It is a rare thing when I ride my sister’s coat tails. The first time it happened was earlier this year, when I went to a work-related fundraiser in Washington, D.C. to meet her former boss, a Long Island Congressman of note in the Democratic Party. We spent a couple of minutes talking about her. The only reason I was at this really cool event was because I had a tangential connection to this individual. So, score one for The Sister there.
Score two and thensome for her on Friday evening. Back in her Congressional staffer days, she worked with Tom Colicchio’s team on a presentation of his documentary on hunger in America, A Place at the Table. She met and became friendly with someone on his personal staff, they remain in contact to this day, blah blah blah, and we were able to get a reservation with ease for the dining room at the Top Chef judge’s restaurant on 10th Avenue, across the street from Chelsea Market.
The food is only one element of a fine dining experience. Ambience and service play significant roles. Presentation is important as well. But, there is an intangible factor that goes into this as well. It goes to the attention of detail in each and every element of the visit, from the custom-crafted ale — pictured above and manufactured by Empire Brewing Company of Syracuse for the restaurant — to the sparkling water carbonated in house. It’s the people who swarm when you spill your drink accidentally at the bar, mopping the floor, bar and your pants, then disappear as if they did not exist. It’s the restaurant manager who stops by the table at various intervals to ask how things are going. Said manager introduced herself after we were seated, delivering a bottle of champagne as a gift to The Sister from her contact that was on the road and could not be there to say hello.
I’ve discussed The Experience in the past. Experiential dining is about a holistic mood that focuses on you being the only table in the restaurant. We felt it at Fleur De Lys in San Francisco. We felt it before at bc in Syracuse. And, it was alive at Colicchio & Sons.
After we ordered, a series of canapés arrived, also courtesy of The Sister’s contact: a single oyster, roasted with an infused butter and served on a mound of salt; Burrata with a cherrywood smoked crostini; duck charcuterie in a duck fat crust with bing cherries; golden beets infused with champagne vinegar; and charred apricots with caramel (CARAMEL?!) and garlic scapes. It was exquisitely detailed, from the synchronized placement of plates and unveiling on the tables, to the plating, to the just-enough waft of smoke that arose from the Burrata when it was uncovered.
Dinner in the main dining room is selected from one of three menus: a four-course prix fixe at $95, a six-course seasonal tasting menu at $145, or a la carte. Wine pairings are available for the first two menus at an additional charge.
Our group ordered a la carte from a three-stage menu of first, second and main courses. A fois gras terrine, walled in watermelon spears and topped with a gelee was presented with melon balls and dots of balsamic vinegar. The rich, earthy butter from the fois gras was the perfect complement for the juicy sweetness of the melon. There was a certain warmth that spurred by the fois gras. Not quite umami, but the dense texture and unmistakable flavor triggered a biochemical reaction within me that made me, dare I say, happy.
The Wife’s fusilli was served in a wild boar bolognese, though it was as if the bolognese was served with fusilli. Large shreds of boar meat, packed with the rich, fatty flavor of the animal and a melt-on-your-tongue texture, were presented throughout and a dusting of Pecorino Romano only enhanced the flavor. The Sister and her +1 each ordered risotto, presented with acquerello rice that had been aged in its husk for 3 months. Garlic scapes presented a green hue and mild flavor, while a coddled egg added both protein and creaminess to the plate.
There was a discussion at our table regarding what exactly made a chicken Amish, but it quickly dissipated when The Wife and Sister tasted their entrees. The roasted chicken, raised on a Pennsylvania Amish farm was expertly seasoned and served with asparagus and chanterelle mushrooms. The accompanying garlic confit offered an option for them both to experiment with the flavor of the chicken, which was one of the most tender pieces of chicken that I’ve ever tasted.
I refuse to order duck unless I’m in the presence of a kitchen that prepares it well, or if I believe I am in said location. The sliced duck breast was cooked to a medium rare texture and color, and served with grilled pineapple, mustard greens and a tomatillo puree. While others at the table talked about their food and shared tastes, I quietly savored every piece and refused to share. Family is family, but duck is duck.
After a back and forth about dessert (including an uncharacteristic and unrealistic suggestion by The Wife that we share it), we could not resist the presentation of ice creams and sorbets. Her hibiscus-lime and apricot brandy sorbets received the highest marks from The Wife, while her ginger sorbet was too spicy for her liking. All three of mine — an earthy olive oil ice cream, a flowery chocolate lavender sorbet and a fruity guava sorbet — were the perfect capper for the meal. The Sister’s strawberry handpie was presented with cheesecake ice cream, and devoured with a fury. Her S.O.’s coffee-glazed doughnuts had the essence of a strong dark roast, and were served with black currant jam and toasted marshmallow ice cream. A selection of cheeses and coffees from Stumptown were also available.
The dining experience evolves over time, as the leaders in this industry innovate and imagine new vehicles to serve their guests. No matter how fine dining has changed since Tom Colicchio first entered a kitchen, his core principles of fresh ingredients, quality craftsmanship and intricate detail are the real stars at play. This may have been the finest dining experience of my life.
And, it absolutely kills me that I have to thank my sister for making it possible.
Colicchio & Sons is located at 85 Tenth Avenue near Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District. Reservations are necessary. Dinner for four, with drinks and dessert was $445 before tip. And it was worth every fucking cent.