Haute Dining: Ai Fiori’s Exquisite Italian Food

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ai fiori setai fith avenue

Ai Fiori is Michael White’s new upscale restaurant at the Setai Fifth Avenue. It is an Italian restaurant that takes cues from France and Spain as well as the land of spaghetti bolognese. The restaurant is quite large, with dark furnishings and beautifully bright floral arrangements.

The amuse bouche was a sunchoke, chamomile and apple veloute.

This was just delicious. I am a huge fan of the rich, nutty taste of sunchokes, and mixed with sweet apples and just the faintest bite of garlic, the amuse bouche was really excellent. I could not taste the chamomile, but since I think chamomile tastes like bathwater anyway…this was just FINE by me.

Diver Scallops, celery root, black truffles, bone marrow, thyme.

This was unexpected on every level! Who would pair scallops, truffles, and marrow? Chef Michael White, that’s who, and he is on the money with this dish. The scallops, usually buttery and sweet, seemed meatier and brinier next to the sweet unctuous-ness of the marrow. The celery root puree at the bottom soaked up all of the oceanic and meaty juices and was a creamy addition to the incredibly well conceived dish.

Risotto with parsley, Parmesan, garlic chips and escargots.

OUTSTANDING! Creamy but still firm rice melded with SUCH a vibrant, earthy parsley taste, that nutty salty Parmesan, and escargots. They have the gentle salinity of clams with the tenderness of mussels, and you would never guess they were snails. The garlic chips were gentle and sweet, and this was an unexpected but total hit for everyone at the table.

Saffron gnocchi with sea urchin and crab.

Oh for the love of all that is holy…this was a RIDICULOUS dish. The gnocchi was tender but not mushy, with the intense and pervasive floral/heady scent of saffron. The saffron perfectly complimented the sweet lumps of crab and the salty, creamy urchin. The raw tomatoes in the dish provided a lightness and acidity to the pasta, and the whole dish was textbook perfection – well balanced, filling, rich, acidic, salty and sweet. Wrap that up, put a bow on it, and you could call it Christmas.

Branzino with mussels, saffron and chorizo-stuffed piquillo peppers.

This dish brought out the Mediterranean side of the menu. The branzino was flash grilled on the plancha so the outside was crispy and lightly charred but the inside remained moist and flaky. The saffron was applied with a light touch so the clean, mild flavor of the fish shone through, only gently accented by the floral saffron. The mussels were tender and SO sweet, and the tart piquillo peppers stuffed with the spicy, garlicky pork chorizo brought the whole dish to another, complex level.

Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster with root vegetable fondant and chateau chalon sauce.

This was one of the main reasons I came here…I had heard that the lobster was unmissable. While it was tender, buttery and delicious, it was not as good as the lobster at Tocqueville.  The dish was delicious…don’t get me wrong…just not the best in NYC. But the root veggie fondant was the best mashed root veggies in the WORLD and the sauce was light but creamy…really a great dish.

Amish Veal Chop with sweetbread-stuffed cabbage and sauce periguex.

This is the BEST veal that I have EVER had. thick, caramelized and salty on the outside, moist, and tender. This did not have any special spices or cooking techniques to cover up the true taste of the meat. Of course, the tart/sweet apple, cabbage and sweetbread ragout and the rich, meaty, truffle-scented sauce didn’t hurt either.

Baba au Rhum with vanilla ice cream and tropical fruit salad.

This was the finest Baba au rhum I have had outside of Paris. Light, sweet, crunchy without and custardy within. The taste of buttery rum permeated the cake and the incredibly vanilla-y ice cream went perfectly with the cake. The fruit salad lightened up the whole affair, and made it citrusy and tart to avoid sweets overload. Buttery avocado was a surprising and welcome addition!

We finished the meal with some outstanding mignardises-the salted fleur de sel caramel filled chocolate was my idea of heaven.

This whole meal came pretty close to heaven, actually. The wine list includes many interesting and unique options, the staff was elegant yet unstuffy, and the food took traditional Italian ideas, and blended them with French and Spanish influences for a totally new and sensational effect. I would recommend this restaurant for anyone who… well, I would recommend this to anyone who eats. And can you really get a better recommendation than that?

To read Sarah’s full review of Ai Fiori , visit her blog, fritosandfoiegras.

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