I was stood up for lunch at Gilt, the new restaurant where Le Cirque 2000 used to be. A work-friend had been after me to have lunch for weeks, and then didn't show. I waited for a mystified 45 minutes and then ordered lunch; it would be ridiculous to suffer a social snub and miss a good meal at the same time.
The chef, Paul Liebrandt, and I go way back to his days at Atlas, in 2001, when he simultaneously delighted and horrified diners with his unconventional combinations. That garnered him three stars from the New York Times, whose critic at the time was William Grimes, and a thorough and uncharacteristic drubbing by usually sweet Gourmet magazine, which was (and is) run by Grimes' predecessor, Ruth Reichl. Gossip at the time speculated on rivalry between the past and present critics.
At any rate, the chef and the owners of Atlas had some sort of falling out and he's been popping up at various restaurants since then, always vaguely unsatisfied and in search of a restaurant where he could really do his own thing. A former protégé of British chef Marco Pierre White, a disciple of Parisian chef Pierre Gagnaire and a practitioner of the current culinary school of molecular gastronomy, Paul Liebrandt now has a gigantic kitchen in which to prepare his food and an ornate dining room in which to serve it, accompanied by a hilarious wine list, with numerous bottles selling for more than $10,000. Gilt also has far and away the most elaborate tea list I'd ever seen, even before I saw the restaurant's special reserve tea list that they bring out only for people who actually seem interested in the stuff.
"I'm ready to order," I told Christopher Day, the restaurant's assistant director, who was captain during my lunch. He asked if perhaps I wouldn't just like the chef to cook for me, and maybe they could just select some wines to go with each course if that were all right.
If I'd had a seatbelt, I would have fastened it.
Lunch was long and fascinating, as I'd expected. Near the end, Chris rolled out the cheese cart and began to talk about himself. He's a former raw foodist, allergic to pasteurized cow's milk. Unpasteurized cow's milk does not affect him negatively, he said as he sliced me some raw cow's milk cheese. He gave up his raw-food veganism because his health began to fail and he realized his need for animal protein, and lots of it. He also divorced his raw-foodist wife.
Now he eats everything, except pork: He converted to Islam a month after September 11. Always a spiritual guy, he was outraged by the hatred being spread by Muslim clerics that to him went so against the teachings of the Koran. He converted to join others in practicing Islam the way he thought it should be practiced.
What I ate:
Passion fruit and saffron marshmallow with chorizo dust
Squid ink brioche with onion marmalade
Scallop tortellini with duck consommé and pickled radish
Sweet (raw) shrimp with micro greens and avocado-pistachio puree
Chicken and cèpe terrine with coconut gribiche and sprout salad
Cured beef with puree of garlic bread and China rose sprouts with black trumpet powder
Oyster with lemon bubbles
Smoked celeriac espuma with lemon gelée and coffee salt.
Stilton and arugula financière with pear and raisin chutney
Foie gras cooked sous-vide lacquered with fig-pomegranate glaze and served with beet gelée, quince crème and nori opaline
Toad-in-the-hole: Brioche around a quail egg with diced black truffle, served with truffle butter.
Diver scallop with cauliflower crème and lobster sablé and caper relish with huckleberries
Pork belly, cooked sous-vide, with chiffonade of cabbage, potato fondant, escargots with black trumpet powder, green apple chip and black truffle-game jus.
Loup de mer a la plancha with artichokes barigoule, apple gelée, squid ink gnocchi and haddock butter.
Peking duck, cooked sous-vide, with beet leaf croquants, beat reduction and a beat leaf stuffed with duck leg confit.
A selection of cheeses
Champagne sorbet with lemon grass espuma, white chocolate croquants (like little white cocoa puffs) and gold leaf
Clementine gelée, toasted almond sabayon, lychee sorbet
Tangerine warm chocolate tartlet, ancho chile parfait with white chocolate and cinnamon biscuit.
A tasting of three different senchas (Japanese green tea), selected by Christopher Day