Friday, March 5, 2010

dinner and a show

And so we finally reach the end of the NY trip recap...  At the end of the last entry, Steve and I were getting ready for dinner and a show on Sunday evening.  As I previously mentioned, we had made an OpenTable reservation at DB Bistro Moderne after our Saturday night dinner at Café Boulud.  DB Bistro was already on my list, partly because the website looked so good and partly because Alyson had recommended it as one of her favorite meals ever.  But our experience at Café Boulud cemented the deal; might as well try another Boulud restaurant while we had the chance.
This one was obviously catering more to the pre- and post-theatre diners.  It was located a couple blocks off Times Square and was a little more casual.  The menu also had pictures of Times Square on it.
The decor was also more noticeably stylish compared to the understated Café Boulud.  There was a clear motif of squares, no doubt inspired by the modern font of the "db" in the name.  It appeared as a design on the napkins, some of the plates, and the upholstery.  It was also echoed in the shape of the chair backs and the square mirrors on the wall.  The natural tones of a lot of it conveyed a sense of refinement, while some red walls and votives added vibrance.
In deciding what to eat, I employed one of my favorite strategies: order a couple small plates and leave room for dessert.  I had learned from all of these fancy dinners that my favorite parts of the meal were usually the first few courses—raw stuff, soups, salads—and dessert.  The meaty entrees, while good, take up much more space with their large portions of protein.  I also tend to get tired of them more quickly, and winter braises are not my cup of tea.  Since nothing on that side of the menu was grabbing my attention anyway, I decided to go with a soup and salad.
But first, we were served some bread and an amuse bouche.
The bread was good, but the crostini were definitely more interesting.  The two spreads for the little toasts were olive tapenade and eggplant-mushroom, I believe.  Not wanting to test the theory that night that I might not be allergic to mushrooms, I stuck with the tapenade.  I don't really like olives, but I'll eat a good tapenade on bread.  And once all the little toasts were gone, we did just that.
Soup du Jour
Butternut Squash
My first menu selection was one of the soups du jour.  When our waitress was telling us about the specials, she mentioned the butternut squash soup and told us that all of their soups were made primarily from puree.  I remembered how good the cauliflower soup had been the night before and decided that the butternut squash soup sounded perfect.
It was, in fact, perfect.  Not only was the soup itself good, but the toppings were too.  There were caramelized onions, pumpkin seeds, Italian parsley, cherries, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  Each added something different to the soup and kept me from getting bored.  Some people would probably take a look at it and then stir it all together, but I liked being able to control which components were in each bite.  The caramelized onions were differently sweet than the butternut squash, the balsamic had some acid to cut through the creaminess, the pumpkin seeds were nutty and differed in texture from the smoothness of the soup, and the parsley added its green herbiness.  The cherries were probably the most surprising element, but the fruit flavor worked really well with the squash.
Rocket Arugula
Favas, Yellow Wax & Green Beans, Olives, Serrano Ham, Manchego, Balsamic
The other half of my order was a salad with arugula and all sorts of other things.  My favorite components were the manchego cheese, the serrano ham, the cherry tomatoes, and the croutons.  I probably would have been happy with just those things on the dressed arugula salad.  The various types of beans—fava, green, and yellow wax—were interesting, but I didn't seek them out as much.  And I left most of the olives, donating a few to Steve.  Maybe not my favorite salad ever, but I still really enjoyed it.

Crispy Duck Confit
Wild Mushrooms, Broccoli Rabe, Sweet & Sour Duck Jus
Meanwhile, Steve was enjoying his duck confit.  He loved it; I loved that it was pretty.  I don't think I tried any, though.  I was focused on eating my own food so I could get to my favorite part of the meal: dessert.
We saw two desserts on the menu that looked especially good, and we decided to get both to share.  It was a good move.  The first dessert:
Crispy Caramelized Apples
Cinnamon Twist, Yogurt Apple Gateau, Mascarpone Ice Cream
This is the dessert that started out in front of me.  (We switched partway through.)  There was a little package of apples in the back, probably wrapped in phyllo dough, a small cake next to it with the mascarpone ice cream on top, shaved apples between the package and the cake, some good-sized dots of thick caramel on the plate, and a crispy cinnamon twist to top it all off.  In some ways I preferred this dessert to the apple tart tatin at Café Boulud.  It probably wasn't as refined, but there were more flavors here to love—cinnamon, caramel, mascarpone—in addition to the apple.
Coconut Rice Pudding
Vanilla, Sable Breton, Ginger & Rum Infused Pineapple, Mango-Banana Sorbet
The second dessert was perhaps even more impressive.  The coconut rice pudding had been piped on top of the sable breton (somewhere between a cookie and a crust) and topped with dried pieces of pineapple, if I remember correctly.  On top of that were some raw coconut shavings.  That was actually the only part of the dish that wasn't perfect: the raw coconut was a little bland and tough.  I think it was more for decoration.  The rest of the dessert was wonderful, however.  The ginger/rum pineapple and the mango-banana sorbet gave it that light tropical flavor, adding some context to the coconut of the rice pudding.  The best part was probably the sorbet, though.  It reminded me a little of baby food, but in a good way.

Last came this trio of mignardises, which Steve and I shared.  The madeleine was even smaller and cuter than the ones we had had the night before, and this one was plain vanilla, rather than lemon.  In the middle was an orange marshmallow, and on the right, a pate de fruit (fruit jelly).  I think it was passion fruit.  They were a good way to end the meal, even though we had already filled up on the desserts.
Having finished dinner, the evening was not yet over.  Next, we walked through Times Square to the Imperial Theatre to see Billy Elliot with Erica and Stu, Erica's parents, and Danielle.
We found our seats on the side, in the nosebleed section, and the show started not long after.  At that point, we realized that there was whole section open in the area next to us, more center, which wouldn't have an obstructed view of one side of the stage.  (Someone had probably bought group tickets and then failed to show up.)  But since the show had begun already, we didn't want to pick up and move to new seats.  As a result, I spent a lot of the first act wondering what was happening that we couldn't see on the right side of the stage and trying not to be distracted by it.  At intermission, we all moved down and in to fill some of the open seats.  The view was much better there, and I enjoyed the second half more.
I had seen the movie years ago, so I knew what to expect of the plot.  Billy gets into ballet classes, he loves it, his father finds out and forbids it, and there's a mining strike going on that complicates things.  The part about the strike, with the history and the politics, was a little difficult to follow.  The accents didn't help much with that either.  Luckily, the part about Billy and the ballet was really the heart of the story.  That part was easy to understand.
I'm often fascinated with the set design of these shows, and there were some really cool sets in this show.  Billy's house had a piece that would rise from the floor, which included the kitchen and a spiral staircase up to Billy's tiny bedroom.  The mechanics of it looked pretty complicated, since it was able to revolve while rising, and I think an inner piece (Billy's bed?) was able to rise independently from the rest.  Later in the show, there was also a mirrored drop for when they were at the Royal Ballet, which was ornate and reflected the audience in the theatre.  It made the place look both fancy and expansive, while really just using the apron of the stage.
On the whole, the show was a lot of fun.  I wasn't sure what to expect of the style after seeing the performance at the Tony Awards last year.  They did the Act 1 finale, which involved a dance freak-out by Billy and a lot of thrashing against police and picket lines.  I remember thinking at the time that it was all kind of spastic and emotional.  Happily, it worked in context, and I enjoyed myself throughout the show.  It wasn't my favorite work ever, but we were all very impressed with the boy who played Billy Elliot at our performance.  If he had been mediocre, the show wouldn't have been nearly as good.
When it was over, we all trekked to Riley's apartment to say goodbye.  It was a nice little studio apartment—small, but pretty new.  It's probably a little crowded for Riley and a parent, compared to what they were used to in the Bay Area, but it's typical for Manhattan.  As Riley told us, he spends a lot of time out and about.  If nothing else, they have a great view.
We all chatted for a few minutes, and then we said goodbye to Riley and his mom.  Deciding that we didn't want to walk all the way back to the hotel in the cold, Steve and I broke from the group and took the first entrance to the subway that we passed.  We had one ride left on our MetroCards, so we used it to get from the 42nd St. station to 59th and 7th.  We still had to walk quite a ways to get to the NRW line, but at least it was all underground, out of the wind and the crowds.  And since we were no longer walking with a group, we could walk as fast as we wanted.

We left the city the next morning, via cab to Penn Station, train to the Newark Airport station, and tram to the airport terminal itself.  From there, we flew to Charlotte, NC, then home to SFO.  While we were waiting in Newark for our flight to Charlotte, we were treated to one last view of NYC in the distance.

And with that, the New York trip was over.  Not having been to NYC for nearly five years, it was nice to visit again for a weekend.  I did a better job this time of not overbooking us, so we didn't feel as stressed out by the pace.  Three shows was a good number for four days, even if there were others I would have liked to see.  Food-wise, the trip was one of our most successful and most enjoyable.  We even managed to eat well when we hadn't planned out a meal ahead of time.
The one complaint that I had was the weather.  It wasn't snowing or raining, at least, but it was too cold to be outside for very long.  I would have liked to take more pictures, do more street photography, but I just couldn't keep my fingers out of their mittens for very long at a time.  Next time, we should probably not go in the dead of winter.  Lesson learned.

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