Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bar Americain

As you may know, I go through phases with my favorite Food Network chefs. My latest interest has been Bobby Flay. He first came to my attention in his show "Boy Meets Grill" where he cooks anything and everything, from steak to pizza, on the grill. I thoroughly appreciate his deeply-rooted connection to Brooklyn, his hometown, and his unexpected culinary interest in the southwest. I also noticed that of all the chefs on Iron Chef: America, his creations were the ones I would most like to try.

He has three New York restaurants and I knew I had to try one in my last trip up there. Mesa (Grill), his first restaurant is a product of his love for southwestern cuisine. His second restaurant, Bolo, is a tribute to his love of the simplicity and richness of Spanish cuisine. His newest NYC endeavor is Bar Americain, a restaurant where he attempts to spice up traditional American dishes with the bold flavors of the southwest. I settled on Bar Americain probably because it sounded most intriguing to me. After all, what exactly is "American cuisine"? Fried chicken?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that "American cuisine" was exactly what I was looking for out of my Bobby Flay experience. Not only was the food rich and delicious, but the decor was uniquely modern and our waiter quickly became our guide to the hidden complexities of the fairly simple menu.

Example Interaction:
Sara: I am interested in the Sweet Potato Clam soup...does that have any meat product other than the clams?
Waiter: Absolutely.
Sara: (silence + puzzled expression)
Waiter: There is bacon all through the soup.
Sara: Oh.
Waiter: Get the French Onion.
Sara: Really? Are you sure?
Waiter: Oh yes (expression-less face). It's the best French Onion in Manhattan.
Sara: Well then! French Onion it is!

Before the French Onion however, I decided to get the sampler plate from the Raw Bar (which actually didn't have anything raw...except oysters). The plate came with three seafood mixtures: Shrimp-Tomatillo, Crab-Coconut, and Lobster-Avocado. As I bet you can guess, they were out of this world. Not only were the base flavor combinations rich and flavorful, but there was some masterful blend of spices and fresh herbs involved in each that I could not guess (because I was too busy having a mouth-orgasm). I realized, small tastings of seafood is a great way to start out a meal because simply prepared, fresh seafood is never heavy or overbearing.

Because I ordered two appetizers instead of one entree, they came out together. I had the French Onion soup first because it was hot. I must say, after the sensational sample plate from the raw bar, the French Onion was a bit of a let down. Granted, there was definitely a slow-cooked taste in the soup and the top was made from a really fantastic Gruyere, but it was overall just too heavy and thick for me to really enjoy. The more I reflect on this the more I think I should have realized this upon ordering, as French Onion is certainly heavier than a potato soup, but it was impulsive and alas, that is the price I pay for not carefully planning everything!

After my French Onion, I delved into my crab cake. But oh no, this was no ordinary crab cake! It was a Crawfish and Dungeness Crab cake. I had never had this combination and was (rightfully) very intrigued. Crawfish, I learned, was sort of similar to shrimp. In addition to its pinkish color, it was more firm and defined in shape than crab. The combination was phenomenal. The problem, I think, with many crab cakes is that the texture of the crab is so consistent that the cake as a whole can seem like one big pile of crabby mush. Adding the Crawfish created a nice point of contrast so each flavor was experienced uniquely but also contributed to the overall taste and feel of the crab cake. To the side of the crab cake was a basil vinaigrette which was a little too sweet for me, but I didn't mind because the crab cake was so fantastic that it needed no sauce.

It's hard to imagine after that glory, there was more. I was hoping to try the Lemon Moscato Crepes for dessert but instead listened to my waiter's recommendation and tried the Chocolate Waffles. I gotta tell ya folks, this was the icing on the cake. The pieces of waffle were very small, maybe half that of a typical toaster-waffle, but they had a rich, velvety chocolate filling, similar to a soufflé. The waffles were places over a really soft, half-melted vanilla ice cream. Amidst the small puddle formed by the melted ice cream were plump black cherries and chopped up pistachio. I usually hate pistachio as an addition to anything and prefer it on its own, but the nuttiness and crunch it added to this dish was really impressive. The cherry also reminded me of my favorite ice cream, Cherry Garcia. The combination of the warm chewy waffles with the soft vanilla ice cream with the sweet cherries and distinct pistachios was out of this world.

In general, I was really impressed with the food. The menu had a lot of classics like various steaks, hamburgers, and smoked chicken, all served with crispy french fries. But it also had a lot of interesting, innovative dishes like lamb chops in a cranberry sauce and salmon with cracked wheat and wine. Like I mentioned earlier, the decor was great too. The super-high ceilings and harmoniously colored walls and lamps made the crowded dining room more comfortable and relaxing. The bathroom was also très chic. If you are willing to spend a little money, Bar Americain is an excellent choice for a great New York lunch (or dinner), with love, from Bobby Flay.

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