Sea urchin with black radish.
Farm Jidori egg.
I know, I know, everyone is saying fine dining is over. While places with $21 entrées, communal tables, no tablecloths, open kitchens, and “nice jeans” as the dress code may the norm more and more, there’s something to be said for going to a restaurant with refined service, luxe ingredients, gorg stemware, and a fat wine list to boot. And whoa, table linens. And a cheese cart, thankyouverymuch.
Just last week I had a chance to check out the new ~FIFTH FLOOR~, and well, well, well, what a swell new thing that’s going on there. I dined at Fifth Floor during the Laurent Gras days, and when George Morrone was there, too, and Melissa Perello, and Charlie Kleinman and Jake Des Voignes. Suffice to say, the kitchen has had numerous masters of the house, but this new era with Aqua’s Laurent Manrique and chef de cuisine Jennie Lorenzo will be a uniquely notable one. The experience here is a new style of finer dining, with the cravat a little loosened, if not gone altogether.
The Puccini Group completely revamped the dining room—it’s elegant but not stuffy, rather clubby comfortable, styled with curving chic chairs the color of bone with a 30s glam shape and metal legs, upholstered walls to subtly help absorb the sound generated from the patterned hardwood floors, and dramatic red glass round overhead lights. You can actually look out a few windows onto the herb garden in the now-revealed hotel atrium (and perhaps catch a flash of some friskiness in the hotel rooms if someone didn’t shut their curtains). The room is overall a bit minimalist, with mostly neutral tones, like it’s French Calvin Klein. I really liked the unexpected addition of the taupe runners on each table, and admired the new wine room, wine director Emily Wines’s new playpen.
[Note: original review of the cuisine has been removed since the format is quite different; please refer to the update below.]
UPDATE: David Bazirgan is the chef, so this review is out of date.
06/10: Since Laurent Manrique bowed out of the project in July 2009, chef Jennie Lorenzo has been at the helm, offering a seasonally inspired New American menu. The menu format has changed to one that is à la carte (mains run $24–$33), although a six-course tasting menu is still available for $72. The tasting menu is a worthy splurge, and included a stunning sea urchin dish that played with texture, the creamy urchin contrasting against thin coins of black radish, all bound with a soy-lime sauce. The farm Jidori egg course had one of the brightest orange yolks I’ve ever seen, a bull’s eye on the plate surrounded with a medley of fresh vegetables that felt just barely blanched, with a punch from a fennel and orange gremolata, and dusky undertones of black garlic sauce. It’s seductive how this dish all comes together as soon as you dive into the yolk. (Get your spoon.) The smoked Muscovy duck breast was gorgeous, two rectangular and juicy pieces carrying a nicely rendered layer of fat (the presentation was almost like pork belly), the plate generously pooled with a rich and flavorful duck jus. An accompanying tender turnip was topped with a crumbly scattering of toasted bran, but alas, a cored radish was still too crisp to be pleasurable.
Lorenzo definitely honors vegetables, often leaving their flavors and natural textures to speak for themselves, instead of cooking them into oblivion. (Although the fryer does good things with her “vanilla foie garden” of fried vegetable “chips” that are all positioned vertically and upright—it was as delicious as it was beautiful.) A few flavors or executions can stumble (a Yorkshire pudding was tough, and a moscato sorbet was too acidic and aggressive over a creamy tapioca–and a few misspellings on the menu need some fixing), but overall I really appreciate her elegant and innovative style. Her plating is also minimalist but very artful. The dining room was a bit quiet the last time I dined there–more diners should visit this talented chef ensconced up on the fifth floor.