Friday, July 24, 2009

Mike’s Bar-B-Que Adventure: New York City

Part 7 of a 5-part series

Note: see the top of the July 23rd Blog entry if you’re confused about the whole “Part 7 of 5” deal.

Our final evening in New York City was warm and nice. This is significant, considering how we spent much of our day. More about that later. My wife and I debated how best to get to the Four Seasons Restaurant. Ultimately, we decided that it was far enough that walking in our dress shoes might be uncomfortable. It’s possible that we could have taken the subway to get there, but the route wasn’t as straightforward as the one up to Central Park had been the night before. A cab seemed the most expeditious means of conveyance. I was concerned that our marvelous lunch at Planet Hollywood would dull my appetite for dinner, but I need not have worried. By 7:15 when we arrived at the restaurant, I was plenty hungry. My wife looked magnificent in her black evening dress, and the elegant splendor of the restaurant was the ideal venue to accent her beauty. Certainly I felt like a prince myself that evening, the city my jewel.

You enter the Four Seasons through a grand lobby with a coat check and some seats. Upstairs there’s a bar (which didn’t look to be open, but I didn’t really get a good look at it on the way in, as I was focused on the maître d’ who greeted us at the top of the stairs. Up until this point, what we’d seen of the restaurant seemed dim and empty, though refined. The dining room was different.

The room was large and fairly full, but not noisy. The décor, from the wide pool at the center of the room to the large (artificial? We weren’t close enough to be sure) palm trees at its four corners, was elegant and lavish. The windows were covered in curtains of delicate white threads that gently arced across each section of glass. We were seated in a row of tables that ran sidelong down a long series of sectioned seats, placing my wife and me side-by-side. It was an unusual configuration and not unpleasant. We faced a row of more traditional four-person tables, and the people across the aisle from us had just been served an enormous plate of what could only be cotton candy. We surmised that it must have been the chef’s special dessert for the evening, as it wasn’t on any menu we ever saw, though we witnessed several more being served throughout the evening, often with lit candles.

We confirmed with the waiter (the Captain, perhaps? I never did determine which server had which title. O CAPTAIN! my Captain! I fear I need a refill on my Diet Coke.) that our credit for the meal was in place, so the feast was on! The appetizers and salads didn’t especially interest us – they were all somewhat exotic and often seafood-based, which generally isn’t our cup of tea. My wife did elect to have a glass of wine, but we’re also not big drinkers. I count both of these choices as good. We never got any sort of bill since we evidently stayed within our line of credit, but I’m confident that a bottle of wine and appetizers would have blown us out of the water based on the rough tally we kept during the evening.

There were several entrée choices that appealed to either or both of us, and we decided on the Crisp Long Island Farmhouse Duck for two. We also ordered a chocolate soufflé for dessert. They brought me my Diet Coke in a little glass bottle, which was a nice touch. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. We spent the next twenty minutes or so admiring the décor, watching the other guests, and eating the tasty breads that were served.

The duck arrived on a silver cart. Its golden skin seemed almost to gleam as it ran with hot juices. A small burner heated a silver cup of cherry compote. Our server deftly cut apart the duck. He first removed a wing and set it on a plate. Next, he cut off one breast, after which he carefully, but with the speed of long practice, sliced off the skin. With the knife, he inverted the skin and scraped off the layer of fat underneath. He then replaced the skin on the breast meat. The process was repeated on the other breast, after which the deep burgundy cherry compote was poured from the heated silver cup.

The taste of the duck can be summed up in five words: holy crap this is delicious! The meat had a rich flavor, amplified by the crisp skin. The sauce was sweet but not at all overpowering, and the cherries were so flavorful that at first I wasn’t convinced they were just cherries and not something more exotic. We had potato au gratin as a side dish, and it was also very tasty.

When we could no longer manage another morsel of the duck, it was removed and our table was scraped clean. At last we were served our soufflé along with a small plate of confections. Our server broke the crust and poured in a hot dark chocolate sauce and a white cream, which mingled together inside the soufflé. The soufflé was remarkably fluffy and flavorful, and I could tell my wife was in heaven. For my part, I liked it, but I prefer my desserts a bit sweeter and turned my attention to the plate of small treats. It included some dry, sugared cookies, something that I think was shortbread, some soft, jellied candies, and two small chocolates. All of which were very sweet and more than met my desire for a decadent dessert, capping off what was, for us at least, a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.

We really enjoyed our dinner at The Four Seasons. It was as good as any meal I’d eaten at some fine restaurants in places like Chicago and Las Vegas. However, my wife and I just don’t appreciate exceptional food as much as some people, because I’d never consider spending $200+ of my own money for a meal for two. And, again, we had skipped the appetizers, shared a dessert and had opted for the glass of wine rather than a bottle, otherwise I estimate we’d have been closer to $300. Which made this evening all the more special – it was an experience that my wife and I won’t soon repeat.

Feeling very full, we elected to skip the taxi-ride back to the hotel and walk. It was overcast and warm and we even felt a drop of rain at one point, but nothing diminished the joy of our last night’s stroll through midtown Manhattan. We wandered past Radio City Music Hall (Sir, how do I get to Radio City Music Hall? Practice, practice, practice.) and took in the sights and sounds of the city, its lights contrasting with the dark sky above the colossal buildings standing all around as if they, too, were shuffling through the crowded streets toward home. Times Square greeted us one last time with its riot of bright flashing colors, its smells of barbeque and spices and steel and glass and concrete and electronics and many, many people. The walk had helped to burn away the sensation of being over-stuffed and we arrived back at our hotel feeling sleepy and content.

Over the chair of our room’s desk, my wife draped her new black sweater, never worn on that warm summer evening in New York City.

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