I have to confess, I had never heard of Geoffrey Zakarian until I started watching “Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs”. But when I saw his style and the food he produced on that show, I was instantly intrigued by him and looking to try his food. On the show, his style is incredibly refined with a technique that had all the judges marveling. He’s got this very precise, perfectionist way of cooking that results in a very beautifully executed plate. Friday night we had dinner at his restaurant, the National. The National is located in the Benjamin Hotel in Midtown East of Manhattan.
Restaurant was bustling and had a very French bistro decor about it. I liked it – it reminded me of a more modern version of Balthazar’s interior.
Cookie Monster started with the scallop appetizer with leek, apple and crispy proscuitto:
Perfectly cooked sweet scallops with crunchy apples and tender leeks. The scallops tasted like they were sitting on a delicate puree of parsnip puree – it enhanced the natural sweetness of the scallop. This appetizer was delicious.
Loving octopus with chorizo, I got exactly that for my appetizer:
Roasted fennel and cannellini beans were also present in the dish. I don’t know that I loved this dish more than the one they serve at Dell’ Anima. The octopus was clearly cooked properly as it was incredibly tender but it tasted a tad fishy to me. The chorizo I thought could have been cooked a little longer – they weren’t crispy enough for me and more chewy. The fennel was delicious: roasted until they are sweet and the licorice flavors are mellowed out. This appetizer was good and I finished it but probably not something I would order again. The two tables near us both ordered the lamb meatballs and the scent was intoxicating. I also heard them ooh’ing and aah’ing over them so that’s clearly something to get next time.
For main course, Cookie Monster got the braised short ribs with squash, farro and rainbow chard:
The short rib had a robust beefy flavor and was fork tender. So good. But the real treat on this dish was the farro in my opinion. It had a great chewy bite to it and had absorbed all that beef gravy. It was a really great texture.
I, in an attempt to be good, got the grilled branzino with cauliflower, grapes, endive and lemon gastrique. (Incidentally, I had read this was also the National’s signature dish)
The flesh of this white fish was so moist and succulent. I LOVE branzino. It just has so much flavor to it. And this is the second restaurant that I’ve seen pairing branzino with cauliflower (the other restaurant is Taboon) and I find the coupling works quite well. Sweet halved grapes added pops of fresh sweetness here and there. I was very pleased with my selection.
We also got a side of the smoked paprika hand cut fries (I had read these were delicious):
Very good fries. Had the nice requisite crunch and the slight heat from the smokey paprika was definitely something new. We were reaching for more until there was no more.
For dessert, Cookie Monster got the mocha praline sundae with espresso gelato, hazelnut brittle and fudge sauce:
I got the cinnamon panna cotta which was creamy and not overly sweet. Tasted of fall!
We really enjoyed our meal. It made us feel grown up without it being stuffy. The food is elegant and simple. I think this would be a great place to take parents in town. Congrats to Chef Zakarian on taking Iron Chef! I can see why!
The National, 557 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY