Chow Time: Winter Restaurant Week, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about what to do if you’re in the city during break.  Probably the most awesome thing on that list, especially if you’re a foodie like me, is New York’s winter Restaurant Week.  Some of the best restaurants around the city offer a prix-fixe, three course lunch for $25 or dinner for $38.  While the price tag is still a luxury for many of us college folk, I was lucky enough to save up a bit of cash (ironically, from working at a restaurant during break).  I spent a good chunk of change indulging my culinary desires in these top-rated restaurants, no regret.   Though these upscale eateries are no longer dishing out bargain bites, never fear!  Restaurant Week occurs twice a year, so if you happen to be in city this summer (dates TBA, but you can stay updated through NYCGO), definitely keep my tips in mind for when you dine out.   In addition to my little tidbits, you can all live vicariously through me and salivate over my photos that I’ve posted below 🙂

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Ai Fiori

Executive Chef: Michael White
Cuisine: French, Italian
Location: Midtown

Ai Fiori

  • Appetizer (bottom left): country terrine with frisée, mustard, cornichons
  • Entrée (bottom right): pan roasted skate wing with beluga lentils, pear, port wine jus
  • Dessert (top): ligurian olive cake with grapefruit, cinnamon gelato

My Rating (out of 5)
Ambience: ★★★★★
Service: ★★
Food: ★★

My Thoughts
A Michelin star, an acclaimed Executive Chef, an elegant dining room in an upscale hotel—these three factors are a recipe for a perfect meal.  Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed in my experience.  The food was good, but far from mind-blowing.  I was with a few friends, and I had a taste of some of their dishes.   Maybe I’m just better at selecting dishes, but my food rating was actually based upon what I tried from their plates.  One friend had a butternut squash soup that was essentially just butter.  Another had a pasta dish that was so rich with cheese, she couldn’t stomach the entire plate.  I always have high expectations for a restaurant that holds the honor of a Michelin star, but I’ve noticed during a few of my previous Restaurant Week experiences that if you opt for the prixe-fixe meal as opposed to their à la carte menu, the quality goes down (this was the case when I tried Morimoto a few Restaurant Weeks ago).  Maybe because the kitchen isn’t used to the influx of customers that Restaurant Week brings, maybe because the sous chefs are pumping out these orders in bulk…in any case, the quality was definitely no where it should have been.  Even the service here wasn’t up to par, as the waitstaff could easily point out the Restaurant-Weekers from their normal, wealthy clientele.

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21 Club

Executive Chef: John Greeley
Cuisine: Traditional American
Location: Midtown

21Club

  • Appetizer (top left): peppered duck leg with green lentils, trumpet mushrooms, root vegetables, licorice, green peppercorn jus
  • Entrée (bottom left): sautéed scallop, sepia, shrimp, and cod with chorizo, Tuscan beans, slow roasted tomatoes in a spiced tomato broth
  • Dessert (right): coffee brownie sundae of coffee ice cream, chocolate brownie, toasted pecans, whipped cream

My Rating (out of 5)
Ambience: ★★
Service: ★★★
Food: ★★★★

My Thoughts
A favorite to Presidents and celebrities alike, this Prohibition-era speakeasy has been a New York icon since it opened in 1922.  I’m not typically one to give into pop-culture gimmicks, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  First off, they require men to wear a jacket.  21 Club has been the only restaurant I’ve been to that’s truly adhered to a dress code (most are business casual and they’re pretty flexible), so I figured the strict rule must be an indicator for a very refined interior.  Much to my surprise, the dining room was like a cave, jam-packed with tables upon tables (we could hear every word of the conversations at the tables on either side of us) and the decor was…old toys?  Yes, the walls were cluttered with framed pictures while toy cars, soccer balls, and helmets hung from the ceiling.  The inside was…strange to say the least, but I guess if you’ve been in operation that long, you earn the right to be a little funky.  The food definitely made up for the bizarre ambience.  The appetizer was a perfectly roasted duck leg whose portion seemed more appropriate as an entrée at these kinds of restaurants, but I’m not gonna complain about more food!  The seafood was a bit bland and could definitely use some more time simmering with the tomato broth.  And you can never go wrong with a brownie sundae.   The restaurant was busy so the staff was on the slower side, although they were at least friendly!

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Café Boulud

  • Executive Chef: Gavin Kaysen
  • Cuisine: French
  • Location: Upper East Side

CafeBoulud

  • Appetizer (top): celery root velouté with smoked steelhead roe, green apples, celery
  • Entrée (center): braised beef paleron with pommes aligot, red pepper piperade, watercress
  • Dessert (bottom): milk chocolate mousse with milk chocolate crémeux, flourless biscuit, salted caramel ice cream

My Rating (out of 5)
Ambience: ★★★★★
Service: ★★★★★
Food: ★★★★★

My Thoughts
This was the epitome of a perfect Restaurant Week experience.  Like Ai Fiori, Café Boulud was awarded one star in the 2013 Michelin Guide.  Unlike Ai Fiori, however, Café Boulud was able to maintain its exceptional quality and service.  The restaurant was elegant but still casual, so it was the perfect place for a group of slightly uncouth college kids to enjoy a nice meal.  The staff was friendly, inviting, and completely non-judgemental (I’ve been to quite a few nice restaurants with pretentious waiters to match).  The pièce de résistance of the meal was definitely the braised beef paleron.  If you ever wondered what butter would taste like in meat form, imagine no more.  Sitting atop a pillowy cushion of pomme aligot, this tender beef dish was a classic French take on meat and potatoes.  And don’t even get me started with the dessert.  In addition to the decadent chocolate mousse, they even brought our table a complimentary  plate of warm, freshly-baked petite madeleines!  A wonderful gesture to end our meal.

Next week, I’ll finish up this segment with another three reviews.  Until then, bon appetit!

-Syd

About Syd

Sup! I'm Syd. I just recently graduated from the Strategic Design & Management program this past fall, but I'm still kickin' it on iheartparsons.com to offer some words of wisdom! I love Sriracha sauce, quoting Spongebob Squarepants, solving Rubik's Cubes, and electronic dance music. Go Parsons!

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Chow Time: Restaurant Week, Part 2 | PARSONS ADMISSIONS

  2. Pingback: Chow Time: Winter Restaurant Week 2014 | I HEART PARSONS

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