Come January in New York, every city dweller neglects their well meaning resolutions to eat in and eat healthily in order to participate in Restaurant Week, the three weeks (don’t ask) a year when some of the higher end restaurants throw open their doors to the lowlier of us with prix fixe menus. On my first trip to the office of the New York branch of my new company, and the first time I met my new manager, a group of us went to Ai Fiori for their Restaurant Week three course lunch.
Keen to impress my manager and colleagues, whilst hoping that it wouldn’t be too obvious that my usual restaurant was Pizza Express (complete with a Voucher Cloud 2 for 1) I felt that I could exude the air of sophistication that this Fifth Avenue establishment demanded.
It seems New Yorkers don’t drink at lunchtime, even in the advertising business. No matter, a diet of soda (check me) was catching up with my hydration, so tap water was fine. It was also nice being in a foreign country without wondering whether it was ok to drink the tap water.
As temperatures peaked at -12C that day, a warming and hearty soup to start was the only choice. We all ordered the same, and suddenly waiters arrived behind each of us, and placed down a 16” diameter bowl. Inside however was not a bucket of soup but three shavings of ginger and a sprinkling of butternut squash chunks, no more than a quarter of an inch in size. A hand reached round, and poured a buttery, creamy substance that barely covered the base of the bowl. Clearly they do things differently here I thought as I licked some of the luke warm liquid from spoon.
Main course was pan roasted skate with lentils. The oil crust on the skate was thicker than the skate itself, which I suppose is not hard for a flat fish. Tasty enough, although the dollop of sweet white sauces with the lentils was odd, if strangely satisfying. It always amazes me with premium restaurants how hungry it is possible to feel post meal. I’m not after an all you can eat full English (believe me, I’m not that kind of girl). Small portions laden in oil and fat, easily clocking in a full day’s energy allowance, but in such physically small quantities that the stomach is nowhere nearly satieted.
Dessert was an insanely rich chocolate mousse. I like dark chocolate, the darker the better, and am all about the 70%+ cocoa solids, but geeeez, as they say in the USA. A delicious dollop of Amaretto ice cream was however wonderful, and the crunchy biscuit that garnished the plate a highlight.
Overall, I fear that my opinion of Ai Fiori says more about me than the restaurant. Maybe, despite the advertising job, the office in New York, and dining and multi star restaurants, I haven’t really grown up much since I was a kid. My favourite bit was still the ice cream.