Monday, March 06, 2006

The Kitchen at The Gilt...

Guest Writer
Tara M. O'Donnell
Corporate Communications Senior Manager
Samsung Electronics North America HQ

Stephen O'Donnell Surrounded By The Gilt Chefs

My husband built the kitchen at The Gilt and that’s the only way we would have even considered going there for dinner. We’re simple folk. I’m from the suburbs of NYC and I love food but spent most of my childhood eating liver. And my husband Stephen is from Donegal, Ireland. He’s a real mountain man who hadn’t tried most ethnic foods until about 5 years ago. Stephen’s company, JBS, has been working on the kitchen at The Gilt for a while, which is located in the former Le Cirque 2000 space in the Palace Hotel. Every night for months I heard about how Chef Paul, an Englishman with a sense of humor but a stubborn streak, fought with the hotel chef over where spice racks and pots should be hung. But until a few weeks ago, when I read the New York Times food review about The Gilt, I had no idea that Chef Paul was Paul Liebrandt, an infamous artist in the world of cooking. When we arrived, the very elegant setting made us feel a bit like two fish out of water. But the servers were overwhelmingly hospitable and it wasn’t long before we were settling in and sipping champagne. The Maitre’d suggested the tasting menu which sounded like the best way to experience the restaurant. There was something that Frank Bruni wrote in his NY Times article that came to mind as soon as the first course was served. He wrote that one of his dinner companions said, “I feel like I'm in my first class of organic chemistry." I felt like the servers were speaking Greek. Every new dish that came out was a surprise, even after the server carefully explained what it was. My husband doesn’t eat fish so that was a tricky obstacle for the kitchen to overcome. I think they truly earned their keep that night since they couldn’t give him the set tasting dishes found on the menu. They were very inventive….substituting beats for salmon and offering quail instead of sole. When I saw the size of the first dish, I expected to leave the restaurant and head straight to a pizza place. But, I was pleasantly surprised by my full stomach when I left. They paired each dish with the appropriate wine. That was amazing. But when they poured the first glass, or drop, my reaction was the same as the food. I won’t even get tipsy from these drops of wine. But, after several drops, I felt warm and cozy. My favorite dishes turned out to be food that I normally would never eat and in some cases, don’t even like. There was a small shell fish appetizer with one diver scallop and a craw fish that had peas on the side. The shell fish were tasty but the peas, which were infused with cilantro (I think), were delicious. I haven’t eaten peas in 20 years. There was a delicious foie gras served with bread and truffle butter. It melted in my mouth. I also really enjoyed the hare which when the server described , didn’t sound all that good, but it tasted wonderful. My husband really enjoyed the veal short sweetbreads. I was glad he didn’t know or ask what sweetbreads actually are. Talking about bread, the bread was to die for. There were many types infused with different ingredients such as chestnuts, olives and ham. As with anything, there are always a few items that didn’t impress me. The first appetizer was a poached quail egg with a thin, crisp slice of chorizo. It tasted a bit like taking a bite of a bacon and egg sandwich but the texture turned me off. A sorbet made of wasabi, green apples and salt was served before the main course. I wasn’t a fan. But I suppose it was just there to clean our palates, and it did the job. Overall the experience was an extraordinary one. We go out a lot but not to places like The Gilt. It was a little more formal than I would normally like (every time you go to the rest room, they “serve” you a new napkin with two forks – as if it were bread) but it was a rare treat for us to get to experience such a place. One of the best parts of the evening was getting to meet the team of hard working sous-chefs that put all of these intricate dishes together. My husband spends most of his days in the kitchen of The Gilt but he was amazed at how it transformed in the evening when all of the masters are at work. I would recommend checking out The Gilt for a very special occasion. But consider who you invite. It’s not a place my parents would have enjoyed. They would have felt gypped by the small portions and large price tag.

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