Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dinner | The Modern: Dining Room

Last month, Marcus took me out to dinner at The Dining Room at The Modern for my birthday, a spot that has been on my restaurant wishlist for the longest time. I had been to The Bar Room several times before but never to The Dining Room. I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to dine there, especially since it's right next door to the Museum of Modern Art, my favorite art museum in this vibrant city.

01 - restaurant
The art installation displayed next to the restaurant's entrance was the same as the one that was there when I was at The Modern last (back in April last year). This piece, Untitled (2012), was "inspired by the elaborate window displays that typify MoMA's Fifth Avenue environs" and created by artist Andrea Zittel. In this piece, Untitled (2012), Ms. Zittel "bridges the hyperstylized, over-produced commercial aesthetic of the Fifth Avenue retail display with the bold colors and graphic geometries of Bauhaus, with slight infusions of Southwestern/New Age aesthetic." Untitled also has "several material grids/layers, which in their colors and form refer to the Modern building's façade and provides symmetry with her installed room" on the second floor Contemporary Galleries inside MoMA.

Past the energetic, lively, more casual Bar Room lives the hushed, elegant, and more formal Dining Room. It is awesome to know that you can enjoy two completely different restaurants dwelling in the same space, depending on the mood and time of day -- the abrupt change in ambiance as you walk between rooms is unbelievable. While the Bar Room has bare tables and brighter lighting, the Dining Room has tables draped in white clothes and more subtle lighting.

Bentel & Bentel, the innovators behind the interiors of The Modern, were inspired by the Bauhaus movement and aimed to have design play "a major role in every aspect of the dining experience." The firm selected furniture and tableware from "modernist greats" with a focus on Danish design. Some of the designers are represented in MoMA's architecture and design collection, while a number of the pieces are available for sale at the MoMA Design and Book Store.

The view from the windows of The Dining Room is of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, which is a part of MoMA, housing thirty-one original sculptures, including ones by Rodin, Picasso, Calder, and other great masters. I'm already thinking about coming back here for lunch in the spring! :)

On our dining table was this really cool loop vase by designers Daniel Black and Martin Blum. 

To start, we were given some popcorn in the funkiest of bowls, sprinkled with lemon verbena and Tahitian vanilla. A nice surprise, especially in comparison to the typical variations of cheddar, salt, or butter.

02 - amuse
As canapés, the Dining Room served us {1pickled raspberries and salmon crudo with goat cheese and dill (if I recall correctly), {2}chilled leek soup in a vial, and {4} smoked sea bass with roe and tropical fruit gélee {3} The modernesque "bread basket" included a warm assortment of miniature French baguettes, olive bread, and a cranberry-walnut variety -- all served with cow butter and sea salt. Needless to say that Marcus and I pretty much ate up this whole thing.

To drink, Marcus chose Blood & Sand, a cocktail from the section entitled Modern Interpretations --  a creative concoction of Michter's sour mash whiskey, Heering cherry liqueur, orange, and Bonal Gentiane-Quina. His plan was to start with a cocktail and finish off with some wine later with his main course, but since he loved it so much (such a sucker for all things citrus), he had another instead. A very heavy yet refreshing cocktail.

For dinner that evening, Marcus and I decided it'd be worthwhile to do the four-course prix fixe (as opposed to the eight-course chef's tasting) so we could experience more varieties of dishes showcased by Chef Kreuther.

For my first course, I had the "pralines" of foie gras terrine with mango purée and balsamic vinegar. If I could characterize this dish in a word or two, it would definitely be playful. The nature of foie gras (especially in the form of a terrine) is that it is very savory and rich and often served with a slices of something carby (typically brioche) as to fully enjoy the foie gras without becoming overwhelmed by its intense flavor. The essence of this is captured well in these orbed "pralines" with the nice bonus of the tangy sweep of mango added as a twist, which definitely made this dish stand out against all of the terrines of foie gras I've had in my history as an eater. Though I wish I were given one more bread (I was really piling the "pralines" onto the grilled slices) so I could savor each bite in a more leisurely manner, it was a really well-executed, creative dish.

Marcus had the beet-marinated arctic char with foie gras powder, hazelnut, and blood orange. Just like with the "pralines", the arctic char had all of the elements of a solid tartare but also had all of these unexpected but awesome nuances to it. The combination of earthy, nutty, and sweet from the accompanying ingredients really highlighted the subtleties of the chilled texture of the arctic char. Another winner here!

In contrast to the first course (i.e., served cold), the second ones were warm starters. I opted for the slow-poached farm egg as my second course -- with black winter truffle, salsify, and squid ink spaetzle. A funny aside about this choice, taking me back to my birthday dinner with Marcus last year, which was at SHO Shaun Hergatt (now closed). The second course that I had selected was also a slow-poached egg, a menu item that boasted the inclusion of sea urchin, but to my unfortunate dismay at its arrival that it appeared to be just a tease. There was in fact no sea urchin contained in this course, underscored by the captain who wrote off my confusion as ignorance. Not going to sugar coat it -- that definitely put a damper on the duration of the meal for me. In any case, what makes this story so relevant and uncanny is that when I was trying to figure out what to order (poached foie gras to encore the first course? seared scallops? various savory tarts?), Marcus was convinced that I should order the poached egg. Not sure if it was because he wanted to see if The Modern would compensate for the birthday dinner debacle from last year or if he just knows how much I love poached eggs, but I bit the bullet, thinking to myself, Why the hell not? No way it could result in anything worse than what happened last year.

Either way, it was as if the gastronomy gods were sending me a cosmic gift in the form of culinary karma. When the porcelain plate was laid out before me, there I saw it -- a decently sized lobe or two of sea urchin gleaming in its golden glory. As I heard the captain recite the dish back to me, I nearly had to do a double take as I distinctly heard Santa Barbara sea urchin in the mix. This dish was stunningly perfect -- the poached egg had that delicate consistency from its time over low heat and the beautifully runny yolk that was wonderfully captured with the squid ink spaetzle and toasted breadcrumbs underneath. The uni added an extra je ne sais quoi, that bit of depth that really rounded out this dish.

Marcus was a little more adventurous and had the rabbit-truffle "Alsatian dumplings" with sunchoke and crystal lettuce. While I didn't get to sample any of this (rabbit just doesn't do it for me), Marcus thought the dumplings were excellent -- soft and savory.

I went with the roasted Maine lobster for my main course (a $12 supplement to the prix fixe) which was served with pernod, kohlrabi purée, and jamón emulsion. The lobster was evenly roasted with the butteriest of textures, having the silky texture that you would normally get from a slow-poached method of cooking. The blend of kohlrabi purée and the jamón emulsion was a densely flavorful accompaniment to the lobster -- a very meaty and hearty overlay to the delicately roasted crustacean.

05 - lamb
Marcus was the lucky duck who got dibs on the Thomas Farm rack of lamb, {1,2} which was carved and plated tableside by one of the captains (a $10 supplement to the prix fixe). {3} The dish was kept warm until mine was ready to be served to us at the same time.

The rack of lamb was served with olives, fines herbes, bacon fondue, and crisp new onion. The bacon fondue had both of us thoroughly convinced us that we needed to order this, and boy was that hunch right! The lamb was so tender with a hot, juicy, medium rare center, all dressed up so deliciously with the cheesy, oozy bacon sauce drizzled on top. The crispy new onions and multicolored cauliflower florets added an awesome textural interplay with the rest of the ingredients. One of the best dishes we've had this year, the lamb had all of the elements in a fully satisfying main course.

For dessert, I had the black currant vacherin with pistachio ice cream, black currant, and yogurt meringue. The intense tartness from the black currant worked in harmony with the creamy, nutty pistachio ice cream and painted some bold flavors onto the yogurt meringue. This dessert would be great for those who are more partial to fruit-centric desserts (as opposed to chocolate ones).

Marcus had the Manjari chocolate palet with Tahitian vanilla crémeux and salted butter-caramel ice cream. This dessert was very rich in chocolate and caramel, slightly reigned in by the fresh vanilla crémeux.

As a little bonus, they brought out a little birthday dessert -- a lemon meringue of some sort. Although Marcus and I were stuffed beyond belief at this point, we snuck in a few bites of this and loved the cheesecake-like consistency of it.

06 - dessert
{1} To top it all off, out came the dessert cart at the end, stocked with several varieties of petit-fours {2} including all kinds of chocolate truffles, cookies, nougats, and biscotti. {3} A lemon sorbet cornet served as an end-of-the-meal palate cleanser.

Findings: All in all, my birthday dinner at The Modern: Dining Room proved to be absolutely wonderful -- everything I could possibly as for in a celebratory dinner, possibly even more. All four courses were seamlessly curated and presented -- Chef Gabriel Kreuther's approach to fine dining marries the classically familiar with a twist of unexpected ingredients and techniques, which somehow results in an exciting blending of flavors that really stand out from anything you've had before. This way, you get to enjoy those favorites you may favor while dining out without redundancy or risk of unoriginality. Marcus and I loved each and every course we chose, down to each and every ingredient, and that's something that's challenging for us to ever say.

The service, décor, and presentation of the restaurant very much reminded me of the experiences I've had at Eleven Madison Park, which should be no surprise as EMP was also under the noteworthy management of star restauranteur Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group before Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara took ownership. Only difference now The Modern submits to no gimmicks (as opposed to the most recent menu change at EMP). One aspect I really appreciate here is the commitment to The Modern's adjectival moniker -- the presence of many great works by notable designers scattered throughout on tabletops, serviceware, and furniture. With so many blossoming "modernist cuisines" surfacing out there in the world of gastronomy, The Modern certainly heralds as a tasteful exploration into the avant-garde without straying too far from the composition and medium. Another part of our experience that I really loved was the unassuming and understated yet elegant ambiance created within the Dining Room -- you get the whole fine dining shebang without the restaurant trying too hard to impress.

In summary, I highly recommend The Modern: Dining Room to be a venue of choice for any special occasion dinners -- birthdays, anniversaries, etc. The service team is bound to make your celebration, for whatever it may be, very special. If I had to pick a restaurant that exemplifies what I look for in a solid, higher end dining experience, The Modern is it -- I'm proud to say it's my new all-time favorite restaurant in the city (with Atera as my favorite unconventional dining experience). Marcus and I are already looking forward to returning again in the coming seasons for a different iteration of Chef Kreuther's creative menu -- I have a feeling I'll be back more than twice this year! :P

Thank you again to Marcus, my better half, for taking me to The Modern and making my birthday dinner so special this year -- love you always! :)

Price point: $98 for per person for the four-course prix fixe dinner menu, $12 for each supplemental course choices, $18 for each cocktail, $15-16 for each glass of wine.

--February 23, 2013

The Modern: Dining Room
Museum of Modern Art
9 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

1 comment:

  1. NICE! I haven't been back since we went to the bar room a few years ago. I need to check the main dining room out! Beautiful pics Fiee!



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