out of my depth and loving it

Friday night, to celebrate Miranda’s new job, we went out for dinner at Veritas.

Whoa boy. What follows is some severe foodie porn. Avert your eyes if this stuff annoys you.

The first hint that I might have been on unfamiliar ground came as I was sitting at the bar, waiting for Miranda to arrive. Two patrons and one of the bartenders were engaging in an animated discussion about the relative merits of wines from one or another region in France. I’m afraid I can’t really relate any of the conversation’s details, as the terminology was, while technically in English, almost completely without semantic context for me. I like wine, and years of drinking Manischevitz and Mogen David growing up have left me with, if not a proper appreciation for what makes a good wine, at least a firm grasp of what makes a bad one — but I don’t think I’ve spent more than 20 minutes total in my life talking about wine, and so the vocabulary of the wine buff is as alien to me as geek jargon is to the rest of the world.

That presented a small problem, because Veritas is all about the Vino. There was a copy of the winelist on the bar, and it was a monster: a three-ring binder that could easily double as a blunt weapon, with everything from recent California vintages to generations-old Mouton-Rothchild. After about thirty seconds of browsing, my eyes crossed and I put it aside.

A setup like this could all-too-easily become a pretentious mess, interesting only to wine geeks and scensters, but instead, the staff at Veritas were, to a one, friendly, cheerful, uncondescending, and breathtakingly efficient. The sommelier asked us a few simple questions about our dinner and quickly recommended what turned out to be a perfectly matched pinot noir, and then got about a thousand extra style points for pouring tastes for both of us rather than just the boy. The waitress was so consistantly able to appear the exact instant we’d run out of bread or water that we began to look around worriedly for the camera pointed at our table.

And the food?

Holy god.

Round one, appetizers, went to Miranda. I had the seared fois gras over rhubarb compote with roasted hazelnuts, which was superb, but no match for her littleneck clam chowder with saffron-infused potatoes, red peppers and tarrgon. You could smell the saffron across the table, and one spoonful was a full-body saffron experience.

Round two, entrees, was a draw. She had the roasted chicken with potato gnocchi and chanterelle mushrooms; I had the seared duck breast with fingerling potatoes. After some consultation with Miranda, I decided that licking the sauce off the plate would have been over the top, but I was seriously tempted.

Round three, desserts, was mine: Miranda’s raspberry sorbet and marzipan ice cream terrine was stunning, but a clear second to the chocolate souffle, which was presented like a Mondrian painting of dessert: all carefully placed shapes, lines and cross-hatches. I had a small glass of Taylor Fladgate port (the only wine on the entire menu that I recognized by name, thanks to my former employer Bob, and ), and Miranda had a Tokaj, which tasted strongly of honey and dill.

I’m afraid that my alcohol tolerance is no longer what it was during my serious drinking days: after a half bottle of wine plus a cordial each, I felt a strong need to linger over my coffee before risking a walk to a taxi.

For quality of the food, Veritas was easily on a level with Nobu and Montrachet, the other two “famous” NYC restaurants I’ve been to. But for the entire dining experience, I’d have to rank it above them both: Nobu is loud and impossible to get reservations for. Montrachet’s layout is relatively cramped, and while its table service is excellent, you first have to pass a legendarily obnoxious host. As a small bonus, Veritas’ menu is entirely pre fixe, and actually cheaper per person than the others.

Recommended, to put it mildly.

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