March 14, 2005 1:27 AM | By Adam Roberts | 11 Comments

Family Feeding Frenzy: Katz's, Lever House, D.B. Bistro Moderne, and a Return to Jean-Georges

Maybe it's the Jew in me ("Let me out, you putz! It's hot in here!") but I feel guilty about the meals I'm about to share with you. Guilt--am I the only food blogger who feels guilty about eating good food? Maybe because it's all so decadent. But I can shift the blame to my parents--as we already know, my parents are decadent eaters. I'm just the lucky bystander who tags along and eats what is given to me. All I crave are the simple things---a ripe tomato, a slice of cheese. It's my parents who forced this upon me. What you are about to see happened totally against my will, I was dragged along, kicking and screaming...

Ok, you're not falling for it. So my parents spoil me when they come to visit (at my urging), even more than I spoil myself. And in the spirit of spoiling myself before they came, I took Michael (my brother, you met him in the last post) to Katz's deli on Thursday to experience New York's best pastrami:


Michael was dubious at first---as we got off the subway on Houston and passed 2nd avenue, he tried to divert us to the 2nd avenue deli. "I want a waitress!" he said, when I told him that Katz's only had counter service. But I persisted and he came and sure enough Katz's does have waitresses if you want (although our experience leads me to suggest that you just do the counter service, our waitress was pretty inept). Michael was completely converted by Katz's pastrami. "Mmmm," he said. He's not someone who relents easily--he might have pretended, for example, to hate the pastrami to win the fight about 2nd Ave. Deli being better--but he did no such thing. He enjoyed his pastrami and agreed it was the best in New York.

We also shared potato latkes which, too, were excellent:


And just to get the gluttony ball rolling, I took him afterwards to Doughnut Plant (it's not a far walk away) to experience New York's best (and most interesting) doughnuts. He had the Vahlrona chocolate doughnut on the right, I had the orange on the left:


Naturally, they were terrific. The coffee was pretty good too.

Now then: my parents arrived. Here they are with Michael in an artistic shot at Fresco:


I didn't document our Fresco meal for three reasons: (1) I've done it before; (2) the meal wasn't very good (it was fine, not great), and (3) for the first time ever in my history of doing this site, a manager asked me not to take pictures. I think it had less to do with taking pictures of food than it did with the flash irritating their celebrity customers. They shot themselves in the foot, though, because, as we all know, this site is a powerhouse in the food world, and one bad word from me and...and...

Moving on.

For lunch Friday we went to a giant in the world of corporate business lunches: Lever House.


A few years ago, Lever House made a big stir when it opened. Here's where the players came to play, where titans--Masters of the Universe--came to nosh on Cobb salads and grilled fish, signing contracts, fiddling with cell phones and pulling the Levers (get it? Levers? Lever House?) on the slot machines of capitalism. (I am a genius! What a great sentence! Ok, no.) Anyway, now I wonder if Lever House is a little past it's prime---if only because our power lunch was only impressive in one regard: the architecture.


Isn't that a cool doorway? That's how you enter Lever House. The room has a honeycomb theme---people sit in little honeycomb pods surrounding the less interesting tables in the middle. We sat at a less interesting table in the middle. We kept our eyes peeled for celebrities and power brokers, but didn't see any. (Last time my mom was here, however, she saw Michael Eisner.)

The food?

Eh. Ok, it's perhaps my fault that I let the waiter talk me into this pheasant terrine:


I must confess that the image in my head of "terrine" was not what was brought out on the plate--but that's ignorance on my part, not the waiter's. With that said, though, I've had terrines I've really enjoyed (like this one at Cafe Bouloud)---and this one tasted gamey and unpleasant. I was not a fan.

Then for the entrees, I ordered halibut which was nice and fine, and dad ordered risotto "with no cheese." Dad hates cheese. So when they brought the risotto covered with cheese, I martyred myself and switched with him. Here it is:


The glum lighting mirrors the glumness of the risotto. It had no real flavor base. The cheese was nice, there were mushrooms too--but this risotto was a loser. L-on-its-head loser. Like "I took you to a Remington party and you paid me back with puke" type loser. (Ya, Heather, I went there.)

But the dessert. Lever House almost fully redeems itself by way of this dessert:


Milk chocolate coconut cake with coconut sorbet. It was really delicious--I loved it. (Shared it with Michael who did most of the gobbling.)

Moving on, then, we go to the next day. (Friday night we saw Billy Crystal's "700 Sundays" which was really impressive in that Billy worked really hard---only, (and this could totally be a generation thing--we of the age of irony and self-awareness) I found it slightly shlocky and emotionally manipulative, though I have no doubt for him he's being as raw and honest as he could get in live performance. I just wish he didn't paint himself so cleanly. (With that said, though, he's a great performer. The pantomime bits were terrific.)) (We ate in Joe Allen's afterwards and saw (as guaranteed by my post on Joe Allen's where I say it's the best Broadway Star-Sighting place after theater) B.D. Wong. Yes, he's a star, isn't he?)

Lunch Saturday. We went to D.B. Bistro Moderne. This is a great pre-theater place (we were going to see "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," which was a lot of fun): great location and great food.

Normally, I don't take pictures of other people's dishes (I don't have the space for it to post all these pics) but Michael's clam chowder was outrageously beautiful:


Couldn't that hang in the MOMA?

The way lunch works there is you can get an appetizer and an entree or an entree and a dessert. You who know me know what I did. So for my entree I chose Atlantic cod with porcini dumplings, vegetables "paysanne" and a garlic-parsley broth:


It was marvelous (and also the best picture I took all weekend.)

For dessert, I jilted my tablemates (they all opted for appetizers and were not entitled to desserts) who love chocolate. I of the fruit-dessert persuasion had Tropical Fruit Soup with ginger-vanilla bavarois and pink guava sorbet:


Not surprisingly, I had the whole dessert to myself. If you eat with my family and want a whole dessert to yourself, order a fruit dessert---they won't touch it.

Now then, we come to the greatest eating moment of the weekend. I began this post by pretending that I am just a happy bystander of my parents food-love, that their gourmet outings are in no way influenced by me--but that's not entirely true. I think somehow (and this could be complete megalomania on my part) this site and my newfound food "authority" have somehow seeped into their consciousness (mostly my mom's--she who makes the reservations) and that their former tendency to eat big family-style meals at Italian theater-district places like Carmine's has been displaced by a respect and awe for the finest things in life, pointed out by me in my journey towards gourmet enlightenment. So whether it's my influence or her own self-will, my mom made a reservation for the four of us at Jean-Georges Saturday night, because she loved it there the last time. I did too and anticipated it with great excitement.

We were not disappointed.

Jean-Georges is the best restaurant in New York. I will qualify that statement only to say that I haven't been to every restaurant in New York, but I have been to many, and several of them were 4-stars (Per Se, Daniel.) Jean-Georges, however, is the best that I can imagine a restaurant to be---it's a magical dining experience. The room is enchanted, the service outstanding, and the food exciting, surprising, and luscious. It's just dazzling.

We started with an amuse bouche of (and this is from memory, so forgive me): pear with caviar, chicken broth with olive oil (and this chicken broth had a kick to it), and tuna(?) hamachi with something on it (sorry):


Last time we did the Jean-Georges tasting menu. This time we ordered from the left side of the page which allows you to choose an appetizer, a middle course, an entree and a dessert. This worked out perfectly.

For my appetizer, I had the sea scallops, caper-raisin emulsion and cauliflower:


These were TOO good. And the sauce---what a crazy perfect combination. Capers and raisins? It works. I'd like to recreate this dish at home sometime like the folks do at Gothamist Food. Maybe I can put them on the job.

For my next course I ordered foie gras because it's the sort of thing I NEVER eat on a regular basis, I only eat it on very special occassions and this was one of them. It came with another thrilling combination: peanuts and a cherry sauce. All-American foie gras?


Seriously, this is why I love Jean-Georges. Who would think to combine peanuts and cherries on LIVER? And it works--I swear, these things are radical food revelations that happen in your mouth. It's like having eyes in the roof of your mouth that have slept for 26 years that suddenly and miraculously open up. (Ok, that's a gross image.)

For my entree, I had the duck. But first, look at this man carving a pineapple:


This was happening at the table next to us. I swear (and I kid you not) he did this for 45 minutes. He carved this intricate design into it and then sliced it and it was beautiful and theatrical and had everyone staring from around the room. Where else does this happen? Nowhere, I tell you, nowhere!

Now my duck. Oh my God.


Look at the top of my duck. What do you see? Looks strange, right?

They're almonds but they almost taste like an almond brittle--they fuse with the skin and make this crazy, crispy, candy-like crust. I was in heaven. (I should state here, though, that my dad and brother--who were also at this table--ate their food with mild interest and very few spurts of joy. Dad, who also had the duck, found it "too sweet.")

But my middle name is "too sweet" so this was perfect. It had a honey wine sauce that accented everything nicely. I loved this dish.

Then there was (drumroll): dessert.

Oh, dessert. Dessert at Jean-Georges. If only I'd asked for a menu I could identify everything! There were four choices: a chocolate menu (which, boringly, mom, dad AND Michael opted for), a citrus menu, an apple menu and an exotic menu. I chose (at the waiter's suggestion) the exotic menu. I was glad I did:


I can't remember what everything is (I'm sorry! I know! I failed you!) but my favorite was on the lower left: there was passion fruit in it and I love passion fruit. Otherwise, on the upper left is pineapple upside down cake, on the upper right some kind of sweet fruity soup, and on the lower right a banana dessert with ice cream. Do I really need to tell you how terrific it all was?

Once again, Jean-Georges won our hearts and minds (at least mom's and mine) and I left feeling bloated, sick, and all the better for it.

Today, I ate as little as possible---eggs, toast, a burger that served as lunch and dinner, and then, just now, oatmeal. Tomorrow begins my return to the gym which I may or may not blog about. If this was the last "hurrah" it doesn't get much better than that. Mom, dad and Michael are back in Florida so I'm safe for a while. Until their next visit... happy vicarious eating!


note to self... don't read ag's blog before eating boring steamed veggies and tofu!


Loved this entry! LOVED! Brought back sooo many memories of having family members over to eat in Berkeley/SF. Now I am in LA and they are no longer within quick driving distance, so that doesn't happen as often.

Also, this entry made me hungry (and I've just eaten), especially for those donuts... and that clam chowder... and those scallops... beautiful photos.

Thank you.

Jean-Georges serves you four desserts?!?!

I agree with Samantha - four?! Good lord. I confess I was hoping for a good "Mom" quote or something this time. She usually comes up with a zinger (unless you script them for her).

Daaaaamn, AG -- you ate like Frank Bruni this weekend! I'm amazed you didn't have to get wheeled out of JeanGeorges on a gurney...but it would be worth it. :P

amateur gourmet.

1). question: is that a slice of fried lotus root atop your dessert at the lever house? Or is it just a tuile in the shape of one? Just curious - it looks very cool.

2). hands down, flat out, straight up agree that jean-georges is the best restaurant (that i've been to) in n.y. i had a stellar experience there - but that being said, i have always had a more open-minded/adventurous palate...


amendment... re: my previous comment - the first question was referring to the dessert at db bistro moderne, not lever house...


Adam, from whom you don't know me ( I cannot be the only person who's ever said that to you), I finally had to write and tell you that I think your blog is amazingly fabulous and funny. I played some of your songs and videos for my husband and have sent links to you to various friends worldwide. I just hope they read you as assiduously as I do (they probably don't as they aren't quite as fond of baroque food writing as I am. but that's OK, it's their loss and I tried.) Anyway, thank you for being so funny and informative and almost endlessly inventive.
Laura F.

If you like pomegranates, try the pomegranate doughnut next time you're at Doughnut Plant...

I think I gained five pounds just reading your blog! But it was worth it!

mmm... those latkes look divine.

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