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I am in a good mood as we breeze through the turnstile into Bar Americain. Waiters bustle past us, carrying trays to and from the kitchen. We are greeted immediately, coats spirited away. Our table will be ready in about 20 minutes (we have arrived quite early). Would we care to have a drink at the bar? You bet.
It is standing room only at the bar—with vodka tonics to further pique appetite—but it affords us the opportunity to get the lay of the land. The restaurant is decorated warmly, with recurring patterns; it reminds me of smartly-appointed French-style eateries in San Fran or Paris. There are booths and tables tucked into corners, and seating is low-backed with only the hostess stand creating a division between the vast dining area. There are also upstairs tables, but we have no such luck, instead securing a four-top near the open-air kitchen.
We decide to start with a flatbread. “Do you have any food allergies?” asks our server, an affable, tall young man. It is an odd question, but we reply no. A very short time later, our grilled pizza with double-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and toasted garlic arrives...but so does a plate of Crispy Oysters and a trio of seafood samplers, including Shrimp-Tomatillo, Crab-Coconut, and Lobster-Avocado. What the heck is going on here? Evidently, an acquaintance put in a good word for us, and that translated into some special treatment, including free apps!
The pizza is salty, smoky and crisp. As soon as I eat all the toppings off a slice, I leave the rest of the crust. The dough just doesn’t grab me, though everything on top is bold and delicious. It goes very nicely with my pint of Captain Lawrence Imperial IPA. Oysters are amazing, dusted in cornmeal and topped with barbecue creme fraiche. Not at all chewy, melt in your mouth. Lobster-avocado is buttery and rich, but I’m picking up just a little fishy taste that sets off my younger prejudices against seafood. However, the coconut crab is a creamy sweet treat that could easily be dessert. Most surprising is the shrimp cocktail. One dip of the crustacean into the tomatillo sauce and I want more. Again, bold flavors coat the perfectly succulent shrimp in a silky, spicy embrace. It makes me want to eat a lot more shrimp.
For my main course, I go for the “plate of the day”: a gigantic Philly-style strip steak covered in Provolone cheese sauce and caramelized onions. It is perfectly prepared medium rare, and the quality of meat is beyond measure. I am digging the demonstrative onions and big cheese flavors, for a little bit anyway. After I polish off a quarter of the steak, I slide the topping off so I can sample more of the meat, only taking bits of the onion and cheese when I’m tempted. Sadly, I can only finish half the steak. A manager enquires if everything is okay, and I assure him everything is off the chart. If only I had been born with a second stomach. Somehow, I manage to fill in the cracks with a Belgian IPA.
Dessert is out of the question. But, as so often happens with us, it seems a shame to at least not try something, right? We agree the Lemon Ricotta Crepes with Suzette sauce are probably the only thing we could finish. They are lemony and light, but even though they are also complimentary, we only get halfway through before putting down the forks. Feeling like royalty, we happily pay the bill and stumble back out into the New York night. The short walk back to our hotel will help with digestion but only a long night’s sleep will truly prep us for tomorrow’s adventures. Next time I head back to Bar Americain, I’m bringing a bigger appetite.
I've been a huge fan of Bobby Flay's for years and through my job I've been fortunate enough to meet him on occasion, working his stage at food and wine events. Chef Flay is always friendly and approachable and I'm looking forward to dinner. It doesn't hurt that my supervisor put in a good word with Chef Flay's people to let him know we're coming.
We arrive a few minutes early to find the restaurant packed and standing room only at the bar. We decide to enjoy a Stoli orange and tonic while propped against a half wall overlooking the restaurant. We survey the expansive room and start making bets as to where we'll be seated. There's plenty of two tops, but they're tightly spaced (the norm for NYC; not so here in the Midwest.) Jeremy spots a four top opening up with a good view of the open kitchen and suggests that's where we'll be seated. "No way are they giving us a four top on a Saturday night," I say dismissively. As I drain my drink the hostess arrives to tell us our table is ready. Then she leads us to the four top. (Sorry honey!)
After our beverages arrive, I choose the Rioja offered by the glass, We are surprised and slightly overwhelmed with a generous gift from the kitchen. In addition to the grilled pizza we order as a starter, our server delivers the trio of shellfish tastings and an order of crispy oysters. It's way too much to start with, but we're curious to try it all. The pizza has a super thin crust, which I love, and is smothered in double-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and a mild white cheese. It's rich and addictively delicious. The oysters have a light cornbread coating and a daub of barbeque creme fraiche. They're crunchy, earthy and slightly sweet from the BBQ sauce.
Just when I don't think it can get better, I dig into the seafood trio. I'm not a big fan of tomatillos, but find the shrimp cocktail with tomatillo salsa to be quite tasty. The sauce is clean and slightly spicy. I dunk my shrimp in it til the last bite. Crab salad with mango in creamy coconut milk is sumptuous and the sweet crab meat is really enhanced by the coconut milk. To finish, a salad of avocado and lobster meat...enough said. It's as luscious as it sounds. We could stop here, but our entrees arrive.
I promised myself I'd order fish for dinner, but when I ask our waiter for a recommendation he suggests the lamb and the pork. Since none of the fish offerings are really grabbing me, I decide to go with "the other white meat" and order the rack of pork with double apple butter and brussel sprouts. I have no idea why, but even after all the starters, I decide to order a side of the cauliflower goat cheese gratin.
The pork is a double chop and cooked perfectly. This must be the most tender pork chop I have ever eaten and I'm sad that I can only eat about a quarter of the monster. The apple butter and the raisin apple chutney alongside pair wonderfully with the moist pork. I do manage to eat all my sprouts, which have been roasted til caramelized and sweet. The cauliflower is creamy, lush and slightly tangy from the goat cheese. My friends call me an "edger" and true to form I pick at all the crispy, crunchy edges around the gratin dish.
A parting gift from the kitchen, crepes suzette arrives despite our protests for no dessert. The crepes are ethereal and filled with ricotta. The lemon sauce drizzled over them is both sharp and sweet. We are able to eat about half and then we have to push away from the table. We toddle back to the hotel bigger fans of Flay's than ever before.