400 5th Ave.New York, NY 10018
Avid Infatuation readers know by now that we love ourselves some Michael White. For us, it doesn’t get much better than a meal that involves a heavy dose of the big man’s pasta. Marea is one of our absolute favorite restaurants in Manhattan, and we also gave high marks to his downtown meatopia, Osteria Morini. So you can imagine that expectations were sky high for White’s new hotel restaurant, Ai Fiori.
Unlike the charming, cozy Morini, Ai Fiori is a sprawling space with more room than they know what to do with. The bathrooms are bigger than both of our apartments combined. There also seems to be around 2,000 people on staff, and the amount of dinner and glassware on site could challenge the stock room at Bloomingdales. But it’s clear that Ai Fiori could be the (large) show that White takes on the road. Set inside The Setai, this is a bit of a cookie cutter hotel restaurant, and it’s got all the makings of a chain that could work anywhere in the world…not just NYC. Don’t get us wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it worked just fine for Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay. But this isn’t a place we’ll be hanging out a lot – it’s not our crowd. However, for a business man with a hot little pant suit number on his arm or a crew of white-haired couples, Ai Fiori is perfect.
A stupendous chilled potato and leek soup, with oysters and chorizo. It’s served in a beautiful bowl too. Extra points for attention to detail. Order it.
This appetizer was definitely tasty, but there was a lot going on. It’s essentially a crab cracker with lots of action – blue crab, avocado, grapefruit, and some tarragon. Even after cleaning our plate, we weren’t sure what to make of it.
This is probably the most original dish we sampled all night. A slow poached egg with chunks of lobster, sweetbread and whatever nuage layon is. The dish comes served in a large bowl and is sort of a foamy soup situation. Definitely order this – it’s delicate and delicious.
As recommended by the waiter, we tried the Amberjack tartare. The white fish was wrapped in cucumber and served with salty trout roe and orange. This was good, but not amazing.
We’ve come to expect the best from White in the pasta department, and he never let’s us down. We’re on record saying his pasta is the best we’ve ever tasted, and Ai Fiori’s selection, although not the focus of the menu, is just as good as his others. This crazy squid ink pasta is filled with scallops, a crustacean ragout and crunchy breadcrumbs. Incredible.
Four huge, handmade ricotta and mascarpone ravioli, topped with boschetto cheese and a red wine glaze. Smiles all around.
The best thing we ate all night. Holy sh*t was this buttery rice ridiculous. It was a five dollar supplement to the tasting menu, but worth it. Lobster, bone marrow, saffron and shellfish jus. As Lykke Li would say, “Get Some.”
Classic Michael White right here. Semolina saffron gnocchi with blue crab, sea urchin, tomato, fresh herbs and a breadcrumb crunch. When you die and go to heaven, this is what’s for dinner.
Two nice servings of beef cheek “daube”, AKA really rich, really delicious short ribs. Eating one would fill up any hungry human, but two? That’s a lot of food – especially impressive to offer up on a prix fixe. Is this incredible? No. Were we happy? Yes.
It’s nice when you don’t have to pay more for lobster on a tasting menu. This tail couldn’t have been cooked better. It was delicate, rich and everything lobster is supposed to be. Don’t hesitate to pull the trigger if it’s on the menu when you come.
There’s a lot of noise around White’s rack of lamb, and indeed it lived up to the hype. This is absolutely delicious.
A nicely seared filet of beef, perfectly rare, but also somehow lacking that little extra something to push a good dish over the top to great.
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