Reading snippets from Shannon Bennett’s New York and Mark Best’s postcard from The Big Apple in the most recent issue of Gourmet Traveller, I am reminded that some 8 months ago, I returned from a two week trip to New York with innumerable memories, a few hundred photographs, dozens of pages of notes and a good intention to compile a post of our culinary experiences. Alas, until now, that good intention has not even remotely been fulfilled.
Our trip to New York in August last year was, first and foremost, a gastronomic adventure and so, despite the time we spent exploring New York generally, the significant bulk of our time was spent seated in air-conditioned comfort in the midst of a multi-course meal. And, in this no expenses spared trip, we had some truly memorable meals at some exceptional world-class establishments. Some of the more notable restaurants are as follows.
Per Se - Thomas Keller's New York follow up to his gastronomic colossus, The French Laundry, Per Se is one of only a select few to hold the critical double - three Michelin stars and four stars from the New York Times - and is rated as the 10th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.*
Daniel - A fellow holder of the critical double, Daniel is the flagship restaurant of chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud and is rated as the 8th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.
Jean Georges - A fellow holder of the critical double, Jean Georges is the flagship restaurant of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, an American culinary icon, and is rated as the 52nd best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.
Le Bernardin - Le Bernardin and its head chef Eric Ripert are commonly regarded as the world's best seafood restaurant and the world's best seafood chef respectively. A holder of the critical double, Le Bernardin has held four stars from the New York Times since 1986, more than twice as long as any other restaurant, and is rated as the 15th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.
Alto and Marea - Sister Italian restaurants with two Michelin stars each, Alto and Marea are part of the stable of Italian restaurants operated by Michael White, a stable which reputedly produces the finest Italian cuisine New York has to offer.
Momofuku Ko and Momofuku Ssam Bar - The ultra-exclusive two Michelin starred Momofuku Ko and the ridiculously popular, effervescent Momofuku Ssam Bar are the flagship establishments of New York's enfant terrible, David Chang. Both are grungy, informal restaurants that would not be out of place in the Melbourne dining scene. Momofuku Ssam Bar is rated as the 26th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.
Gilt - Two Michelin starred Gilt is one of New York's lesser known high end fine dining establishments that has developed a reputation for offering high quality cuisine that departs from the New York mainstream.
Eleven Madison Park - At the time of our visit, Eleven Madison Park was perhaps the most hyped restaurant in New York. The recipient of one Michelin star and four stars from the New York Times, Eleven Madison Park is the flagship restaurant of prominent restaurateur Danny Meyer and is rated as the 50th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.
Gotham Bar and Grill - One of New York's most consistently popular restaurants, Gotham Bar and Grill holds one Michelin star.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon - The New York outpost of Joel Robuchon's international fine dining restaurant chain, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon holds one Michelin star and offers the kind of quality cuisine for which Robuchon, heralded by some as the "chef of the century", is widely renowned.
SHO Shaun Hergatt - A relatively new restaurant in the heart of New York's financial district, SHO Shaun Hergatt was established by Australia's Shaun Hergatt, the former chef de cuisine of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, and quickly earned a swathe of accolades including one Michelin star and "best new restaurant" from Esquire and New York magazines.
WD-50 - One Michelin starred WD-50 is Wylie Dufresne's ode to molecular gastronomy and produces whimsical and, at times, confounding fine dining dishes. WD-50 is rated as the 45th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino guide.
All up, the above restaurants collectively hold 25 Michelin stars. To put it lightly, it was a considerable amount of fine dining in, what seemed like, a very short two weeks.
The distinguishing feature of New York fine dining as opposed to Australian fine dining is, to put it broadly, the extreme level of formality. On the positive side, New York restaurants generally provided outstanding service – certainly better than anything we have experienced in Australia either before or since. It was not just that service was abundant – that is to be expected when a restaurant charges New York prices – it was the military precision with which the basic service tasks were performed and the uncanny ability of wait staff to, no matter how large the dining room or how many diners were in attendance, make each and every table of guests feel as though they were the most important in the room.
Formality extends to the execution of the cuisine. The quality of cooking is, overall, exceptionally high with items cooked to perfection and premium produce sourced from around the world. Notably, attention to detail in presentation is usually breathtakingly impeccable.
On the negative side, the level of formality extends to the mandated dress codes – most of the restaurants that we visited required a jacket and strongly recommended a tie. In a sultry New York summer, this was certainly less than preferable.
Overall, to us, the New York meals were more than just a collection of dishes, they were experiences; experiences which will remain fondly in our memories for a lifetime and which will colour our perceptions of fine dining going forward, at times, unfortunately so. In forthcoming posts, I will provide brief snapshots of our experiences at each of the above restaurants. These snapshots, I hope, will provide some insight into the meals that have shaped my and PiCi's culinary expectations and therefore the views that have been expressed in this blog.
* This ranking, and the other rankings stated in this post, are based on the most recent San Pellegrino guide. At time of writing, the new San Pellegrino guide, together with updated rankings, is less than a month from public release.