God I love Restaurant Week date night. Twice a year, when RW week rolls around, Will and I splurge on a really nice dinner—we dress up, we get cocktails somewhere fancy before dinner. It's a nice indulgence. Neither of us really knew all that much about fine dinning when we moved here, so it's fun to discover the little luxuries that come with dining in a restaurant of a little prestige. Little details, like returning from the bathroom to discover your napkin refolded (Will said a waiter swooped in "like a ninja" seconds after I had vacated my seat to perform this task; I like the idea of a napkin ninja) or having the waiter scrape the breadcrumbs off the table with a straight edge between courses. I'm sure we've looked like absolute hicks trying to act normal around attention to ceremony that is so foreign to us, but the staff generally expects newbies during RW I imagine, and I doubt they're surprised.
This year I chose The Modern, a restaurant inside the Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA. I had heard wonderful things about how it was a fantastic place by Danny Meyer, a revolution in museum dining. I was wary after trying what the Metropolitan Museum of Art tried to pass off as a wine bar last year (from food to service it was terrible, don't even try it) but it was RW and I was feeling adventurous. MOMA is free on Friday nights, so I decided to make a complete night of it and make my reservation for Friday night at eight. Those who follow NYCGo on Twitter (like I do) were given a link to book reservations a day before the general public, and thank god they did. By the next day there was nothing in the ballpark of my 8 pm reservation, and by the day of there wasn't a reservation to be had the whole night. I may or may not have felt a bit smug about this.
The Modern is split into two rooms the Dining Room, and the Bar Room. The Dining Room is more upscale with linens on the tables, a higher end menu, a jacket policy, and a view of MOMA's sculpture garden. The Dining Room is also not available for RW. The Bar Room is still a very classy dining experience, jackets are not required but are certainly not out of place, linen napkins, and view of a very swanky bar. Quite frankly I think we were more comfortable where we were.
The menu offered, which can be found here was the most extensive offering I have experienced yet. Instead of the usual three appetizers, three entrees, and three desserts to choose from, The Modern offered about 2/3 of it's normal menu. I was ecstatic, and I wished we had five more people with us so as to have a greater sampling of food. Our waitress was perfect, a huge smile and curly hair, it was definitely not the attitude of mere tolerance you can get from some high end restaurant staff. She was helpful, informative, and delightful the whole evening.
For our first course I had the Wild Mushroom Soup with Toasted Chorizo Ravioli. The soup was extremely rich and decadent. Will tasted it and was not nearly as happy with it as I was, but then he's not nearly as big a fan of mushrooms as I am. The Chorizo was crispy and spicy, but I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do with them. I dipped them in the soup, but it wasn't an entirely complementary flavor. Will had the Roasted Long Island Duck Breast with Peppercorn Crusted Apples and Toasted Pistachio Truffle Dipping Sauce. Will first tried the duck alone, and was extremely happy. Then he cut into the apple (which we both thought was a potato) and found the combo to be complex and delightful. Then he tried dipping the apple in the sauce and I thought he was going to storm the kitchen to deliver his accolades.
The pacing for the meal was also well done, instead of serving one course on top of the other to turn over tables and increase profit margins, we were given about 10-15 minutes between courses to digest and talk, it was refreshing. For my second course I had the Saffron Tagliatelle with Cider Braised Rabbit, Wild Mushrooms, and Baby Zucchini. I've never had rabbit before, it's a bit gamey but the braising made it meltingly moist. Will tried to call it "bunny" at one point, and I resisted the urge to kick him under the table. No linens to hide it, you know. I’ll have to make a mental note to kick him later; he won’t see it coming.
The mushroom sauce gave a nice narrative to the meal after the soup, it was much sutler but equally satisfying. Will had the Pan Roasted Hanger Steak with Asparagus, Artichoke, and Parmesan. There was also a parsley pesto sauce, Will was more then happy but when I tasted I thought the sauce overpowered a bit. That might just be that Will swiped up too much when he gave me a taste. We were both so pleased with our meals that we used the one remaining roll to sop up whatever sauce was remaining on our plates. Probably not model etiquette but a definite complement to the chef.
Again we were given a respectable rest between courses before Will tackled the Carmel and White Chocolate Trifle with Apricot Gelee, and I took on the Pistachio Dark Chocolate Dome with Pistachio Ice Cream and Amaretto Gelee. The waitress was kind enough to make a special trip over to us to explain the layers of Will's Trifle, a tropical flavored dish that came with a side of pineapple mixed with cilantro. With the dark chocolate my dessert paired better with the 2005 Triennes Saint Auguste Syrah we were drinking. The Modern has had the foresight to offer bottles under $40 during RW. After such an elaborate meal I mentioned to Will that I might not finish my dessert, at which point he started eyeing it. Like a perfect gentleman, Will was kind enough to polish it off for me.