Last Friday, my former boss (sort of – it’s complicated) invited me to his lab’s holiday dinner. Problem was, his current assistant told me about his plans the last minute (technically, three days prior to the dinner) and needed some suggestions as to where to eat. Thankfully, me being the crazy, food-lovin’ girl that I am I figured we should go to Payard. It’s close to work, the food’s good from what I heard (I only tried their desserts), it’s within the budget he wanted to work with and they have vegetarian options.
All of us filed into the relatively quiet restaurant at 6 PM (it snowed that day and the streets were wet and slushy), checked our coats and been escorted upstairs where we’ve been divided into two tables. Not exactly a desired arrangement but at least the view was nice from here.
Eventually, our waiter in his faux-French, accented English told us the evening’s specials and talked a little bit about the prix fixe menu. We all noticed that and found it very annoying. Anyway, we discussed out loud what are certain things on the menu (not all of them are foodies) and made up our minds what we wanted to eat.
What I remembered seeing (and taking photos of) for the first course, we all settled for chestnut soup with Fuji apple and Champignons de Paris with croutons and the fennel soup with red pepper coulis and crouton. The chestnut soup tasted like mushrooms rather than chestnuts. It only had the texture of pureed chestnuts though. As for the apple, you only get small dices that’s on top of the soup but it doesn’t have much flavor to it. The fennel soup at least tasted like fennel and it’s quite viscous. I do like the red pepper coulis on top, imparting a slight zip to the earthy soup.
Moving on to the main courses, the other table had a vegetarian who ordered a potato tart that’s encased in a puff pastry. Another person ordered the classic cassoulet with tarbais beans, duck confit, Toulouse sausage, pork shank and fresh bacon. It sounded good and with ton of meat was cooked in there but I didn’t taste either dishes. As for the remainder of the table, they ordered the pork chop with lemon crust, crispy polenta, bok choy and chanterelles with a black mission fig-pork jus (which I had it myself). My pork chop was a tad overcooked than what I would like since I had a relatively tough time cutting through my slab of meat; the remaining accouterments to the dish was generally fine, nothing earth shattering. A few others had the steak frites, roasted, stuffed chicken, and the classic bouillabaisse with Chilean sea bass. From what it seems like from their reactions to their dishes, they liked it.
We’ve slowly progressed onto our dessert courses, which a few (like me) ordered espressos and cappuccinos. My espresso shot was fine; it’s bold, robust, and slightly bitter but I wish there was better crema. There wasn’t any at all. As for a few of my companions who ordered cappuccino, their drinks had an unusually large cap of milk foam with a dusting of cinnamon on top. Honestly, I haven’t encountered this particular style for nearly a decade. Perhaps they’re trying to go old-school before the coffee revolution?
A whole bunch of desserts for each table
Generally speaking, the desserts fared a bit better than the savory courses. I did like the green tea creme brulee a lot. It was a huge enough to serve four people; smooth, creamy and the burnt sugar crust was brittle like glass when the spoon tapped it.
Since all of us were lazy to get our butts out of our seats to look at their pastry cases as to what we would like to eat individually, the waiter ended up choosing our assortment of cakes to share family-style. Most were familiar to me like the Chinon and Beaux-Arts – they’re the signature cakes and they are deemed to be designated as such. Hopefully, you do like pistachio and raspberry to like either of these. As for the remainder, there was a chocolate chiboust tart (I love chocolate and hazelnuts), a chocolate cake which I don’t remember, a Mont Saint Michel (was fine; nothing extraordinary), Notre Dame (I like the smooth chocolate), and a seasonal pear crumble tart (it’s not my favorite; too little pear flavor).
The most disappointing dessert to me was their Cendrillon; composed of pumpkin mousse, cranberry gelée and pumpkin sponge cake. The orange exterior was fluorescent orange. I mean, it’s like the orange color is on steroids that one would think of as Halloween. When I took a bite, the pumpkin flavor was taken over by the oddly paired cranberry gelée; tasting a strong acidic note then eventually a hint of pumpkin. It was weird. I didn’t like it at all.
We’ve reached to a food coma by the time we’re done with dessert. After digesting for ten minutes or so, I took a group photo of all of the lab members and a few of their significant others.
Overall, this dinner was simply fine. I wasn’t expecting to be “wowed.” But considering the price of this dinner ($37 per person, pre-tax & tip) and where the lab wanted to be located for dinner, this wasn’t too shabby.
1032 Lexington Avenue (between 73rd & 74th Street)
New York, NY 10021 (map)
Your review is pretty much on par with every review I’ve ever read from a foodie about Payard- the service is pretentious(and many times lacking), the food is okay(but nothing more than okay) and no one can quite figure out why this place has such a big reputation.
I would go to food war with you… if only I lived in New York City I would be happy; fat, but happy. You and your blog have been a regular part of 2008 for me. Your written descriptions and your photographs more often than not make me want to jump on Amtrak and find a table to sample whatever it is that YOU’VE just eaten. All the best for a happy, health and foodie 2009.
bronxelf: I guess so. If the lab would have wanted to travel downtown, we could do sooo much better. Alas, they didn’t. :(
In regards to Payard, I guess his reputation as a great pastry chef probably propelled the thought that the restaurant would be “amazing.” Don’t get me wrong, I do think Francois Payard is a very good or excellent pastry chef but not all of his dessert creations are magnificent. As for the savory food, well, that needed to be improved upon.
steveTV: Umm…do you mean you want to go out “fooding” with me? (As in, eat out with me?) If so, WE SHOULD! That’s if you ever will be coming over to NYC.
Thanks for reading my blog and breaking your silence! Happy new year! :)
It would be my pleasure. My daughter goes to Fordham so I get up there from DC rather regularly. I actually know a couple places on Arthur Avenue but am very impressed with the variety and quality of your selections so would much rather you choose.
steveTV: I haven’t been to Arthur Avenue before. Perhaps this would call for a fooding field trip? Or you’re up for anything?
Either way, if you do happen to drop in Manhattan, please do e-mail me so we could arrange a certain date and time to have lunch or a multiple destination food outing.
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