Do pause for an aperitif. The list, which includes sakes (the Hanahato Densho Junmai Ginjo is delicious), good sherries and an unusual selection of Scotches (some of which have been aged in Sauternes barrels), is rich in surprises.
And it may be the last moment of clarity, because then, alas, the food begins to arrive, and your senses, so far stimulated, slowly become conflicted. Nori Sugie, Asiate's chef, who worked with Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney, Australia, joins a wave of New York chefs fixated on Asian and French influences. The best present a synthesis of cuisines. His cooking, however, seems to have gotten muddled in the rarefied air.
. . . From here, the ride gets a little bumpy. Prawns and linguine arrive in a parchment paper pouch that is twisted closed like an enormous candy wrapper and snipped open at the table by a waiter wielding garden shears. It's a good use of culinary drama. But you know what? Steaming pasta in a paper pouch makes for gummy pasta and soggy seafood.
The prawns are not nearly so worrisome as the benign-sounding vegetable appetizer, which looks like a circus parading across the plate. Flaglike sticks made of kuzukiri (a fried rice noodle), fried parsley leaves, wedges of roasted beet and miniature pattypan squash soar above dabs of potato purée. In the center a mountain potato slouches forlornly in a thick truffle sauce. There are reasons nouvelle cuisine went away, and this dish is one.
It also epitomizes the flaws in the cooking at Asiate. Mr. Sugie should not be serving pattypan squash in February. And he should not feel the need to load every dish with his entire culinary arsenal.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Étuvée of clams; pan-roasted scallop with celery root; branzino with scallop and brandade; suckling pig; jambonneau of chicken; quince tart; raspberry granita and chocolate fondant.
The March issue of Gourmet is the "New York Collector's Edition," and in it editor Ruth Reichl presents "Ruth's Roll Call," her 25 personal favorite restaurants. Reichl writes, "This is a city of strangers, a place where people yearn both to be left alone and to connect. Nowhere do public and private come together so completely as they do in restaurants. That is why New York is -- and always will be -- a city devoted to the joy of eating out." Contents also include an A to Z guide for eating, drinking, and shopping; and longer pieces on the city's Russian, Mexican, and Chinese ethnic communties.
Here are Ruth Reichl's 25 favorite New York City restaurants, with pull quotes.