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Fifth Floor

Aaron T

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They used to have one. Not sure if they still do. Most restaurants do. Even Trio has one if you want to order three courses. But I understand that El Bulli has dispensed with the menu. WD-50 has dispensed with part of the menu, the part that explains what's on the menu. But that's just a minor technicality.

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I think FL only offers three tasting menus currently. But I don't recall any great feats of construction there either. Usually just the focal item (lobster crepe, black bass, piece o' pork) sitting on a sauce, puree, etc. Most of the plates had some dots of balsamic, or sprays of s&p. Very minimalist as well.

Steve -- I expected to go with one of your selections, but I was bullied into BYO by someone else.

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I've realized that for someone like me, you'd be crazy to order a bottle of wine at a high-end restaurant. I can understand that for Plotz and similar eaters, the wine should be paired with the particular dish (although on a tasting menu I assume you have to get to half-bottles, etc.) and therefore it's more difficult to just bring something from home if you don't know what you'll be eating. But once I accept that I'll spent $100 on wine, why pay $100 for a $30 wine at the restaurant when I can pay $100 for a $75 bottle of wine at a store that's taking advantage of me.

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Laurent Gras’ cuisine sings. It is all that it has been hyped in the media to be

My only meal thus far at Fifth Floor was ravishing and the evening ended with my having come to suspect, subject to the need for further sampling (so as not to further prejudge), that Gras’ cuisine is second only to that of T Keller for restaurants visited in the US (notwithstanding my finding Blue Hill to be the best subjective match in the US still for my preferences).

Prior to this meal, I had wondered, unfairly (in the sense of not having given Chef Gras the benefit of the doubt), why Chef Gras appeared to have been touted as one of the most promising chefs in the US of the emerging generation. I had taken in one meal at Peacock Alley, and had also sampled his cuisine recently at James Beard. Neither meal bore, in my mind, the indicia of a cuisine that was as promising as that I saw described in certain press coverage of Chef Gras. In a manner that is highly uncharacteristic of myself as a diner, I had let my cynicism with respect to the general quality of cuisine in the US and my general dislike for the cuisine of one of Chef Gras’ mentors (Alain Ducasse, whom I have long believed is significantly overrated) taint my judgment of Chef Gras’ cuisine. Distressingly, I had in a bizarre way prejudged Gras’ cuisine without even having ever dined at FF. Worse still, I had stridently communicated these doubts to the chef in connection with the James Beard event (perhaps he has forgotten). What all of this amounted to was considerable baggage on my part as it related to my taking in a FF meal. That baggage was compounded by my being unable to explain to myself why I had prejudged Chef Gras’ cuisine when I ordinarily like to take in at least two or three meals at a significant restaurant before arriving at a conclusion with respect to its cuisine. Couple that baggage with the load of slight guilt I was feeling for having made several reservations through Opentable.com on prior evenings and having cancelled them (with some notice, but not a great deal) when I secured last-minute-ish reservations at French Laundry. I have rarely harbored so much self-perceived baggage with respect to a restaurant in the US before. I arrived at the restaurant with some trepidation.

With that relatively unfortunate background (for which I was the sole party responsible), the kitchen, dining room and sommelier teams placated my anxieties by orchestrating, with clarity and conviction – and with poised elegance -- the unfolding of a moving meal. A meal that left me believing in Chef Gras’ promise as a cuisinier (in the sense of having potential, despite his cuisine being already relatively advanced in my mind) and in the promise of a restaurant, when a worthy chef is supported by a strong sommelier (Belinda Chang, ex-Charlie Trotter’s) and a gracious maitre d’.

With all respect to FL, the wine list and sommelier team are stronger than those at FL, and the maitre d’ and his team were on par with those at FL. A meal that left me wondering, the next evening when I was dining at FL, whether I had made a mistake in not revisiting FF.

It would be fair to say that I am a convert to Gras' cuisine.

In Gras’ cuisine, I note cooking of products that is just, in the sense of cooking that leaves meats and shellfish and fish not overcooked. I see sensuality – as in the undulating folds of the geoduck, in the suppleness of the portion of an appropriately small lobster in the cappuccino appetizer, in the delicate shrimp with their blush tones accompanying it. I see a willingness to take risks in a measured way – as in the saucing for the scallop or the dipping sauce for the foie gras (discussed below). I see an openness to certain features of Asian cuisine, with an integration that renders traits of such cuisine subsumed within a larger framework.

Amuse Bouche

Champagne Henriot Brut 1990

I was happily sipping the developed champagne, nicely settled in. I really appreciate champagne, and Henriot 1990 pleased me not only because of its taste in the mouth, but also because this was a wonderful champagne that is not frequently available in US restaurants. (Also, I had never sampled the 1990 before.) I found the artwork on the wall facing me to be appealing. Depicting a woman with older-style clothing, but bringing in certain regions only her broader outline to view. The lighting also pleased.

The amuses were presented together. One was a tuna tartare presented in a small bowl. It carried, I believe, ginger, chives, shallots or onions and lemon jus, among other flavors. The tartare brought to mind the fleshy meatiness of tuna, and was nice. The other amuse was a butternut squash veloute with small pieces of cashew and a plump ravioli with meat contents (perhaps oxtail?; I do not recall). I considered the amuses to be individually appropriate, but did not see their sum as being greater than the two parts (nor lesser, to be clear).

Goeduck Clams, Finely sliced and seasoned with lime and fresh wasabi.

Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese, Nahe 2000

This course heralded the beginning of a lyrical meal. The knifework/cutting work was noteworthy on the petals of geoduck. Gently turning, tiny curly edges in certain areas; almost forming a curvaceous frilled ridge in certain areas. The “cut” of the geoduck enhanced the textural component of the dish, while also rendering it visually endearing. The geoduck portion lay in an indented middle section of a large curved bowl-like plate, with muted concentric circles in close proximity to one another lining the rims of the plate.

The geoduck pieces’ flavor was enchantingly clear/pristine, and its texture appropriately crisp and clean. This dish carried the most delicious geoduck I recall ever having sampled, and I have sampled this product on at least 40 different occasions to date (albeit mostly in Chinese or Japanese restaurants). (I am interested in geoduck, including, among other things, because I have wanted to take in pieces from geoduck while they are still live, but we should not digress).

The saucing of the geoduck was based on a sufficiently thin olive-oil that had appropriately muted lime connotations. The fresh wasabi was almost negligible in direct taste effect in the mouth, consistent with appropriateness of this item occupying a limited, supporting role in the dish. The fresh wasabi was not only sweeter than most fresh wasabi I have sampled (and, of course, than processed wasabi), it was also considerably more subtle (a favorable trait in my book). I also appreciated the control of the amount of pink Hawaiian sea salt in the dish. It was just appropriately subtle in this context – in the sense of not having a grain that would become pronounced and make the diner take added notice. An outstanding course.

While the wasabi might generally lead the diner to consider analogies to Japanese cuisine, the utilization of the other accompaniments to the geoduck rendered such potential comparisons inappropriate (in a good way). The wasabi did not bring to mind Japanese cuisine, and it was intellectually pleasing to me in hindsight that it did not do so, except at the point in time when I first saw the name of this course on the menu.

The color of the geoduck charmed me – the thin pieces were largely an ivory color, but they carried a slight blush tone. The color is difficult to described, as it was delicate, like the flush I sometimes see on my own cheeks after an intense meal or when the weather is very, very cold.

Sea Scallop, Sauvignon Blanc reduced with passion fruit, sauteed cauliflower

Michel Fonne Roemerberg Tokay-Pinot Gris 1999

Gras can cook scallops too :) I am demanding when it comes to scallops, which must be plump, “crisp” in texture and markedly undercooked relative to the level utilized at most restaurants in the US. At FF, Gras gets it right, with a scallop harboring a lusciously quasi-raw interior that begs to be taken in by me :) Nice utilization of a small section of caramelized cauliflower on top of the scallop, with appropriate limited browning along certain portions. Appropriately, the texture of the cauliflower still had some structure to it; it had not softened inappropriately.

As significant as the appropriate undercooking of the scallop was the interesting saucing of this dish. The Sauvignon Blanc utilized in the saucing added a bit of acidity, but the saucing was more complex (in a good way) than suggested by the mention of that wine. There were buttery overtones to this yellow-colored, appropriate-consistency sauce. It was intriguing to me that the passion fruit was very, very subdued in the saucing. In fact, its main contribution was the slippery, glistening texture of the material coating the seeds felt on the tongue, instead of the citrus effects of the main fruit itself. There was a noticeable vanilla component to the saucing, including through dots of black grains relating to vanilla bean effects. However, it should be emphasized that the described components of the saucing, when brought together, resulted in an overall flavor that surprised me (favorably) and that was developed and appropriate. There were a hint of saltiness and some acidity to the saucing that pleased me, against the slightly stronger sweet notes from the vanilla. The sauce was concurrently acidic and salty and vanilla-conveying; it was also appropriately thin and warm (in an oddly comforting way in the context of this course).

The wine pairing by Ms Chang was much appreciated here, although I’d have to say the Corton Charlemagne that followed was splendid with Chef Gras’ lobster dish as well :)

Lobster Capuccino, Lobster broth emulsified with chestnuts, prawns and sauteed lobster

1/2 Bouchard Corton Charlemangne 2000

This excellent dish, together with the two before it, constituted a glorious arch in my meal at FF, with all respect to ensuing courses. The supple, blush-tainted section of a small lobster’s body is presented on a plate. Nestled close to it were several small poached Maine prawns.

The lobster segment was flavorful, in a way that I am not accustomed to sampling for non-Brittany lobsters. It was cooked just right (i.e., significantly undercooked), with its inner portions having an added appealed. The texture was “crisp”, in the sense of the way the flesh gave in when taken in, and yet slightly supple (in a good way).

The warm broth was poured onto the lobster and Maine prawns tableside. I took in the lobster and prawns early, to preserve their limited cooking levels. I appreciated the relative thinness of the broth, the coral-pinkish color of which pleased me considerably. While thin, the broth was rich in flavor, with the chestnuts included adding to the overall effect without being particularly noticeable. The lobster-stock-based broth had nice Cognac sensations, and its overall taste might, on the basis of a relatively simplistic comparison, have brought to mind that of certain lobster bisques. However, the thinness of the broth and its more refined taste clearly separated it from a lobster bisque.

The inclusion in the broth of a bit of Esplette or similar pepper (in small amounts) was helpful, as was the limited “shot” of black pepper (Sarawak?) found very sparingly in the broth. I generally do not encourage the utilization of jolts of flavor as might result from the black pepper in this dish, but here I liked it because it was not jarring and further distinguished the broth from the sensations of a lobster bisque.

The lobster capuccino appears to be on its way to becoming a signature dish of Chef Gras, together with the pork belly with black truffles dish that I have not yet sampled. I like Corton Charlemagne, and, while I generally prefer Bonneau de Martray, the ½ bottle version of the Bouchard 2000 was quite appealing with the lobster.

Skate Wing, Caramelized, Bordelaise sauce and artichoke

The skate may have the course I liked less in the meal, but even it was good-plus. A nice white Bordelais sauce with black truffle and somewhat crisp-tasting baby artichokes. The fish was of a high quality and well-prepared, which is not something I can say about many skate dishes sampled here in the US. The baby artichokes added a crispy texture to the dish which was appropriate.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, sauteed with licorice, quince "spring rolls", and bean sprouts, dipping sauce

Renee Renou Bonnezeaux "Cuvee Zenith" 1997

A lusciously-cooked, fairly large piece of foie, with a wonderfully paired wine. To the side of this dish was a dipping sauce made of quince, Asian pear and rice wine vinegar – dark, acidic and rich. Appropriately dense dipping sauce, and very “different” (in this context, favorably so). I found the licorice on the surface of the foie to have been refreshing and enhancing, and to have given the dish a staying power in the throat (almost like when one takes in a mint and then inhales down one’s throat). That is the way that licorice should be utilized. It had a slight sweetness as well as an “herbiness”. Properly utilized, licorice should not remind the diner of the grotesque black licorice candy sticks available in the US. It should offer a slightly medicinal, slightly refreshing persistence.

On the side were not only the above dipping sauce, but also small, refreshing leaves of lettuce. The lettuce was amusing to me (in a good way), because it fulfilled several functions. First, its freshness and its crunchiness mitigated some of the fatty sensations of the sauteed foie. This was particularly appreciated by me, because, as happy as I am to take in sauteed foie, I find it sometimes too much when taken in in meaningful quantities. I sometimes wrapped pieces I cut off from the large piece of foie for wrapping (with my utensils, of course) in the coolness of the lettuce. The raw bean sprouts pleased, in part because their neutral, plant-like taste helped (together with the lettuce and the effects of the licorice) to balance the intensity of the dipping sauce for the foie.

Second, the lettuce added to the intellectual dimensions of the dish for diners familiar with the practice in Vietnamese cuisine of sometimes wrapping fried spring rolls (much larger rolls than that of the mini roll accompanying the foie in this dish) with larger pieces of lettuce. This link is hinted at by the tiny spring roll (about ½ the length of my pinky finger) that sat adjacent to the foie. :) While the small size of the spring roll made its precise contents relatively difficult to gauge, at least some elements were repeats from the dipping sauce described above (appropriately). One of the contents was a type of slippery medium-thickness vermicelli-like, translucent noodle that The outer layer of the spring roll was not as thin as I might have subjectively preferred, but it tasted appropriate.

In some ways, this dish reminded me of the geoduck with wasabi course. This dish’s inspiration may have been drawn from an Asian dish (in this case, Vietnamese, instead of Japanese), but its overall effect had been so transformed by the chef that it no longer appeared to result in a dish representing fusion cuisine. It had just become part of a delicious and distinctive dish.

This dish, relative to, say, the geoduck and the lobster capuccino, may be indicative that the tastes within a given FF meal have more pronounced ebbs and flows than those at, say, French Laundry, which, as Steve P and I discussed, probably at this point has a more internally consistent set of dishes constituting a framework for the restaurant’s cuisine than does FF. (Note this observation does not contain an implicit indication that one approach is preferable to another. Nor does it indicate I prefer one approach to the other.)

Squab Breast

Roasted with almonds and cumin, caramelized dumpling and salsify

1/2 Chateau Haut-Brion 1999

This squab dish was very good. Small slices of almonds coated the outside of the squab breast, which was cooked appropriately cooked to a medium level or slightly below that. A good sign, given my subjective belief that many meats tend to be overcooked at restaurants in the US. I liked the extremely limited effects (almost not noticeable) of the cumin in the seasoning of the squab too. There were too many almonds in the dish, however.

The caramelized dumpling was appealing. The “pasta” outer layer was very thin, and was quasi-translucent with a golden tinge to its appearance. It had a slight feeling of oiliness (in a good way). Inside was confit of squab, which was appropriately dark-tasting. A robust-tasting dish.

What can I say about the wine? Haut-Bions, both red and white, are among my preferred wines :) The 1999 ½ bottle was, expectedly, slightly more developed than 1999 full bottles I have had. Kudos to the restaurant for carrying H-B in a ½ bottle. (FF carries H-B Blanc in 1982 and 1983. Had I not ordered the ½ bottle of Corton Charlemagne, I would have probably restrained myself and stuck with a bottle of Chassagne Montrachet, Ramonet 2000, at $90, though.) Ms Chang’s wine service was elegant and pleased me considerably.

Veal Milanese

Tournedos flavored with orange and parmesan, macaroni, spinach salad

The FF kitchen substituted this dish, replacing a pork belly with black truffles dish that may be on its way to becoming one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and that I had been hoping to sample. When the dining room team member advised me it was veal, I was not encouraged because I have generally found veal to be poorly prepared (including at French Laundry, relative to other meats that are utilized for the second of the meat courses in the longest tasting menu) in restaurants in the US. Fortunately for me, there were no such problems at FF, and the veal was flavorful and not impeded by overcooking. Its texture was appropriately fleshy, and non-dense. The orange and parmesan flavors, while relatively pronounced in the dish, were also appropriate. In addition to overcooking veal, most restaurants (FF excluded) in the US tend to use jus-based saucing that, while potentially appropriate in certain circumstances, can get tiresome for a diner. Here, the orange flavors worked with respect to the veal offered. I liked this dish, which was among the stronger veal dishes I have had in the US.

To the right of the plate with the veal, there was a longish serving plate with three items that included the spinach salad and the macaroni – nice touches.

The veal dish was interesting to me because it relied in significant part on citrus flavors, as did the ensuing intermezzo dish and, to a much more limited extent, the scallop. However, the mix of the flavors inhering in different dishes presented during my FF meal stood in stark contrast to the overutilization throughout the progression of the meal of citrus flavors at Danko.


Bermagot orange and Meyer lemon sorbet with citrus compote

Delicious, particularly given my preference for Meyer lemon. Nice utilization of citrus peel in limited quantities, and nice general texture and “natural” taste-like components to the sorbet.

Banana and Avocado Parfait

Coconut financier, bananas baked in coconut milk

This was a nice dessert. I would not have thought that bananas would have matched coconut and avocado flavors necessarily, but in this dish they worked. The exact quality of the desserts at FF is difficult to evaluate based on my single visit to date, but my preliminary assessment is favorable. I like bananas in desserts, to the extent they are not matched with chocolate (both in view of my subjective dislike of chocolate and because of the unduly traditional nature of chocolate as bananas’ accompaniment). Here, the bananas were not overwhelmed by chocolate and were about the same strength as the coconut and avocado components of the dessert. Avocado does have a fatty texture (when appropriately ripe) and a certain limited aroma that might render it a good match for certain more traditional dessert ingredients.

The meal from Chef Gras, as ably brought forth by the dining room team, sang – sometimes pleasing me by murmuring flavors and other times tapping bolder notes.

I am eager to be a part of Chef Gras’ audience again, in part because, as favorable as my first meal at Fifth Floor was, I am trying not to judge unduly hastily.

Further Observations

The meal was interesting to me in a number of respects apart from the dishes described above. First, I believe that, when cuisine takes risks, the resulting plate better be delicious, as I do not give a cuisinier the benefit of the doubt for having tried and fallen short. Fortunately, the risks taken at FF (relative to, say, Danko) worked. A related point is that dishes with multiple components to them – a certain obvious complexity of construction – had better have their components be internally consistent. (Internal inconsistency coupled with complexity is one of the major weaknesses in the cuisines of the Pourcels and Gagnaire, in my assessment). On both these dimensions, Gras’ cuisine was appealing.

Second, I like to sample the cuisine of the direct and indirect progeny of Chef Senderens, with whom I took in my first ever three-star meal. Even though Chef Gras was sous-chef to other three-star chefs (Ducasse and Guy Savoy), Chef Gras is described (like Senderens, with whom he worked at a relatively early stage in his career, I believe) as liking to collect ancient recipes and I had had certain expectations relative to potentially updated ancient recipes. That is an aspect of Chef Gras’ cuisine that is impracticable to investigate over the course of a meal or even several meals. However, it is an aspect of Gras’ cuisine in which I am interested. The below article appears to suggest Gras utilizes certain old cookbooks from the nineteenth century, which would, of course, be dated very significantly earlier than the books in my personal set. However, the process Gras describes of being in dialogue with chefs from the past, through the cookbooks, is somewhat interesting to me.


Third, there is an attention to detail in Gras’ cuisine that I have thus far found to be appealing. An attention to small things through technique, to details about the composition of a dish, to the cut of a geoduck section. Fourth, Chef Gras’ cuisine has been described in certain articles as not utilizing significant amounts of butter and cream. While that might have been the case, I would not have guessed that was a underlying consideration in the chef’s cuisine. The flavors are appropriately rich, for applicable dishes, for example.

Dining Room Teams

Chef Gras’ maitre d’ was poised, articulate, and had all the other qualities that I consider to be favorable. He appeared approachable and proactive, and yet also allowed me sufficient “space” in the context of the meal. He will be very helpful to the chef, as will the sommelier team. The non-sommelier dining room team members were very gracious and knowledgeable about Chef Gras’ cuisine. FF should consider applying to become part of Relais Chateaux. Its service is among the very best I have experienced in the US.

Based on second-hand information, Ms Chang inherited a strong wine list from her predecessor. Having no direct information on the FF wine list before her arrival, I can say that it is very robust now – replete with verticals; good breadth as well as depth; strength in, among other things, Burgundies.


This restaurant is luscious-looking, in a contemporary and distinctive way, and is characterized by dark woods in tobacco and chocolate tones. It does not have an unduly masculine feel, as the artwork on the walls tempers that. The tobacco dress I choose for the evening (with mules, and a burgundy intricately embroidered pashmina shawl I like bringing to restaurants) matched the decor well, in hindsight :)

The photos linked do not portray the restaurant to be as attractive as it is.


Other Information

There is a significant bar area, where the full dining menu is available, as well as an area adjacent to the bar with tables (presumably offering the same cuisine). An affiliated website suggests that the bar area can accommodate over 20 people. While these areas are not as evocative as the main dining areas, they still offer an appealing environment for dining in the event an advance reservation has not been made. Beyond the bar and related areas and closer to the entryway to the restaurant following the elevator ride, there is significant seating for drinks, etc. The bar area appears to offer opportunities in particular for last-minute visitors to sample FF’s cuisine. Alex Lee, executive chef at Daniel, was dining at the FF bar area on the night I visited.

The restaurant is located in a boutique hotel called Hotel Palomar. When I last checked, rates for a weekend night were relatively reasonable, beginning at around $199. Based on my review of the lobby, the hotel appeared relatively modern and to constitute a good resting place following a dinner at FF. Valet parking is available, at $12 approx. To access Hotel Palomar, one drives along Stockton towards the South, until one passes Market and Stockton in effect becomes Fourth Street. As there are no left turns onto Fourth from Market, diners should note that they are best off accessing the hotel using Stockton and following the street as it becomes Fourth St. The restaurant is indeed located on the Fifth Floor.

Edited by Fat Guy (log)
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What Toby said.


I notice a similarity between the scallop dish and Jean-Georges' scallop with raisin-caper sauce, also topped with cauliflower. Did you sense this was an homage, or am I reading too much into it?

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Cabrales -- you've obviously used your time off well. :biggrin: Regarding the service of lettuce leaves with the foie, were you a little surprised that the server explained to the diner how to eat the roll "Vietnamese" style? I would have expected that almost anyone dining at FF would be experienced enough to know what the leaves were there for.

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Regarding the service of lettuce leaves with the foie, were you a little surprised that the server explained to the diner how to eat the roll "Vietnamese" style?  I would have expected that almost anyone dining at FF would be experienced enough to know what the leaves were there for.

Stone -- Not necessarily. I believe that any diner with significant Vietnamese cuisine eating experience, as you and (to a sufficient but apparently lesser extent) I, would know. However, I wonder whether all FF diners have experience with Vietnamese cuisine.

I notice a similarity between the scallop dish and Jean-Georges' scallop with raisin-caper sauce, also topped with cauliflower. Did you sense this was an homage, or am I reading too much into it?

Liza -- I have never sampled Jean Georges' dish, and, while I have sampled J-G's cuisine, have not been impressed by it. Apologies I can't therefore answer that question.

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When Gras was at Peacock Alley, I felt that the food there made it one of the very best restaurants in the city -- better probably than half of the four star places. Service was weak, and the facility was mediocre, but foodwise it was a leader.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'd like to report based on first-hand knowledge, but I can't. What I can say is that most of the serious people I know who have dined at Fifth Floor think it would be a four-star place in New York -- totally top tier except maybe for desserts.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'd like to report based on first-hand knowledge, but I can't. What I can say is that most of the serious people I know who have dined at Fifth Floor think it would be a four-star place in New York -- totally top tier except maybe for desserts.

I dunno, i thought the desserts were pretty awesome, and I had ALL of them.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I am also a fan of Meyer Lemon.

Today I had a menu faxed to me from Fifth Floor, Did you notice the dish?

Rabbit Composition. Braised with glass noodles, sauteed with Meyer lemon and olives, sauteed foie gras.


Robert R

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So Stone and Cabrales, and others....Where should I go for my birthday dinner in July? FL, FF, GD, or somewhere else? I need to be thinking about reservations! I'd like to know which you recommend solely based on the tasting menus you had....and which you would recommend, if like me, you had a difficult dining partner? (The Judge doesn't eat fish or dairy). :hmmm: I wonder if any of them will serve a carte to one at a table and a tasting to the other? But truthfully since it is my birthday......I really want to know which one I will enjoy the most! Thank you.


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I read with great interest all of the excellent reviews of FF. When Gras

was in NYC, I was always impressed and uplifted by the deliciousness and creativity of his cuisine. It consisted of pairings that Icould not have conceived of, but when executed by Gras whole new possibililties existed.. I agree with Cabrales that newness for it's own sake is unsatisfying and ultimately who cares if it doesn't

taste wonderful. It was always wonderful. I was very sad when he left, and also was mystified that he never received the proper audience here. Peacock Alley was generally empty. Of course, why should I be surprised, most people don't make their dining choices based on the quality of the food .

. I am so fascinated with his approach to cooking that I have signed up for his Macy's session on April 10th.I don't know if they have

any places left, but if anyone is interested call 439 1714

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  • 6 months later...

Another report from my days on Chowhound. Hope it helps:

FIFTH FLOOR: I was really looking forward to this meal after reading Cabrales’ Chowhound reports exclaiming its superiority in SF. Walking into the chic lounge area with vibrant artwork, dark, hanging curtains, comfortable and interesting neutral-colored chairs and sofas, and dark tables with interesting lines, I thought: Man, these guys pay attention to details. I waited with quiet anticipation for my other eating companions to show. But walking through the bar and into the dining room was the beginning of my disappointments. It was still nice, but nothing like that lounge area. In fact, it may have been my least favorite décor of the trip. Not bad, just not as interesting or comfortable as the other places and a real letdown after the cool lounge area. The food was a letdown, too. There were four of us and all but one got 5 courses, so I’ll try to keep it brief on some of the items:

Amuses, shrimp with pea sauce and lobster in corn soup: Each was simple but nice with sweet purees of vegetable matching the sweet sea bugs in them.

Sea scallop with sautéed cauliflower in reduced sauvignon blanc with passion fruit: An excellent dish. I wish I would have gotten more tastes. It would have been a good dish anyway, but the cauliflower made it special, I think. I didn’t know it was cauliflower at first and I was intrigued by the flavor it imparted. When I found out, I was impressed and never would have thought of the combination with the sauce and everything. Very intense flavors and probably the most depth of any dish that night.

Crabmeat and avocado with jalapeno and basil: Very impressive presentation. A little dome of overlapping avocado slices on top of the crabmeat. A rather typical combination, however. I think I’ve seen crab with avocado over the last month on every high-end restaurant menu across the country.

Ceviche of sea bass, geoduck, and kumamoto oyster with lime and olive oil: The person who ordered this, Scott, said it really impressed him, that it truly tasted like the sea smells. I’d agree, and that taste made me want to wretch. But I’m willing to accept that may just be me. It did look cool, though, with essentially geoduck carpaccio overlapping to create a large disc on the plate, everything else piled in the middle.

Skate wing caramelized with bordelaise sauce and artichoke: I didn’t notice much of a caramelization, however, I think they some how infused the artichoke flavor into the skate wing. Maybe I was just confusing flavors since I only had a couple small bites. It was decent. I don’t know about $33 decent, however.

Asparagus and hearts of palm salad finely sliced and braised with pistachio: A rather flavorless and boring $18 down the drain, I’d say. Probably the worst dish of the night.

Foie gras “Chaud Froid” roasted with bea pollen and cured with buddha’s hand and Hawaiian salt: One of the better cooked foie gras dishes I’ve had. Interesting presentation once again with the seared piece to the left and then a trail of salt and whatever leading to another piece, cured, sitting under a yellow jelly in the shape of one of those plastic coin purses that you squeeze to open the slit in the middle. I’m not a fan of cold foie gras, but the seared piece was excellent. It had a nutty exterior and a lemony tart/sweet aspect.

Veal tournedos with chorizo and carrot-coconut emulsion: I don’t really remember the carrot-coconut part. There was a froth around the veal that added a sweetness, if I remember right, but I don’t think any flavors could compete with the heat and salt of the rest of the dish. The chorizo was interesting because it was in shreds on top of the veal. It added quite a bit of spice. A decent dish better served about a quarter its size.

Squab breast roasted with almonds and asparagus with chicken and foie gras terrine: Again I’m not remembering an item on the menu. I have extensive notes for this dish and still I don’t see anything about foie gras. If you’re going to use foie gras, shouldn’t it be noticeable? Otherwise it’s a waste of big money. I do remember a rectangular plate with squab breast at one end, followed by two different cuts of chicken, and then some white and green asparagus. All meats were sauced tableside with a cumin and squab jus reduction. The chicken pieces seemed totally extraneous. I liked the squab, though it was maybe a tiny bit tougher than it could have been, it was seasoned well and had a nice sweetness to the meat. I liked the cumin sauce, but it didn’t have much depth. My initial notes were that I really liked the sauce, but then I had to amend them because it became tedious. A champagne and squab (I think) consomme was served with this also. I have no idea why.

Prime rib “plancha” with zinfandel and cherry reduction and celery sauce: The prime rib was decent and the cherry sauce was okay. $42 okay? No way. I think everyone who tasted this just sort of said it was ho-hum.

Niman ranch pork belly poached slowly with black truffles and roasted crispy on the skin, served with truffle jus: This probably had the most potential. It certainly was different and had a lot of flavor. But it was just too much. It’s mostly fat, though really good fat, with that hard (almost impossible to cut), chewy skin, truffle sauce over the top. They served it with braised or roasted apples and potatoes which could have helped if they both weren’t totally devoid of flavor. I think if you served this dish with a two inch cube of pork belly, the truffle jus, and a flavorful piece of apple, maybe seasoned and kicked up with some caramelized brown sugar, then you’ve got yourself an awesome tasting menu dish. But as it was it was too rich and too much. Fifth Floor needs to learn a little restraint and how to balance their dishes.

Cheese plate: A pretty cool cheese plate. It had three totally different kinds of cheese served with bread, almonds, herbs, dry cherries, and honey comb.

Guanaja chocolate mousse: Three half-lemon sized and shaped dollops of chocolate mousse served with passion fruit sauce. Interesting looking and decent enough.

Peaches and apricot: I don’t know if this is the actual name. They only gave me a copy of the dinner menu, not the desserts, so I’m grabbing this off the internet. Anyway, what I got was a peach trifle with a peach/ginger consommé on the side. The consommé was interesting looking with a fan of peach wedges under the “broth”. Definitely not as good as the similar dish at Chez Panisse the night before, but still decent.

Mignardises: Several decent little sweets were served after the meal. All were good enough, but only one stood out to me, the chilled truffle. Something about it being chilled.

Conclusion: Overall fifth floor was a mishmash, but ultimately disappointing meal, only partially for the food. It had the most elaborate presentations of any place on the trip. It also had some of the best *sounding* dishes on any menu. Execution was hit and miss, though. Mostly miss.

Prices were high. It was the worst value of the trip and that includes going up against French Laundry’s $135/person and Masa’s $109/person. When mediocre salads are $20 you’re not going to win any “Best Value” honors. The wine drinkers also thought their wine prices were high.

I think the worst thing, though, was the service. Horrendous course-timing. We waited a *long* time between courses. Much too long. Even with two of us drinking wine and plenty of gabbing going on, we found ourselves often checking watches and wondering when the next course would come out, just to wait and wonder some more. I think it took 3.5 hours total. Service was slow and spotty on the whole on this trip (except FL), but this was easily the worst. Probably the worst service/$ I’ve ever encountered. And just after going on a similar trip to Washington, DC, where I’ve never had better service overall, it was particularly glaring (see this link: http://www.chowhound.com/midatlantic/board...ges/21500.html).

The food was adventurous and interesting sounding, but usually fell short. The flavors were intense and interesting but lacked depth. Almost nothing had depth, just a couple of strong flavors battling it out for supremacy. This was probably more noticeable, too, because the night before was Chez Panisse where there was little intensity but lots of subtle character to the dishes. I think if the courses had all been amuse size or slightly larger, it would have seemed great. Only a couple bites of the dishes would keep them interesting. But the more you eat of them, the more you notice how little flavor lies beyond the immediate zing.

I think that the chefs at Chez Panisse and Fifth Floor need to do a Freaky Friday and cook each other’s menus. Kicked up Chez Panisse and restrained Fifth Floor could be great.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked the food at Fifth Floor. But it was disappointing and with its prices I doubt I would return.

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This past weekend my girlfriend and I headed into the city for a dinner at Fifth Floor. What we enjoyed was a stunning meal that places this fine restaurant near the top of the bay area dining scene.

However, not everything was flawless. The night got off to a rocky start when we arrived 15 minutes early for our 9:30pm reservation and were told that they were taking "instant reservations" this evening and that we would need to wait in the bar for a table. Now I'm not quite sure what an "instant reservation" is but, whatever it is, it appeared to make my confirmed 9:30pm reservation null and void. This was a unique experience...I've never had to wait for a table at a restaurant of this caliber. Most places are more than accommodating and usually seat us immediately even if we arrive early. So, growing perturbed, we sat at the bar and waited. Thirty-five minutes later we were finally ushered to our table. Neither a single apology, nor any offer of a comped beverage was presented during those thirty-five minutes. Needless to say, I was in foul mood as we reached the table.

Fortunately, things really turned for the better from here on out. The service at Fifth Floor was warm and exacting. The staff was obviously knowledgeable about the menu and the particular preparations. And our waiter was extremely generous and helpful with our wine pairings throughout the meal. Belinda Chang stopped by for one pour to touch base and make sure everything was satisfactory. From overhearing her at other tables, I think she presents herself well...very relatable and not stuffy or pretentious in the least. Overall, there was a pleasant absence of major service errors. One issue to note was the fact that on two separate occasions, the wine was presented and poured with only one of us present at the table. Looking back, that should never have happened. Otherwise, things ran rather smoothly.

October 31, 2003

Amuse Bouche

Soter Beacon Hill Rosé, Willamette Valley 1998


For the men:

Bay scallops with avocado and grapefruit

Rare, if not raw, scallops in a small sake cup. Light citrus flavor followed by the briny taste of the sea. Filled out by the creaminess of the avocado. It was kept lively by the limey citrus juice on top.


For the women:


Single thin slice of fluke accompanied by some sort of light vinaigrette and a frilly green garnish that seemed very similar in taste to shiso leaves.

Overall the amuses were okay. Being very mild in flavor, they're obviously meant to prepare the meal for the soft delicate opening dishes. I think the purity of the fluke outshined the more complex scallop dish.


Oh Toro

Pike’s “Polish Hill” Reserve Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia 2002

Admittedly, I'm no expert on toro...I've had it a handful of times, but this piece was by far the best I've ever had. If there were an oceanic equivalent to Kobe beef, this would be it. Showcased pretty much on it's own (with a bit of Hawaiian salt, lime, and oil) this slice of tuna shined bright. The marbling was outstanding and the consistency of the fat was something I've never seen before. The fish itself was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth tender. There's something so special about indulging in a pure ingredient at this level of quality. So simple, yet so special. Outstanding dish.


Conch Chowder

With Sea Urchin

Domaine Weinbach Cuvée St. Catherine Tokay-Pinot Gris, Alsace 2001

Overall, this dish was not aggressive flavor-wise. It was subtle yet had some complexity to it. First off, the foam had an outstanding aroma and, in my mind, imparted a smoky, bacon-y flavor...but in a very delicate way. The conch was tender and not overly chewy. It was relatively mild in flavor. The uni provided more of a flavor of the ocean but in a restrained way. The briny-ocean and smoky flavors, along with the conch, played off each other very well. This was my girlfriend's favorite dish of the evening.


Skate Wing

Caramelized, Bordelaise sauce and artichoke

Fattoria Pupille Morellino di Scansano 2001

We now begin to move into more assertive flavors. There were many great things going on with this dish. First off, the veal based bordelaise sauce was to die for. Spooned onto the skate tableside, you could just tell that this sauce was going to be special as it hit the plate. What a great and unexpected way to enjoy a piece of seafood. The sauce also bridged over to the wine selection, which was a sangiovese. The skate wing was prepared perfectly...it had a nice crust on it yet it was so moist and tender on the inside. The potato and artichoke puree under the skate rounded out the dish and provided a rich, buttery base for the other flavors to play off of. An absolutely outstanding dish...my favorite of the evening.


Foie Gras “Chaud-Froid”

Roasted with bee pollen and cured with Buddha’s Hand and Hawaiian salt

2000 Late Harvest Riesling

We split this dish as an added supplement to the tasting menu. I first tasted the foie and lemon sauce and was very impressed with the richness and sweetness to it. I think the pairing of lemon with foie throughout the dish was very successful and was a new experience for me. Also appealing was the crust on the actual foie gras...sweet and nutty, it imparted great texture as well as flavor. What didn't really work with this dish was the thin slice of foie terrine that was hidden under the oval shaped lemon gelee. The gelee itself was delightfully sour and tangy yet it seemed to overpower the terrine. Had the slice been a bit bigger I think it would have more successfully contrasted the lemon with a rich fattiness. Overall, a solid dish.


Squab Breast

With squab and earl gray infused jus, chicken consume and polenta

Etude Pinot Noir, Carneros 2001

Finished at the table with the squab and earl gray jus, this was a strong dish. The squab was very moist and on the rare side...prepared very well. Lemon zest in the sauce added another dimension to this dish. One of the better squab dishes I've had.


Niman Ranch Pork Belly

Poached slowly with black truffles and roasted crispy on the skin, truffle jus

Copain “Cailloux & Coccinelle” Syrah, Walla Walla 2000

What an indulgent dish...perfectly crisped pork belly with plenty of tasty fat and a peppery exterior. Once again, this dish was finished off tableside with some truffle jus. Great aromas wafted up as the jus was spooned on. I really enjoyed the flavor play between the pork and the squared piece of apple. There was also some fabulous work done on the potato stacks with the peace symbol shaped design showing through the translucent top. This dish came to the table blisteringly hot. And for good reason...as the pork belly cooled off, it became less pleasurable to eat. Fortunately, I had polished off most of mine so quickly that this was of little consequence.


Lime Sorbet

With melon soup and figs

Straightforward and clean. Nothing revolutionary...yet still pleasurable.


Chocolate Guanaja Salad

With passion fruit puree

Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine

The passion fruit was a superb accompaniment to the chocolate because the tartness cut right into the sweetness of the mousse and kept the flavor fresh and lively. The passion fruit puree included seeds that were crisp and in good condition.


Coconut Parfait

With roasted pineapple jus

Again another pleasurable dessert...but not for the coconut parfait which was only average, but for the tasty slices of pineapple draped over the dish. The pineapple really was the star of this dish and I had no complaints with that.


Strawberries and Doughnuts

Sautéed strawberries and milk shake, passion fruit doughnuts

The passion fruit filled doughnuts were still warm and very fresh. I would have liked a bit more passion fruit in the middle but these were decent. Probably not quite as good as the lilikoi malasadas we recently had at Chef Mavro in Honolulu. The strawberries were fine but uninspiring. The strawberry-guava milk shake was definitely a positive. Its mellow flavor provided a good contrast to the tartness in the other components. Also presented was a Greek style yogurt topped with strawberry jam.


Petit Fours

Pretty good...and great sizing. Not too big.


Wow. Fifth Floor is the real deal. What an outstanding menu that presented a multidimensional array of styles. It starts softly and delicately with a purity of flavor and an emphasis on showcased ingredients. And by the end, the menu is presenting a bolder more assertive style of flavor combinations which all worked very well together. I love how the Oh Toro dish was so simplistic in it's spotlighting of a tremendous piece of tuna. And yet I equally enjoyed the cacophony of flavors and textures found in the foie gras course. What's truly impressive is how the more complex dishes managed to stay focused...never straying to a point where you wonder why something's included in a dish. Everything makes sense and every flavor coexists harmoniously. There also a definite interplay between light citrus flavorings and stronger heartier stock based sauces. And those lines even blur occasionally as in the squab dish. These dueling styles add interest to the meal as a whole. Laurent Gras is doing some stellar work in a town where culinary standards are already so high. I'm looking forward to many return trips up to the Fifth Floor.

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:biggrin: thanks jeff for a great display of the food, so I could relive the experience. I really liked the quiet

atmosphere where you could speak normally- I found relaxing, sorry about your

intro. I found everyone there exceptionally warm and friendly and I would recommend

the restaurant as well. I also got the 36 in. pillow for my back, which I recommend

for the long evening. Where else did you go eat? You could not have described

each sampling more perfectly! Thank you.

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Wow! Another fabulous post, jeffj. Many thanks!!! :biggrin:

A question: How did you like the Inskillin Ice Wine? I have seen it aound and read about it, but I've never tried it.

Another question: Your posts are so detailed--do the pictures help you remember everything? I assume you take lots of notes, as well. Any pointers would be apprecitaed--I will generally remember on or two favorite dishes well, and the rest gets all blurry!

Last question: How would you compare this meal with your recent meal at the French Laundry?


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from your post, would it be correct to assume that the men and women had different amuses' and then the rest of the menu was the same for members of both sexes? if so, what do you think the reasoning could've been behind this move?


Edited by mikeczyz (log)
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Yes, we do take notes as the dinner unfolds. Usually, my girlfriend takes the notes and I shoot the photos. We try to be as detailed as possible but sometimes it's tough getting all the details about wines, etc. And I always write a rough draft of my review the same evening or, at the very least, the next morning so that everything is still fresh in my mind.

As to comparing Fifth Floor with The French Laundry...I think it's a really close race when you factor everything in.


I think interior-wise, the Fifth Floor is much more appealing and better decorated. However, in terms of general location, not many places can beat quaint, idyllic Yountville.


I would have to give the nod to The French Laundry for more precise and knowledgeable service. But I think the Fifth Floor has warmer more personable service.


This is really tough to call. I think it comes down to personal preferences and the menu and performance of the kitchen on the night you happen to be dining. All I can say is that if I had to pick between the two for a dinner next week, I would opt for Fifth Floor.


You'll be able to escape the Fifth Floor with a lot more greenbacks still in your wallet as compared to The French Laundry.

Inskillin Ice Wine: I actually enjoyed this a lot. I thought it held up well in terms of sweetness when pairing with the parade of desserts that we enjoyed. I wish I had more info on the particular vintage, etc. but this was one of the wines poured while I was on a bathroom break.

And finally, yes, men and women received different amuses but the rest of the menu was the same. Why this is? I have no idea really.

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