracking little dish.

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Three generous medallions of monkfish, from Block Island off Rhode Island, came in an “ocean emulsion” which lived up to its maritime name by unfortunately being pretty salty. Salvation came in the sensational duck fat potatoes, even if the US$15 price tag made me do a double take, as prices for sides weren’t listed on the menu.

The final hurrah was a chocolate custard with tonka bean and cupuaçu(the fruit of a tropical rainforest tree, similar to cacao, with notes of banana), crafted into a smooth dome beloved of patisserie chefs, here the talented Stephanie Prida.

Our next stop in New York is not strictly new. In fact there’s no better restaurant on the planet, at least if the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list is to be believed. Eleven Madison Park did, however, close for renovations and only reopened in October 2017.

The art deco MetLife Building couldn’t be changed, but chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara were able to add their own unique touches to the interior.

There are just 80 covers in a stunning, voluminous room, while a sneak peek in the kitchen showed an incredible space, the largest I’ve come across in a stand-alone restaurant, with more than 40 staff working away.

The dining room tasting menu is a whopping US$315 per person for eight to 10 courses – a total that includes service, but not drinks. In return, diners get plates of incredible beauty and impact, along with some serious culinary theatre.

There were a number of highlights, many of which reference American classics. The black and white cookie – a New York favourite – was actually savoury, crafted with Cheddar cheese and apple, and presented wrapped in a box and tied with string.

Their take on eggs Benedict included tiny pieces of smoked ham, a perfect hollandaise sauce, and a spoonful of caviar, served alongside four dainty buns, ready for your own crafting. One of the most stunning dishes was the Hudson Valley foie gras with squash and a creamy dome covered in perfectly placed pumpkin seeds, making it look like an armadillo.

The impressive sommelier – part of a flawless service team – performed some culinary magic with a centuries-old technique to open a wine bottle. He heated port tongs on an open flame until they were red hot, then he clamped around the neck of the bottle before finally the entire top came away in one piece.

Venison en croute with foie gras was a breathtaking construction, especially with the ruby red jus. Surprisingly, desserts didn’t carry quite the same wow factor as the previous courses – but then again, the bar had been set seriously high.

Finally, The Aviary is home to the first New York outpost of Grant Achatz, the hugely talented chef known for his work at the three Michelin-star Alinea in Chicago.

This is arguably more bar than restaurant, but diners are still promised an “interactive food journey”. Once the view over Central Park has stopped you in your tracks – The Aviary is at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Centre – be ready to be blown away by the drinks and small plates on offer.

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The open kitchen looks more like a laboratory, and the first dish that emerges from it is an absolutely enormous shard of crispy, translucent pork skin flavoured with salt and vinegar. It’s possibly the greatest snack imaginable, especially when it serves as the vehicle for a creamy spiced corn dip.

The A5 Miyazaki Wagyu with the flavour bomb of yuzu-kosho mustard was a winner with impeccable ingredients. The “black truffle Parmesan explosion” tasted as good as it sounds – but the raviolo was gone all too soon.

Of course the cocktails are the biggest draw. Basketball fans will know why “Boom goes the dynamite” is so named, melding as it does molasses, vanilla rooibos tea, two rums and something called maguey sap (a Mexican maple syrup) to great theatrical effect with dry ice.

Other drink names intrigued further, such as “How does Snoop Dogg use lemongrass?” and the pun-tastic “Cloche encounters of the 46 kind”.

The Pool, The Seagram Building, 99 East 52nd Street, New York, NY, 10022, tel: 212 375 9001. Credit cards

Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10010, tel: 212 889 0905.

The Aviary, Mandarin Oriental New York, 80 Columbus Circle, New York, NY, 10023, tel: 212 805 8800.