A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, May 29, 2005

May 29.

The Modern and Our Drinks

Tartare and Octopus

Quail and Carpaccio

Dinner -

Bar Room at The Modern - 9 W. 53rd St., Midtown West
Arctic char tartare with daikon and trout caviar; Foie gras torchon with muscat gelee and toasted country bread; Charred octopus with warm potato salad; Artichoke soup with lobster salad; Grilled quail with chive spaetzle and lentils; Braised pork cheeks with sauerkraut and ginger jus; Blood orange carpaccio with pomegranate granité; Beignets with maple ice cream, caramel and citrus mango marmelade, Coming Up Roses (Rose petals, lime, rosewater, Bacardi Raz and champagne on ice)

The other diners probably thought it was a lightning storm. Maybe an attack by the paparazzi. But no, those blinding bursts of light were merely what happens when two foodbloggers cross paths. A fan of The Amateur Gourmet's wacky exploits, I invited Adam, the man behind the blog, to co-review a restaurant with me. And while I'll let you decide if this epic experiment paid off, I'll just mention that many critics are already calling it the most important artistic collaboration since Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.

I devised a list of restaurants I've been meaning to visit and let Adam choose. He selected the Bar Room at the Modern, which I was eager to try since my astounding meal in the Main Dining Room (see Apr. 16). Meeting at eight, we took our seats in the intriguing space and looked over the menu. Livelier and hipper than its austere neighbor, the Bar Room interestingly attempts to fuse a young setting with fairly formal service and seriously intentioned food.

The menu similarly offers a change of pace, divided into three ambiguous sections. The first two are described as appetizer-sized and priced in the low- to mid-tens. The third, ranging in cost from the mid- to high-ten, features half-sizes of entrees. Taking up Adam's suggestion that we "live a little," we opted to choose one course from each column. He astutely observed that he probably would've ordered differently if the menu hadn't been arranged that way. Nonetheless, even when I'm being tricked by those evil Union Square Hospitality Group geniuses, I'm all for sampling as much as possible.

First came our drinks. With the same cocktails as the other room, the list continued to impress. The Coming Up Roses was another vibrant success, making a terrific palate-cleansing companion to my courses. Adam got the mango-passion mojito that I love and I contemplated stealing it and running for the exit while he was in the bathroom.

Foodwise, I started off with an arctic char tartare, an increasingly omnipresent salmon-like fish topped with red roe and served raw. It was delicious and low-key, a light opener that didn't try to fight the natural flavor of the fish. On the other side of the table, Adam had chosen the foie gras with muscat gelee. The foie gras was standard, which is to say quite good, but the novel gelee was the big standout. Tart and spry, it contrasted with the dense torchon in unexpected ways.

For the next course, I had the charred octopus on potato salad. This was another solid and handsome offering, the mollusk cooked to a happy median between tender and firm. As with the tartare, the flavor of seafood was on full display. The minced potato salad under it made a nice counterpart, but I wouldn't have minded something more substantial than the finely chopped bits of potatoes, tomatoes and red onion. Across the way, Adam had an artichoke soup that I found pleasant enough though it was too thin for my taste. However, the small side of lobster salad it came with was predictably wonderful.

Next came the Modern's pared down take on mains. To avoid only having seafood, I'd skipped over some promising fish options to go with the grilled quail. It's rare that I'll order poultry at a nice place and the quail reminded me why. It was certainly serviceable but also boring, the safe course on the menu for tamer taste buds. I also thought the portion of bird could've been bigger. Adam did a much better job on this round, choosing the pork cheeks and sauerkraut. The dish was Danube-esque (see Feb. 19) in its haute reinterpretation of Germanic basics. The meat also happened to be cooked expertly, tasting deep and rich against the sour, softer cabbage.

Finally, there was dessert, which may have been our best cumulative showing. I had the blood orange carpaccio, a spare treat of fruit topped with sugar and a great pomegranate granité. It was a light but tasty break from insanely decadent chocolate confections. Luckily, Adam went in a different direction, getting beignets that were also quite good. These French doughnuts came with three dipping sauces, maple ice cream, caramel and citrus mango marmelade, each one adding a delicious element to the mix.

With each course and with each order, I found many aspects to enjoy. It was, after all, a solid meal from start to finish. But even with highs like the beignets, the pork cheeks and the octopus, nothing truly wowed me. At the Bar Room's price points, I wanted to be pumping my fist in the air and leaping on couches Tom Cruise-style, declaiming, "I love this Modern!" Instead, I was very satisfied but not enchanted as I'd been in the other room. It may have to do with the room and the atmosphere being too trendy for the food. And while I fully respect and admire a place that treats its cooking with seriousness, the Bar Room if anything could use a little more flash. Because there's only so much two foodbloggers and their overactive cameras can do. 7/10

See Adam's take on our dinner at The Modern


Anonymous Catherine said...

So, this isn't a comment to your post on the Bar Room at the Modern- rather, I have a question. I've been given the task of picking somewhere to get barbeque locally (NYC), and after spending quite some time reading chowhound posts on the subject, the only thing I've found is a complete lack of consensus. Your blog has made me really comfortable trusting your opinion of restaurants- what's your take?

4:39 PM  
Blogger tara said...

I would say that this little experiement was a success! I enjoyed reading the two accounts of the same meal. I'll admit, the thought of the two of you in a hail of flashbulbs is also quite entertaining to me. I'm imagining the red carpet scene from the Aviator.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...


In response to your question, I'll be the first to admit that barbecue isn't my forte. Some people swear by R.U.B. or Blue Smoke, but I've never been to either, so I can't say. But I do know that all three times I've been to Dinosaur BBQ, I've had a great time and lots of great food. Check out my review of it here:
If that doesn't fit your criteria, I'd check out Blue Smoke.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Catherine said...

Thanks for the tip, we'll be checking that out soon. For some reason, I overlooked that post when I searched back before. Per usual, love the blog and the reviews.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to your blog, I was able to read about AND see photographic proof of the drink my mom was RAVING about (coming up roses!). Cheers!

2:55 PM  

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