I have not been to all that many fine dining restaurants in my life but the ones I have patronised have definitely left a distinct impression. A couple of cases in point: I will never forget the meal we had at the Jules Verne in Paris for J’s birthday. A girl doesn’t easily forget dining 125 metres up The Eiffel Tower or her resolution to curl up and die inside the restaurant’s cheese cart, even with the smelly Epoisse for company. Likewise the degustation menu I enjoyed at Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park, where I not only managed to gorge myself on some truly beautiful and delicious dishes, I experienced first-hand what exceptional table service is supposed to be.
Last night was another such memorable experience, this time at the 2 Michelin-starred SHO Shaun Hergatt in the heart of the Financial District and the gorgeous (but very confusing) Wall Street neighbourhood.
On the second floor of the impressive Setai Club and Spa, the restaurant boasts Asian-inspired décor that is uncomplicated, sleek and elegant. To get to the dining area, you walk through the most amazing wine cellar, displaying an amazing floor-to-ceiling collection of bottles all lit up and designed to impress. The centre of the hallway is decorated with what looks like a long black table with candles on top, until you realise that it’s actually a water feature – so gorgeous.
The dining area itself is quite unremarkable. The tables and chairs are comfortable and functional, no doubt so that the kitchen itself will remain the star attraction. A huge long (and soundproof) window allows diners to see right into the kitchen and admire the hustle-bustle ballet of chefs and wait staff. At first a spectacle, the kitchen blends into the background once the food service starts. Under the leadership of Executive Chef and Partner (Aussie) Shaun Hergatt, the kitchen is a constant hive of activity and an obvious example of organised chaos in living colour.
Fortunately (for me), the restaurant’s five-course dinner menu is set, so you just have to select one item from each course. As we perused the menu to make our choices, we enjoyed the amuse-bouche (aka fancy-pants hors d’oeuvres) that the chef had prepared. We had little foie-gras and potato balls coated in breadcrumbs dyed with squid ink; baby clams with sour cream sauce; and a ginger mousse creation that had a warm spicy aftertaste that I really liked.
Naturally there were multiple options in each course that tempted me but ultimately I enjoyed the following five dishes:
Chef’s Garden Beets Roulade
Little red and yellow beets with a hibiscus tuile (I don’t know either, but it had gold foil draped across it like a little blanket), horseradish marshmallow (a spicy pillow of awesome) and beet dust (yes, I stuck my finger in it).
Griggstown Farm Coxcomb
Veal tongue ribbons with chicken skin and an autum mushroom pave (I understand the mushroom bit, but not so much the rest). To be honest, the veal tongue was my favourite part of this dish. I’ve never eaten tongue before so I had to seize the opportunity. The meat was so tender – very much like carpaccio actually, and as long as I didn’t dwell on what I was actually eating, I could manage to really enjoy it.
Sous Vide Amadai
Next up was sea bass, with Blue Moon Acres baby turnips with a cockles-mollusc clarification. I really enjoyed this dish too, partly because leaning up against the sea bass was a crispy triangle of skin which was speckled and silvery and looked really pretty. The baby turnips were adorable and I had forgotten about the cockles – they were so tiny, they looked like pistachios on my plate. It was all so yummy.
Beef Cheek Wrapped in Iberico Ham
Course Number 4 turned out to be my hands-down favourite of the evening. The dish was served with baby leeks, and potato parchment (in the shape of a maple leaf no less) and a perigourdine (or truffle) sauce. The beef cheeks are marinated for 48 hours and the effect is incredible. Not only does the meat almost fall apart, the marinade is rich and decadent and almost jammy. It adheres to the beef so beautifully and the truffle sauce just adds to the earthy flavours. I am also a fan of miniatures so the baby leeks also appealed.
Black Mission Fig Vacherin
All good things must come to an end and I rounded out my meal with dessert, which included stewed, juicy black figs with Sicilian pistachios and Manhattan Rooftop honey. Perhaps this choice was inspired by Michael Moore’s figs & ricotta recipe I’d been reading about on the subway earlier, but it was totally the right idea.
The red and white wines that K selected complemented my dishes beautifully and with the complimentary petit-fours and strong espresso afterwards, I left SHO feeling almost buoyant. My wallet was quite a bit lighter so that probably accounted for some of the levity haha. But honestly, I don’t think I could fault the restaurant a bit. For my way of thinking, it’s not easy to navigate a fine dining menu when you don’t really understand 3 out of 4 of the ingredients in each dish. So for me, service is what I tend to remember the most. In our case last night, the service we had at SHO was exceptional. When I bumped into the hostess in the bathrooms at one point in the evening, I found myself raving to her about what a good time we were all having. As awkward as that was (for both of us), she was kind enough to pretended that she cared. Do you see what I mean? So nice.
SHO is certainly not the place I could go back to often, but I will certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a special dining experience in New York. The food was elegant, local and so creative and the service was excellent.