23 April 2008

Adour - Alain Ducasse

St. Regis Hotel
2 E 55th Street
New York, NY 10022

After less than memorable (actually memorable but not in a positive way) earlier meals at Alain Ducasse restaurants in Europe, Hong Kong and in New York, but after we read the positive critics reviews of Adour we decided to give it a try. Having been the previous week at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon we had a perfect point of comparison.

The David Rockwell designed room is neither overly attractive nor unattractive. It is just neutral and makes the best of a somewhat awkward space at the St. Regis Hotel. The wine storage cabinets throughout the dining area are impressive, but do they really make this a premier dining space? The close rectangular table arrangements for twos is also more mainstream restaurant rather than the well placed and well suited round tables at fine dining places such as Daniel or Jean-George

The start was shaky as our reservation request was not honored, but after a polite reminder, we were seated at an acceptable table. The wait service was professional, but far short of expectations of a top restaurant.

Wine service was at best odd. First the sommelier seemed confused when we asked for a recommendation of a Pouilly Fuisse and he recommended a Pouilly Fume. Then when we selected a well priced Chassagne-Montrechet after briefly showing the bottle, the sommelier did not open the bottle within visible sight, did not show the cork, and then put the wine in a decanter – the first time in my life a French white was placed in a decanter. It was weird at best. But when the wine was not routinely served during dinner and the sommelier later tipped the decanter to get the last drop of the wine as he cleared the decanter, the wine service went from weird to just plain bad service.

And service did not improve when the wrong first courses were placed in front of us. After we started sliding the plates across the table the head waiter chastised the busser but never apologized for this major fault. Not anything one expects at a top restaurant.

So the setting for the food was strained before we had our first taste (we will discount the bread sticks presented as some weird pseudo amuse-bouche). Our first courses of sweetbreads and gnocchi while acceptable paled in comparison to comparable dishes at L'Atelier. Same for our mains of chicken and pork, both of which lacked any fine cuisine sizzle.

While some may find the food at Adour fine and some may even accept the food as finest French gourmet cuisine, to us it is merely acceptable.

Adour - Alain Ducasse – Acceptable.

15 April 2008

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

The Four Seasons Hotel
57 E 57th Street
New York , NY

Having dined at various Joel Rubuchon places in Paris over the years, when L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon opened nearly two years ago at The Four Seasons Hotel we were first in line to get a reservation. But given the initial hype and way too much attitude it had at that time, it took a long time to really want to dine there for a meal to savor.

When we learned Rubuchon would be in New York for a week in April, which he does at least twice a year, we booked a reservation at the counter. And while there are tables, the counter is really the only place to sit to really experience the L'Atelier experience, be it in Manhattan or Paris. The 20 counter seats surround three sides of the open kitchen area, and provide an intimate insight into French haute cuisine preparations. While the remainder of the dining area is pleasant the grand scale of the I M Pei designed hotel open space is a bit overwhelming, as is the sameness of the dining area to the entrance area to the dining room and the adjacent bar.

While food is the reason to come to L'Atelier, the service makes it all that more enjoyable. General Manager and chief sommelier Stephane Colling runs a tight ship. At the counter the waiters are always within close proximity and they provide outstanding service, as do the bussers who make each course presentation a special event, multiple times per meal.

The outstanding modern cuisine is best enjoyed via ordering the small plates, which diners can mix and match to create the meal of their own design. There are so many highlights it is difficult to recommend any one over the others. Rouchon's signature langoustine dish is prepared to perfection, sweetbreads are heavenly and the steak tartare is memorable.

We were fortunate that not only Joel Robuchon was in the kitchen and the dining area during our latest meal, but his two top Parisian chefs (Philippe Braun and Eric Bouchenoire) were overseeing the kitchen. Braun who oversees L’Atelier in Paris is lively and spontaneous as is his cooking, while Bouchenoire is intense and committed to the finest preparations as he demonstrates at La Table Joel Robuchon. With these three top chefs in the kitchen, the New York kitchen was performing at its absolute best.

The wine list developed by Colling is first class containing hidden treasures, including wines from small boutique French wineries that are unknown outside France. If you are unsure, check with Colling and he will guide you to a perfect wine. Further his wine pairings are well selected and served.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Highly Recommended

05 April 2008


236 Fifth Avenue
New York , NY 10001

After being open almost six months, the modern Lebanese restaurant Ilili is demonstrating it is one of the finer places in all of Manhattan.

Located in a dismal part of Fifth Avenue between 27th and 28th Street north of Madison Park and Flatiron, Ilili is as much an oasis as any place in the Middle East. The large restaurant is on two levels, with the main level being the preferred location, although all dining areas are acceptable. The main dining area is divided by wooden panels between the lower bar area, and high ceiling large table section in the center and a more intimate two top table section. The overall decor is composed of rich wood, candle lighting which in an unexpected way creates a certain Arabian Nights feel.

The menu appears to be traditional Lebanese cuisine, but on close examination the ingredients indicate a modern twist to classical dishes. By encouraging diners to select small dishes (tapas style) two diners can compose a wonderful meal by combining six small dishes. Selections are varied including vegetable dishes, seafood dishes, and meat dishes. Terrific dishes include incredible Brussels sprouts, octopus cru, perfect black cod with incredible seasoning, spicy shrimp, lamb chops, lamb kabobs and duck or lamb shawarma.

The service staff is excellent, knowledgeable and efficient. While some early reviews of the service may have been accurate, the current service staff is outstanding.

The wine list while small is perfectly matched to the Lebanese cuisine. In part because the owner/chef is related to the Massoud's of Paumanok Vineyards of Long Island, both Long Island and Californian wines are featured. We had the excellent Paumanok Chardonnay which was perfectly matched to our most recent meal. Wine service was professional.

This is truly an outstanding restaurant, doing for Lebanese food what Anthos is trying to do for Greek cuisine, but doing it far better and much loser prices.

Ilili - Highly Recommended

04 April 2008

Eastern Pennsylvania Dining and Wine Tasting

We travel to eastern Pennsylvania frequently to visit family, go outlet shopping and attend events at the colleges. Until recently, the area was not a fine dining destination by Manhattan standards. But with the recent migration of greater numbers of New York City region people to the area, and at least until recently improving economic growth, the area is developing a few fine places that stand up to highest quality and performance standards. The Bethlehem area seems particularly strong and here are two of our favorites:

Bolete - Resturant and Inn
1740 Seidersville Road
Bethlehem, PA 18015

On the south side of the Lehigh mountain range just outside Bethlehem is one of the most attractive sections of the Lehigh Valley. Seiderville road which runs east to west from Hellertown to Allentown for the most part is a beautiful winding country road. At a rather unfortunate and non-scenic intersection of the road is the charming old stone house/country inn recently renamed Bolete (Latin for wild mushroom). Owned and operated by Lee Chizmar and Erin Shea, this young couple has brought a fine sense of dining and style to what otherwise would be a rather ordinary place.

Erin Shea runs the front of the house and is a friendly and charming hostess. Erin also handles the promotion and maintains a lively restaurant website. The decor is country modern, and it is clear there was more inspiration here than money in the interior design and redecorating budget. Nonetheless, the atmosphere of the dining rooms is simple, clean and perfectly well suited with the building's architectural bones. The dining room is bright for lunch and seductively illuminated for evening dining.

Chizmar is the chef and runs a kitchen that uses local produce when available, changes the menu daily and executes contemporary American meals that are overall outstanding. As is the case in many places, the simpler the dish the better the execution and performance. Chizmar has a weakness to over complicate some dishes and the results are mixed. While the seafood dishes are very good, our experience has indicated the kitchen does meats and fowl better than fish.

The wine list suffers as do all Pennsylvania restaurants from restrictions placed upon them to obtain wine through the state wine distribution system. Nonetheless, the list is acceptable, but surprisingly the wines are priced quite high.

Service is very friendly and mostly very good. Professional and competent waiters make the experience enjoyable and the limited support staff are especially good.

We are pleased to see that a young couple can elevate the dining standards of the area and that the local diners as well as out-of-towners can enjoy a wonderful meal in a pleasant setting.

Update: Bolete has been selected by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top new spots in the world for 2008. Wow that is a major accomplishment.

Bolete - Recommended

Blue Grillhouse - Wine Bar
4431 Easton Avenue
Bethlehem PA 18020

On the eastern side of Bethlehem on one of the nondescript roads leading towards Easton, is a large dining facility with a formal restaurant which for the last five years has been named the Blue Grillhouse - Wine Bar, which it shares with the catering/event facility Candlelight (the original name had been Candleight Inn for both places). While the place has all the warning signals of a very commercial dining business that serves mediocre food, the Blue Grillhouse is in fact a top notch steakhouse/chophouse with one of finer wine collections in Pennsylvania.

The large restaurant is inviting despite the dark wood decor and the various partitioned dining areas. Always illuminated by candles, the place has a much more inviting appeal than most steakhouse and chophouses. Reception and wait service is consistently very good.

This is a place to go for meat - steaks and chops, but it also does a very good job on simply prepared seafood. Dishes are large and while expensive, represent very good value. Any simply prepared steak, chop of fish will be 100% satisfying.

What really separates Blue Grillhouse is the wine list containing over 200 bottles of well selected wines. With severe restrictions in Pennsylvania for restaurants to develop a top caliber wine list and cellar, Blue Grillhouse does an outstanding job. Prices are also good values.

Blue Grillhouse - Wine bar - Recommended

A Voce

41 Madison Avenue
New York , NY 10010

The Gramercy/Flatiron area has an abundant number of top restaurants. And the block between 24th and 26th on Madison has three top places; Eleven Madison Park, Tabla and A Voce.

A Voce is a modern Italian/American place that provides fine dining in a modern environment. The relatively large dining room with a wall of glass facing 26th Street is pure Italian modern design. The simple stark design while stylish imparts zero warmth and comfort. Tables are lined in rigid rows which adds to the style but results in a cafeteria like feeling.

Fortunately the menu and execution of the of Chef Andrew Carmellini's kitchen is so excellent the environment is secondary. Based upon classic Italian cuisine, the kitchen transforms the dishes into contemporary cuisine that reflects its Italian origins, but also has modern American and fresh local ingredients that transforms the food into a very high level of modern cuisine. Appetizers are generous, pasta course are light and satisfying and mains - particularly seafood - are spectacular. Expect to pay premium prices for such excellently prepared meals.

The wine list is first class, featuring a full array of Italian selections, priced fairly. The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence is richly deserved.

The only failing at A Voce is the service. Reception while honoring reservations has a bit of an attitude, the wait staff is disinterested in serving and runners/busboys are not nearly as professional at other top places. This is an area that needs immediate attention and in our mind lowers our overall appreciation of the dining experience.

A Voce - Recommended