At the tail end of Milan Fashion Week, when most of the front-row sect hopped aboard Air France’s Malpensa to Charles de Gaulle commuter flight to face yet another week of staring at models who can’t return the favor, the fashion brand Armani took the breath away of a few lucky New Yorkers stateside. Only this time it wasn’t about clothing at all.
Inside the Studio Fuksas-designed Armani/Ristorante, a seductively-minimal dining space that sits atop Giorgio Armani’s lavish Fifth Avenue flagship store, the Italian fashion house hosted a crossover culinary event as part of its global dining series, Insieme ("together").
The premise of the affair was chic albeit straight forward. Antonio D’Angelo, Armani’s executive chef, opened his New York kitchen to a visiting master—in this case Albert Adrià, the former creative director and head of pastry of the beloved three Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant El Bulli—so that the two could collaborate on dishes that reflected both their unique points of view, and Armani’s dedication to exquisite experiences. Simple, right? The resulting nine-plus courses however, were beyond a traditional tête-à-tête or stove-top mash-up. Complementing and challenging one another in taste and technique, D’Angelo and Adrià's dual menu was like a wondrous dance and an orchestral production all in one, replete with surprise, drama, and whimsy.
A creamy basil waffle and gelatinized tangerine wowed our table from the start, offering colorful intrigue (neither were named on the menu) and an amazement of texture that only augmented by the time the dinner’s first official course arrived. Awed by its presentation, I described the next serving—a nearly-translucent slice of squid topped by a healthy spoonful of caviar—as “delicate” to Sophia Roe, who sat to my right, nestled in our half-moon, black-and-white leather booth before the Midtown skyline. Talk about glamorous dining.
Speaking of Family Style’s Food Editor—who for non-food reasons has recently lessened her dairy intake—Roe couldn’t help but having a small bite of the cloud-like buffalo mozzarella soufflé that came next. Precious and light, yet taste-forward and savory, the dish had just the right balance of salty tension and gentle warmth. I scarfed down the spoonful in one full swoop. (Looking around the posh restaurant at other couples in their finest Italian designer-wear, I wasn’t the only diner to do so.)
Much like the dirty Kettle One martini that inaugurated our evening, the rest of D’Angelo and Adrià's courses debut in a beautiful, clockwork-like haze, but their painterly constructions and complex mouthfeels have given them a longer life in memorandum. There was an organ-y tomato pomodoro overtop a wonderfully sculptural kombu, and a non-basic pumpkin noodle roll topped by fragrant porcini mushrooms. A lovely koji risotto somehow found even more flavor with a smooth dollop of sea urchin, and a halibut decorated by datterini tomato and miso (seen here in a photo by myself not quite doing it justice) was the perfect savory culmination to our "four hand" feast.
Heading downtown in a taxi afterward, I could still sense my favorite of our two desserts lingering: a crystalized fig paired with a not-so-subtle sour citrus sorbet. It was the only way to finale such an enchanting a night at Armani/Ristorante—alluring but not too candied, elegant but not nearly overthought.