November 8, 2004 | Ask Gael
With Rocco out, why go to Union Pacific?

    Rocco fans’ loss is catnip for devotees of Laurent Tourondel. BLT Steak’s master toque has moved his team into DiSpirito’s abandoned kitchen, which closes in late December to be exorcised for a new incarnation. 'Til then, he is rehearsing his menu for BLT Fish, opening on West 17th Street early next year. Union Pacific can be quiet now, even somber, as it was the night we dropped by, and packed one night later. But the staff does handstands to please us. And we can talk without shouting as we marvel at the buttery sweetness of plump scallops with bacon and parsley-root purée, and the bergamot-perfumed charred octopus and fennel on the $68 prix fixe. Two or three times a week, Tourondel takes the glass-wrapped stage, but mostly it’s up to executive chef Mathieu Palombino to turn out blackened wild salmon on tangerine-mustard-oil emulsion with a small cassolette of horseradish-chive mashed potatoes, and splendid lamb saddle (a little too gussied-up for me). I don’t get the tuna–foie-gras surf-and-turf, either, but Tourondel fans lap it up. The chocolate soufflé, with intense espresso-spiked cappuccino ice cream, and a gossamer buttermilk panna cotta with clementine sorbet stand out among pastry chef Nancy Olson’s desserts.

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