The fixe is in: Staying the courses of prix-fixe dinners at Seeger's <\b>
A puff of frothy, salty goat cheese; a crunch of ruby organic radish. An exquisitely oozing double cream cow's milk cheese; an amazing goat yogurt sorbet. Gossamer brioche; barely steamed arctic char, slightly pink and silky, nestled in lime risotto. Spectacularly dry sparkling wine. All of this made by, conceived by, foraged for or collaborated on by the legendary, Mobil 5 Star- winning chef Guenter Seeger for his palace of important dining, Seeger's.
Since its sleek glass door opened in 1997, Seeger's has changed little. Except, of course, for the dishes and their ingredients, which change every day. The remodeled bungalow's pristine white walls are as fresh as ever, ideal for reflecting the glow of the cherry staircase and paneled back wall. Bronze draperies are as rich in color as the gently floral damask tablecloth and its equally thick undercloth are rich in texture. Small bunches of riotous flowers in simple vases and a single votive in a tiny, opaque white cup carved in classic palm-frond style grace the tables. There is no room for clutter. The show is on the plates and on one's palate.
Seeger's opening concept was three prix-fixe dinners, three, four and six courses, priced $58, $75 and $95, respectively, with surcharges for caviar and cheese, and an additional per-person charge for bottled water poured into very small tumblers. People howled about the small portions and large prices to the exclusion of the intense and varied flavors of the food. Sacrilegious, really.
Adjustments were made. The three-course option was dropped in favor of a five-course, $62 dinner and an $80 chef's tasting menu comprising eight dishes, and portions became more generous.
The result? Too much food! So, a three-course option has been re-introduced at $48. The catch is that it is a set three courses unless one requests substitutions. Your server will not volunteer this information, but it is possible to choose from the five-course side. One evening recently, the set menu featured Georgia white shrimp with citrus confit and vanilla sauce, prime beef Hungarian style with braised greens and sweet pepper reduction, and baked pear with spiced red wine and marzipan sorbet.
But this is the dilemma: The searing, soaring, shockingly different flavors that have made Guenter Seeger's reputation are best experienced as small bites. And not least because one can sample more of them that way. It seems to me that the large portions of the three-course dinner and the slightly less large portions of the five-course dinner are more filling than the eight tasting portions.
And unquestionably, the startling flavors are the center of attention. Your server will reverently impart vast quantities of information about each dish when it is ordered, and again when it is set in front of you, each a remarkable bite presented in an equally remarkable way. Teeny, tiny little things in gigantic bowls or plain, classic oval porcelain platters, blue stoneware tempura bowls, mammoth square bowls, or on glass plates as large as serving platters.
Every night, the choices change. The $80 tasting menu might comprise scallop sashimi with mint oil, lime powder and pink pepper; hazelnut flan with Jerusalem artichoke soup; Irish salmon chop with bok choy; tuna tournedos with marrow bone souffle; roasted squab with braised apple and Calvados sauce; caraway goat cheese with fall greens; quince soup with goat yogurt sorbet; and plum terrine with marzipan ice cream and potato dumpling.
Each of the five courses in the $62 option will offer five or six choices, with the exception of the fourth course, which is either sorbet or the cheese plate. (Since this is one of the rare places that presents its cheeses at the correct temperature and consistency, it is more than worth the extra $7.50.)
Some examples to give you an idea of the kitchen's style:
First course: Beluga caviar (an additional $90 tariff); oysters in velout; jumbo stone crabs ($10 extra); Georgia trout tartare; beet terrine with smoked sturgeon mousse and ossetra caviar; or foie gras.
Second course: Pumpkin soup with fried sage, salmon mousse and quenelles; loup de mer
poached in sake with shiitake tempura; Georgia white shrimp; or fresh snails.
Third course: Turbot filet; grilled squab; fallow deer venison with braised pineapple and celery root puree; or grilled lamb chops with herbs, roasted artichoke, sweet pepper and olives.
Fourth course: American and French farm cheeses or kiwi and goat yogurt sorbet.
Fifth course: Honey parfait in dialogue of fresh fruit puree; baked pear with vanilla sorbet and spiced red wine sauce; coco bean croustillant Napoleon with chocolate mousse; or sorbets.
Expect each dish to be as intricate as the pheasant breast filet that had us swooning the other evening. Dipped first in creme fraiche, then coated in gingerbread, it was turned constantly under a salamander until the meat was breathtakingly limpid but still flavorful, spiked by the tart creme fraiche and the zingy ginger.
It is precisely this marriage of technique and layers of unexpected ingredients and sensations that makes Seeger's food stupendous, an experience not to be missed.One exception to this exceptional dining experience: Unless one is surreptitiously making notes beneath the heavy, silvery damask napkin in one's lap, as I was, the balcony is a decidedly inferior dining area. Servers carrying silver trays are too often bottlenecked at the top of the stairs, and there is nothing gracious about seven tables squashed in a nook more suitable for two. The food -- to say nothing of the patrons -- deserves better.
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