A Chef’s Table Experience Like No Other: Dining Like a President at Blackbarn Restaurant

This past Presidents’ Day, I had the privilege of experiencing a truly presidential meal, thanks to chef-owner John Doherty of Blackbarn restaurant in Manhattan. While the American-inspired restaurant has received numerous accolades for its cuisine and wine for the past four years, it’s this meal that’s truly the stuff of food legends. Through the middle of March, Chef Doherty is sharing his years of creating meals for dignitaries while executive chef at the Waldorf=Astoria in what he’s labelled the World Leader Menu. The dinner is an exceptional experience, served at Blackbarn’s exclusive Chef’s Table in full view of the restaurant’s open kitchen. 

The five-course meal that I enjoyed was curated from dishes that had been served to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush,  Bill Clinton and other world leaders, updated for today’s diners with Blackburn’s farm-to-table spin.

Enhanced with wines selected exclusively for the dinner, the meal began with a consommé and ravioli of wild mushrooms and truffles, a rich (and very pretty) presentation that was a wonderful opener on a chilly evening. The paired wine was an interesting Rojac Malvazja, a local variant of malvasia, from the Istrian peninsula in Slovenia. I could imagine the original 1988 inspiration for this mushroom-based dish, the former Chairman of the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics’ Mikhail Gorbachev, smiling with appreciation along with his hosts President Ronald Regan and President Elect George H. Bush.

Two strikingly different main courses followed, a seared Maine diver sea scallop set atop a pillow of potato mousseline and graced with a smidge of Oscetra caviar. The somewhat briny taste blended beautifully with a California grenache blanc and was a favorite of President Clinton in 2000 who happened to be dining at the restaurant the same night that I did. The second entrée, a gift for any meat lover, was a lovely rack of lamb in rosemary jus, served with a medley of salsify, lemon and tomato and an eggplant terrine along with one of my favorite red wines, a deep-hued Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. The dignitaries who had previously enjoyed this dish were President George H Bush, James Baker, General Brent Scowcroft (the National Security Advisor under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. Bush) and Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom. I felt honored indeed.

A cheese course arrived next, a small portion of triple-cream Brillat-Saverin with a dollop of fig jam and a garden salad as perfect now as it had been in 1985 when it delighted the six leaders of the free world during the 40th anniversary of the United Nations. Dessert, a dreamy chocolate caramel tarte adorned with gold leaf amid a raspberry coulis, also had a connection to the United Nations, as it had been served to President George W. Bush after his address to the United Nations Assembly in 1997. The pièce de résistance, a vintage port from the Douro Valley, was presented with panache and an elaborate opening ritual, befitting its extraordinary 1970 creation.

It is my hope that this meal which honors Presidents' Day and the great leaders of the world will become an annual event. I’m excited to return to the NoMad restaurant to absorb more of the striking barn-meets-industrial design, sample Chef Doherty’s other farm-to-table menus, and maybe visit the beautiful wine room downstairs. Or I’ll come back to try another Chef’s Table evening – the menu changes each month and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Blackbarn, 19 East 26th Street, New York, NY, 212-265-5959

All photos by Meryl Pearlstein


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