May 27, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
On the Terrace: Play It Again, John
At the Terrace, watercress is tossed with crabcake croutons and dressed with cornichon-caper mayonnaise.
I’ve been a fan of John Fraser’s cooking since he revealed his mastery of simplicity at Dovetail in 2007. Click here to read “Dovetail Reaches for a Certain Harmony.” I found his carrots Wellington at Narcissa an amusing original -- candy for vegans -- and his rich vegetable inventions at Nix painfully irresistible. Click here to read “In A Fix at Nix.”
Restaurants like the Terrace can attract an intimidating crowd but not tonight.
Chef John Fraser often emerges from the kitchen to see hello and hear our enthusiasm.
Most recently I saluted Fraser at “The Loyal: Sex/Love/Falling/Veggies.” His inclinations march lockstep with mine. Now Fraser has signed on to run all the restaurants in Ian Schrager’s new Times Square Edition Hotel. And given this partnership, with space designed by Madison Cox, the ninth-floor bistro, its entrance lined with stylish black and white photographs of New York, not only looks good, but almost everything on the menu tempts us to order more than we should.
I like the look of this guy surrounded with palms in the Terrace room.
I’ve been to dinner in the Terrace four times in less than two weeks, and I’ve still not tasted every dish that calls out to me…but I’ve sampled enough to wish I were going again tonight. I love sitting in a corner with a palm frond just inches over my head. For me, the fanlike shadows on the ceiling evoke Casablanca and I wonder how many diners tonight, surely most of them much younger than I, ever had a crush on Humphrey Bogart.
It looks like a party --- a birthday or a bridal shower --- at the next table.
Waiters in black pajamas are mostly agreeable and easy enough to round up when you want to order more.
The waiters wear black pajamas. “Like Steve Jobs,” my niece observes. The crowd is a mix of everyday people, millennials and their parents, lovers lingering to kiss after dessert, and the occasional supermodel trailed by a pint-size escort. No one need feel intimidated.
Spicy Moroccan lamb sausage is served with pommes purée and cured lemon.
That’s mostly white meat chicken, breaded with rye crumbs and fried, served with radish.
Few new menus offer so many entrées. There are twenty tonight if you count pastas and the specials, but we tend to focus on appetizers, snacks, and lettuces, leaving appetite for possibly an entrée or two – the spicy Moroccan lamb sausage with pommes puree or the rye-crumbed fried chicken. Alas, the bird is mostly white meat, unusually juicy but not my preferred part of the anatomy.
I found this juicy rich confit duck leg listed among the sides for just $12.
We start with Dijon hard boiled eggs and shrimp-stuffed shishito peppers from the list of “Snacks.”
I’d rather have the confit duck leg, listed among the sides, where we’ve settled on Brussels sprouts in roasted garlic butter served in a wrought iron snail dish. If you love a bargain as much as I do, imagine a big juicy confit’d duck leg that two or three of us can share, for just $12.
Waygu beef tartare is served with smoked sour cream and potato crispies.
How to start? We begin with three or four “Appetizers to Share” and “Snacks” and then middle with three or four more. White asparagus with miner’s lettuce, miso-cured egg yolk, and, of all things, strawberries. Fraser defies expectations in exciting and delicious ways. Like a classic sauce gribiche and malted potatoes with marinated leeks, and smoked sour cream and potato chips alongside wagyu beef tartare. It takes a while for the crew to get the drill of sharing and provide serving pieces without prompting.
I’m the one who insists on shrimp-stuffed shishito peppers from the “Snacks” list. Legend has it that one out of seven shishitos will be testy. Tonight it’s two, alarming one of my companions, but delighting me.
Deep dish focaccia comes soaked in a stew of smoked mozzarella and spiced tomatoes.
Tuna crudo sits on pickled kohlrabi, with salsa verde and Fresno chiles. A dab of mustard oil adds flavor.
Bread is only served if you order the deep dish focaccia with its swampy stew of smoked mozzarella and spiced potatoes. The waiter uses a long, sharp pair of scissors to cut it. Warning: this is a filler upper.
“What bread do you offer if I don’t want the focaccia?” our first-time guest tonight asks the waiter. “Let me check,” the waiter offers. Soon fabulous thick slices of rye toast arrive -- good for piling on tuna crudo. This is not just another idle tuna crudo. Its complexity derives from sitting on pickled kohlrabi, plus a few drops of mustard oil. Fresno chiles are the perfect accessory.
Smoked salmon with lemon crème fraiche on buckwheat blini is topped with slivered salad.
A neat center cut of salmon, cooked rarish, is served with sea urchin Hollandaise.
My pal orders salmon twice. First, the smoked salmon with lemon crème fraiche on a buckwheat blini with caper vinaigrette. And then a perfectly cooked (“Rare to medium rare,” he instructs) center cut of the same fish with uni hollandaise.
We order soft shell crab when it’s in season. Here, the house pairs it with sumac, mint and celery seed aioli.
These long spirals of malfadine are the pasta special of the day, with bottarga and marinated yellow tomatoes.
Besides the must-have duck leg, I usually insist on the soft shell crab with sumac, mint and aioli flavored with celery seed. We might have the king crab tagliatelle too, with cherry peppers and sourdough breadcrumbs. Definitely entrées will include one pasta, perhaps the evening’s special whole grain mafaldine with bottarga and marinated yellow tomatoes. (Note to myself: “If it’s not on the menu, ask to order it anyway”)
Pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel does a seasonal fruit cookpot, apple one evening, raspberry and rhubarb the next.
From pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel’s dessert list, my cronies and I settle on the cookpot – in the beginning it was apple crumb cobbler. Now it’s likely to be rhubarb and strawberry. Did we order the pistachio raspberry opera cake? It’s a gift that swiftly disappears.
Fraser and Rouxel are standing by our table as our demanding chum studies the dessert list and asks: “Do you have a cookie plate?”
“Not on this list,” Fraser says. “We have to send upstairs for cookies.”
One evening they called it an opera cake, the next it was milk chocolate almond tart. Delicious by any name.
My friend has the grace to be somewhat embarrassed. “We can’t go home until they come with the cookies,” he says, leaving a fat tip for all his demands. Two ribbon-tied cookie packages arrive. They will be good with espresso at breakfast.
“I’m leaving a normal tip,” I warn him, “because I wasn’t a pain in the ass. But, of course, I still love you.”
Times Square Edition Hotel 701 Seventh Avenue, Ninth floor. 212 398 7017. Breakfast Monday to Friday 6:30 am to 11 am. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 7 am to 3 pm. Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner Monday to Wednesday 5 pm to 11 pm. Thursday through Saturday 5 pm to midnight.
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