The Modern

9 West 53rd St.

New York, NY 10019

Tel. +1 (212) 333-1220


The Food:

Tuna and Oxalis - Frozen Peas

Eggs on Eggs on Eggs

Chilled Lobster and Green Tomato, Whole Milk Burrata

Diver Scallops with Preserved Tomato Broth and Basil

Crispy Sea Bass with Melted Leeks and Shiso

Dry Aged Duck with Black Truffle and Citrus

Nam Doc Mai Mango with Coconut Rice

Yorkshire Rhubarb and Custard Pavlova

The Wines:

2020 Clos de la Bergerie Savennières Roche Aux Moines 85
NV (2018) Guiborat Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Prisme (12/22)   90
2021 Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay Sandford & Benedict 94

I was excited when my dining companion booked a table at The Modern for this recent lunch. I had not been to The Modern in quite some time, so I was very much looking forward to going back. Over the years, I have had some very good experiences here and some that have been rather lackluster, hence my long absence. Walking into the dining room felt like a refreshing new beginning in a place I have often loved.

The tuna amuse-bouche is sublime.

The Modern is nestled in the Museum of Modern Art in the heart of Midtown. New York has trendier neighborhoods, but there is a classicism to this part of town that I always enjoy. This is the New York City so many of us grow up seeing in movies and television. The Modern features a gorgeous, bustling bar. It’s a fun spot to grab a drink and enjoy light bites. The spacious, elegant and well-lit main dining room is immediately welcoming. A private dining room is just off to the side.

Lunch is a prix-fixe menu: $150 for four courses, $275 for six courses. Sensing our hesitation about which option to choose, our captain steps in and strongly suggests the six-course menu. Excellent. I always appreciate conviction and a good salesperson. That’s a talent. She then explains in detail the time the lunch will take, just to make sure we are good with our schedules. I am astonished that the kitchen can execute this level of cooking in the specified time. We aren’t in a rush, but I imagine many New York City diners are. Personally, I think it would be a shame to race through one of these menus quickly, but guests who want to enjoy a first-rate meal on a tight schedule will find The Modern extremely accommodating.

The wine list is a book. Some sections are quite deep. Diners will find a number of creative and interesting options by the glass. The Champagne selection is terrific. There aren’t a ton of bargains, but the wines are there. It’s a decidedly Francophile list, with more emphasis on reds than whites. Some sections show a lack of curation and interest, Italy for example, but, to be fair, it is hard to excel in all areas.

Eggs on Eggs on Eggs, a signature dish at The Modern.

I don’t want to spend hours poring through a list when I go to a restaurant of this caliber. I want a sommelier to pick out a few wines, hopefully, things that are new to me. Over the years, sommeliers have introduced me to many wines. That’s what I am looking for—to be educated. We let our sommelier know that we would like to order a few whites for lunch and leave the rest to him.

Chilled Lobster and Green Tomato, Whole Milk Burrata.

First, our captain suggests a glass of Champagne to start, which the sommelier should have done. In any event, the NV (2018) Guiborat Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Prisme is delicious and a perfect pairing with the tuna and frozen pea amuse-bouches. Vibrant citrus, floral and mineral notes whet the appetite. Lunch is off to a great start.

The first wine arrives. It is the 2020 Savennières Roche Aux Moines, 100% Chenin Blanc from Nicolas Joly’s Clos de la Bergerie. Interesting choice. Especially without knowing a customer’s palate or preferences. One of the pioneers of biodynamics and low-intervention wines, Joly is best known for his Coulée de Serrant, a white that tends to elicit highly polarized reactions. I’ve had mixed experiences, but I am always open to something new. In fact, that is what I crave most. Learning. I find the 2020 heavy, disjointed and too oxidative, with a distinct touch of residual sugar and a cider-like quality that is distracting. For me, there is no pleasure in this wine. Moreover, I find it completely dissonant with the food. I could see it working with richer main courses or cheese. At this place in the meal, it is decidedly awkward. Perhaps it will improve with air, I think. I hope.

Diver Scallops with Preserved Tomato Broth and Basil.

I can't say enough good things about Chef Thomas Allen’s menu. The food is simply brilliant. More than once during this lunch, I thought how lucky we are to have The Modern in New York City. Allan’s dishes are complex but not overdone in any way. There’s a purity to the flavors and textures that is hugely appealing.

Eggs on eggs on eggs, a signature dish, is superb. A generous dollop of caviar and a pristine egg yolk are artfully arranged with slices of brioche over a creamy egg sauce. It’s a luxurious and delicious starter. Chilled Maine Lobster, served very chilled, with green tomato, burrata and avocado sorbet, is so refreshing. Unfortunately, the Savennières is totally in conflict with this course. Maine diver scallops are superb. Beech mushrooms, pork belly, preserved tomato broth and basil oil bring out the richer side of the scallops. Everything about this dish works so well. The wine does not. Crispy sea bass, accompanied by melted leeks and shiso sabayon, is perfectly cooked. We have barely touched the wine. No one seems to notice.

Crispy Sea Bass with Melted Leeks and Shiso.

Let me be clear. I have no issue with a sommelier recommending a quirky, idiosyncratic wine. I don’t happen to care for this bottle, but so what? No big deal. I also find the wine completely ill-suited for cuisine that emphasizes delicacy and precision, but that is only my opinion, one person’s opinion. Someone else might find these pairings sublime. Fair enough. I won’t fault anyone for that. I do think starting with such a rich, heavy white leaves nowhere to go when a customer has explicitly asked to taste several white wines over a meal. That is a clear error in judgment. Moreover, a sommelier has to know they have chosen an eccentric wine and should, therefore, check in with the table to see if guests are enjoying the wine. That did not happen. Another miss, but something that is easily addressed.

At this point, I finally track down our sommelier for the wine list and inquire how many savory courses are left. Only one. Even so, we are dying for something with a semblance of freshness. I order the Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay Trout Gulch. Perhaps some part of this lunch can be salvaged. Not available. Our sommelier recommends the 2020 Ceritas Trout Gulch Chardonnay. It’s a good option, but I prefer the 2021 Arnot-Roberts Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, a wine from a much better year. The main course arrives. Duck. As it turns out, the S&B Chardonnay is a decent match. Its light tropical notes and Sta. Rita Hills creaminess work well with the citrus sauce, but are less suited to the duck, especially given the dry aging and the accompanying black truffle purée. Even so, it’s a gorgeous wine. Can we start lunch over? I think to myself.

Dry Aged Duck with Black Truffle and Citrus.

I wonder, if the main course on the tasting menu is duck, why didn’t the sommelier ask if we were sure we wanted to stay with white wine? Or, why did the chef serve such a red wine-friendly dish without offering an alternative when we told the sommelier we wanted to drink whites? What are the chances the chef and sommelier had any discussion about the menu, the sequence of dishes and what some great wine choices might be? Zero. At this level, that dialogue simply has to happen.

Nam Doc Mai Mango with Coconut Rice.

The last savory course is cleared, and the pre-dessert arrives. We aren’t asked if we would like to have cheese first. Why not? It’s an easy sale. Both desserts are sublime, really off the charts. I don’t usually drink sweet wine, but I might have had it been offered. Barsac would have been ideal with Thomas Allen’s fruit-based desserts.

These may all seem like the finer points of service. They are. For a lunch that cost in excess of $600 a person (with 20% gratuity), I expect a restaurant at this level to absolutely crush these details. I want to be clear that my critiques aren’t directed at any one person because it is the restaurant's leadership team that sets the tone and is ultimately responsible for training staff. In fact, one of the reasons I had not been to The Modern in several years is that we had a disappointing experience with an event we hosted here a while back. We found the restaurant’s team incredibly hard to work with, much more so than anywhere else we do or have done events. These are exceedingly rare exceptions within Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, where we have had so many great moments over the years. 

Yorkshire Rhubarb and Custard Pavlova.

“The difference between you and me is that you say what you think, whereas I just won’t go back,” my guest says as we near the end of lunch. I wonder how many people do the same. Probably most. I have the opportunity, the privilege, to eat in restaurants like The Modern more often than many people because of what I do for work. I can shrug off an experience like this one. But, if this had been a special occasion or a celebratory lunch, I would have been deeply disappointed.

My hope is that the critiques in this article are taken in the constructive manner in which they are intended. The Modern can truly be a great restaurant.

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