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Astonishing Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental:
A Room With More Than a View

 

 

It was more or less expected that the Mandarin Oriental chain, with roots in Hong Kong and Bangkok, would feature an Asian restaurant in its Time Warner—Columbus Circle entry. Still Asiate astonishes. Step out of the elevator onto the 35th floor of this newest Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and your heart will skip the proverbial beat.

Before you an enormous amber-colored glass sculpture, suggestive of a group of swans, rises, their necks extended to the soaring ceiling. On the ground are Oriental carpets; a magnificent gold-threaded antique kimono hangs on the far wall. And this is but the hotel lobby. Asiate is down the hall.

Later on, we would take in the wine closet at the entrance to the restaurant, a shimmering glass box where 1,300 bottles are arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves. For the moment, however, we were transfixed by one of those spectacular visions of New York as seen from above – in this case across the tree-tops of Central Park from its southerly beginnings to where it ends somewhere in Morningside Heights.

From a table beside one of the sixteen-foot-high windows that line that northern wall, we found the view an evening-long distraction although every so often we did turn to admire Tony Chi’s gleaming bi-level interior that combines 1940’s supper club chic with a Zen-like aura of luminescent simplicity emanating from the single white lily on every table, the dishes of pure white porcelain, and the glass sculptures along the ceiling which seem to dissolve the boundary separating outside from inside, bringing the treetops indoors.

But both interior and exterior views, however, take second place to the main event of Asiate: focusing and feasting on the beautiful and imaginative creations of Noriyuki Sugie. The modest and self-effacing manner of the young Japanese chef belies his experience in three-star Michelin properties between Toulouse and Bordeaux. Of late, having come to the Mandarin Oriental from Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, Sugie seems comfortably ensconced in his new domain where he is busy combining his Asian heritage and French training to surprising and tantalizing results.        

Dinner begins with miniature cheese puffs and espresso cups filled with red pepper soup made with just a little cream to whet the appetite. They are but a prelude to a parade of unexpected combinations.

There is Caesar salad soup (yes, soup!), lettuce cooked in chicken stock and onions and served with parmesan cheese. It’s marvelous. There is shredded crabmeat in a light cream sauce refreshed by green mango and tart grapefruit wedges. Topped with cilantro and pomegranate seeds, this inspired creation is based, Sugie told us, on a dish he discovered in Thailand.

Sweet Australian prawns with fettuccini and spinach are served in pappiote. Snip open the paper sack and a bracing aroma escapes from the scallop-rich sauce. Oxtail sauce accompanies the Wagyu beef served with smoked potato puree. The beef is seared French style, in a very slow oven to retain the juices. But the oxtail sauce is made with soy sauce, Asian black vinegar, and Asian spices. Another example of Far Eastern influences gracing French technique to superb results. Chicken breast is poached in coconut milk and served with duck confit – an unlikely combination, yet a successful marrying of contrasting flavors and textures.

There was no sushi, no sashimi. “They are typical,” the chef said. “I want to try more original things.”  Like the desserts that still linger in taste bud-memory: passion mango soufflé with sticky-rice ice cream, apple parfait with cider foam.

“I don’t consider my cooking Fusion. I am just using my background,” Sugie said of his complex, time-intensive cooking with its manifold herbs and spices, its rich broths and exotic combinings, and fresh produce he finds in the giant food hall on the concourse level of the Times Warner complex – a takeoff of the one found in London at Harrod’s department store. “I shop there; I get ideas from the produce they’re selling,” he told us.

In the months since the Times Warner complex opened, its “Restaurant Collection” has succeeded in making the area around Columbus Circle a new destination for exceptional New York dining. At this point, Sugie may not be as well known as some of the world-class chefs who are his neighbors. In our view, however, he is well on his way to establishing a place for himself in their pantheon.

Asiate
80 Columbus Circle
New York, NY

Phone: 212-805-8881

Breakfast: 7 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 8 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Lunch: noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Brunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Dinner: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, to 11 p.m. Saturday, 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Prix fixe dinner $65, tasting menu $85. All major credit cards.

Web:  http://www.mandarinoriental.com/newyork
and http://www.mandarinoriental.com/hotel/532000039.asp

 

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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