Friday, November 14, 2008
Four stars, for extraordinary, is the highest accolade a critic for The New York Times can award a New York City restaurant. Five restaurants have that honor: Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Jean Georges, Eric Ripert’s Bernardin (pictured above), Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Daniel Boulud’s Daniel.
Here are excerpts from the most recent reviews. Below them are the complete reviews.
Eating is seldom this absorbing, this bracing. To lend needed excitement to beef tenderloin, some foie gras had been placed on top. But the crucial, less predictable flourish was a rhubarb foam on top of that. It cut the fattiness of the liver. It snapped the palate to attention. So did a wedge of cured lemon that was strategically placed alongside broiled squab and foie gras in another dish. — Frank Bruni, April 19, 2006
Le Bernardin has aged with astonishing grace, more Deneuve than Dunaway, doing what it must to remain youthful without ever making an elastic fool of itself, staying true to its identity while adapting to changing times. Now as before, it is a high church of reverently prepared fish. But more than ever global currents inform and influence what emerges from a kitchen that can no longer be succinctly described as French. — Frank Bruni, March 16, 2005
Masa, despite its chosen peculiarities and pitiless expense, belongs in the thinly populated pantheon of New York's most stellar restaurants. Simply put, Masa engineers discrete moments of pure elation that few if any other restaurants can match. If you appreciate sushi, Masa will take you to the frontier of how expansively good a single (and singular) bite of it can make you feel. — Frank Bruni, Dec. 29, 2004
It is not wondrous 100 percent of the time, and it can be maddening: at moments too intent on culinary adventure or too highfalutin in its presentation and descriptions of dishes, one of which came with a choice of four salts from three continents. To get a reservation may well require a degree of planning and effort that verge on masochistic, and a multicourse, mini-portion extravaganza may well require four hours, which is more time than many diners have or want to spend.But here is the thing: the return on that patience and that investment is more than a few mouthfuls of food that instantaneously bring a crazy smile to your face and lodge in your memory for days and even weeks to come. — Frank Bruni, Sept. 8, 2004
There's a definite tone at Daniel, a warmth usually associated with small neighborhood restaurants, and it emanates from the kitchen. Mr. Boulud has both feet planted in the rich gastronomic soil of the Lyonnais region, an area renowned for its robust, no-holds-barred cuisine. His personality, as a proprietor, has been shaped by the little restaurant that his parents once ran, and if he does not actually stand outside on the sidewalk greeting guests, there is an unmistakable spirit of generosity hovering over the dining room that makes Daniel unique. The name says it all. — William Grimes, March 14, 2001
Highlights From the Archive: The Four-Star Reviews
While the food at Jean Georges may no longer be novel, it still thrills, and this restaurant still presents an experience unlike others around town.April 19, 2006DiningReview
Le Bernardin grabbed hold of four stars from Bryan Miller in The New York Times less than three months after it opened in early 1986 and has never let them slip from its grasp, maintaining its superior rating more than twice as long as any of the other New York restaurants in its elite company.March 16, 2005Dining and WineReview
I could reach deep into a heady broth of adjectives to describe the magic of the sushi at Masa. I could pull up every workable synonym for delicious. Or I could do this: tell you about watching a friend bite into one of Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls.December 29, 2004Dining and WineReview
In the end, it was a nine-course vegetable tasting, of all things, that made me drop any reserve, cast aside any doubts and accept the fact that I loved Per Se -- and that this preening, peacock-vain newcomer deserved it.September 8, 2004Dining and WineReview
Daniel has moved forward, and upward, with grace and assurance. It is now the Daniel that New York wanted and expected all along, a top-flight French restaurant, sumptuous and rather grand, but still very much the personal expression of its chef and owner, Daniel Boulud.March 14, 2001Dining and WineReview
ARTICLES ABOUT FOUR-STAR RESTAURANTS (NYC)
Fall colors will be on display at these restaurants with views of Central Park.October 19, 2008
Openings, renovations and chefs on the move.September 10, 2008
Restaurant openings, closings and chefs on the move.July 30, 2008
An amateur sous-chef spends the day in the kitchen at Le Bernardin in New York, one of the most highly acclaimed and most expensive restaurants in the world.July 26, 2008
Eric Ripert, the chef of Le Bernardin in New York, prefers music to marinades.January 13, 2008
There is a direct relationship between the stock market and the menus in top restaurants, particularly in New York.October 14, 2007
Dr. Nils Stormby sold off his collection of about 4,500 rare and expensive bottles of wine at an auction in Manhattan on Friday.September 29, 2007
Deploying DinnerBy Pete Wells
First seated course.
“Let’s go,” says Jonathan Benno. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
The guests at Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz’s 20 course dinner at Per Se have been seated after a champagne reception with two passed canapes from each chef. (Keller: salmon cornets and BLT sandwiches with lamb; Achatz: Puffed crisps of idiazabal cheese filled with yeast and pureed brioche and topped with braised mustard seeds; pure white teardrops of yuzu stuffed with smoked salmon and capers). Now the captains are on the floor, asking the guests about allergies and dietary restrictions, which will be mapped on to a grid showing the no-no’s for each position at each table.
“Table Four, P-Four. She can’t have grapefruit.” (P stands for position.)
“P-Five, no pork product, no spicy chiles.”
“Where are the no fennel guests?”
“Table Seven. One guest is no sweet peppers. Ms. Cowin is allergic to peppers.”
This is Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine and one of the members of the Fourth Estate in attendance. (Disclosure: I worked for Ms. Cowin at that magazine and later wrote a column there.) Also here tonight is Gael Greene of New York magazine. Not here: Ruth Reichl of Gourmet. “I think she doesn’t like eating multi-course meals any more,” Thomas Keller explains.
Jonathan Benno is a coil of purposeful tension. He stands in a wrestler’s crouch: knees bent, feet apart, head forward. He wants to finish the charts, but the orders are still filtering in. “There’s four managers out there and we can’t get orders?” he says. A server enters the kitchen.
“You get lost?”
“Is that the last order?”
“Should be, chef.”
“Should be? Or is?”
“That’s the last order chef.”
“Thank you. Let’s go.”
Now the first course is being plated. Although this has been billed as a 20-course meal, the first two plates brought to the tables will be flights of four dishes each. This way, eight “courses” will be dispatched in just two trips from the kitchen to the dining room, speeding up a meal that Mr. Keller estimates will last at least three and a half hours.
Mr. Keller’s contributions to this first plate are a sea-urchin soup and then a spoonful of osetra caviar on top of sunchoke puree. From Mr. Achatz: fried strips of tofu skin coated with prawn paste, then a coconut custard on the tip of a vanilla bean.
Mr. Achatz is setting the tofu skins into a service piece called “The Inkwell” that was designed for Alinea. It’s black and does look a bit like an inkwell; the tofu skin stands up like a pen; in the reservoir of the inkwell is an orange miso mayonnaise. Mr. Achatz is trimming the tofu skins with a small pair of scissors, removing stray strands and cleaning up the ends.
“It’s funny, by Alinea standards we’ve been doing this dish a long time. Like, a year-plus,” Mr. Achatz had said a few minutes earlier. He is known for retiring dishes from his menu to make room for new inventions, but tonight, to keep things easy on the kitchen crew, he is serving “classic” dishes. But even the tofu skin dish has changed from the version in the cookbook. That one calls for butterflying the prawns by hand. Now the restaurant purees the tail meat, squeezes the juice from the heads, dehydrating and pulverizing the shells, and binding it all together with transglutaminase, affectionately known in some culinary circles as “meat glue.”
Wrapped around the tofu skin and shrimp is a strip of orange. Originally, Alinea used hand-cut orange rind. Now they make a kind of fruit leather and cut it into ribbons.
“We’re three minutes away from pickup,” Jonathan Benno says.
Eighty-one plates have been set out on two staging tables in the rear kitchen, normally used for meals served in the restaurant’s private dining rooms.
Mr. Benno turns around and sees cups of the sea-urchin soup waiting to be set on the plates.
“What are these soups doing here?” he asks. “We’re not ready yet. These all need to be done over. Pull all these off! I said three minutes!”
The cooks who’d prematurely poured the soup look stricken. But they comply, emptying the cups, cleaning them out, and warming the soup again.
“This is a warm soup,” Mr. Benno says, picking up one of the cups. “Can we get the cups warm, please?”
From the dining room comes the sound of applause. Mr. Keller and Mr. Achatz have just welcomed the guests, the signal for the meal to begin.
“Can we get started with the soup now, please?” Mr. Benno says. The warmed cups get filled with soup again.
Now the seating charts come out. The first course is full of landmines for those with allergies and dietary restrictions, so substitutions need to be made for nearly every table. For those who don’t eat seafood, there is a parsnip vanilla soup instead of the sea urchin. The prawn in Mr. Achatz’s tofu skin will be replaced by cucumber. Post-It notes are attached to the plates with substitutions, to be peeled off as the plate leaves the kitchen. Not until Table Nine do they finally reach a course that can be sent out as is.
Plates for the first table leave the kitchen at 8:20. The substitutions take a long time to work out, and some of the hot food is cooling down. Mr. Keller, looking loose and relaxed, asks if the soup can be warmed up again, please. The last plate leaves the kitchen at 8:43.Four courses down. Sixteen left. Time to do it again...hmmm