Astonishing Asiate at the Mandarin
A Room With More Than a View
It was more or less expected that the Mandarin Oriental
chain, with roots in Hong Kong and Bangkok, would feature an Asian
restaurant in its Time Warner—Columbus Circle entry. Still Asiate
astonishes. Step out of the elevator onto the 35th floor of this newest
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and your heart will skip the proverbial beat.
Before you an enormous amber-colored
glass sculpture, suggestive of a group of swans, rises, their necks
extended to the soaring ceiling. On the ground are Oriental carpets; a
magnificent gold-threaded antique kimono hangs on the far wall. And
this is but the hotel lobby. Asiate is down the hall.
Later on, we would take in the wine closet at the
entrance to the restaurant, a shimmering glass box where 1,300 bottles are
arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves. For the moment, however, we were
transfixed by one of those spectacular visions of New York as seen from
above – in this case across the tree-tops of Central Park from its
southerly beginnings to where it ends somewhere in Morningside Heights.
From a table beside one of the
sixteen-foot-high windows that line that northern wall, we found the
view an evening-long distraction although every so often we did turn
to admire Tony Chi’s gleaming bi-level interior that combines 1940’s
supper club chic with a Zen-like aura of luminescent simplicity
emanating from the single white lily on every table, the dishes of
pure white porcelain, and the glass sculptures along the ceiling which
seem to dissolve the boundary separating outside from inside, bringing
the treetops indoors.
But both interior and exterior views, however, take
second place to the main event of Asiate: focusing and feasting on the
beautiful and imaginative creations of Noriyuki Sugie. The modest and
self-effacing manner of the young Japanese chef belies his experience in
three-star Michelin properties between Toulouse and Bordeaux. Of late,
having come to the Mandarin Oriental from Charlie Trotter's in Chicago,
Sugie seems comfortably ensconced in his new domain where he is busy
combining his Asian heritage and French training to surprising and
Dinner begins with miniature cheese puffs and espresso
cups filled with red pepper soup made with just a little cream to whet the
appetite. They are but a prelude to a parade of unexpected combinations.
There is Caesar salad soup (yes, soup!), lettuce cooked
in chicken stock and onions and served with parmesan cheese. It’s
marvelous. There is shredded crabmeat in a light cream sauce refreshed by
green mango and tart grapefruit wedges. Topped with cilantro and
pomegranate seeds, this inspired creation is based, Sugie told us, on a
dish he discovered in Thailand.
Sweet Australian prawns with fettuccini and spinach are
served in pappiote. Snip open the paper sack and a bracing aroma escapes
from the scallop-rich sauce. Oxtail sauce accompanies the Wagyu beef
served with smoked potato puree. The beef is seared French style, in a
very slow oven to retain the juices. But the oxtail sauce is made with soy
sauce, Asian black vinegar, and Asian spices. Another example of Far
Eastern influences gracing French technique to superb results. Chicken
breast is poached in coconut milk and served with duck confit – an
unlikely combination, yet a successful marrying of contrasting flavors and
There was no sushi, no sashimi. “They are typical,” the
chef said. “I want to try more original things.” Like the desserts that
still linger in taste bud-memory: passion mango soufflé with sticky-rice
ice cream, apple parfait with cider foam.
“I don’t consider my cooking Fusion. I am just using my
background,” Sugie said of his complex, time-intensive cooking with its
manifold herbs and spices, its rich broths and exotic combinings, and
fresh produce he finds in the giant food hall on the concourse level of
the Times Warner complex – a takeoff of the one found in London at
Harrod’s department store. “I shop there; I get ideas from the produce
they’re selling,” he told us.
In the months since the Times Warner complex opened, its
“Restaurant Collection” has succeeded in making the area around Columbus
Circle a new destination for exceptional New York dining. At this point,
Sugie may not be as well known as some of the world-class chefs who are
his neighbors. In our view, however, he is well on his way to establishing
a place for himself in their pantheon.
80 Columbus Circle
New York, NY
Breakfast: 7 to
10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 8 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Lunch: noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Brunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Dinner: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, to 11 p.m. Saturday, 6 to
8:30 p.m. Sunday. Prix fixe dinner $65, tasting menu $85. All major credit
Photos by Harvey Frommer