Alsatian Excellence with Platings and an Ambiance that Stuns
Heading in to Gabriel Kreuther’s eponymous restaurant, I had little reference point for Alsatian cuisine. I was familiar with the famous dry Rieslings of Alsace that have been popping up on menus all throughout the country as the perfect counterpoint to raw seafood and simple, citrusy fish dishes. I was also familiar with the chef himself, who made his way from Jean-Georges to the Ritz-Carlton’s Atelier to a ten-year stint at Danny Meyer’s The Modern–picking up a James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York City along the way. It was hard not to be excited based off of even those scant expectations, and, after only the first few courses, I knew I was in the hands of a master.
Reclaimed wooden beams pair with striking, naturalistic art, sleek furnishings, and delicate crystal storks to create an effortlessly elegant dining space that draws on traditional Alsatian timber homes. The plates that flow out of chef Kreuther’s kitchen–itself wholly revealed to diners via a sweeping window–have a similar, subdued but profound beauty. Take one of three amuse bouches on the chef’s menu carte blanche: corn foam with bacon panna cotta and crispy pig ears served in a delicate, spiny glass bowl. While it looked like a halved sea urchin–with the pointed porcine appendages curling reaching upwards like tendrils–the dish thrilled by layering the foam’s sweetness with a comforting, meaty backing and salty, supremely crunchy crisps.
Following the bacon cream in its glass “shell” came a wonderful langoustine taken out of its (very real) shell and served tartare style with cauliflower-macadamia purée and flying fish roe hidden under a flaky, disc-shaped cayenne pepper tuile. The fiery tuile–like the pig ears–lent an impressive crunch, in this instance to the buttery sweet chunks of crustacean and smoothness of the purée. Add in the roe and you have a dish where a bit of spice and salt yield to creamy sweetness with a bit of a nutty background–a novel and immensely enjoyable way to eat langoustine.
Chef Kreuther’s signature dish, and rightfully so, looks and tastes like a sort of heavenly, savory layer cake. Glistening pieces of hamachi are compressed together with a filling of foie gras terrine and black truffles that sounds like overkill but is indescribably reverent of each ingredient, presenting them harmoniously but allowing each–in turn–to truly sing. Touches of celery help cleanse the palate and break up the richness as umami yields to creamy to earthy richness in a multilayered masterpiece worth the trip to the restaurant alone.
A marinated diver scallop marked the last of the raw seafood on show in the menu. Paired with black radish, meyer lemon confit, and a vivid green jalapeño coulis–and plated on what resembled a glass spinning top that diners could hold in one hand or set into a holder–the dish satisfied but would have better followed the langoustine than the much more intensely flavorful hamachi. Nonetheless, turning the corner from cold to hot plates, chef Kreuther (who at just about this point in the meal made a friendly path throughout the dining room introducing himself to guests) delighted yet again with a luxurious riff on a baked Alsatian classic.
Presented with a plume of applewood smoke, a glistening mound of American caviar and specks of fresh chive topped a delicate sturgeon and sauerkraut tarte filled to the brim with a mousseline blended with even more of the caviar. Like the pig ear and tuile before it (I’m sensing a trend here), the flaky pastry had just the crunch to stand up to the rich, eggy sauce, itself a luscious, creamy complement to the mouthfeel of the delicate spheres of roe. Next came a pair of sweetbread-black truffle dumplings with summer corn purée that I really wanted to love, but, while delightfully fork tender, the dumplings were caught somewhere between sweet and earthy and failed to enthuse even this admitted sweetbread fanatic.
Such was not the case, however, for the dinner’s most unabashedly decadent seafood dish: Mangalitsa lardo poached Maine lobster with squid ink gnocchi, cockle ragoût, baby artichoke, and a jamón emulsion. Like the earlier compressed hamachi dish, chef Kreuther proves himself a master of bringing together multiple mouthwatering elements in a manner that enhances rather than cheapens them. The briny sweetness of the cockle doubles down on the nutty-sweet lobster, but the bit of salt in the jamón keeps everything balanced. The squid ink gnocchi don’t have much space to shine against all the other personalities on the plate, but are simultaneously attractive and pan-fried just enough to form a good textural contrast with the shellfish.
Artisanal matured cheeses served with coastal honey and marmalade from within a hollowed-out log was a pleasant surprise, as was a refreshing blueberry sphere incorporating pistachio and an impressive fromage blanc sorbet. The showstopper of the dessert section, however, was undeniably the aptly titled “Chocolate Fantasy”: a towering, spiked spire of chocolate kirsch amarena filled with Guanaja Chantilly cream and served alongside a foundation of olive oil chocolate sponge cake and kirsch sorbet. It was an impressive sight for the eyes–especially with an extra measure of warm chocolate sauce poured down from the tip–but with flavor worthy of its flourish.
Though some dishes could certainly use a bit of tweaking, Gabriel Kreuther has all the technique, flair, and inspiration worthy of a seat at the table with the city’s other great French chefs. With an ever-changing menu and adaptability–I was informed I could come in a day later and eat a completely different chef’s tasting if I wanted to–chef Kreuther’s Alsatian lodge is well worth a repeat visit.
Date Visited: 9/1/2015