Lobster Bisque, Muscovy Duck, and Other High-Class Fare at New York's Park Hyatt Hotel
The curiously named Back Room at One57, at the glamorous newish Park Hyatt Hotel across from Carnegie Hall in New York City — curious because it's an elegant dining room with a moniker that suggests a dive attached to an office building — is sort of hidden away, behind a large and sometimes raucous bar and lounge called The Living Room, but if you're in the mood for a nicely served, serious dinner in a venue that will never be called "trendy" but might well be called "superb," it's very much worth seeking out.
The amiable French chef, Sebastien Archambault, won plaudits for his cooking at the Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C. before arriving at this luxurious venue — there was said to be lamentation in D.C. gastronomic circles when word got out that he was relocating — and he cooks with the kind of confidence and precision that (sorry, America) mostly only French chefs can manage consistently.
The wine list, the work of wine director Tristan Prat-Vincent, is a treasure, with, among other things, a good selection of half-bottles (something few lists bother with these days); a seductive if pricey array of Champagnes, including almost 20 growers' bottlings; and a wide-ranging, surprise-filled catalogue of whites and reds from most of the Northern Hemisphere's major wine regions, including Lebanon, Slovenia, Corsica, and New York's Finger Lakes, as well as the requisite parts of California, France, Italy, Spain, and more (one particularly nice addition: a cluster of Morgons and Fleuries from the best producers).
The menu admittedly contains some of those food terms it is virtually impossible to avoid in a U.S. restaurant these days — crudo, wasabi, burrata, kale, pork belly — but in general is refreshingly original, with smart variations on the usual. An unusual risotto, cooked nicely al dente, involves beets, goat cheese, and candied pecans, sort of strange but sort of delicious. Tortellini, also al dente, added up to an irresistible contrast of flavors and textures, with the bright pop of fresh peas, the crisp bite of thin-sliced radishes, and the opulence of the goat cheese filling and the farmhouse butter with which they were dressed.
The lobster bisque, aromatic and a little sweet and very lobstery, was classic, dressed up with tarragon crème fraîche and a bit of American caviar. Seared rainbow trout was juicy and mild (not sure about the green almonds and sorrel cream it was garnished with, though). Rare Muscovy duck breast with crispy skin was good enough but the accompanying pot pie filled with smoked duck leg meat and lightly cooked vegetables was truly memorable. As for the inevitable salted caramel dessert, here's it's an imaginative caramel pretzel dome with salted caramel coulis, cocoa tahini, and — where has this been all our lives? — pretzel ice cream.