I haven’t been back to The Modern in about 6 years. It was really distance that made us drift apart. There was never any reason to go to Midtown West once I changed jobs and moved downtown. But when Juno nearly shut down the city with several inches of snow, The Modern beckoned me back with an enticing no corkage promotion. It made a lot of sense to take advantage of the deal, especially considering that we had tickets to the nearby Book of Mormon that same night. Booze and Broadway, here we come.
Going to The Modern was like comfortably slipping back into a conversation with a good friend you haven’t seen in years. Everything was just as good as I had remembered it–the service was on point and the food was well prepared. The crowd also hasn’t really changed. It’s still dominated by Wall Street types, probably because it’s one of the few nice restaurants within walking distance to all the big firms, along with the well-heeled pre theater and tourist crowd.
The menu has managed to keep up with the times. The focus on small plates of classic proteins and seafood made with artistic precision (it is in the MOMA, after all) is certainly relevant in this current dining environment. I remember seafood in particular being the restaurant’s forte, and that holds true today, as I was blown away by the seared scallops that I ordered. They were in a creamy cauliflower puree that was really stunning, striking just the right notes of rich without veering into decadence, while the almonds and the accompanying bits of cooked and raw cauliflower provided some nice textural and flavor contrasts. And visually the dish itself was a work of art–the scallops impressively looked like they were in a bed of edible coral.
The lobster sausage was a little more muted in its impact, although I liked how the clean flavors of the lobster came through. But it would have been nice for it to be a little tangier and funkier like traditional sausages tend to be. The plump, buttery fillet of monkfish was lovely, but the real standout was the underlying bed of lemony, creamy barley. The presentation here again was lovely, I thought the contrast of the vibrant green herbs and the red sausage against the pearl foam was really pretty. If the intention was to evoke an under the sea image here, then the dish definitely served that purpose.
The Modern’s strengths aren’t just limited to seafood, as demonstrated by how much we enjoyed our shaved brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts have been around for so long, cooked in so many different ways, but The Modern somehow manages to make theirs different and interesting. There was a sharp, vinegary aspect to it, as if you were eating a coleslaw, and the pecorino gratings added an additional dimension of sharpness. The selectively placed roasted leaves created a robust layer so that you weren’t left feeling wanting as we tend to do when eating a small plate of vegetables.
We concluded the meal with an order of the apple cider doughnuts. These were very good in a conventional way, because sometimes you don’t really need to innovate to get the most out of fried batter and ice cream. It’s a shame I haven’t caught up with The Modern sooner, because I really enjoyed my meal on this long overdue reunion. I have no doubt that it will continue to age well and stand the test of time.
9 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10016