(New York, NY) Recovered somewhat after our late lunch, we cabbed it down to the theater district for a late-night (at least by our standards; New Yorkers are notoriously late diners) dinner at Triomphe. The restaurant is described on OpenTable.com as American-French, perhaps one of our favorite cuisine variations. We arrive early, surprised to find it is a smallish establishment within the Iroquois Hotel. The bar just happened to have a couple empty seats so we enjoyed a ginger champagne cocktail poured by a lively, funny bartendress, before the hostess beckoned us with menus to our table...
We are led to a nice, quiet table that is elegantly set with polished silver and white linen. The rest of the small dining room is only perhaps 30% full. Talk is low and the vibe is relaxed. Our server starts us off with sparkling water (with lime, of course) while relaying the day's specials. Nothing quite jumps out at me, though some of the surf 'n turf options have Juliet second-guessing her initial choices.
What is it about restaurants who decide to call appetizers "small plates" on their menu instead? For me, it's almost a cattle-call. While I would not ordinarily order an appetizer, I invariably want to order multiple small plates. Is that Pavlovian response in action? I'm not sure, though I doubt anyone who happened to see Pan Roasted Chorizo Sausage with Tomato and Garlic Cannellini Beans on the menu would have blamed me for my moment of weakness! It arrives in a large bowl at the same time Juliet's small plate choice -- scallops -- and I am immediately intimidated by the cross-sections of grill-marked chorizo sausage. Doesn't chorizo usually come sliced or diced? Undaunted, I bravely go in with my spoon, using the tensile strength of my wrist to sever off a bite-sized morsel of chorizo, then dip it into the white bean stew before delivering it to my mouth.
The creamy, comforting salty flavor of the cannelini envelops the spicy sausage with garlic smokiness. As I bite down and chew the meat, the skin snaps, releasing the charred sweetness of the grill onto my taste buds. It is nearly sexual, and at that moment all I want is more, another spoonful, and fast. Reluctantly, I share a bite with my wife, who seconds my opinion. It is the best small plate I've ever had, and rivals the cassoulet I had last summer in Saugutuck.
In deference to the illusion of abstinence, we decide to split a salad. Lately, Juliet has been on a beet kick and I usually don't mind them unless they are delivered up solo (the dirt-like taste and squishy-firm texture give me the creeps, if they are served by themselves), so we go with the first selection: Baby Lettuce with Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, and Rum Soaked Raisins. The kitchen kindly puts it on two plates for us so we don't have to stab at the center of the table, hunting for forkfuls. Although the preparation seems simple, the complex interplay between the few ingredients elevates even this salad beyond the norm. The raisins are definitely the standout, although I am partial to pistachios as well. We cannot wait for our main course.
Juliet, after careful deliberation, decides to go with a dish that I would have ordered any other time: steak au poivre. She gives me a taste, and it is very nice (the au poivre sauce is smoother and less demonstrative than others I've had), but in the end I'm very glad I made a different choice. Frenched bone sticking high in the air, the Creole Roasted Berkshire Farms Pork Chop arrives, cloaked in a ghostly veil of Roasted Elephant Garlic, doused in lemon oil, atop a pool of Spinach Risotto. I looked forward mostly to the risotto (one of my new passions) but it is disappointing. Although the risotto itself is prepared perfectly -- creamy but with a little tooth left in it -- the spinach had been allowed to stew too long and was now squishy, stringy and altogether unpalatable. I push the greens aside and fish out the risotto.
The chop, however, is bar none amazing. Spicy, but not overly so, with a smoky undercurrent that is enhanced by the garlic. At first, I thought the garlic was cheese melted on top! It has the texture of stewed cabbage but tastes sweet. I strip away the meat with knife and fork, not even once thinking (until now) that I'd had a full day of gnawing pork down to the bone. That tells you how different each restaurant and chef can prepare a similar dish. Thanks to the Elephant Garlic, I'll be reminded of this particular cut of pork for the rest of the evening and even until tomorrow's breakfast...but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Satisfied and full, with well-matched wine pairings dispatched, we decline any suggestion of coffee or dessert. It is easy to catch a cab back to the hotel. On the way through the theater district, with windows rolled down to enjoy the mild night air, we witness a gaggle of looky-loos and paparazzi snapping photos of a grey-haired gentleman, who waves and signs autographs before jumping into an chauffeured SUV. It is Christopher Walken, evidently done with a pre-season performance of his new Broadway show. You gotta love New York!
While the bar area was hopping, the restaurant is very quiet and relatively empty. I wonder if we've given ourselves away as tourists -- Gasp! As Midwesterners even -- arriving for dinner at 8 pm on a Friday night. Once the waiter brings our menus, I forget any worries about appearances and start planning what will surely be a memorable NYC dining experience.
When at a French restaurant, I always start at the end and select my main course, then my salad or starter (or in this case, salad then starter). Because French food can be heavy, if I know how rich and decadent my entree will be, I work backwards to select items that will contrast and compliment. Actually, now that I think about it, I do this anytime I'm having a multi-course meal. I work it back to front, same with my wine pairings.
For entree, it's just a process of elimination at this point. I've only been on the road for three days and already I can tell I'm getting a little jaded. I've got eight more days out so I can only imagine what kind of a mood I'll be in. But back to the menu. None of the fish dishes are grabbing me. We've already established I rarely order chicken in a restaurant due to my extreme fussiness over cuts and preparation of chicken. I am not up for venison and I suspect I will have lamb tomorrow night at the Mediterranean place. That leaves the pork chop, which I know Jeremy will order, or the steak au poivre. That's settled, steak it is.
Working back to the salads I know immediately I want the baby lettuce with beets and goat cheese, and Jeremy and I decide to split an order. Then up the menu to starters...I am torn between the winter mushroom soup or the scallops with porcini mushroom and foie butter. Since it was nearly 70-degrees out and sunny today, I decide against the winter mushroom soup and go for the scallops. The waiter agrees to select a wine by the glass for each of us to go with the starter and the main.
My starter arrives with a bed of porcinis topped with two seared scallops crested with slices of foie gras. I thought "foie gras butter" meant a sauce or a pat of flavored butter, but these were slices of the actual lobes. Not at all disappointing for a foie lover like me, but it makes for a much heartier and richer dish than I originally imagined. The scallops are perfectly cooked with a crisp golden crust and a just-cooked-through buttery inside; they taste clean, fresh and a bit briny. The mushrooms and foie are lusty and rich, contrasting the brightness of the scallops. It is truly all I can do to not lick my plate clean.
Our split salad order arrives already divided on two plates, which is a nice touch. Again, the salad is very clean and fresh tasting and I am reminded that spring is here. I am indeed on a "beet kick" and enjoy the tartness of goat cheese with the earthiness of roasted beets. Throw in baby greens and pistachios and I'm in heaven. Add some rum soaked raisins and it's now perfection on a salad plate. (Why aren't my salads at home this darn good?) The white burgandy our server paired with my starter and salad worked perfectly with both; shame on me for not writing down the name of the wine. Same goes for the beautiful silky cabernet he paired with my strip steak.
I love Manhattan for many reasons. For the people, the architecture and the culture. For Central Park, Columbus Circle and the Theatre District. For the opportunity to bump into Glenn Close and Eric Ripert in one 24-hour period. For the fact that you can hear 100 different accents and languages in one day and smell 100 different amazing ethnic foods with your window rolled down during a 10 minute cab ride. But I absolutely LOVE the confidence it takes to serve the customer a medium rare strip steak carved off the bone and pre-sliced. If I did that at home, it would be dry and lifeless, all the juices would be on my cutting board. Only in NYC can each slice still be juicy and flavorful. And this steak is no exception. Best of all, it tastes like beef. Not spices, not a marinade, not an infusion. Like a damn good steak. The truffle infused creamed spinach is divine and I mix it with my whipped potatoes (you can't take me anywhere). But the star of the show is the steak and Jeremy rolls his eyes back when he tastes the slice I offer.
Triomph was warm and friendly; the dining room was beautiful. The waiter could have easily gouged us with his wine pairings and did not. The bar was fun and lively. I would go back again in a heartbeat...or perhaps I should say, in a New York minute.