November 27, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

Big Eats Begin

The $325 seasonal tasting at L’Atelier de Robuchon begins with caviar-topped salmon tartare.

          No point in fighting it, I decide. It’s the season of Big Eats and I’ve signed on. The warm-up for Thanksgiving began on Wednesday evening at L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon. I’d been indulged at a gratis counter tasting some weeks ago on a Friends & Family night. But now I’m returning with three friends prepared to pay $325 for the seasonal discovery menu. It’s a strikingly different experience.


Dig deep. The foie gras amuse is small but powerful.

          There are only a few steps to climb at the entrance, but I decide to take the strange little elevator that’s been screwed in alongside. Mario Wainer, recruited as host here from the doomed Le Cirque, spots me and races down to pilot the machine. His team consults on my elevation. One rides with me, one stands at the bottom, one waits at the top. I feel as if I’ve been exposed in the shower but, why be crochety? They’re just fussing because it’s in their genes.


The bacon studded pain d’epi is the star of the bountiful bread collection.

          This corner of 15th Street is suddenly gorgeous, boldly red and black with vegetables floating in jars, and where you might anticipate arrogance, the servers are surprisingly homey.


It’s not on the menu. It simply arrives at our table – a delicately-wrapped langoustine.

          I like that the house bubbles are Veuve Clicquot ($24 a glass) and not some anonymous prosecco to start. My pal Ryan selects a glorious $300 2011 Dominique Mugneret Echezeaux to follow. I’m reminded of the ‘60s in Burgundy when my then husband Don Forst was developing into the Grape Nut, and anyone could afford a top ranked Burgundy. His weakness was Richebourg. Today commanding a Burgundy with any age is an extravagant gesture and I’m impressed to be sitting with a man who is making it. The wine is round and fruity and just complicated enough to go with most everything.


Maine lobster is prepared in a ravigote of Malabar black pepper with sticks of bok choy.

           Our waitress sets a pair of red lacquer bread bowls on the table and a round of cultured butter. And then the amuse lands, a small version of the house’s signature foie gras royale, so rich that small seems big enough. Salmon tartare paved with caviar, shiso, and gold leaf anchored alongside a collection of toast thins and crisps is familiar too. The toss of foie gras curls, frisée and shaved Parmesan on discs of cooked artichoke still strikes me as an excessive hodgepodge, but I suspect foie gras hounds won’t object. In our savvy crowd, we all recognize the Bernardaud plates and my friend Lauren recalls what fun it was to have dinner on Bernardaud plates in Paris with Betsy Bernardaud. The raised bubble pattern reflects the light. It feels riche but not nouveau.


Instead of sea scallop in the shell we are served this small, tasteless little critter.

          A lone sea scallop cooked in seaweed butter at the bottom of a big bowl seems neglected. Perhaps langoustine wrapped in phyllo dough – not listed on the menu – is meant to make amends. Bits of Maine lobster in a black pepper ravigoté with a small stick of bok choy follow. And then a slightly too-cooked black bass in lemongrass with baby leeks and a trail of turmeric powder.


This boring little quail stuffed with foie gras (I asked for it rare not beige) comes with the chef’s potato purée.

The menu’s offered Wagyu ribeye pales next to this gift of fatty, caramelized top cap.

          Next one must choose: beef or bird? Neither the sliced Wagyu ribeye nor the beige foie gras-stuffed quail (though I ask for it rare) is as remarkable as the thrilling gift extra of caramelized top cap. Rum jelly with a mint sorbet (dubbed Le Mojito) is the palate-cleanser, followed by a dark and complex chocolate crémeux with Oreo cookie crumble. Of course, you can get rotisserie chicken and sandwiches in the Robuchon bar if you think a $325 supper is obscene. But if you’re toting a $1200 handbag (you will be given a small stool to park it on), you’ve already revealed a certain wanton style. I think you can go at least once without worrying about the tumbrils rolling out for you. 85 Tenth Avenue at the corner of 15th Street. 212 488 8885.


Thanksgiving Brunch at Per Se


Children rush to the window to see the parade at Per Se’s annual brunch. I’m in the kitchen.

          The terrible truth is I’m really not nuts about children. So mostly I stayed away from Thomas Keller’s annual brunch at Per Se with its windows on the Macy’s parade, a great annual treat for friends with sprouts. Then when I finally risked it, and discovered the delights of overindulgence at the buffet while eating with billionaires, celebrities, the chef’s cousins from Connecticut, and friends I haven’t seen since last week, I noticed that the children were too busy watching the parade and having their faces painted to annoy me.


As you enter Per See for Thanksgiving brunch, stop for baked goodies at the first table.

Well-behaved kiddies flock to the windows for Per Se’s fabulous view of the Macy’s parade.

          The baked temptations start as you enter at the blue door and head toward the dining room. Then comes everything chocolate. If you aren’t responsible for getting some child a spot at the window to wait for Snoopy, you can go right to the kitchen and see what the chefs are serving. Southern breakfast classics and battered eggs.  Outside at the dining room buffet, the ham is thickly sliced and Per Se’s mac’n’cheese is just like my mom Saralee’s, not drowning in too much cheese, but all about the pasta, crusty and sticking to the pan. I have three portions.


The Pikachu float wafts by surrounded by marching bands on the route downtown.

These are all Dana Stoddard’s photos, including this romantic view of Columbus in the middle of the circle.

          Thomas is standing outside as we leave. In self defense? Just for a breath of air? I cannot say. I thank him, accept the farewell gingerbread cake that comes with our coats. And even though I’ve made a point of not drinking anything more serious than orange juice, I need to go home and sleep it off.  Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle. 212 823 9335.


In a Family Way at Porter House


Here’s Hasty Torres showing off Pierre, a small Beau Brummel.

          In terms of calories (which I never think of for one moment at Per Se), I have committed considerable holiday excess before noon. But I know that by dinnertime, I want to sit with family and friends for a more traditional Thanksgiving. That does not mean thawing a bird myself. No. I’m hopelessly lazy. And I’m not a turkey fan. Even the dark meat is too monolithic and boring. That’s why it strikes me that Thanksgiving at Porter House will make me happy. Chef Michael Lomonaco’s $95 three-course prix fixe, with chili rubbed prime rib eye and filet mignon as options as well as salmon and Lancaster County turkey, sounds perfect.

Jacques Torres totes baby Pierre around the table to say hello to chef André Soltner.

          I ask Hasty and Jacques Torres if they’d like to join us, with baby Pierre of course, and bring André. Soltner. Hasty emailed her doubts. “Pierre sleeps at 8 pm and we’re MORTIFIED to test his reaction to interrupting his schedule. 1. With you. 2 At Porter House. 3. For Thanksgiving Dinner. 4 In a restaurant full of people.

I promised Hasty she could wheel Pierre’s stoller outside if he complained, but he preferred sitting at the table.  

          I remind her she will be inside the Time-Warner building if Pierre gets cranky and she needs to take him outside for a few moments to drug him or do whatever you do to make an infant happy. All dressed up for the party, Pierre is a formidable personality for someone who isn’t talking yet. He has no intention of lying down. Jacques contentedly totes him most of the night while Hasty eats her his chili-rubbed rib eye, leaving him to make do with the slightly dry turkey she’s ordered. The 2015 Braida Montebruna Jacques chooses turns out to be luscious and drinkable.


I brought Andre a photo of the two of us, very young, in the garden of Lutèce.

Porter House’s Thanksgiving menu offers jumbo lump crab cake with organic herbs and greens.

          Most of us start with crab cake or lobster bisque from the $95 prix fixe followed by the rib eye. The turkey come with a little popover of stuffing that is fluffy and elegant, not my stuffing fantasy, alas. Carrots, Brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes cover the table. The chef’s gift of white truffle risotto is very filling.


Most of us prefer chili-rubbed prime rib eye with tobacco onion crisps to the Lancaster turkey.

Chef Michael Lomanoco sends us a gift of risotto paved with fresh grated white truffle.

          There are sweet extras beside the holiday classics dessert tasting plate with Dutch apple pie, molten chocolate tart, and carrot cake. Gifts from the house – chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches, and pastry chef Wayne Brachman’s transcendent coconut cake. By that time baby Pierre has folded quietly.


The table is paved with the menu’s classic dessert tasting plus extras by pastry chef Wayne Brachman.

          It’s true the downside of eating Thanksgiving out is you don’t wake up to major leftovers in the fridge. But after risotto and starters none of us can polish off the steak. So we all take leftovers home plus a Torres gift bag of dark chocolate bark and Jacques’ signature bon bons. André confides that he eats chocolate five times a day. Could that be why he’s still skiing at 85, and never stops smiling? Time Warner Center 10 Columbus Circle 212 823 9500. 


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