Monday, May 20, 2013

A Swinging New York Date Night: Palm One Dinner, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and Dessert Tasting at per se

This month's The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out spotlight finds us outside of our San Antonio home base. For this Special Edition, I'm sharing A Swinging New York Date Night from our recent New York trip. Our date started with dinner at one of the most famous steak restaurants in the country. From there, we attended an amazing live jazz performance by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra...and we ended the evening with a memorable post-show dessert tasting. New York is one of our favorite cities to visit, and this date night included all of the things that we love best: time together enjoying delicious food, swinging jazz music, and a sweet ending in a gorgeous setting! 
Photograph provided by Palm One
We started our date night with an early dinner at Palm One, the legendary flagship location of the popular Palm Restaurant Group. Palm One is still housed in the original location, where they've been serving up amazing food since 1926 -- that's more than 80 years, people! We were warmly welcomed and quickly seated by the manager, who introduced us to our server. Our friendly server knew a lot about Palm One's fascinating history, which he shared with us during our meal. Michael and I were enthralled by all of the fantastic caricatures and murals that cover the restaurant's walls. We saw many familiar faces -- including Dagwood and Blondie, Popeye, and Beetle Bailey. Many of the caricatures date back to the early days of the restaurant, when local cartoonists would draw on the wall as "payment" for their meals. The tradition has continued this colorful mural commemorating the restaurant's 80th anniversary demonstrates.
We enjoyed a cocktail and a glass of wine while we waited for our shared appetizer to arrive. Since we're seafood lovers, we opted for the Jumbo Shrimp Bruno. This appetizer consisted of three huge fried shrimp served in a pool of rich dijon mustard sauce. The shrimp were perfectly fried. They were plump and sweet, and the sauce was savory and rich. It had just enough mustard to give it a nice kick. We loved this dish...and we may have even dipped our bread in the excess sauce so we didn't miss a drop!
Next came our entrees...Michael chose the 18-ounce Prime New York Strip, while I opted for the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Chipotle Tartar Sauce and Mango Salsa. We both enjoyed a bit of each entree to create a personalized upscale surf and turf. The steak was cooked perfectly, and was it was so juicy! When a steak is this good, all it needs is a bit of salt and pepper...and a fork and knife. The crab cakes were full of lump crab and very little filler -- the hallmark of a superb crab cake. The zesty chipotle tartar sauce it was served with reminded me of Louisiana remoulade, and the mango salsa provided a bit of sweet heat. 
We shared a side dish of the best hash brown potatoes that I've ever eaten. They were golden and crispy outside, and moist and tender inside...and so unbelievably good that I broke my cardinal rule and dug in without snapping a picture! Classic restaurants like Palm One achieve that status for a reason: they use top-notch ingredients and cook them to perfection...and they do it consistently over the years. Before we knew it, it was time to jump in a cab and head over to the Time-Warner Center for our show. I have to give special kudos to Palm One's General Manager. He personally escorted us two blocks up from the restaurant, where it would be easier to hail an open cab during rush hour...and he even hailed the cab for us. That was an extra measure of customer service that we didn't expect, but were grateful to receive! 

After a short cab ride, we arrived at Time-Warner Center, which is located at Columbus Circle near Central Park South. Inside are tons of great shops and restaurants, as well as Jazz at Lincoln Center. We had tickets to see Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's perform the music of the legendary Duke Ellington. Marsalis is one of Michael's favorite musicians, so I gave him tickets to this show last Christmas. We've had been eagerly awaiting the show since then...and now it was finally here! We hopped into the elevator and headed to the 5th floor. Jazz at Lincoln Center complex includes Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, the Ertegun Jazz Museum, and several performance halls. Our show was inside the beautiful Frederick P. Rose Hall, known as The House of Swing. It was definitely swinging that night! Rose Hall was specifically designed for jazz performances, and the acoustics blew us away. The show was absolutely amazing -- talented performers who love jazz playing their hearts out for a grateful audience. It doesn't get much better than that...but our date night wasn't quite over yet!
We had reservations for a post-show dessert tasting at Thomas Keller's per se, which was also conveniently located inside Time-Warner Center. All we had to do after the show was finished was take the escalator outside Rose Hall down one level. That made it a really convenient to enjoy the show and a sweet nightcap afterward. I highly recommend per se's five-course dessert tasting as a fantastic way to enjoy this amazing restaurant at a much lower price point. We received the same stellar service and atmosphere at a price that didn't break our budget. Our dessert tasting included two sweet amuse bouche, five desserts, and mignardises at the end. Just wait until you see how beautiful each course was!

We were warmly welcomed by the hostess and escorted to the cozy Salon area, located just outside per se' main dining room. We were seated on a comfortable duvet and brought out a menu describing the evening's dessert tasting menu. With five courses, we opted to share one tasting so we could both sample all of the courses without getting overly full. First came two sweet amuse bouche: a bite-size lemon ice cream sandwich: tart lemon sorbet between two shortbread cookies, as well as a citrus gelee served in a miniature cone. Both were refreshing and light, a perfect start to our tasting.
Thomas Keller is one of the chefs I most admire, because he really understands the human palate and how to orchestrate a tasting. Five dessert courses could get become overly sweet in the wrong hands, leading to what I call mouth fatigue. Instead, our tasting started refreshing and light and built in sweetness and complexity as the courses progressed. Our first course was the refreshing Green Sake. It was a bowl of tart sake-citrus granita topped with paper-thin slices of Persian cucumber and a green tea foam. It was light and elegant, and only very lightly sweet. 

Our second course was Raviolo Dolce, a layered dessert that featured sweet-tart rhubarb compote, a cornmeal financier, and buttermilk sherbet that was so fluffy that it felt almost mousse-like in our mouths. We had never eaten rhubarb before, but we liked the tartness that it brought to this gorgeous dish. The ravioli shell wasn't pasta. Instead, it was a film that sort of melted in our mouths. It's hard to describe, but it worked very well with the other components of this beautiful dessert.
Our third course was the whimsical and delicious Poached Vanilla Meringue. As you can see, it looked exactly like a sunny-side-up egg -- and the color really jumped off the white plate! The "yolk" was a champagne-mango coulis, the "egg white" was the crunchy meringue...and a bed of perfect vanilla rice pudding was laying underneath. This creative dessert was a really nice combination of textures and flavors.
Our fourth course was Thomas Keller's signature Coffee and Doughnuts. This duo consists of warm cinnamon brioche doughnuts accompanied by a cup of cappuccino semifredo. The cinnamon sugar coated doughnuts were light as air, and the cappuccino semifredo was smooth as silk with a perfect coffee flavor. We enjoyed having a spoon of the semifredo and a bite the doughnut at the same time. Simple, homey...and sublime! This dessert was familiar, yet very modern.
The final course was the most complex...Caramelized Honey. This plate had a lot going on, but it all worked together perfectly. If you look closely, you'll see caramelized pieces of honey, graham cracker genoise, dark chocolate ganache, and thyme-scented ice cream. The caramelized honey reminded me of seafoam candy, and the ganache was dehydrated. The texture was crumbly when you first bite it, but it melted in the heat of our mouths to a standard ganache consistency. This was a fun ending to our dessert tasting!
But wait...the staff at per se had one more surprise for us! While we waited for our bill to arrive, the server brought by mignardises of house-made chocolates for us to hand select and sample. All of the chocolates were delicious and not overly sweet. The chocolates were the perfect ending to a perfect tasting...and an amazing Swinging New York Date. On our way out of Time-Warner Center, we noticed how beautiful Columbus Circle looked out the window, so I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the city below at night.
We made our way back to our hotel...happy that we still had four more days to make new memories in New York. I'll have more about that in a couple of weeks when I share all the details of our Food Lover's Weekend in New be sure to come back to read all about our other New York adventures!

Disclosure: Palm One graciously hosted us for dinner to facilitate inclusion in this article. All opinions expressed are my own, and all photographs -- unless otherwise  noted -- are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia. They may not be reproduced or otherwise used without prior permission.


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