NYC Day 4: The Palm Court & Ai Fiori

TWPinNYC2016-145The iconic location of the ultra-posh Palm Court (off the lobby at The Plaza Hotel) exudes that expected old-school NYC glamour. Security is tight. Entrance is for hotel guests and those with reservations only.  I felt like I stepped right into a movie set, especially with the joyful holiday decor.

I visited with just my girlfriends this time on a rainy Sunday, for the classic Afternoon Tea Service. The menu offered options priced at $120.00 or $125.00 including a glass of Veuve Clicquot or Moet & Chandon and a third kid-centric, Eloise-themed menu. A great selection of tea is also available. Service, while cordial and professional, tended to be a little hot/cold and passive/aggressive most of the afternoon.

Upon arrival, we were gifted a couple of beautifully wrapped, gorgeous chocolate replicas of The Plaza to take home and encouraged to open them on Christmas Eve.

 


Displayed on a beautiful double-tiered silver carrier, the bites came out quickly. Each one seemingly dainty, but packed with flavor. What a treat! I loved the varied combinations. Our menu included a combination of the following:

Lox & Bagel with pickled cucumber and cream cheese
Deviled Organic Egg Salad with dill pickle relish
Slow Roasted Turkey with a cranberry-mustard aioli
Foie Gras Torchon
English Cucumber on rye bread and buttermilk-dill cream cheese
Roasted Chicken Salad with a black truffle aioli
Lobster Roll on a buttered brioche roll
Parisian Ham and Comte Cheese, with an apple & grain mustard butter on a ficelle baguette
Various freshly Baked Scones served with double Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and preserves.
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pistachio Cake
Gingerbread Macaron
Chocolate & Cherry Bailey’s Cream Bouche de Noel
Fruit Tart
Milk Chocolate and Pear Cream Eclair
Mandarin Orange Tart

While the overall experience and service were collectively top-notch throughout, I felt it died off towards the end. We felt rushed to pay and leave. A request for an additional water refill and tea was welcomed with a bit of a huff & puff and followed with several table visits asking if “there was anything else we needed.” You want us to leave, point taken. But given the food came out lightning fast while we were still enjoying the champagne, can we please enjoy our newly arrived pot of tea in peace? What gives?

 

As I sat back sipping my tea, trying to take it all in and enjoying the moment, Santa walked into the room. Yes, I said Santa! Not a guy in a red-stuffed suit with a fake beard, but a jolly looking gentleman with a real beard who made all the children in the room (and several of us adults) bright-eyed, and full of joy. Now THAT was the perfect way to end this experience. I resisted bothering Santa for a selfie, but he did wave hello when he passed our table. That rocked!

After our tea, we perused the shops and eateries downstairs. There’s so much history to take in at The Plaza. I left in a New York state of mind after that experience. What a city!

 

After a whirlwind weekend of life-changing dinners, and as great fans of Marea, our party of six looked forward to ending it on a positive note at Ai Fiori. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I left wondering how in the world it is possible that this restaurant has a Michelin star. Mediocre service can be expected at the Cheesecake Factory, but not here. Not at this level of dining and not with these accolades. Our weekend of intense dining in the city only magnified the shortcomings. True, the Michelin guide does not officially rate for service, but I highly doubt any inspector would have ignored the mishaps. How to ruin what would have otherwise been an unforgettable dinner? This way.

Arriving early before the rest of our party, my husband and I sat in the bar area and ordered a round of drinks. Service here delivered as expected, professional in every way. While we waited, we checked in our coats and turned in several bottles of wine we brought. The gentleman who took them asked if we’d like those decanted. “Yes please,” we answered. We requested the corks be kept for us as well.

TWPinNYC2016-152Once the rest of our party arrived, we moved to the exquisitely decorated main dining room. Our table had a street view facing the festively lit trees outside. After a bit of a wait, someone finally came by and asked if we’d had a chance to look over the menu. No welcome. No introduction. Basically, let’s just take your order and get this going. After she went around the table for what seemed like forever, we inquired about our wine. You know, the one we checked in about an hour ago? Finally, the sommelier (or someone like him) came by. Apparently, he had no idea we had checked them in and even less that we’d requested they be decanted.

After more waiting, a single wine decanter arrived, and we were told the other two were somewhere else…out of sight. After the wine was individually poured, that first decanter (and accompanying wine ring on the tablecloth) remained on the table instead of removed. At that time, I requested one of the empty bottles of wine for a quick photo. That request received a blank stare and pursed lips. How dare I ask such a thing? The bottle was delivered minutes later with the same gracefulness as that of one passing a baton at a relay race. Actually, worse. The sommelier walked by our table quickly and literally placed the bottle at the table’s center leaving my reaching arm hanging mid-air, followed by his stomping off without ever making any eye contact. Who did we piss off? Confused.

 

When the amuse bouche arrived, the first waiter started to describe it and the second one interrupted him to explain it loudly himself. This seemingly annoyed the first waiter,  while we all sat there watching. We never really saw the waitress who initially took our order again until dessert. At least most dishes were served with the usual ease expected of a Michelin rated establishment. Except for the time they served my hot soup while I was in the bathroom. Nice. Couldn’t they wait? The lamb course I ordered was a little rare for my taste, and I requested it please be cooked a bit more. They happily took it back, but then it came back out when everyone was done eating. Awesome. When our waitress reappeared, we ordered dessert. Another waitress, however, came back out to say that they’d run out of four of the six desserts. Lovely. The original waitress disappeared, never to be seen again. Ultimately, a gentleman in a suit (we’d never seen before) brought out the bill. Remember the corks request? The sommelier unapologetically insisted he was never told to save them and they’d been tossed. In fact, it felt like a scolding. Great. Honestly, we all felt like there’d been some kind of restaurant staff shakeup before our arrival. Something was definitively amiss, and we happened to be caught in the crossfire.

 

We’d planned to have a round of drinks at the bar, with a couple of friends who were meeting us there, once dinner finished. When we asked upon arrival, our bartender stated “…the last call at 11:30 pm.” When our friends arrived (a bit before 11 pm), they were told the bar was closed. Thankfully, the first bartender reappeared and offered to extend her offer and allow us to have the promised round of drinks with our visiting friends.

Instead of a joyous night, dinner felt combative and pressured. The food was on point and delicious, but our party found it hard to focus on it with the staff drama continually surrounding us. With so many options in New York City and after our otherwise stellar weekend, there’s no way I would ever go out of my way to dine at Ai Fiori again.

 

Ai Fiori Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Day 1 Shake Shack & Eleven Madison Park

Day 2 Doughnut Plant, Le Maison du Chocolat, ABC Kitchen & The Modern

Day 3 Momofuku Ko & Jean-Georges

One thought on “NYC Day 4: The Palm Court & Ai Fiori

  1. Pingback: Gourmand Getaway: New York City – The Whet Palette

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