Dinner Out: Maze by Gordon Ramsay
One of the things I love most about living in NYC is the food (obviously!). I love the fact that I can walk two blocks south and feel like I'm in China, the sidewalks overflowing with crates of dried mushrooms, fresh seafood, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables (many of which I've never seen before) with signs scribbled in Chinese characters. If I head north from our apartment, the rest of the world awaits: in just three blocks, we have two authentic Mexican spots, a Turkish wine bar, an American bistro, a couple of cocktail bars, an upscale Italian restaurant, a subterranean pizzeria, a Brazilian bar, a Thai-influenced diner, a Cuban cafe, and a cupcake bakery. And that's just on our street in a 5-block radius!
Despite the fact that we're spoiled for dining options in Nolita, I actually cook most of our meals at home. And when we do eat out, we rarely leave the neighborhood. Which makes it that much more fun every once in awhile to get dressed up and head uptown for a truly glamorous New York dining experience. Which is exactly what we did a few weeks ago, in celebration of our two year anniversary, at Gordon Ramsay's sleek, glass- and steel-accented restaurant Maze.
Though bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay may be best known for his bleeped-out rants on TV shows like Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Disasters, and Masterchef, with 12 Michelin stars to his name, the man can clearly cook. His more formal restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at The London – located in a serene, neutral-colored private dining room adjacent to Maze – is one of only seven restaurants in NYC to have been awarded 2 Michelin stars. The food and service there, I'm sure, are sublime – but with a $185 per person price tag for the 7-course Menu Prestige (plus $125 for wine pairings), it's not exactly in our dining budget. Which is exactly what makes Maze so great: you get nearly the same top-notch food (the restaurants share a kitchen) and the same attentive service (though less stuffy), for half the price. Maze's five-course Chef's Menu is a steal at $82, and, though they don't offer an official wine pairing option, one of the sommeliers can suggest wines by the glass to complement your dinner.
Our evening started off in the cozy London Bar with a cocktail. Their signature concoction, "The London" is a refreshing blend of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice shaken with Lillet and gin, poured into a Martini glass, and topped off with bubbly. (NOTE: I could have easily polished off a few of these, but in light of our dinner and wine to come, I opted to stop after one!)
Though you can order à la carte from the menu, given the celebratory nature of the meal, we decided to try the 5-course Chef's Menu. The portions are all perfectly sized, so that you can eat all five courses without feeling stuffed. Helmed by Austrian Chef de Cuisine Marcus Glocker (who's been working with Ramsay since 2001, both in London and NYC), the food at Maze is French-inspired and technically precise, with playful touches (like a dehydrated sliver of a carrot garnishing the carrot cake dessert). Their menu changes with the seasons, and during our dinner, the late-summer/ early-fall produce was in full glory.
We started off with a brilliantly colored gazpacho. A large bowl with a small mound of compound butter flecked with red pepper flakes, shallots, bread crumbs, and cucumbers was presented to each of us. The server then poured a silky chilled puree of tomatoes (with just a hint of red pepper) on top. The wonderful sommelier Michael Dolinski – who spent quite a bit of time with us, enthusiastically answering all of our wine questions – paired the gazpacho with a lively 2011 Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner, from Kamptal, Austria. The bracing acidity was a perfect match for the bright flavors of the soup.
For our second course, we tried the wonderfully creamy risotto with wild summer mushrooms. Truly, this was one of the best risottos I've ever had – full of earthy mushroom flavor and salty Parmesan, and almost porridge-like in consistency (though still managing to achieve a nice bite to the rice). Dolinski paired this with the 2007 Handley Pinot Noir, from Anderson Valley, CA. I love pinot noirs, and the bright acidity and light cherry flavors of this one was spot on with the decadent risotto.
The third course consisted of perfectly-seared sea scallops with a scattering of sauteed corn and chorizo, and a crisp corn fritter (with an amazingly gooey center). I adore scallops, and I have to give kudos to the chef for pairing them with sweet corn and salty-spicy chorizo. A minerally 2010 Domaine d'Elise Chablis was a fantastic match.
The next course, we diverged. Brandon ordered the Dry-Aged Strip Loin (which he loved), but I stuck with seafood and ordered the Pan-Seared Branzino, served over a trio of poached celery, celeraic, shallot with a delicate lemon foam. Again, Dolinski's wine pairing was spot on – a 2010 Domaine du Paternel Cassis Blanc. Cassis, a tiny seaside village in Provence, makes fabulous white wines, and this one was a blend of Ugni blanc, Roussillon, Clairette, and a bit of Bourboulenc (a pretty unusual grape grown in the South of France). Suffice it to say, the wine was delightful - full of fresh, green fruit flavors and bright acidity. It's pretty much the perfect wine to serve with seafood.
Alas, the dessert. Brandon went for the chocolate option (the Chocolate Fondant with Salted Almond Ice Cream) but I wanted to try the Carrot Cake. Make no mistake: this is not your grandma's carrot cake. Instead, I was greeted with a thin rectangle of dense, fudge-like "cake", topped with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting accompanied by a little ball of homemade walnut ice cream. (Though my close-up picture of the dessert didn't turn out, you can see a bit of it in the picture below.) Paired with a smooth Lustau East India Solera sherry, this dessert was fantastic. Not too sweet, and with wonderfully subtle carrot and spice notes, it was a lovely end to a near perfect evening.
Needless to say, we loved our dinner. Maze scored high on every level – beautiful space, impeccable service, wonderful food, and a warm, friendly vibe. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, or just wanting a chance to eat Michelin-starred food at for half the price. Theater-goers take note: from Sunday - Friday, from 5:00 p.m - 6:30 p.m., they have a special 3-course prix-fixe Pre-Theatre Menu for $42. Bon appétit!
The London NYC
151 W 54th St. (near 6th Ave.)