Last Monday evening, my wife and I had the pleasure of traveling to NYC to attend the Beard dinner that Doug Flicker and the staff of Auriga cooked at The James Beard House. What a night!
First, let me tell you that the super trendy Hotel Gansevoort far exceeded my expectations. I was prepared for a cute, modern boutique hotel, with slipshod service and a staff more anxious about the status of their haircut than the happiness of their guests. I was way off base. The rooms are stunning, with oversized bathrooms, stunning views, superb appointments—including some of the comfiest beds and softest sheeting I have encountered in any comparable hotel—and a staff that could not have been any more professional and attentive if Harry Ritz had been taking care of us personally. We spotted the female cast members of Lost while we were there, Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy and Sideways fame, and hordes of gawkers looking for celeb sightings, which are frequent at the Big G since its rooftop bar and pool is the hottest see-and-be-seen spot in Manhattan these days.
After a long day spent shopping (Bobbi Brown’s new line of baby soaps and creams for 'lil Noah, a truckload of Jo Malone for The Rishia, and some Miller Harris tangerine-basil spritz for the Big Guy), we stopped back at the hotel for a nap and then went to the Beard House. Flicker and his team opened up with foie gras–stuffed figs, pancetta-wrapped pickled dwarf peaches, and bouqerones. At the table we started with a breathtaking solitary nettle-stuffed agnotlotti resting in a pool of sweet pea broth crowned with a thin wisp of swordfish bottarga, moved on to a steamed tuna collar torchon sliced thin and topped with artichoke crudo and paired with duck eggs and beet essence, then wolfed down a flawlessly seared fresh herring with morels and garlic scapes before finishing out the savory side with a roasted lamb paired with smoked olive-oil gel, green apples, and tobacco leaf–wrapped truffled pecorino. For dessert, pastry doyenne Khan Tran served a summer berry and wild flower composition over a berry-wine gelee with avocado sorbet that was devoured almost as quickly as her chocolate- and spice-coated almond mignardise.
All I can tell you is that Flicker and his young staff blew everyone’s minds with their sophisticated and stunningly executed meal. Having cooked at the Beard House on three occasions myself, and having attended dozens of dinners there, it is one of the toughest places to cook and serve a meal. The space is teeny, the kitchen is foreign, the servers are new to the chefs—so essentially it’s a seventh-game playoff, winner-take-all, away game. Auriga won.
After the meal the Auriga staff sent out a thank-you card to every guest, something I have never seen in twenty-five years of prowling the food scene, and partner Jim Andrus presented Flicker with a custom-made Japanese knife that had half the room in tears.
Put down your computer mouse, pick up the phone, and make a reservation at Auriga. It is one of the top five eating experiences in the Cities and Flicker is on a roll these days, which means that you can taste the extra love in the food. Trust me on this.