Living in the NYC area, there is absolutely no shortage of high quality, creative, guest focused, Michelin rated restaurants and all the hustle and bustle that goes along with them. I have been incredibly fortunate to enjoy an experience at every 3 Star Michelin rated restaurant in NYC; each restaurant is incredibly unique in terms of food, presentation, service, ambiance and price. I would not trade my living in NYC for anything but it is refreshing to travel outside of the chaos of NYC and find food that is equal in quality. I am always on a mission to find a spectacular degustation, gastronomic restaurant that combines wonderful local ingredients into unique dishes while creating flavor combinations that are truly tantalizing. Fortunately for me, I encountered Sidart in Auckland New Zealand; not exactly local to NYC but worthy to stand in the same culinary category as any NYC restaurant. Sidart created an experience for me that was unique, cutting edge, and adventurous with respect to their cuisine while maintaining a modicum of simplicity.
After a less than pleasant experience catching a flight to Auckland via San Francisco while my bag went to Houston before Auckland, I finally arrived in New Zealand after 24 hours of traveling. I was in search of a shower, fresh clothes, and a satisfying meal. I arrived at Sidart on a Saturday evening and my NYC paced mind was immediately stunned by the simplicity of such a small space. It was monochromatically decorated in shades of black and white: white tablecloths, white couch seating with single shade colored comfortable pillows, black chairs, and grey walls. My immediate reaction was the only redeeming quality of this restaurant was the lovely view of the city of Auckland. As my evening would unfold, I would come to realize this incredibly banal room existed as a paradox to the invigoratingly complex dishes emerging from the kitchen.
The restaurant, both unassuming and unpretentious, was spread out over two rooms; the room I was in had an open kitchen and seated approximately 30 people. My waiter, Graham, a lovely chap from Scotland, introduced himself, asked if I had any dietary restrictions, and offered the wine pairing with the tasting menu; a very simple introduction, indeed! I decided to order individual glasses of wine from the menu, as I was dining alone that evening and I was extremely jet lagged from the trip; I did not want to fall asleep at the table halfway through my meal! I decided to start with a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc from the vineyard of New Zealand while I looked around this incredibly simple restaurant. I actually grew a little worried that the reviews of this restaurant were incorrect but I would find out, the reviews were perfect.
As I observed what was going throughout the restaurant, I was quickly served a large piece of toasted sourdough bread with creamy butter (I had eaten nothing but plane food at this point and that slice of sourdough tasted like Beluga caviar). My first course arrived quickly and it consisted of three small bites which included a variety of ingredients: miso, olive, thyme, asparagus, almond, smoked salt cured Kahawai, tomato, lemon and faro. The white asparagus was a perfect blend of salty and sweet that featured a dash of almond on the back end; it was an incredibly simple looking dish that packed a serious amount of flavor that changed as it was consumed. Complementing the asparagus was the miso meringue: it was a white macaroon that dissolved slowly and left a simple flavor that had me asking for more.
For my second course, I was given two small bites and a small cup of soup. The first bite, a little pillow of flavor overload, a combination of Kumura, eel and vinegar, that exploded with flavor my mouth followed by a miso type soup containing shitake, white soy and kaffir lime finishing off with a small bite atop a plate of beautiful rocks which featured: ricotta, orange and walnut. Kumura, in case you were wondering (actually I was wondering, so it was worth a Google search here) is a sweet potato indigenous to New Zealand brought here by early Maori settlers over a thousand years ago from the Pacific Islands. For the record, it is DELICIOUS!
At this point, the delirium of traveling around the world had dissipated and I was looking around the room wondering if everyone else was doing a similar tasting menu to the one being presented to me. I watched the chefs working in the kitchen in what looked like a ballet with tongs and tweezers. Every dish had to be perfect, it was quite fascinating to watch.
The third course included potatoes with a comte cheese and chive based sauce with crunchy chips on top; amazing texture and flavor combination. For a girl with Irish heritage, the potato preparation is crucial. The skin on potatoes was cooked perfectly, served hot and neither dried out nor mushy, and paired very well with the salty and creamy cheese based sauce. Best potato I ever had; sorry, Mom.
Following the potato was my favorite dishes of the evening, scampi, delightfully prepared with leeks, green strawberries and Kohlrabi, a stout cultivator of cabbage. It was crunchy, and slightly salty and the Kohlrabi based dollop of sauce provided a pleasant creamy taste to this exquisite dish. I should mention at this point, I was already super full, but I was not about to let that stop me!
I am not one to give up, especially when presented with amazing culinary creations. I was pleasantly surprised with the snapper which was accompanied with turnips, mushrooms and nettle (plant). While the dishes described seem simple, the local ingredients added a flavor profile that made them anything but simple.
The most unique dish of the night came out next. It was incredibly simple in its presentation but the flavor combination was incredibly unique. This is a signature dish that seems like it should be on the menu at Alinea in Chicago. Seared chicken with a side of horseradish foam covered by a large leaf. I love the taste of horseradish but this flavor combination is indescribable. Out of all my culinary experiences, I cannot think of one other time I ate something that tasted like this particular chicken dish.
One of my few dietary restrictions is no red meat or pork, most especially venison or lamb. The chefs were more than willing to accommodate that request especially with this next course which featured venison and lamb (a staple in NZ cuisine). The venison and lamb were substituted for a local John Dory fish prepared in a brown butter sauce with roasted, seasoned carrots, and onions on top. Even thought I was slipping into a food coma, this was a light and palate pleasing dish. The vegetables were chopped into small circles and had a delightful crunchiness with them and were seasoned in a warm butter sauce, yet had a fair amount of black pepper on top, so the sweet mixed with spice flavor. The dollop of sweet, pureed sauce on the side gave it the perfect finish too.
After this fantastic plate, I was finally done with savory and introduced to the sweet courses. I was given a small bowl with a scoop of ice cream in it accented with parmesan crisps. The sweet cold ice cream combined with the salty and crunchy parmesan crisp was delightful. I might go to Whole Foods when I get home and buy ice cream and parmesan crisps as a snack!
The second sweet dish reminded me of Alinea as it came out with the nitrogen oxide steam pillowing off of the lychee ice cream. This gastronomic dish consisted of lychee ice cream, slices of nectarine, and pieces of elderflower and raspberries on top.
The last dessert was a complete flavor explosion of crunchy, sweet, salty, and fruity and would have made Chef Grant Achatz proud. It was a combination of apple, crunchy fig, and ice cream underneath a small piece of gelatin with a sprinkle of fennel pollen on top. The colors, textures and flavors in this “simple” dish are worthy of a Michelin visit.
I was ‘full’ five courses ago but that would not stop me, I am a professional eater! To finish the meal, I was given a chef’s treat of three little bites, a small shortbread like cookie, white marshmallow with a salt and pepper dusting on top and raspberry gelatin covered with sugar.
Forgetting that I was on an airplane for 24 hours and my bag was somewhere over the Pacific and I didn’t not have clean anything waiting for me in my hotel room, I thanked Graham profusely for a fantastic meal and told him to please extend my thanks to the chef and his team of dedicated artists. I asked him if the menu was seasonal, and he said they switched it up every 4-6 weeks. That is the perfect excuse for me to come back and visit Auckland again in a few months.
I really appreciate how much attention and care the chefs took with each dish and how they came out and explained every dish with passion, not missing the smallest detail. One thing I love about gastronomy in New Zealand is how unpretentious they are about high-end dining, which is symbolic of the culture. New Zealanders are “what you see is what you get” kind of people and being secluded in the Pacific Ocean, they are excited to tell you about local ingredients and want you to love their food and wine as if you are part of their culture. They enjoy nothing more when someone makes the long trek to the far reaches of the Earth to indulge in their life, culture and cuisine.
Thank you, Chef Sid Sahrawat for providing such an amazing and unique experience. I felt like I was home!