Saturday, 24 August 2013

New York Series - Aureole

I have said it before, there are a lot of distractions in New York.  I would wager I am not the first person to say this out loud, and I certainly won't be the last.  I had grand plans of getting to New York, visiting a heap of great restaurants and then at the end of each meal going back to the hotel and diligently typing up the post and getting it online.  Ha! Right, it didn't work out that way.

Aureole was one of the first restaurants we visited while in New York.  We had landed in Midtown and were enthralled by the size and scale of the area.  Times Square is a hive of activity for what seems like twenty four hours a day, and that's just the beginning of the great stuff happening in Midtown.  We actually walked past Aureole a few times before we decided to check it out, but it had been on my radar from the moment I noticed that it was a Michelin Starred restaurant within walking distance of our hotel.

Aureole is the first restaurant of New York legend and multi award winning chef Charlie Palmer, who heads up the Palmer Group.  Chef Palmer graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and quickly worked his way up to the world famous River Cafe in Brooklyn.  Aureole opened up in 1988 and was the foundation of a chain of amazing restaurants right across America.  Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation a couple of times and has was named the best chef in New York in 1997.

The style of Palmer and indeed Aureole is progressive American, which many see as cutting edge food that has a style of its own.  Many have tried to explain what progressive American cuisine is and it seems as if the consensus is 'you know it when you see it' or more specifically 'you know it when you don't see it'.  I have to admit as an Aussie, progressive American cuisine looks much like fusion food that you would see in most countries and in Australia we would call Modern Australian.

While I was really keen to check out Aureole and as many other Michelin starred restaurants as possible while in New York, the thing that caught my eye straight up was the prix fixe pre show deal.  All of my experiences with Michelin starred restaurants to date was 'Michelin star = expensive'.  I simply could not believe that a Michelin starred restaurant could pump out a three course meal at $55 per person.....  I had to check this out.

To start off, when I made the booking, I was asked if I would be looking at the prix fixe and when I confirmed to the affirmative, was advised that we would be 'bar side'.  It started to make sense.  When we arrived we were seated bar side, which still looked pretty swanky, with a very modern interior and amazing light fixtures that were a centrepiece.  After being seated and introduced to our extremely friendly waiter, he explained that there was another room at a different 'price point' that was even more swanky.  Cool.

The prix fixe menu was a cut down version of the standard menu and we had a choice of three entrees, three mains and three desserts, all of which looked pretty amazing.  It seemed as if many of the best options were available for the special pre theatre deal we were checking out.  It certainly made our selection pretty easy and before too long our orders were away and a huge wooden bowl of fresh bread was presented to us.

It was incredibly warm when we were in New York, in fact at the time we visited Aureole it was in the middle of a summer heatwave.  SC felt like something light to start and went for the summer salad of organic petite lettuce, quinoa, manchego and almond.  It's hard to present a salad as elegantly as the summer salad was at Aureole.  The salad came in a huge plate and was deceptively filling.  The ingredients were few and the flavours simple, but the combination worked well and it was the perfect starter on a hot summers day.

With only three choices for a starter, my choice was also simple and I chose the rock shrimp 'som tum' with cucumber, melon, pine nuts and chili.  This didn't look like any som tum I had seen before and the Michelin star treatment had transformed it to something special.  While it didn't look traditional, the flavours were all there, with the broth at the bottom of the plate conveying all the complexity of flavour that you would want from a som tum.  There was heat but the melon and cucumber took that away nicely and the prawns were subtle and delicious. 

I really wanted the chicken dish but SC wanted it just a little bit more, so she picked up the free range chicken breast with summer squash and a chanterelle mushroom cannelloni.  This was a stunning dish where every element on the plate was perfectly placed and in harmony with the whole.  The chicken was incredibly cooked and moist and cut with absolute precision.  The skin was crispy and a little salty, which was wonderful, especially when combined with the jus and the mushrooms placed artfully around the plate.  The mushroom cannelloni added extra texture and some interesting flavours to the plate which on the whole was a masterpiece.  The only minor issue was that there was a little too much pink near the breast bone, which probably should not have been there.

After getting over my case of food envy and having a sample of SC's chicken dish, I could return my focus to my own wonderful looking dish of roasted scottish salmon, potato and wilted spinach with a beurre blanc.  The presentation was simple but again everything was prepared with precision and had a definite purpose and location on the plate.  The salmon was expertly cooked and had the salty crispy skin that adds to the texture and flavour of salmon.  The sauce was buttery and smooth and really helped the dish go down, it was fantastic.  But.....  I really missed out by not getting that chicken!

It's hard to tell from the photo but SC's dessert was actually a panna cotta with fresh seasonal fruits, which in this instance was pineapple and mango, with a lace tuile.  The pineapple was sliced incredibly thinly and again was masterfully placed on the plate.  The panna cotta, which was so white it almost blended into the plate, was set nicely, but was verging on being under set.  There was some tuile and biscuit on the plate for extra texture, but this dessert delivered on hot summers day and was lovely.

My dessert of chocolate mousse and mint parfait was a vision on the plate, with layers of flavour and complexity.  Mint and chocolate are a classic combination and there was both light chocolate mousse and dark chocolate cake competing with the frozen mint treat.  I don't really like fresh mint and I've only just become a fan of chocolate and mint combination (thanks chocolate mint Aero bars) and this was a great example.  The wonderfully subtle mint didn't overpower the chocolate, in fact the balance of flavours was masterful.

So, there it was, a one star Michelin meal for $55 per person, pretty incredible really.  Of course SC had a few 'vinos' with her meal, so the price rose just a little, but overall I was really happy with both the quality and value that this meal represented.  While we were in the bar dining area, the menu was pretty much the same in the formal dining area, with just a few options.  Score!

Our waiter was really friendly and didn't seem to care that we had opted for the cheaper prix fixe menu, which was appreciated.  We did spend much of the meal talking food and it became apparent pretty quickly to him that we were kindred spirits in the foodie world.  We ran down a list of the places we were booked into for the rest of the trip and he shared his thought on each.

This was our first real experience in a Michelin starred restaurant in the USA and it had turned out to be a great experience.  We agreed the food was on par with any European Michelin starred restaurant and comparable with a very good restaurant in Australia, but while the service was really friendly, it didn't match our previous experiences in Europe.  

We both agreed though that it was an oasis away from the insanity that was Midtown and Times Square, so in combination of getting out of the heatwave and crazy wall of humanity outside, was the best meal we had in NY so far.


A pretty relaxed 'bar side' dining room was surprisingly quiet given the amazing value for such a meal
A pretty unassuming building for a restaurant, at the base of a sky scraper!

Aureole on Urbanspoon

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