11 W 31st St (5th Ave/Broadway)
What kind of a name is Ayza? I wondered. The food and the accents on the staff suggest some cross between
The interior of the restaurant is wide and shallow, with a bar in the center and seating areas on either side. Each seating area consists of two long, high benches facing each other, punctuated with small tables. The benches are upholstered in a warm red fabric and allow their occupants to look either out the wall of windows or at the action going down at the bar. Pairs and groups of diners are given the option of putting chairs at the tables opposite the benches, or adopting the side-by-side arrangement favored by people-watchers and lovey couples. Rectangular pendant lamps with linen shades hang from the ceiling and complete the cozy ambience.
We started the meal with tuna tartare with fresh avocado, crème fraîche, and sweet fish roe. Raw tuna seems to be popping up every time you open a menu these days, with avocado as a frequent accomplice, but the crème fraîche set this dish refreshingly apart from the masses. Next came a platter of cheeses and charcuterie (the generic French term for cured and cooked meats, usually pork-based, of which we chose three and two, respectively, from a list that features five of each. The meat-and-cheese-oriented can select either three or five items from the combination of Column A and Column B, and they come with fresh peaches, champagne grapes and fig mustard. Our cheeses were soft Bucheron, made from goat’s milk, hard Hoch Ybrig from
When I asked our waitress what goat cheese in pâte de brick was, I worried that her hesitation before comparing it to a blintz might be due to the distance between English and her mother tongue. But her description turned out to be perfect. My plate featured a bed of greens upon which lay the loveliest of gifts: goat cheese with honey, thyme, and rosemary, cradled in crisp pastry and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. If you have never had the pleasure of tasting goat cheese and honey together, now is the time. The herbs did the divine pairing one better. We also ordered the medallions of filet mignon with roasted port shallots. The meat was flavorful, but was thin and lacked the sear we expected, almost appearing to have been boiled. The shallots were nicely caramelized and there was a small green salad flavored with truffle oil.
I’m not going to dress it up: the Twenty-Layer Crêpes Cake, which comes from Lady M Cake Boutique on the
As for wine, we enjoyed a glass of Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Les Setilles Chardonnay—a light, fresh white Burgundy—and one of pink-tinged white sangria fairly brimming with peach and strawberries, which was ladled from a large pitcher on the bar.
Ayza is not the restaurant I would choose for an expense account dinner, but it is the perfect place to gather a group of friends for a delicious bite before a night out. I look forward to returning to try the rest of the meats and cheeses and—I won’t lie—getting another piece of that crêpe cake.