By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Not surprisingly, the restaurant was empty when we got there. So we were a little shocked to be seated by a snotty hostess at the worst location in the house, a table for four practically in the entrance. Anybody walking by would trip over us; anyone waiting for a reservation would be granted an opportunity to scrutinize our table manners. When we requested a change, the waitress and the hostess felt it necessary to confer for five minutes before grudgingly agreeing to move us.
First impressions set the scene, and nobody bothered to correct them. When I complained about a chip in the lip of my martini glass, the server glared at me as if I had bitten off the shard myself. Her recommendations consisted of the most expensive items on the menu, but when my brother-in-law pointed out that "tuna tartare" had been spelled incorrectly so as to seem to be a twenty-dollar tartar sauce appetizer, she failed to see the humor. The $40 entrees averaged about ten bucks per bite and were so mediocre that we figured Jean-Georges must have been cooking at Vong that evening -- until he walked past in his whites on his way to the bar. Half the tables were still unoccupied when we left at well past 9:00, leading us to wonder why there was no reservation available for us at, say, 8:00.
More often than not, this has been my experience at ritzy NYC eateries: Judged guilty of some mysterious wrongdoing, the diner is penalized by ridiculously early reservations, astronomical bills, and carelessly cooked cuisine.
I suppose that's why I've never been fond of China Grill, the New York outpost of superiority that drew press raves within weeks of its opening a couple of years ago. All too frequently you get sneered at, dismissed, or ignored in the overcrowded dining room, depending on which celebrity your server would rather be attending to that evening. For that you pay a hefty price and leave hungry.
My stomach sank when I heard the management of China Grill was taking over the Blue Door restaurant at the Delano -- which itself has never been known for either its consistency or its approachability -- in league with Claude Troisgros, one of the world's best-known chefs. Troisgros, it seemed, would devise the menu and cook there periodically, leaving the kitchen in the hands of Marc Salonsky, another New York chef who trained in France. Troisgros, a French native, springs from a family of chefs -- his father and uncle run the Michelin three-star restaurant Troisgros in Roanne. He left the fold to open the posh C.T. in Manhattan, as well as another namesake restaurant in Brazil, where he now spends about half his time (the New York restaurant closed last year). Imagine the combination: South Beach, New York, France and Brazil. Utter a heartfelt oy. You know you'll never eat there.
Well, time to revise that vision. Reservations at the Blue Door are easy to come by, and at a reasonable (read: late) dinner hour too. The hostess smiles (!) when she greets you, and thanks you for coming. Pick a table, any table. She'll follow your lead. The waiter knows the menu; not only that, he knows Claude Troisgros's whole history and is willing to tell you about it at length. The bar makes a great martini, in glasses unchipped, thank you very much, and it arrives pronto. If a restaurant could take Xanax, the Blue Door has swallowed the entire bottle.
Of course, all the newfound friendliness in our rather limited world doesn't mean much if the food's no good. Fear not. I could end this review right here with one encompassing word to describe the tropical- and Latin-influenced French cuisine: fabulous.
I luxuriated in the first starter on the menu, the "big raviole." One king-size pillow was filled with a marvelous taro root mousseline, a blended substance with a fine grain like grits. The earthiness of the root vegetable was complemented by a garnish of wild mushrooms and a light, milky sauce -- almost a soup -- heightened with white truffle oil. Truly an accomplished dish, and one I almost ordered twice.
Cold chayote soup had a feel similar to that of the mousseline, the Caribbean squash creamed but not loose. Served just slightly below room temperature, the sumptuous puree was infused with garlic and soy sauce. Papery slices of lime-green chayote drifted like flowers on top of the thick soup, dotted with a sprinkling of caramelized garlic that also flavored the two pan-seared sea scallops that composed the centerpiece.