I explained to one of my friends last week my theory that New York City’s Restaurant Week is a holiday in itself. When Thanksgiving or Christmas comes around, most average people step outside their boundaries to indulge in more sweets, more spinach dip, more stuffing…. you get the idea. Similarly, Restaurant Week is a time when you set aside preconceived notions about calorie consumption and simply enjoy the food that is laid before you.
And it was this kind thinking that got me through three three-course prix-fixe menus last week. Let’s start at the beginning:
- Hello Moto. First on the list was Morimoto, a haven of Japanese cuisine on the fringes of Meat-packing and Chelsea, opened by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. We went for lunch and were treated not only to excellent food, but fantastic service and an unbeatable ambiance. Upon my arrival, I walked down the futuristic stairway to the restrooms, where I came upon an enormous sliding cement door (well, I didn’t realize it was a sliding door until three or four unsuccessful attempts at trying to push and pull it open) and had to use a remote control to flush the toilet. I was impressed at the modernity of the venue, but a little thrown off by the whiffs of pretension. All my doubts were assuaged after receiving our fantastic plates. First course was a light spring salad in a wasabi-rice wine vinaigrette, with a small bowl of miso soup on the side. The main course was a magnificent spread of eight pieces of sashimi and a spicy tuna roll (Morimoto flies out fish four times weekly from Tsukiji market in Hong Kong.) All this was savored with Morimoto’s “Ginjo” sake, which proclaims, “caramelized pear aromas with a ripe stone fruit finish.” I’m no sake expert, but this was delicious. To finish, we had a light dessert plate which included a chocolate brownie, a lemon custard tart, and a tofu cheesecake. The cheesecake was fantastically light and fluffy with an ice-cool finish. The perfect end to a perfect meal!
- A Taste of the South Pacific. Next was Roy’s, a Hawaiian fusion restaurant located in the windy streets of the Financial District. The crowd here was mostly business, with a less formal atmosphere and hurried service – not what I was expecting. They started us off with some edamame while we waited for the first course, Szechwan spiced baby back pork ribs. The ribs were fantastic, with meat falling off the bones and a deliciously tangy sauce. For the main course, I chose grilled salmon over green tea noodles, while Chris went with a Hawaiian style meatloaf, topped with a fried egg. His definitely won the battle of the main course. My salmon was a little bland, but the noodles were interesting! But when it came to the dessert, my passion-fruit cheesecake and lychee gelatin majorly trumped his caramel flan. The cheesecake was OUT of this world, and definitely the highlight of my meal. My general complaint with this restaurant was that the service was too rushed and pushy for my liking. I guess that’s what happens when you go out for lunch on a Thursday afternoon next to the Stock Exchange.
- On the rocks, no salt. Friday night was reserved for one last Restaurant Week meal, dinner at the Upper East Side’s Maya. It had a lovely atmosphere, friendly and quick service, and some delicious options. We started off with some guacamole and margaritas (later realized that the guac was $13!) and recovered from the torrential rainfall outside. For our first course, we shared Mahi-Mahi ceviche and a mushroom-chicken-chile dish which I really can’t explain. It was great! The ceviche was deliciously intriguing, and packed with a salty-tangy punch that rocked your taste buds with each bite. Now at this place I experienced again what I consider to be “rushed” service. Correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn’t a prix-fixe menu set out one course at a time? I understand that things are wild in the kitchen, but I worked as a server long enough to figure out the skill of timing courses. For instance, our main course came out only minutes after receiving our first course, so we had to push plates into the middle (and they took our unfinished $13 guacamole away to make room!) By the time we finished our first course, our main course was now cold! Not to mention the chicken I ordered was mediocre at best – something any high school grad could have figured out. Now, the steak that Rachel got was fantastic. It was cooked to our liking (though cold by the time I ate it) and had some beautiful surrounding flavors. Another margarita and it was time for our desserts: rice pudding topped with Macadamia nuts and a berry reduction, and another flan. Eeh. They were okay. After our meal, I noted to Rachel that Maya would be an excellent place to have one drink and an appetizer, anything more would just be silly.
All in all, Restaurant Week was a fantastic experience for me. It really gives New Yorkers a chance to try some hip restaurants without spending their life savings. Too bad it doesn’t happen again until Spring…