Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Four Seasons

I woke up one morning during my Passover Cleveland trip to find my father scowling at The New York Times. “Jenny, you need to see this,” he said in a serious voice. I prepared myself a cup of espresso to ready myself for the story, which judging by his expression, was not going to be good. After a fortifying sip, I walked over and looked at the paper. Before I could finish the first sentence, my father broke the depressing news. Frank Bruni had just taken away the Four Season’s third star. While the decline of any historic American restaurant is saddening, I had a more immediate reason to be disappointed about the review: we had reservations to dine there for Alex’s mother’s birthday.

When we met Alex’s parents in New York, our discussion quickly wandered to the Bruni review. Alex’s father quickly dismissed the article. “I wouldn’t worry,” he said. “I don’t think The New York Times’ restaurant reviews are any more reliable than its political coverage.” Nick’s confidence and enthusiastic stories about past meals at the Four Seasons quickly restored my optimism. An epicurean like Nick would never pick an unreliable location for his wife’s 60th birthday.

Still recovering from the previous night’s debauchery, I hadn’t eaten much during the day and was ravenous by dinnertime. This is a rarity when with Nick, who insists on a marathon of wine-filled feasts for both lunch and dinner when traveling. When I walked into the restaurant, I was immediately struck by the room’s décor. Brass and silver chain curtains rippled lazily in the window like a gentle breeze on a still pond. On the way to the main room, I admired the Picasso curtain and Miro tapestries. The famous pool sat proudly in the middle of the room, surrounded by mini cherry-blossom trees. Even a McDonald’s meal would have seemed like haute cuisine in such a tranquil, sophisticated environment.

People say that the Four Seasons isn’t really about the food; it is about the décor and the experience of dining with New York’s elite. While it is true that the food was not the most innovative I’ve ever had, it was definitely no disappointment. Blue fin tuna ravioli with sea urchin was a whimsical start to the meal. Thinly sliced sashimi replaced the usual pasta shell, and the unctuous sea urchin filling was delicious. A buttery bison filet with foie gras and a generous perigord truffle sauce followed. The meal’s highlight was the roasted duck, which was carved tableside. With the perfectly crisp skin of a Peking roast duck and rich succulent meat, the dish was a knockout.

I could barely make room for the marvelous dessert of strawberry and rhubarb shortbread completed the meal, let alone the three complimentary soufflés that appeared at our table when my brother expressed regret about forgetting to order his in advance. Walking out past the beautiful people and impressive art, I appreciated the ethereal experience of dining at the Four Seasons. Of course, it is easy to enjoy a dreamlike meal when you don’t have to look at the bill, the one downside of an otherwise delightful meal.

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