I have been dying to try No. 9 Park for ages - I look in the windows longingly when I walk past and I've checked out their menu online once or twice. So what better way to celebrate the completion of my Master's degree (and the end of this crazy semester that has resulted in severely limited blogging time) than with a meal at No. 9 Park?
From the moment we walked in until the moment we left, the service was impeccable. Our waiter, John, was the perfect level of attentiveness - it was easy to get his attention, he came over to check in on us numerous times without seeming obtrusive, and his descriptions and recommendations were spot on. When I asked where the restroom was to another server who had cleared some plates, she led me across the restaurant instead of just pointing me in the general direction.
As much as we were intrigued by the 7-course Chef's Tasting menu, we opted for the 3-course prix fixe instead. Three seemed like a more reasonable number, although based on how much we all enjoyed our meals, we may have to go back for the tasting menu sometime.
For an appetizer, I opted for the artichoke ravioli, with fontina fonduta, fried artichoke hearts, and a shaved artichoke salad. The mix of textures and cooked/raw ingredients was perfect - each bite was an example of how great an artichoke can be. I had a hard time deciding between the ravioli and the much-lauded prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras. I've never liked foie, based on what I've tried before, though. Luckily, I did snag a bite off my brother's plate, and I can no longer say I hate foie - clearly whatever I've eaten before has been subpar and ill-prepared because this was completely different - creamy, with a crispy sear, and unctuous without feeling overly fatty.
The entrees were a tough choice - I could have ordered almost any of them and been happy. I ended up ordering the lamb, served two ways (steak and braised) with cooked vegetables and what they called bagna cauda (but was more like pureed olives with olive oil). I don't think there was a single drop of the bagna cauda left on my plate by the end of the meal - it was as well suited to the perfectly cooked lamb as it was to the less exciting cooked vegetables (although I love that they included fennel in the mix). Again, I snagged a bite of my brother's dish - grilled pork belly with spiced peanuts and a sweet pea puree - and I think his meal was my favorite. The pork belly was creamy and salty, not at all stiff like other pork bellies that I've had before. The peanuts added texture, spice, and more salt. The whole thing was sinfully rich but not overly heavy.
Desserts were an even harder choice. I was undecided until our waiter described almost every single dish in detail - he won me over with a made-to-order hazelnut cake with a black olive caramel and Thai basil ice cream. The cake was small and shaped like a canele. The interior was like a more subtly flavored nutella, and the edges were not overly cooked, which can happen so often with molten chocolate cakes. The olive caramel was salty and sweet, and it was very easy to pinpoint the olive flavor. And Thai basil ice cream? That made me want to bust out the ice cream maker and start experimenting. My mother's dessert came with Szechuan peppercorn ice cream, and that was another one that had me itching to start cooking - it was floral and elegant, with just a little kick of spice at the end.
After this meal, I'm pretty sure that No, 9 Park will be my new special occasion restaurant. I don't think I've ever had a meal like this before - we ooo'd over every single bite, from first to last.