A Michelin-Starred Birthday

20121019-154209.jpgA happy birthday to me! Ben treated me to a wonderful birthday dinner at Aquavit, a fantastic restaurant that’s worthy of its Michelin star. Aquavit is named after a traditional Scandinavian herbal spirit. It’s a strong, heady beverage that is believed to be good to drink after a rich meal. Aquavit delivers on what the name promises.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I was looking forward to dressing up and having a big night out with Ben. What also made my birthday special was that an old friend from high school was coming to NY for work, so we got to catch up over a long lunch and post-lunch coffee/tea and chocolates from Neuhaus. Rich decadent bites of chocolate were the perfect complement to relaxing over coffee and tea. Then I went back home to dress for dinner. The picture was taken after dinner, so I’m sporting flatter hair and a bit of a food baby from dinner. I was happy to have an occasion to wear this dress that I had bought several months ago.

What impressed us both the most about Aquavit was the level of service provided. Ben jokingly told his colleagues that he picked Aquavit because it had a “snooty atmosphere,” but in reality it was anything but. They were warm, gracious, attentive, and appeared genuinely happy and delighted that we chose to be with them for the evening. We loved the theatrical presentation of the food from how two servers would simultaneously lay down our plates in front of us to the imaginative plating.

Aquavit had its fall menu out. The actual menu is slightly different from what you see on the website. The four-course menu, which comes with several extras, is $85. While Ben had a Scotch, I sipped on a grapefruit margarita. I liked its bright and citrusy flavor, but the mint leaves were too muddled and would get caught up in the straw, which made drinking difficult at times.

The first delectable morsels of food were some sort of delicious warm cheese bread that was like a Brazilian pao de queso. There were four delicate little round bites of fragrant and warm goodness served on a little platform. Then a couple moments later, a waiter carrying a slate with rye, sourdough, and the flat Swedish bread came by. Ben and I elected to have both the warm mini rye bread loaf and a sourdough roll. The breads were accompanied by softened butter and flakes of sea salt. I love the combination of the hearty rye, soft sweet melted butter, and tiny delicate crunch of sea salt flakes.

Next was the amuse bouche, which was smoked barley, mushroom, and paper thin slices of radish in a celery root cream sauce served in a little airtight container. Puffs of smoke swirled inside the container until they were released when the waiters opened the containers.

For my first course, I had the steak tartar, which was incredible. I loved the contrast of textures between the tender steak and crunchy Dutch rye seeds. I adored the perfectly boiled quail egg that came with the tartar. Soooo cute! And delicious. In my opinion, everything tastes better when they’re miniaturized. Ben had the diver scallop tartar, which was beautifully plated on a large sea shell. I loved all the uni (sea urchin roe) that they placed on this appetizer.

For my second course I had the charred langoustine with maroon carrots and Ben had a cod dish. The langoustine was perfectly cooked. It was rich, and yet still retained the sweet taste of the briny sea. Ben’s second was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend that you get it. The cod was like butter. So tender, unctuous, and rich. I never knew cod could be a transcendental experience.

Third course, I had duck breast with foie gras and he had Nordic Seafood (a medley of lobster, scallops, and fish). Cooked medium so it still retained with lovely red color, the breast was tender and juicy. I fell in love with the seared foie gras. It was so smooth. I savored the creamy mouth feel of the foie gras.

All of the dishes were quite rich and heavy, with nothing on the dish itself to cut the richness. The rich decadence of each dish wasn’t too much of a problem, as the portion size made the richness manageable, but both Ben and I were a  bit relieved with the parade of rich tastes were coming to a close.

For my dessert, I had the peach mousse and Ben ordered the “Chocolate and Texture.” After having such a rich meal, I wanted a lighter dessert. The Chocolate and Texture was chocolate in four different ways. Because it was my birthday, the chef sent out a gratuit third dessert. We’re savoring and enjoying our desserts, each bite being quite delectable. Even Ben who is not a dessert person, enjoyed himself.

But this was not the end! After we finished, Aquavit gave us more dessert! First two little beignets filled with caramel and coated in cinnamon sugar. Then more little bites of beautiful dessert that looked like jewels against the dark gray slate serving plate. There were a tiny little macaron, fruit jelly candy, a square of lemon mousse, a chocolate chipped coconut madeleine, and other bites I can’t remember. And just when I think it’s over, they come out with a lovely little package of homemade kladdkaka (chocolate brownie) for us to take home. The kladdkaka was fantastic. The little cake was rich in chocolate, but its texture was incredibly light and moist. I loved it. It was a splendid end to an incredible dinner.

After dinner Ben and I walked over to The Campbell Apartment, which is in Grand Central Terminal. The lovely dark mahogany panels and ceilings, art deco windows, and hostesses dressed in little black dresses with a string of pearls around their necks evoke a time period of when a martini lunch was de rigeur. You walk expecting to see Don Draper of Mad Men drinking at the bar. The Campbell Apartment is one of our favorite places to hang out when we want a drink in a quiet and upscale lounge. Campell Apartment was buzzing and full of people when we walked in at 9:30 on a Thursday night. Luckily we managed to secure a table so that we didn’t have to stand around by the bar. When we finished our drinks, we walked right around the corner to catch the subway back home.

I thought my birthday was a splendid night out in New York City. I thank Ben for making this happen. I love him very very very much.

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Diver scallop tartar with uni

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Steak tartar with quail egg

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Chocolate and Texture

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Beignets with caramel center

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