Archive | September, 2013

atera | New York | Sep ’13 | “aesthete’s table”

28 Sep
  • Address: 77 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013
  • Telephone: (212) 226-1444
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $250
  • Courses: (16 main/27 total) 9 amuse / 11 savory / 5 dessert / 2 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $17.5
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Value: 3/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 6 minutes
  • Chef: Matthew Lightner (ex. noma)
  • Style: Avant-garde / Foraging
  • Michelin Stars: 2

The concept: I believe that chef’s tables are the next big trend in fine-dining worldwide. Why? For three reasons:

  1. Supply: Fine-dining has never been better world-wide, with an increasing ferment of ideas from chefs globally as they exchange ideas over Twitter and Instagram. Many recipes are freely shared over the Internet. Inspiration is nothing more than a Follow on a great chef’s Twitter account away. So there is a large volume of information and combinations which are waiting to be tested on discerning diners. The format that enables the most communication and empirical feedback on new dishes and presentation, is the table of small bites, the chef’s table.
  2. Demand: I estimate about 60% of fine-dining patrons are well-heeled professionals,  more scarce of time than money. They will ceteris paribus prefer to maximise the amount of novel ideas they imbibe and consume per unit of time, which also benefits the chef’s table format.
  3. Chef-watching: it is enjoyable to watch skilled artisans prepare your food, or tweezer decorations in.

atera is one of a bunch of high-end chef’s tables in New York which have won great acclaim – think Momofuku Ko (2* Michelin), Brooklyn Fare (3* Michelin), atera (2* Michelin), Blanca (1* Michelin) – for their innovative preparation of dishes. The format is perhaps many chefs’ dream, being given complete license to experiment with food, with appreciative and adventurous customers.

How will chef’s tasting counters change in the medium term (3-5 years)? Ruth Reichl thinks that they need to evolve beyond providing great food and wine, to providing more interactivity and theatre.

The chef seems to be challenging himself to wrest the maximum amount of flavor out of every ingredient, wanting to satisfy you with a single bite. A little tortellini had a filling so powerful you sat there, your mouth pulsing with flavor, long after the dish had been taken away. I looked down the counter: everyone looked stunned, happy. 

I enjoyed every minute of that meal. But I wonder where the restaurant will be five years from now. At the moment these expensive tasting experiences for a small, exclusive  audience- think Ko, Aterra, Brooklyn Fare – are the meals of the moment.  How will they evolve?

Every chef dreams of doing meals like these, but if they are to last I expect they’ll have to offer more than merely fabulous food and wonderful wine. Patrons will demand interaction with the kitchen, comfortable seats, good lighting, a more integrated experience. 

American food is at a high point; we’ve never had more talented chefs or more interesting restaurants. But that’s precisely why the smartest chefs are thinking beyond cuisine to the total experience. When you leave a restaurant like Blanca, you want to remember more than the pleasant service and wonderful food. – Ruth Reichl @ Blanca

What I like about chef’s tables is that there is simply more interactivity with the chefs. You get to ask questions about your food, find out what went into the making of your dish, and so on. The best experience along this line that I had in 2013 was at the Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo in June [link], where I felt completely free to ask Chef Hashimoto any questions about his molecular cuisine..

The restaurant: atera opened in May 2012, and made quite a stir when it got 2* Michelin in the 2013 guide.

The chef: Matthew Lightner, formerly of Portland, has done stints in Mugaritz and noma. He started out in 2012 trying to forage for atera, but it has proved a bit troublesome to find ingredients in NYC, and now he relies on the (still excellent) option of farmers’ markets in NYC.

The area: TriBeCa, despite being one of the most desirable celebrity zipcodes, seemed quite a desolate area, based on evidence from a Saturday night. Perhaps it was all the construction on Worth Street.

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Menu

Snacks

  1. Beer & Buttermilk Macaron | Creme Fraiche, Caviar.
  2. Lightly Pickled Beet Coated in Beeswax
  3. Geoduck & Pork Fat over Air Baguette with Smoked Potato Puree
  4. Amerynth Toast | Smoked Trout Roe, Ramp
  5. Lobster Roll with Yeast Meringue
  6. Beef Tendon | Uni fish Sauce
  7. Pickled Quails Egg | Chicken Liver Pate, Huckleberry, Pig Blood Wafer
  8. Bone Marrow | Heart of Palm
  9. Swordfish Belly

Mains

  1. Fresh Peaches | Frilled Dianthis ‘Rose de Mai’ (dianthus plumarius) | Roasted Corn
  2. Blue Fin Tuna | Sunflower (helianthus annuus) | Tomato Preserves
  3. Razor Clam | Garlic & Almond
  4. Sea Urchin | Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus)| Carrot
  5. Diver Scallop | Hazelnut (corylus avellana) | Fermented Cabbage Leaf
  6. Dried Beets | Brown Butter, Blackberry
  7. Peekytoe Crab Ravioli | Toasted Grain Dashi
  8. Sepia | Chicken Bouillon
  9. Grilled Halibut | Arctic Rose (rosa acicularis) | chamomile
  10. Roasted Squab | Bronze Fennel (foeniculum vulgare ‘purpureum’) | Currants, Black Garlic
  11. Elysian Field Lamb | Liver Miso, Wheatberries

Desserts

  1. Cheesecake | Wood Sorrel (oxalis acetosella) | Lemon Sherbet
  2. Strawberries | Saltine meringue
  3. Cracked Egg Ice Cream | Egg Yolk Jam
  4. Walnut Sundae | Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis) | Celery Root
  5. Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich | Oak (quercus robus) | Vanilla

Mignardises

  1. Black Walnut and Hazelnut Truffles
  2. Chocolate Caramel Pretzels

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squabs

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Snacks

2013-09-14 18.11.332013-09-14 18.11.23Beer & Buttermilk Macaron | Creme Fraiche, Caviar (4.5/5)

Texture and taste. The macaron shell tasted like Chinese prawn crackers, well complemented by sourness of creme fraiche.

2013-09-14 18.12.33 2013-09-14 18.12.42Lightly Pickled Beet Coated in Beeswax (4/5)

A very pretty presentation of pickled beet. Light sourness.

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Geoduck & Pork Fat over Air Baguette with Smoked Potato Puree (4.75/5)

Geoduck had a crunchy texture approaching dried jellyfish. The air baguette had the texture of a Chinese fortune cookie. Well finished by Pork fat. This dish transported me to memories of oriental food, especially of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore, where geoduck was an occasional ingredient in the mandatory lo-hei salad on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

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Amerynth Toast | Smoked Trout Roe, Ramp (4.25/5)

Strong grassy taste from ramp. Amerynth is a cousin grain of quinoa.

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Lobster Roll with Yeast Meringue (5/5)

The best. Sweet crunchy lobster, contrasted with an airy meringue sandwich. I would pay for a full size meringue lobster roll.

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Beef Tendon | Uni fish Sauce (4.5/5)

Sous-vide the beef tendon for 24 hours, then put it in the dehydrator. Deep fry it, and it expands, like chicharones. Imaginative technique. to get beef tendon into this form.

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Pickled Quails Egg | Chicken Liver Pate, Huckleberry, Pig Blood Wafer (5/5)

Stunning flavours coaxed out of the pig blood wafer. The slightly sweet biscuit contrasted with the meatiness of chicken liver to give an uncanny resemblance to a chocolate oreo cookie.

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Bone Marrow | Heart of Palm (5/5)

A seeming piece of bone is actually sculpted heart of palm. Crunchy, cradling delish marrow.

2013-09-14 18.31.45Swordfish Belly (4.5/5)

Fishy ham. A creative preparation of cured swordfish, to achieve the ham taste.

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Mains

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Fresh Peaches | Frilled Dianthis ‘Rose de Mai’ (dianthus plumarius) | Roasted Corn (4.5/5)

A delicious combination of corn cream and peach, with scent notes from the dianthis.

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Blue Fin Tuna | Sunflower (helianthus annuus) | Tomato Preserves (4.25/5)

An anise flavour comes straight from the dill flower. A medley of herbs such as sheep’s sorrel decorates the dish. The central axis is a tomato jam with fresh blue fin tuna, with a strong helping of fleur de sel underneath.

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Razor Clam | Garlic & Almond (3.75/5)

A visual pun: it is confusing when you take a bite, if you are going to taste clam, pickled garlic, or almond. Full marks for presentation. Tastewise, it was quite average – the almond was problem, being much harder than the rest: Imagine biting into a clam sandwich, with pickled almond as the bread.

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Sea Urchin | Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus)| Carrot (4.75/5)

Santa Barbara sea urchin and carrot was an inspired combination, and was beautifully presented. For that alone it would have gotten a perfect rating.  Fresh spongey texture of uni, with a carrot-miso paste mix. However, in the night I was there, a whole slew of dishes were peculiarly oversalted. Salting was a problem with this dish, which had too much soy sauce.

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Squab still there

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Diver Scallop | Hazelnut (corylus avellana) | Fermented Cabbage Leaf (4/5)

Diver scallop gently warmed over coals, with hazlenut butter and scallop roe underneath, shredded sauerkraut below. Okay.

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Action shot2013-09-14 19.02.16

Dried Beets | Brown Butter, Blackberry (4.25/5)

Dehydrated beets, with tart blackberries and brown butter consomme. Very rich.

Are dehydrated beets a thing amongst noma alumni? I had a similar dish of dehydrated rehydrated beets masterfully done in Providence’s birch, under chef Ben Sukle.

2013-09-14 19.07.52

Peekytoe Crab Ravioli | Toasted Grain Dashi (4.5/5)

Shredded crab, put in the beancurd film off a boiling beancurd broth (a refined form of the Singaporean dried beancurd skin tau kwa), to become a ravioli. An accomplished and delicate dish. The dashi, however, was again oversalted.

2013-09-14 19.13.50

Sepia | Chicken Bouillon (3.75/5)

One of atera’s signature preparations. What appears to be rice noodles in soy sauce is acually shredded sepia, or cuttlefish (what’s the difference between cuttlefish and squid?) in a roasted chicken broth. The noodles were slightly crunchy in texture. Oversalty.

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2013-09-14 19.22.09Grilled Halibut | Arctic Rose (rosa acicularis) | chamomile (4/5)

Nova Scotia halibut, with pickled arctic rose petals, and roasted bones of fish reduced to a sauce and emulsified with chamomile. The pickled rose petals had a sensational taste which I hope to try again, marrying the fragrance of Ispahan with a fruity sourness. Halibut was well-cooked.

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Roasted Squab | Bronze Fennel (foeniculum vulgare ‘purpureum’) | Currants, Black Garlic (4.75/5)

The centerpiece which we had been waiting for, squab breast. Sinewy to the knife, it was apparently created as a tribute to an art piece [see SpanishHipster for the exact art piece this dish was inspired from]. Again, full marks to presentation. Accompaniments: FennelSea-buckthorn, tart gooseberries, blueberry sauce, black garlic , and a tomato ragout with squab liver, gizzard, & heart.

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Elysian Field Lamb | Black Walnut Miso, Wheatberries and Eggplant (4.5/5)

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Desserts & Mignardises

Desserts are said to be atera’s specialty. Certainly, it is unusual that chef Lightner takes the lead in creating the desserts.

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Cheesecake | Wood Sorrel (oxalis acetosella) | Lemon Sherbet (4.25/5)

2013-09-14 20.03.51
Strawberries | Saltine meringue (4.75/5)

A saltine made of meringue! Great construction.

2013-09-14 20.12.47
Cracked Egg Ice Cream | Egg Yolk Jam (5/5)

Another atera specialty, mango jam within goatsmilk ice cream and a sugar shell. An innovative riff on the cracked sugar shells desserts that have been all-the-rage recently – I’ve seen them served at least thrice in the past year at the Joel Robuchon Restaurant [Macau], RyuGin [Tokyo – report], and Restaurant Andre [Singapore – report]. This photo-realistic facsimile of egg was amazing.

2013-09-14 20.21.50
Walnut Sundae | Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis) | Celery Root (4.75/5)

Toasted walnut sundae, with celery root dehydrated and then rehydrated in walnut liquor syrup. Celery root then took on the beguiling appearance of walnut, making them indistinguishable except to tooth and tongue.

2013-09-14 20.28.47
Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich | Oak (quercus robus) | Vanilla (5/5)

This high-concept confection crystalizes a few current themes in New York dining: local, experimental and nostalgic. Chef Matthew Lightner’s Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich neatly presses ice cream made from bourbon-barrel-aged milk (using spirits originated by New York distillery Tuthilltown) between cookies made from ground oak chips, cocoa powder and olive oil. Considering its complexity, it tastes surprisingly like an ice cream sandwich. It may come to the table on a piece of chilled slate, but the crinkly, shiny wrapper keeps it fun. – The Metro 

Yup!

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Black Walnut and Hazelnut Truffle (5/5)

2013-09-14 20.30.42
Chocolate Caramel Pretzels (5/5)

Despite being small, these pretzels packed a delicious salty punch from the caramel.

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The plating: If I were to sum up atera in a single sentence, it might be that “presentation is as much substance as taste”. Plating at atera is of paramount importance; to pick a few dishes at random –  the squab art piece, the celery root that was put through the wringer of dehydration and rehydration to look like walnut, the cracked egg – were all masterclasses in plating and presentation. If one eats with one’s eyes, one will eat very well indeed on plates such as the razor clam, garlic, almond pile.

The meal: I enjoyed the pre-meal snacks, and the desserts a lot more than the mains, which I believe suffers from a problem of over-salting. Certainly atera does not go for the heartiness of a plate of pasta in a restaurant like Marea, but instead focuses on transmogrifying its natural ingredients to make jokes, to play with our conceptions of what food should look like, our notions of verisimilitude. I rate atera top-class on visual artistry, but this diner is more accustomed to a different idiom – one of heartiness – for at least some of the main dishes. Heartiness is the generosity and warmth of comfort food – think a whimsical chunk of steak at Tapas Molecular Bar, or a warm kelp risotto at Restaurant Andre. That atera does not serve a single hearty dish, but relentless aesthetic small bites, was a horizon-expanding concept. It will certainly need to win over and re-educate fine-diners to its aesthetic philosophy. I foresee increasing enthusiasm for this kind of meal amongst the fine-dining crowd as an experience, but I doubt it will attract a large group of regulars.

In the future, thus, I think what will happen is:

  1. more chef’s tables
  2. atera’s aesthetic philosophy will attract less regulars, but educate a wider base of diners.
  3. to attract a wider base of diners, chef’s tables will need to foster more interaction between chefs, servers, diners (an easy consequence of the seating arrangement)

Expertise: The kitchen is especially skilled in meringue preparation; certainly the yeast meringue for the lobster roll and the saltine meringue for dessert were amazing pieces of craftsmanship.

Overall: 18/20

Memory: Pickled beet in beeswax, lobster roll with yeast meringue, pigs blood wafer, bone marrow with “bone”, swordfish ham, a pile of razor clam + garlic + almonds, peekytoe crab ravioli, pickled rose petals on a halibut dish, the artistic presentation of squab breast, a saltine meringue, cracked egg, celery root made to look like walnut, bourbon cask sandwich, black walnut + hazelnut truffle, chocolate pretzels

Alcohol Memories: 

  1. raisiny-sweet = 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Montilla-Moriles Don PX Gran Reserva
  2. anise-sweet = Luli aperitif wine
  3. Sazerac (atera lounge makes a good Sazerac)

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Other Notable Write-ups

  1. Spanish Hipster’s September 2013 visit to Atera – As always, this blog has amazing visuals – written by a former RISD alumnus, Elise Porter!
  2. Historical review of the 2012 Atera menu by Docsconz.
  3. The Toqueland interview with Matthew Lightner.

As readers of this site probably know, Lightner’s style is an arresting marriage of two of-the-moment movements–modernist and foraging–set within that most au courant of dining contexts: the countertop restaurant. – Toqueland

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birch | Providence | Sep ’13 | “loca-vore movement”

24 Sep

Address: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903

Telephone: (401) 272-3105

The area: Providence food has been getting better and better over the last 3 years I’ve been here. This goes hand–in-hand with the economic renaissance of Rhode Island’s capital, epitomised by Providence’s shopping arcade, the oldest indoor mall in America. Shuttered when I first arrived in 2010 due to the financial crisis, it is now slated to re-open later this year, with a slew of new restaurant offerings. I don’t know why the recovery has been quite strong in Providence, but I hypothesise it is due to a (A) vibrant college scene (Brown, RISD, Johnson & Wales, Roger Williams, Bryant, Providence College) and (B) spillover effects of increasing biomedical research from the greater Boston region: Brown, for instance, announced an increased investment last year in the Jewelry District to create engineering jobs. Certainly the restaurants opening in the past 2 years (e.g. flan y ajo) have been hipster-ish restaurants, appealing to a younger crowd.

The restaurant: birch opened stealthily over the summer, when Chef Ben Sukle decided to strike it out on his own. The Dorrance, which was chef Ben Sukle’s previous stage, made the list of Opinionated About Dining (OAD)’s top 100 restaurants in the United States. It was thus with high expectations that I entered birch.

The chef: 

Ben Sukle is a cooking savant. We say that because if you looked at his resume – which, aside from a four-week stage at Noma in Copenhagen, lists only places located in Providence, Rhode Island – you would never suspect he can turn out food that is on par with a top European kitchen. But if you close your eyes and taste his rendition of local asparagus with Burgundy snails and buttered white rice, you might think it was prepared at Alain Passard’s L’Arpège. – OAD

High praise.

Ben Sukle previously worked with Matt Jennings at La Laiterie, another of Providence’s interesting New American restaurants.

The following is a compendium of 3 meals I had at birch over 2 weeks. I shamelessly took photos of all my friends’ dishes, but I will only rate those I ate.

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First Meal (Friday)

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2013-09-06 17.42.14 2013-09-06 17.49.22 2013-09-06 17.53.48

“Scarborough” (5/5)

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Yellow Chartreuse, Lemon and Angostura Bitters

A cocktail that starts off fruity and citrusy, and then ends up deep in bourbon land. Highly recommended, the famously skilled Dorrance cocktails have followed chef Sukle to birch.

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Snacks: Crisp Malavar Spinach with Cornmeal Hush Puppy & Zucchini Ranch | Tabasco Honey

A good snack of fried cornmeal.

2013-09-06 18.07.09

Shaved Scallop (4.5/5)

Dressed in Toasted Sesame with Avocado, Radish and Bronze Fennel

A heavy-light dish of scallops in aioli sauce. Hearty.

2013-09-06 18.07.14

Heirloom Lettuce (3.75/5)

Shaved Vegetables and their Juices, Cured Egg Yolk and Creme Fraiche

What was interesting about this dish was the promise of an interesting lettuce taste. To this diner however, the lettuce tasted largely as iceberg lettuce might taste. I found instead the shaved cured egg yolk interesting, being very bottarga-like in texture (a type of shaved fish). Apparently, it is cured in salt and sugar for 2 days, before being shaved over the lettuce.

2013-09-06 18.21.59

2013-09-06 18.22.06

Warm Red Beets (5/5)

Walnuts, Sunflower, Husk Cherries and Caramelized Onion

Vegetable cooking of the highest order. This dish could have slid straight into service at l’Arpege [my post]. Beets are first dehydrated, and then rehydrated in lavender vinegar. The subtle sweetness of sunflower petals accompany the sunflower seeds, covered with a hearty helping of warm shaved walnut. Somewhere in that pile, there is also caramelised onion puree and the best, sweetest gooseberries I have yet tasted. Spectacular. A riot of colour.

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Warm Jonah Crab

New Potatoes, Green Tomatoes, Egg and Spicy Grains

This was my friend’s dish. From what I tried, I concurred with him that it was decent but unspectacular.

2013-09-06 18.44.03

Young Eggplant

Braised in Chinese Spices with Grains, Kohlrabi and Roasted Garlic

A flavorful eggplant with mushroom jus, that my friend had. Required a little bit of self assembly with slices of eggplant being topped with shaved kohlrabi and a garlic sauce. I quite enjoyed it.

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Crispy Vermont Quail (4.5/5)

Green Beans, Shiitake and Corianders

A delicious quail schnitzel, marinated in dill pickle juice (!). The sourness gives it a kick, which begs the question – why don’t more people fry their poultry with pickle juice? A thought-provoking combination. Went very well with the mushrooms. Green beans didn’t add much to the dish, but the intriguing herbaceous tastes of at least 2 different types of coriander did.

2013-09-06 19.07.11

Figs

Warm Corn Cake, Honeycomb Brittle and Rosehips

I quite enjoyed what I sampled of my friend G’s dessert.

2013-09-06 19.06.55

Summer Berries (5/5)

Toasted Almond Custard, Elderflower and Shiso

A delicious spoonful of summer in every sweet bite, with scattered elderflower meringue bits in the bowl, shiso granita, and at the bottom, a delicious almond custard. The berries and the custard do the heavy lifting here, but this dish is perfect.

2013-09-06 19.21.11

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Second Meal (Sunday)

To avoid repetition, I will just highlight the novel dishes.

2013-09-08 17.23.33

Hush puppy

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Sungold Tomatoes (4/5)

Garlic, Basil, Croutons and a Whey and Parmigiano Dressing

Garlic bread is blended (!) and made into a paste. Several types of basil. A sour whey dressing is poured into the bowl. I felt this dish was inventive in the technique, but the Sungold tomatoes did not have the complexity of flavour to anchor this dish. The whey dressing was also very sour to my taste.

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Roasted Carrots (4.25/5)

Grilled Surf Clam, Toasted Seeds, Yarrow and Almond

A spare plating, with carrots served two ways, first fermented and sliced, sandwiching grilled surf clams to the second way, a whole carrot roasted; with almond toasted milk. The charred outside of the carrot tasted great, the inside less intense in flavour, but was rescued with salt from the surf clam. A great presentation, taste-wise could have used less fermented carrot.

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Potato Pierogies (5/5)

Hooligan Cheese, Barbecued Onions and Mustard

Fantastically delicious. Pink potatoes are slivered and fried, served with seared pierogies, and a mustard-onion sauce. Charred pickled spring onion garnishes the plate, the sourness cutting through the richness.

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Block Island Swordfish (4.5/5)

Mussels, Summer Onions, Zephyr Squash and Preserved Lemon

Well-executed swordfish (i.e. perfectly cooked) in a lemon sauce.

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Pt. Judith By-catch of the Day (Weakfish)

Lightly Charred Summer Cabbage, Sweet Corn, Tomatillo and Miso

From what I tried, a skillful handling of whitefish. The charring was perfect (again).

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Triple Chocolate Pudding (4.5/5)

Peanuts, Rhubarb Sorbet and Oat Snaps

Three types of chocolate mousse. What made it interesting was the pairing of rhubarb with chocolate. Refreshing.

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Third Meal (another Friday)

Besides reprising another round of the delicious beets and the summer berries (before the last of summer and we enter fall), I also had a new dish this time:

2013-09-13 18.04.17

Hen of the Woods Mushroom (5/5)

Tokyo Turnips, Crispy Potato and Wheatberry Porridge

Wheatberries, the entire kernel of wheat excluding the husk, had the inviting temperature of a warm risotto, and the pairing with earthy Hen of the Woods mushrooms was delicious.

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At this moment, birch is on the top of my list of Providence restaurants. With cooking this inventive and whimsical (pureed garlic bread!), it is inevitable that there are going to be dishes that delight the diner, and others that leave the diner cold. For the inventiveness that birch has brought to the Providence dining scene (and it is a breath of fresh air), I expect a bright future for the restaurant. I predict that their experimental attitude, and refined standards of vegetable cooking, will soon bring birch nation-wide renown.

Memory: Warm Beets, Summer Berries, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Quail Schnitzel, Scarborough cocktail.

Rating: 17/20

Other Notable Write-ups:

Suntory Distillery | Yamazaki | Jun ’13 | “the glorious Hibiki 30”

14 Sep

Address: 5-2-1, Yamazaki, Shimamoto-cho, Mishima-gun, Osaka

During my 10 day trip to Japan, I had travel from Kyoto to Osaka (a ~1 hour journey, close enough that Kyoto is served by Osaka’s 2 airports), and decided to take a daytrip to Yamazaki. Anyone who knows my tastes in alcohol knows that I hold the Hibiki blended whisky, produced right here in the Yamazaki distillery, in very high regard. The 12 year old “standard expression” is a drinkable floral blend, recipient of multiple awards from the whisky industry, and the 21 year old premium expression is even more delicate. It being impossible to taste the top-of-the-range 30 year old blend anywhere else, I decided to hoof it to Suntory’s distillery.

[A XX-year standard expression is defined as a blend of whiskies from _allowed casks_ that are all at least XX years old. For a single-malt, the only allowed casks must come from ONE distillery itself; for a blended whisky, the allowed casks can range from all over Scotland (Johnny Walker Blue) to a certain hand-picked set of distilleries (Hibiki)]

The Hibiki is a blended mix of the Yamazaki and Hakushu whiskies, both of which are wholly owned by Suntory. Now, the Japanese blended whisky industry differs quite substantially from the Scottish blended whisky industry. In Scotland, most distilleries are owned by the conglomerates – e.g. Diageo (owner of the Johnny Walker brand), and Pernod Ricard, among others. They are quite laissez-faire about inter-conglomerate trading. Often, if a master blender in the Diageo stable believes that a Pernod Ricard (PR) owned distillery produces a good set of casks to maintain the Johnny Walker taste for this year, they can buy the casks from PR. This is emphatically not the case in Japan, where whisky conglomerate lines indicate no-man’s lands of commercial trading.

What this means is that much of the variation required to blend an interesting whisky must be produced in house in a Suntory distillery.

Japanese whiskies are made exactly the same way as Scottish single malt is made. The only difference is that one is not legally able to call these whiskies “scotch” (that label is reserved for 100% made in Scotland whisky). This is not a coincidence. Japanese whisky started as conscientious imitators of Scottish whisky.

A brief history of Suntory: In 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory and the father of Japanese whisky, built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in the Vale of Yamazaki.

The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto offered pure waters, diversity of climate and high humidity—the ideal environment for the maturation of good whisky.

Wikipedia

Tips. Don’t actually buy the standard to premium whiskies here: It can be found for much cheaper (40% cheaper) when you fly out of Tokyo/Osaka, due to high domestic taxes I believe. The only whiskies you want to buy at the distillery are the limited edition ones, like the Yamazaki 25 (very expensive) or the Hibiki 30 (individually labelled bottles, each costing USD1000).

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Distillery Tour

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Mash tun for fermenting germinated barley.

(Not pictured) Fermentation vats.

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The stills: For reflux. It is often claimed the shape of the stills affects the taste of the whisky. I am skeptical.

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The run-off, where the distillery master tastes the alcohol.

Traditionally (Scottish tradition) kept under lock-and-key, who historically wanted to prevent unauthorised drinking by their employees. 

The purest part of the run-off is the middle third of a distillation cycle, the first third and end third are usually re-refluxed.

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Cask Storage

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The pristine waters outside Kyoto, which we all drink when we toast a Yamazaki.

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highball (hai-boru)

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The Bar at Suntory HQ

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Review

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Hibiki 30年 (5/5)

Yamazaki 25年 (3/5)

Yamazaki 25年: The Yamazaki series takes its best probably at its 12-17 year mark, and rapidly declines through bitterness after that.  The Yamazaki 25 I had was over-oaked (spending too much time in the oak casket). This is a common complaint about old whiskies, which is probably why we haven’t heard any sterling reviews of the gimmicky Mortlach 70 years old, the oldest whisky in the world released in 2008, designed for completionist tycoons and showroom display cases.

  1. First taste: Expanding vanilla, smooth caramel, like the Glenturret 16
  2. After taste: Bitter oak

It is a conundrum: on the one hand, do you want to keep the smooth caramel that comes with the oak? How do you balance that with the inevitable seep of tannins into your whisky? Your tolerance for tannins may vary, but I see the Yamazaki 25 as stuck in the no man’s land between taste and tannins. I have heard that the oak breaks down after a few years, so I would be curious to try a Yamazaki 35 or 40. But for now, if I had to choose a Yamazaki, I would go with the younger ones.

Hibiki 30年: The Hibiki 30 is truly the best blended whisky I have ever tasted. This was intensely fruity in a way that surprised me, being more used to the floral notes of the Hibiki 12 and 21. It was as if the flowers in the younger Hibikis had finally bloomed by the 30 year mark.

  1. First taste: A great concentrated front nose of raisin.
  2. Mid taste: Strong orange and fruit.
  3. After taste: Fading into small bitterness

The only reason I didn’t get a bottle this trip was due to its very high prices. It certainly is not an everyday whisky, but is a special occasion whisky. It occupies the very top of my top 3 whiskies, which, as of this moment, are:

  1. Hibiki 30
  2. Glenturret 16, Distillery Edition
  3. Bruichladdich 36, Legacy Series 1

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To me, this trip to Yamazaki was special, as many of my great whisky memories have involved the Hibiki.

  1. I discover the Hibiki 12 at Jazz@Southbridge in Singapore 2009, with a highly interesting fellow.
  2. I rediscover the Hibiki 12 in Providence 2011, sitting dusty behind the counter of a small shop Spiritus Fermenti.
  3. I take a week’s tour in Scotland’s major whisky producing regions, to explore the range of Scotch whisky. I taste incredible single malts, but none of the blends were as drinkable as the Hibiki.
  4. I get the Hibiki 21 in Singapore (2012) and it becomes my travelling companion in the Northeast US.

Memory: Hibiki 30年

How I eat in Providence

10 Sep

Having lived on-and-off in Providence for three years now, I have eaten a few things in this little city (founded by that magnificent advocate of religious liberty, Roger Williams, in 1636). It may be of some modest interest to my friends and readers in or around Providence, how I negotiate eating in the area. Here are some tips, arranged loosely by geographical area.

General Providence (The high-points of Providence food)

  1. Flan y Ajo – good seafood tapas.
  2. birch – exciting new restaurant by Ben Sukle (previously head chef at the Dorrance), opened in summer 2013. review to come. Preliminary comments on the summer 2013 menu: get the raw scallop, dehydrated beets, pt judith catch, and summer berries.
  3. north – interesting Asian-fusion seafood cooking (the chef worked with David Chang at Momofuku Ko). Good noodles.
  4. Los Andes – interesting Peruvian food, a bit out of the way if one doesn’t have a car.
  5. New Rivers – good oysters (Tuesday is oyster night), but they also do a great fluke here.
  6. La Laiterie – I like their lunchtime incarnation, Farmstead, for its burgers and pasta. But their fancy food come night, leaves me a bit cold.
  7. Gracie’s – Gracie’s does duck well. But the rest is not very memorable, unfortunately.
  8. Ellie’s – Ellie’s is Gracie’s bakery division. It has nice breads.
  9. Pastiche – one must try the Pastiche fruit tart, as well as their chocolate torte. Their apple tart is also very good.
  10. Bacaro – generally heavy-handed main courses (esp. the pasta), but the duck brioche and truffle scallops on the tapas menu are very good
  11. Cook & Brown – good cocktails and desserts, pasta mains so-so.
  12. Not Just Snacks – nice briyani

Thayer Street area (Brown’s main throughfare).

  1. Kabob and Curry has a good Cauliflower Mushroom Curry, and a Tikka Masala, Pair that with naan & papadum, or if one is feeling indulgent, fruit and coconut naan.
  2. Soban has great Korean chicken wings (4.75/5), and a good stone-pot bibimbap. The stews, however, are unconvincing. The place has been recently sold, so the new management may or may not preserve the recipes. Wait and see.
  3. Chipotle is a great food option for the time-strapped student. I usually get rice bowls when I go there for lunch.
  4. Meeting St Cafe has a good “garbage” cookie (meaning white chocolate, oats, coconut, dark chocolate etc. etc.) Most Brown students know this already.
  5. Bagel Gourmet (Bagel Gourmet Ole if you’re up on Thayer) has a good breakfast burrito (4.5/5). Their everything bagels are also good, and if you’re looking for dessert, the cinnamon raisin walnut cream cheese is pretty good.
  6. East Side Pockets – decent chicken and falafel wraps, good baklava.

The Food Trucks

  1. Plouf Plouf – The duck burger, maybe the creme brulee. Avoid anything non-meat.
  2. Lotus Pepper – decent vermicelli (3.75/5) [I still miss Pho-natic on Angell St, which closed in 2011] and banh mi.
  3. The rest are unremarkable. Mama Kim’s standard has dropped precipitously since its 2011(?) opening, and it is the best of the bunch.

Wickenden area

  1. Abyssinia has a great steak tartare dish called kitfo that I like very much (4.5/5). The teff injera is nice to have but not noticeably different in taste from the default serving bread.
  2. The Duck & Bunny has very good crepe-pizzas (“crèpzza”s), as well as very nice Devonshire scones with cream and jam.
  3. Avoid Al Forno. The dirty steak (their signature dish where they cook the steak directly on hot coals) is very ordinary in taste, and overpriced at 42++. The desserts are unremarkable.

Wayland Square

  1. Red Stripe has a good Red Stripe grilled cheese and tomato soup, as well as decent steak frites.
  2. La Laiterie: as above.

Groceries

  1. Cahill Irish Porter Cheese from Eastside Market – a great brown cheese made with beer.
  2. Humboldt Fog Cypress Grove Chevre. I just discovered this cheese recently at Eastside Market. Coated with edible vegetable ash, it has at least 3 distinct textures, a slightly bitter outside, a gooey middle layer, and a thick mashed-feta-like core.
  3. Seven Stars Olive Bread, East Side Market or Seven Stars Bakery. An inspired decision, to put juicy, briny olives in a crusty loaf.
  4. Fleur du Maquis, Sicilian goat’s cheese, found in Farmstead. I first tasted this in Paris, and I think this is the best of the herb-encrusted goat cheeses. I was thrilled to find it at Farmstead. Seasonal.
  5. Sea Salt and Olive Oil Tortas, from Eastside Market. Decadent snack.
  6. Dorset Cereals: Fruit Nut and Fibre Muesli. Great with Greek yoghurt.

Cookbooks: Among the college student cooking set, I often notice Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen cookbook, or her recipes from her blog. That, and America’s Test Kitchen/ Cook’s Illustrated, offer some of the most practical advice for home cooks.

Restaurant André | Singapore | Aug ’11 | “first shoots”

9 Sep
Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855
Phone: +65 6534 8880

One from the memory vaults, this review is largely historical, and concerns the 2011 menu of Restaurant André. (For a more updated review, check out my Aug ’13 double-header review.) The restaurant is one of the first serious French restaurants that I remember going to, my previous fine-dining experience having been focused on the Chinese restaurants in Singapore. So this visit marks one of my first forays into Western fine-dining. This was a highly ambitious meal, and the review is reconstructed from the tasting notes I took on my iPhone on that night.

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Amuse-bouches

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Onion Chips (sweet)

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Chicken Marsala Skin (wafer thin)

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Fish roll

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Vanilla Popcorn

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FIsh and Chips in Chocolate Garlic Soil

This was the best version of the chocolate garlic soil I have had in my 3 visits (first time’s the charm). The fish and surrounding potato chips were perfectly salted, and ingeniously constructed, and contrasted well with the chocolate and garlic flavours. There’s a video on Youtube demonstrating the preparation technique for these amuses.

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Mains

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“Pure” – 8 Tomatoes, Tomato Puree, Tomato Pineapple, Tomato Licorice (4.75/5)

A very pretty dish, the “licorice tomato” (which I can’t find any Google hits for) had a complex flavour. I believe that this had perhaps the most interesting-tasting tomatoes I had yet encountered.

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“Salt” – Oyster Seaweed and Sea Grapes + Granny Smith Foam (5/5)

The sea grapes (a form of seaweed) had an interesting, caviar-like texture, which was draped on top of a succulent oyster.

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Artisan: Aubergine terrine with caviar sandwiching finely chopped cockscomb. Fried slivers of burdock root. (4.75/5)

Very similar to the Artisan dish on my 3rd visit (the caviar was replaced by excellent fried ducks’ tongues).

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“South” (left) Flounder over Tomato, Cucumber Basil Sorbet, White Peach Slices (3.75/5)

“South” (right) Risotto base, Mackerel, Clams, Pamplona Prawn, Blue Crab Foam (4.75/5)

I found the risotto very good and with exceedingly good seafood, but the coral plate (left plate) left me cold. This trend of liking the pasta (risotto or capellini) plate much better than the coral plate carried through my 2nd and 3rd visits).

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“Texture” – Squid and Rice (5/5)

This is an extremely cunning dish. While one might expect that squid would be the one coloured black from its ink, and the bits of white lower on the plate the rice – the opposite is true. The white bits lower on the plate, are actually finely diced squid cunningly disguised as risotto, and the black bit is a rice cracker, with no colouring and taking its colour completely from careful charring. Peas were under the rice. Full marks for toying with my expectations.

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“Unique” – Artichoke, white wine butter foam, baby barracuda, with Beurre Blanc. (4.25/5)

This was quite similar to the barigoule I had on my second visit to Andre 2 years later. The combination worked decently well, but was not mind-blowing taste wise.

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“Memory” – Warm Foie Gras Cream with Black Truffle Jelly (5/5)

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“Terroir” – Braised French Pigeon with Garlic Soil, Braised Mustard seeds. Potato, pea, mind, tarragon, dehydrated olives (4.5/5)

An excellently cooked pigeon.

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Dessert

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Snacks

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Bernard Antony’s Cheese plate

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Wild strawberries + marshmallows with ice (4/5)

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Dessert: Burnt Butter Ice cream, Chocolate Sphere, Chocolate Sponge, Chocolate Chip

I’m sure this tasted good, but this diner unfortunately suffers from the embarrassing malaise that I’ve had chocolate dessert in almost every way you can make chocolate. Pudding, mousse, lava cake, torte, tart, sponge, soil… I’ve had them all and my palate is 90% jaded when it comes to chocolate. So I confess, I don’t really remember the tastes of 99% of chocolate desserts, other than the meta-data that they were probably very good. Doesn’t help that I’m blogging about this meal 2 years after. Sorry!

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Honey-hazelnut Madeleine

Capsicum-Passionfruit Marshmallow

White Chocolate Popcorn with Surprise (Pop Rocks)

Fig with citrus skin

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One of the advantage of these memory lane trips is that you really know what you remember 2 years out. So here’s what I remember:

Memory: Fish-and-chips in Chocolate Garlic Soil (amuse), Oyster with Sea Grapes (Salt), Squid and Rice (Texture), Popcorn with Pop rocks (Mignardises), 8 Tomatoes (Pure)

It’s quite impressive that at this time, Andre was only about a year old, but many of the signature dishes had already taken form, and many of the dishes we had in 2013 had clear genealogy from their 2011 incarnations. Where Andre has improved significantly is in its desserts. Whereas in 2011 we were served a good but unmemorable chocolate dessert, in 2013 we were served such flights of fancy as the Crystal Snickers, hugely memorable and tasty. This may be down to the influence of Makito Hiratsuka, the current chef patissier of Restaurant Andre.

Verdict: 18/20

Tapas Molecular Bar | Tokyo | Jun ’13 | “pure whimsy and fun”

8 Sep

Address: 2-1-1, Nihonbashimuromachi | 38F, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture 103-8328, Japan

Telephone: +81 3-3270-8188

Back in June, when I was traveling for 2 weeks in Japan, I had a very pleasant tour through some of Tokyo’s finer restaurants. The previous night played host to a traditional yet arch-modern meal in RyuGin, and now I was swinging  to the other end of the spectrum with pure molecular wizardry on display at Tapas Molecular Bar. I found out about Tapas Molecular Bar thanks to Adam Goldberg, who highlighted this as one of his favorite places in the city.

The restaurant: My understanding is that Tapas Molecular Bar (TMB) was set up by Jeff Ramsey, originally sous-chef under Jose Andres at Washington DC molecular restaurant Minibar. However, as of 2012, Jeff Ramsey has left the kitchen, and it is now being helmed by Chef Koichi Hashimoto. Hashimoto-san was in the kitchen when I was there, and there was nothing but a glass box, containing the ingredients to be used in our dinner (dramatic foreshadowing) separating us 7 diners and Hashimoto and his British assistant chef Aaron Cardwell. The mise-en-scene (prior preparation) had already been assembled before our arrival.

Pre-meal, I was treated to a fantastic view over Tokyo in the bar area.

TMB is not an original act. It was highlighted in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine as one of the prime offenders in copying ideas wholesale. Many of the dishes from reports in 2010 seem to have been copied from Minibar by Jose Andres in Washington DC, and I counted at least one dish on the night that was recognisably another restaurant’s (Mugaritz’s stone potato). My impression thus is that the chefs are skilled executors rather than creative forces in their own right.

The people: Two international East Asian yuppie bankers to my left, and a well-heeled Houston family of 4 to my right.

The environs: Nihombashi is a very upscale area, with swanky hotels and glitz restaurants, right north of the Ginza district. Right on the ground floor is the Tokyo HQ of fine-fruit purveyors Sembikiya. In Japan, fruit is considered a gift item. I have heard it speculated that it is because in Europe, the hard water led to fruit becoming a necessity as a vessel for clean water content, and Japan’s soft water made fruit unnecessary as a water vessel, and thus fruit acquired a luxury position. This reasoning sounds like fruitcake to me (luxury fruit in Japan is an at most two centuries old phenomenon, see this BBC article on Sembikiya, which traces back its history only to the 19th century, and soft water would be a fact of Japanese agriculture for millennia.)

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“dear me, if that isn’t a gold durian…”
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Spectacular views over Tokyo

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the menu

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Cherry Bonbon

Cherry with a bonbon liquid bomb of liqueur inside, coated with jello on the outside.

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Stone Potato (5/5)

Four stones, but only one is a potato. Chorizo sauce in a industrial-looking tube, and salt on a rock plate.

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I picked the right one!

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.

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Chefs and their alginate.

2013-06-05 05.18.24Green Pea Mint (4.5/5)

The alginate beads are used to form a pea risotto, with a bit of ham mixed in. It was a decent combination, and the value of the dish lay primarily in its theatrical creation. Green-pea with sodium(?) alginate  is dropped into calcium chloride(?),  which causes spherification to happen. I was expecting a skin to form on the pea, but the alginate forms the beads without any membrane whatsover.

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Fromage Blanc, Flower and Butterfly (4.25/5)

A very pretty plating, but somewhat lacking in cohesion of tastes: the butterflies were made of sugar, the vinaigrette made of raspberry, and the foam a honey rosewater concoction, on top of some fromage blanc.

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Spring Landscape (4.75/5)

Lightly tempura-battered veggies, made to look like an enchanted forest, crumble of black garlic (which has a natural taste of wolfsberry, as I later found out) and onion, naturally fermented. A delicious combination

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Green Laver, Razor Clam, and Yuzu (3.75/5)

I did not have a strong impression of this dish; the yuzu was in the foam.

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foreshadowing with a syringe2013-06-05 05.45.00

Smoked Egg (4.5/5)

Liquid smoke piped into a jar, with an onsen cooked egg (low temperatures). This dish was quite nice, and smoked eggs was something I would later have in two forms in Singapore, at Jaan (the best onsen-style smoked confection, Julien Royer’s 62 degree, 55 minutes smoked egg), and David Pynt’s smoked quail eggs. This dish was naked and unadorned, and I felt it missed something that would make it perfect [I would later be enlightened by Julien Royer that what was missing was charred Jamon Iberico and potatoes]. The biscotti spoon to eat with added a touch of whimsy, but little tastewise.

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(off-menu) Prawn Bisque (4.5/5)

Blowtorched bisque (made of crab shell), and prawn. A sherry jelly for palate cleansing. An interesting take on the skin that forms on thick soups like bisques, I have never had a blowtorched soup before!

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Baby Pork Hazelnut (5/5)

This was an inverted xiaolongbao (soup dumpling). Here the pork (topped with shaved hazelnut), would form the outer covering for a soup within. How did they do it? I asked Aaron, the assistant chef. It turns out that they bake the chop, after they stuff a gelatin cube into the pork, and then cover it up with meat glue. The pork tasted superb, and the mechanics of the dish were sublime.

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the magic levitating spoons with their ingredients foreshadowing the different courses

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Warm Sizzling Beef (5/5)

Wagyu, already tender, is tenderised above and beyond, by being cooped up in a pressurised container with nitrous oxide for 6 hours. This also gives it a sizzling effect on the plate. It is not because it is red hot, but because of the gaseous behaviour of nitrous oxide.

The Edible Art on my plate is silkscreen printed mayonnaise, coloured with bamboo charcoal. Superb execution, bravo, bravo, bravo!

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(off-menu) Vegetable Soup

A rather-forgettable bland vegetable combination, but perhaps a good palate cleanser after the excitement of Warm, Sizzling Beef.

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Osuimono (4.75/5)

Osuimono is the other basic Japanese soup: the main alternative to miso soup when you’re making 1 soup-1 dish. At its best, osuimono is a very light broth: it should never be weighed down with too many ingredients, too much salt or – and this is a common mistake – too much soy sauce.

The basic ingredients are water, dashi, soy sauce and sake, but there’s a lot of room for variation with what you put into it. Dropping a beaten egg in it, for instance, works wonderfully. For this recipe, however, I used a filet of sole, some spring onion and lime rinds.

Kanoko’s Kitchen.

The threads of the meal come back to weave a narrative. Earlier, Chef Hashimoto syringed green stuff into an alginated soup. We now find out that the soup is osuimono, a classic Japanese clear fish-soup, with syringed kombu inside. This round spoonful of osuimono, perhaps best captures what is classic and modern about Tokyo cooking in one picture.

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Green Tea Puff (5/5)

Our friend liquid nitrogen makes its first appearance on the Tapas stage. But why is this little green tea macaron-shaped pastry, doused in liquid nitrogen for about 5-10 seconds, called a “puff”?

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the answer: because you keep it in your mouth and it starts puffing out of your nose!

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Egg (5/5)

Mango gelatin, and sweet white stuff in a white chocolate egg. A nest made of pastry. An incredibly plated dessert, it well-satisfied my sweet tooth.

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The array

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Japanese Paper (4/5)

Flattened candy floss, with flowers in between.

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Strawberry Milk (3.75/5)

The photo smells (faintly) of milk, and the crumpled paper display is made of strawberry. Taken together, this dish smells like strawberries & cream. The smell was a bit too faint on the photo to really make that association, however.

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Choco-banana (4/5)

Now with pop-rocks inside! Everyone is doing pop-rocks now, it seems to be an in-thing. I’ve had it variously, besides in Tokyo, in Singapore’s Jaan, Singapore’s Andre, and Singapore’s Saveur.

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Cherry Blossom

Can’t really remember what this tasted like. Underneath the cherry-blossom….

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The real Choco-Banana? (3.5/5)

Banana-“rice” krispies, bound with chocolate. Quite ordinary.

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Fruits (5/5)

Miracle Fruit, on the right, contains miraculin, which makes sour things taste sweet for 2 hours. We were promptly given lemons and limes.

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Tapas Molecular Bar is an incredibly fun restaurant (some would say amusement park). I would not hesitate to go back when I am next in Tokyo. It was deeply impressive that the pair of Chef Hashimoto and Aaron Cardwell were able to create all the dishes for 7 people without any help during the 2+ hours I was there, which speaks to a very disciplined mise-en-scene preparation process that preceded us diners coming in.

Memory: Stone Potato, Baby Pork Hazelnut (inverted xiaolongbao), Warm Sizzling Beef (Nitrous Oxide), spherified Osuimono, Green Tea Puff (the magic dragon), Egg (white chocolate and mango gelatin), Miracle Berry and Fruits.

Verdict: 18/20

Other great write-ups of Tapas:

  1. http://tomostyle.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/tapas-molecular-bar-tokyo-japan/
  2. http://www.alifewortheating.com/tokyo/tapas-molecular-bar-revisited
  3. http://www.alifewortheating.com/tokyo/tapas-molecular-bar

Chinese Food in the US

8 Sep

This was previously posted as part of my review of Jiang-Nan Chun in Singapore, but I felt it would work better as a stand-alone piece. Filed under the Editorials Section.

In 3 years living in the States, I have not come across a single Chinese fine-dining restaurant on her shores.  Since I have not been long enough to Beijing or Shanghai to really understand their Chinese fine-dining scenes, I shall confine the following speculations to just Cantonese fine-dining. Classic Chinese fine-dining seems to be concentrated in the Cantonese cuisine, which is geographically in South China. This explains the numbers of Chinese fine-dining restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore, and to lesser extent Malaysia and Indonesia.

My 4 hypotheses for why Cantonese fine-dining doesn’t exist in the US (correct me if I am wrong please!) are the following:

  1. Ingredient Conservatism. Cantonese fine-dining restaurants prize ingredient quality, and they have been reluctant to experiment with North American ingredients, or indeed most European ingredients in general until the Michelin Guide came to Hong Kong and gave Lung King Heen three stars for experimenting with foie gras and truffles.
  2. Existing fine-dining institutions are Western. Many talented Asian chefs (e.g. David Chang of Momofuku Ko) tend to apprentice in French/Italian kitchens, due to the existing global prestige of these kitchens (again, the Michelin Guide, and Top 50 Restaurant List).
  3. More subtle to appreciate. Cantonese fine-dining involves a dizzying array of soups, in which the skill involved is more subtle to appreciate than a fatty slab of foie gras blowtorched to perfection.
  4. Where the Money is. Fine dining concepts spread by the international travels of a moneyed class, and a restaurant is sustained by a stable base of moneyed regulars. The large number of French and Italian restaurants in the world reflect the travels of international financiers in the post-WWII reconstruction era. As a corollary, the emergence of New American fine-dining restaurants is concentrated geographically in California and the Northeast US, which are the two richest regions in the US today. Similarly, the regular clientele for Chinese fine-dining is almost exclusively Chinese tycoons, which tended to be concentrated in Hong Kong and to a lesser extent Singapore up to the 80s (when mainland China was still modernising under Deng Xiaoping from almost 3 decades of Mao rule). These HK and Singapore tycoons, having found their economic base in the region often on networks of patronage and influence, almost never emigrated to the US. This is why Chinese fine-dining today still seems to be an East Asian phenomenon, from the eastern seaboard of China to the heart of Southeast Asia.