The Modern

Peanut butter and jelly with milk ice cream

Peanut butter and jelly with milk ice cream

Our last night in New York was spent catching up with a friend we hadn’t seen for a few years over dinner at The Modern – a chic, Michelin-starred restaurant that overlooks the sculpture court at the Museum of Modern Art. Opened in 2005 by restaurateur Danny Meyer, the restaurant offers a choice of a three, four, or eight- course tasting menu, while the lively adjoining bar area offers an à la carte menu.

At the helm in the kitchen is Chef Abram Bissell, who took over from Gabriel Kreuther in March of 2014 when Kreuther left to open his own restaurant. It was a homecoming of sorts, because Bissell began his NYC career working at The Modern under Kruether before moving on to ever-increasing roles at Meyer-owned restaurants Eleven Madison Park and NoMad. At the time of his return, The Modern had been sporting one Michelin star for several years, but after just a year of Bissell taking charge in the kitchen the restaurant was elevated to two stars.

On Friday evenings, The Museum of Modern Art is free from 4-8pm. I was really excited to see the current Picasso sculpture exhibit, so this seemed like a perfect way to begin our evening. Of course, we should have known all of the city would be there satisfying their appetite for art and working up an appetite for dinner, but in-between all the pushing and ducking, we did manage to get through the exhibit – and it was extraordinary. I just wish I’d had more time and space.

After we made our way through, we killed some time before our reservation relaxing in the unseasonably warm November air in the sculpture garden, watching elegant diners on the opposite side of The Moderns glass wall.

We joined those diners a short time later, seated in a large booth that cleverly did not attach to the wall so staff could service the booth from all angles and not have to reach over the entire table. We started with a glass of champagne to toast the end of our trip in an appropriate manner before opting to have the full tasting menu, including the offered supplement. Normally, the idea of a supplementary course offered for a supplemental price doesn’t sit right with me. While not an uncommon practice, my feeling is that the concept of added pricing for “luxury” items when you are already out for a luxury meal doesn’t make sense. That being said, we were on vacation and it was our last night, so all hesitation was thrown out the window.

The dining room was elegant, modern, and comfortable. The service was professional but friendly, and not stuffy; which was a relief after our experience the day before at Eleven Madison Park. The only time I felt awkward was trying to navigate through the lengthy tome of a wine list, not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle yet not wanting to look overly cheap or inexperienced. In the end, the sommelier helped us pick a reasonably priced red that, while not exceptional, worked well with the menu.

Roasted turbot with celery root

Roasted turbot with celery root

As the courses came out we realized we were viewing our second gallery exhibit of the evening. The dishes were all beautiful and artfully arranged without being over the top or gimmicky, much like our surroundings. We started with a sabayon with caviar and brioche. Although very different, it reminded me of the eggs benedict at Eleven Madison Park – simultaneously light and refined, yet decadent and luxurious. I could eat this for breakfast every day. This was followed by a bold and colorful beet marinated lobster with sorrel vinaigrette. I was thrilled to sample lobster again, since we were near local waters, and the beet and sorrel combination gave it a familiar Pacific Northwest twist.

The white truffle tortellini supplement was amazing, and I’m so glad we got it despite my reservations about the supplement concept. It’s not unusual these days to find truffles in some form on the menu, often in the form of truffle oil on French fries or the like. The smell can permeate the air and be overwhelming, even bordering on downright bad. Its a completely different story with real, fresh truffles, and I almost forgot how much I like them because of my more common everyday association with them. At the Modern, the truffles were shaved onto our tortellini tableside, and when the waiter was done and realized there was a truffle flake stuck in the shaver, he let me pull it out so as not to waste a single sliver of the good stuff.

Next were the two main savory courses: turbot with celery root, followed by duck with chestnuts and chanterelles; a lovely pairing of ocean and earth, fall and deep winter, clean, bright flavors, and a warm, comforting blanket of richness.

The first dessert course was a palette cleanser starring watermelon sorbet, and then a fun grown-up version of a childhood favorite: peanut butter and jelly with milk ice cream. This dish had an artful composition that would have made any modern artist proud and it was delicious. The final surprise was the mignardise trolley offering up a wide assortment of caramels, meringues, and chocolates, as well as small cookies and other treats. Lucky for us, our dining companion had been here before so she had no hesitation ordering up several of the treats for herself. Craig and I followed suit. If it had been just us, we probably would have hesitated since there weren’t any explicit instructions.

While I cant really recommend going to MOMA on a Friday night, even if it is free, going to see some exceptional art followed by an artful meal is the best possible way to spend an evening, and was a perfect finale to our time in New York City.

(Click on a pic to embiggen and view the full gallery. You can also view these photos on our Flickr Photostream.)
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