Sunday, November 30, 2014

YC's Ai FIORI exudes elegance, fills you and takes a turn on Italian (11-26-14)

Last night after a long travel day in rain, sleet and snow and a matinee on Broadway we headed over to Murray Hill and the Langham Hotel at 400 5th Avenue (37th St) to escape the Theater District and the crowds. AI FIORI has been open a while and is one of Chef Michael White's growing enterprises (we experienced Marea on Central Park South a couple of years ago), and only a couple of months ago joined the Relais et Chateaux group in its exclusive group of NY fine dining spots.
It was a quiet oasis of calm when we arrived just after 530pm, and the place never got noisy (it was a quiet night for them the day before T-giving), but this, again, is a hallmark of a Relais dining establishment.
Our server Jon arrived with a cheery smile and we settled in for a couple of hours of wonderful food and excellent service. Salted grissini (thin breadsticks) arrived standing in a small shotglass filled with EVOO and herbs for dipping. We consulted with the sommelier and arrived at a new white for us, ETNA BIANCO from Graci 2013 in Sicily which was crispy yet dry and creamy when it got a bit warmer.
The amuse was PARSNIP PUREE with a dab of Balsamic Reduction and Candied Orange which was rich and creamy, but Sam sent his over to me (yay, more for me)....Will declared it was a bit bitter, but I loved the novel combination which was a palate wake-up call.
Sam chose to go right to the pasta section as he was enthralled with the AGNOLOTTI of veal & butternut squash in a divine Sage & Black Truffle Sugo with crispy fried sage leaves on top. It was gone oh so quickly.
We decided to take advantage of the $97 four course prix fixe which includes a starter/pasta/main of fish or meat/and dessert. It's quite a deal since the prices here tend to be quite high at every starter in the high teens, pastas even higher and mains in the 30's and 40's$ range.
Will started with the tender PULPO cooked (as Jon carefully explained each dish as it arrived) sous-vide in garlic & thyme and then grilled a la plancha with fennel, purple cabbage and served over a kicky prosciutto spread that we all could not resist.
My ANIMELLE were soaked in milk veal sweetbreads that were oh so tender as well and melted in my mouth but had a crunch due to the crispy batter oh-so-delicately around each piece.  These came with butternut squash and a superb black truffle jus. On the side was a most interesting Caponata made from pistachios and raisins. I would not call this caponata, but it was interesting and truly to my liking (I'm not a huge raisin fan, especially with such a delicate meat.

For the pasta course I was leaning towards the Duck Confit Risotto but Jon steered me to a wonderful SPAGHETTI with Blue Crab(MD), Lemon, Bottarga & Calabrian Chiles. It was salty, spicy and everything my mouth desired. The crab was worthy of the best we get at home and I was happy I listened to Jon. Will had the same amazing Veal Agnolotti as Sam had and declared it one of the best pasta dishes on earth. He said he wants to have this served at his final meal before he goes on to the world to come!
Samuel had decided to try the Zuppa di Zucca or Butternut Squash Soup with pickled delicata squash, brown butter and pumpkin seeds. The dish usually comes with foie gras, but Sam asked for them to leave it out. He did not care for the soup overall as it was a bit wimpy on richness. I tasted it and must agree because we were expecting a creamier soup more typical of the butternut squash style that Samuel usually adores. Jon quickly agreed to replace the almost untouched dish and guess what Sam chose...another plate of those awesome Agnolotti that disappeared promptly.

Will & I had moved on to an excellent full bodied and intense 2009 BARBERA d'ASTI "Tulin" from Pelissero full of tasty tannins along with a wonderful earthy nose and flavor. It was superb with my ANATRA or Long Island Duck Breast cooked with honey and a crunchy crust of toasted hazelnuts on the skin.  Salty Tuscan Kale accompanied the dish, Cipollini onions, mustard fronds, apple mostarda and a foie gras jus. The combination was divine and the duck cooked perfectly.
Will ordered the VITELLO or Amish veal chop "au four" which came with new potato cake, sage, capers, prosciutto and a rich truffle cheese fondant. On arrival the dish was not very hot, so it went back for a warm-up and returned to Will's liking.  Will said the meat was not as good as the duck, but overall the preparation was good.

There were wonderful breads: black olive, country white, multi-grain and sesame seed served with Columbino EVOO and Rosemary salted butter.

For dessert Samuel jumped on the TARTALETTA, a chocolate pastry shell of Loma Sotarento 72% ganache, chocolate chiboust, tiramisu gelato and a bit of chocolate crunch. It was excellent and the hit for me was the gelato and crunch. Will had the MELA or caramel apple confit with brown butter torta, vanilla & cider sorbetto. It was refreshing and lighter and perfect for the season.
Some mignardises arrived of salted caramel, peppermint chocolate, a fruit gelee and one more. There were only four of these and 3 of us, which made for difficult splitting. Jon returned with a bottle of ARDBEG Scotch from Vigeadail in Islay (we had mentioned we liked scotch) and gave us each a complimentary pour to warm us up and send us on our way. Small lemon poundcakes arrived which we just finished for breakfast and they were tasty and moist and just right with the morning coffee.
Not everything was perfect at Ai Fiori, but the flowering service and most of the excellent food made our evening really great. Plus, we missed the massive traffic exodus from the NYC to Long Island where we headed for the holiday.