I have been eating at the Waldorf-Astoria a lot lately. Two Sundays ago I had brunch at Peacock Alley there with Kenny Lao. It's a gigantic buffet, so we had to strategize. We started with seafood — oysters on the half shell, lobster, king crab legs — and then moved on to breakfast, into which I argued the Italian cold cuts should be included, because they're like ham, sort of. We only had savory stuff for breakfast; it seems neither of us is much of a waffle eater. Next came lunch, which for me was mostly salad (including Waldorf salad) and fruit, because I had eggs Benedict with breakfast, but Kenny went straight for Prime rib, and we mostly sat dessert out.
Then two nights ago I found myself back in Peacock Alley, having dinner with one of the hotel's publicists, sampling the food of chef Cedric Tovar, whose food I realized I'd never had before. The Waldorf's executive chef, John Doherty, stopped by and had a glass of Woodford Reserve with us while we finished our dinner. He'd just been at the hotel's service awards party (you know, the event at which staff members are given gifts for having stayed in their jobs for so long), so he was in a suit. I'd never seen him in a suit before.
Another PR company, this one representing the Waldorf's cookbook, had asked me to the chef's table the following night. I mentioned that to John, and he suggested I also ask my boss, Pam Parseghian, to come along. John gives Pam credit for discovering him. He was already executive chef of the Waldorf, so it wasn't necessarily a profound discovery, but apparently she was the first person ever to write about him, 14 or so years ago.
So there I was at the Waldorf again, last night, with Pam, at the chef's table, which is in one of the hotel's kitchens. The chef's table has been used for special events for a long time, but for the past two years John has been serving dinner there regularly twice a month, and it has evolved into the hotel's test kitchen. It also gives his banquet chefs (banquets and catering make up about 75 percent of the hotel's food sales) a chance to be a bit more creative.
John invites family, friends and media to the chef's table, but anyone can go; they just have to call up, make a reservation, and pay $150 (plus tax and tip).
what I ate at Peacock Alley (don't worry, everything was small):
amuse bouche trio: Alaskan king crab salad, pea soup, ricotta cheese with asparagus and strawberry vinaigrette
tuna and green apple tartare, tangerine vinaigrette and American sturgeon caviar Maine lobster salad with spring vegetables and lemon vinaigrette
pistachio-crusted foie gras with lychee caramel and lychee jalapeño
jumbo white asparagus from Carpentras with blood orange reduction
black cardamom-dusted John Dory, matsutake mushrooms and curry sauce
ramp-wrapped monkfish loin, sautéed Savoy cabbage, yellow tomato and olive vinaigrette
wild pepper roasted Niman ranch pork loin, bock choy and braised onions
ginger-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb, pickled Japanese eggplant, heirloom tomatoes
roasted fresh apricot, vanilla and peanut sauce, almond sherbet
strawberry rhubarb craquelin, strawberry sorbet, chocolate feuillantine, lemon soufflé
What I ate and drank at the chef's table:
Champagne with various hors d'oeuvres
Strawberry conserve, duck confit and foie gras terrine with poached rhubarb and cracklings
Champagne Napoleon Rosé, Brut, France
Crispy soft shell crab with fresh hearts of palm salad, kumquats, grapes and rose petals.
Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley 2003, California
Mediterranean daurade with Portuguese chickpea and chorizo stew and Romesco sauce
Cristom Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2004, Oregon
Aged rib eye of Angus beef with asparagus, gnocchi and morels, radish and pea shoot salad
Audesirk Signature, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002, Napa Valley
Peanut Butter Sundae
Vanilla tapioca, salty caramel sauce and peanut butter ice cream
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise Paul Jaboulet Aine, 2003, France