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With premium ingredients presented as engaging, delicious works of art, Mike A's @ the Lafayette has taken Western New York dining to sophisticated new heights.
Its oak-paneled dining room is a grand setting for a menu of first-class steaks, reinvented classic Americana and season-driven originals.
At Mike A's, the veal Oscar ($48) is a tableau of seared veal loin, chunks of crab, Bearnaise foam, veal jus and a strip of dehydrated tarragon puree. The duck a l'orange ($38) offers intense orange broth, candied peel and perfectly medium rare sliced breast over ethereally light gnocchi sprinkled with spruce tips.
Yes, evergreen needles. They added an enjoyable, aromatic herbal note, one of the deft little surprises from Mike Andrzejewski (of SeaBar) and Edward Forster (ex-sous chef of Chicago's Blackbird).
Steaks, from the Delmonico (14 ounces, $38) to top-grade Australian Wagyu (12 ounces, $88) include potato puree, asparagus and mushrooms. But the kitchen is at its creative best in the nightly omakase tasting. It's 10 dishes, mostly downsized menu items with a few wild cards; $125 for just food, $175 with wine and cocktail pairings.
As with other top-flight places, omakase is by the table only. Cat and I asked for one of each, and shared sips throughout our 2-hour meal. Service was first-class, swift and well-informed. We were invited to take an intermission, but declined.
Charred tomato gazpacho was poured tableside over a scoop of yellow bell pepper sorbet, and tomato tapioca. The sweet pepper chill offered a pleasant contrast to the smoky soup, punctuated by tomato pearls. A sip of dry Domaine St. Vincent bubbly lifted it further, the beginning of a night of the most skilled beverage pairings I've encountered. Drinks roamed the full palette of sweetness, acidity and complexity to amplify the pleasure of each bite.
Thin slices of raw scallop were crowned with pearls of finger lime that burst like citrus caviar, backed with an orange sheet that felt like fruit leather but tasted like a sun-warmed tomato. The scallop's soft freshness was surrounded by crunchy counterpoints of wax beans and broccoli stem, and the sweet funk of Thai fish sauce caramel.
Truffled Wagyu beef tartare, still intoxicatingly rich when cut with pickled shallots, was served with a big, crispy cracker that served as an edible spade.
Smooth, creamy foie gras torchon was next, with ground cherry caponata, pine nut puree and pickled white strawberries. Ground cherries, a sweet-tart tomatillo cousin, offered a novel foil to the liver's fat. We wished for more spice-scented strawberry.
Then came two golf ball-sized crispy confit pork spheres, fried perfectly - dry-crusted, yet juicy and steaming when cracked. Surrounded by ribbons of pickled watermelon rind, they rested on deeply spiced sour tamarind sauce, sweetened with bee pollen - the best flavors of backyard barbecue in a nouveau tuxedo.
Duck a l'orange was next, followed by veal Oscar. An onion soup croquette topped with Emmental foam yielded fillings of tender beef and caramelized onion, freeing French onion soup's best flavors from the cliche.
Dessert began with apricot cobbler with mascarpone and chamomile streusel. The finale: frozen gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut) mousse with blueberries, shatteringly crunchy candied hazelnuts and shaved salted egg yolk, a whisper-light ending to a meal that left us fully satisfied, not overstuffed.
The meal was not perfect. The veal's tarragon ribbon was more distracting than tasty. I didn't think foie gras needed pine nuts, especially when the middle of the lineup was so rich: tartare, foie gras, pork, duck, veal, beef croquette.
I have known Andrzejewski for years, so it was no surprise when he came to say hello. I asked why was the middle so heavy? The chef said he'd rejected that day's turbot shipment, eliminating a fish course that would have helped.
We talked about how the room could get noisy when it fills up. He said planned redecorations should deaden the hubbub. It'll be needed, because Mike A's is making a name for itself as the finest meal in town.
Rating: 10 Plates (Out of 10) Mike A's @ the Lafayette
New luxury restaurant shines with premium steaks, American classics reinvented with elegance.
WHERE: 391 Washington St. (253-6453, www.mikealafayette.com)
HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers $8-$19; entrees $30-$48; steaks $38-$88; tasting menus, $125-$175.
PARKING: Street, but free valet parking Wednesday through Saturday.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Through Washington Street entrance.
email: agalarneau@buffnews.com