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Mark Alyn

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As a host, reporter and writer Mark has talked about and scribbled about food, wine and travel. ...Read More

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A Dining Adventure in New York
By: Mark Alyn   |    October 22, 2012   |   0 Comments (0) (0)

A Dining Adventure in the Big Apple

On my recent visit to the Big Apple, I was at a loss for what to do one evening. I just couldnít make up my mind. For someone who plans dining weeks in advance of travel, this was an unusual experience for me. I wanted something special, but didnít know what. I had not made any reservations for that night, so my chance of getting into any place super was, in my mind, minimal. We decided to walk around and just fall into some place. The night was a culinary adventure that I still canít believe.

As we neared the Trump International Hotel and Tower, my dining friend told me that Jean-Georgeís Nougatine restaurant was in there. The official name is Nougatine at Jean-Georges. One of the top rated dining spots in the country, we knew we didnít have a chance for a table, but wanted to peek inside. When we stopped in spur of the moment to look around, we were rewarded with seats at the bar!

Nougatine takes walk in diners if space allows (who knew?). Sitting at the bar, we had a great view of the entire operation. Open, friendly and modern, itís a trendy room that buzzes with energy.†Nougatine is the sister restaurant of JG, also located in the Trump, a more formal setting serving the same basic menu.

A bartender immediately welcomed us and gave us a nice hello. He put a small dish of nuts near me and that was the end. I canít help eating noshes when Iím at a bar. Olives, peanuts, cheese, whatever is plunked down, I nibble. Once made in house according to the bartender, these are the best wasabi peanuts ever. With a flash of hot and sweet, I couldnít put them down.

Iím not a fan of sweet drinks, preferring adult beverages served for adults. My dining friend had a champagne cocktail with strawberry. I had vodka with thyme and an olive. Fresh with a hint of herbal essence this a nice light twist on a contemporary vodka martini. It went well with my stash of nuts.

We sampled two exquisite appetizers. The simplicity of serving, blended with the complexity of the dishes is mesmerizing.

One of my favorite dishes is foie gras. Foie gras anything and Iím going to try it. A signature dish at Nougatine is foie gras and strawberry brŻlťe. The sweet tart of the strawberry cuts the fat of the liver nicely. Itís finished with balsamic and shiso. Shiso is a green Japanese herb that has a cinnamon kind of taste. I really liked this preparation.†

The scallop sashimi comes with chipotle mayo and crispy rice. The chili is light and not overpowering, blending with the freshness of the scallop. I used the crispy rice to scoop up all the extra liquids.††

Walking across Columbus Circle, we ventured to Masa at the Times-Warner Complex. Known as one of the top sushi places in the country, I anticipated wonder. I didnít get it.†Service was rude, with the server barely speaking to us. She took our order and that was it. My dining friend liked the sushi, but I found it fell flat. We had three items that we shared. Fluke, uni and hamachi were just okay. I expected my taste buds to explode. Donít get me wrong, itís good, but the quality was as good as several of my favorite Los Angeles area places (Go Mart in Canoga Park comes to mind) and the LA staff are nice. Masa was very disappointing.

By this time, my friend had a definite plan and it was working for me. Walking a block or two, we entered Marea Ristorante, a block off Columbus on 59th. This is an exciting place across from the Central Park. Italian seafood at itís best.

A Wednesday night and this Italian seafood restaurant was brimming with diners. The hum of conversation, clinking of glasses and general tone was happy. Again, we just walked without reservations. The wait for a table was long, but bar seats delivered in about 20 minutes allowed us to take in the atmosphere.

I stuck with simple vodka on the rocks. My friend turned adult and ordered a spicy cocktail. This is the spiciest drink Iíve ever had. Passione Arrabiata†is chili infused Cazadores Reposado Tequila, lime and passion fruit. When I say hot I mean like the fires of hell. It was almost too hot to drink. Neither of us could taste the fruit, but we did feel the fire.†

The food is amazing. Sampling a trio and the house special between us filled us up, making an extraordinary meal for the night.

The signature dish at Marea is house made Fussili, corkscrew shaped pasta. Topped with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow, itís a marvelous combination. Octopus can be chewy, but this is flavorful and tender. The bone marrow is a nice addition to the sauce, giving it body.

The trio was disappointing. They were just okay, nothing special. Iíd go back to give Marea another chance because the presentation was nice, but the dishes lacked flavor.†Without detail, we had the Tonno, Seppia and Passera for the trio. Our favorite was the Passera, Long Island fluke with parsley and rosewater.

Dessert adds the final flourish to a meal. Up to this point, we sampled French, Italian and Japanese fare. What could be better than an American dessert?†A nice touch of sweet, some coffee and perhaps chocolate (dark) end a meal perfectly.†We wandered back across the street to Per Se.

Having dined at Per Se in the past, we had our expectations. Per Se was the perfect topping to our culinary smorgasbord.

It was a warm night and we removed our sports coats. The maireíd asked to put them back on. Itís formal and the rule, so we complied. The other establishments relaxed the rules and allowed us to sit coatless.

Service and food are excellent. Sharing again, we sampled peanut butter smores. These are not your campfire variety, but a great twist on the classic. Chocolate milk-Dark Chocolate Torte, rich and dark, with Caramelized Milk Jam, Toasted Hazelnuts and Battenkill Farm's Milk Ice Cream†was out of this world. Great coffee rounded out the sweets.

But wait, thereís more! As used dishes vanish from the table, a small plate of mignardises is offered. Bite sized desserts. To take away, each of us received several chocolate-stuffed Newton style shortbread cookies wrapped up. These are amazing with a nice buttery taste in the shortbread. In addition, as we left, we received a small box of house made chocolate truffles.

Spending time with my friend and having a wonderfully creative dining experience is one of my best New York memories. What better way to visit New York than with an interesting combination of food, drink, walking, talking and dessert.

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