Paying Homage at the Altar of Michelin

When I moved across the country to New York, I was incredibly excited about the sheer volume of amazing, forward-thinking restaurants and chefs that I would have access to on a daily basis. My head was filled with fantasies about dining at a new top-tier restaurant every week – but the cold, hard vagaries of life soon set in. As a fresh college graduate in his first real job – in the publishing field, no less – I found that the majority of my salary went to, well, things that weren’t $50 a plate.

But I never gave up on that dream, and the release of the 2017 edition of the Michelin Guide solidified my urge to finally bite the bullet and make a reservation at one of the world’s best restaurants.

The Michelin Guide is considered to be one of the best resources to seek out the best fine-dining options around the world. As of 2017, New York plays home to a whopping 77 Michelin-starred restaurants, including world-famous Per Se, Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges, among others.

Just recently, I had the privilege of losing my Michelin virginity with my first-ever starred restaurant, The Modern – with two stars in the 2017 edition of Le Guide Michelin.

Since we were splurging anyway, we decided to go for the eight-course prix fixe option instead of the four, which meant we would be leaving pretty damn full by the end of the night. Some folks look at the tiny portions at fine-dining restaurants and scoff at “Costco samples”, but when you account for the fact that we were getting eight of these with plenty of space to digest in between, our stomachs were at no risk of going hungry.

We were greeted with the most graciousness in any host we’ve ever seen, and once we gave them our bags and coats (with a claim check), we maneuvered through the bright, airy dining room and took our seats.

Once we placed our orders, the first course came soon enough.

Siberian Ossetra caviar, with a warm poached egg, fried brioche strips, pickled red onions and dill.

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Although the caviar is naturally the focal point of this dish, I was most surprised by the technique behind the poached egg – I’ve never seen the yolk exposed like that, and at first, I was suspicious that it was poached at all: the silky white underneath the black caviar was nothing like I had ever seen or tasted. The yolk was perfectly runny, and served as a perfect dipping sauce for the brioche spears, which were deliciously flaky with the perfect amount of crunch and savoriness.

Which brings us to the caviar – I had expected a certain tangy bite to it like other forms of roe I’ve tasted, but the Ossetra caviar had none of that. Instead, it was almost completely savory, with just a tinge of that familiar roe-ish saltiness. To make up for that, the dish also came with onions and dill, which added that salty, vinegary touch this plate needed.

Next:

Tuna, marinated in blood orange and served with fennel and a jellied citrus sauce.

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The tuna was good, but what really caught my eye here was the slivered, circular, jellied “sauce” – made with what I assume is citrus, going by its bright, sweet and sour flavor profile.

It would’ve been perfectly fine to plate this up with a simple ladle of the sauce in liquid form, but the cooks at The Modern took a great-tasting sauce and elevated it to the next level by refrigerating it and turning it from a liquid into a solid, then cutting it into flat, razor-thin circles and placed delicately on top of a great slice of fish.

This would be a theme repeated throughout the night: familiar ingredients, prepared in unusual, novel ways that I can’t wait to see if I can replicate them at home.

By this point, I was keenly aware I was having the best meal of my life (sorry, mom) but we were only going up from here.

Foie gras tart with strawberry meringue and nasturtium.

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The several other times I’ve had the pleasure of tasting foie gras, it was always prepared in a savory setting: perhaps paired with a warm salad, or served with crusty bread. The Modern eschews tradition, though, and plates up something that would’ve passed for a dessert course. The meringue was – there is no other word to describe it – flaky, and the combination of its nuanced sweetness was a great foil to the rich foie gras.

Also, WTF is nasturtium, you ask? It’s an edible flower that has a slightly spicy, bitter aftertaste. So in this one dish, you get to experience the complete gamut of your tongue – the savoriness of the foie gras and the flaky pie crust, sweetness from the meringue, and finally, a hint of bitter from the flowers.

We’re just about at the halfway point of our meal.

White asparagus with lobster and tarragon.

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This plate (and the following one) were absolutely the highlights of the night.

Tarragon and lobster is a classic combination (lobster rolls, anyone?), and the technique here is amazing – I have no idea what else they put into the sauce, but the tarragon came out lovely and strong. The dish needed it: The savory lobster claw was made even savorier by coating it with a crushed-almond crust, and the herbiness of the tarragon was a nice contrast.

I thought I loved this dish, but it was nothing compared to what came next:

Seared halibut with nettle potage and morels.

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The halibut was, without question, the highlight of the night. It almost tasted poached at first taste – so gentle was the flavor, so delicate were the flakes, that I thought it was impossible that someone could’ve seared it. On a flame. In a pan.

The morels were also practically perfect: almost like mushrooms, but not quite, morels have a bit of a stronger flavor and texture than your normal button or cremini mushrooms. They’re definitely an acquired taste, but thanks to growing up Korean, I’ve grown fond of these quivery, slightly slimy delicacies.

Potage is just a fancy word for ‘porridge’, but once again, The Modern isn’t content with the basics – have you ever gotten your jacket caught in a bunch of nettles in the wild? You didn’t know they were edible, did you? Well, they are, and let me tell you, they’re freakin’ delicious.

Slow-roasted lamb with sheeps-milk dumplings and fava beans.

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This was the most “traditional” course of the night; boiled down, this is just roasted lamb, beans, dumplings with au jus sauce.

But the takeaway here, like every dish, is that all of the techniques are executed to perfection. The lamb, a moist medium-rare; the dumplings, perfectly rounded and savory; the beans, nicely seasoned and crunchy.

We were stuffed at this point, but we still had dessert waiting in the wings for us…

Green apple sorbet with mint jelly.

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Have you ever seen a more beautiful quenelle?

No. The answer is no, you haven’t.

I’m not a dessert connoisseur by any means, but even I could tell the mint jelly was something special – perfectly formed and topped with brunoised raw green apple.

 Araguani chocolate marquise with brioche & Earl Grey ice cream.

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After two-and-a-half-hours of eating, we finally arrived at our last course: a gorgeously over-the-top display of chocolate and ice cream in their various forms. It was a beautiful contrast to the crisp, bright sweetness of the previous course, and it was a great finish to the best meal I’ve ever enjoyed in my life.

And then came the check, but that’s a different story…

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