As many of you who follow me already know, I had a business dinner a few weeks ago that took me to a new locale here in the City that most definitely qualifies as a QNYGF location. Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel was new to me and in all honesty I thought it would prove quite the challenge from a food allergy standpoint (particularly given my dietary restrictions). Alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong and was treated to a very good meal but perhaps even more noteworthy was the restaurant’s remarkable, yet unobtrusive attention to my food allergies.
When I found out where we were dining earlier the previous week, I decided to call the restaurant to ask if my allergies would present a problem. I tend to stay away from Asian-inspired restaurants given my extremely shellfish allergy. The person I spoke with assured me that both my gluten and shellfish allergies would not present a problem and they were making a note on the reservation. I thought to myself, this seems promising but never hold out much hope until the meal is typically well over.
The evening of the dinner arrived and we all headed over to the Mandarin Oriental. The lobby and Asiate are actually located on the 35th floor of the building with the Time Warner Center buzzing away at street-level. The hotel itself has an understated elegance about it and after a quick express elevator ride to the 35th floor, we were soon at the entrance to the restaurant.
The first thing you notice is the impressive wall of wine when you enter the restaurant. Funny enough it is not until you turn to enter the dining room that you notice the amazing view – Central Park in front and Midtown to the right. It was a cold crisp evening the night we were there and the city lights were twinkling in all their glory. Once we were seated and waiting for one more colleague to arrive, I thought it to be the perfect moment to excuse myself and confirm with the front of house that my allergies would not be a problem. Two people confirmed it would not be and the lead even went into the kitchen. I returned to the table and looked over the menu, chatted, and we placed our wine order from the extensive wine list. The sommelier was really top notch and made a point to make sure our glasses were never empty.
When it came time to order, I was wondering if I would be given a few “safe” options or if there were certain things that could be adapted. Not wanting to make a big deal, I quietly asked the waiter what my choices were. To my surprise, he whispered “Choose anything you like, if the chef has a problem we will let you know”. It was nice to be able to have full (well, almost) reign of their interesting menu – clearly the shellfish options were a no-go.
I decided on the roasted beet salad with mâche and goat cheese in a Mimosa sauce. I love, love, love, the earthiness that beets provide and they have to be one of my most favorite vegetables. For my main course I decided upon the Wagyu beef tenderloin with smoked potato puree, braised short rib, and yuzu koshu (a condiment made from extremely tart citrus). Now, I typically like all the life cooked out of my meat but it seemed a sacrilege to incinerate a tenderloin of Wagyu so I opted for medium-well which was returned with a “medium rare” from the waiter and we settled on medium. Clearly the wait staff are well-versed in how certain entrees should be prepared to ensure diners get the true experience and really appreciate their meal. For dessert I decided to indulge in the sticky rice crème brûlée with lemongrass infused mango salad and toasted coconut tuile (at least that is what the menu said, but you will soon see that the kitchen took my allergies to heart and the tuile would make an appearance on my plate). After we ordered our waiter again whispered to me that my choices were not a problem. Soon after an amuse-bouche arrived which was a fragrant cranberry apple jelly presented on a spoon made for an interesting taste sensation as it burst in your mouth flooding your palate with a sweet/sour rush of cranberry that was followed but a tiny bit of mint. As mine was placed in front of me the waiter again whispered, “no gluten” – very nice.
The meal service was unhurried and the food deftly made its way from the kitchen to our table. We were a party of six but the kitchen’s timing was indeed impeccable and the servers delivered plates with astute stealth that allowed each diner’s choice to arrive near simultaneously.
The beet salad was in a word, amazing. The presentation was beautiful and I am not normally a fan of overly styled food – and this was not over the top but rather thoughtfully and artistically presented on the plate. The beets (a sampling of red and yellow) were presented in a few distinct presentation styles and accompanied by the wonderfully acidic bite of the Mimosa sauce that was extremely well-paired with the tender earthiness of the beets.
Next came the entrée. The Wagyu tenderloin was again thoughtfully presented on the plate accompanied by a braised short rib, smoked potato puree, and a rather unique condiment choice of yuzu koshu. The tenderloin was (as expected) prepared more to the rare side but not at all bloody. The outside was perfectly seared and the inside a rich and vibrant pink. This was probably the rarest piece of meat (other than a tartare experience while at Gymnasium in Germany) that ever crossed my lips and I have to say it was fabulous. Clearly any other temperature would have ruined the texture of the meat and I savored each bite. The short rib was a morsel of crispy deliciousness that had a unassuming mild flavor paired with the meatiness one expects from rib meat. The potato puree was perfectly paired with the other items on the plate and the yuzu koshu took the entrée to the next level imparting a tart bite to the otherwise mellow flavors.
My dessert was Asiate’s take on traditional crème brûlée this time flavored with sticky rice. It was presented along with a very nice mango salad that had the wonderful citrus zing of lemon grass which was again, perfectly paired with the dessert. The crème brûlée itself was a welcome diversion from its traditional counterpart and the sticky rice flavor was so complimentary to the crème base that the dessert was easily gone in minutes. Of particular note is the absence of the toasted coconut tuile – which was, without any fanfare, not present on my plate (but appeared on the plates of some non-Celiac colleagues). The kitchen and chef clearly understand food allergies and were looking out for me the entire evening. Upon completion of dessert, the maître d’ whispered, while removing my plate, “Was everything okay?” – Perfection.
I have to say that I was initially hesitant in the choice of this restaurant because I always felt it would be hard to live up to its location – as many places often do. I can honestly say that I was really impressed with the restaurant from both a food and service perspective. More importantly their attention to my food allergies was really quite something. They took them seriously and ensured that I would have a pleasant experience without making a big deal or being overly obtuse about it. This was perhaps the most welcome part of the entire experience. I am definitely going back with my other-half in the very near future.