Cover image: L’Appart NYC © Chang W. Lee / New York Times
Perhaps on Valentine’s Days past, the holiday has delivered on its reputation for exquisite decadence and heady indulgences, and you’ve found yourself at a beautiful table, with a beautiful date, a heart-shaped dessert upon your plate.
Or, perhaps the idea of dining out on Valentine’s Day conjures visions of industrial-sized trays of plated desserts, wrapped in plastic and stacked in a walk-in cooler, awaiting last minute touches–a streak of caramel here, a mint leaf there–before being whisked from the overworked garde manger (the pastry chef has been gone for hours) and placed before guests who dine on a special-occasion-only basis. Such are the perils of dining out on any busy holiday when restaurants are all but forced to turn to prix fixe menus to handle customer volume. Even tasting menus tend to lose their luster, turning to the crowd pleasing but uninspired: cue the lobster ravioli and chocolate lava cake, or some version thereof.
I’ve been on both the serving and receiving end of such meals, and thus my Valentine’s Day dining has been confined to my kitchen for years. Thanks to the culinary genius of Chef Nico Abello and the effortless warmth of Maitre’d’ George Thomas and his extraordinarily attentive staff, my husband and I may be liberated of our hunkering in habits on Valentine’s Day this year.
Here’s why: The Valentine’s Day menu at L’Appart marries the earthy and the sublime, as, I suppose, any aphrodisiac inspired menu should, and while the meal is built around the inclusion of amor-inducing ingredients, had they simply been put before me with no other explanation than that they tasted great together, I would have held the flavors alone responsible for the otherworldly places to which I was transported.
The pair of amuse -bouche that began the meal, established the interplay of the earthy and the ethereal that would thread its way through the evening’s plates. Served in a tiny glass cup with a tiny spoon to match, black trumpet mushrooms sprung from a fine and perfectly pungent onion mushroom puree that reminded one of the origin of all flavor: the soil itself. Until one was made to think of the sea with the second amuse, a bite of tuna made light and acidic in the company of mandarin and black radish. As if by magic, the flavor of the black trumpets reverberated in the mouth, even as it was learning the notes of the tuna trio.
And it only got better from there. Here are some highlights: The oyster’s aphrodisiacal properties are well known, but this oyster’s powers were gilded with the addition of saffron, another of the evening’s amative elements. The thinnest sliver of radish, crisp and mildly acidic, balanced the saffron cream, making this a heavenly bite.
Lobster floated on cloud of avocado whipped so as to be cloud-like in consistency and energized by a touch of ginseng so delicate and well-paired as to be unrecognizable. Crisp, unsweetened tapioca pearls crowned the dish, lending it just the bit of air and texture it needed to achieve transcendency.
Black sea bass, tender and flavorful and moist, served with an aromatic combination of celery root whipped into a foamy lather and star anise, a touch of ginger inhabiting melange of flavors, was almost airy in the mouth such was the play of the flavors and delicacy of the textures.
The quail grounded the meal, landing us back at the table, where we were reminded once again of the earth and its bounty: almonds, pears, swiss chard and rosemary. If the time-warp speed with which L’Appart was granted a Michelin star–in under sixth months of its opening–needed justification, surely this was it. As if for emphasis, the meal ended on an unsurpassably grand note: dark chocolate tempered with blood orange and ginger and finished with gold leaf. Yes, real, actual, edible gold!
This restaurant, tiny and cozy, apart indeed from the bustling market in which it is ensconced, seems as if it were built with Valentine’s Day in mind, so symmetrical are its numbers in relation to the holiday: 28 seats, exactly enough to accommodate 14 couples at once on the 14th.
Luckily for us all, the charm and warmth of this room and the stellar offerings of its kitchen are available year round, items from the Valentine’s Day aphrodisiac menu offered on and around the holiday.
For reservations and information, visit l’Appart.