The Modern at MOMA was my finale fine dining experience in New York, and my Dad and I loved it for its delicious take on vibrant dishes that match the art collection in the museum.
In fact, I can’t help getting a little sentimental about it because it made me excited about food in a way that brought me back to that pivotal year: 1999. I was 19 years old and living in NY during the year that I took off from college. I’d backpacked alone across Europe for a few months, and then went to NY to work at a theater and with a photographer to supplement my interest in film. Of course, the whirlwind of Europe was great, but it was in NY that I appreciated what it meant to really know a place and its people. A lot of that happened at dinners with my Dad. We started off at classic local places, but we became curious to try those restaurants we kept reading about in the newspapers…
To suddenly find yourself becoming familiar with the likes of Nobu, Le Bernardin, Aquagrill, Aquavit, Jean Georges, Provence, Verbena, Rosemarie’s, City Hall, Montrachet, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Tribeca Grill, Il Cantinori, Alison on Dominick, Bouley, Ideya, Pearl Oyster Bar, Danube, Layla, The Mercer Kitchen, Blue Water Grill, Union Pacific, Balthazar, 71 Clinton Fresh Food, and Gotham Bar & Grill, is, in a word, amazing. I don’t think that I’ve become blase about dining at fine restaurants and I know I’m extremely fortunate to be able to go them, but I have expectations now… and with them comes analysis and quite a bit of cerebral and sensory activity. In 1999, it was pure wonder. And my Dad and I experienced it together while getting to know each other better. He may say that I introduced him to the martini, but he introduced me to a city that is filled with the amazing food that still serves as my foundation and ideal. In fact, my earliest memory of an amazing dessert was at Montrachet: a cool Passionfruit Pavlova with Warm Berries.
I also learned about the pleasure of exploring food with others, and it was fun to explore the food with my Dad at The Modern. We got the prix-fixed three course meal, but you choose the dish for each course yourself and they serve you ample amuse bouches, palate cleansers, and mignardises so that you feel like you’ve lost track of the courses. Each dish came out looking beautifully, with a taste to match, and you were never quite knew what was next, but you sure were looking forward seeing it, tasting it, sharing it (we said “you have to try this” a lot), and talking about it.
So, it was that kind of meal — the kind that where you alternate between admiring the food and enjoying the company. With culinary school behind me and the unwavering support of both my parents (my Mom is especially wonderful about making sure that I’m able to make good food myself; and both were way more thrilled about culinary school than they ever were about law school, to their undying credit), it made me realize how far I’d come in the food world. I try to appreciate the fancy and the humble — taking in each on their own merits — and although I am more familiar with food now, it’s fun to extend my admiration for it by trying to figure out how it all comes together, almost alchemically. There’s still a lot of wonder.
In other news, the service was polite and attentive, but a little spotty answering questions, as if they were uncertain about the food. The wait staff wears suit-like uniforms, and jackets are required for gentlemen diners… so everyone looks stylish.
And our table for two was right next to the window, overlooking the statue garden, which is well-lit at night.
Amuse Bouche – Lobster Ravioli. Watermelon, Feta, and Pineapple Skewers.
Amuse Bouche – Nettle Soup with King Crab and Purple Potato.
Pheasant and Burgundy Truffle Veloute, Millet Blinis and Celeriac Julienne. This arrived with the vegetal arrangement in the middle, like a bare plant w/ roots, and then the veloute was poured in by the server, so that it looked like a planted plant. Cool. I especially liked the use of millet here, and how the veloute looked creamy, but was not dominated by the flavor of cream.
Spanish Mackerel and Hamachi Tartare with Sea Beans and Toasted Sesame Seeds. This picture doesn’t do justice to the dish as it was — which was more elegant. The sesame dominated just a little too much for me, but otherwise, it was fresh and full of many flavors.
Braised Veal Sweetbreads Dusted with Fennel Pollen, Escarole, Preserved Lemon, and Caper Salad. These were so silky. I loved the fennel pollen and salt dusted on them, too. I was disappointed by the amount of salad at first, but it was such a great refreshing contrast to the rich and earthy tones of the rest of the dish that I came to greatly appreciate it.
The waiter arrived at our table with a portable work service topped with crockery, and actually plated this all while tableside. My Dad’s dish came out exactly as my dish was finished. That was impressive.
On the other hand, though, it took a long time for the dish to be plated, and the watchful silence was a bit awkward. It also gave me the time to realize that, in effect, I’d ordered a soup and salad (and would go on to order a soup for dessert, no less).
Colorado Lamb Chops and Braised Shoulder with Heirloom Shell Beans, Natural Jus.
Palate Cleanser – The combination of strawberry, lemon, and tomato was wonderful here, with the tomato as a sly acidic backdrop to two tart fruits.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Lemongrass Infused Green Apple Soup and Concord Grape Sorbet. The concord grape sorbet was amazingly intense and smooth — perhaps made with a pacojet.
Milk Chocolate Dacquoise and Raspberry Sorbet. The creaminess and crunchiness — as well as the milk chocolate — made this irresistible. I believe that it had a hazelnut dacquoise and a cookie inside.
Fromage Blanc Sorbet (I believe), Lemon, and Raspberry (or Strawberry). The crunchy, sweet cone was the perfect touch for this.
Orange Spice Tea Cake. The party never ends at the Modern. This is given as you leave — to enjoy for breakfast.
Drinkswise, the Gemini Martini was a standout; made of Grey Goose Orange Vodka, Amaretto Disaranno, Acerola, Pink Grapefruit & Lime Juice. It popped with a rich orange flavor, and my Dad stuck with it all evening. I liked the flavor of the Sandia — with Bacardi Grand Melon, Cantaloupe, Dill, Lemon, and Tonic, but the pervasive slivers of cantaloupe made it very difficult to drink.