While I Was Silent… Part IV: December

(Note: This is the last installment. For those who have not read the others and wish to do so, Part I is here, Part II is here, and Part III is here.)

Blizzard:  December 27, 2010

With p.t. three times a week and acupuncture twice a week, my condition continued to improve. Driving became more comfortable, and I finally began making progress with regard to the computer. We spent almost all of December in NJ — just five days in NYC.

THE BIG event, weather-wise, was the Blizzard of 2010. 27 inches!

Before the Blizzard….

I was feeling well enough to cook a Chanukah dinner in the apartment for the four of us. I took only one photo. Instead of the usual Chanukah cookies, I decided to bake rugalech. I made two different batches: regular and gluten-free.

Rugelach

Every December, the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center performs the complete Brandenburg Concertos. We’d always talked about getting tickets but had never managed to do so. This year, we did. What made it even more special was that violinist Jessica Lee was one of the performers. She and I are Chowhound members, so we’ve conversed on the Manhattan board and have also exchanged occasional emails. When I wrote to tell her we’d be attending the Brandenburgs, we made arrangements to meet afterwards for the first time in person. The concert was thrilling! It was exciting to watch Jessica perform as a member of this superb ensemble and a pleasure to finally meet her. After chatting for a few minutes, we agreed to get together for dinner as soon as her schedule would permit.

Before the concert, M and I had a lovely, leisurely lunch at EMP. One of the assets of the new menu format is that by choosing the single-worded vegetable, one receives a dish in which it plays the starring role. Fennel, my first course, played that role in style (like Cauliflower and Carrot). All of its facets were explored. Warm and raw slices provided textural and flavor contrasts. The warm slices were soft without being mushy, and the anise flavor was subtle; raw, the fennel had a nice level of crunchiness, and the anise flavor was more pronounced. Other elements on the plate added to the salad’s complexity: a grain, curls of ham, and finely diced tomato. To sum up in one word: Stellar!

Fennel

M had high praise for his first course, Scallop. And both of us loved our second course, Lobster. Butter poached, the lobster was accompanied by pain d’epices and finished with a sauce spooned tableside which I think contained maple syrup. Usually, one thinks of lobster being paired with, for example, something citrusy, to counter the lobster’s sweetness. Choosing the all-sweet route was a bold gamble because it might not appeal to some. However, we both like sweet; therefore, this dish appealed to us in a big way.

Our main course, Beef, made us really swoon. Fork-tender, the little pillow of meat had superb flavor. But it was the accompaniments that kicked the dish into high gear. Actually, they launched it into the gustatory stratosphere. A luscious piece of perfectly seared foie gras was perched atop a creamy potato cake, alongside which was an intensely sweet onion marmalade. This was an “OMG!” dish if ever there was one. I didn’t post a list of Best Dishes of 2010, but if I had, this would definitely have been Numero Uno!

Beef

After the pre-dessert, we shared a cheese course. Arriving in grand fashion on the trolley, Hobelchas is from Switzerland, Chef Humm’s homeland. We watched as it was sliced quite thinly and plated with apple slices and a swath of fig jam. Hobelchas’s flavor is relatively mild – a plus for me since I don’t like very strong cheeses.

For dessert, I chose Lemon. Lemon curd and lemon sorbet were smooth, puckery, and refreshing with rye crisp wafers adding crunchiness. M chose Chocolate. A wide band of chocolate was wrapped around butternut squash sorbet – a combination we thought unusual, but which worked beautifully – with pistachios playing a supporting role. So, two delightful desserts!

Mignardises and siphon coffee completed what was in every respect another truly sensational meal at our favorite restaurant.

To see all the photos from this meal, Click here.

After the concert, we had a late supper at Maialino. Risotto Croquettes and Mozzarrella, a plate of Salumi and Olives, and an Almond and Apple Crumb Cake with Caramel Gelato for dessert hit the spot.

Salumi Misti

The next day, we saw the Roundabout’s production of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter. (Our tickets had originally been for October.) No witty Coward in this play. Instead, this is a serious romance (some might use the term “noir”) about two married people – she a housewife, he a doctor — who meet at a railway station. When he removes a cinder from her eye, there is an immediate attraction, they continue meeting weekly, and fall in love. But when guilt overtakes them, and they realize they cannot break up their marriages, they end things without ever having consummated the relationship.

In the Roundabout production, there were substantial changes. It was turned into a musical, there were comedic vignettes involving several railway station workers, and the two lovers do have sex before deciding to part permanently. Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock were excellent as Laura and Alec.

The 1945 movie directed by David Lean stars Celia Johnson and Leslie Howard. The movie’s theme music is from one of my favorite classical pieces, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In the Roundabout production, it was used to swelling, emotional effect towards the play’s end.

After the Blizzard…

New Year’s Eve was approaching. Usually, we don’t go out, preferring to celebrate quietly at home in NJ. But this year, considering the past few months, we decided that we needed to do something more festive. What better place for us to do it than at EMP! We like to dance, and there was going to be a band. So, there’d be more than just a wonderful meal.

We came into NYC the day before and had a very pleasing lunch at Le Parisien: Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Apple Walnut Vinaigrette, Endive Salad with Pear, Roquefort Cheese, and Balsamic Port Vinaigrette, and Bistro Steak/Frites with Red Wine Sauce and Caramelized Onions. We shared both salads and the steak/frites. All were perfectly prepared and delicious.

Bistro Steak/Frites

For dinner that evening, we decided to try the “new” Veritas, which had closed without warning at the end of August and reopenedin November with a new chef, a new menu, and new décor. It had been a favorite of ours since it first opened many years ago. The New American cuisine served by Scott Bryan was always superb (he is now cooking at Apiary). And we fell head-over-heals in love with Gregory Pugin’s sensational modern French cuisine (he is now the executive chef at Le Cirque, in Las Vegas). Why owner Park B. Davis decided to totally revamp remains a mystery. But it happened, so we figured we should check it out.

Sadly, there is nothing about the new Veritas that in any way equals the restaurant we loved. The new décor is not particularly appealing, and the noise level is now much higher due to (a) the dispensing with tablecloths, and (b) the floor-to-ceiling shelves holding wine bottles causing sound to ricochet off the glass.

As for the food, M fared far better than I did. His first course, Beef in Transition:
Beef Tartate, Peppered Sirlon, and Short Ribs
, all the components of which I tasted, was Very good.  And his main course, Maple-Brined Wooly Pig with Charred Tomato, and Wilted Butter Lettuce, was tasty as well.

My first course, Cured Salmon with Panelle (Chickpea Fritters) and Salmon Caviar, wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly great either. The generous portion of gravlax was fine. However, the mass of fritters underneath were mushy and tasteless. While I’ve previously had salmon caviar that was mild, here it was too fishy for me. Luckily,the few dots of it on the plate were easily pushed aside.

The only word to describe my main course, Seared Scallops with Roasted Cepes, Sunchoke Purée, Foie Gras, is awful! The execution was inept. The scallops were over-seared, one of which, hidden under the fois gras, was burnt, and the cepes had a very unappealing gelatinous texture. I had never before met a foie that I didn’t like. But this was it!  Foie gras that was mushy and flavorless. M tasted it and grimaced. Blech! When our server stopped by to ask how things were, I did tell her that the dish was poor. But what I should have done was send it back.

They did comp us the dessert we shared: Chocolate Hazelnut Bar with Aleppo Pepper Caramel and Hazelnut Chantilly. As it turned out, this was the one aspect of the meal that was truly delicious. And we were sent on our way with a parting gift, banana muffins, which turned out to be excellent. But overall, for me, this was a very disappointing experience, and I had very little desire to return.*

Because of the lighting, most of the the photos came out quite dark.  But if you want to have a look, Click here.

New Year’s Eve…

I had gotten myself something new and spiffy to wear, and we both felt really upbeat when we entered EMP. There were several massive displays of silver balloons which reached towards the mile-high ceiling, and as we were led to our usual table, the band was already playing. A jazz band, and they were terrific! The odd thing was that throughout the evening, nobody got up to dance. But that didn’t stop us! Never ones to let a good band go to waste, we made several trips to the area in front of the bar where the musicians were stationed and which had been cleared for anyone who wanted to do a little “dancing cheek-to-cheek.” Yeah, we’re no Rodgers and Astaire. But we loved doing it!

The meal had all the bells and whistles including Champagne, caviar, truffles, foie gras, Chef Humm’s signature duck, and a lovely chestnut dessert.

Near midnight, Robert came around with a cart laden with glasses of champagne.  The entire kitchen staff came into the dining room to send off the old year and toast the new. As the clock struck midnight, M and I kissed.

Good-bye, 2010!

To see all the photos from New Year’s Eve at EMP, Click here.

Eleven Madison Park:  New Year's Eve 2010-2011

*Note:  In February, M convinced me to give Veritas another try. While the food this time was much better (that wouldn’t have taken much), and dessert remained the highlight, Veritas has lost the charm it held for me in the past.  Thus, I can no longer recommend it as the must visit destination it used to be.  Because it’s in our neighborhood, we’ll probably go again sometime —  but I’m not rushing.

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