Wednesday, June 20, 2007


There's a popular new book out titled The Secret. GrasGuy hasn't read it, but the gist of it is that if you wish hard enough for something, you'll get it. Life is as simple as that. It's how Beethoven was able to write great symphonies and how Jimmy got himself a red 10-speed bike for his birthday. I'm not sure if the book is found in the self-help, spiritual, or magic section of bookstores, but there may be a little something to it.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my desire to dine at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant at the London Hotel in NYC, but with a 3 month old baby at home it didn't really seem to be in the cards anytime soon. At least I could enjoy watching him whine and scream in the meantime - of course I'm talking about chef Ramsay on his television show, Hell's Kitchen, not my well-behaved son. So you can imagine my surprise on Fathers' Day when wife and baby told me to get in a cab because we were going out to an early dinner at an undisclosed location - and make sure you dress sharp!

Oblivious to where we were headed, visions of Per Se and Masa danced in my head as we approached the Time Warner Center. We did have a baby carriage in the trunk, though, so I wasn't surprised when the cab took a left downtown on 7th Avenue. But then a quick left on 54th street put us smack in front of the London and I couldn't have been happier.

Arriving at an unfashionably early 5pm, we were the only ones in the London Bar's restaurant - which we discovered had just been renamed Maze after his restaurant in the actual City of London. An attempt, I'd guess, to shore up what has been a less than blistering success since it opened a few months ago. All blue-grey upholstery and mirrors - imagine a cross between Cary Grant's suit from North By Northwest and a 1966 Ford Galaxie if you must - the decor is slick enough to catch the eye, but not so outlandish as to distract from the food or company. Of course, behind a pair of mirrored doors in the back, lies the more formal Gordon Ramsay At The London restaurant and the long-desired Pressed Foie Gras and Game with Port Sauce and Pickled Mushrooms that started this adventure. However, whether it be divine providence or that pesky Secret again, the dish is not currently on the menu so I didn't spend the entire meal longing for entry into those gilded confines.

In fact I was more than pleased with the extensive small-plates menu Maze has to offer - including no less, but alas no more, than 3 dishes featuring Foie Gras. In an attempt to outdo my birthday meal at L'Atelier Joel Robuchon, I ordered them all.

The first was a very interesting Apple Cured Duck Breast with Smoked Foie Gras Terrine and Amaranth. The waiter introduced the duck as only cured, not cooked at all. It was moist and looked like four slices of bacon formed into square the size of a slice of mortadella, a small block of amaranth-sprinkled terrine placed in one corner and a bit of Frisée in the other like a golden gloves lightweight facing off with Joe Frazier. If I've had amaranth before, I couldn't tell you, though I'm sure it's been in many a South Asian dish I've enjoyed along the way. On it's own the duck was unexpectedly mild, but when tasted with the impossibly creamy Foie Gras and malty flavor of the amaranth, the acidic flavor of the brine was brought to the front creating quite a stir on the pallet. I just wish it didn't look like a cold cut.

It's rare that two of the world's top chef's have a dish so similar on their menus, but when I saw Maze was offering a Honey and Soy Roasted Quail with Sautéed Foie Gras and Spiced Pear Chutney I couldn't wait to see how it stacked up against Rubochon's Foie Gras-Stuffed Carmelized Quail. Very different in execution, Ramsay's dish consists of two seared quail legs, one served atop the chutney, the other under a slice of seared Foie Gras, in contrast to the mouse-stuffed breast at L'Atelier. The quail itself is a bit tastier at Maze and the chutney - which I usually have no great love for - was savory enough to make me into a believer, but it was the Foie Gras that closed the deal. While Robuchon's stuffing tasted almost like an aged cheese, the Foie Gras at Maze was pure. Cooked perfectly, it was silky smooth while maintaining all of it's natural consistencies - exactly what one dreams about when they dream about the epitome of Foie Gras - if that one is me. With such different presentations, to compare the two would be apples and oranges, or perhaps apples and prunes - which leads us to #trois of the trio. Twice Cooked Poussin, Roast - Coq au Vin with Prune Purée and Foie Gras Velouté.

I have no idea what goes into making a Foie Gras velouté, but the result is a broth that bears no resemblence to it's treasured ingredient, and it's almost a bit sad to see. But there you have it, two pieces of poussin set a top the prunes, floating in a watery opaque yellow liquid that almost looks like Campbell's Chicken Soup before you add the water. Sadly, this isn't available in a can - yet. Rather than having much flavor of it's own, the velouté lends an essence of Foie Gras to the Coq a Vin which exists as an almost sweet BBQ glaze on one piece of the chicken. The combination is unique in my experience and worthy of merit, though the unglazed roast breast probably worked better with the broth. All in all a nice finish to a poultry-heavy meal that made me feel as if I'd just eaten the haute cuisine version of a Turducken.
Accompanied by my wife's order of curry dusted scallops, the most asparagus intense-flavored risotto ever encountered, and some excellent but surprisingly ordinary lamb chops, my only complaint about the meal was the absence of an amuse bouche. I know, very snobby of me, and a just a few years ago I thought an amuse bouche was something you found on the videotapes under your college roommate's bed. But I've been programmed in a Pavlovian fashion to expect such things these days, and expect I do. This oversight was partially made up for by the peanut brittle and four caramel-filled chocolate balls - of which I had three - served after our dessert of chocolate fondant and almond ice cream.
With all of the dishes ranging from $12-$18 and a relatively reasonably priced wine by the glass list to offset a four-figure heavy collection of bottle$, a meal here can be quite a bargain to boot. Unfortunately the competition for this type of dining has gone from nil to a crowd in NYC recently, and Maze is no better than the best. But while that Pressed Foie Gras is gone for now, I know there are a couple of other Foie Gras dishes waiting behind those mirrored doors, so I guess I'll start my wishing for my next birthday right away. By then my son should be able to talk. I wonder if he'll be able to keep a secret then.

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