As you would expect, there was much food discussion between myself and The Feisty Foodie before my trip to New York City. The biggest question was, “Is there anything special you want to make sure you eat?” One of my top responses was to eat some really excellent Italian food, as it is most likely my favorite type of cuisine. A list of choices was sent back to me, one of which was Ai Fiori. Ai Fiori is a Michelin star restaurant nestled within the luxurious Setai hotel on 5th Avenue. A prix fixe lunch menu caught my eye and, in a moment of complete and total vacation indulgence, I made reservations for myself. Just me. No. One. Else.
This meal was so amazingly spectacular just thinking about the experience brings a big grin to my face and makes my heart feel a bit bigger, a bit richer. When making reservations, you are asked if you have any special requests. Mine was to be seated near a window for lighting purposes. I needed a wee bit of light for the photographs. And I was accommodated by being placed across from a huge set of windows that look out onto 5th Avenue. I spent my whole lunch seated in a beautiful brown and gold toned restaurant viewing the busy streets of NYC and nomming on the most amazing food. Truly, how can you go wrong there?
My server was the most attentive gentleman who made sure that my water glass was never empty, my bread plate was always fill with the most amazing house breads (that multi-grain made my heart go pitter patter), and made sure the dishes I ordered didn’t come out until I was ready for the next. He quickly realized I was there for a leisurely lunch, one where I could sit back, relax, and just enjoy. He was attentive, didn’t rush me, and made the experience that much better. If you’re looking for excellent service to go with an excellent meal, Ai Fiori offers it in an elegant, beautiful manner.
When asked what I wanted to order, I had a really hard time choosing. So I decided to try one of FF’s suggestions: get help from your server. I commented that I wanted to try a couple of things with my lunch. First, I wanted it to be light and not too overbearingly heavy. I still had much walking to do for the day. Second, I really wanted a lobster course. Lobster isn’t a seafood I can easily obtain in Louisiana, even though seafood is abundant in my state. Lastly, I wanted variety and maybe something I hadn’t tried in the past. My server helped me choose my courses, including an extra course I decided to add in.
First Course: Zuppa di Zucchine – This chilled zucchini soup tasted the kitchen somehow figured out a way to milk a zucchini. It was light, with bits of prawn and the flavors of basil and lemon swimming around in the broth. Zucchini is a vegetable that was once on my new-to-me list, and is one that I still sometimes struggle to love in all its iterations. This soup showed me what truly phenomenal cooking can do to a food you may not normally like. If I could make this, I would eat it all the time during the summer.
Second Course: Agnolotti – This handmade pasta (I would assume) bursted with such beautiful meaty flavor that I ate each little pocket of goodness individually. Each time I placed one in my mouth, I had to control a little whimper of foodie pleasure. I could have licked the plate, and again, wish I knew how to accomplish a similar dish at home.
Third Course: Insalata di Astice – This Nova Scotia lobster salad wasn’t what I imagined it would look like when it arrived at the table, mostly because it doesn’t look like any typical salad I have ever eaten before. Plump nuggets of lobster meat sat amongst quenelles of whipped ricotta and peas. The flavor of lemon brought that bright note to a meaty, rich final course.
Each dish might look as though it was a small portion. However, the complex flavors, high quality ingredients, and rich notes of the meal left me feeling sated and so content I could have just melted into my seat. As I enjoyed my lobster course, I told myself when the server came next, I was going to say, “Check, please!”, taking my leave from that oh-so-lovely place and heading back down 5th avenue for my next NYC adventure. Just as I had that thought, the server wheeled a cart of desserts to another table for the guests appraisal. So when my server came to my table at the end of my meal, I heard the words, “Yes, I’d like to see the dessert choices,” exit my mouth, adding another course to my menu. I don’t even remember what he told me my dessert choices were. I heard “lemon tart with hazelnuts” and my brain stopped listening.
While the weather was gorgeous and cool in NYC during my stay, I found myself constantly thirsty and wanting bright, citrus flavors whenever I got the chance … a direct result of all the walking NYC demands. This lemon tart hit that note on every level. A light, crisp crust … the bottom filled with a creamy hazelnut filling … a custardy lemon center (yes, I ate something with that texture and loved every bite) … toasted bits of meringue on top.
I. Will. Attempt. This. At. Home.
Because this was one of the best desserts I have ever tasted. Ever. Amen.
You might be asking yourself, “Jenn, do you have a purpose in telling us about this wonderful meal other than sharing your NYC experience?” Yes, yes I do. This isn’t a restaurant review.
It’s a demand to grab that once-in-a-lifetime experience you want and do it. If you ever get the opportunity to try something spectacular do it. If it means expanding your horizons a bit and eating something you’ve never eaten before with the potential to make your heart sing and your senses dance, do it. If the foodie fates throw an opportunity like that at you, grab it and enjoy. It will be one of the most spectacular meals of your life.
Before Ai Fiori, I had two restaurants I could say were the best experiences of my life. Ai Fiori took its rightful place among those ranks. If I ever get the chance to visit NYC again, Ai Fiori will be on my agenda as a place not to miss.