Archive | December, 2014

the world of food in 2014 (part 3): best desserts of 2014

31 Dec

Dessert is my favorite part of the meal. The base is sugar, but the rest is whimsy – be it popcorn from Contra, or a decision to emulate the Chateau d’Yquem wine from the Fat Duck. The following desserts were masterpieces, my favorites of 2014. I present them, with my reactions as I first blogged them…

Other 2014 write-ups:


 

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23. Tangerine, popcorn

Contra

New York City, USA

Toppings: Popcorn powder, malt crumble, tangerine granita.

Underneath: Popcorn mousse, olive oil jam, slices of tangerine.

Bright, fruity, energetic. A slight bitterness from the olive oil jam melded perfectly with the sweet popcorn. The tangerine cut against the oil, and left this diner feeling refreshed.


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22. Mountain Range and Forest: Cacao, Coca, Chirimoya, Chaco Clay

Central

Lima, Peru

I loved this dish. I had chirimoya desserts at Borago, Gustu, Astrid y Gaston; but this took the cake. Chirimoya was served simply as the main dish; a fruit with the texture of pineapple and the taste of soursop. It was served simply with chocolate-coca soil. Simplicity.


 

 

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21. Crisp Crepes and Meringue, served with Sweet Egg Strands or Prawns

Street food at Taling Chan Floating Market

Bangkok, Thailand

I could not have imagined any improvement upon these crisp crepes, sandwiching a soft pillowy meringue and sprinkled with prawns for a salty counterpoint.


 

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20. Yeast ice cream / White caramel film / Meringue / Silver Leaf

Ledoyen

Paris, France

“Chef wants you to have this, in order to ‘shock the palate’ “. The yeasty flavor (which yeast? what proportions, if a mixture?) was pronounced, capturing a hearty, bready flavor. For such a thin film, the caramel flavor came through strongly.


 

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19. (Cheese Course) Yeast ice cream, fermented huckleberry watermelon jelly, with Chimay cheese “brulee”

Schwa

Chicago, IL, USA

Amazing. Chimay cheese below was treated with a creme brulee crust above, and the funky taste of good bread came from the yeast ice cream. Ostensibly a cheese course, this was a great tribute to beer. Rounded. Completely unique. I miss it already.


 

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18. olive oil, coconut, borage

The Restaurant at Meadowood

St. Helena, CA, USA

Frozen coconut cream with Hudson ranch olive oil (peppery) and gooseberry sauce+lime juice, borage sprouts. I thought was a very good dish, with the peppery olive oil going well with sour gooseberry, sweet coconut tastes, and fishy taste of borage.


 

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17. Strawberry Special Sweet

Ryugin

Tokyo, Japan

Toraya, two soft (pillowy would not begin to describe it) buns with strawberry and red bean paste, custard.

So simple, but the tartness of the strawberries (they were sweet too) was perfectly calibrated NOT to standout from the custard and red bean paste. They harmonized – and the entire bite was a magical taste of strawberries, fragrance et al…


 

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16. Millefeuille rhubarbe <<vintage>> a l’angelique officinale, sirop rose

L’Arpège

Paris, France

The flaky pastry cuts beautifully, and with an audible crunch. Rhubarb millefeuille with sour cherries, and then paired off with an intensely floral rose ice cream, which brought to mind the intensely floral geranium oil in the beetroot sushi that our meal started off with.


 

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15. black walnut, soufflé and ice cream

Saison

San Francisco, CA, USA

A good pairing of black walnut soufflé with maple flavors. Nuttiness with sweetness, Hot souffle cut by cold ice cream.


 

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14. Bahuaja: Milk, ice cream and crispy “castaña”, mango, cranberry, cushuro, mochi

Maido

Lima, Peru

A sublime dish. A sweet milk ice-cream with an array of delicious ingredients. No ingredient outshined the other – but the most curious was “cushuro”. Cushuro was one of the most wondrous discoveries of my gastronomic travels in South America. It’s textured like a tender bubble-tea pearl, and tastes like mild earl grey tea. Maido perfectly incorporated it in a “Treasures” themed dessert.


 

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13. carrot & coconut

Asta

Boston, MA, USA

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.


 12. Spiced Chocolate Foam, Yuzu Marmalade, Sugar Globe

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

New York City, USA

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 [isomalt] 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.


 

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11. Sweet Grain Cereal: Apple Butter, Johnny Cake, Honey and Toasted Grain Milk

Birch

Providence, RI, USA

“birch’s tribute to breakfast consists of whipped grain milk, on top of apple sauce and a cornmeal johnnycake, mixed with the kitchen sink: honeycomb, puffed rice, oat snaps, and a few other things that are delicious. Eating this is like eating the best bowl of breakfast cereal ever. The mix of textures is complex, with at least four different kinds of crunchiness: thin, oaty crunchiness from the oat snaps, hollow crunchiness from the rice, and sweet dense crunchiness from the honeycomb, and what I think are airy cylinders of dried apple. One of the best desserts I have ever tried anywhere.” I wrote this a year ago in 2013, it still holds true in 2014.


 

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10. น้อยหน่าน ้ากะทิกับขนมดอกจอก (custard apple in coconut cream with sesame biscuits)

Nahm

Bangkok, Thailand

A dish to die for. These fresh sesame biscuits were still coated with just the thinnest film of oil when they were served fresh next to a cold bowl of iced coconut cream. When you break up the warm sesame-encrusted biscuits over the iced coconut cream, it feels like eating the world’s best* bowl of breakfast cereal. Instead of cold milk, we get the rich taste of cold coconut milk, and biting into the sweet warm biscuits like crunching into fresh warm sugared cornflakes. A magical contrast of hot-and-cold, crunchy-and-soupy. (*joint-1st breakfast cereal dish, with the Sweet Grain Cereal of birch in Providence, half the world away)

Custard apples provide a sour-sweet soursop taste, with firmer texture, a beautiful dish. Truly spectacular.


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9. Persimmon-apple blancmange

Ginza Kojyu

Tokyo, Japan

A delicate milky flavor from the blancmange (thickened milk pudding). Sensational. The creamy milk tastes blended well with apple. Persimmon disguised tartness from the apple.


 

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8. Dacquoise au praliné, giboulée de fraises de jardin

&

Tarte fine sablée au cacao, glace à la vanille Bourbon

L’Ambroisie

Paris, France

  • A tremendous dacquoise (a cake made with layering nut-flavored meringues with cream). Here the meringues sandwiched a hazelnut cream. The meringues were light, and contrasted beautifully with the cream. It was every bit the equal of the legendary chocolate tart, the two were like yin (chocolate) and yang (hazelnut)
  • The legendary L’Ambroisie chocolate tart – the chocolate as light as air, melting on the tongue like a cloud, it was perfect with a vanilla ice cream. A classic, intense combination. Both tarts were tremendous.

 

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7. CHOCONUTS ‘TART’ Taste and textures

JAAN

Singapore

I was very pleased with this dessert. Chocolate in multiple forms: a perfectly formed quenelle of chocolate ice-cream, with chocolate foam, chocolate balls, chocolate tuile, on a chocolate tart, with a huge dollop of hot chocolate cream being applied as the coup-de-grace.

Marvelous and classic chocolate dessert, one of the very best I have tried anywhere in the world. Decadent, delicious, and (very quickly) disappeared.


 

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6. Seven Deadly Sins

Mugaritz

Errenteria, Spain

Each of the Seven Deadly Sins became a representative chocolate. Highly imaginative. Where else in the world would you expect something so heart-on-sleeve artistic, so playfully ambitious?


 

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5. Rica Rica de Atacama

Boragó

Santiago, Chile

Ice cream from the rica rica plant, and a macaron layer made of rica rica. The filling was made from the Chañar wildflower. Evoked the Atacama desert.


 

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4. Egg and dairy products, Farmhouse Milk Ice Cream, Butter Toffee, “homemade eggs” milk skin and gelée of yogurt

Azurmendi

Larrabetzu, Spain

  • “It has made me fall in love with vanilla” – that was what I wrote. Bed of toffee butter, cubes of yoghurt gelatin, dehydrated spiced milk. Dehydrated milk bits, milk ice cream, along with for a seventh time, eggs with liquid creme caramel filling.
  • The vanilla in the ice cream was accentuated by its supporting cast. It was the star. The taste of spiced milk; the sour of yoghurt; the richness of toffee butter. A homage to milk.

 

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3. Mille Crêpe: Preserved Lemon

Oxheart guest dinner at Birch

Providence, RI, USA

As I wrote in my 2014 review – “Birch also had a few guest chef stints – the most memorable was the one of Justin Yu from Oxheart in Houston, TX, who created an amazing lemon mille-crepe cake. (the first and last mille-crepe this year that I admired – the freshness of the crepe is essential to giving the cake a “zipping” texture as your knife cuts through alternating layers of crepe and cream).”

He had brought a few crepes from Houston (courtesy of his wife and Oxheart baker Karen Man), and made a mille-crepe about half the size of those he makes at Oxheart. It was absolutely delicious and had a lemon flavor in the sweet spot of tartness. I can’t wait to get to Oxheart and try the larger mille-crepe cake on premise.


 

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2. Reduced milk ice cream with red fruit infusion

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain

Smoked milk ice cream. How? Buckets of milk in an oven, to absorb the aromas of fire.

It was a cognitive double-take, the smoky flavors we usually associate with heat, with the cold temperature of a floral milk ice cream. Perfect. Paired with red fruit infusion, which was a good fruit-ish complement to the ice cream.


 

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1. Botrytis Cinerea

The Fat Duck

Bray, UK

One of the greatest desserts in the world. The fungus botrytis cinerea creates the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Originally developed by the kitchen for a Chateau d’Yquem tasting, this was a cornucopia of flavors and textures to evoke the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Deconstructed: An frosty wine ball, a creamy yeasty meringue, fantastic raisins, golden chocolate, gums… Each individual grape of the dish had its own flavor, together they sang in harmony like a dish sprung from heaven itself. It was a true pleasure to have witnessed and tasted this dish for myself.

Worth the price of admission to the Fat Duck for this dish alone.

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the world of food in 2014 (part 2): best dishes of 2014

30 Dec

My favorite dishes of 2014… narrowed down to the final 31.


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31. Extreme Altitude: Frozen Potato, Cushuro, Mullaca Root, Paico

Central

Lima, Peru


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30. Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk

Gustu

La Paz, Bolivia


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29. Lily Bulb: rambutan, distillation of caviar lime

Alinea

Chicago, IL, USA


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28. Ka Lum Tod Nam Pla “Fried chinese cabbage gravied with premium fish sauce from Trad province”

Supanniga Eating Room

Bangkok, Thailand


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27. Into the vegetable garden…

Manresa

Los Gatos, CA, USA


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26. Grosses Langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’Agrumes

Ledoyen

Paris, France


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25. Lap Mei Fan: Baked Alaska

Bo Innovation

Hong Kong


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24. Giant prawn, ankimo, chilli-vinegar jelly

Ginza Kojyu

Tokyo, Japan


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23. …decadentia…

Mugaritz

Errenteria, Spain


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22. Mozzarella of buffalo

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain


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21. Luxurious Winter’s Rice Porridge with Blow Fish

Ryugin

Tokyo, Japan


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20. Traditional Fisherman style charcoal-grilled rice

Azurmendi

Larrabetzu, Spain


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19. Perigord Truffle: crème caramel, sherry, CHIVE

Grace

Chicago, IL, USA


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18. Gillardeau Oyster, Seawater Jelly, Sugar Pearl Containing Smoke, and Cream of Chives

Auberge du Vieux Puits

Fontjoncouse, France


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17. Green peas in their juice

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain


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16. Young leeks roasted with coconut ice cream

ABaC

Barcelona, Spain


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15. white sturgeon caviar, sturgeon belly cured & smoked on kelp, gelèe of the grilled bones

Saison

San Francisco, CA, USA


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14. Ris de Veau en Brochette de Bois de Citronnelle Rissolée, Jus d’Herbes

Ledoyen

Paris, France



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13. “Sound of the Sea”

The Fat Duck

Bray, UK


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12. Temera y su Leche

Boragò

Santiago, Chile


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11. Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel

The Fat Duck

Bray, UK


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10. Pejerrey Tiradito: Ceviche sauce with nori, chalaca, shichimi, cancha

Maido

Lima, Peru


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9. Duck and rice, “yuzu-jalapeno”

Manresa

Los Gatos, CA, USA


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8. Beef chop

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain


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7. Cultural textures. Several layers of dressed Kokotxas.

Mugaritz

Errenteria, Spain


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6. Crispy Heirloom Potatoes: Preserved Green Tomato, Egg and Potato-Miso Cream

Birch

Providence, RI, USA


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5. Filet de rouget barbet, pomme bonne bouche fourrée d’une brandade à la cébette en “bullinada”, écume de rouille au safran

Auberge du Vieux Puits

Fontjoncouse, France


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4. Caviar

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain


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3. toffee, milk, bread & beer

Saison

San Francisco, CA, USA


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2. Alaskan King Crab: kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON BALM

Grace

Chicago, IL, USA


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1. Lamb with Cucumber (c. 1805)

The Fat Duck

Bray, UK

the world of food in 2014 (part 1): overview… from Santiago to Tokyo

27 Dec

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I thank Alain Passard. A wintry meal at L’Arpege two years ago made me think: what was going on in the world of food? What hidden delights await at each corner of the globe? I wanted to see it for myself – un-filtered by another’s lens.

The end result was that I did a lot of travelling in 2014. As I write this during Christmas in Singapore, it only reminds me that last year around Christmas, I was in the wine town of Mendoza, Argentina, furiously typing out my recollections of the previous year spent in Lyon. It was a year where I truly saw the world of food – paying a visit to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, New England, New York, Chicago, the Bay Area, UK, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan. It was an annus mirabilis that I think will not be repeated in my life anytime soon. It has been the greatest year – beginning with a highly creative meal at Boragò in Santiago de Chile and ending with a Christmas celebration at the brilliant Ryugin in Tokyo.

“We should take care to lay in a stock of provisions, but not of pleasures: these should be gathered day by day.”  – Ninon de L’Enclos

Why do I seek out these restaurants? I often asked myself. At the end of the year, I felt an answer emerge. With each meal I am creating a time capsule for the future. A great meal crystallizes time into a jewel, brilliant and gleaming for some future day. The passage of time is marked one meal at a time.


When I reflect upon all the meals I’ve had this year, a few stand out: I’ve listed them below:

Greatest Meal and Food

  1. The Fat Duck (Bray, UK)
  2. Asador Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain) (2)
  3. Ledoyen (Paris, France)
  4. Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain)
  5. Saison (San Francisco, CA, USA)

Greatest Hospitality and Overall Experience

  1. Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain)
  2. DEN Jimbocho (Tokyo, Japan)
  3. Auberge du Vieux Puits (Fontjoncouse, France)
  4. Asador Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain) (2)
  5. Schwa (Chicago, IL, USA)

A special mention as well for Birch in Providence, where I’ve had many great dinners this year.


 

  1. South America. In January in South America, I saw that New Andean cuisine was already at a very sophisticated stage, led by exemplars Borago and Central. Unfamiliar ingredients with no prior taste memory, a sense of bewilderment – it is the Wild West in South American cooking. Virgilio Martinez of Central (Lima, Peru) was perhaps the person who constructed the most intricate harmonies of these ingredients – and his butterscotch butter is die for. Rodolfo Guzman of Borago (Santiago, Chile) and his team was perhaps the most creative, making use of all kinds of unfamiliar ingredients – a foraging concept restaurant that carries the torch of new naturalism. Maido (Lima, Peru) served a tremendously elegant Nikkei menu. Gustu (La Paz, Bolivia) impressed me with its social mission to connect Bolivians to the gastro-tourism dollar (though I harbour doubts, the gastrotourist dollar is fickle and follows the global economic cycle), and its start-up cuisine. Most memorable there was shredded heart of palm with charqui jerky. *** Buenos Aires and Mendoza in Argentina I visited in the very dying embers of 2013, and are included here. The less said about Tegui, the better. But what flavorful steak! If ever in Buenos Aires, I would head to Don Julio again (my favorite parrilla of that trip) and maybe La Cabrera (who doth slather on the sauce too much)
  2. Chicago. In March in Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to the Modernist capital of America – Chicago – for my birthday, and dined at Alinea, Grace, and Schwa. Each had its memorable moments – at Alinea the floating green apple balloon was a childhood fantasy come true. Schwa was a heavy metal fantasy come through – a really great experience where all the servers were chefs, and wildly creative in taste profile – I will not forget the yeasty cheese course at Schwa, which was homage to beer? (though I had to call umpteen times to get the reservation). I will also not forget the “piss in the snow” dish at Schwa. Grace was the most surprising restaurant – intricate constructions with 6-7 different elements – all placing emphasis on herbs – a “herbal baroque” style. I am not surprised Curtis Duffy has been awarded 3 Michelin stars. He is creating an elegant cuisine around the potential of herbs – in a way, the ability of Curtis Duffy to work with herbs is very similar to the mastery of Virgilio Martinez over Peruvian herbs. I would be most interested in attending a four-hands of these two chefs.
  3. California. In April, I went back to San Francisco, to try out the most exciting place to eat in America.  A secondary reason was out of sociological interest in the Bay Area start-up scene. It was great to catch-up with friends in tech, and I tried Atelier Crenn, Benu, Saison, Manresa and Meadowood. Without a doubt, Saison is my “best restaurant in America”. The entire meal was a parade of perfect “nose-to-tail” morsels, tinged with fire – elemental – delicious. Caviar with sturgeon-bone gelee; abalone with its liver; black cod poached in seawater. Benu had some good ideas for Asian-American cooking, and had some delicious sauces.  Atelier Crenn was visually innovative, and the honeycomb dessert finale was quite something to behold. Meadowood had some hearty flavors – a olive oil and coconut dessert was very good, along with chopped buvette. I had the fortune to dine at Manresa before it burnt down – the yuzu duck jalapeno chromatic dish was a work of art – one of the very rare dishes which seems to come from another artistic dimension altogether. The hubbub of culinary creativity in the Bay Area seems to be driven by the relatively young money there.
  4. Rhode Island. From January to May, I was based in Providence, RI. The big story of the year was that Brown Science Library had SciLi ducklings (go Google it) – which were an immensely cute backdrop to finals season in my last semester. My favorite restaurant in Rhode Island is birch – I went 18 times in their first year. Chef Ben Sukle and the team (Edward Davis and Alec Herrera) are doing a vegetable forward cuisine, that makes the best of New England ingredients. The food at birch is a combination of several strengths not usually found together: intelligent use of microgreens (I dream of a winter dish with spaghetti squash and marjoram), a vegetable-forward cuisine, intelligent desserts that are not too sweet, constant experimentation (flirtations with classic dishes like opera cake, Japanese tempura (sweet potato), sashimi (black bass), Nordic style vegetables (carrots)). The vegetable dishes at birch are worthy of memorialization in a cookbook. For comparison, I would say the vegetable dishes are at the level of a 2-Michelin star restaurant. Birch also had a few guest chef stints – the most memorable was the one of Justin Yu from Oxheart in Houston, TX, who created an amazing lemon mille-crepe cake. (the first and last mille-crepe this year that I admired – the freshness of the crepe is essential to giving the cake a “zipping” texture as your knife cuts through alternating layers of crepe and cream). I also had two fantastic meals at Persimmon in Bristol, RI in April and May – the May meal was very strong. A special mention too must be made of the New Rivers lemon tart, and the bacon at breakfast restaurant Kitchen. All of this makes me an optimist for New England dining and there are many scattered gems I have yet to visit.
  5. New York and Boston. New York – an Arcturus of ambition, but generally disappointing when it comes to high-end dining. I had easy access to New York and Boston during those 5 months in Providence, RI. In Boston, special mention must be made of the desserts at Asta, which are fantastic – especially a carrot coconut concoction. New York. It is a regrettable that Chef Cesar Ramirez has been accused on racism towards Asians. If it was true that he reserved the poorer pieces of meat for Asians, I did not notice it. It would also have to fly under the radar of 36 diners every night, who can watch him preparing the dishes. I had a great meal at Brooklyn Fare in April, with an impressively thin crystal ball made of isomalt. Yet outside of food – Chef Ramirez chose not to speak to our group (4 Asians) after service, so the charges of racism of plausible. I will probably not visit for a while – besides the cloud of racism, the reservation process for Brooklyn Fare is an impossible circus. I wish the team at Momofuku Ko all the best in their pursuit of three stars, I am glad to see on Instagram that they have liberalized their photo policy. I had a great trumpet mushroom dessert there in February, When I next return to the City, I will be most interested in revisiting Atera, Eleven Madison Park, and checking out Cosme and the new Ko.
  6. Great Britain. And then it was off to my graduation trip in Europe. The Fat Duck doesn’t get much love from the hype-driven San Pellegrino list anymore, but it delivered my best meal of the year. Whimsy, fun, the restaurant seems to have sprung fully formed from the ether – because it is unlike any other restaurant I have been to. Modernist techniques are only half the story – and the only thing photos can convey – but the tastes are truly incredible. You would shed a tear for the faithfulness of the deconstructed lamb kebab to its original flavors, or the dessert that is the 8th wonder of the world – Botrytis Cinerea. I wish Chef Jonny Lake and the Fat Duck team all the best as they move to Melbourne for 6 months in 2015. The Duck is a world treasure.
  7. France. Alain Passard’s artistic visions intrigued me two years ago, and I decided to make an effort to see more of the gastronomic world. I returned, and had another very good meal there – his passion for his cuisine is unique, and his vegetables are profoundly flavored – his rhubarb millefeuille every bit as good as I remember. I also learnt an expensive lesson that carte blanche is probably the best way to go. I also paid a visit to the elegant L’Ambroisie – dramatic heart of nouvelle cuisine’s last stand. I remember most a pair of tarts – the famous melt-in-your-mouth chocolate tart, and a hazelnut dacquoise – perfect. At Ledoyen I found outgoing Chef Christian Le Squer (now at Le Cinq, with all his signatures intact) at the peak of his powers. I remember the delicious taste of his lemongrass skewered sweetbreads, and the yeast ice cream (an echo of the cheese course at Schwa three months earlier). I chose very well, for my restaurants in Paris. But it would be remiss if I did not remark that my favorite restaurant was not in Paris at all, but in a village of 130 people – Fontjoncouse – where a brave chef and entrepreneur, Gilles Goujon, set up his restaurant Auberge du Vieux Puits two decades ago. It pains me still to recall his story of throwing out produce in his first years because no one would come by his restaurant. His generosity in giving his full powers (even though we ordered a shorter menu) is something we will remember for a long time. We made a special trip to Fontjoncouse, and the cuisine – whimsical, served with theatricality – was worth a special trip. Chef Goujon’s theatrical cuisine blew us away because it had that magical ingredient I found sadly lacking at Alinea – heart.
  8. Spain. From the historic heart of culinary Europe to the heartlands of culinary Modernism. I visited Spain during World Cup season – expectations were high after Spain had won 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros. It was also the country in which I ran up against the outer limits of my appetite – I made a good go of Elkano after Azurmendi but my competitive eating capacity was somewhat reduced. While in San Sebastian, I cancelled dinner at Martin Berasategui in order to catch Spain’s opening world cup match. It ended up being a 5-1 humiliation and masterclass by the Dutch. Still, I didn’t notice too big a dampener on the spirit of the Basque locals – Spain is distinct from Basque country after all. San Sebastian has a reputation as a gastronomic capital, but I fear Arzak and Akelarre were destined to be disappointing. They were hardly worth a star each. The best trio of meals there were Azurmendi, Etxebarri, and Mugaritz. Eneko Atxa is a master of intensely flavored liquids, and I hope to visit his Aziamendi in Phuket, Thailand sometime. Victor Arguinzoniz cooked up an amazing feast over two meals – a perfect mouthful buffalo mozzarella that released smokiness when it was chewed, the most amazing green peas, Palamos prawns, the great ribeye, the smokiness of the smoked milk ice cream, caviar, flan, lobster. Mugaritz was a great meditative experience – a world of quiet, introversion – as if I had travelled two hundred years into the future, and I was having a “modernist kaiseki”. I found at Mugaritz a genuine engagement with ideas (linking, seven deadly sins, rattle) that second-rate Modernist restaurants could not even dream of. It’s not the technique, it’s the idea. I kept thinking: “so this is the real thing”. The two-lane Basque highways between Bilbao and San Sebastian were slightly frustrating. Stay in the right lane and I would invariably have a slow moving lorry in front of me; stay in the left lane and I would always have an aspiring speedster right behind me. Whereto the 120mile per hour speed limit? After 5 days in Basque country, I came back to Barcelona, and stayed there over a period of a week. Thanks to Andy Hayler who recommended ABaC, I had a great meal that showcased an inspiring combination of calcots with coconut and balsamic (what would I not give for a “world of onion” dish of Catalan calcots, Cevennes onion, and Shimonita scallions from Japan… ) Special thanks to my friend Leonard who brought me for a week around Barcelona, and we ended up in a really cool G&T bar called Pesca Salada in El Raval. And thank you to “Mr Boston” from Devil’s Kitchen in Barcelona (the German where we watched all the Germany games, but only possible because we out-punctual-ed the Germans by an hour) – Germany only won because of your meticulously prepared Schweinhaxen.
  9. Singapore. After the amiable hedonism of Europe for my graduation trip, I returned to Singapore for work from July to December. The basic fact about Singapore dining circa the 2010s is that it has three categories: (1) low-end hawker food in food centres which is tasty (rarely mindblowing), but larded with oil and no heed paid to digestion. (2) a mid-range of food $30-$100 which is nothing special, and priced mainly based on rent – spectacularly high. (3) high-end food at prices of $300-$500 a pop, without wine. Prices of $300-$500, are basically prices at the 3-star end of the Michelin spectrum. Singapore is perhaps the only place in the world right now where poorly ventilated restaurants with poorly plated cuisine such as Tippling Club can charge $340 for a meal not even worth one Michelin star, and be feted with gold dust from the Asia’s 50 Best rag.  Changes they say are a coming to the 2015 edition of Asia’s 50 Best, what with the judges actually needing to eat at the establishment in question (shocker! I know). But that magazine has lost my respect by promoting schlock like Tippling Club and Gaggan. On to happier things – some special mention must be made of the late lamented Santi Santamaria, who had respect for the Singapore diner in bringing his sous-chefs over from Spain to Singapore. His tragic heart-attack in Santi in Marina Bay Sands may have cut short his life, but his legacy is a booming Spanish tapas scene, and their “small-plates” imitators.  Special mention goes to Moosehead (a Mediterranean eatery whose bacon-dates rivals Avec in Chicago), and FOC, whose food I enjoyed. Pluck has tasty food, and is a default go-to on Ann Siang Hill. Bam’s food is tasty, but tends to commit the same oil-drenched sin as our hawker food. Saha’s molecular Indian was interesting but the ingredients were substandard. I am generally bored with the Singapore fine-dining scene – there is a distinct lack of ideas or artistic chefs on this island. I have hopes for Modernist Singaporean, but so far I have been too lazy to go. One especial bright light stood out in my Singapore dining experience – JAAN under Julien Royer is serving interesting dishes (a beetroot composition briefly brought me back to L’Arpege) – though our meal in October was at the strong one-star standard (inconsistent savories, one great dessert) rather than the two-star standard he should be cooking at. I found heartening though, the efforts to develop a local agriculture in the Malaysia – the Cameron highlands and elsewhere. In time to come, Malaysia will surely be the hinterland of high quality and affordable produce for Singapore restaurants, and it is good to see baby steps are being taken. For cafes, I have been second-to-none in my praise of Ronin’s earl grey tea, and that has been a recreational caffeine fix. For bars – The Spiffy Dapper, as always, is a welcome retreat from the bustle of the city. Operation Dagger also runs one of the most eccentric operations around – concentration-camp-chic.
    • Restaurants
      • Pluck
      • Jumbo Seafood
      • Din Tai Fung
      • Saha Signature Indian Restaurant
      • Tippling Club
      • Moosehead
      • Dibs Restaurant and Bar
      • Wolf
      • Old Airport Road Food Centre
      • Kay Lee Roast Meat
      • Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King Four Seasons
      • JAAN
      • FOC
      • Bam! Tapas-Sake Bar
      • The Coastal Settlement
    • Cafes
      • Ronin
      • Artistry
      • Percolate
    • Bars
      • Operation Dagger
      • Merchants Wine Cellar
      • Manor Bar and Cocktail Room
      • The Spiffy Dapper
      • L’Aiglon
      • The Pump Room
      • Jigger & Pony
      • Que Pasa Wine & Tapas
      • The Library
      • Potato Head Folk
  10. Hong Kong. I took a short trip to Hong Kong (my first in a decade) in July. Amber had a selection of incredibly fine cheeses – and had some nice French food. I thank Peter Chang for recommending One Harbour Road for the Cantonese classics menu – it was an interesting experience. I was sorry to hear Ms Chen passed away during the duration of the menu. Bo Innovation provokes a surprisingly uniform response from Hong Kong’s local bloggerati (g4gary and Peter Chang have had the same response) – by a legalistic definition of  3 stars – “exceptional cuisine worth a journey” – Bo Innovation with its Hong Kong cuisine is worth 3 stars, but empirically it may not live up to other 3 stars worldwide. Despite the crassness of the restaurant, I found myself liking several of the dishes – lap cheong ice cream and chocolate coated bakkutteh ox tongue especially. Objectively, the food at this restaurant falls short of 3 star standards, but there is something unique and Hong Kong about Alvin Leung’s creations. Thanks to Larry, Jason, Lixian and Blair who brought me around – the Quinary, Angel’s Share, and Roundhouse were all great nightlife hangouts. (Here is my round-up of Hong Kong places – Amber, One Harbour Road, and Bo Innovation write-ups are still missing, but I’ll get around to them)
    • One Harbour Road (Ms Pearl Kong Chen menu)
    • Bo Innovation***
    • Cupping Room
    • Amber**
    • Aberdeen Street Social
    • Angel’s Share
    • Islam Food
    • Kau Kee Restaurant
    • Quinary
    • The Roundhouse
  11. Kuching, Malaysia. I ventured to Kuching, East Malaysia a couple of times in July and October to visit family. The most interesting place in Kuching for food was the.Dyak, which promised indigenous Dayak cooking, though I did not like their fermented durian dish. It is however popular with tourists. I was most impressed by the Sarawak laksa and ice kachang I had at Swee Kang Ais Kacang. (Here is a partial Kuching round-up)
    • the.Dyak
    • Chinese Barbeque Specialist
    • Ling Loong Seafood No. 6 Topspot
    • Swee Kang Ais Kacang
    • Blablabla
    • Ah Tan Ais Kacang
  12. Bangkok, Thailand. From August to November, I had occasion to be in Bangkok for work. I found Nahm very good, though not in the fine-dining sense – the dishes are served family style – and desserts are the best thing there. My two favorite fancier restaurants were Nahm and Water Library Chamchurri (which serves French at the high one star level). Gaggan I thought way overhyped. My favorite memories of the place though were of the Somtum at the Bangkok Baking Company at the JW Marriott – and the overflowing prawn guts in the heads of Ayuthaya prawns. (Here is a summary on Bangkok)
    • Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin
    • Bangkok Baking Company at JW Marriott
    • Supanniga Eating Room
    • Gaggan
    • Nahm
    • El Osito
    • Nara
    • The Kitchen Table at W Bangkok
    • Baan Glom Gig
    • Hyde & Seek
    • Bo.lan
    • Quince
    • Eat Me
    • Issaya Siamese Club
    • Water Library Chamchurri
    • Yamazato
    • Limoncello
    • Krua Apsorn
    • Kongju
    • The Iron Fairies and Co.
    • Namsaah Bottling Trust
    • Le Du
    • Appia
  13. Japan. Why do I seek out these restaurants? I often ask myself. And when I went to Tokyo, I felt an answer emerge. With each meal I am burying a little time capsule for the future. In the gleaming of two hours – time is crystallized, a jewel for reflection on some future day. At all 6 Michelin-starred places in Tokyo, my experience was enhanced by the presence of each of those 6 chefs – Hideki Ishikawa of Kagurazaka Ishikawa was easygoing, Kenzo Sato of Shigeyoshi seemed wise and restful, Toru Okuda of Ginza Kojyu serious, Zaiyu Hasegawa of DEN (with Noriko-san) creating an experience that was very welcoming and fun, Hachiro Mizutani of Sushi Mizutani reticent initially but gradually engaging in long conversations with his regulars, Seiji Yamamoto of Ryugin a humble, focused chef – a dedicated craftsman. But what I admire most about Japan is the availability of great food at all price ranges. A simple onigiri, or soba, is lavished with equal attention. Today the streets of Tokyo yet beckon with the promise of nooks unexplored. I will return at the end of January for a short weekend trip to visit noma’s pop-up in the Mandarin Oriental. For non-food related reasons as well, Japan beckons. It is Southeast Asia’s enduring tragedy in the last half century that it has not industrialized to the extent of Japan, Korea, Taiwan or China – Japan provides a vision of what could have been – and yet might be.
    • Sometaro 染太郎 (Asakusa, Tokyo)
    • Omotesando Koffee (Harajuku, Tokyo)
    • Afuri Ramen (Ebisu, Tokyo)
    • Kagurazaka Ishikawa*** (Kagurazaka, Tokyo)
    • Shigeyoshi** (Harajuku, Tokyo)
    • Butagumi (Nishiazabu/Roppongi, Tokyo)
    • Ginza Kojyu** (Ginza, Tokyo)
    • Jimbocho DEN* (Jimbocho, Tokyo)
    • Ezo Seafoods (Niseko, Hokkaido)
    • Tsubara Tsubara (Niseko, Hokkaido)
    • Rakuichi Soba (Niseko, Hokkaido)
    • Milk Kobo (Niseko, Hokkaido)
    • Honmura An (Roppongi, Tokyo)
    • Sushi Mizutani** (Ginza, Tokyo)
    • Kimuraya (Ginza, Tokyo)
    • Nihonryori Ryugin*** (Roppongi, Tokyo)
    • Tonkatsu Taihou (Meguro, Tokyo)
    • Streamer Coffee Company Shibuya (Shibuya, Tokyo)
    • Bar Gen Yamamoto (Roppongi, Tokyo)

Ginza Kojyu | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “harmony”

25 Dec
  • Rating: 19.5/20
  • Address: Carioca Bldg. 4fl., 5 Chome-4-8 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan
  • Telephone: +81 3-6215-9544
  • Price (all-in): 23,600 Yen ($197 at 100 yen = 0.83USD)
  • Value: 4.5/5
  • Dining Time: 120 minutes
  • Chef: Toru Okuda
  • Style: Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 2

 

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Harmony – ingredients perfectly chosen for each other. Ginza Kojyu (with Mr Okuda at the helm) is a restaurant on the upper-end of the 3-star spectrum.

Kojyu, the jewel of a fledging empire from Chef Toru Okuda, was recently downgraded from three to two stars in the 2015 guide. While Chef Okuda has three other Michelin stars and several other restaurants (including Ginza Okuda in Tokyo (2*), Okuda in Paris (1*), and Sushi Kakutou in Tokyo among others), Kojyu forms the basis of his fame. Prior to the 2015 Michelin guide, Okuda-san had always been awarded 3 Michelin stars for Kojyu every year since 2007 (the year of the inaugural Tokyo Michelin guide). Yet despite the drop in quality a downgrade signifies, Kojyu was one of my favorite kaiseki meals in Tokyo (along with Ryugin).

The reason may be that Okuda is now back to personally cooking at Kojyu. Prior to this, I had heard through the Chowhound grapevine that Okuda cooked lunch at Ginza Okuda, and dinner at Ginza Kojyu. His ambitious restaurant empire (which in early 2014 included plans for a New York restaurant in 2015) is built on the fame of Kojyu, so it is no surprise to see him hard at work to regain the lost star.

There were two points of atmosphere at Kojyu I especially appreciated:

  • At every service, ice with flower petals is poured into the sink. As service progresses, the ice pile gradually shrinks down to nothing. Quite a romantic setting.
  • At the counter that seats 8, classical music is played which lends an air of refinement to the meal. Classical music can be schmaltzy, but it works at Kojyu.

At Kojyu I feel there are dishes (e.g. scallop dumpling soup, simmered vegetables with wrapped anago) where there is one central element that is just perfect. It does not have to be the largest part of the dish, but all other ingredients serve it. I have tried to annotate what I felt to be the core of each dish.


 

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  • Codfish milt / thick turnip soup / shimonita scallion / yuzu (4.5/5)
    • Luxurious tastes of creamy sperm explosion. (there is no real way to describe milt without sounding porn-y). Shimonita scallion was sweet and mild, the best exemplar of leek. (it occupies top place on the onion hierarchy along with Cevennes onion)
    • Core: Milt explosion, earthy turnip (surf and turf)

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  • Giant prawn / ankimo / chilli-vinegar jelly (5/5)
    • Slightly spicy jelly, with seaweed.The jelly was a almost-liquid agar. The crunchy gelatin of prawn was precisely offset by a creamy-chunky ankimo. Perfectly balanced, harmony.
    • Core: Gelatin of prawn meets creaminess of ankimo

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  • Scallop dumpling, maitake mushroom, pepper, turnip, radish (5/5).
    • So simple, but perfect. Scallop, lightly seared. Chopped, and then bound with egg-yolk and whitefish binding – perfect uniform consistency, no chunks. Simplicity itself, but the taste was perfection.
    • Core: Scallop dumpling

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  • Tuna with soy and wasabi, hirame (halibut) with salt and sudachi lime, squid
    • The squid was (5/5) creamy and starchy, dissolving in your mouth. Hirame was perfect with salt and sudachi lime (4.5/5). Tuna was decent.

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  • Sawara (Spanish Mackerel); Ozaki beef (5/5)
    • The fish was charcoal grilled with pickle turnip, and was good (clean, though grainy – perhaps the graininess is the essence of cooked mackerel). Ozaki beef was full of clean fat, bursting with flavor. It was fantastic. Served with salt and pepper, or with grated daikon and wasabi…

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  • Simmered vegetables – anago wrapped in turnip(?), tofu, spinach, shitake, daikon radish (5/5)
    • The hazy moon of daikon radish, draped over a medley of vegetables. Each element was good – but the anago (wrapped in something sweet) was sensational – a touch of class – the protein that swept the dish from pedestrian to classy.
    • Core: Anago wrapped in a sweet root vegetable

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  • Rice steamed with parrotfish (3/5)
    • (Way) overcooked fish. If it didn’t undergo rigor mortis when it was iki-jime-d, it definitely went through rigor mortis in the clayware.

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  • Persimmon-apple blancmange (5/5)
    • A delicate milky flavor from the blancmange (thickened milk pudding). Sensational. The creamy milk tastes blended well with apple. Persimmon disguised tartness from the apple.

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Other Notable Links:

  • Gastromondiale“I would call this gem, which consists of six seats at the counter and  a few tables, the L’Ambroisie of Tokyo.  That is to say, Okuda-san, not unlike the great Pacaud of L’Ambroisie, is a true perfectionist who selects the best seasonal ingredients and calibrates complementary and contrasting elements to create incredible harmony.”
  • David Kinch (chef-owner of Manresa)“Chef Okuda is an immense talent who is working within a very codified tradition. His is a personal cuisine with a sense of place, a reflection of who he is and where he’s from. His ingredients are seasonal and top quality. His enthusiasm shows in the generous staff and overall happiness of the space. Unlike a lot of his countrymen he has embraced Michelin. He says foreigners are requesting spots in large numbers to visit the restaurant and he loves it. He says he is exposed to new ideas and can interact with different cultures. “How can I not benefit from that?” he asks.Koju deserves high rankings. It is also on the upper level of the three star strata. Warmth, passion, a quiet confidence in their own abilities make we want to return again as soon as possible even if i have to hope on a plane halfway around the world.Worth a special journey, they say and without a doubt, one of the great culinary experiences of my life.”

 

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Ryugin | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “the fragrance of strawberries…”

25 Dec
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Address: Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
  • Telephone: +81-3-3423-8006
  • Price (all-in, including sake): 38,000 Yen ($316 at 100 yen = 0.83USD)
  • Value: 3.5/5
  • Dining Time: 160 minutes
  • Chef: Seiji Yamamoto
  • Style: Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 3

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It is funny how your culinary memory works. When you have some dishes at the table, you remember them as good but not mindblowing. But then you reflect on it again, and you crave a dish more and more. A bun with strawberry, custard and red bean, brings out the fragrance of strawberries, the sweetness of each ingredient well-thought out, none overpowering the other two. A porridge with fugu and black truffles brings to mind both winter gruel and understated luxury. The dishes at Ryugin are some of the most memorable I have ever tried – wildly creative, the food some of the best in Tokyo.
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But the kitchen is overstretched. The RyuGin empire spans Tokyo to Hong Kong to Taipei. During my second visit, all tables had at least two seatings, some had three. This was due to guest demand to dine there. At such scale, service becomes more impersonal. The whole operation has a military precision to it, an example being smartly-attired front-of-house having earpieces to communicate efficiently with the kitchen. The meal here lacked a bit of personal touch. This is no fault of the front-of-house, who were very friendly, but rather of the strict timetable necessary to serve more customers.
Chef Seiji Yamamoto is one of the truly great chefs, but his RyuGin HQ feels like a commodified operation, which is frustrating because RyuGin is one of the places you go for truly innovative food. I would cut back on the number of seatings – leave the quantity business (if you must, which you shouldn’t) to your foreign branches, but the main Tokyo branch should be in the business of all-round quality.

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  • koro sake

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  • Sea Urchins Small Egg Custard
    • thin layer of chawanmushi, hard cod roe. Bafun Uni from Hakodate. (4.25/5)

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  • Grilled Cod Fish Milt and Turnip Puree
    • Turnip puree, grilled codfish milt. Turnip and milt seem a theme, I had it also at Kojyu . Cod milt is a luxurious, creamy pleasure, a sploosh of pure protein.(4.5/5)

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  • Lightly Boiled Vegetables with Premium Dried Mullet Roe and Dried Sea Cucumber
    • Red shiso, a similar taste to kinome (4.25/5)

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  • “Zouni” one step early… Matsuba Crab from San’in
    • The soup containing mochi rice cakes for new year’s (AKA zouni).
    • Ichiban dashi made two minutes before serving
    • Crab leg was skillfully “de-boned” of the hard plates, from San’in Bay – available from Nov to Feb. Thin layer of mochi covered a pillow of sweet crab meat. I loved the mochi pairing here

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    • Gold leaf has no taste (I’ve had it here and in the sake at Sushi Mizutani). I would be quite happy if it was just dispensed with. Apparently, gold leaf is a signifier of luxury that dates back from Japan’s go-go era in the 1980s – “Stories from that era [mid 1980s to end 1980s] are legendary […] Businessmen would think nothing of giving thousand of dollars in tips to a favourite hostess, asking little in return that she laugh coquetttishly at their jokes. They tell of people sprinkling gold leaf on their food like salt and pepper, a practice that – if truth be told – persists in some of Japan’s more upmarket restaurants to this day.” David Pilling, Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival.
    • (4.75/5)

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  • Winter’s Ocean Delicacy Displayed in 3 Plates
    • Hirame (turbot), ankimo, oroshi ponzu (4/5)
    • Abalone simmered with liver sauce, apple vinegar jelly, turnip (3.5/5)
    • Akagai (ark shell clam), hokkigai (surf clam), spiny lobster, squid, herring roe. Different textures of jelly, tied with very strong wasabi (4/5)

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  • RyuGin’s Christmas Chicken
    • Second stuffed chicken wing of the trip (after DENTUCKY at DEN) – shark’s fin and beef tendon.
    • The wing was super crisp, and it was impressive the filling was moist (4.25/5)

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  • Sea Perch from Nagasaki with grilled Eggplant; Fuki sprout with soy sauce and simmered mashed Taro Potato
    • Sea Perch impaled with grilled eggplant; Erringi mushroom chip, taro place
    • Delicious charcoal grill smell (4.5/5)

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  • Sanuki Olive Beef on Stoneware in Sukiyaki style combined with Foie Gras
    • I don’t think this dish was a success. But it was ambitious in a RyuGin way. It redefined sukiyaki by serving the beef and foie on an extremely hot plate, and then pouring the sukiyaki sauce on. We were to cut the egg to release the yolk over the beef.
    • The “buffer” was some simmered vegetables underneath the beef and foie, to prevent the stone from overcooking them immediately
    • The problem is that the dish is very time sensitive. Wait a minute, and the beef and foie became slightly overcooked (as mine did). The fattiness of the beef made overcooking less of a problem.
    • Sukiyaki sauce, nothing special. The dish sort of works, but the extreme high heat is a bit of a waste of ingredients, I feel. I applaud the ambition but this particular high-heat version I don’t think worked. (3.5/5)

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  • Luxurious Winter’s Rice Porridge with Blow Fish
    • Warm rice porridge, the heat activating the fragrance of shaved black truffle, fugu, egg
    • Really good rice dish  – it was my first encounter with warm porridge and truffles. This was a winner for me. (5/5)

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  • 2014 Winter Tale, Roppongi Pudding
    • Bottom: mango custard, Middle: citrus jelly (grapefruit, lime) and apricot liqueur, Top: Chantilly cream
    • Really good and refreshing (4.5/5) The normal Roppongi pudding (made with caramel) is apparently on sale a RyuGin for 800Yen each normally.

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  • Strawberry Special Sweet (5/5)
    • Toraya, two soft (pillowy would not begin to describe it) buns with strawberry and red bean paste, custard.
    • So simple, but the tartness of the strawberries (they were sweet too) was perfectly calibrated NOT to standout from the custard and red bean paste. They harmonized – and the entire bite was a magical taste of strawberries, fragrance et al…

2014-12-22 23.24.00

 

Stag-gering to a watering hole…

Sushi Mizutani | Tokyo | Dec ’14

25 Dec
  • Rating: Disappointing
  • Address: 8-7-7 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
  • Price I paid: 34,000 Yen ($283 at 100 yen = 0.83 USD)
  • Chef: Hachiro Mizutani
  • Michelin stars: 2

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Sushi Mizutani today was my first high-end sushi experience. The chef seems to an extremely like-able person (he noticed very quickly I was a lefty), and my dining companions (Americans and Singaporeans on either side) were generous with conversation.

I liked Mizutani’s rice, which has been called “mushy” by some. It was just warmer than body temperature, lightly vinegared, and dispersed like a cloud after one or two chews  – allowing me to focus on the seafood. The meal was generally of high quality, but rarely mindblowing.

The most recent news is of Sushi Mizutani’s recent downgrade in the 2015 Tokyo Michelin guide from 3 stars to 2 stars. The blogger Mesubim hypothesizes that this was because Michelin wanted to canonize Jiro as a living god, and felt it was unduly harsh on Mizutani-san. While I agree that it is very harsh to downgrade a chef who stands at his counter day in and day out, I feel my meal there did not blow my mind – outside of 3 perfect pieces – engawa sashimi, mirugai sushi, and sayori sushi – the rest of the seafood was very good but nothing I felt you could not get at a top-end kaiseki or Japanese influenced restaurant.

But Mizutani is a craftsman who has been doing this for more than 50 years. If his sushi was ever worth three stars, it probably still is around as good as when he got his stars. Mesubim is probably right in that there is something political behind the decision to demote both Kojyu and Mizutani in the same year – but it seems to be aimed at correcting a prior exuberance in handing out stars – and aligning it to recent diner experiences. In Japan, the rank of master may be seen as something you get for life – for example, the sumo rank of yokozuna is a lifelong rank. But Michelin is a foreign guide. Is the downgrade harsh? Yes. Is it deserved? From my visit, yes.

Rating: Disappointing (between 13/20 and 16/20)


Other People’s Reaction:

Liked it:

  • Mesubim – “I tried it Mizutani a second time to confirm my feelings and, I think he has what it takes to be a three star. The bridge is made up of many, serving, preparing and the ambiance is calm, over decorated and a little nouveau riche. I cannot say I wouldn’t go back because I liked him, he is respectful, diligent and careful how he works. His helper is immaculate.”
  • Luxeat – “Everything, from hirame (yellowtail), kohada( gizzard shad) and to “die for” sayori (needle fish,which was topped with sweet shrimp paste), to explosive awabi ( abalone) and uni  sea urchin) from Hokkaido, that was sooo sweet and tasted like saffron, was the summum bonum of sushi. I don’t think it can get any better.

Didn’t like it

  • Kayoubidesu – “This was by far the most disappointing of the “high-end” sushi-yas that I have visited. The quality of fish was generally good, but the rice was very poor. It was soft, mushy, and lacking seasoning. Particularly disappointing was the kuruma ebi – it was served almost cold, and lacked the juiciness and flavour that you would expect at a high-end sushi-ya. Perhaps this was a one-off, but I was not inclined to return. Mizutani-san comes across initially as reserved, but is happy to engage in conversation (although he speaks very little English).”

Best pieces: Hirame (engawa) sashimi, saba sashimi, akagai sashimi, mirugai sushi, sayori sushi, bafun uni sushi wrap

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Sashimi

  1. Hirame (Engawa) – Flounder, outside edge –  Two pieces. Vibrant pink. Crunchy, firm, and sweet. 5/5
  2. Hirame – Flounder – Two pieces. Muscular. 4.25/5
  3. Awabi – Abalone – Three pieces. very tender, though somewhat lacking in taste. Needed soy and wasabi. 3.75/5
  4. Saba – Mackerel – Sliced with an intermediate cut in. Lightly vinegared, erfect swell of sourness, but never overpowering. Lightly cooked on the outside. Eaten with ginger and soy 4.75/5
  5. Ika – Squid – I find Japanese squid to have a magical starchy texture, that melts in your mouth. I have not found this elsewhere. Here, it had the starchy magic, but was a bit more jelly-like and less starchy than Kojyu’s squid, which has become my benchmark for squid. 4.25/5
  6. Akagai – Ark shell – served in strips – a clean, crunchy opaque jelly. 4.5/5
  7. Tako – Octopus – slightly chewy. Served with salt 3/5
  8. Hotate – scallop wrapped in nori – mediocre. While I appreciate the nori wrapping was piping hot, the scallop wrapped inside (like an onigiri) was slightly seared, but too dry 3.25/5.

Sushi

  1. Kohada – Gizzard shad – a salted vinegar taste 4.5/5
  2. Chutoro – Somehow I don’t find tuna as mindblowing as people claim. Sure, it’s a good fatty fish, but not something I’d compose paeans to. Chutoro, barely perceptible sauce. Good. 4.5/5
  3. Kamichutoro – Between chutoro and otoro. No impression, besides it was fatty and I’m sure a flash of good fishy flavor.
  4. Otoro – Wet and fatty 4.25/5
  5. Akagai – sweet and crunchy 4.5/5
  6. Mirugai – geoduck – Crunchy, with a subtle but insistent subterranean taste of clam in the aftertaste. Very very good. A star piece. 5/5
  7. Sayori – halfbeak/needlefish – an amazing fish, dressed in a good soy blend with ginger. Mizutani-san sliced the sayori in half and deposited a tiny mound of ginger in the cavity of the slice. 5/5
  8. Ebi – cooked prawn – very sweet – 4.25/5
  9. Bafun Uni – very creamy, a wrap – 4.75/5
  10. Anago – sea eel – Mizutani prefers not to douse the anago in sweet sauce. The falling apart texture of anago (minimally dressed) completely became a sweet powder in 1 or 2 chews. 4.5/5
  11. Tamago – _really_ sweet custard, a bit rough, a sweeter version of the dissolving anago 4.25/5

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