Stella 34 and Morimoto’s: Valentine Weekend Conclusion

Stella 34

Stella 34

Shopping at Macy’s Herald Square and lunch at the flagship store’s premier restaurant, Stella 34, got the concluding day of our Valentine Weekend off to a great start.  While others were celebrating President’s Day, we enjoyed time together away from the rat race.

Monday was also conveniently the start of NYC’s Restaurant Week, when high-end restaurants all around the city offer selections from their fabulous menus for a reasonable fixed price.  Stella 34 was participating in that, and so we took advantage of it.  I ordered a seared tuna salad, followed by Linguine alle Vongole (linguine with clams), and finishing with strawberry sorbet.

I had made the reservation for Stella 34 on Open Table, and as I always do when I use Open Table, I mentioned my dairy allergy in the special comments section of the reservation form.  So our server almost immediately exclaimed, “I hear we have an allergy here!” and when I expressed interest in the linguine dish, he said it is usually made with cream but he had a feeling they could adapt it for my allergy.  And sure enough, they could, and they did, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Somehow, with just some olive oil, garlic and spices (and of course, clam meat), the chef was able to create a fabulously flavorful broth that stuck to the pasta and made it a top-notch entree.  The best linguine alle vongole I’ve ever had.

I later heard this same waiter asking “do we have any food allergies or restrictions?” when he was greeting customers at other tables.  I don’t know if this was by his initiative, or a policy of the restaurant, but I personally think that is great to handle allergies that way.  Get it out in the open and then you can get it out of the way, and spend the rest of your meal enjoying yourself.  That approach suits me fine.

The tuna appetizer/salad was very nice, and the sorbet that concluded our lunch was quite good.  It was from a gelateria that is next to the restaurant, Vivoli Gelato, which is based in Florence, Italy, and serves Italian-style gelato and sorbet (or sorbetto, if you prefer).  Well, this sorbetto may have been the creamiest I’ve ever had!  It was the consistency of whipped butter – just that creamy and smooth.  And the paper cup-full offered was a lot of sorbet!  We were impressed by Stella 34, surprised a little bit even, and this larger-than-average quality dessert was the icing on the cake.  We enjoyed the restaurant’s decor as well, the highlight of which is an assortment of celebrity caricatures (I noticed one of chef Marcus Samuelsson right away).

For our afternoon, we had two things in mind: a little more shopping, this time at B&H Photo on 34th Street and 9th Avenue, and an afternoon movie at the AMC Loews 34th Street Cinemas.  Then we would finish up our day and the lovely 3-day weekend with a very special dinner, at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto‘s restaurant, also called Morimoto’s.

B&H is a curious place, with more than half the store’s square footage devoted to an elaborate security system, where you get in one line after another until you finally leave the store.  But I left with what I had come for – an iStabilizer Mount XL and a tabletop tripod for taking videos with my phone (stay tuned for those!).

The movie we saw was “Monuments Men,” the star-studded World War II film directed by George Clooney about American efforts to save Nazi-stolen art.  We enjoyed it, but felt that there was enough material and story lines to make several films, and wished that some sub-plots could’ve been further explored.  Mr. Clooney did his best to keep all the balls in the air, giving each of his actors the chance to shine at various moments.  But for me, in the end, the art was the biggest star – I enjoyed seeing Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna (and facsimiles of both) up close.

For several years, we have been fans of Chef Morimoto, watching him display his Asian fusion artistry on Iron Chef America, and dreaming of the day when we would have dinner at his restaurant near the Food Network offices in Chelsea.  On Monday, that day finally arrived.

My experience with Japanese style is that every detail is carefully considered, and at Morimoto’s I certainly felt that there were many fascinating details in the restaurant’s decor, from a classy downstairs bar to a ceiling of draped fabric.  But of course the real star would have to be the food.  And so it was – but let’s not forget the sake, which was also quite wonderful.

It wasn’t as easy to eat dairy free at Morimoto’s as I would’ve thought it would be – since the cuisine there fully embraces the idea of being a fusion of Asian and Western cuisines, things like creme fraiche are used in a number of dishes.  But we were able to find several stellar dishes to enjoy.  It all started with a Miso Glazed Roasted Bone Marrow with Grilled Sourdough.  Absolutely amazing.  Smearing a dollop of the marrow and glaze on the toast, each bite had the full spectrum of tastes in it – sweet, savory, spicy, tangy.  I’ve been wanting to try bone marrow for a while, and eating that bone marrow, I have to say, any version of that dish I eat at any restaurant in the future is going to have to go pretty far to be on the level that this bone marrow was.

Our second appetizer was a selection of Japanese delicacies which is called Zen Sai.  There was an oyster, a piece of glazed snow crab, some Wagyu beef and a couple other small dishes to savor.  Each delicacy had its own bowl or dish and the whole thing was presented in a way that was nearly as lovely to look at it as it was to eat.

Then came my entree, Toban Yaki.  All of my favorite seafood in a bowl of miso-soy broth.  My favorite was the scallops: there were two that were cooked perfectly, with the most amazing firm texture, and great flavor that was hard to describe.  There was also half a lobster, shrimps, snow crab, mussels and clams.  The broth was my least favorite part of the dish – I didn’t do much sipping of it, but I did enjoy the flavor that it imparted to the seafood.

Therese had a very satisfying entree as well – a surf and turf of Wagyu strip steak and hamachi ceviche with new potatoes – she loved the potatoes but couldn’t share them with me because they were mixed with creme fraiche.

While we were in the middle of eating our entrees, our waiter came to us and said, “I’m afraid I have an awkward situation.”  We had ordered a bottle of a cloudy Nigori sake to go with our dinner, and of course our waiter had been re-filling our glasses every time we got low on beverage.  But at one point another server had pitched in and re-filled our glasses.  What she didn’t know was that our bottle was in an ice bucket right next to a bucket with an identical bottle of sake from another table.  So she gave us someone else’s sake.  But that did not hurt us: it just meant we still had more sake to drink!

To finish up the night, I ordered a trio of sorbets which I shared with Therese.  There was raspberry wasabi, pineapple and mango/passion fruit.  The pineapple was my favorite.  The raspberry wasabi had an odd flavor, but it went well with the other two – when I took spoonfuls of the three in succession, it made for a very nice fruity flavor.

All that food, and all that sake had finally done us in.  We started dinner at 6:30 and didn’t leave Morimoto’s until after 10pm.  What a dinner! What a day!  What a weekend!

About Karl Peterson

Karl Peterson is an avid traveler, passionate about food and food-related entertainment, completely allergic to dairy. He is founder, owner and principle contributor to "The Dairy Free Traveler" blog. The Dairy Free Traveler perfectly dovetails two of his greatest areas of interest: traveling near and far, and searching for great cuisine (especially dairy free!) The Dairy Free Traveler publishes original material about the dairy free lifestyle, eating the best food in the most interesting destinations around the world. Karl's tours take him from thriving New York City, to exotic Marrakesh, to elegant Paris bistros -- (yes! even Parisians have gotten on the dairy free bandwagon.) The Dairy Free Traveler himself also engages with independent dairy free food producers, highlighting new dairy free product launches and events that support dairy free entrepreneurs. Peterson is among the top 7 most widely read TripAdvisor reviewers in New York City and is repeatedly cited as a Top Contributor at His reviews have garnered more than 542,000 readers -- half in the U.S., and half among the many countries he has visited around the world. Beyond writing this blog, Peterson is a published author, with contributions to "Savoring Gotham" edited by Andrew F. Smith (published 2015 by Oxford University) and the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Cheese (a bit ironic, yes, but a professional is often asked to stretch beyond their comfort zone!).
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