Bar Room at The Modern

From the entrance of The Modern, it is evident that you are entering a sophisticated place. With its classically modern Bauhaus design, the restaurant is very inviting, not at all cold or austere as one might imagine. Sitting down and eating a meal at the Bar Room becomes a joy; the restaurant invites its patrons into its realm, in such a way that it is like joining an in-crowd rather than being set apart from it. The Bar Room is very busy with its usual crowd of business lunchers and the smattering of Europeans taking advantage of the exchange rate, but this crowdedness does not take away from its charm. In fact, we are ourselves coworkers were seated between two businessmen on one side and two European tourists on the other. This closeness in the restaurant creates a feeling of commonality among the patrons, a closeness that even allows for chatting with table neighbors.

The Bar Room menu is very unique and features mostly appetizer-size dishes as well as entree-size dishes. The note at the bottom of the menu advises patrons to choose as they please. We did just that, selecting four Alsatian-inspired appetizers to share between the two of us. The waitress helped us plan which two dishes we should have first, and what two should follow. Meanwhile I ordered a Zweigelt wine, a beautiful ruby red Austrian wine, fruity in taste and inky-red in color. It complemented the dishes perfectly. While waiting for our first foods to arrive, we munched on fresh, crusty oblong rolls and soft, hearty sourdough bread.

Our first two dishes arrived: the Tarte Flambee, which we noticed that others in the restaurant were eating as well, and the Modern Liverwurst. We immediately dug into the tart to eat it before it cooled. The menu describes it as an Alsatian thin-crust tart with creme fraiche, onions, and applewood-smoked bacon. If I had to describe it in one word it would be amazing. The tart crust is as thin as a crepe, but much more crispy, and is permeated by the apple wood smoke. The cream gives the top a slight creaminess, while the white onions do not overpower the tart as one might initially believe. Next, the Modern Liverwurst, which was the first item on the menu to catch my eye. When we asked what made it “modern,” the waitress told us that it was Chef Gabriel Kreuther’s special blend of beef, veal, and trumpet mushrooms. It had the flavor I expect of a very good liverwurst, not too beefy, but just right without being mediocre. It was accompanied by whole-grain mustard and a small sampling of pickled vegetables: sliced pickles, mushrooms, carrots, and beets; served with toasted sourdough bread, which was wrapped nicely in a crisp white napkin presented on a plate. We finished off all the bread before finishing the liverwurst, so we had to flag down a waiter for some more.

Among our next selections we enjoyed the homemade Alsatian country sausage with turnip choucroute and whole-grain mustard. The sausage burst with juice on slicing it and its sweetness was complemented by the sweetness of the melt-in-your-mouth choucroute. The dish was everything one would want in sausage and sauerkraut. For our final appetizer-size dish we had the Baekeoffe of lamb, conch, and tripe, prepared just like a cassoulet and baked in a mini cassoule. The unusual combination of proteins made for a unique dish in tomato-based gravy with a crumb topping; however I found the lamb to be tough and the tripe had an antiseptic flavor.

Ah dessert…we had been eyeing others in the restaurant eating beignets for dessert, so immediately after our table was cleared we were ready to order this dessert without looking at the dessert menu. Popularity reigns supreme at the Bar Room. We made good choices in ordering the tart and the beignets. The beignets, served like the bread before (wrapped in a napkin), were accompanied by caramel sauce, maple ice cream, and mango marmalade. They were an airy, sugar-dusted delight—perfect in every which way. The three accompaniments were great, the mango marmalade being the most interesting: tart, sweet, gooey, and tasting more of peaches than mangoes.

The service at the Bar Room is excellent: our waitress was always cheery and smiling. With every one of our compliments she showered us with grateful thanks. The servers are also very attentive, making sure to wait until patrons are finished with their meals before bringing out other dishes or courses. Also new plates and cutlery were also brought before every section of our meal. Here I noticed the restaurant uses silverware was by Georg Jensen. But what were most unique and unusual to me were the steak knives, which appeared to be folding knives. But no matter how hard we tried we couldn't fold them. (Later I found out that the knives were replicas of Laguiole knives.) Our time at the restaurant ended up being around two hours, overdoing our one-hour lunch break, but really I have no complaints because the service was consistent and reliable.

The Bar Room was a great adventure, from the design of the restaurant and the fully stacked bar, which is displayed prominently, to the excellent service and magnificent food. The restaurant does not disappoint—it is obvious from the great number of guests that it is the place to be. And the only way to get in to the restaurant without waiting an insane amount of time, which some groups do on the couches made available for that reason, is to make a reservation in advance. We originally had tried to get into the restaurant a week before without reservations and were unsuccessful in doing so. With or without reservations, the restaurant is worth a wait.

The Modern
9 West 53rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues
New York, NY 10019
Open Monday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Small plates range in price from $11 to $24 and large plates from $15 to $28.

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