I guess I assumed the Gabriel Kreuther's uber-elegant dining establishment just north of Bryant Park would would be, given his roots, more Alsatian than it turns out. Not that there's anything wrong with the upscale French cuisine that it features, but the luxury of the eponymous restaurant depends on typical, expensive ingredients: we're talking caviar, truffles, lobster- the usual suspects. Preparations are indisputably solid, and the proportions of the menu, which is a four course prix-fixe for $115 or the Carte Blanche Chef's Menu at $195, perfectly executed, even as the four course turns out to be quite a bit more, what with the amuses and friandises bookending the meal.
The food is rich, decadent and pretty much everything you would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. Which is perhaps my problem with it: my expectations for elevated Alsatian were obviated by modern, fancy French. Lacking was the element of surprise, whereas even the broths and foams and accoutrements added a table seemed predictable. Too, the fact that I keep writing using French terms reflects Kreuther's history with staging in France, and his debut in New York at La Caravelle and then working with Jean-Georges. This food spoke little of Alsace, instead it boasts an obvious decadence, de riguer menu options requisite of "fine dining", such as those I stated above. The first sections of the menu are raw fish and caviar, obviously little related to the rustic cuisine of Alsace. I'd say I was projecting too much chef's
That said, the execution of each thing we tried was truly stellar. Perhaps the one cross-over attribute was the richness I would associate with the region. One amuse floated a tiny balloon of robust cheese in a tiny pool of salty consomme, rich as any fondue minus the crouton. But a cobia sashimi
sang a more lilting tune, bright with herbs and a touch of chili. Perhaps a more Teutonic influence presents itself in the sunchoke veloute, its creamy earthiness augmented with the crunch of nutty puffed grains. The truffles within were not profoundly flavored, but the hedgehog mushrooms picked up a bit of their slack.
Similarly, a course titled Perigord Black Truffle ($45 supplement) tasted more of butter and beans than truffles, although the thick black slices were visually evident. Giant Tarbais beans anchored the bottom of a small glass vessel filled a table with a kohlrabi espuma that tasted little of the earthy turnip but almost exclusively of buttery fois gras. For two dishes touting truffles, the iconic fungus had more impact on the bill than it did on the
flavors. Alaskan King Crab legs also boasted a light dusting, but its predominant flavor was the fresh crustacean and its uni coulis, gently oceanic but rich with butter. Celery root was ribboned out beneath to recall wide fettucine noodles, but the effect of raw root vegetables, even thinly sliced, clashed with the the rest.
Main courses are modestly portioned, in good keeping with a multi-course menu: not to big nor too small, just Goldilocks-right. The ultra-premium 7X Colorado Wagyu defines decadence: the beef is almost preternaturally tender, although these ranchers pride themselves on sustainable husbandry. It may be the cabernet jus that puts it over the top, anointing the meat and the accompanying steamed carrots with its lip-smacking richness, inky with umami and just a kiss of acidity. A halibut entree featured a pillowy thick-cut filet, its snowy whiteness shrouded in a buttery riesling-cockle sauce. Tiny shrimp flanked a creamy puree of celery root (SO much better cooked and mashed!) with two
welcome tufts of woodsy hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. I say welcome because vegetables are in scarce company at Gabriel Kreuther: our menu choices basically maxed out the options from the garden, and still then only one of those could technically be considered vegetarian (and it may and probably did have a chicken stock component). Vegetarians, never mind vegans, would have a tough if not impossible time here, unless the kitchen makes concessions upon request, as they do for food allergies and intolerances. I would think that there could be a greater selection of vegetable options given the size of the menu, but in this sense, too, the format is classic and perhaps a little fusty. Some of this is reflected in the clientele: the median age of the guests on the evening of my visit was probably around 65. One thing that withstands the test of time, however, is the deftness of service. It
is both gracious and accommodating, most every detail thought through thoroughly in advance, from a small hat rack upon which to hang my bag and coat (as I decided not to check them) to left-hand and right-hand specific silverware. Nothing that I noticed was left to chance, and it imbues the experience with a true sense of pampering.
And speaking of pampering, desserts left nothing to be desired in that realm. A diaphanous palate cleanser of refreshing citrus whisked the focus from savory to sweet, and as the four course format includes dessert, we each chose our own (rather than my normal m.o. of a shared finale). They are playfully named: I chose Ethereal upon the recommendation of our
server, although in retrospect I wish I would've chosen Classic, just to sate my ongoing longing for a hint of the German and Swiss influence on the region. Caramelized apples with a cream seemed to fit that bill a little more than a slightly incongruous tropical panna cotta, or the Ethereal that I chose, comprised of a delicate tuile filled with almond mousseline, brightened with citrus sorbet and a tender ribbon of grapefruit leather. To finish a decadent evening, the Decadent seemed an apt choice for a chocolate option, an architecturally appealing spike of chocolate, annihilated a table by a warm molten stream of fudginess poured with a sniper's precision from above.
As these kinds of meals go, the sugary treats kept coming, from a delightfully sweet cheesecake macaron to a real dried out cacoa pod carved into a serving vessel for creamy, intense
housemade chocolate truffles. The macaron may have been even too sweet, except for that it it appeared at the same time as did my extra-strong shot of Toby's Estate espresso, so the two accomplished a perfect pas de deux.
In the end, it really was an exquisite meal. My disappointment that stemmed from the lack of Germanic influence may have been overwrought, although still, the most Alsatian part of the night was the beautiful glass stork mobile suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the dining room. The stork is a feature in many Alsatian fairy tales, and its prominence throughout the restaurant gives me hope that maybe it will impart a a more profound effect on the menu as the birds migrate north again come springtime.
41 W. 42nd Street