Friday, December 25, 2009

It's SHO time (food)

On the first day of Xmas I give to my blog readers, a quail and a Xmas tree. Close enough, right? Anyway, about a week ago, I took my friend DW to celebrate a big birthday at SHO Shaun Hergatt, in the Setai Hotel in the financial district. The area looks less like a warzone now, and in fact is not that inconvenient if you travel by subway anyway. There are three different colored lines that come out within walking distance of the restaurant, with the JMZ line right at the door.

I've never liked the Rockefeller xmas tree, but I found this NYSE Xmas tree to be quite pretty.

The NYSE tree is 65' tall and decorated with over 10,000 lights and balls.

Onto the restaurant. SHO (named after the chef Shaun Hergatt) is located on the second floor of the Setai Hotel. I paid the restaurant a visit with wildman not long after it opened, but didn't get around to a full review. Now, on my second visit after some time has passed, I feel the restaurant has improved, and when we spoke with the chef later in the meal, he said that he also felt that things were coming together better than before.

Service: It's pretty good and pretty well-coordinated to be sure. The servers bring everything out on huge trays to a prep table before actually bringing food to the tables. If you ask for the restroom, most likely someone will walk you there. Water was refilled at a good pace. One thing which is very much a personal preference is that all their servers and captains had accents. I don't know if they think it's exotic, but it annoys me when I have to decipher the description of my food.

Atmosphere: The space is nice and big, sleek and elegant. There is a hallway of wines between the bar and the main dining area, and the color scheme is a nice classic red, black, and mahogany. The vibe in both the food and the space is luxury, and they pull it off. In the main dining area, there is a full view of the kitchen, separated by a glass wall. I'm mixed on this. I don't need to see the kitchen, but if I do sit near the pass, I'd like to actually feel the hustle and bustle instead of being separated by glass. Here are some action shots from our table right next to the glass:

Onto the food. We start off with the hors d'oeuvres, which are decadent and quite sizeable.

Lobster cream and gelee, goat cheese with tomato confit, and poached egg with caviar. The goat cheese had a nice strong flavor while my personal favorite was the lobster cream which had a nice texture and was full of lobster flavor. The egg caught me off guard as it was cold. I don't know if that was intentional, but cold egg just didn't work for me.

The amuse was a butternut squash soup with hazelnuts. The soup was nice, while I'm neutral about the hazelnuts.

For our first courses, DW had the sweetbreads poele with black truffle risotto and aged balsamic. I've never been a fan of risotto, as the texture is just not for me, but this was tasty. I loved the sweetbread poele, which was a nice thick piece with a texture that was not too soft.

My first course was the red chili and coconut milk glazed quail with a quail egg, shiitake duxelle, and wilted tetragonia.

The buried treasure inside: the quail is stuffed with foie gras. This dish was amazing. I've always been a fan of the foie stuffed quail at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, but this just brought it to another level. The red chili and coconut milk glaze reminded me of Malaysian curry, but the flavor was just so clean. In Hergatt's own words, it makes this dish "dynamite". In fact, this is the only dish that has never left the menu since SHO opened because everyone loves it.

We ordered a la carte the current version of his Golden Egg. Served in over-the-top fashion in a huge seashell vessel, the poached egg is served with uni, uni foam, and caviar. I thought the caviar needed to have a stronger flavor up against the uni and egg. Overall it was nice, but I doubt I would repeat spending $40 a la carte for an egg dish.

In this photo you can see the egg (the white bits) a little better.

For our mains, DW had the caramelized Scottish salmon with hon shimeji, tatsoi, and thai basil froth. I was disappointed to find out that a restaurant of this caliber did not use wild salmon, but the fish had a pretty good taste anyway. The thai basil froth was in my view too strong, however.

This thing was huge! Here's the level view so you can see how tall that piece of salmon actually was.

For my main, I ordered the milk-fed veal, with veal tongue and veal jus double cream emulsion. I thought the veal and the jus had great flavor, and the square of layered, thinly sliced veal tongue was amusing. What I really loved were the vegetables though. A good variety of perfectly cooked vegetables that were the perfect accompaniment to the veal and brought it to another level for me as a composed dish.

Here's the server spooning the jus/cream over my veal. Very good, though not the best I've ever had.

After our mains, we spoke with the chef to chat and thank him for the food. The guy is big and solidly built, and spoke with a clear Australian accent.

I mentioned to our server that we were there for DW's birthday, and the kitchen sent out an extra dessert with a candle and "Happy Birthday" written in chocolate. So we ended up with a trio of desserts.

Can't seem to find my notes on the desserts, and the SHO website doesn't list them, but this is the complimentary birthday dessert. I remember a strong passionfruit flavor. I liked the crunch on the bottom of this.

This was the java cremeux, very dense, good flavor. The cardamom ice cream (I think this was the cardamom) was quite nice and gave it a nice spice.

This was the Tahitian vanilla bavarois, with slices of pears. This was a very good, delicate dessert with a nice soft texture.

Mignardises included coffee macaroon and toasted marshmallows. The marshmallows were quite yummy and not too sweet.

Also with the mignardises were these, hard chocolate shell covering liquid salted caramel. Or as DW put it, "chef's chocolate salty balls".

Overall it was a nice meal with very high highs. The food and space exude a feeling of over-the-top luxury that's nice to experience once in a while. The three course prix-fixe is a good deal at $69+t/t. They also now have a 15 course tasting menu for $220+t/t. This wasn't available my first time there, but I'm curious to see what chef Hergatt can do with 15 courses.

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