Michael White is one of those “celebrity” chefs that I have long heard about but never tried. Enter Ai Fiori, Michael White’s newest restaurant, centered around pasta, that happens to be just a few blocks from the apartment (400 5th Avenue, between 36th and 37th Streets, in the Setai Hotel). We were looking for another lovely dinner to surround Valentine’s Day to compliment our meal the weekend before at Annisa (since I was away on business on the actual day), and Ai Fiori couldn’t have been more perfect.
We went for an early dinner and found ourselves alone (but not for long) in the tastefully decorated 2nd floor restaurant.
Even the table settings were quite lovely. A waiter confused our table with the one next door and accidentally delivered us glasses of champagne. I wasn’t sure if it was free (for Valentine’s Day) so there was some confusion. We sent the champagne back to the table that ordered it, but our waiter wound up bringing us a glass each, on the house, for the confusion. A lovely touch.
The crusty, soft, warm bread came out with delicious salted butter and well flavored olive oil.
Our amuse bouche was small shot of a fruity smoothie. I cannot remember if this was mango or passion fruit, but it was a nice way to start the meal.
We chose to do the prix fixe of 4 courses (cominciare / pasta or risotto / pesce or carne / dolce) for $89.
Mike chose to start with the Animelle which was crispy sweetbreads, pomme purée, truffle vinaigrette, and pancetta. It was delicious, delicate, and just the right amount of crisp. It was a $5 supplement charge, and well worth it.
I chose the Mare e Monte (which, sadly, does not currently appear to be on the menu). This had a $15 supplemental charge… but hey, it was Valentine’s Day!
This was diver scallops, celery root, black truffles, bone marrow, and thyme.
It was rich in all the right ways with complex flavors and sprigs of green to spring it up a bit. It was decadent and fantastic.
For our pasta/risotto course, Mike chose the risotto with riso acquarello, duck confit, and hen of the woods mushrooms. This was a perfect blend of flavors. Very rich but not at all heavy.
I went with the Agnolotti, which was braised veal parcels, butternut squash, and black truffle sugo.
These were just perfect. Great meaty flavor inside and the pasta was just thin enough to hold it together. The bay leaf on top was crisped and slightly sweetened, and tasted great when broken up into the pasta and squash puree. Mmmm mmmm.
For our carne/pesce course, Mike chose the Agnello, which was rack of lamb en crepinette, panisse, romanesco, and parmesan. This was simply perfect. The lamb was cooked as well as you can cook a lamb and each piece on this dish was simply delicious, especially the sauce on the lamb.
I chose the Astice, which was butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, root vegetable fondant, and chateau chalon sauce. I always struggle when deciding to order lobster, as no matter how good it is, I never find it as good as the lobster pounds in Maine (I’m spoiled rotten… I know), but this one was right up there. All the pieces that came with it just added to a fantastic dish.
Onto dolce! Mike chose the Tartaletta which was dark chocolate, red grape, caramelized sherry, and walnut gelato. I loved this dish, and the grape tasted like a fantastic grape jelly. It all went together perfectly.
I chose to go with the Buddino di Limone with hazelnut praline, toasted meringue, espresso gelee, and cinnamon gelato. I was impressed by how architecturally it was belt, with a sheet of caramelized sugar balanced on top of the meringue peaks.
This was a perfect dessert with great, original flavors. Really impressive.
And then out came the petite fours! They were stunningly beautiful…
… and very, very tasty. I especially liked this jelly thing… though I have no idea what it was.
I knew we were in for a treat when we finally decided to try a Michael White restaurant, but this was out of this world. I was so impressed by every bite at Ai Fiori, from start to finish. It’s also very hard to find food this good, with a well-known chef, on a tasting menu with 4 courses for less than $100 (yes… I know that’s crazy…) I really loved everything we tried and find it very hard to ignore the fact that this restaurant is so close to home. I just want to go again and again. I definitely want to go back for breakfast, and also try White’s other restaurants (Marea, Alto, Convivio, Osteria Morini and recently expanding to Bernardsville, NJ and many other locations coming soon).
Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10