18. July 2007 American, West Village + TriBeCa 0

150 West 10th Street off Waverly Place
about $145 for one tasting menu and two extra dishes, with two drinks, with tip

Where do you go on a first date? If you feel unsure about the other person, you may want to go to a small bistro where the fare would be safe and expected. If you’ve known the other person for a while and feel comfortable enough to eat with a very sharp knife, you may want to go to a steakhouse. If you want to be playful but still slightly impress, you might go to P*Ong.

It’s hard not to think about desserts as soon as you step inside P*Ong. The first whiff you catch is of a bakery’s. From the red wall down to the glossy paper used for the menu, the Dr.’s first reaction when we sat down was, “Are we eating precious little things?” He was skeptical and he was hungry.

I went over the short menu and bravely ordered the suite which consisted of ten savory dishes. They are adventurous, yet well thought out. No one lackadaisically combines the ingredients like chef Pichet Ong does at P*Ong. Who else would think of a stilton soufflé encrusted in crushed walnuts and then pair it with a basil-arugula ice cream?

A fava bean and sugar snap pea dish sprinkled with thinly-sliced almonds and dusted with Parmiggiano reminded me of summers in Vermont. The sweet Maine crab with tarragon, lemon and chives was matched with green apple mousse, while the shrimp ceviche was flavored with Thai chili and mango purée. They were my two favorites even though I could have used more of the natural taste of the shellfish. Both were bright and cooling on the tongue. The bigeye tuna was overpowered by the olive dressing. I wanted to taste more of the fattiness of the tartare. The Wagyu carpaccio was biting with the arugula and the maldon salt gave it some extra texture. I barely had room for the goat cheese and the peaches served on a bed of smooth ricotta and brittled aloe vera. I was full and drowning in whimsical adjectives in my head.

The Dr. selected two dishes a la carte after the kitchen allowed us to order only one tasting menu. He loved the smooth polenta covered in a generous serving of morel mushrooms. A foie-gras brulée started off beautifully and interestingly until the smell of burnt sugar reminded him of something else in the hospital. Unfortunate and unpleasing, I know, and not to be blamed on the kitchen, but this was when the watermelonade cocktail worked its magic.

The Dr.’s skepticism dissipated as it got late and the house music was upped one level. P*Ong is certainly not the place you take your father to, but if your companion thinks stilton has some sexiness to it, you may just have to go out on a second date.