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The Four Seasons


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#1 ngatti

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 05:47 AM

Sometimes one dines in a restaurant to dine. That is, to use the all encompassing definition of that word. That is to say: not merely to eat. Not to experience *cuisine*, but to share dinner with someone close; an experience for close friends; many important elements that reference much, but that don’t revolve around any single thing. Something you’ve always wanted to do. Something you’ve always wanted to share. Something you’ve always wanted to experience. It matters not that the world may have passed this thing by. That it no longer has cachet amongst the cognescenti. It mayn’t be the next big thing and it mayn’t have been anything for quite some time. But references abound to former greatness. It still has *class*. There are still elements that meet the expectation of *experience*. This was this evening’s dinner at The Four Seasons.

This was planned for about a week as a surprise dinner for my wife’s fiftieth birthday. I made the reservation last week; jokingly dropped a couple of ancient names (“Yes, I remember when Alex Von Bidder had hair.”) and placed my reservation for this evening at 7:30. Upon arrival there was no record of my reservation. The hostess and I pondered the possibility of me dialing The Four Seasons Hotel by mistake. Dismissing my references to my past employment is certainly within the realm of even luxury hotel reservationists

The entire affair was handled with aplomb, competence and good humor. I lingered back and explained ‘sotto voce’ that not only was my reservation lost, but that it was my wife’s birthday and I had planned a rather special evening. I also asked for Christian “Hitsch” Albin, and was informed that he was there this evening. The mention of former Maitre’d, Oreste Carnivale (now at “21”) produced a shocked; “I don’t think I was five years old back then.” At any rate we were seated in the Pool Room immediately, at what one assumes was one of the bumpers. The dining room soon filled up to capacity. To my way of thinking this was one the better tables in the house. We were seated side by side in the Pool Room at one of the banquettes with a commanding view of the entire dining room. The current Maitre’d, Lorenz came by and chatted us up. After eliciting a few more ‘blast from the past’ names, he broke into a smile and we reminisced for a bit. I ordered a MacCallan neat and looked over the wine list and ordered A Caurrades(sp) la Tour 96 Paulliac. This was decanted and we settled in.

First course for my wife was a generously portioned special of heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and a basily, balsamicy type dressing. Prosaic, but competent. My consommé was as good as it gets. It wasn’t cutting edge, just perfectly executed. A FS strongpoint. Ubiquitous garnish of fine julienne carrot and leek. Some morel and some spaetzle. It was an old dish like “poeled duck” is old. But it was enough. It referenced an expertise that sat just fine with me.

Next up was an ‘extra’ course of Maryland crabcake. Another good sized portion that was simply served with some l’Ancienne mustard. Simple, and about as cutting edge as a dull butter knife, but within the Four Seasons context, oh so right.

For mains my wife had a NY steak cooked perfectly MR. A pale shadow of what one would get at Peter Luger. Surprising to me, given the quality I used to cut for this restaurant back in the day, and not even close to what I currently use at the club. For me, a saddle of rabbit. Deboned and reconstructed wrapped in some green with a pleasant game sauce and strongly spiced, skinny rabbit sausages. Some of the best polenta I ever ate and a couple of green and white asparagus. Again all the mains were heavily portioned by today’s standards, and I thought, too boldly flavored, but certainly eatable and enjoyable. In fact the entire Pool Room subdued and subtle scene was part of the show; very elegant and somewhat formal. The men in dark suits and the ladies dressed dark also. No God’s waiting room this.

Desserts were a macaroon crème brulee for May and a warm Valrhona cake for me. Both came out far too quickly to have had much preparation in the kitchen. Their stunning look belied the ultimate disappointment we had with these. Decent mignardise and coffee and out the door.

I must say that the service at the Seasons is as good as I always imagined it to be. Deferential, but not obsequious. Very competent teams and a room that references Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This was a time warp to 1962. I loved every minute of it as did May. I’m willing to overlook all the rest. I recommend it only if you don’t mind blowing a chunk for this type of flawed but nostalgic and, for me, elegant and classy experience. It’s a certain type of New York. I think it’s going to disappear completely in a few years.

About $410.00 all in, plus the extras for captains M’d and hostess on the way out.

6.5/10 -- Recommended within the above context.

Cheers.
yer 'avin' a larf, mate

#2 cabrales

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 11:03 AM

Nick -- Did you consider having the signature duck dish, and does that require two people?

#3 Cathy

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 12:36 PM

Nick, remember that cotton candy fantasy VIPs got after dessert?

Please wish May a happy birthday.
You're only as good as your grease.


When working with high heat, the first contact between the cooking surface and the food must be respected.

-- Francis Mallman







#4 ngatti

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 01:17 PM

Oh yes Cathy. A very large pillow of pink candy with chocolate crunchies shot through it. All topped with a birthday candle.

Cabby--The Farmhouse Duck is on the menu and yes it does require two people.
yer 'avin' a larf, mate

#5 omnivorette

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 01:26 PM

Sometimes one dines in a restaurant to dine.  That is, to use the all encompassing definition of that word.  That is to say: not merely to eat.  Not to experience *cuisine*, but to share dinner with someone close; an experience for close friends; many important elements that reference much, but that don’t revolve around any single thing.  Something you’ve always wanted to do.  Something you’ve always wanted to share.  Something you’ve always wanted to experience.  It matters not that the world may have passed this thing by.  That it no longer has cachet amongst the cognescenti.  It mayn’t be the next big thing and it mayn’t have been anything for quite some time.  But references abound to former greatness.  It still has *class*.  There are still elements that meet the expectation of *experience*.  This was this evening’s dinner at The Four Seasons. 

--------------------------------------
 
No God’s waiting room this. 

You made my day.
"It seems a positively Quixotic quest to defend food from being used as any kind of social signifier, as if it could avoid the fate of each other component of our everyday lives." -Wilfrid

#6 Lippy

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 01:34 PM

We took our son there for his 30th birthday because we wanted him to have the experience once in his life. It was worth every considerable penny and the consomme garnished with foie gras ravioli was perfection. Just entering the Pool Room makes you feel privileged.

#7 Wilfrid1

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 01:50 PM

I appreciate the description of what must have been a special occasion for you, Nick, but I can't say I'm strongly tempted by the description of the meal. At the same time, unless the wine was a great bargain, the food cost seems to be less than I would have expected - about $125 a head?
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#8 ngatti

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 03:19 PM

I appreciate the description of what must have been a special occasion for you, Nick, but I can't say I'm strongly tempted by the description of the meal. At the same time, unless the wine was a great bargain, the food cost seems to be less than I would have expected - about $125 a head?

I agree Wilf. The food was well executed but unexciting. Very private clubish (which is what the grill room has become). The wine was 125 dollars. The entire meal without tip was 334 dollars.

There was a tasing m,enu available at 135 bucks each. With a wine match, I figure that would go to about 250 or so.

My soup was 15 bucks, the scotch 25, the steak 55. Rabbit-40 bucks and desserts 14 each. Not too bad by the standard they try to keep. I thought pretty reasonable. Although at one time, I believe the food was paramount (Jeez, I met Paul Bocuse here once and James Beard regularly strolled through the kitchen); I did not get that feeling at this visit. Since Hitsch has been in the kitchen (almost twenty years), the feeling I get is that it becomes more and more about The Four Seasons rather than the Four Seasons kitchen.
yer 'avin' a larf, mate

#9 Lippy

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 03:30 PM

When it opened, it was the Per Se of its day. It was the first truly high end restaurant not in the classic French mold and paid attention to seasonal ingredients, more of a novelty then. One of the signature dishes was Shrimp with Mustard Fruits. My favorite dessert was called, I think, Chocolate Velvet, a dense slab of chocolate combining elements of flourless cake, fudge and mousse, without any frivolous "lightness."

#10 ngatti

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 04:36 PM

When it opened, it was the Per Se of its day. It was the first truly high end restaurant not in the classic French mold and paid attention to seasonal ingredients, more of a novelty then. One of the signature dishes was Shrimp with Mustard Fruits. My favorite dessert was called, I think, Chocolate Velvet, a dense slab of chocolate combining elements of flourless cake, fudge and mousse, without any frivolous "lightness."

What a remarkable memory. Indeed, I've made enough Crisp Shrimp with mustard Fruit (Frutta Mostarde) in my day. Alas no grand tiered dessert trolly this time.
yer 'avin' a larf, mate

#11 ahr

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Posted 26 May 2004 - 05:16 PM

One of the signature dishes was Shrimp with Mustard Fruits.  My favorite dessert was called, I think, Chocolate Velvet, a dense slab of chocolate combining elements of flourless cake, fudge and mousse, without any frivolous "lightness."

Jeez, that takes me back. I remember treating a girlfriend to the Four Seasons in 1976 or 1977 and having Shrimp with Mustard Fruits and a chocolate-cake dessert into which they'd stuck a single candle to commemorate her birthday. I don't remember our mains -- a veal dish and Dover sole, perhaps? -- but the wine was delicious, a Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet. As I recall, the meal was $135 for the two of us, complete.

I also took a wine-tasting course there with Paul Kovi. At a Champagne dinner celebrating its completion, one of my comrades (a slender fellow, not really a serious eater or drinker) emptied the contents of his stomach onto the table. I helped him off to the men's room, and upon our return there no evidence that anything untoward had happened: our desserts, coffees, and brandies had been refreshed, along with the tablecloth and place settings. He did, however, stop receiving invitations to future events.

Thanks for the memories.
"To Serve Man"
-- Favorite Twilight Zone cookbook

#12 ngatti

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Posted 27 May 2004 - 03:10 AM

Craig Claiborne's 1959 "New York Times" review

Go to the site and click on "A page from our history" link at the left side of the page.
yer 'avin' a larf, mate

#13 Lippy

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Posted 27 May 2004 - 03:18 AM

What a remarkable memory.

That's how much I loved this restaurant.

#14 ngatti

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Posted 27 May 2004 - 03:40 AM

What a remarkable memory.

That's how much I loved this restaurant.

That's what I was tryng to convey. The food may be just okay, but combined with the service...and...well...the space. Frankly, all the *good ghosts* just seem to be there. I mean you can easily slip into a Jack Nicholson "Shining" kind of vibe.

"Oh over there..Hi Dick, Hi Liz", "Just a minute, I want to say hello to Jackie".
George Peppard (the young one) is sitting across the room. James Beard is lumbering towards your table to chat with Craig Claiborne.

The sweeping modern space. the trees, the Picasso. The uniforms changing four times a year. It is New York City, pre Vietnam war. Men in single breasted two button suits with narrow lapels and narrower neckties. Men in hats (fedoras, homburgs, porkpies, Tyrolians) The New York Times..."You don't have to read it all, but it's nice to know it's all there."

John Vliet Lindsay and Robert Wagner Jr. Audrey Hepburn and Patricia Neal, etc...etc...etc...
yer 'avin' a larf, mate

#15 omnivorette

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Posted 27 May 2004 - 03:45 AM

Is there a swoon emoticon?
"It seems a positively Quixotic quest to defend food from being used as any kind of social signifier, as if it could avoid the fate of each other component of our everyday lives." -Wilfrid