Persimmon | Bristol, RI | Apr ’14 | “playful Rhode Island fare”

9 Apr 2014-04-05 20.08.17
  • Address: 31 State St, Bristol, RI 02809
  • Phone: (401) 254-7474
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): ~$125
  • Courses: (18 main/19 total) 14 savory / 1 cheese / 3 desserts / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $6.50
  • Rating: 15.5/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 8 minutes
  • Chef: Champ Speidel
  • Style: New American

 

2014-04-05 19.37.12

Reflecting on a recent meal at Persimmon, I think that Persimmon is among the top two restaurants in Rhode Island I have tried after 4 years living here; along with birch in Providence. Chef Champe Speidel and Lisa Speidel are the managers of this restaurant, Chef Speidel used to be the sous chef at Gracie’s when it was a 38-seat restaurant in Federal Hill in Providence (source – http://ediblerhody.com/files/pages/articles/winter2007/pdfs/inTheKitchen.pdf). When Gracie’s decided to move downtown (where it now is opposite the Trinity rep, and next door to birch), Chef Speidel decided to move out to Bristol to open Persimmon in 2005. I in fact ate there just 2 days shy of the 9th anniversary of the restaurant this year, in 2014. The restaurant is a labour of love:

A couple of years after graduation, Champe was hired as sous chef at Gracie’s. Shortly after he started, the head chef left. “I knew I could handle it but, basically, I got the job because I was there,” he laughs. In those days, Gracie’s was a 38-seat restaurant located on Federal Hill in Providence. “They mostly did a weekend business, so we had a lot of freedom to take out time and do things the way you’re supposed to do them. We experimented with a lot of different cooking methods and prepped all week to handle the weekends. It was a tremendous learning experience.

“We took the menu they had and added my spin. We got some great accolades.” He stayed for three years. When the owners decided to move the restaurant downtown, to more than double the size, Champe knew it was time for him to find his own place.

That’s when he and Lisa started shopping for a restaurant. It only took a couple of months to find the spot, called the Hotpoint at the time. It took about six months of negotiation to close the deal. The size of the kitchen, which is substantially larger than the dining room, sold him on the place. “We put a 200-page business plan together and solicited help from just about anyone willing to talk to us. We did all the things they teach you in school. The minute we got the keys, April 7, 2005, I proposed to Lisa. Three weeks later we opened.”

Since then Champe has been, “doing the food that we really believe in,” making folks on theother side of the kitchen doors at Persimmon very happy. “The main thing we really want is for people to trust that, when they come here, they will get a well-prepared meal and service that will take care of any needs. Trust is a big part of the restaurant experience.” – Edible Rhody

What Chef Speidel’s cooking deserves to be commended for is his playfulness. It is not a common feature in RI dining to feature experimental presentations, taste combinations, besides the aforementioned birch (presentation and taste) and some Asian fusion (taste) at north. My thoughts (and praise) on birch’s dishes can be read on this blog; north has some interesting dishes but they are generally hit and miss, and their highs (4.5-5) are much rarer than their low to middling fare – of the highs, ham biscuits, and roasted cabbage have left a lasting impression. Other stalwarts like Gracie’s generally play it cookie-cutter safe with no surprises, or in the case of La Laiterie, alternate between the safe and the bizarre, like steak with rice browned with soy sauce. New Rivers does enjoyable bistro fare and great fluke, and has been experimenting with some Asian fusion dishes recently, but is still rather conventional (it is after all self-characterised as a bistro). My two picks for interesting and innovative dishes here in RI, would thus be Persimmon and birch.

Among the plays on RI tropes I had that night: clam cake with chowder, mussel with edible shell, Quonset oyster with herb butter powder,and a drop of absinthe. Even if these dishes were not fully successful, it was just a delight and surprise to be confronted with such thoughtful cooking. If only there were more chefs in RI willing to take these risks!

Boldness in flavor is a double-edged sword. A weakness throughout the meal was the erratic salting. The balance of salt was off on the beef tartare, and the chicharrones course. North Star Farm lamb had the rub all on the skin, and none of the flavor in the meat.

The general flow of the menu went from seafood is the first half of the menu (and where most of the memorable dishes) to meats, and then to a standard assortment of desserts (sorbet, panna cotta, chocolate cake). But there was a wild unpredictability throughout the 14 main courses. In the midst of a succession of seafood courses, suddenly beef tartare was served. In the midst of the heavier courses of foie+pork+game, a beautiful plate of vegetables (evoking the famous Bras gargouillou) was served, followed by the chef’s take on Asian-fusion, with bold use of fish and peanut sauce, as well as kabayaki sauce (more often used for unagi). The desserts which followed, were conventional, a slight disappointment given the chef’s flight of fancy earlier in the meal.

Service was fantastic. Lisa Speidel runs a great FOH, my dining companion and I felt very comfortable throughout the night.

Overall, a restaurant I was very excited to dine in. One of two best I’ve tried in RI. I believe that by remedying some minor flaws in the dishes served, this restaurant would reach a 1-star Michelin standard.

Rating: 15.5/20

Memory: Mussel with edible shell, foie gras gateau.

2014-04-05 19.32.00


2014-04-05 19.39.041. Deviled quail egg, caviar (3.5/5)

Egg yolk seasoned with soy sauce and/or worcestershire sauce?
Slight gripe: I felt the strong taste of the deviled egg detracted a little from the taste of the caviar.

2014-04-05 19.41.31

Cocktail: Maginot Line

2014-04-05 19.47.122. Marinated Massachusetts sea scallop, scallop chip (3.75/5)

A third component was scallop mayo underneath. Interesting in conception. The idea was to showcase two textures of scallop.
My dining companion G and I agreed that the oiliness of the scallop mayo hid the freshness of the scallop. The mayo could have been reduced in volume.

2014-04-05 19.51.17 2014-04-05 19.51.293. Beef tartare, cured egg yolk (3.25/5)

Additional ingredients: capers
The tartare was oversalted, though not unbearably so.

2014-04-05 19.58.36

4. Raw Quonset oyster, ‘herb butter’ (4/5)

A very interesting Quonset point oyster, with herb butter powder, and a drop of absinthe.
I enjoyed the fruitiness and lack of salinity in the Quonset point (a rarity given the high salt levels of East Coast oysters generally). The herb butter powder was an interesting textural contrast (akin to edible soil), the absinthe added a herbaceous note. An intriguing and avant-garde combination.

2014-04-05 20.02.47

5. Chowder, clam ‘cake’ (4/5)

Rhode island chowder foam broth with a clam cake seasoned with fennel. A playful reinterpretation of clam chowder and clam cakes, both traditional RI edibles.

2014-04-05 20.08.17

6. Mussel, edible shell (4.5/5)

Butter poached mussel, with an edible shell, made from pasta dough with squid ink, and shellfish-broth foam.
Inspired in conception, this had echoes of atera’s famous “razor clam with edible baguette shell” from their 2012 season.
It would have been 5/5 for conception, if not for that the “mussel shell” had thin innermost layer that had an undercooked texture.

2014-04-05 20.12.567. Black olive financier (4.5/5)

Fruity and buttery, a delight.

2014-04-05 20.22.13 2014-04-05 20.22.218. Potato agnolotti (4.75/5)

Mascarpone cheese and yukon potato in the agnolotti (little purses), with yukon and celeriac
With a fragrant onion jus. The scent of the onion was very strong.

2014-04-05 20.29.21 2014-04-05 20.29.32

9. Foie gras gateau (4.75/5)

Applecake, pickled apples, foie terrine, elderflower gel.
An inspired combination. This was probably my favorite dish of the night. The complexity of the pickled apples, with the fragrance of elderflower gel was an inspired pairing for a foie terrine. However, I feel the dish could have improved if the foie didn’t have a slightly mushy texture – which detracted again from a perfect score for this dish.

2014-04-05 20.38.17 2014-04-05 20.38.27

10. Pork jowl confit, pickled daikon (3.75/5)

A pork skin crackling with dehydrated pork jowl and  kabayaki sauce (which usually goes with uni). Okay, a bit oversalted.

2014-04-05 20.46.30

11. Raw, pickled vegetables, herbs (4.25/5)

A take on the famous Bras gargouillou, transplanted to RI.
Each component was well prepared, and with great freshness and different tastes in the vegetables. My favorite of an assorted plate was probably the sweet beet.
Unlike the gargouillou which has ham in the poaching water, this I think was purely vegetarian.

2014-04-05 20.55.37 2014-04-05 20.55.5512. Chicken wing, peanut sauce, shishito pepper (3.75/5)

fish sauce and peanut sauce on the deboned chicken wing
An experimental Asian dish, which was bold on flavor, esp. with fish sauce.

2014-04-05 21.07.18

13. Squab, egg, emmer, jus (3.75/5)

How could the squab breast be so perfectly cooked – crisp flat skin with rare meat -  (4.75/5), yet the leg almost raw? (2/5) The center of the leg bone was simply raw meat. I was very pleased with one, and unhappy about the other. Both could have benefitted from having slightly more seasoning on the well-roasted skin.
Praise for the fragrant trumpet mushroom sauce.

2014-04-05 21.21.03

14. North Star Farm lamb (3.25/5)

Decent. This was a sous-vide lamb dish. I am starting to not be a fan of sous-vide cooking, I find it gives meat the uniform texture of styrofoam, which is not appetising.
The very tasty seasoning on the fat of the lamb did not penetrate into the meat. Meat was relatively flavorless.

2014-04-05 21.29.3515. Bayley Hazen blue, Greensboro, VT (3.5/5)

2014-04-05 21.29.57

Served with Cinnamon Raisin Bread

2014-04-05 21.38.46

16. Sorbet (3.5/5)

Coconut lime sorbet, with calamansi-lime curd.
I enjoyed the coconut+lime sorbet pairing, but calamansi curd was too sweet and one-dimensional; it might have been improved by dispersing the curd relative to the sorbet.
It also might have been interesting to me as a diner, to try different citrus curd pairings, like the lighter finger-lime from Australia.

2014-04-05 21.41.18

17. Panna Cotta (3.25/5)

Vanilla panna cotta with passionfruit gelee.
By now the desserts were all very conventional

2014-04-05 21.53.54 2014-04-05 21.54.15

18. Chocolate Cremeux (3.5/5)

2014-04-05 22.03.21

19. Mignardises

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare | Brooklyn, NY | Apr ’14 | “theatre”

5 Apr
  • Address: 200 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
  • Telephone: (718) 243-0050
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $329
  • Courses: (16 main/17 total): 12 savory, 1 cheese, 3 dessert, 1 mignardise (20 courses advertised includes 1 bread [not counted here], and for the 3 mignardise items to be counted as 3 courses)
  • Price/Main Course: $20.50
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Value: 2.5/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 9.5 minutes
  • Chef: César Ramirez
  • Style: sui generis
  • Michelin Stars: 3

2014-04-04 23.48.20

The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is definitely the single-hardest reservation to make in NYC. It is possibly the hardest reservation to make in the United States. 6 weeks out at 1030am on a Monday, the phones are off the hook, and by the time you get through, the seats are all gone. But we were lucky enough to score a 4-top on a Friday night at the ungodly hour of 955pm, the latest I have ever started a tasting dinner, which required me to imbibe caffeine at 8pm (I’m a morning person).

The food at BKFARE is the highest standard I have encountered in New York. Per Se has dishes which are adequate but not many truly memorable ones, a 1 or 2-star Michelin elsewhere. Eleven Madison Park’s food is also of the 1-star Michelin standard, though the theatrics and entire experience perhaps push it to a high 2-star Michelin. Le Bernardin is solidly 1-star Michelin. Jean-Georges is also of 1-star Michelin standard. I have not tried Daniel, or Masa, so I cannot comment on their food. The New York Michelin guide is known to be lax in standards. But in awarding BKFARE the highest rating, they have not erred. I consider BKFARE to be the only true 3-star Michelin restaurant in NYC I have tried so far. (the only other plausible contender for true 3-star status is Masa).


Why does BKFARE have 3 Michelin stars, and why does Momofuku Ko have 2? The two restaurants share key similarities. Both are chef’s counters, seating a limited number of diners. Both, to forestall the possibility of slow-poke photographers tripping up the rhythm of the meal, have banned photography altogether (a policy I strongly disagree with). BKFARE goes further to outlaw note-taking at all. Both are also seafood-focused restaurants.

My friend Y and I speculated on a few reasons: (A) the leather chairs at BKFARE were definitely more comfortable than the stools at Ko, (B) BKFARE had some nice silverware and they displayed a dizzying array of custom flatware (though I suspect they have the same flatware supplier as Grace in Chicago), but really the crucial bit is (C) while Ko sources very good ingredients in the relatively-inexpensive category (bronzino, mackerel, scallop, black trumpets), BKFARE sources very good ingredients in the top-end category of traditional luxury ingredients (quality black truffle in April, morels, osetra caviar, koshihikari rice, Miyazaki beef). (D) The technique at BKFARE may also be a tad more precise: I was wowed by the last dessert, a sugar globe that was fragile and thin, yet completely clear – a hallmark of technical excellence; as well as the minimalism of many of the best BKFARE courses. (at its best, such as Ko’s mushroom consomme, Ko can create such minimalist compositions. But quite a few of their main dishes can be overdetermined, and an ingredient or two can be safely omitted.)

I believe the Michelin guide rewards use of traditional luxury ingredients. But it is hard to see right now where those ingredients would fit into Ko’s bold flavors and Asian-influenced cooking (and price point).


Originality. What is the level of Chef Ramirez’s originality? It is hard for me to tell. The best dishes I enjoyed were simply the finest ingredient exemplars of their type (a Koshihikari rice risotto with truffle; Miyazaki Wagyu presented simply with grated daikon). To compare with a meal I had last month, Chef Curtis Duffy of Grace paired Miyazaki Wagyu with a Vietnamese rice cracker and tom yum broth. Chef Duffy’s Southeast Asian vision came through, but here at BKFARE luxury ingredients were just worked perfectly. But I believe the Akamutsu with puffed rice and black vinegar sauce gave me an glimpse into a chef with Japanese elegance and refinement, a strong believer of minimalism and absolutely fanatical about ingredients. I reserve judgements on the uniqueness of Chef Ramirez’s style, and I will have to return to Brooklyn Fare to make a more final judgement.

Flow. The flow of the meal was: [light fish 1-4] + [luxury blockbusters 5-7] + [heavier seafood + risotto 8-10] + [game + meat 11-12] + [cheese 13] + [sorbets 14-15] + [showcase dessert 16]. I thought it was a well thought-out meal-plan, though variation of courses 11+12 might have improved the meal (both were red meat, squab and beef), and there was a bit of a flag in quality from courses 7-9.

Slight Gripes. One slight gripe I had is that service was perfunctory. Questions were answered curtly, but this is probably due to the logistical strain of keeping all courses (the left side of 9 diners ahead by 30 minutes, so the two sets of diners staggered into two batches) going like clockwork. Another slight gripe is that I counted only 16 main courses, 4 short of the advertised 20. The only way BKFARE hit 20 courses is if I count the solitary bread (no butter) as a course, and the three mignardises served together at the end as 3 separate courses instead of just 1. My friend also remarked that there were quite a few repeated ingredients: yuzu was used at least 3 times, citrus more generally at least 5 times, black truffle (I personally have no complaints) was used 3 times. For me though, the repeated use of yuzu and truffle was not a complaint, since I appreciated the chef’s attempt to follow seasonality, though the citrus got a bit repetitive towards the end.

Overall, a very fine restaurant indeed. To my mind, BKFARE and atera are the two most exciting restaurants in the city at the moment.

Rating: 19/20

Memory: Akamutsu, Hokkaido Uni with Truffle, Koshihikari Risotto with Truffle, Miyazaki Wagyu, the clarity and thinness of the Sugar Globe


Thoughts on dishes:

  1. Ishidai (Striped Beakfish): one bite, clean flavor, muscular but not chewy, not fat despite being winter. Yuzu, small whiffs of orange crispy ginger on top. (4.25/5)
    • A clean palate opener. No big taste.
  2. Akamutsu (Red Bluefish): black vinegar savory sauce, crusted with puffed rice (5/5)
    • Perfect and sublime. I liked this because of the perfect cooking of the fatty bluefish with affixed puffed rice to its skin (It did not drop off when I lifted it).
    • The Asian influenced black vinegary savory sauce complemented the fish superbly well. Perfectly calibrated tastes, from which no ingredient could be subtracted. Highest praise.
    • http://www.trueworldfoods.com/products/tsukiji/all/akamutsu/
  3. Oyster: Island Creek oyster with celeriac (4/5)
  4. Kinmedai (Splendid Alfonsino): Overcooked, flaky (3/5) (yuzu?)
  5. Hokkaido Uni with Black Truffle on English muffin style flatbread (5/5):
    • Decadent and rich. The sweetness of Hokkaido uni was complemented by potent smell of truffles. Both were covered in a dark glaze, similar to anago(salt-eel) glaze. On top of an English flatbread muffin. I enjoyed it because it combines these two very assertive and rare “luxury” ingredients, and the whole effect was more than the sum of its parts. Highest praise.
    • Early April is right at the very end of the black truffle season, and the powerful smell of Chef Ramirez’s truffles surprised me in their potency, a testament to his sourcing abilities. Truffles were used in 3 dishes, and all had exceptional potent aromas
  6. Osetra Caviar with cauliflower cream, yuzu: (4.25/5)
    • A generous helping of osetra caviar set in cauliflower cream, with a circular biscuit.
    • The marriage of tastes was pleasant, though I did not feel a true synergy between them.
  7. Snow crab, chawanmushi, foie gras (3.75/5)
    • Chives and onion green chawanmushi paste at the bottom of a deep bowl, snow crab broken down to bits, A seared piece of foie gras (about 1.25x the size of the first phalange of an adult thumb) floated in a dashi. Black truffle made a welcome reappearance as black bits, adding its scent to the dashi.
  8. Lobster, celery root, blood orange: (4.75/5)
    • Perfectly cooked lobster, with only mild “graining” of very sweet lobster flesh. A piece of celery root, a white radish, and a piece of blood orange by the side (which could have been subtracted) Navel oranges were used for a yellow sauce covering about 90% of the plate, with vanilla seeds visible in a second clear sauce, and fennel foam.
    • The radish and blood orange could have been subtracted: the radish added nothing to the dish, the blood orange added too much one-dimensional citrus notes. The lobster paired well with the orange sauce, and the fennel probably served as the aromatic (I could not ID the scent by myself, thinking it was lavender at first, and had to ask my server). This reminded me of the lobster dish at Schwa, where “lavender+earl grey” was the aromatic on top of the lobster+orange base.
  9. Turbot with Peas (3.5/5)
    • Turbot from Holland.
  10. Koshihikari Rice with black truffle (5/5)
    • A risotto, in the shade of beige/pink with truffled bits around. Topped with a slice of black truffle.
    • At this point, this was the third truffle dish.
    • The rice was top class, having a firm texture and slightly sweet taste. Risotto was prepared perfectly, with the strong smell of black truffles coming through again. Top marks.
    • http://commongrains.com/japanese-rice/
  11. Squab (roasted) with Stuffed Morel (4.5/5)
    • Squab was served rare, with varying degrees of doneness. The very middle of the squab had no graining, while the outside was a very-reddish-slightly-pink shade with graining. I enjoyed the squab, it was well roasted with no chewiness and the stuffed morel was pungent.
    • Morels are the first sign of spring. It was truly a privilege to have eaten a meal in the short window between winter and spring when both morels and truffles were available.
  12. Miyazaki Wagyu with Grated Daikon (5/5)
    • Miyazaki wagyu is considered the best wagyu of Japan, over the Kobe region.
    • I did not ascertain the grading, but the seared beef just oozed fat like a sponge over the tongue, reminding me of otoro).
    • It was simply salted and served with vinegar-ed grated daikon. Simplicity itself, but a tremendous ingredients driven dish. Top marks.
  13. Buffalo cheese (partita) from Petaluma CA with hot tangerine jam (3.25/5)
  14. Shiso sorbet [functional dish, 3.75-4/5]
    • A green, strong herbaceous palate-cleansing scoop of shiso sorbet, about the size of a melonball scoop. Served in a plate with lots of holes at the outer 2/3 edge.
  15. Soba-tea (roasted buckwheat tea) ice cream, Caramel, Seaweed (3.5/5)
    • Not bad. Crispy seaweed and caramel on top, plated to look abit like the end of a honey-dipper.
  16. Spiced Chocolate Foam, Yuzu Marmalade, Sugar Globe (5/5)
    • A dark chocolate/yuzu cake base; a yuzu(?) sorbet in the center, with spiced chocolate foam around, and covered with a sugar globe.
    • The tastes were harmonious, creating a pleasantly spiced dessert on its own
    • However, what makes it truly spectacular is the sugar globe. Never have I seen such a perfectly clear (usually sugar glass is frosted and unclear) sugar glass with such thin-ness. It yielded easily to my spoon. (even the one made by an ex-Roca patissier at Restaurant Andre in Singapore was hard, and had the danger of cutting one’s lip). The technique required to make such a perfect sugar globe made for an amazing visual effect. Clearness and thin-ness, top class.
  17. Mignardises: Miso Cookie, Chocolate with Pistachio filling, Mango Tartlet

La Carne @ Eataly | Chicago, IL | Mar ’14

26 Mar
  • Address: 43 East Ohio Street
  • Telephone: Tel: 312.521.8700
  • Website: http://www.eataly.com/chicago-la-carne/

It is really quite impressive how successful the Eataly concept, a “disneyland of Italian food“, has been. The idea is to combine a one-stop shop for premium Italian ingredients, with a whole bunch of food outlets showcasing Italian food – an emporium. The Chicago outlet is the second outlet in the US (opened in Dec ’13), after the New York City outlet in 2010. Both joints are co-owned by Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich (the New York outlet is also co-owned by Lidia Bastianich, a long-time NYC Italian restauranteur). The concept began in Italy but has been a smash hit in the US, reportedly grossing $1700/sq ft in 2012, when even lucrative malls only take in $350-$500/sq ft.

But as Eataly’s second anniversary approaches on Friday, the surprise is that the 58,000-square-foot store has become a phenomenon in the world of retailing and restaurants.

Eataly’s gross revenues for its first calendar year were $70 million, according to Joseph Bastianich and the chef Mario Batali, two of its principal investors.

“That figure was way over their initial projection,” said Malcolm M. Knapp, who heads an independent restaurant consulting firm in New York that bears his name.

Predicted revenues for the second year are $85 million, “a huge figure, $1,700 per square foot per year,” Mr. Knapp said. He compared that to the Cheesecake Factory, one of the nation’s highest-performing restaurant chains, which in recent years has reported about $1,000 a square foot in sales. Even lucrative malls, he added, take in only $350 to $500 a square foot. – NYT

I was hoping on a cold Chicago Saturday to visit the Purple Pig, but got there at the all-too-late time of 1:30pm, and was quoted a wait-time of 1h45m. So the search began for an acceptable alternative. Our first heuristic was Yelp: Eataly popped up, a short walk away, so off we went.

When we entered, there were two storeys. The first level is a supermarket, dedicated to all manner of Italian produce, for the home-cook. The second level was a food court with multiple fenced off areas serving as sit-down restaurants. Among the eateries was a pasta outlet, a snacks outlet, a fish outlet. Facing dizzying wait times for most of them, we settled on the suspiciously half-full La Carne, in a quieter corner of the second floor.

But it turns out they were half-full not because quality as we suspected, but I suspect because most people thought it was a long + pricey sit-down meal, which it wasn’t. The light dishes we had were priced at $15-$25, and we were in and out of there well within 90 minutes.

2014-03-01 17.04.38

Vinegar Pork-Knuckle Dish with Egg (4.25/5)

A well-composed dish. The vinegar pork knuckle with bacon cubes went well with the salad bits, and who can argue with a soft-boiled egg with your bacon cubes?

2014-03-01 17.04.33

Roasted Quail

A spot worth visiting in central Chicago. I wonder if a Spanish mercado concept would quite take off in the US the same way Eataly has. Bourdain certainly thinks that NYC is ready for a world street food-centre. Will we see more successful emporiums of a single cuisine?

Related Links:

Food Digest for March 2014

24 Mar

GLOBAL

  1. Grandmothers posing with their signature dish. (2014)
  2. Old: David Kinch’s (Manresa) Tokyo journal (2009)
  3. How Chefs feel about food critics and food bloggers” (2012)
  4. MAD debates future of food criticism.

FRANCE

  1. Chez Pim talks about cooking for Alain Passard (2011). She’s now running Kin Khao in San Francisco.
  2. A documentary on Bernard Pacaud’s life and l’Ambroisie. (pre-2007) In French. Anyone have a subtitled (English or French) copy of this?
  3. Julot psycho-analyses Bernard Pacaud (2007). Also, a review of 3-stars in Paris circa 2007.
  4. A recent NYTimes article on French producers promoting the Burgundy truffle (2014) as an acceptable substitute for Perigord truffles (actually more likely to be found in SE France). It’s 1/4-1/2 the cost of the $1,200/pound Perigord (in bad years), and now France produces only about 40 tons of black truffle per year

    “Mr. Chabert has called in the chef Jean-Luc Barnabet to test recipes with the Bourgogne, or Burgundy, truffle, which is routinely snubbed in favor of its aristocratic cousin. He has created a scientific association to study it and has begun a national public relations campaign to promote it. Last month, he invited a dozen of the nation’s leading truffle experts to dine, serving them cream-cheese-filled choux pastries, puréed potatoes, dessert macarons and a sabayon parfait — all made with Burgundy truffles. They oohed and aahed.

    “The Périgord truffle will always be higher class and more valued all around the world,” Mr. Chabert said. “But we need diversity and flexibility. France needs the Bourgogne.”

    [...]The Burgundy variety has a lighter, sweeter, less pungent smell, and it loses its taste in cooking. Even at Mr. Chabert’s dinner, the scallops had to be prepared with Périgord truffles. But when the Burgundy is freshly harvested and fully mature, it works just fine raw.”

  5. The spectre of Chinese truffles (1995)
    “Another, cheaper kind of black truffle, the tuber himalayensis from China, has been flooding the market. This influx has created a problem because unscrupulous dealers in France have been mixing the two and selling them all as French truffles, tuber melanosporum, to restaurants. Dealers in the United States have been doing the same.Although the two types look the same, the Chinese truffles, when cut, are likely to be blacker, with less veining. They tend to have a chemical odor and very little flavor.”
  6. A glimpse of Parisian haute-cuisine in 1982.
  7. In-depth conversation with Pierre Gagnaire.
  8. Biography of Paul Bocuse.

ITALY

  1. Chef owner Davide Oldani of 1* Michelin D’O talks about how he makes his 1* food affordable (2013) in Harvard case study. No waiters, seasonality, cataloguing all edible parts, getting heftier glasses to reduce breakage costs, lowering rent by locating outside central Milan. His dilemma is his next step.

    Michelin-one-star-rated restaurants in Europe have an average of 36 employees on the payroll, according to the case. D’O keeps a lean crew of 14 by multitasking. Oldani does not employ any professional waiters. Rather, the chefs at D’O take turns waiting tables. (In fact, when Pisano first dined there, Oldani was his waiter.) This leads to a significant reduction in labor costs, even while allowing Oldani to pay his staff higher-than-average wages. Still, the chef insists that the strategy is less about finances than about customer relations. [Kenneth: Note, similar to how Schwa keeps costs down in Chicago]

    “You can’t fully explain a dish that you haven’t prepared yourself,” Oldani said. “When a cook explains a dish, he can explain it very well because he made it. He doesn’t explain what he heard about a dish, he explains what he made.”[...] Oldani espouses the philosophy of “POP cuisine,” which aims for accessibility to a broad audience, in terms of both taste and cost. He maintains that he keeps food costs down and flavors bright simply by buying ingredients only when they are in season. “Ingredients are less expensive and of higher quality when they are in season,” Oldani said. “Following the season is the most important thing to do in the applied economics of a restaurant.”

    The chef also is fervent about not wasting food. The case includes a lengthy list he keeps in his office at D’O, detailing the edible portions of some 70 ingredients. A sea bass has an “edible share” of 47 percent, compared to 60 percent of a hake, for example. A fig: 90 percent. A strawberry: 99 percent. A lemon: 26 percent (juice) + 2 percent (grated lemon peel—only the yellow part, of course).

    Table settings receive similar consideration, both sensory and economic. On the sensory side: He has designed several eating utensils, including an espresso spoon that sports a hole in the middle so as not to break up the continuity of the crema on top. On the economic side: “He chooses glasses based on breakage costs,” Pisano said.

US

  1. Reflection on High-End American dining (Gastromondiale, 2012)
  2. The Economics of Dessert/Pastry Chefs in NYC (2014)

UK

  1. The rise of the Gastro-pub (Bruce Palling, 2014)
  2. An industrial food producing wonder, Thanet Earth

SINGAPORE

  1. Very excited to try the Tippling Club, reviewed by Aun Koh here. (2014)
  2. Joel Robuchon restaurant is reviewed very favorably by food blogger Bu Pun Su on CH. (2014)
  3. The Labyrinth (Modern Singaporean food!!) is reviewed by Evelyn Chen. Looks like a very interesting set of modernist takes. (2014)
  4. Singapore’s food security strategy.

Astrid y Gastón | Lima, Peru | Jan ’14 | “the 20 year retrospective”

20 Mar
  • Old Address: Cantuarias 175, Miraflores District 15074, Peru
  • New Address: Av. Paz Soldán 290, San Isidro, Lima 27 – Perú
  • Phone: +51 1 2424422.
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): > $100
  • Courses: (20 main/22 total): 1 amuse, 1 bread, 16 savory, 4 dessert
  • Rating: 14/20
  • Value: 2/5
  • Dining Time: 240 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Diego Muñoz (Mugaritz, el Bulli, Royal Mail Hotel, Bilson’s in Sydney Australia)
  • Style: Peruvian
  • Notable: First fine-dining restaurant to focus all the way back in the 90′s on Peruvian food

I think this 20 year retrospective menu, which AyG only served in the last month of their operations in their old address, in January 2014, was one of the more memorable meals I had partaken. (They’ve since moved to the Financial District of Lima, in a new space called “Casa Moreyra”.) Was the food great? In all honesty, not really. There were no eye-opening combinations, nor any dish I thought was excellent (i.e. 5/5), though I remember the liquid nitrogen chirimoya dessert (like styrofoam pillows), and the peking cuy (guinea pig). Puzzling was the chifa dish that was just a fried piece of fish and puffed rice in oyster sauce. “Sole meuniere” was just a slab of plain fish. Chicken liver, an ingredient pinched in taste compared to its fowl-ier brethren, was presented without embellishment. Purely gastronomically, I had much better experiences at Central and Maido.

But it seemed almost beside the point. The food was secondary to the story-telling. The special menu was a celebration of the history of the restaurant. The constraints were clear: the kitchen was going to select a dish from each year, and feature it as a 20 course menu. From there, they wove a story about how a French restaurant in an unstable Lima, eventually found its voice championing the native dishes of Peru, and set up branches all over Latin America and Spain. How they became more experimental over the years, especially the dessert courses. It was interesting to see the evolution of restaurant before our eyes, told through 20 courses.

It seemed purely experiential, the evolution of a restaurant told in 20 dishes. While I didn’t fully enjoy the gastronomic side of it, it appealed to the sentimental side of me. Since it seems churlish to criticise a special menu working under a stringent set of constraints, below I present the menu and photos without further explanation, so you can take my place tableside.

Other Notable Links: Spanish Hipster write-up on the El Viaje menu, the year-long menu directly preceding this, planned together with Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana.

____________
2014-01-04 21.34.35

The side alley in Miraflores

2014-01-04 21.35.48 2014-01-04 21.36.31

Voyeurism

2014-01-04 21.43.56 2014-01-04 21.44.08

To the right, the waiting area

2014-01-04 21.44.14

Dining room

2014-01-04 21.56.33 2014-01-04 22.00.26

The kitchen, helmed by Diego Muñoz.

2014-01-04 22.03.22

We arrived early, by Latin American standards. (8pm, most guests started filling the room at 9pm)

2014-01-04 22.06.22 2014-01-04 22.06.27 2014-01-04 22.06.39

Cholopolitan

2014-01-04 22.17.09 2014-01-04 22.17.51

Cono de Mango

2014-01-04 22.20.19 2014-01-04 22.20.32 2014-01-04 22.25.06 2014-01-04 22.26.22 2014-01-04 22.27.55 2014-01-04 22.27.59 2014-01-04 22.28.01 2014-01-04 22.29.16

Panes

2014-01-04 22.36.282014-01-04 22.31.54

1994: Foie Gras Times
Apple, grapes, port, chicken foie.

July 14th 1994. French revolution.
The restaurant opens its doors with a sign that said:
Astrid y Gaston Restaurant.
Haute cuisine.

It was time for morels,
and foie gras.
They were different times.

2014-01-04 22.32.17 2014-01-04 22.32.272014-01-04 22.39.40 2014-01-04 22.39.46

2014-01-04 22.40.30 2014-01-04 22.40.40

1995. Tartare Times
Artisan bread, beef tenderloin, bone marrow, smoked yolk, herbs

Astrid leads.
The freshness of her 20 years conquering it all.
The bar, dining room, tables, dishes, like a dance.

Her dance.

2014-01-04 22.43.46

1996. The debut of the Tuna
Tuna, tumbo, oriental salad

Something new starts
to beat in 1996.
The beef, the sole
they couldn’t agitate
the heart as they used to.

Winds of change.
We could feel them come.

2014-01-04 22.55.232014-01-04 22.55.06

1997. The a lo pobre that wanted to be entrecote
Black beans, sweetbreads, banana

And suddenly, hidden between goose
and grapes, the tacu tacu made its entrance

Fearful, confused.
not knowing if he would stay.

2014-01-04 22.55.30

*meeeeep~~*

2014-01-04 23.04.40

1998. Duck tasting
Cured, rillettes, confit

We were always taught
that the kingdom of the duck
was in France.

No-one told us his place
was also among the Mochica.

2014-01-04 23.08.35 2014-01-04 23.12.032014-01-04 23.11.47

1999. Ingredients get an ID
Free range egg, “Huacho” sausage, quinoa, and asparagus.

Mother earth. Land of the water, the sun, the wind and fire.
Together they transform the products.

They create life.

2014-01-04 23.17.49 2014-01-04 23.18.35 2014-01-04 23.18.41 2014-01-04 23.22.49

2000. Down to Chile
Sole menieur, hazelnuts.

We were ignorant
of so many things.

We could only feel.
We felt we could share our dream.

That we were at last ready.

2014-01-04 23.35.11 2014-01-04 23.38.302001. A voyage across the World
Shrimp melcocha

Like our own love story,
Peru and France finally transformed into a single plate.

It was time to fly, to discover, to dream.

2014-01-04 23.47.48 2014-01-04 23.54.30 2014-01-04 23.54.362002. Preparing the Land
“Chupe” rice, corn and lobster

One never knows why things occur.
They just do.

Ideas align, words lose meaning,
everything falls into shape.

Everything finds its purpose.

2014-01-05 00.09.13

2003. Revelation
Causa de pallares, paiche, “charapita” chilli.

But something was missing.
Something deep, meaningful,
irreplaceable.

A voyage across
the Peruvian territory.

Drink from its past,

feel its present,

visions of the future.

2014-01-05 00.09.33

“Playboy for the hormonal New World crew”

2014-01-05 00.18.15

2004. Culinary adventure
Pulpo al cilindro

And the adventure started.
Ancient faces,
ancient people,
nothing was left out.

The peace of knowing
that in the kitchen
there are no hierarchies

2014-01-05 00.26.032005. Peru as doctrine: 500 years of fusion
Chifa style fish

To discover oneself.
Take off our masks
and feel the joy
of belonging to a place and time.

The joy of being free.

2014-01-05 00.32.10 2014-01-05 00.36.06

2006. From Peru to the World
Street food ceviche

And with freedom comes trust,
dreams, forwardness.

Free we could conquer hearts, fearless,
without the heavy fear
of the dark alley.

2014-01-05 00.37.54

Finished.

2014-01-05 00.42.01

2014-01-05 00.50.58

2014-01-05 00.51.17

2007. Peruvian cuisine, a movement.
Goat, watercress and roasted onions

Fear, vanity,
disbelief were left behind.

By ourselves are no-one,
together we are heaven.

We were cooks,
we became a movement.

2014-01-05 00.59.41“Shadowplay”

2014-01-05 01.00.23 2014-01-05 01.00.32 2014-01-05 01.01.11

2008. Mistura
Peking cuy

How to build a bridge
between the countryside
and the city?

Between kitchen and tables?

How to celebrate together?

Mistura.

2014-01-05 01.09.17 2014-01-05 01.09.33

2009. Pachacutec: The dreams of the youth
Suckling pig, sweet potatoes and Andean herbs.

The kitchen can become a window for our dreams.
We just have to open it.

2014-01-05 01.18.13 2014-01-05 01.19.20 2014-01-05 01.20.08 2014-01-05 01.19.292010. Peruvian cuisine as the Ambassadors of our country
Suspiro loco

The voice of Peru sounds different.
In its tone we do not find violence nor fear.
Her new voice provokes, seduces, agitates.

2014-01-05 01.24.36

2011. A new challenge with new blood
Chirimoya Alegre

It has been a long journey since
Behind we are held by an army of youth,
firm and steady march.

It is their time.

2014-01-05 01.31.41 2014-01-05 01.34.32 2014-01-05 01.37.25 2014-01-05 01.37.16 2014-01-05 01.37.42 2014-01-05 01.37.46

2012. Story Telling
Sensitive sphere

Experience and youth, savour the future.

To tell stories.

Through our kitchens, stories are born.

2014-01-05 01.49.22 2014-01-05 01.49.42

2013. The farewell
Beso de Camu Camu,
Sable salado
mango vainilla,
Formula 44
Sol y Somba

Cafe finca “Tasta”
de Edith Meza Sagarvinaga
Satipo Junín

The end of a lifetime.
20 years of love and battle.

A new life and home await for us.

So much to be thankful for.
So much to give back.

2014-01-05 02.02.23 2014-01-05 02.03.20

End

Asta | Boston, MA | Feb ’14 | “two highlights, both desserts”

18 Mar
  • Address: 47 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115
  • Phone: (617) 585-9575
  • Rating: 15/20
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $110
  • Courses: (8 main/10 total) 1 amuse / 6 savory / 2 dessert / 1 mignardise
  • Price/Main Course: $14
  • Rating: 15/20
  • Value: 3/5
  • Dining Time: 137 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 14 minutes
  • Chef: Alexander Crabb (ex. L’Espalier, noma)
  • Style: Ingredients-Driven
  • Memory: Carrot+Coconut

I had a recent 8-course tasting at Asta  (crowned Best New Restaurant of 2013 in Boston by Boston Magazine), and I’ve spent some time mulling over what kind of rating Asta should get.

  • One of the dishes I strongly suspected was using inferior quality produce: truffles which had a texture of cardboard, and a volatile chemical smell. On top of that, the dish did not seem well-conceived to me at all – featuring apples and roasted celeriac, but with no umami or salting.
  • Some dishes seemed minimalist for no reason than was the trend – the ingredients (salt cod; warm oyster) did not speak with any degree of clarity. When Alain Passard does minimalism, that is because his ingredients are a joy to behold and taste. Here it seemed done simply because it is the vogue.
  • No main savory dish stood out, except for little technical details, like the crispy skin on dry-aged duck. Somehow there was an unbalanced sense of composition about the main savory dishes. This could be due to a harmful adherence to minimalism for its own sake, for example a beef heart dish that could have been much better with a jus/third-ingredient-sauce. Also very likely, a zest for experimentation, leaving each dish behind before it has been perfected.

But the plus points:

  • A truly memorable carrot juice and coconut foam dessert. Sublime in ingredient pairing and conception.
  • A very good cream-puff dessert based around black sesame.
  • Hints of inspired pairing for the mains (beef heart and beets)

I was hovering between a 14/20 and a 15/20 for Asta, but I think it should receive the benefit of the doubt by virtue of being a young restaurant. There are glimpses of Chef Crabb’s ingredient pairing talent, but his attention is divided between a constantly rotating 3, 5, and 8 course menu, all of which share no overlap. If Asta streamlines the menu options into two menus at most, and focuses on perfecting those dishes, then I can see it becoming better. One thing Asta must do though, is not to serve questionable ingredients: at this price point inferior ingredients are unacceptable.

____________

2014-02-22 20.18.24 2014-02-22 20.20.562014-02-22 20.37.02

Chef Alex Crabb

____________

8-course menu

2014-02-22 20.41.42

Amuse: Lardo with herbs (3.25/5)

2014-02-22 20.51.48 2014-02-22 20.52.09

1. warm oyster: turnip, salted radish (3.25/5)

bland.

2014-02-22 21.04.03 2014-02-22 21.04.10

2. salt cod (3.75/5)

2014-02-22 21.07.30 2014-02-22 21.19.05 2014-02-22 21.19.13

3. beef heart: beets (4/5)

A strong concentrated taste of heart muscle, with sour citrusy beet sauce and beet cubes. Almost a great pairing with the sour beet sauce, but let down by enforced minimalism. Beef heart was dry. Served with chips.

2014-02-22 21.19.23 2014-02-22 21.19.29 2014-02-22 21.34.08

4. celery root: black truffle (2/5)

Served with apple, and apple+black truffle puree. A befuddling dish. The celeriac had very little salting, and little umami – eating it was like eating a huge wedge of starchy stuff, or the tasteless starchy danggui in a long-broiled Chinese herbal soup. To add insult to injury, the black truffles were cardboard-y. A let down.

2014-02-22 21.57.42

5. duck breast: fermented rutabaga (4.5/5)

Air-dried for 7 days with a fan to reduce moisture, and then cooked on a plancha to achieve a great crispy skin texture. Like Chinese roasted pork. Great meat, though the merits were the duck’s alone.

2014-02-22 22.00.03 2014-02-22 22.10.01

6. sunchoke: black trumpets (4/5)

2014-02-22 22.15.54

7. carrot & coconut (5/5)

An inspired pairing. Coconut milk and cream is made into foam, and sits on top of a bowl of carrot soup with a bit of ginger. Sprinkled on top is toasted coconut. Refreshing, and decadent at the same time.

2014-02-22 22.26.08

8. cream puff: black sesame, smoked maple (4.75/5)

A black sesame cream puff on the outside, with black sesame cream, and smoked maple syrup drizzled on top. A dish celebrating black sesame that was really well-executed.

2014-02-22 22.37.34

Mignardises: rabbits and buttered popcorn

____________

5-course menu pictures

2014-02-22 20.51.43

1. cauliflower: bottarga, anchovy

2014-02-22 21.04.22

2. monk fish: roasted brussel sprouts, bacon broth

2014-02-22 21.34.31

3. braised celery: black garlic gnocchi, chicken skin

2014-02-22 21.56.47

4. lamb: hearty winter leaves, chestnut

2014-02-22 22.25.54

5. black cocoa pavlova: passion fruit, olive oil

Malabar | Lima, Peru | Jan ’14 | “Amazonian”

18 Mar 2014-01-06 15.09.17
  • Address: Av Camino Real 110, San Isidro 15073, Peru
  • Phone: +51 1 4405200
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $140
  • Courses: (10 main/ 13 total): 1 amuse/1 bread/8 savory/ 2 desserts/ 1 mignardise.
  • Price/Main Course:  $14
  • Rating: 13.5/20
  • Value: 1/5
  • Dining Time: 97 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Pedro Miguel Schiaffano
  • Style: Peruvian / Amazonian

____________

2014-01-06 14.20.52

Malabar is a bit different from 3 other renowned restaurants I visited in Lima (Astrid y Gastón, Maido, and Central). Strangely, none of the waitstaff speak English, so it was off to the races with my halting Spanish to comprehend the dish explanations. One can only imagine that this is a deliberate choice on the part of chef-owner Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, since during my lunch at Amaz (his more casual twist on the Amazonian concept, located in the upmarket Miraflores district) two days earlier, there were plenty of waitstaff who could speak English.

Another difference about Malabar was that it was the only one of the four in the San Isidro financial district, about 5km away from the Miraflores district.

While Malabar’s food was pleasant enough, I have to confess that reflecting on the meal 2 months later, no tastes really stick with me. It was nicely plated, but no one dish grabbed the stomach or made me remember the food besides that it was quite pleasant. Having had no immersion at all in this cuisine and its ingredients, I was running based purely on taste and smell. If one could eat with one’s eyes, this would be great cuisine. I have faith that the ingredients sourced here from the Amazon (which Chef Schiaffano leads a vanguard) are all very rare, but the concept of this restaurant seems to be first a showcase parade of unfamiliar ingredients brought into elegant visual forms, presented to the diner experimentally, to see which Amazonian ingredients are a hit with gourmands. I ended up appreciating Schiaffano’s gastronomic project to support conserving the Amazon ecosystem and culture, much more than the direct gastronomic results themselves.

For a better version of this type of Peruvian terroir cuisine, I would recommend Central over Malabar, which had at least 3 very memorable dishes.

____________

2014-01-06 14.33.53 2014-01-06 14.34.55

Menu

2014-01-06 14.39.12

————

2014-01-06 14.45.47

‘Mugaritz-style’ stone potatoes.

This is a very labour-intensive carnival piece. Each potato is baked with flour water brushed on top, 3-4 times each to get the desired stoney effect. For pure whimsy this dish was a home-run. This dish is the infamous stone potato of Mugaritz restaurant in Spain. – my Tapas Molecular Bar write-up.

2014-01-06 14.46.03 2014-01-06 14.47.13

Pisco Sour

Malabar is known for its Pisco cocktails. This was a great afternoon drink. The most memorable part of the meal for me.

2014-01-06 14.48.47 2014-01-06 14.49.04

Bread

2014-01-06 14.54.05

Queso de castaña: Flores de jengibre, tomates confitados y congonilla (4.25/5)

2014-01-06 14.58.51

2014-01-06 14.58.55 2014-01-06 14.59.15

Taidai de pescado con jugo de tumbo, mastuerzos y tobiko (4/5)

2014-01-06 14.59.342014-01-06 15.09.172014-01-06 15.09.12

Yuca: Mojo de naranja agria, fariña, tapioca y masato (4.25/5)

[Cassava: Mojo sour orange, farina, tapioca and masato ]

2014-01-06 15.16.54

Huatia de papa: Papa cocida en su tierra, charqui de alpaca y quinua negra (4/5)

[Huatia Potato: Potato, their land, jerky alpaca and black quinoa]

2014-01-06 15.17.00 2014-01-06 15.18.48 2014-01-06 15.25.43

Octopus, Pepper, Seaweed (4.5/5)

2014-01-06 15.25.50 2014-01-06 15.26.54 2014-01-06 15.31.49

Paiche en aji negro: Habitas regionales guisadas y maduros (3.75/5)

2014-01-06 15.31.57 2014-01-06 15.42.02

Escolar en adobo: Cebollas de trenza y camotes crujientes (4.75/5)

The most remembered dish of that lunch – a spicy sambal-like covering around the escolar fish. I feel it is a bit facetious to serve the escolar in such meagre portions, but such is the tyranny of the tasting menu – would it not have been better served in a large portion, family-style? (I’m going off my experience with sambal stingray in Singapore, best served in hearty portions).

2014-01-06 15.42.06

2014-01-06 15.48.15

Puca picante de costillar de res (4.5/5)

Tasty and pliable to the knife.

2014-01-06 15.48.51 2014-01-06 15.58.08

Chirimoya, plátanos manzanos y yogurt orgánico (4/5)

2014-01-06 15.58.402014-01-06 15.58.222014-01-06 16.04.09

Cacao: chocolates nacionales (4.5/5)

2014-01-06 16.04.14 2014-01-06 16.10.27

Dulcecitos

2014-01-06 16.10.34 2014-01-06 16.10.42

A spicy sweet.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,084 other followers