Friday, September 26, 2008

New York, part 2

I am not a breakfast person. Large waffles smothered with syrup and whipped cream make a great dessert but often make me sick at breakfast, and pancakes are at about the same place. I love a good omelet, but I'm allergic to eggs (egg whites, actually, and not if they're in things like cake, just if I'm sitting down to eat some fluffy, creamy scrambled eggs). What's left? Biscuits and gravy. Heavy. Granola? Good option, but I make that at home. French toast? See waffle. Have I reached the end of your standard menu? Pretty much, which is why going out for breakfast is not typically my suggestion. Still, Heidi wanted a good breakfast in New York, and I was right there. I'm not so jaded I can't hope there are still good possibilities for a morning menu; I just didn't know them yet.

Two of my friends that visited New York this spring insisted we try Norma's at the Parker Meridien Hotel. So glad I trusted their advice. It was fabulous! Really, truly, inspiring. This was the one nice restaurant we went to that I really had little information about, so I didn't have overblown expectations. I don't know who came up with the menu, who runs the show, to whom I owe the pleasure of my visit.

We were seated in a very nice room with lots of suits and formally-dressed waiters. (I say waiters because I'm pretty sure we didn't see any female wait staff the entire time we were in New York.) Menus were presented by the host, which were quickly followed by our waiter pouring freshly squeezed orange juice into our tall, elegant glasses. We started reading the menu – something that is usually a short task for me – and only stopped ourselves when we were conscious of taking so long to decide. Soon after our menus had been swept away, another server brought us samples of the smoothie of the day, orange banana. It was little perks like these that put their service over the top and made a good visit with excellent food a really great visit.

Heidi ordered the Light and Lemony Griddle Cakes with Crispy Crêpe Strings and I ordered the Artichoke Benny (which, unfortunately, is missing from the online menu!). The griddle cakes taste nothing like any pancake I've ever eaten. They're moist the way a crêpe is moist, thick like a pancake, sweet and buttery like a cake (but not like the frosting), and lemony like fresh lemonade. It was topped with a luscious whipped Devonshire cream, a delight that was almost unnecessarily, and not even thoroughly consumed. (My daughter will be appalled!)

My breakfast was a lovely entrance into the food possibilities awaiting me in New York. Two perfectly poached eggs each sat atop a freshly carved and cooked artichoke heart, sitting on a bed of sautéed spinach. The entire dish was placed on cubes of steamed or boiled potatoes and turnips, lightly buttered and salted, and topped with a porcini mushroom sauce. The mushroom sauce, spinach, turnips, and potatoes went so extraordinarily well together that I am looking forward to making a side dish out of those items in the future. The eggs and artichokes were also wonderful, though I admit I reluctantly ate only half of my egg white.

While we were enjoying our breakfast, we heard bits of conversation here and there from our close neighbors. Heidi afterward told me a piece she'd heard from the lady next to her.

Waiter: Freshly squeezed orange juice, madam?
Lady: I'll have a diet coke, please.
Waiter (horrified and shocked look on his face): A diet coke?
Lady: Yes. I cannot start my day without a diet coke.
Waiter: I'll see that you get one.

Also, the neighbors to my left were speaking in some sort of a French accent. As the man was reading some of the items out loud to the lady with him, he came across something with Gruyère in it. I (later) remarked to Heidi that I'd never heard the word spoken in a way that made it seem so simple to pronounce. I guess it makes sense, being a French word and all.

We happily paid our bill and stayed a moment to chat (and take a moment to let it all sink in) while the staff refilled our orange juice glasses. I know I sound so naive, but really, when have you ever had your freshly squeezed orange juice glass refilled after you've paid the tab? I would have sworn it was heaven.

We didn't just go to New York to eat, though that may have been a primary objective, so we spent that morning visiting Filene's Basement, Anthropologie, and learning the ins and outs of the subway system before going to Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill for lunch, where I quickly changed from tennis shoes to brown flats, feeling quite conspicuous.

Mesa Grill was exciting to me, being an admirer of Bobby Flay. Michael Symon has said Bobby Flay is one of the most under-appreciated top chefs, which did not surprise me in New York, where the food is very much about subtle flavors and French technique. Mesa Grill is about bright, bold flavors and presentations. But, because of this, it also stands out as a nice contrast and compliment to continental restaurants across the city. Looking back, I think I may have appreciated it more on the second day, when the delicate character of other meals would make such strong food stand out. As it was, this meal was delicious in every way, but not unfamiliar, as I enjoy making and eating Mexican/Southwest cuisine on a somewhat regular basis.

I ordered the Ancho Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon with Spicy Black Bean Sauce, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Jalapeño Crema. The salmon was glazed and blackened, intensifying the warm flavors of the ancho chile. The black bean sauce was delicious; I could have had nothing for lunch but a bowlful of that and been content. I really liked the tomatillo salsa. When I've had or made fresh tomatillo salsa in the past, it's always been blended, and this was diced. The tomatillos were fruity and soft; I'll have to try this method sometime.

Heidi ordered the Grilled MahiMahi with Roasted Pineapple-Cascabel Chile Sauce and Caramelized Pineapple-Green Onion Salsa. The fish was very tender and the flavors were delicious. Surprisingly, we didn't taste any heat from the chiles, but certainly the entrée was not worse off for that. Even better than the fish, though, was the rice it was served with. It was soft and creamy but not heavy, and the flavors were a light contrast to the sauces and onions, but still intriguing. It was a treat. I was pleased when I came home to see the recipe for this rice in my cookbook, and I'll make sure I blog about it in the future when I make it.

Getting full but not too full, we decided to split a dessert, an excellent move as we didn't even finish it. The Chocolate Brown Sugar Soufflé Pudding with Pecan Flatbread Crunch was a great choice. The pudding was creamy and fluffy, and the pecan flatbread was completely new. I tried forever to figure out how to describe it. It tastes very much like pralines. The main flavors are toasted pecans and brown sugar, and if it had been sold in bags I would have bought several. I don't know where to start, even, to recreate them, but I'm sure I'll try. The pudding was also served with a size of what I believe was toasted pecan whipped cream. It was so nice with a bite of the chocolate pudding.

We started the afternoon by walking over to Chelsea Market, a place we'd heard we needed to go but new nearly nothing about. This was unfortunate. While the entrance was strikingly peculiar, the market was cafe-style restaurants, bakeries, a small restaurant supply store, a small produce market, and a small Italian grocer. We were in no situation to appreciate it, having eaten two very good and very filling meals already that day. We did grab a few small rolls to sample later from Amy's Breads and a caramel brownie and turtle brownie from Fat Witch Brownies. When we did eventually nibble at them, they were all delicious, especially the brownies. (I may try adding a layer of caramel to my brownies!) The Food Network is also stationed there, but there were no signs, and I'm guessing they don't take to people strolling in off the streets. Maybe if we'd gone around the outside of the building?

In any case, we were tired and had time to spare, so we headed back to the hotel, where I went for a short swim to burn a few calories before dinner. Such exhausting work.

1 comment:

The Stoddard Show said...

yummmy! thanks for sharing your trip with us. who doesn't loooove fresh squeeze oj, diet coke doesn't even come close! i'm glad you had a fabulous time on your trip!