The diversity of restaurants in New York City is just as you’d expect. You’ve got those street vendors with $1 slices of sloppy pizza or tiny hotdogs, classic diners, swanky dining rooms with pompous waitstaff, bistros and food halls … you name it. A trip to New York where there was no shoestring budget and an Australian dollar in our favour meant we could pick and choose wherever took our fancy.
Manhattans Financial District would never have even been a consideration for dinner except when Mr K comes across words written with very high praise in Shannon Bennett’s New York guide about a restaurant named SHO Shaun Hergatt.
Located in The Setai condo building a very short distance from Wall Street, Sho Shaun Hergatt is the districts only Michelin starred venue. Once upstairs from the high security entrance I’m impressed with the two vertical glass wine cellars either side of the walkway that leads to the main partitioned dining room.
The wow factor subsided once we passed the gallery-like wine cellar and entered a dimly-lit room that felt a little dated and much like a hotel lobby in Honkers, Bangkok or 1990’s Sydney. Aside from two other tables, we had the dimly-lit restaurant to ourselves.
The overall flavour chef Hergatt brings to this linen-topped part of the island is an artistic modern French and Asian fusion of ingredients flown in from all over the world. Rather than do a la carte we opt with the Tasting Menu* and Matching Wines** where the chef chooses a specific ingredient from the season and carries it through the entire meal. Tonights special ingredient? Tomato.
A couple of little (non-tomato) treats came before the menu kicked off, starting with green pea purée topped with coconut foam and pea tendrils. Now you see it, now you don’t. Quick, fresh, very tasty. A very regal looking shell is soon placed infront of us, containing truffles. For a second there I thought we were given four whole truffles flown in fresh from an exotic field on the other side of the globe but these were actually made with foie gras and potato purée before being breaded in squid ink-dyed panko.
Beautiful little lumps of goodness with a thin external crunch and creamy savoury inside. Our male server gave no description other than foie gras truffles so I had to rely on the much more informative female server by listening in on the descriptions she gave to her table. The amuse bouche of corn soup with truffle cream and chives was a nice couple of spoonfuls I could have easily eaten a large bowl of and even Mr I Hate Corn opposite me ate every drop, to my astonishment.
At first glance our next tasting plate had me fooled at it being salmon sashimi. The carpaccio of roma tomato confit almost had the texture of sashimi but that sweet and fruity flavour was a reminder that it really was tomato. A white balsamic zing added to the fresh simple flavours and when I hit the small rounds of goat cheese then the quenelle of intensely sweet tomato tartare and peppery sylvetta arugula, it was a sensation.
Our tomato tour continued on to an oven roasted tomato and fennel soup. A centrepiece of green African arugula espuma surrounded by skinless Long Island toy box tomatoes topped with leaves is soon doused with the roasted tomato and fennel soup. What you can’t quite see is a thin layer of tomato gelée on the bottom of the bowl adding one more, almost invisible, soft and gelatinous layer to the tomato celebration.
Next, one lone prawn confited in tomato oil and drizzled with ponzu sits beside a sambal of tomato and kaffir lime leaf, with the odd micro red shiso leaf adding its subtle anise flavour to the prawn and sharp lime.
More seafood follows with a sous vide East Coast halibut that simply melts in the mouth. The pure white flesh of the fish is absolute perfection, complimented by a cherry tomato and anchovy sauce, dots of black olive oil, two cucumber blossoms and tuile of rice and poppyseed.
From East Coast fish to upstate New York quail; this was a true masterpiece. Cooked medium rare and displayed as three pieces, the quail breast is wrapped around foie gras, the drum is confited and is balanced with a tomato sambal, slightly different to the earlier one. Quail jus adds savoury moisture. A row of cucumber gelée cubes sits to one side topped with micro parsley and light dusting of olive oil powder. You can just imagine the taste sensations. To bring the glamourous-looking quail down to a rustic level we also got a copper pot of rich tomato and red wine borlotti beans with garlic and paprika.
With the savoury dishes now behind us we get a tomato sorbet that I had very mixed feelings about. I absolutely loved the distinct tomato flavour and sweetness of the sorbet but within a second or two a blanket of saltiness moved in and left an almost soapy sensation on the palate. It seemed I was alone in feeling that way as the other half really liked it.
Our dessert of tri-star strawberry and tomato espuma was a picture perfect corsage of halved fresh berries, slices of dehydrated berries, spirals of crisp strawberry meringue and micro basil set upon a bed of tomato gelée. The tomato and strawberry flavours did wonders together and the arc of aged balsamic dots sadly did nothing more than create visual interest. Had there been a little more balsamic, well, we all know how good it goes with strawberries.
Another male server delivers our last plate, yes it’s petit fours time, but neither of us catch what each morsel is due to his very strong accent. Let’s take a look … there’s a macaron, cranberries & pistachio in white chocolate, some kind of firm jelly, a meringue, shortbread and some other kind of filled biscuit.
All in all a fab tomato journey thanks to the hands of Shaun Hergatt, a great sommelier and excellent wait staff, despite the description inconsistencies. Also a big thanks to Shaun for the tour of his sprawling kitchen. We had a good little chat and I even learned we both lived on Macleay Street in Potts Point (Sydney) at one point in our lives. Cheers mate.