Thomas Keller Brings Country Club Cuisine to the City

Thomas Keller Brings Country Club Cuisine to the City


Something called “warm soft boiled egg” is a quietly joyous celebration of luxurious flavors and textures, the yolk running like lava over a buckwheat blin and a heap of warm osetra caviar in crème fraîche. (Yes, warm. It’s wonderful.) And the chilled prawn cocktail is going to be my platonic ideal of the dish from now on. But the crab cake had very little crab flavor, on two different nights, although it contained almost nothing else.

Lobster thermidor (now there’s a name I’ve not heard in a long, long time) is so tender, its sauce so fluffy and rich, that eating it becomes an intimate act. Dover sole meunière, though, has neither the crisped skin nor the juicy flesh that can make this fish so alluring.

Yes, life cannot be one giant plate of dancing butter-shrimp. Still, the gap between great and non-great items — nothing comes close to bad — is a bit too wide and comes into view a bit too often.

Regulars will learn to work the menu the way golfers learn their way around the eighth hole at Pebble Beach. Some will love the prime rib, which could not be any more moist without breaking several laws of chemistry. Others will wish that it had more concentrated beef flavor and that the flaps and handles had not been trimmed off, perhaps in pursuit of some Kellerian quest for bovine symmetry.

A large number will settle on the roast chicken for two. The meat is juicy but not gushy, the flavor full but not salty, the jus dark but not over-reduced. After the chicken, the pastry chef, Alex McClenaghan, can offer a highly refined coconut cake or an urbane lemon meringue tart, but you’d almost have to be insane not to get the chocolate cake. Certainly a close relative of devil’s food cake, his version weaves dark-chocolate cremeux between its many, many layers, all of them wrapped in a dark-chocolate frosting.

And there will be regulars, because the rewards of TAK Room, if you can find them and pay for them, are as intense as the chocolate in that cake. The core audience may turn out to be travelers on loan from the Surf Club and Mr. Keller’s California strongholds, or they may just be people who like the feeling of crashing the country club. Anti-plutocrat fevers come and go, but the trappings of American aristocracy are always in style somewhere.

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