Thursday, November 04, 2010

Welcome to the 35th floor

Last night Aviva and I went out to dinner with Bucky and Tanya to celebrate Aviva's upcoming thesis defense (it may seem premature, but my wife is incredible and we all know she is going to rock here defense). As it was for such a special occasion, you know we Bucky and Tanya had somewhere excellent in mind.

That excellence was given form at Asiate, on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel at Columbus Circle.

Amazing restaurant, fabulous evening.

I guess we had a hint that the evening would be interesting when we pulled into the parking garage next to the hotel and found ourselves parked on the entry ramp, wait for a number of cars in front of us. I got out to ask what was going on, and was thoroughly ignored by every parking attendant I could find, all of whom were paying a lot of attention to a particular SUV waiting alone in the center of the parking area. I couldn't figure out what was going on until Aviva saw Brad Pitt and a bunch of his kids get into it just before it pulled off (she saw him, I didn't).

After Mr. Pitt left, the garage got back to normal, so we parked and went up to the restaurant which is on the 35th floor of the hotel. When we got out of the very speedy elevator (which took less time to go up 35 floors than the elevator at work takes to go up 7), we were greeted by an opulent room made of marble (on the right) dripping into a gorgeous bar abutting a floor to ceiling window overlooking Columbus circle (above). I had thought about this during the day and kind of thought I would even be a little disgusted at the opulence or showiness of the place, but it was gorgeous, tasteful and really magnificent.

We walked over to the restaurant and were seated with Bucky and Tanya at a table essentially hanging over Central Park. The view, even at night, was really spectacular. Perusing the saki list, we order a bottle of nigori, munched on the delicious little bread puffs and ordered the tasting menu (after making sure it could be altered so Tanya could eat it - being kosher, her meal was slightly altered). The first course, probably my favorite, came almost concurrently with the saki ... the raw tasting - 5 small bites served on a rectangular plate in won ton soup style spoons - a fresh oyster in a light bloody mary sauce, a slurry of sea urchin and caviar, a seafood ceviche with asian pear, a fluke sashimi in a thin grapefruit sauce and an ahi tuna sashimi wrapped around thin slices of japanese pear. Each one looked beautiful and tasted quite distinct, though the overall dish left me with a crisp, fruity-sweet taste.

The second course was a small bowl of buckwheat soba in a sea urchin broth, topped with a quail egg, sea weed and caviar. The egg, which was intact when the dish was presented, broke over the noodles when you started eating them, giving the whole dish a creamy, rich, sweet-earth taste .. Aviva said it reminded her of the pasta with shavings of egg we ate at the French Laundry. It was superb, I could have eaten it for the whole meal.

The third course was their Etuvee - don't really know that word, but know it was delicious. This dish was very thai, a prawn, several scallops and pieces of squid served in a ginger, coconut milk and lemon grass broth. It was excellent, particularly the scallops, which were crisped on the outside but still tender inside. During this course I think we polished of the first bottle of saki and replaced it with another bottle, which was so fresh and crisp and delicious, with like a honey-pear-grass-ice flavor, that it made the first bottle seem very mundane.

We now entered the "main course" phase of the meal, which, though still excellent, was not as impressive as the first courses. We had a sea bass with asian vegetables and mushrooms, followed by a lobster tail in a lobster and pepper reduction on top of a slurry of white polenta and waygu beef with with chanterelles, coupled with a very delicate braised short rib. The waygu was the best of these by far (the lobster was just lobster - its always weird to me when people serve a meat in a sauce made of a reduction of that same meat), with the beef either light salted or lightly braised. And the chanterelles were, as they often are, heavenly.

The meal finished with two deserts, first a shot glass full of tofu with a ginger slush, which sounds terrible but was in fact delicious - light, sweet and tangy and very refreshing. The second was a plate containing a semi-molten chocolate tart, a moussy-crispy Napoleon, a tiny walnut cake and a small trough of ginger vanilla ice cream. While Aviva informs me that all the deserts were good, Bucky and I fought over the extra ice cream it was so delicious and I think everyone agreed that the Napoleons were exquisite.

After we finished, Bucky and Tanya had coffee and Aviva had tea and we spent another few minutes just sitting and enjoying the view and each other. I have to say, as I sat back, well satiated on excellent saki and an amazing meal, pampered by incredible service and stared out over Central Park and Columbus Circle, I felt wonderful. We had had such a good time, such easy conversation and such a nice feeling of nachas and joy ... it was not the best meal I have ever had (but it was a damn good one), but the overall feeling of essentially floating over the city, dining in such remarkable style - a truly exceptional evening.

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