Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dinner | SHO Shaun Hergatt

So I wanted to choose my birthday dinner this year, and after narrowing the list down, I finally decided on going to SHO Shaun Hergatt, located at The Setai New York of downtown Manhattan, to celebrate. A little bonus is that SHO is a participating restaurant on, which offers 30% off the entire meal if your reservation is booked through its reservation service. From strong recommendations from Lisa, Alice, and some Chowhounders, SHO was definitely the spot I was looking for a food-focused dining experience. Having been to Ai Fiori, the main restaurant of The Setai Fifth Avenue (its midtown location), I knew I'd be in for a highly aesthetic ambiance and décor as well.

Chef Shaun Hergatt, originally from Australia, began his career as the chef de cuisine of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, and during his stint there, the restaurant was named "Top 5 Up-and-Coming Restaurants in the World by Condé Nast Traveler. Later, he came to the U.S. where he worked as the executive sous chef of Atelier, the now-shuttered Ritz-Carlton Central Park restaurant, in 2003 and as the executive chef at The Setai in Miami in 2005. Four years later, Chef Hergatt returned to New York City to open his eponymous restaurant, SHO Shaun Hergatt, where the menu draws its influences from modern French cuisine with "Asian accents."

Very "zen-inspired" décor of SHO's dining room. I love how the reds and organic woods playoff each other.

Menu at SHO.

We started with three amuse-bouche along with freshly baked bread and flavored butters.
{1} coconut cream with carrot paper: The coconut cream had a tapioca-like texture, followed by a thin, earthy crunch from the carrot paper.
{2} squid ink-colored potato balls stuffed with foie gras: There were warm and super savory.
{3} mushroom espuma (Spanish for "foam") with espresso powder: This was very custardy with a strong flavor of mushrooms and a hint of lingering espresso. Loved this!
{4} country white bread with {5} truffle butter, French butter, and sage butter: The bread had a soft middle and a loose and crusty exterior. The butter was incredibly soft, considering they were served in the shape of logs, which made for easy spreading on the slices of bread. The truffle butter was my favorite, primarily because it, one, had truffles, and two, was the most fragrant and flavorful.

The first course was the "cool appetizer" within the scheme of our five-course dinner.
{1} Marcus's first course -- salt-pressed Petuna ocean trout with compressed nashi pear (aka Asian pear): This reminded us of a course (i.e., Atlantic halibut and green curry ceviche) we had at the JBF LTD dinner we attended last year with Chef Laurent Gras as the featured chef. Only differential here was that this course at SHO had citrusy highlights and the soft texture of pear. Marcus and I both really liked this as it was very refreshing.
{2} my first course -- Hudson Valley foie gras with duck skin tuiles and three flavors of apple: The foie gras terrine had a nice flavor to it, especially when eaten with , though it was a bit oversalted for my liking -- this saltiness was hard to take in, especially when there was no brioche to eat with it. What I did like, however, were the duck skin tuiles (tuiles are in actuality a pastry term for thin curved cookies, typically made with almonds) that topped the terrines, which added a crisp and fatty (in the way bacon is) layer of greatness to the already juicy and smooth textures.

The second course, to counter the first, was the "warm appetizer" for the night.
{1} Marcus's second course -- housemade polenta-filled agnolotti with grana padano (a hard Italian cheese) and brown bread granola: These were circular pillows of creamy and chunky meatiness (but without the meat!). An absolute delight, it was one of our favorite courses.
{2} my second course -- slow poached Knoll Krest egg with crunchy black rice: Don't get me wrong -- the egg was delicately poached to the ideal runnyness of yolk, and the crunchy black rice was a nice way of sweeping up that concentrated sunshiny syrup gradually without being overpowered by egg. What really upset me was that the menu (see above) described this course with an additional ingredient: Santa Barbara sea urchin. It was the entire reason (well, most of the reason -- gotta love me poached eggs, too) I wanted this course. You tell me there's sea urchin/uni in a dish, and I'm there. With that being said, when I inadvertently said "sea urchin" when I was running through my choices for each of the five courses with our captain, he looked at me as if he had no idea what I was referring to. I responded by saying that one of the second course options had sea urchin as an ingredient and that I would like to order that. He then said something along the lines of, "Oh, he said you mean the
egg course? That has a poached egg and crunchy black rice. There is no sea urchin." I proceeded to point out where I saw the item with said sea urchin to him on the menu, and he still insisted that I was wrong. I was frustrated beyond belief, but I didn't want to argue anymore -- there was nothing more I could do. His heavy accent and my "delusions" were not on the same page. When you say there is going to be sea urchin, there better be some gosh darn sea urchin! You do not play games or joke when it comes to sea urchin -- it is serious business, especially for those who are enthralled by it.

Next came the "fish course" -- one of two main courses.
{1} my third course -- East Coast flounder with langoustine and black truffle cauliflower purée: I was enticed so much by the black truffle cauliflower purée that I decided to order the flounder. The sauce was well done, and the purée was great. While the flouder broke apart really easily and became creamy with the accompanying sauces, it tasted like mediocre hotel catering. I thought the langoustine would salvaged the dish a bit, but alas, the langoustine was a little tough and let's face it -- the flounder was just not very good.
{2} Marcus's fourth course -- Nova Scotia lobster with coconut cream rice balls and coconut curry: Marcus really enjoyed this dish. The drops of coconut curry around the circumference of the plate was done by one of the waiters -- in a very precise yet artsy. The lobster was cooked perfectly, just to opaque. The coconut curry was too strong in South Asian flavors for me, losing the lobster's natural flavors and everything. Beautiful presentation, nonetheless.

{1} my fourth course -- three-day red wine braised beef cheek with black trumpets and potato crisps: Out of all the courses I had, this was my favorite (which isn't saying a lot, as I felt the courses I had were unimpressive). Braised in red wine for three days, the beef cheek was bursting with intensely dark, hearty flavors. The thinly sliced black trumpets perpetuated the overall earthiness in the dish's core. The potato crisps added a decorative and textural effect, complementing the softness with a bit of structural crunch. Just like the traditionally braised short rib, this was done very well.
{2} Marcus's fourth course -- Upstate New York guinea hen with caramelized salsify, quinoa, garlic cream, and rillette: The guinea hen was our mutual favorite, for it was unbelievably tender and moist. Upon cutting right into it, Marcus found it to be super soft and so very tasty. Never knew poultry could melt in your mouth like that -- defies culinary gravity for sure.

{1} my last course (dessert) -- caramélia custard with dehydrated chocolate sponge cake and crispy dark chocolate: The dehydrated sponge cake had an interesting texture to it -- airy yet exuding a soft, velvety flavor of chocolate. The custard, however, was way too sweet, making the enjoyment of this dessert rather muted. Another disappointment, sadly, despite the beautiful presentation.
{2} Marcus's last course (dessert) -- lemon meringue with fennel lemonade: Another delicious hit for both Marcus and myself which tasted like a gourmet lemonade slushie. Quite sour, but it was much to Marcus's liking, considering his sour-driven, citrus-inclined palate.

The five-course tasting concluded with three mignardises.
{1} This was some shortbread dipped in chocolate -- mostly a vague memory. Nothing too special.
{2} These were a delightful post-meal refreshment -- in summary, large homemade junior mints.
{3} Miniature cinnamon ginger doughnuts proved my love for all pastries covered in cinnamon sugar. Delectable and savory sweet in one bite.

Findings: Overall, I wasn't very impressed with our five-course prix fixe at SHO Shaun Hergatt. In all honesty, I think (1) I overhyped myself, (2) I got bad taste in my mouth from the getgo with the sea urchin incident that I previously mentioned, and (3) the courses, at least the ones I had were pretty disappointing. Marcus certainly ordered better than I did, and I have to admit that I am a bit upset with myself and kinda jealous that he was able to carve out a much better experience than me. The service was just okay -- it wasn't particularly welcoming nor was it at all conducive to a relaxed and enjoyable dinner. I can sense the talent hidden underneath Chef Shaun Hergatt's toque filled with enlightening culinary experience (e.g., with the flavors of guinea hen and the agnolotti as well as with the presentation of the foie gras and lobster), but for whatever reason, our meal wasn't very representative of such refinement. I was very letdown, especially since we were out celebrating my birthday with what I had hoped would be a spectacular meal. I'm blaming myself partially for this because I got so hung up on the menu mishap that I ruined the rest of my night. I probably should've been more aggressive in trying to understand our captain, but I was so beyond annoyed and frazzled that I just gave up. I need to not do that in the future. Damn you, sea urchin. Why do you have to be so mesmerizing, so much so that if I am promised to have you and later that promise is reneged, I turn into a crazy food fascist where nothing else matters? Ugh, I need to be more forgiving.

I think I would give SHO another chance during another season and probably during lunch -- I am not sure I can justify the $85-$100 prix fixe when a hit-or-miss game is involved. So lesson here? Just know what to order, and you will be okay. Oh, and don't let the sea urchin become a siren to your gastronomic ears. You will be very disappointed otherwise.

Price point: $100 for five-course prix fixe.

--February 25, 2012

SHO Shaun Hergatt
The Setai New York
40 Broad Street, Second Level
New York, NY 10004



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