Modern (Adjective) – of, relating to, or characteristic of the present or the immediate past.
By the definition above, what’s modern now will not be modern at some point in time. The determinant, it seems, is completely arbitrary. When applied to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the definition of modern roughly encompass the years 1860 to 1970.
The very same word is the name of Union Square Hospitality Group’s restaurant in the MoMA: The Modern. Since its opening in 2005, The Modern has defined the category of restaurant fine dining. However, 6 years have passed since the restaurant earned its name, and much has changed in the culinary landscape. Does the food in The Modern below in a permanent exhibit, or is it a passing fad?
There’re two ways to enjoy The Modern, the bar area or the formal dining room. While this is not unlike many of the other fine dining establishments, there’s one major problem: the lack of a door in between.
In restaurants like Gordon Ramsay at the London, Jean Georges, Daniel, as soon as you pass the gateway into the formal dining room, you enjoy peace and quiet. No so at The Modern, as the screen dividers are incapable of blocking out the noise of happy hour. In comparison to other fine dining destinations, this bar is particularly busy. Not the experience I was hoping for.
Slight noise aside, the formal dining area is elegant, and offers a fantastic view into the MoMA garden. Service levels are above that of an average restaurant, but falls slightly short of the masterful performances of 3-Michelin Star establishments.
There are two choices for your meal: a 4 course prix fixe for $98 where you select from four sections, or a 8 course chef’s tasting menu for $155. Having gotten a late start, the 4 course was the choice for the evening.
The meal started with a fantastic display of plating skills. Wagyu beef and foie gras “Damier”, which for those unfamiliar with the word means a checker board pattern like those found on LV handbags. The combination of raw beef with foie gras is quite opulent, although foie gras tend to overpower everything, the passion fruit gastrique manages to sneak through. On the other side of the table, the tartare of yellowfin tuna and diver scallops was fresh and refreshing, yet like the other appetizer, had a overwhelmingly powerful flavor of caviar. I understand the use of luxury ingredients such as foie gras and caviar, but I do not believe the flavors are a perfect match as a result.
Course two was a beautiful tart of hamachi, sea urchin, and fennel. The fish was light, and relies on the uni for flavor with just the right amount of acidity. The roasted monkfish was beautifully cooked, and the arugula purée with gyromitre mushroom sauce provided very interesting, albeit slightly bitter flavors.
In fact, bitter seems to be an ongoing theme here. With many restaurants overdoing the salt, sugar, or acidity, tasting a dose of bitterness in the food was quite a different experience. For the entree, the organic poussin breast was tender, most, and paired wonderfully with the (slightly bitter) Château-Chalon wine sauce. Plating looked like art, but on a plate, looked dated. The Chorizo-crusted cod with white coco bean purée and Harissa oil. The fish, as expected, was beautifully executed. Although I had hoped for more Chorizo flavors, and more heat from the Harissa oil.
Come dessert, I continue to order anything on the menu that has passion fruit. The mango craquelin and citrus mousseline, which features a few strands of almond spaghetti, and a scoop of mango-passion fruit sorbet, features many great flavors that unfortunately didn’t come together too well. The other dessert, the Manjari chocolate palet, with Tahitian Vanilla Cremeux and salted butter-caramel ice cream was a solid dessert, but not the climax to a meal that I was looking for.
Long before I stepped foot in The Modern, I’ve always imagined it as a top-tier restaurant vying for birthdays and anniversaries. While the stunning space and staff definitely seem capable of elevating the experience to that of New York’s elite, it ultimately does not live up to the grand and lofty expectations. I’d even venture to say that the cuisine feels dated, which in the MoMA, is slightly troubling. This is not to say Modern wasn’t a good restaurant, my evening featured a very good dinner with solid food and service. However, it was not the magical experience that I was looking for.
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The Modern (Make a Reservation)
9 W 53rd St
New York, NY 10019