Monday, January 26, 2009

The Bar Room at The Modern: Small Bites

Man, New York City Restaurant Week is looking less and less economical.

Train fare to and from Grand Central Station (off-peak) from Harrison: $13.00
Subway fare to and from the MOMA (a short walk, but hey, it was cold): $4.00
Adult admission to the MOMA if you’re looking to kill about three hours before your reservation: $20.00 (Doesn’t that seem high for a museum?)
The Bar Room at the Modern’s Restaurant Week three-course prix fixe menu: $35.00
One regular coffee: $4.00
My portion of tax and tip: $12.00

Total: $88.00

Really, $88.00 isn’t entirely unpleasant when you consider my mom, uncle, and I were on a quest to experience modern art and Alsatian cuisine—what’s a few dollars when you’re making memories of a lifetime, we rationalized?

Our first mistake was allotting three hours to wander the MOMA. I had been to the MOMA many years back when CGI animation genius Pixar held its exhibit, and it was unquestionably one of the most impressive displays I'd ever witnessed. This time, however, my mom, uncle and I had to make do sitting in one of the media rooms, watching a wild boar plod through grass fields and chomp on an apple, while the camera slowly drifted into and out of the beast’s mouth. Monotone new age music hummed, and screens emitted hallucinogenic pink and red.

Two Jackson Pollocks, one wall of Campbell Soup cans, and one perfectly crumpled piece of paper later, we made our way to The Bar Room at The Modern, adjacent to the MOMA. The Bar Room is the casual, more affordable section of The Modern, while the sleek, pricier, and highly-esteemed Dining Room boasts serene views of the MOMA’s sculpture garden, and currently holds a Michelin Star.
Most restaurants that participate in Restaurant Week only offer two to three selections per course, so I was immediately impressed with the Bar Room’s extremely generous menu of 10 choices each for the first and second courses, and seven choices for dessert.

The flip-side to the multitude of offerings is that portions range from petite to minute. Last Restaurant Week, Otto and I visited the Bar Room, and while the meal as a whole was very good, what stood out most was the look of longing on Otto’s face when he had swallowed the fourth—and last—bite of his swordfish entrée. Certain dishes are laughably small.

This time around, I was taking precautions. I forewarned both my uncle and my mom of potentially small plates, and then asked our efficient and exceptionally likeable server Kelly to point out any dishes that were on the “minute” side. Kelly not only identified some of the smaller plates (the swordfish, the pork belly and the poussin), she helpfully pointed to the largest appetizer on the menu, the Tarte Flambee, an Alsation thin crust tart with crème fraiche, onion and applewood smoked bacon.

My uncle, however, was taking extra precautions, and ordered the first of many Brooklyn Lagers to up the caloric count, along with the Grilled Squid with Aleppo flatbread, tomato confit and baked lemon-yukon coulis.
My mom decided on the Wild Mushroom Soup with toasted chorizo ravioli.
Appetizers were fair. My uncle seemed to like the flavor of the squid, (and the flavor of his second Lager), but thought it was on the rubbery side. My mom’s soup was a little watery, but thought the flavor was earthy and complex. My tarte, which looks humongous in the picture, was paper thin, so I had no trouble finishing it. The smokiness and creaminess were very nice here, but we all agreed it was a little salty. If you’ve ever purchased the frozen Tarte Alsace from Trader Joe’s, it’s surprisingly a solid runner-up to the Bar Room’s Tarte.

For entrees, my mom took my recommendation and ordered the Homemade Alsation Country Sausage with turnip choucroute and whole grain mustard sauce. I had sampled it last time, and vividly remembered the thin, crispy skin giving way to a burst of flavor. It was one of the best, most comforting, first bites in the history of dining. So it was with disappointment when I realized that this time, the sausage was a little less juicy, a little more salty, and therefore, a little less special.
My uncle and I both ordered the Pan Roasted Hangar Steak with artichokes, parmesan and extra virgin olive oil, which—while small—was a winner. Perfectly cooked steak, and a mild, pleasant artichoke sauce.
I don’t know at exactly what point during dessert that my mom and I realized that good intentions had landed my normally quiet and shy uncle with a bit of a buzz. Perhaps it was when he sampled a small piece of pistachio ice cream from my mom’s Pistachio Dark Chocolate Dome and amaretto gelee and declared it, “AWESOME!!!” but then took another bite and said worriedly, “Now I don’t taste anything. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.”
In any case, the Pistachio Dark Chocolate Dome was easily the best dish of the night. It had a playfulness to it, closely resembling a Malomar cookie in shape, texture (a graham-crackerish bottom and pistachio crème brulee filling), and all-around delicousness. I liked the idea of updating a supermarket dessert, and putting a signature spin on it.

All in all, a fun night. No one left hungry, and prices were still reasonable, but we would've loved to see a bit more food on the plates.

The Bar Room at The Modern

9 W 53rd St
New York, NY 10079
(212) 333-1220

1 comment:

  1. The Wild Mushroom soup was pretty incredible. I am dying to get back to NYC - the Bar Room has been on my list since first bite!