Alright guys, it may be the week before Christmas, but rather than posting recipes for holiday baking and treats (which, I’m sure, is what you’re really after) we’re going to do some summing up of all the food we ate in New York. Not exactly festive, true, but perhaps you’ll see a dish or meal that inspires a new preparation for your own holiday feast this year!!
Our second stop in the land of Iron Chefs was Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain in the Midtown/Theater District of New York City. Our reservation was during lunch hour on a weekday, and the restaurant was packed with business lunches and casual meetings of socialites who took a break from shopping to sip cocktails and pretend to eat. Even so, there was a certain vibrant elegance to the restaurant’s upscale and yet cozy decor that created an ambiance as appropriate for closing a deal as sharing a romantic lunch with your date.
If you visit Bar Americain, be sure to try one of Flay’s potent cocktails. I’ve mentioned before how different mixed drinks are in Canada versus the United States (read: weak and lackluster), but cocktailing in New York was a constant surprise and delight for us. I couldn’t find a copy of Bar Americain’s cocktail list online, so sadly I don’t remember the names of what we were drinking (something ‘Dark and Stormy’ perhaps?) but I *do* remember…..BOURBON.
The appetizer menu for lunch centered heavily around updated Southern favorites and seafood, as well as selections from the raw bar. As I am never able to decide on what I want, or indeed to settle for only one appetizer, I selected the shellfish cocktail tasting which included (left to right) crab & coconut, shrimp & tomatillo, and lobster & avocado. The large chunks of seafood were meaty and sweet, with understated flavor components in each dish so that the shellfish could really shine. There were no surprising or titillating flavors in any of the three dishes, but they were subtle, rendered well, and clearly made with top quality ingredients.
Mike’s appetizer stayed on the seafood theme with crispy oysters with black pepper, drizzled with barbecue creme fraiche and served with a tarragon vinegar sauce. These, my friends, were divine. The cornmeal crusted oysters were perfectly crisp on the outside but cooked perfectly to maintain a succulent and tender interior. I’m always hesitant to order cooked oysters because I absolutely adore oysters and if they’re chewy and tough I consider that to be a death-row worthy felony, but Flay’s kitchen did not disappoint. The barbecue creme fraiche was surprisingly subtle but added a slight piquant flair to the deep fried gems, and the tarragon vinaigrette brightened up the plate and added a perfect foil to the heaviness of fried oysters.
Following the appetizers were….more cocktails.
The entrees at Bar Americain are, as you can imagine, heavily slanted towards elevated Southern home cooking and American classics with the occasional Tex-Mex flair. Really good Southern fare is something that we don’t get much exposure to, so my entree was gulf shrimp and grits with bacon, green onions and garlic.
Can you believe that I have never, in my life, eaten shrimp and grits? Well, it was a bit of a revelation. The grits were like a smooth, silky polenta, laden with butter, cheese and bacon fat. In other words, they were delicious. The shrimp were much smaller than I had expected, but were tender and coaxed into a bit of heat with a sweet and smoky spice rub before they were sauteed. On top of the shrimp and grits was a heaping pile of rendered bacon, and do you see that sauce? That rich looking golden sauce drizzled around the plate is actually, if my palate is to be trusted, nothing more than bacon fat. Yup. A drizzle of grease. My heart and kidneys may be appalled, but the richness of the cheesy, buttery grits, redolent with bacon fat and accented by fresh and savory green onion, was mouthwatering and incredibly moreish.
Mike went for the plate of the day, which was a chicken cutlet with American triple creme cheese, southern ham and arugala. It didn’t look like much when it was plated. Note to Bobby: I expect more from you.
Essentially, this was little more than a breaded chicken cutlet with some cured pig and melted cheese. The chicken was cooked perfectly and still moist inside, but the ham was slightly overdone and rather than committing to being either supple or crisp, it rode the fine line between chewy and overdone tough. The fresh rocket/arugula was peppery and lightly dressed so that it wouldn’t compete with the chicken, but overall this is a dish that could have easily been made at home with more delicious results and at a significantly lower cost.
We don’t normally order dessert when we go out, which is likely because we’re usually too stuffed because I order 5 appetizers and force Mike to finish them for me, but the portions for appetizer and entree were subdued which left us a bit of room for the sweet stuff. Our pick was a red velvet brownie sundae with cream cheese soft serve ice cream. This was far and above the best part of the meal, and I’m so glad that Mike coaxed me into it.
The red velvet brownie was chocolaty and dense, but the tangy and barely sweet cream cheese ice cream was like a revelation, particularly when combined with a rich caramel sauce and toasted walnuts. Holy mother Mary, even looking at the picture I can still taste the warm, luscious cake on my tongue with the cloyingly sweet sauce and cool, tart ice cream to bring it all home.
Overall, our meal at Bar Americain was well executed and quite enjoyable, but there was little that seemed particularly inspired, with the exception of dessert. Would we go back? Absolutely. The service was excellent, the ambiance was warm and inviting, and the flavors were honest and rich but well balanced and thought out. This was not at all what I was expecting from an Iron Chef, but there is something to be said for simple soul food made with great ingredients to create a meal that almost seems nostalgic…if not particularly memorable.
152 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019, United States