Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tolani Revisited

The Tolani Dining Room
I spend a lot of time eating, and I certainly live in the right city to do it.  My desire to explore and eat lands me in some of the best restaurants in NYC.  However, it takes a moving experience to get me to sit down and write about it.  After it happens, I usually move my critical eye elsewhere while spending future visits to each establishment indulging in the food, without having to think about too much.

Rarely, does a restaurant inspire me to put my thoughts on paper twice.  Then there is Tolani.  Somehow, with each visit, Tolani has managed to raise the bar again and again and again. 

My most recent visit was no different.  I headed out to Tolani to conduct a double blind 2001 Barolo tasting.  I knew the food would be good, but the last thing I expected was to be floored from the start.  The Butternut Squash soup was a pure dive into a sea of indulgence.  It’s easiest to say that this soup managed to hit every pleasure meter of taste and smell impossible.  It’s one of those dishes that walks the line of sweet and savory and somehow lands perfectly between the two.  It was sweet, smoky, creamy and utterly seductive. The funniest part is that since I didn’t expect to be writing about food on this visit, I don’t have a photo.

Fuyu Persimmon Salad
It was at this time that my camera was aimed at the plates as well as the wine.  The soup was followed by a Fuyu Persimmon Salad.  If I had to explain what it is about Tolani that truly wins my heart, it’s the inclusion of fruits in savory dishes and how they balance salty, sweet and savory on almost every plate.  The Persimmon Salad was no different, and it benefitted from the addition of a crispy sweet pecan cracker, which added a textural kaleidoscope to the experience.

Pork Belly
Then came the Pork Belly, and everyone at the table turned silent.  One of the best parts of tasting menus is the ability to indulge in a dish like this, without being tempted to devour an entire plateful.  It’s certainly not a dish for the faint of heart, but when in a hedonistic state of mind, this is the dish that will settle your craving.  It was pure salty, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth satisfaction.

Rabbit Fricassee
The Rabbit Fricassee changed the pace, but at a perfect point in the meal.  I do not believe I have ever experienced a more perfectly-cooked piece of rabbit in NYC before this night.  Instead of the usual bursting-at-the-seams yet coloring-in-the-lines style of Tolani, this dish relied on Italian country-style, comfort food principles and it did it well.  Fresh gnocchi, sweet yams, dried cherries and a perfectly-seasoned and flavored broth is all it took.  Very nicely done.

Braised Short Ribs
Lastly, we have the Braised Short Ribs, which is the only dish on this night that I had before at Tolani.  As usual, it was a hit, and this time it was served with a pomegranate gastrique.  A perfectly braised short rib that falls apart on your fork, placed over a parsnip puree with the crunchy snap of tart pomegranate. Yum!

If you haven’t already experienced Tolani, now’s the time to do so.  I honestly can’t imagine how they can top my last two experiences, yet I have a feeling they’re up to the challenge.

Tolani Wine Restaurant
410 Amsterdam Ave (btwn 79th and 80th)
New York, New York, 10024

Tolani Wine Restaurant on What's Cookin'

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