My daughter, Allison, has always been foodie. As a child, she watched Julia Child reruns on the local PBS station and was always interested in putting on her little apron and helping cook. Her interest in food continued and she worked in two restaurant kitchens during high school and college. Somewhere along the way, Allison decided to become a vegetarian but that didn’t hinder her love of cooking and she isn’t against cooking meat for the carnivores in the family, she just doesn’t want eat meat.
Somewhere along the line, Allison started watching Hell’s Kitchen, the show Gordon Ramsay brought to the US in 2004, and she became a fan of all of the yelling and bleeping (due to profanity) the show offers. I personally find the show offensive and don’t watch it.
Many years ago, while Allison was still in her teens, she announced she wanted to go to New York City to celebrate her 21st birthday and have dinner at Gordon Ramsay At The London Hotel in mid-town Manhattan. Allison decided to celebrate her birthday with a fixed price, multi-course dinner with wine pairings…just like Mom and Dad have enjoyed. I wasn’t very excited about her choice in restaurants, I thought Gordon was all show with little substance and figured his attitude rubbed off on his restaurants. I tried to talk her into choosing another restaurant like Per Se, the sister restaurant of The French Laundry at which I’ve eaten and enjoyed. Allison wouldn’t accept any other restaurants…she wanted Gordon Ramsay’s Maze!
The restaurant offers “menu prestige”, a seven course tasting menu that has a vegetarian option, perfect for Allison. We made reservations for the restaurant and planned our trip to NYC to celebrate her birthday, one-half year later than her actual birthday.
As we were getting ready for dinner we realized the restaurant was just 2 blocks from our hotel, definitely an easy walk. I could see the excitement in Allison’s face as we left the hotel and walked to the restaurant. Upon entering the busy restaurant, our coats were checked and we were whisked past the large number of patrons dining in the Maze Restaurant to a private, very well appointed, dining room with about 15 tables. The tables were nicely spaced so we did not hear the conversations from the other guests
As soon as we sat down, the hostess and waiter wished Allison a happy birthday, thankfully, they read the note I sent them when I made the reservation on Open Table. The wine steward arrived and asked if we would like to celebrate with glasses of Champagne…and he offered several different brands and varieties, I opted for one I’ve enjoyed in the past, Roederer Brut Champagne. Allison and I toasted her birthday…and the fact that she can legally consume wine (YEA!!).
As we sipped our Champagne, the evening’s extravaganza began. At fixed price dinners the number of courses specified on the menu always seems to multiply… as courses not on the menu just arrive at the table and tonight’s dinner would not be an exception. The amuse bouche was an onion soup with a Meyer lemon walnut crisp for Allison and salmon with crème fraiche garnished with capers for me.
My next course was an unctuous, sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras with spiced plums, truffle vinaigrette served with a well balanced glass of Riesling. Allison noshed on artichoke “barigoule” , a traditional Provencal dish of braised artichokes that was served with a glass of Gruner Veltliner. It seemed that braised artichokes were an “in” dish in New York that week because we saw them on several other menus and Allison had a similar dish at Eataly.
Maine diver scallops with curried cauliflower, pressed mango and spiced chick peas was next on the menu and was served with a nice crisp Albarino. I love scallops, especially fresh sea scallops. The scallops on my plate were so fresh and sweet they must have been plucked from the sea that day! An intense soup made from roasted rutabaga, roasted patty pan squash, honey, and aged parmesan was served to Allison, along with a glass of Soave Classico. During the service we were enticed with numerous varieties of bread…every course had a new bread offering and of course we couldn’t resist the bread served with sweet cream butter from local cream.
By now we were wishing we could take a break from eating and take a walk around NYC. We were both getting full, maybe it was the bread, or maybe the tasting plates had more food than we expected. The next two vegetarian courses were Allison’s favorites. The first was a ratatouille made with sautéed baby artichokes, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
The flavor was so intense we could tell the ingredients had been slow roasting for a long time. This course was served with a Burgundy, and this evening may have been the first time Allison had tried a true Burgundy…she loved it (uh, oh, the kid has expensive tastes). While the dish was delicious with intense flavors some of it was left on the plate…way too much for a tasting plate.
The next dish, I’m pretty sure, put Allison into culinary heaven (or as sometimes I say, a culinary orgasm, where words can’t describe the experience). The carnaroli risotto with wild mushrooms, mascarpone cheese and black truffles shaved over the top was to die for. The aroma was intoxicating, and the dish announced it’s arrival with the fantastic aroma wafting into the dining room as the waiter entered the room. Risotto is a frequent dish in our house but we’ve never made it as heavenly as this dish was prepared. I’m sure it was the truffles that made the dish, they were so fresh and aromatic. The Sangiovese/Cabernet blend served with the risotto had just the right amount of earthiness to complement the dish. Not a morsel of rice was left in the dish and Allison wished she could have asked for seconds.
My next two courses included a filet of turbot with organic egg, New Zealand spinach (not sure why the spinach from NZ is better than the locally grown variety) and candied pumpkin seed. I think this was the weakest dish of the evening. Perhaps, I was a little jealous after trying Allison’s ratatouille with intense flavors, but I thought the turbot was too mild for my tastes. The accompanying Chablis went well with the delicate flavors of the fish.
Moving on to the next course, I was back in my comfort zone with Colorado lamb roasted in goat’s butter, served with a fava bean tapenade, confit of potatoes, and lamb vinaigrette.
I was impressed that the lamb was cooked as I requested, rare. I love lamb and regularly cook it at home so I normally don’t order it in restaurants. The chef’s preparation was excellent and the dish went well with the glass of Merlot from Friuli.
We moved on to the home stretch…first came a lime sorbet served with Pimms No.1, a British gin, mint and orange cake. While this treat acted as the palate cleanser, it could have been another course…not just a taste, but a servings worth.
Finally, we arrived at the dessert course….or should I say dessert courses. We couldn’t decide which of the offerings we wanted for dessert so the waiter brought all of them for us! The three desserts were: Concord grape cream with pistachio dacquoise, calamansi line, and yogurt sorbet, Pont L’Eveque (a cheese from Normandy) served with olive caramel on truffled toast, and a plate of aged cheddar served with fig and walnut bread. The dessert was served with my favorite ice wine, Inniskillin, from the Niagara Peninsula in Canada.
Whew, we were stuffed and looking forward to heading out for a walk around Manhattan. But wait! We weren’t done. A cart of sweets arrived with so many options I lost track of all of the choices. The homemade honeycomb candy was outstanding and the rest of the treats were also delicious. But neither of us could finish what we had…so the waiter placed the remainder of our sweet course in boxes for us to take with us. (I’m pretty sure “doggy bags” don’t exist at this restaurant!)
After paying the bill (and let me say it was rather large!), the restaurant manager came to our table to ask Allison if she was ready to go into the kitchen because the chef wanted to meet her and give her a tour. She was smiling throughout the evening as she experienced her dream dinner, but when asked to go back to the kitchen she lit up the whole room with her smiling face. She looked at me and asked if I had planned this…of course I had…an excellent surprise for the foodie who loves all things food.
We were graciously introduced to the Executive Chef, Markus Glocker, who spent time talking with Allison about his career in the food industry, where he learned his trade and how he worked his way up the executive chef position. He also introduced her to a few of the 47 chefs (yes, they are all chefs) that work for him and showed her all of the stations in the kitchen explaining the function of each as it related to our dinner. An unbelievable kitchen!!
I have to admit the dinner exceeded my expectations and I place the restaurant in the same league as The French Laundry and the restaurant at Domaine Chandon. Guess I should trust the three Michelin stars it has received. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again for a special dinner.
Allison and I were so full we couldn’t go back to the hotel so we walked around mid-town for at least 2 hours before heading back to the hotel. It was a magical evening that neither of us will forget, Allison’s dream 21st birthday dinner.