The Return of the Tasting Menu
Jaded, semi-corpulent restaurant critics like myself usually consider tasting menus to be an overly mannered, overpriced waste of time. But the new mania for small plates has made every dinner a tasting event, and the city is brimming with so many inventive chefs that the only way to track their endless experiments is to submit, now and then, to a gut-busting, marathon meal. Take Sumile, in the West Village, where Josh DeChellis offers a multicourse omakase feast containing, among other things, little rounds of Dungeness crab capped with caviar and yuzu gelée, a pod of crunchy, Chiclit-size duck tongues (served with smoked trout), and an impossibly smooth thimbleful of panna cotta flavored with chamomile tea. Then there’s Dévi, in the Flatiron district, where the well-traveled Indian chefs Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur manage to turn a pile of ordinary vegetables into a multicultural tasting extravaganza (seven courses for $95, with wine pairings) replete with tall spicy thatches of crisp frizzled okra, fat rice puffs called poha and soaked in mint curry, and a delicious Indo-Chinese cauliflower dish smothered, like some ethereal version of sweet-and-sour pork, in a tangy tomato sauce.
Compared to the numerous big-ticket items in the impressive 65,000-bottle wine “portfolio” at Cru, chef Shea Gallante’s $75 tasting menu is a relative bargain. My recent dinner there began with a whole rainbow of à la carte crudi (arctic char tipped with vanilla, tuna spiked with espresso, etc.); progressed through a variety of choice gnocchi (with oxtail), risottos (with uni), and pastas; and then, before the wine obliterated all memory, reached a grand finale with a perfectly cooked piece of sturgeon laced with a crème fraîche and caviar sauce. At Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant wd-50, the mad genius of Clinton Street shuffles foie gras with slivers of caramel-covered nori, decks his venison tartare with scoops of deliciously smooth edamame ice cream, and serves up thin ribbons of beef tongue with dice-size cubes of fried mayonnaise, which melt in the mouth in a most pleasing way. Then there are Sam Mason’s pyrotechnic desserts, like tequila-flavored ice cream served with wedges of pineapple. My menu indicated the pineapple had been smoked in tea, but when I sampled this curiously addictive dish (it was on the summer menu), the pineapple wedges tasted somehow stronger, more bracing, and more interesting than that, as if they had been soaked for a week, and possibly longer, in a particularly potent form of bong water.