Friday, September 30, 2011

Minimized lunch offerings at Millesime

Chocolate Espresso Bar with Raspberry Ice Cream

Lunch at Millesime in the Carlton Hotel has ranged from one of my most memorable meals in New York City to one of the most forgettable meals of my life--which is extremely disappointing, because the food and setting can be truly sublime.

The focus seems to somehow have shifted, which is disappointing, to say the least.  My first lunch here was up in the rankings (in taste and quality, if not presentation) with Nougatine at Jean-Georges or Cafe Boulud.  But where lunch diners could once enjoy a lobster pot-au-feu (a 2-lb. whole lobster in a sauce choron, served with lobster-scallop sausages), the main event seems to now be "Le Chariot Express" a cart with a "selection of marinated vegetables and salads," as well as a daily selection from the raw bar.

The lobster pot-au-feu, no longer available, was the perfect dish to share

The former menu offered a selection of mussels in several preparations, as well as a choice of meats and seafood with a broad choice of sauces.  On my most recent visit, I noticed that practically all of these options had been removed.  When I told the server I had come looking for seafood, and asked his recommendation from the new menu, he laughed and said, "I'd recommend the chicken club."  While I am sure their chicken club is tasty, that's like arriving at Disney World and asking which attraction would be the most exciting for my family, and being told to check out the hot dog cart on Main Street.  Service in general had gone down as a whole, actually.

This is a picture of the kitchen at around 1:30PM during weekday lunch service.  No I don't need to feel like a bread crumb dropped into a pond of starving koi, but a little more service would have been wonderful.  After finally deciding upon the 3-course prixe fixe lunch at $24.07 (they have extended the restaurant week pricing indefinitely) we waited an hour before our first course arrived, during which time we were splattered by a ramekin of ketchup a server dropped by our table (it must have been a miracle ricochet, as it landed on my leg, arm, and a large section of the table cloth in front of me).  We waited as the tomato slowly sundried before getting a napkin five minutes later, with barely an apology.  The maitre d merely seemed grateful we were friendly.  Sadly, a greater display of inconvenience would have probably gotten us an actual apology.

The tuna tartare is quite exceptional, prepared tableside, with fresh tuna, a whole egg yolk, mint, lemon oil, date marmalade, and berbere (an Ethiopian spice blend, offering a complex fusion of garlic, cumin, and peppers).  The ceremony of watching the server prepare the tartare is half the pleasure.

Reason enough alone to go to Millesime are the quenelles de brochet prepared in the style of Jean-Louis Dumonet.  These pike quenelles are a traditional dish of Lyons, and rarely found in the city, especially done well (I was first introduced to them at Le Perigord, where I instantly fell in love).  Named here in honor of the famous French Chef, the quenelles are impossibly smooth, poached to a delicate tenderness, and then served in a rich lobster sauce.  It's as if a tiny garden-kissed cloud of seafood is placed onto your tongue and instantly evaporates before you can close your lips, leaving only a memory of the ocean on your tongue.  They are insanely delicious.  And while they are no longer on the lunch menu, I unashamedly begged my server, who finally said that, "yes," the chef would prepare us an order.

A stemless martini glass arrives in a stand of crushed ice as a royal showcase for 4 enormous prawns, all perched around the best cocktail sauce I have tasted in years, fired with the perfect amount of horseradish, and studded with mint and capers.  We keep eating the sauce even long after the shrimp have disappeared.  After just the prawns, quenelles, oysters, and tartare, it is extremely sad to think someone may have missed out on these exquisite dishes simply because the server recommended a club sandwich!

The main course arrives, linguine piperade, served traditionally in the colors of the Basque flag, the red from sauteed tomatoes and peppers, the green from shaved basil, and the white from al dente pasta ribbons and slivers of cheese.  Jeweled with substantial pieces of rock shrimp, it is a simple, peppery, but altogether satisfying dish.

The espresso bar at the head of the post arrives as the caboose of the prixe fixe, and it is delicious.  So is the rhubarb crumble.  But the barre de chocolat is the piece de resistance, almost like a deconstructed spumoni sundae, with a chocolate-hazelnut mousse bar, pistachio ice cream, and plump brandied cherries.

Though the meal as an experience was a bumpy ride at times, and certainly poorly paced, by the end of dessert the food shines through as the star.  I would still recommend Millesime to anyone, especially for the quenelles.  And the downstairs lounge area has quite an interesting lineup of performers.  But because the service does not match the cuisine, or the stained-glass opulence of the spectacular dining room, know the menu before you arrive--and ask right away if the kitchen can prepare the quenelles as a starter.  And save room for dessert (the chef may even make you homemade doughnuts with an array of dipping sauces if they aren't too busy).

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