It's kind of hard to believe that I haven't eaten at the Modern yet. As a die-hard fan of Danny Meyer, it's one of the only Union Square Hospitality Group establishments I hadn't yet patronized (and yes, I realize that's a ridiculous statement in itself). Until last week, that is. My mom was in town for work, and as is her custom, she invited me out to dinner. Lo and behold, the Modern Bar Room had an early opening on Opentable. And so we went.
The Bar Room is buzzy and upbeat, a bit on the louder side due to all the hard surfaces, but full of good cheer nonetheless. I arrived first, and the hostess seated me immediately without giving me any runaround about waiting for my complete party (thank you, thank you, thank you). We were seated at a large, four-person table, which afforded us a luxurious amount of space for two people.
I had had a miserable day earlier, so for the first fifteen minutes I was ranting obnoxiously to my mom while our poor server attempted to take our drink orders many times. After we finally were ready to order, she brought the wine I had requested-- a Gewurtztraminer-- for me to taste. Unfortunately, while she had described it as "having a bit of residual sugar," I found it sickly sweet-- delicious, but really more of a dessert wine than something to drink with dinner. She suggested some alternates and I ultimately ended up with a glass of Pinot Gris. It was quite tasty, but it was also $28, even more expensive than the original glass of Gewurtz (which was already going to be the most expensive glass of wine I'd ever had). I don't think this was a conscious effort to upsell, but it was a bit of a shock when the bill arrived.
Anyway, on to the good stuff. There was bread, of course, while we sipped our beverages (mom went with a stiff club soda with lemon). It was presented in a really cool little bread holder and came with a dish of softened, salted butter. The sliced bread was mealy, dry, and forgettable, but the baguettes were superlative-- shatteringly crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and perfect with an ample slather of butter.
Mom had chosen the fresh grilled shrimp with green cabbage and gruyere salad as her appetizer. Once again, the presentation was notable-- look at those little interlocking shrimp! Mom found the cheese-and-cabbage mixture to be enjoyable and added that the shrimp were perfectly cooked and tender, not rubbery at all.
Then to the entrees. Mom had chosen the day's special, a sea bass with a cauliflower and olive salad and a cauliflower foam. When Mom hesitated upon ordering due to her dislike of olives, the server (whom we'd definitely put through her paces at this point) offered to ask the kitchen to hold the olives, which they did. Extra points to the house. Sans olives, Mom really enjoyed this dish, particularly delighting in the blanket of foam covering the plate and the occasional floret of purple cauliflower.
My entree choice was the red endive, arugula, and Westfield goat cheese salad, which (according to the menu) came with pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, and chestnut vinaigrette. I think there were also a few slivers of mushrooms in there, and I actually think the nuts were pine nuts rather than pumpkin seeds, but regardless the mixture was delicious. I usually think of endive as huge, unwieldy, bitter spears, but when served in julienne fashion, it added appealing crunch and just a bit of bitterness to the salad. Truly creative and well done.
Since the portions are rather small, by mutual consensus we forged ahead to dessert. For Mom, dessert was a dark chocolate tart with chocolate ice cream. This was a long and lean sliver of the richest chocolate resting on a thin chocolate crust. The perfect golf-ball-sized orb of ice cream was another pure expression of chocolate. Chocoholics (of which my mom counts herself a member) delight, but non-chocoholics beware-- a few bites of this dessert are enough to send you into chocolate coma.
I chose the hazelnut dacquoise with milk chocolate Chantilly. This dessert was just so appealing in many ways, from the precarious but fun presentation to the mixture of textures in the dessert. The bottom layer of the dacquoise was a crunchy, hazelnutty mixture with a texture almost reminiscent of the wafers in a Kit Kat (but crunchier). Then there was a huge dollop of chocolate whipped cream sandwiched by two thin layers of pure milk chocolate. The five candied pecans anchored to the plate with more Chantilly cream added more delightful crunch. This dessert was a truly nutty pleasure, and since it was rather small it didn't cross the line into gutbomb territory.
To nobody's surprise, the Modern earned four Offset Spatulas easily. The service was truly accommodating, even as we were a pain in the ass in several ways. And the food, while expensive (again, to nobody's surprise), was thoughtful, well-crafted, and even whimsical at times. It's a special occasion place (and the dining room even more so), but if you have the means, give the Modern a try.
The Modern Bar Room
9 W. 53rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues