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New York – Culinary Masterpiece

image44The highlight of my New York City trip was undoubtedly my first visit to 3 star Michelin, 4 star New York Times flagship restaurant and winner of four James Beard Foundation Awards, the gastronomic temple of Chef Daniel Boulud. This, in my opinion, is a remarkable restaurant - remarkable enough to warrant a trip to NYC for the sole purpose of dining there.

image45Celebrity chef Daniel Boulud has created one of the most elegant dining experiences in Manhattan. The prix-fixe–only menu is predominantly French and includes duck terrine with cubeb pepper and poached rhubarb, Hudson Valley sautéed duck foie gras, orange-yuzu marinated sea scallops, and butter poached jade tiger abalone with sea buckthorn. Equally impressive are the serious artwork, professional service and extensive wine list.

Upon arrival we were seated at the bar where we were served complimentary champagne before being ushered to our table. Gentlemen are required to wear jackets - after all, you don’t want to food to be better dressed then you! I received a chair for Louis, my favourite handbag, and a flashlight to read the menu without disturbing the serene dinner atmosphere. Both were firsts for me.Eddy leroux, head chef de cuisine, began his journey on the introduction of food as a young schoolboy in France. He is at the helm of Daniel NYC where he continues to create and savour from a diversity of cuisines and ingredients. Well-known for his passion for great flavours from foraged ingredients, Eddy would, if possible, source all his food from small scale farms and suppliers. He currently gets all his local wild food supplies from Meadows and More, an organisation passionate about finding new foods in wild landscapes. Tama Matsuoka Wong, a forager, weed eater, meadow doctor and lawyer collaborated with Eddy on the cookbook, Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market.

We opted for the seven-course tasting and wine pairing. Typically, tasting menus are at the seasonal discretion of the chef, but at Daniel you get a choice of two dishes.

The bread guy arrived to kick-start the evening with a heavenly selection of breads. I loved the black olive and sweet garlic focaccia and parmesan garlic roll. Derrick tried the multigrain three seed and sourdough and parmesan garlic roll. We gobbled them up with homemade butter with coarse sea salt on top! I don't think we rejected the bread guy once (the parmesan garlic roll was worth the price of admission alone).

Derrick opted for the duck terrine for his first course. This was served with cubeb pepper poached rhubarb, confit fennel, almond cream and red ribbon sorrel. For the new foodies out there, cubeb berries, sometimes called Java pepper, are a red substitute for black peppercorns. They have a piney taste when raw, but when cooked, are more warm and pleasant and reminiscent of allspice.

© 2013 Brent Herrig PhotographyMy choice for first course was the famous Hudson Valley sautéed duck foie gras, roasted pineapple, spruce tips confit and a decadent pine nut-mâche salad. Although Foie gras is disapproved of by many, it continues to be a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine with a rich, buttery and delicate flavour, unlike that of ordinary duck or goose liver. Both our meals were served with a glass of Vollenweider, Riesling Kabinett “Goldgrube”, Mosel 2010. A great Riesling with a lovely fragrance of flowers and lime zest adding to a palate full of bright apple and citrus fruit.

© 2013 Brent Herrig PhotographyContinuing on our rollercoaster of gastronomic pleasure, Derrick ordered the trio of Hamachi prepared in three different ways: beet cured with chive oil, tartare with wasabi and Northern lights caviar, and confit with sorrel coulis and yellow beet. Hamachi is yellowtail, or the more common English name is Japanese Amberjack. “Wow” is all I can say, drooling just thinking about this dish.Next up we unequivocally chose the same dish - Orange-yuzu marinated sea scallop, Barron point oyster, shiso oil, sea lettuce and chayote. Seriously a feast for the eye and you all know my love for scallops. Served with Domaine Bailly-Reverdy, “Chavignol”, Sancerre, Loire 2012. An excellent domaine that produces classic, letter-perfect Sancerre – fruit, acidity, and minerality are all in perfect harmony, making it incredibly food-friendly and endlessly enjoyable. As quoted by Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate “One of Sancerre's Best Producers **** (Outstanding)”.

I enjoyed the Shimaaji “Au vin Blanc” with poached Riesling and celery mustard salad, lightly smoked rillettes with fiddlehead fern, tartare with Northern lights caviar. It’s not easy to find Shimaaji in the US. This sweet delicate flesh of the white trevally, usually labelled on menu’s as “striped jack” is often described as a cross between aji (also known as horse mackerel) and Hamachi – a truly succulent combination. If you haven’t tried it, it’s something to experience. But to try it, first you have to find it. Both served with Domaine Droubin Chablis 1 er Cru, Burgandy 2009. This Burgundy chardonnay with wonderful mild apple and melon overtones was the perfect partner for this delightful dish.

The butter poached jade tiger abalone with sea buckthorn, sake “Beurre Blanc” braised escarole and short grain rice croquette was pure enjoyment. So how does sea buckthorn taste? The berries are quite tart, sort of like sour orange with hints of mango. Some people say it tastes like pineapple.

My fennel ravioli with Scottish langoustines and sautéed cuttlefish, Sicilian green olives, artichoke and saffron cream sauce was delicious. Did I mention that Daniel really knows what to do with langoustines – the beautiful sweet flavour still championed above the relatively bold flavours of fennel and olive? Both our meals were served with Jean-Louis Chave, “Céleste”, Saint-Joseph, Rhône 2010. Domaine Jean-Louis Chave is one of the northern Rhone’s most important producers and one of the world’s great winemaking families. The wine goes perfectly with seafood – a little close on the nose at first (as some northern Rhone whites can be) but opens up beautifully in the glass.

We both, once again, picked the oven baked black sea bass with syrah sauce, crispy Yukon gold potato with tellicherry pepper, kale flan and a shallot marmalade. Not being a flan fan, this was more like a crumbly kale cookie, with bitter kale leaves on top. The biggest disappointment for me about this dish was the lack of a crispy skin on the fish making the other elements on the plate simply much more interesting than sea bass. The dish was paired with a glass of Captain, Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble” 2010 from the Anderson Valley in California. The beautiful Anderson Valley is located about two hours north of San Francisco and is home to a unique group of vineyards and wineries producing exceptional wines including world-class Pinot Noir and Alsace Varietals. Whether you are an experienced wine aficionado, or are just discovering the pleasure of drinking good wine, the Anderson Valley definitely requires some exploration.

© 2013 Brent Herrig PhotographyDerrick’s next meal was the duo of beef, braised black Angus short ribs, chermoula spiced carrot purée, oyster mushroom duxelle, seared wagyu tenderloin, Haricot verts, smoked bone marrow with a potato confit. This was superb. The Wagyu tenderloin just melted in the mouth – juicy and tasty at the same time, medium rare…evolved to perfection.

Both dishes were served with a glass of Château Robin Côtes-de-Castillon, Bordeaux 2009, a blend of 60% merlot, 30% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon.I had the trio of milk fed veal, roasted tenderloin with white and green asparagus, braised cheeks with hen of the woods mushroom, sweetbreads with grilled spring onion and piquillo (piquillo peppers also referred to as the ‘red gold’ of Lodosa - a treasure of Spain). The highlight of the three was the cheek 'blanquette' - it's kind of like a veal meatball and just falls apart in your mouth. It has a slightly smoked flavour that really adds depth to the meat. Then there is always the question…what are sweetbreads? Sweetbreads are a type of offal and come from the thyroid gland, situated around the throat of either calves or lambs. Don’t be put off by the thought of eating a gland – they taste light with a suspicion of iodine and do not have a strong offal flavour. If you are new to offal, or fear it a little, sweetbreads are a good place to start I reckon. Why are called sweetbreads…well, they are sweet because they taste richer and sweeter compared to typical meat and they are bread because the old English word for flesh is bræd.

And then comes dessert…

© 2013 Brent Herrig PhotographyA tropical-coconut vacherin, guava gel, mango-vanilla swirl meringue. I secretly think meringue is too simple and wishy-washy when everything else is available, but this dessert really worked for me. The layers of whipped cream and cold meringue were so creamy and sweet, and then the fruits on the side packed a sour punch. A great combination paired with the ChâteauPajzos 5 Puttonyos Aszú, Tokaji 2003. Tokaj (formerly Tokaj-Hegyalja) has long been Hungary’s most famous and respected wine region, thanks mostly to its nectar-like Tokaji dessert wines.

© 2013 Brent Herrig PhotographyI left the restaurant completely satisfied and feeling like royalty. The pinnacle of elegance. Every taste seems to transport you to another world, while every gesture of the staff leaves you feeling privileged to be there.

"Cooking is sometimes emotional, sometimes seasonal, sometimes cerebral, and sometimes physical. So we have to live with the team, share that together, and take direction together," says Chef Daniel Boulud.