Ai Fiori is located in the Setai Hotel which is at 36th and Fifth Avenue. I still think that area is an odd location but there are many offices in the area and from a bird's eye view you aren't that far from the Ace Hotel (29th and Broadway) or all the Indian restaurants on Lexington. Perhaps a big rationalization but Ai Fiori is worth the trip.
The design is modern and elegant. Enough space so that you don't even realize that people are sitting next to you. We could all talk freely and hear each other. What a concept. On top of that the care given to each dish that comes out of the kitchen is obvious. Now, Sam Sifton was in the house last night so let's see what he thinks but I would absolutely return particularly when I want to enjoy an intimate dinner with some friends where I really want to hear what they have been up to.
None of us did a pasta which is too bad because Michael White is known for killer pastas but the crew we were would not have been game for ordering a bunch of stuff. My first dish was the crudo. A line caught raw fluke topped with a tiny bit of sea urchin with lemon oil lightly poured over the top. In the middle was a small dollop of caviar and lightly fried piece of fish on top. This dish was fantastic. The fried fish was so light and the flavor coming from it mixed with the raw fish was a total wow. Delicate with a big punch of flavors from the urchin and caviar.
Fred opted for the Bouillbaisse. A saffron infused broth with split langoustines, red snapper and manilla clams. Really flavoful and light. I really liked how all the dishes were powerful in taste yet not too heavy or large.
For the main course I went with the Branzino. Black bass perfectly cooked with a nice crispy skin paired with peppers stuffed with chopped chorizo and small pieces of mussels on the side and thin slices of roasted fennel. I really liked this dish. An interesting pairing of flavors and well done.
We were also served a dessert from the kitchen. This was like a light cheesecake without the crust served with a mixture of interesting fruits. Some of the fruits were sour and others were sweet. Didn't love this either.
Some of the dishes were better than others. Everything was beautifully prepared. I am sure over time the dishes will become better as they are prepared more and more. I want to go back and have the scallops and order pasta. I liked the vibe and the overall feel of the place. Appears to be another winner for Michael White.