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Best dishes of 2015: a roundup of a year of travel

2 Jan
If 2014 was the year of Americas and Europe, then 2015 was the year of Asia. Work took me to Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Leisure took me to Langkawi (Malaysia), Taiwan, Japan (Tokyo), New York, my old college town of Providence, the Black Forest in Germany, and the Alsace region in France.
The visceral highlights of the year were in the opening and closing months. At the end of January, I had a meal at Noma Tokyo (the stunning success of which has led to Noma moving to Australia in 2016).  At the end of December I took a sojourn to the German 3-Michelin restaurants, and was wowed by Claus-Peter Lumpp’s Bareiss and Harald Wohlfart’s Schwarzwaldstube. Three restaurants with very different philosophies, Rene Redzepi’s Noma a restless and extroverted celebrity chef that embraces the world of gastronomy, the German restaurants practicing a philosophy of “quiet perfection”. The pressures of being an haute chef in today’s world is to create a relentless storm of innovative dishes. Perhaps this is a deleterious pressure. I was struck by many of Noma’s dishes when I first had them, but outside of 2-3 (the botanebi with ants, citrus) dishes, they have mostly faded from my memory. Noma in Tokyo was still an excellent meal, a 3-star standard meal for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. But I find myself wanting more meals of 2-3 well composed courses, thought out to the nth degree, where I can remember them for months to come. Nouvelle cuisine, as I found it in Germany, was full of creativity, almost parallel to the modernist trends in Spain AND the naturalist trend in Scandinavia. Variations upon dishes, like pleasant fugues. Nouvelle cuisine is probably my favorite sort of European cuisine at the moment.
I was continually reminded of why Japan has the best ingredients, in the summer months at Quintessence and Saito, and a memorable autumn blowout at Kawamura. When you have goat’s milk like Quintessence’s bavarois, there is very little a chef needs to do. If you don’t like eating, Tokyo will be a very boring place to visit, but with a credit card and tolerance for penury, the city is a devil’s playground.
I explored some of the Modern Singapore restaurants back in my home city. I enjoyed Candlenut very much, especially when they served their family style Peranakan food. Labyrinth, while uneven, shows promise in its better dishes – satay ribeye and chilli crab ice cream. Wild Rocket serves decent food, but needs to do more to justify its tasting menu prices.
Some quick dips into the Hong Kong dining scene showed me a great bowl of wonton noodles at Mak’s noodle, and excellent roast quail at the dynasty restaurant. One Harbour Road also made a bowl of excellent truffled fried rice and suckling pig. I’ve found the roasts in HK to be top class. The restaurant Ta Vie is also doing interesting things with Chinese produce in French-influenced dishes.
Vietnam captured a large part of my heart, as you will see the selections below. Excellent street food (half-formed duck eggs, papaya salad, crispy custard cakes (banh khot), banh mi, etc etc), excellent pho, and also some great French cooking – at Le Beaulieu in Hanoi Metropole, and La Villa in Saigon. Honorable mention goes to the excellent wine program at Trois Gourmands in Saigon.
Here are some of the best dishes and desserts I had in 2015. Bring on 2016!

MAINS
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1. Boiled veal with beetroot and horseradish, beet sugar.

Bareiss
Baiersbronn, Germany
Dec ’15

This was served as an amuse. It was shocking. It looked like a typical nouvelle cuisine dish, elaborately constructed, multiple layers. But an intense horseradish kick broke the rules of engagement – no spiciness! The sauce was at first sweet from the beet, and then became ultimately savory as it began to resemble a veal red wine sauce. It was a “three-body problem”, chaotically orbiting spicy, sweet and savory until it vanished. Superb.

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2. Kartoffelblini mit mildgeräuchertern Seesaibling und Limonenbutter, Saiblingskaviar | Kartoffelblini with mild smoked char and lemon butter, char caviar. 

Schwarzwaldstube
Baiersbronn, Germany
Dec ’15

The cooking at Schwarzwaldstube is unashamedly “Asiatic” nouvelle cuisine, which is to say purloined Asian spices to serve a nouvelle cuisine core. Here, kaffir lime enhanced a lemon butter fishsauce with char inside a ethereally pillowy cheese blini, topped with char caviar. A decadent Russian dish perfected in a nouvelle cuisine way.

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3. Variation of goose foie gras with Williams Pear soaked in red wine and wintery spicy punch.

Bareiss
Baiersbronn, Geramny
Dec ’15

First plate: foie terrine with red wine and caramel jelly, with a pear sponge on top. Various preparations of pear with foie, including cream, ice cream. Second plate: Kugelhopf with foie cream. Drink: wintery spicy punch. A perfect expression of the generosity of the season.

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4. Beef brisket wonton noodles. 

Mak’s Noodle
Hong Kong

Nov ’15

Beef brisket flavored with a hint of orange. Springy noodles, and shrimp dumplings with shrimp so crisp and fresh that they are still springy with every chew… I knew there was a special reason why AT made us wade through 30 minutes of Central HK traffic to go from our office to Mak’s noodle.

2015-11-14 20.04.45 2015-11-14 20.09.195. Beef consomme.

Kawamura
Tokyo, Japan
Nov ’15

Kawamura’s most unbelievable dish. The consomme was made with 100% beef. However I simply could not believe it, for the sweetness of the consomme was perfect.I would have expected mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery) to achieve that sweetness. I have no idea which part of the cow or which techniques would enable this sweetness, and other chefs have been puzzled by this. A true masterpiece.

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6. Onion rings.

Kawamura
Tokyo, Japan
Nov ’15

Honestly, I could have put at least three or four other dishes from Kawamura here, from the Ise lobster curry rice, to the steak tartare, to the steak, to the creme caramel. I’ll talk about the onion rings. The best form of onion rings I’ve had. A light panko batter around first-class sweet onion. The batter was a sheer negligee, forming a thin wisp of crust that lent the onion crisp textures without being oily.

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7. hot vit lon. (balut)

Various places
Saigon, Vietnam
May-Jun ’15

A lot of Western tourists are overly squeamish about this dish, it is actually a really delicious mix of textures – boiled chicken, yolk, white, textured bits of wing, feather, head, especially when salt is used to bring out the flavors.

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8. iwashi (sardine) sushi. 

Sushi Saito
Tokyo, Japan
Aug ’15

When the differences between high-end sushi joints are so marginal (and they really are, unlike French restaurants, because they will serve just about the same types of fish with similar kinds of rice), sushi-lovers start nitpicking at factors like – oh, does this chef use red vinegar or white vinegar? Does he serve his rice at two or three temperatures? These are arcana that I haven’t quite acquired the perceiving feelers for yet. The greatest differences perceivable to the laymen are in seasonal fish, not in the conventional tuna or uni cuts. The humble sardine was elevated in Saito’s hands.

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9. Asaissonement. 

Quintessence
Tokyo, Japan

Aug ’15

Quintessence’s signature dish – a goat’s milk bavarois, made with goat’s milk everyday transported fresh from Kyoto, fleur de sel from Brittany (high minerality), lily bulbs, shaved macadamia, a fruity olive oil from the south of france. The intensity of flavor from the goat’s milk was amazing. Every spoonful had a perfect proportion of salt, milkiness and green fruity olive oil, with sweetness and textural contrast from lily bulbs and macadamia. A perfect combination of ingredients.

2015-08-01 19.54.0310. Nodoguro.

Quintessence
Tokyo, Japan

Aug ’15

Blackthroat seaperch, a red fish with white meat, is incredibly fatty.Accompaniments; Vegetacle sauce,  quinoa with seaweedThe flesh was falling apart smooth, with an amazing crisp on the skin. The pairing of the two was uncanny, since I expected the crispness of the skin to be accompanied with some toughness to the flesh. But the rosy-hued flesh were parted easily with fork tines.The fish was pan seared, then put in a 320 deg C oven, then a 90 deg C oven, and then researed afterwards with the skin.

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11. Rhode Island monkfish, roasted on the bone with Celeriac, broccoli, and potato. 

Birch
Providence, RI, USA
Dec ’15

When a fish has been on land for less than 6 hours, you know the results are going to be great. Monkfish roasted on the bone, which has spectacular and had the gelatinous texture of great turbot. Potato, in a brown butter broth, with roasted celeriac and broccoli bits. This was served on the second night of two meals at Birch where I had the entire menu, and it was favorite of all on Ben’s winter menu. Birch is Providence’s Chez Panisse.

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12. Citrus and long pepper.

Noma
Tokyo, Japan

Jan ’15

This was a perfect dish of 4 types of citrus – pomelo (bampeiyu), mikan (mandarin orange), two types of buntan from Kochi [one named Pompeii buntan].With roasted Rishiri kombu oil for a umami, nutty flavor. Pine salt andground kinome (AKA sansho), whole kinome, Okinawa longpepper. The nuttiness of seaweed oil contrasted beautifully with the sweetnesses of the four citrus, and the longpepper provided the bite of spiciness, the kinome provided both sourness and a light menthol taste.

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13. Hokkori pumpkin; cherry wood oil and salted cherry blossoms.  

Noma
Tokyo, Japan

Jan ’15

Hokkori pumpkin cooked in katsuobushi, with cherry tree oil, sakura blossoms that were dried and salted, with roasted kelp sticks, and a sauce made of fermented barley koji and butter. The sauce was sour in a rustic way, but the pumpkin it surrounded was very mellow – not starchy, sweet, fragrant from the cherry tree oil, and very balanced. You bit into pumpkin and smelt cherrywood. An intelligent homage to sakura.

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14. Beef pho. 

Pho Suong
Hanoi, Vietnam
May ’15

Sometimes (okay many times), it’s about the company. A reunion with one of my favorite people happened to be in Hanoi. The pho had buttery fat attached to the beef, and chives inside. Hanoi pho is different from Saigon pho in its addition of the fatty pieces; in Saigon they give the lean pieces and perhaps some tendons or stomach if you’re lucky. Great street food.

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15. Chicken pho.

Hotel Metropole Hanoi
Hanoi, Vietnam
May ’15
The best pho is not actually beef pho, but chicken, and the version made by the Metropole Hanoi at breakfast is the very best. Bits of dark and white meat from the chicken, fatty, a tasty chicken stock. My favorite pho – more than any beef version I’ve tried.

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16. Coq au vin.

Hotel Metropole Hanoi (Le Beaulieu restaurant)
Hanoi, Vietnam
May ’15

It was past midnight when I checked into the Metropole Hanoi. I was very hungry, and decided to order room service. I did not expect to find a coq au vin that captured my heart, stuffed with bacons, mushrooms, potato, fit to feed a hungry traveller. Hunger is the best spice. Surprise is second.

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17. Bloody Mar.

Aziamendi
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Sep ’15

Aziamendi is 3-Michelin star Azurmendi’s pop-up in Phuket in Thailand. In the latter half of 2015, they staged a 4 month pop-up in KL, Malaysia under head chef Alex Burger (formerly of Daniel in New York). I had two meals at Aziamendi’s 4 month pop-up in KL, with both the shorter menu and the longer menu. I thought the first night (shorter meat focused menu) was terribly disappointing, with multiple execution mistakes (a soggy croquette), a 60 minute dining time for 8 courses that felt like a forced march, and multiple pre-prepared ingredients that struck me as poorly prepared (yes, I know Azurmendi uses sous-vide extensively as point of principle, but when you use it for more than half of your dishes it is a lazy menu. Also, Eneko Atxa at Azurmendi uses plancha grill cooking as well). The second menu was much better, and included a variation I enjoyed better even than the original version by Eneko. Bloody Mar, served as a cocktail at Azurmendi with a wafer, was a bit unwieldly in the original version. here, it was reimagined as a French nouvelle cuisine dish with uni and crab, with a bloody Mary sauce poured in.

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18. Crisp baby pigeon

Dynasty restaurant
Hong Kong
Nov ’15

When it’s 10pm in HK, and most of the restaurants are closed, you don’t expect an amazing dish. This was the week after I had been to Kawamura, and one of the HK-based diners there recommended Dynasty for charsiew. I should have known that char siew, which is often pre-prepared, would not be great at 10pm. But the crisp baby pigeon had an amazing skin, and the meat was super tasty.

2015-05-02 17.50.18-219. Banh Tran Trong
Ben Thanh Night Market
Saigon, Vietnam
May ’15

While being taken around by a guide around Central Saigon, D G, and I, found the perfect street snack while travelling around Central Saigon. A spicy flavored glass noodle, with flavored meat jerky. As good as pad thai, anyday.

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20. Satay Ribeye, Satay marinated wagyu ribeye, pan seared foie gras, peanut mochi. 

Labyrinth
Singapore
Feb ’15

I really enjoyed this combination. It was robust in flavor, and a good pairing. I respect what Chef LG Han is trying to do, and this was my favorite “Modern Singapore” dish of the year.

DESSERTS

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21. Palate cleanser of watermelon sorbet, red dragonfruit, passionfruit and purple shiso

Candlenut
Singapore
Multiple visits in 2015

I like Candlenut’s cooking very much, enough to have gone there more times than I can count this year. I think Chef Malcolm cooks excellent Peranakan food, and great kueh. His most memorable concoctions are the ones with tropical fruit. This concoction is genius in its seeming simplicity – but is refreshing after a hearty family-style meal. It is a dish I will remember.

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22. Glace Meringue.

Quintessence
Tokyo, Japan

Aug ’15

Ending off the meal on a high was a Quintessence signature: Meringue ice cream. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, you’re right – what looked like ice cream was not ice cream at all, but crushed meringues, mixed with dry ice to make it cold and creamy, with ginger confit and lychee liqueur poured on top.The taste was uncanny – the egg-white taste of meringue with the cold texture of ice cream. Fruity lychee, sweet ginger, meringue – these combined for a perfect bite.

DSC0518723. Carrot – cardamom with rum meringue ice cream.

Momofuku Ko
New York, NY, USA
Dec ’15

That little spice cardamom is what drives you wild. A rum meringue adds that alcoholic touch of class (or declasse). I really like carrot-based desserts. (a carrot-coconut concoction from Asta in Boston was one of my favorites in 2014)


 

 

 

*** And now… for the real MVP…

 

Honorary mention: Military Energy Caffeine Gum. It may not have been the most gourmandaise of edibles, but in the wee hours of the morning, when you are about to nod off but still need to make some “pages”, you need that something extra to perk you up. Caffeine gum, the real MVP 😀
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Impressions from the road: foie from Black Forest (Germany)

31 Dec

There are a couple of foods, which when very fresh, become qualitatively different in texture. These are the grace notes of haute cuisine: you find them only once in a while, even at the top restaurants.

In recent memory, I’ve had two such experiences with familiar ingredients that become different. The first were live and hand-dived scallops at Hedone (London), which took on a crunchy texture when they had just been killed.

The second is foie from the Black Forest in Germany at a pair of 3-starred restaurants in Baiersbronn (Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube). What I find irresistible is the membranous texture present in their fried-foie, which has a spongey, springy texture. Their preparations are simply some of the best I’ve tried.

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Variation of goose foie gras with Williams Pear soaked in red wine and wintery spicy punch

BAREISS

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Terrine de foie gras marinée et grillée,
dans une gelée au Jurancon,
avec coulis des kumquats,
vinaigrette aux pignons de pins

Terrine of foie gras and toast,
in a Jurancon jelly,
with kumquats,
vinaigrette and pine nuts

SCHWARZWALDSTUBE


 

Due to a snafu (my leaving my photos-processing computer back at home), full reviews of restaurants on my trip will be postponed until after the New Years.

Protected: Michelin Singapore predictions

1 Dec

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Thoughts on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list

15 Mar

Another year, another Asia’s 50 Best list.  Last week marked the release of the Asia’s 50 Best list, with Gaggan of Bangkok clinching top spot in Asia. Superficially, this would be an impressive achievement, but the 50 Best list in general (which comes in 3 flavors: World, Asia, and Latin America) is beset with major problems. The first is that voters don’t actually need to visit the restaurant to vote for it, and the second is that each geographical area (e.g. Southeast Asia North, Southeast Asia South) has an assigned bloc of voters. The first problem is obviously a breach of basic integrity, and the second problem has led to perennial conundrums, as V. Milor mentions, where Scandinavian judges will all cast their votes for Noma and French restaurant critics will split their vote amongst at least 15 different restaurants. In the first year of Latin America’s 50 Best, a surfeit of Argentina voters led to a puzzling amount of Argentinian restaurants on that list, the highest ranked of which, Tegui, served me the worst fine-dining meal I can remember, and a good but not special parrilla (La Cabrera) being promoted to the top 20.

Fundamentally, the flawed methodology of these 50 Best lists make them of limited value, and I would only use them if I had little prior information on a city’s dining scene. I’ve spent some time in Bangkok and Singapore, and have also eaten in a handful of HK and Tokyo restaurants. I think the first 10 or 15 of the Asia’s 50 Best are reasonable enough, but the rest of the Asia’s 50 Best are merely decent restaurants that lack a spark. For example, I would pick Candlenut or Wild Rocket over any of Burnt Ends, Tippling Club, or Osteria Mozza, just since they represent something unique to Singapore, whereas you could imagine any of latter 3 restaurants opening anywhere in the world. In Bangkok, how Bo Lan and Issaya Siamese Club rank ahead of the Water Library or Supanniga mystifies me.

Taking a detailed look at the restaurants I’ve been to:

  • #1 Gaggan: Proof you can apply cookie-cutter techniques from the Modernist cookbook and be praised as an innovator. Below Michelin star standard.
  • #4 Ryugin: Yes, absolutely deserves its position.
  • #5 Restaurant Andre: Deserves its position.
  • #6 Amber: Good French. Deserves a high position.
  • #7 Nahm: Deserves its position.
  • #11 JAAN: Refined French cooking. No fireworks, strong 1 star.
  • #25 Eat Me: Nice bistro, but nothing special.
  • #28 Bo Innovation: Something quite unique and could only exist in HK.
  • #30 Burnt Ends: Okay.
  • #36 Tippling Club: Lacklustre. Below Michelin star standard.
  • #37 Bo Lan: Terrible.
  • #39 Issaya Siamese Club: Nope. There are two very good things on the menu: the rum baba and the coconut crepes, the rest is blah.
  • #45 Osteria Mozza: Quite good pastas, and decent antipasti and has a terrible atmosphere (looking out into the MBS mall). It’s a fairly good but cookie-cutter Italian restaurant. One of Asia’s 50 best restaurants? Really?

To be honest, revelatory fine-dining experiences in Asia are rare. High-end restaurants are still a nascent market especially in Southeast Asia. In Singapore I’ve only had a 3-Michelin level experience once – my second Restaurant Andre meal in 2013. I’ve not had it in Bangkok or Hong Kong, and as much as I enjoy kaiseki, in Japan only Ryugin (twice) and Kojyu (and Noma, but that’s not a typical experience) have blown me away.  That means I’ve only had a truly impressive fine-dining meal from start to finish only five times in Asia.*

Because these revelatory dining experiences are rare, a useful 50 Best list should be geared towards exploration – perhaps like a 1970s Gault-Millau, which championed nouvelle-cuisine specifically as a counterpoint to Michelin’s championing of haute-cuisine. It needs editorial focus to provide something valuably different from a Michelin guide, perhaps to champion chefs in second-tier cities, or modern local food that isn’t a lazy molecular remix of indigenous ingredients. Right now, the Asia’s 50 Best list functions like an unprofessional and hype-driven Michelin guide in the absence of an actual Michelin guide covering Asia ex-HK and Japan. As a consequence of the flawed rating system, the first 10-15 restaurants approximate a pan-Asian Michelin ranking (due to a general agreement on merit), and the rest are wildly unreliable. (probably due to PR horse-trading and I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine-ism).


Other links

* = of-course, there are your amazing/very good non fine-dining places: Rakuichi Soba in Niseko, Butagumi in Tokyo etc.

Two types of revaluations in our food tastes: status and health

11 Feb

Two revaluations of taste crop up in Michael Pollan’s excellent book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

  1. High Status: Roasting vs Braising. Formerly roasting was considered extravagant and high-end because only high-quality meat tasted good when simply cooked on the fire, and soups were considered peasant fare because it yielded powerfully flavored food from inexpensive ingredients – in particular, the more flavorful but tougher meats coming from older animals needed a slow cooking in the pot to dissolve their connective tissues into gelatin. Today we view the ingenuity of braising as high-end, and barbecue becomes peasant fare. The reason for this revaluation, Pollan explains, is because of our abundance of cheap meat. So to complete the argument, presumably, high-end food tastes are directed towards dishes that are rare. Rarity can come from ingredients or skill. Since meat is cheap, high-status is directed towards dishes with a skill premium, like those involving braising over roasting.
    1. I would provisionally accept this thesis since I don’t know when exactly the era of cheap meat begins. A possible counterexample is that satay or kor moo yang (indigenous barbecue techniques in Southeast Asia) are very common street foods now but arguably they have been enabled by the cheap meat of industrial agriculture
    2. The condition behind a revaluation of high status of foods is rarity. Whatever is perceived as rare (either ingredients or skill) will be associated with high status. If you have either of the two, then barriers to access becomes an secondary status-increaser (I think of Tokyo’s introduction-only places, like Kyo Aji)
    3. Cooked, p147
  2. Healthiness, Taste, Air: White flour vs Wholegrain flour. Formerly wholegrain flour was simply “coarse flour”, wheat that was ground on a stone and never sifted. Healthiness: It made a coarse dark bread (the French called it “kaka”) that gradually ground down the teeth of those who ate it. Sifted flour was thought to be easier to digest. Taste: Also, bran tends to be bitter, so bread made from white flour is sweeter. Air: Loaves made from wholegrain flour have microscopic shards of milled brand, which “pierces the strands of glutens in dough, impairing its ability to hold air and rise”. Roller milling, with “a sequence of steel or porcelain drums arranged in pairs, each subsequent pair calibrated to have a narrowed space between them than the previous set” was a breakthrough in milling the starch (or “farina”) to a high degree of fineness.
    1. A vicious cycle took hold where plants were better bred for the roller mill – whiter endosperm (less nutrients) and hard kerneled red wheat (easier to separate bran and endosperm) – but this led to less healthy breads (Pollan mentions beriberi, heart disease, and diabetes), while reducing the appeal of the wholegrain alternative. The US Government faced with the evidence that white flour is less healthy, worked with baking companies to fortify their white bread with B vitamins, processing the product even more instead of even less.
    2. What is the evidence linking white flour to disease? Quantitatively? A cursory Google Scholar search turns up a lot of chaff, though reliable sources like WebMD repeat this link between white flour and disease. Pollan is sketchy on this link. He cites Gary Taubes, here is a Fivebooks interview with Taubes, where he recommends the low carbs Atkin’ Diet. Taubes recommends this article Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet as evidence as evidence for avoiding carbohydrates in general
    3. Revaluations for health reflect the Schopenhauerian will-to-live, revaluations for status reflect the Nietzschean will-to-power.
    4. Cooked, p225

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.

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


2014-01-03 21.11.37

30. Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk

Gustu

La Paz, Bolivia


2014-02-28 21.52.54

29. Lily Bulb: rambutan, distillation of caviar lime

Alinea

Chicago, IL, USA


2014-08-15 21.56.04

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

Supanniga Eating Room

Bangkok, Thailand


2014-04-27 21.59.01

27. Into the vegetable garden…

Manresa

Los Gatos, CA, USA


2014-06-04 11.58.03

26. Grosses Langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’Agrumes

Ledoyen

Paris, France


2014-07-16 19.30.53

25. Lap Mei Fan: Baked Alaska

Bo Innovation

Hong Kong


2014-12-17 11.16.44

24. Giant prawn, ankimo, chilli-vinegar jelly

Ginza Kojyu

Tokyo, Japan


2014-06-14 19.41.09

23. …decadentia…

Mugaritz

Errenteria, Spain


2014-06-12 13.15.21

22. Mozzarella of buffalo

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain


2014-12-22 22.45.16

21. Luxurious Winter’s Rice Porridge with Blow Fish

Ryugin

Tokyo, Japan


2014-06-11 14.09.20

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


2014-06-06 11.45.04

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


2014-06-20 13.18.08

2014-06-20 13.18.15

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


2014-06-04 12.27.01

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


2014-01-02 22.57.00

12. Temera y su Leche

Boragò

Santiago, Chile


2014-05-29 14.26.29

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


2014-06-12 14.58.40

8. Beef chop

Asador Etxebarri

Axpe, Spain


2014-06-14 19.13.00

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


2014-06-06 12.15.58

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


2014-03-01 21.15.06 2014-03-01 21.16.09

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