Restaurant Week is something I do look forward to, even if we have a love/hate relationship. I understand that many restaurants hate it because it forces them to serve sub-quality food to, what I have heard us being referred to as, “riff-raff.” (Nice). Now while I understand 3 courses for $35 ($24.07 for lunch) means that the ingredient cost usually outweigh the profit, however, I know I have proved many times that I can cook a damn good meal for less than $35 per plate (Hell! Less than $20 per plate!) I also always buy a bottle of wine (usually one more expensive than I would otherwise) and if I get to sample a meal that is outrageous, I will go back, and probably bring my reps with expense accounts. Now I know some people will go there, be rude, take up tables, not tip well, and probably never come back… but for those of us who can’t afford the BEST meals in the city every day, it’s a nice treat to get to sample for an affordable price.
I try to do some research before I make the reservations to make sure that I go to the places that have already been tasted and approved by fellow food lovers. I’m not overly concerned with size of portion (I could use a little portion control anyway!) however, I want to have food that is delicious and a reasonable selection of what’s actually on the menu. This year my Restaurant Week research informed me that the two places (that had openings) we wanted to try were Delmonico’s and Aquavit.
Our first stop was Delmonico’s on a Thursday evening (65 Beaver Street at the corner of William). I usually don’t travel much to the Financial District, and I think I’m always pleasantly surprised when it takes me less than 20 minutes from Times Square (my office) to get there. It was pouring, but the glow of the NYC rainy streets and the umbrellas gave the great restaurant entrance an old New York feel, which was quite appropriate. (Turns out Delmonico’s has been around since the 1820s).
The restaurant itself was beautiful inside. The first thing I noticed on the wine menu was that they had a Vouvray (by the glass). My favorite wine in the world is a Vouvray (first tasted on Valentine’s Day 2008, and always proves very hard to find). This one did not disappoint, but it wasn’t quite the amazing Domaine Du Viking 1999/2000 I have fallen in love with. I was still thrilled to have it though!
I had a toss up on the appetizer selection as there was a pasta with artichokes listed, however, I went with the lobster bisque, since it’s something I don’t eat very often. This one was great, though not in the top 5 (maybe even top 10) in my honest opinion.
Mike went with the iceburg wedge and the blue cheese was exceptional.
Mike and I both ordered the fillet that billed itself as “served with accompaniments.” This turned out to be 3 strips of root veggies and 3 string beans and a pile of mashed potatoes. Now there was nothing really wrong with the entree, however, it just wasn’t what I thought it would be. The presentation reminded me of a wedding, and I just couldn’t get that association out of my head. The potatoes were just okay and the 6 slices of veggies seemed very sparse and bland (especially seeing as though veggies are typically a thing restaurants can doll up inexpensively to make the plates look better for restaurant week). The meat was good, but not exceptional. I had no “wow” moments at all.
Until dessert… and even then it was only a mini wow. I should have gone with my gut and tried the Baked Alaska on the regular menu, however, I was quite pleased with what we did get. I believe mine was called a “Yankee Doodle” Cake and resembled a homemade hostess cake with a rich chocolate outside and drizzled with caramel. It was good, but forgettable.
Mike had a panna cotta parfait. The blueberries smelled heavenly, but the parfait itself was somehow lacking to me.
One other thing of note: The service was so quick that it honestly felt rushed. I couldn’t imagine that they can cook fillets made to order in under 15 minutes, however, I’m pretty sure that’s about how long it took to get through the app and then immediately be served the steaks. I love good service, but this was so quick I hardly had time to sip my wine between courses. Also, the restaurant was not full (and I noticed those around us ordered off the Restaurant Week menu as well, so they may not have even been there at all otherwise).
Total Nom Points: 6 out of 10
Our next restaurant week stop was Aquavit Cafe (aka AQ Cafe) which is the more “casual” version of Aquavit Dining Room (we tried for the dining room but they didn’t have an open reservation.). AQ Cafe is located at 65 E. 55th Street between Madison and Park Aves. Aquavit came as a recommendation from the incomparable Lori (a fellow food lover and blogger), who went there for Restaurant Week this past winter. The restaurant’s chef is Marcus Samuelson.
I liked that rather than the usual bread, we were started with popcorn that had fresh shaved parmesan and what I think was dill on it. Unfortunately, the popcorn tasted as though it had sat out in a humid room for a bit, but I love popcorn even when it’s stale, and the cheese really was delish on top.
We decided to try the flights of Aquavit. I’m not a fan of vodka nor licorice (two comparisons I’ve heard to the taste), however, since it was the namesake of the restaurant, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
We each picked three. I went with Blueberry & Elderflower, Coconut & Espresso, and the Lingonberry sampler. Mike chose Fig & Cardamon, Pear Vanilla & Black Pepper, and Pineapple & Thai Basil. I definitely chose the winning flight, as I thought all three of mine were better than all three of his. The ultimate winner, however, was the Coconut & Espresso, which would probably be the only one I’d reorder. Overall, I think Aquavit just isn’t for me, but it sure looked pretty:
I started with the Herring Plate. It was really great, and each piece of herring was either in a different sauce or had a different topping. I’m still not sure what all of them were, except I can guess that one was roe, one was something sweet and fruity (pear maybe), and one was scallions. The fourth one I was clueless about, but I enjoyed. I would have liked a little information on what I was eating exactly, but it didn’t deter from my enjoyment.
Mike ordered the chilled corn soup with smoked salmon and beets. He had never had cold soup before and this was an instant turn-off for him. Personally, I like cold soup, although this one could have benefited from a bit more flavor.
I went with the exact same entree I got as Smorgas Chef a few weeks ago (I heard that branch is now closed!) except this one was hands down better in every way. The potatoes were more potato-y, the lingonberries were perfectly sweet, and the meat balls had a perfect flavor and were even more tender. Not to say that Smorgas Chef wasn’t good, but it was too easy to see a difference since it was so recent.
Mike went with the Herb Roasted Chicken with green beans, corn, and mushrooms. The corn mush on the bottom was yummy, but the chicken was a bit too dry and flavorless. Surprising.
Desserts stood out bar none. I had the chocolate mousse with peanut powder and grape sorbet. I wanted to lick the plate. There was something a bit off with the texture on the bottom of the mousse, but I value taste more than texture.
Mike’s dessert was even better. He got the “Arctic Circle” which was a goat cheese parfait, passion fruit curd, and blueberry sorbet. The whole thing was great, but the sorbet was sensational.
The service here was quick but didn’t feel rushed. I liked the atmosphere as it was open without being load and nicely decorated. The idea of specialty flights of aquavit was also quite nice. The entrees were very variable for us, and I would probably award a 7 to mine and a 6 to Mike’s, however, the desserts pushed this one out in front.
Overall Nom Points: 7 out of 10