Sunday, May 11, 2008

Food Notes on the Taste of New York Lounge at NYWCC

Last night, Jenny, Shane and I headed down to the New York Wine and Culinary Center’s Taste of New York Lounge for a light dinner and drinks.

There was a bit of a shake-up in the kitchen: Chef Dan Martello, who had been at the NYWCC since its debut (if I recall correctly) and had been the chef at 2 Vine prior, recently left the Culinary Center to start his own restaurant. According to Reggie, one of the NYWCC’s best servers, the restaurant (to be named “Good Luck”) will open up in the Village Gate next month.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Martello turns out; my hope is that he sticks with his NYWCC roots and makes ample use of local products.

The new chef, Chef Carlos, (the NYWCC website has not yet updated its chef information so I don’t have Carlos’ last name) debuted his menu last night (also NOT updated on the website – get on that, Culinary Center IT department). While the menu combines old Taste of NY Lounge favorites with new Chef Carlos creations, the dishes we received were disappointing.

I ordered my favorite Taste of NY Lounge salad – bibb and iceberg lettuce with pancetta, pepperoncini, chick peas and blue cheese – and was give a salad 50- to 65-percent smaller than what I’d gotten in the past. There were fewer pepperoncinis (even taking into consideration the reduced portion size) and it tasted as though the chef swapped out the fantastic Old Chatham “Ewe’s Blue” cheese for a less tasty product. I enjoyed my salad, but not as much as I have in the past.

Shane and Jenny were also disappointed with their orders. Shane received a plate of 6 raw oysters topped with a pink peppercorn mignonette sauce and julienne cucumber; he found the whole concoction bitter and lacking in oyster flavor. Jenny ordered a mixed green salad with smoked pork, grilled apples and apple cider vinaigrette; the pork looked and tasted like chopped smoked turkey cold cuts, there were very few apples and the vinaigrette was nearly nonexistent.

Shane also ordered a rack of lamb (perhaps better termed lollipop-style lamb chops; there were four) coated with a mustard seed rub, and plated on top of mashed peas mixed with mint and, perhaps, parsley. The dish was presented beautifully and the vibrant green of the peas was striking against the white of the plate and meaty redness of the chops. Although Shane enjoyed his dish, he ordered it medium-rare and received rare lamb.

The desserts were disappointing as well. The lemon yogurt cake was sliced far too thin (between 1/8- and ¼ -inch thick), although given that cake was dry, perhaps this wasn’t such a bad thing. (Actually the dessert – both in flavor and texture -- reminded me of some Italian-style cakes I’ve enjoyed, but the name of the dessert belied what was offered; the description should have presented a more accurate depiction of the dessert.)

I ordered a black and white chocolate mousse: a layer of dark chocolate mousse topped with a layer white chocolate mousse. It was overly light (the white chocolate portion reminded me of marshmallow fluff) and lacked any real chocolate punch.

This is a pretty damning review, and perhaps unfairly so. Last night was Chef Carlos’ first serving his menu and, like anyone at a new job, it takes a while to hit one’s stride. My plan is to head back to the Tasting Room towards the end of July and see if things have improved. I can’t imagine that the Culinary Center would hire a less-than-talented chef, so I’m hopeful that Chef Carlos will be turning out stellar quality food very soon.

Even though the food was not where we wanted it to be, the service was impeccable. Tom, our waiter, was attentive, helpful and friendly and not only worked with the bartender and me to turn out some great cocktails, but he even helped us settle a (ok, stupid) question: “How old is Sarah Jessica Parker?” (Shane said 50; I said 42 or 43 – guess who was right?)

It’s really nice to develop a rapport with the person who is waiting on you ; not only do you, as diners, get great service and recommendations, but as the server is the public face of a restaurant, s/he can positively, or negatively, affect a customer’s perception of the establishment. I can’t help but think that we wouldn’t have enjoyed last night as much as we did if Tom weren’t so fun and accommodating.

I was in the mood for cocktails – something fun and summery, served up in a martini glass – but the culinary center did away with its (modest) cocktail menu. So I asked Tom to talk to Erin, the bartender, and see if she’d recommend something. According to Tom, Erin very happy at the request and the result were some delicious drinks. The first was a pineapple coconut martini and, I can’t be sure, but I think it was a simple mix of pineapple juice with Malibu rum -- it was fabulous. The second was Erin’s own concoction – a Tropical Breeze. Her first try had a bit of a bite at the finish, so she tried again and the result was amazing. I won’t give all her secrets away, but I’ll say that her Tropical Breeze had light rum, peach schnapps, and an assortment of fruit juices in it. Simply delicious.

So while I’ll be waiting a couple of months before having dinner at the Tasting Room again, it won’t be long before I head down to the culinary center for a drink and a little nibble.

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