It came in a small, square bowl, with a spare garnish of fresh herbs. Had the soup been anything less than extraordinary, this Spartan presentation would have backfired. But Naomi’s dish was immaculately prepared, with layers of flavor that astonished. Her ability to harness such pure, raw celery flavor in a cooked soup was a master stroke. It was warm and smooth and rich but tasted as though you were crunching into a piece of just-picked celery. Wow.
Naomi deserved to win. Her “velouté” was a bold choice. Would I pay $100 a plate for what was essentially cream of celery soup? After having eaten it, yes, emphatically. It was the high point in a really fine lineup of dishes. (I also loved—loved—Suvir’s well-balanced but safe chaat salad and Floyd’s puffed rice–flaked sole in its bright and sour rasam, a South Indian soup made from tamarind and asafetida.) Naomi’s dish gave us a glimpse into her capabilities as a chef. Until now, she’d cooked only desserts—we critics hadn’t gotten a real sense of what she could deliver.
John’s risotto, on the other hand, while as simple and unassuming at first glance as Naomi’s soup, failed to showcase technique and depth of flavor the same way. I adore John. He’s a seriously smart, talented, and hilarious chef. But you can’t play it safe and make risotto on a challenge like this one; you have to bring some showbiz to every dish you send out.
More about another standout dish: Traci’s. She served three things tonight: a grilled beef rib eye (total perfection); a frizzle of fried shallots; and a braise of broccoli, chard, garlic, and anchovies.
Traci’s vegetable braise was, she told us, based on a dish her dad used to cook for her when she was a kid—he’d cover greens or whatever late-summer vegetables he had on hand with a good dousing of olive oil, pepper, and mashed anchovies and cook it all, in a big, covered pot, over a low flame for an hour or two.