Saturday, July 25, 2015

Enjoying a bargain lunch at a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Manhattan

Two of the starters available on the $25 lunch menu at Ai Fiori, a seafood restaurant in Manhattan, are Chilled Corn Soup, above, and a Salad with Manchego Cheese, below.


I picked Ai Fiori for lunch in Manhattan on the strength of a memorable four-course birthday dinner I enjoyed a few years ago at an affiliated restaurant, Marea.

And what better time to try Ai Fiori than during Summer Restaurant Week, when hundreds of city restaurants offer $25 three-course lunches and $38 three-course dinners?

Normally, Ai Fiori offers a two-course lunch for $45, plus $18 for an additional course.

Both of us chose the Pan-Roasted Skate Wing for our entree, but we had to ask for slices of lemon.

Ai Fiori has 1 Michelin star

When we walked into a Fifth Avenue hotel in the 30s, where Ai Fiori is located, we saw a sign noting the restaurant has been awarded 1 Michelin star in the 2015 guide (out of 3).

That's great, I thought, and while we loved the food and attentive service, I now wonder how a fine-dining restaurant kitchen could send out a seafood dish without a slice of lemon.

I started with a Salad of crisp Baby Lollo Rossa Lettuce, other greens and Manchego Cheese, with a dressing that included aged sherry.

My wife had the refreshing Chilled Corn Soup with charred corn, Calabrian chili and basil, and a waiter poured it out of a pitcher at the table.

The soup tasted creamy even though it had a milk base, according to the maitre d'.

Skate, hold the thin ice

Both of us chose the Pan-Roasted Skate Wing with Couscous, which was made with olives, broccoli and tomato aioli.

At my request, the skate was prepared with olive oil instead of butter. It was crisp outside and moist inside, and it benefited from a little fresh lemon juice from slices we asked for. 

For our third course, we wanted berries, but weren't allowed substitutions for the Chocolate Tort or a second dessert listed as Meringue.

So, we asked for the desserts to go for another family member who has no dietary restrictions.

Our two lunches totaled $50 before tax and a 20% tip, and by using a registered American Express Card t0 charge them, I'll get a $5 statement credit.

Ai Fiori serves butter with bread, but I asked for extra-virgin olive oil into which to dip the crusts, and used some of it over my salad.

The restaurant's dining room, above and below, is on the second floor of the Langham Place Fifth Avenue Hotel, accessible via a winding marble staircase.

We had a comfortable corner banquette, and were able to get seated before our 12:15 p.m. reservation.

Ai Fiori has 1 Michelin star, and Marea, which heads the Altamarea Group of restaurants, now has 2 Michelin stars.

We walked to the restaurant from the midtown bus terminal, pausing to look at Seward Johnson sculptures displayed in a pedestrian mall that runs for several blocks along Broadway. Above, one of the two figures in "Los Mariachis."

Table and chairs are set up on Broadway for people having an al fresco lunch, including a man who said he paid a bargain $2.75 for two slices of pizza and a soft drink at a nearby pizzeria.

"Monet, Our Visiting Artist" is the title of this Seward Johnson sculpture.
Instead of driving into the city and blowing a small fortune on gasoline, the Hudson River toll and parking, we took the bus from our home in North Jersey. Round-trip for two was $12.30.


Ai Fiori, 400 Fifth Ave., Second Level, in Langham Place Fifth Avenue Hotel, Manhattan; 1-212-613-8660.

Restaurant Web site: 

NYC Summer Restaurant Week continues through Aug. 14, except Saturdays. Web site: 

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