Tonight, n8 took me to the fanciest dinner I’ve ever had, at Country, headed by Geoffrey Zakarian and Doug Psaltis, in the Carlton Hotel at Madison and 29th Street. This is the kind of restaurant that I read about all the time but assume I’ll never get into or have the opportunity to experience. Thanks to Cupid and n8’s connected company, my food dreams came true tonight.
The hostess in the café gracefully led us to the stairs, at the top of which was another hostess, who gracefully took our coats and showed us to a comfortable couch. We ordered champagne, which was randomly comped, and we were shown to our table after about ten minutes.
Country is spread out on two floors, a café downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. The restaurant is a glamorous fantasy land. I watch old movies and dream about eating in rooms like this, with marble floors and marble bars and crystal chandeliers and a stunning, stained glass dome. The only modern touches were translucent boxes around the chandeliers and the music. Otherwise, you could squint your eyes a bit and pretend it’s the 1920s, and try to imagine what was going on in this room when they first built it. This is my first time eating in an upscale hotel, and I really enjoyed having a sprawling hotel lobby at my back as I ate. Rather than feeling vast and empty, it was comforting and warm.
Right after our champagne arrived, we were presented with three amuses-bouches. The first was a Gruyère and spinach gougère, which didn’t slay me. Next was a little stack of crème fraîche and caviar, followed by pork wrapped in apple, both of which distracted me from the task at hand: choosing three courses from the prix-fixe menu. Here’s what we ordered:
n8: Dodine de pigeon et foie gras
me: Velouté de cèpe with sautéed egg and brioche
n8: Truffled sweetbreads
me: Black truffle risotto
n8: Grilled beef with carrots and ricotta gnocchi
me: Dover sole with celery jus
n8: Pear and walnut tart
me: Chocolate tartelette with sour cherry compote and cherry sorbet
For wine, we had a lovely 2002 Chinon.
Early on, they brought us fried frogs’ legs, and before dessert we had a pear sorbet with red wine chili. After dessert were mignardises, including a chocolate disk with black truffle whipped cream! Everything was wonderful, but the highlights were definitely both of our first courses and n8’s sweetbreads. My velouté is the flavor I’ll remember a year from now. The combination of the mushroom flavor with the yolk and crispy brioche was simply divine.
I never thought I’d be a service queen, but the care at Country is legendary. We didn’t feel alone or bothered for the entire two hours we were in there. Most of the restaurants I eat in leave me feeling one of two ways at the table: either I feel ignored, hungry, and taken, or I feel irritated and put upon, and I don’t feel like starting any serious conversations with my dining partner because we are bound to be interrupted. At Country, our nearest neighbor was more than five feet away, and the service was classically hushed and polite, but not in a fake way. Our courses were presented in sync, and the plates were removed in the same fashion. We ordered one of the cheaper wines on the list, and no one blinked. At one point we had four people working at our table, and our conversation was not affected in the slightest. Everything is presented on silver trays, and it seems completely normal. When I asked to be directed to the restroom, I was walked nearly all the way there.
Nathan turned to me early in the meal and said: “This is the only way I want to eat out.” He has a point. I’d much rather save my money and energy and eat out like this once every three or six months and remember it for years than eat in a series of cheap or moderate restaurants. It’s expensive, but I firmly believe it’s worth every penny and more when you feel completely pampered and satiated.
Country apparently has a lovely brunch as well, which I’d be curious to try in the future. In the meantime, if you have an occasion for a fancy and fabulous dinner, I wholeheartedly recommend splurging here.
Oh, and upon leaving, we were each presented with one of these small cakes. “For breakfast,” he told us.
Counting the mignardises, the cake, and all of the in-between surprises, I believe we enjoyed nine courses tonight.