Monday, May 28, 2012

More lounge dining @ Fifth Floor

As you are well aware by now, I've been on a foie gras kick, getting in all my last foie consumption before the rapidly approaching ban goes into effect.  We were looking for a casual, week night foie-option, and I remembered that I'd recently seen some photos of an absolutely amazing sounding foie gras dessert at Fifth Floor: fried rhubarb pie with foie gras ice cream!  While it sounded slightly gimmicky, it also sounded potentially amazing, and people seemed to be loving it.  And I did love the foie ice cream I had there a few weeks ago.  And they just switched up their hot & cold preparation.   We could order all of these foie dishes a la carte in the lounge.  Sold!

Since I've reviewed the Fifth Floor several times now, both for lounge dining and formal group dining, I'll skip the basics here, and focus just on the individual dishes, and any differences in our experience.

This time we sat at the bar (last time we were in the adjacent lounge area).  There were purse hooks (seriously, it makes such a difference)!  The staff were all friendly and the chef himself came out to chat several times.  I really liked the vibe; it was energetic without being too loud, formal enough to include things like the amuse bouche and intermezzo but also totally casual, just really a nice atmosphere and balance of good dining and comfort.

We also got to meet a couple of other foie lovers that I "know" from the web in person, as they were also dining at the bar tonight.  It was fun to finally meet them!

Overall, it was a good experience.  I really like their lounge space and the foie gras dessert was actually mind blowing!  Everything else was good, but not particularly noteworthy.  Full comments on each dish below.

Protip: We found out that they'll be running a special foie gras menu in June.  I'm going to be out of town for a lot of the month, but hopefully we'll find a way to squeeze it in!
Amuse bouche: Chilled miso shooter with albacore and cucumber.
Our meal started with this little shooter.  The broth was salty from the miso and there were little cubes of albacore and cucumber inside of it.  There was also some sort of spicing on the rim of the glass, which was kinda fun to enjoy that way.  Since it was served cold, it was somewhat refreshing.  However, it was hard to get all of the albacore and cucumber cubes out of it, as once the broth was gone, they just stuck to the inside of the glass and we didn't have little spoons to stick in.  This is what tongues were made for :)

I really appreciate that they include amuses even for lounge seating!  They skip the bread service, which, unless bread is really phenomenal, doesn't bother me at all, I'd rather just eat more foie!
Hot & cold foie gras: rhubarb, honey, cardamon milk, bee pollen.  $22.
The hot and cold foie gras was my favorite dish the last time I had a formal meal at Fifth Floor.  That version was more winter inspired, served with a delicious kiwi sauce, kiwi slices, toasted brioche, and hazelnuts.  I was exited to see what this seasonal variation would be like!

This one replaced the kiwi components with rhubarb, it came in at least five different forms.  There were fresh crunchy chunks, some gel cubes, some sauce, and a layer of tiny gelee cubes on top of the terrine.  These all paired well with the foie, and were nicely balanced between sweet and tart.  Not quite as flavorful as the kiwi preparations however.

The terrine was creamy and decent, but didn't have as strong of a flavor as I'd like.  This seems to be a theme lately, perhaps I'm just unhappy with terrines and torchons in general these days, as none have seemed flavorful enough.  Although, I still drool thinking back to the one from Commonwealth, by far my favorite cold preparation I've had recently.

Leaning against the terrine were two honey tuiles.  They were crazy sweet.  Too sweet, even for sweet loving me.

The hot version was a letdown.  It had a decent sear and great texture and flavor, but it wasn't hot.  It was barely even warm.  Again, this seems to be a theme these days!  I want my hot preparations of foie actually hot please!  Or ... at least warm.  This was also inconsistent from the rest of the service we received, where I was impressed with the fact that dishes were served at pretty much perfect temperatures, particularly the desserts.

The foam was a cardamon milk, but I didn't really taste much cardamon.  I would have liked to, as I imagine that pairing quite nicely with the rhubarb and foie.

I paired this with a lovely glass of Sauternes, sweet and delicious as always, and it complimented the foie perfectly.

One thing that surprised us about this was the serving size.  Both the hot and cold preparations seemed to be only half as large as last time we had this dish, where it came with a much larger seared piece and two generous slices of the cold prep.  I wouldn't say this was a bad size serving for the price, but it was noticeably smaller.

Overall this was fine, but neither preparation is in the top versions I've had recently.  The seared piece would have been much, much better if served hot, and I have preferred other fruit pairings (like the kiwi sauce last time!).  It also would have benefitted perhaps from a small piece of bread product (like the brioche last time!).  I guess I just can't but help compare it to the last version I had of this there, and which I found more successful.  This was good quality foie however, and I'll certainly continue to try out any other preparations they have!
Fifth Floor Burger: Firebrand bun, comte cheese, bourbon onions, sweet pickles, fries, aioli.  $16
The burger is only available in the lounge.  Like last time, it came with a fluffy brioche bun, perfectly melted comte cheese, fresh crisp lettuce, and crunchy pickles.  It had a good sear on it, and the patty was flavorful enough due to being made from a mix of ground short rib, chuck, and skirt steak.  Served with skin on fries that were crisp but pretty forgettable, and a nicely smoky pimento aioli.  I feel about exactly the same towards it this time as last time, where I reviewed it in a little more detail.  A good burger, but I'd certainly pick the Alexander's burger and their fries any day.
Crispy Tai Snapper, ahi blanco, scallion, fennel, trout roe.  $16. (Photo from 1MandaBear).
This was absolutely crazy!  I'd heard about a technique that the chefs used to make a crispy layer out of scales, and one of my internet buddies down the bar ordered this.  She very generously insisted that I try some, and I'm glad she did, as it was a totally unique preparation!

As she cut into it, the crunch and crackle was audible from where I was standing a few feet away.  It was really incredible.  When I cut my piece, the same thing happened.  Sounds are not something I normally associate with eating, but this really added to the experience.

The fish was really well cooked, moist, tender.  The fennel was fresh, light, refreshing.  And the crispy scales really were great!  I'm not sure I've really ever had scales before, but the taste was just like skin, and this level of crispiness was just unparalleled in anything I'd ever experienced.

I'd gladly order this dish myself some time, and at $16 this seems like a crazy value for a generous size piece of fish!
Intermezzo: vanilla bean panna cotta, strawberry sphere, candied kumquat, muscatel granita.
This is one of the best intermezzos I've ever had.  Every component was things I adore and they were all executed perfectly.

The panna cotta had a great consistency and strong vanilla flavor.  Much, much better than most panna cottas I've had lately (and yes, I've had a lot of them).

The strawberry sphere was a standard molecular gastronomy sphere, it burst perfectly when bit into, and was filled with really great strawberry flavor.  Like eating some very delicious strawberry jam!  It paired wonderfully with the panna cotta.

The candied kumquat was slightly sour, and delicious.  I love candied kumquat.

The muscatel granita added a fun cold component to the dish.

I loved this, as did my dining companion, who rarely likes desserts.  I would order this as a full size dessert in a heartbeat.  I wish I could!
Fried rhubarb pie, foie gras ice cream, ginger, crème fraîche, pie crust foam.  $12.
This was the dish I was most excited about, having seen a photo of it a week earlier.  While I don't love rhubarb, I do love warm pie and ice cream, more than perhaps any other desserts.  Warm pie a la mode was a big thing in my house growing up!  But, I'm usually disappointed by pie and ice cream at restaurants.  And foie gras ice cream?  While awesome sounding, it also seemed gimmicky (I'm not a stranger to foie gras ice cream, having had a disappointing version at one of Lafitte's foie dinners and a great version in an intermezzo at Fifth Floor previously).  Lets just say that I went into this dish excited, but with a very healthy dose of skepticism.

This dessert was downright phenomenal.  I eat a LOT of desserts.  At least 3 a day, usually more like 5 or 6.  This is one of the best I've had in recent memory.  Truly fantastic, and not just because of the foie!

The fried rhubarb pie was pretty much perfect.  Delivered piping hot.  My biggest pet peeve with these sorts of desserts is that they rarely are warm.  This was clearly fresh out of the fryer!  The shell was amazingly crispy, I guess this is what happens when you fry pie instead of bake it!  The crust was buttery, full of flavor, and just delicious.  It put the pie crust of pretty much every other pie I've had in recent memory to shame.  The rhubarb inside was warm, soft, and a good balance of sweet at tart.

Also on the plate was more candied, stewed rhubarb.  I don't love rhubarb, but this was pretty good, and it went very well with the ice cream.

The ice cream was fantastic.  Perfectly creamy, served at the exact right temperature to be solid yet soft and melty.  So much better than a lot of restaurant ice cream, where I'm always disappointed by the consistency.  And it did have a great foie flavor to it.  Amazing on its own, or with the candied rhubarb, or, for the perfect bite, with some of the hot pie.

Also on the plate was some tart crème fraîche that paired well against the rhubarb.  And some pie crust espuma that unfortunately didn't taste that much like pie crust.  And a walnut crumble, that looked great, but had a strange texture to it that I didn't care for.

Anyway, this was an incredible dessert.  Warm pie and ice cream, elevated to a whole new level.  I could have eaten several of these.  If I can make it back before the ban, I WILL be ordering this dessert again.  I'd go back just for this dessert even.  Man, I want more now!!!  Even more amazingly, my dining companion also loved this.  And recall, he doesn't do sweets.  This was definitely a dessert, and definitely had sweetness to it, but it was so well balanced with the tartness from the rhubarb and crème fraîche, and the richness of the foie gras, that it worked for him.  And it worked for me.  I'm not sure this will ever happen again, with us both enjoying the same dessert!

Winning dish of the evening, for both of us.
Madras curry cake, strawberries, guava, white chocolate, candied fennel.  $12.
Just when we thought we were done, a glass of spiced nebiola was placed in front of each of us.  We looked up in surprise.  The bartender told us that the chef had a few more treats coming our way ...

The wine was really intensely spiced.  We had no idea what to expect for food pairings with it.  We were treated to two more desserts!

These were really, really interesting dishes.  The pastry chef is known for working with intensely savory ingredients in his desserts.  And since my dining companion actively dislikes sweets and desserts, this was the only hope he had for possibly helping me out with eating these!

First, this was a sight to behold!  And the ingredients were indeed incredibly unsuspected.

The cake was fluffy and light, with slight curry flavor.  I didn't find it particularly interesting.  I eat a lot of cake/cupcakes, and this style of cake just doesn't ever really do much for me.

The strawberries were pickled green strawberries, which seem to be the rage these days.  We'd just seen them show up paired with our foie gras starter and in a dessert at Alexander's the day before.  Vinegary and pickled, these were definitely a sour, not sweet, component.

The candied fennel was delicious!  Insanely crispy.  Slightly sweet.  Slightly anise-y.  I loved these.  I'd eat candied fennel chips any day.

The sorbet was guava flavored, and very, very sweet.  It seemed out of place given how savory all of the other components were.  I thought it was too sweet, and even though I like sweets, didn't care for it.

Finally, there were white chocolate pieces, filled with crispy bits.  They were pretty generic.

This dessert didn't do it for me, but it was interesting to see a more savory approach taken to dessert, and the plating was really lovely.  I wouldn't get it again, but I'd love to just get a side of candied fennel chips!
Black Olive Madeleines, saffron ice cream, candied kumquats.  $12.
And another savory dessert!  The current dessert menu at Fifth Floor is really quite creative, offering 6 choices - a cheese course, these two savory ones, the foie ice cream and pie, a crème brûlée and then a more traditional chocolate bombe to satisfy those folks that need their chocolate.  No real safe or classic choices here, as even the crème brûlée that I had last time had a crazy spin on it.

The madeleines, like the pie, arrived nice and warm.  Serious points for this.  Warm, fresh baked goods are just so much better!  They were intensely black olive tasting.  There was no doubt whatsoever that you were eating black olives.  Not exactly my thing, but really quite creative, and an impressive amount of flavor was infused in them.

The ice cream was really good, again like the foie ice cream creamy and a nice consistency.  It had a lovely saffron flavor.

There was also more delicious candied kumquat, which paired nicely with the ice cream, as did the crumble.  I didn't catch what it was made from, but it gave a nice crunch to eating spoonfuls of ice cream.

Protip: If you want to make this at home, you can find the recipe here!

I wouldn't order this one again either, but again, I was impressed with the creativity.  What I disliked in this was clearly just personal preference, as the execution was spot on.  Pastry Chef Francis Ang is a really talented pastry chef, and I'm really interested to see more of his creations.  He is clearly willing to experiment with all sorts of flavors, textures, techniques, etc.  And, he made some killer beignets at a cooking demo I went to a few months ago!
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