DB Bistro Moderne is a classic choice for a swanky, pre-theater dinner in the Times Square area. While we didn't have a show to attend, Mom and I ducked in for an early dinner last week, dodging the too-close-together tables to dine on some sophisticated, beautiful food. And what did we find?
Well, we were in the middle of the pre-theater rush, so at times things felt, well, rushed. Or at least sort of-- the upscale version of rushed, if you will. But that also meant that our food arrived promptly, starting with the bread-and-butter course, which consisted of both tiny cheese sticks (think slightly less cheesy cheez-its) with anchovy dip and strikingly green, creamy zucchini dip AND a large cone filled with hearty bread slices, white baguette, and pretzel-style baguettes along with a palette of soft, room-temperature butter. Whew. I ate a slice of the bread, which was sourdough, tangy, and surprisingly good for its plainness. The butter was also admirably creamy and flavorful.
Mom went with the prix fixe menu, a relative bargain at $45 for three courses. Her first course, the fish quenelles with sauteed rock shrimp, spring bean fricassee, and lobster emulsion, was a big hit; she described it as "something like a matzo ball." For all those non-Jews out there, that means it's kind of like... um... well... just Google it.
Next, Mom's entree was the sauteed sea bream with roasted ramps, onion puree, and tomato confit. While she enjoyed this, it didn't seem to inspire as much swooning as the appetizer. I tasted a bit of the shockingly green puree, and the oniony taste was powerful; certainly not for the faint of heart.
My choice, on the other hand, was slightly on the blander side. I chose the "legumes de marche," described as young garden vegetables, ricotta cheese, and beet vinaigrette. This one was pretty much just as you'd expect: a tangle of spring veggies, each perfectly cooked but not necessarily in close harmony with its neighbors. Don't get me wrong-- it was beautiful and very fresh. But aside from a slight overarching bitterness, there wasn't a huge amount of flavor here aside from "vegetable." You know what I mean. The ricotta was delicious but there was so little of it and it was so mild, as ricotta is wont to be-- this salad practically BEGGED for a strong, salty complement (pecorino, anyone?). Ah well. Such as it is.
On to dessert! Mom's prix fixe choice was the chocolate hazelnut bar, a candy-bar style confection with a thick layer of rich chocolate-hazelnut ganache sitting on a crackly feuilletine-style crust. The accompanying scoop of cookie ice cream was deliciously cool and fresh-flavored. My one tiny bite of the bar was so rich I can't imagine finishing the whole thing, but Mom did an admirable job.
I was originally brought the wrong dessert, so while I waited for the right one to come out, I munched on the tiny gratis mignardises that were brought to the table. First, I devoured a raspberry macaron, which was nearly perfect: crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, incredibly sweet and tasty and bursting with raspberry flavor. I'm not particularly a macaron fan, but this may have converted me. There was also a bit of chocolate studded with nuts, which was also very rich, and a little slab of semi-fruity cake (date cake, maybe?) that was very chewy and surprisingly bland. Hmmm.
And then my "real" dessert arrived: gianduja chocolate mousse with hazelnut rice crispy bar, lemon cremeux, and nougat ice cream. I was later told this was the debut night for this dessert, and I'd say it's a success. First of all, it's beautiful-- just take a look! There's a layer of addictively crunchy hazelnut feuilletine somewhat similar to the base of Mom's chocolate bar, all of which is covered with a whisper-thin layer of mousse. Make your way toward the inside of the bar and you'll be surprised by an almost microscopic layer of lemon cremeux making its way in between those two layers, adding a surprising bright note to the chocolate-hazelnut richness (there are also two accompanying dollops of the lemon cream elsewhere on the plate for consuming straight-up). The nougat ice cream (my second nougat ice cream experience in three days, bizarrely) is nutty and creamy, perfect for including in each chocolatey bite.
Overall, it appears that dessert is DB Bistro Moderne's strong suit. There is clearly talent and creativity in the pastry kitchen; each dessert emerging from the kitchen was more beautiful than the last, presented in incredible architectural styles that you rarely see around town (seriously, check out their version of tiramisu). The savory kitchen is certainly no slouch, of course, in either preparation or presentation, but it's the sweets that elevate DB Bistro Moderne to a four Offset Spatula destination. Go, and be sure to leave room for dessert.
DB Bistro Moderne
55 W. 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues