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

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

2014-04-04 23.48.20

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rating: 19/20

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


Thoughts on dishes:

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

The NoMad | New York | Oct ’13, Nov ’13 | “crackling with late night energy”

21 Feb
  • Address: NoMad, 1170 Broadway, New York, NY 10001
  • Phone: (347) 472-5660
  • Hours: Breakfast: Daily 7-10am, Brunch: Sat, 11am-2pm, Sun 11am, 3pm; Lunch: Daily 12-2pm; Dinner: M-Th, 530-1030pm, F-Sat, 530-11pm, Sun, 530-10pm.
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $60-80
  • Rating: 17/20 (dinner)
  • Value: 3/5
  • Average Dining Time: 90-120 minutes
  • Chef: James Kent
  • Style: Contemporary New American
  • Michelin Stars: 1

Rating: 17/20 (dinner)

2013-11-10 11.51.342013-11-10 11.07.59

The NoMad is Eleven Madison Park duo Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s sister restaurant, opened in April 2012. I came here twice towards the close of 2013; once for dinner, and another time for a weekend brunch.  The main dining room is topped by a glass pyramid which lets down natural light during the day, and has two other dining sections as well as a bar.

Instead of trying to appeal to a single new audience, however, Humm (who was named James Beard Outstanding Chef last week) and his partner, the restaurateur Will Guidara, have decided to jam a hodgepodge of styles under one roof. There’s a glass-ceiling Atrium for the ladies who lunch and a clamorous, stand-up bar area for the cocktail crowd. If you wish to sit with your bespoke cocktails and French wines and pick at casual snacks, you can do that in the Library, and if you’re looking for something more intimate, there’s the Parlour, which is appointed, like a Victorian sitting room, with burgundy-colored rugs and velvet chairs trimmed with gold. – NYMag

2013-11-10 11.08.06

During the night, a crackling electricity runs through the place. The average decibel level in this place is loud, with the constant buzz of conversation from tables tightly packed, if you sit in the main dining room. (It was much quieter during brunch). Classic rock is played at a moderate loud volume, the choice of music is no accident.

It’s difficult, for instance, to give your full attention to a meal at the NoMad once you have read the interviews in which Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, its ambitious young operators, talk about modeling the restaurant on the Rolling Stones.

They went through a branding exercise, writing down words that defined the band (loose, alive, genuine, deliberate) and molding the restaurant’s identity around them. Those words hang on a kitchen wall, not far from the enormous photo of Mick Jagger onstage, one leg goose-stepped up to microphone level. – NYTimes

Dinner was priced very reasonably for this level of cuisine, featuring a couple of tricks not done any, at about $50 per person. Tables were turned over quite fast at around 10pm (I’d estimate about 90 minutes per table). Brunch is priced about $20-25 per person, and there is no overlap between the two menus.

Other Notable Write-ups:

  • Bloomberg reviews the NoMad, recommends roast chicken, foie gras and suckling pig.
  • “Under a skin of lacquered brown the color of a loaf of challah lies a stuffing of brioche with foie gras and truffles. It is a dish from another era, when chicken breast was still seen as a worthy canvas for great chefs. Taste it and you know why. This is white meat for sybarites. On the side is a fricassee of the dark meat with morels, almost an afterthought. If served at a dark no-reservations tavern in the Village, it would be enough to put the place on the map.”

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(Unfortunately, I lost the pictures from dinner, so I shall rely on credited photos taken by others.)

SUNDAY DINNER

Snack: Rosemary Focaccia with Grapes (3.5/5) A huge slab of rosemary focaccia, laid on with grapes. Fresh from the oven.

Tagliatelle. King Crab, Meyer Lemon & Black Pepper. $28 (4.5/5) : Considered one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, I liked this dish very much. The bright lemon made eating the king crab and tagliatelle very appetising. There’s a visual and textural similarity to the flat noodles (mee pok) used for my favorite Singaporean hawker dish – bak chor mee. The sourness that opened the appetite (“开胃” in Chinese) was a simple application of lemon juice.

Photo taken by Eatingwithziggy.com

Photo credit to EatingwithZiggy. Also, see the Gastronomy blog for a great photo and write-up.

Lemon.Custard with Almond Shortbread and Ricotta. $12 (4.75/5)

I came to the NoMad on the strength of a SeriousEats write-up about their lemon tart. It was slightly on the bitter side for me, but with a strong lemon taste and ingenious method of coating the lemon with pastry. A great dish.

Photo Credit: SeriousEats

On first glance, the tart appears to be surrounded by a thin, shiny layer of caramel or mousse. In fact, the covering is made of shortbread. [Mark] Welker explains that they start with a classic French-style tarte citron that’s baked in a half sheet pan before the lemony discs are punched out and frozen. Then a traditional almond flour-based shortbread is pureed in a blender until the heat melts the butter, creating a molten mixture. The discs are then dropped in liquid nitrogen and then dipped into the shortbread batter. The shortbread coating solidifies as soon as it comes into contact with the cold lemon discs.

The result is a beautiful, even layer of glossy shortbread that tastes as good as it looks. Both the shortbread and the lemon filling are soft in texture and easy to pass a fork through. Those who might miss the crust from the absent tart shell will be pleased to see some almond shortbread crunch on the plate that easily replaces the lost texture. Similarly, Welker says the (subtlety flavored and light) ricotta ice cream serves to replace the traditional role that meringue plays in balancing the tart citrus. Some iridescent confit lemons are artfully arranged on the plate. – Niko Triantafillou, SeriousEats.

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BRUNCH

2013-11-10 11.08.46

OMELET (4.5/5)

Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Spinach, Chevre & Toast. $18

A well-executed omelet with a creamy center of cheese and mushrooms. I’m not the biggest fan of brunch food but this was a well-executed omelet.

2013-11-10 11.08.50

HASH

Chicken, Sunny-side up eggs & Roasted Potatoes $20

2013-11-10 10.58.14

Condiments for Scones

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“I suppose that finally New York is a Broadway theater where one play after another, decade after decade, occupies the stage and the dressing rooms-then clears out. Each play is the biggest possible deal (sets, publicity, opening night celebrations, stars’ names on the marquee), then it vanishes. With every new play the theater itself is just a bit more dilapidated, the walls scarred, the velvet rubbed bald, the gilt tarnished. Because they are plays and not movies, no one remembers them precisely. The actors are forgotten, the plays are just battered scripts showing coffee stains and missing pages. Nothing lasts in New York. The life that is lived there, however, is as intense as it gets.” – Edmund White, City Boy.

Momofuku Ko (lunch) | New York | Feb ’14 | “sushi sensibilities”

11 Feb
  • Address: 163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
  • Phone: (212) 500-0831
  • Website: http://momofuku.com/new-york/ko/
  • Hours: Lunch: Fri-Sun, 12pm onwards. (1 seating) Dinner: Mon-Sun, 6pm onwards (2 seatings)
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $225
  • Courses: (20 main/23 total) 1 amuse / 17 savory / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises / 1 take-home
  • Price/Main Course: $11
  • Rating: 18.5/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 225 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 10 minutes
  • Chef: Sean Gray (ex. Momofuku Ssam Bar)
  • Style: Asian-influenced contemporary
  • Michelin Stars: 2
  • Notable: No photos during service, a few photos allowed after service (i.e. “I’ve been here” shots), strong seafood line-up

2014-02-09 12.03.41

Momofuku Ko is the crown jewel of a David Chang empire that spans 3 countries, with 5 restaurants in New York alone. I’ve tried many times to get a seat at the restaurant, refreshing the Ko reservations page at 10am sharp with credit card in hand. The stars, prior to this weekend trip, unfortunately didn’t align. But when I took a last-minute decision the Thursday before to head to the city, I looked at the Ko page, more in hope than expectation, where to my surprise – there was a seat for 12:10pm! I snapped it up immediately. And the meal I proceeded to have showed me why Ko tickets are in such high demand.

But first, a question I had as a Ko newbie. What’s the difference between lunch and dinner? Lunch, as evidenced by its higher price of $175 to dinner’s $125, contains more courses (16 to dinner’s 10), takes longer, and is more experimental than the dinner menu. The sole dish that unites the two menus is the signature frozen foie shaved over lychee and Riesling jelly – named 2008 dish of the year by New York Times. Here’s an illicit photo. I enjoyed the slower, relaxed pace of lunch, as I can imagine the necessity of two seatings might rush dinner a bit more.

I knew nothing of Ko’s menu prior to my visit. What would be served? It turns out that the Ko team is very strong in seafood. All sorts of seafood were prepped with delicate care, to showcase their textures and tastes at their best. I think for versatility, saucing, pairing with ingredients, the seafood at Ko beats what I’ve had at Marea or Le Bernardin. The sensibilities of the 3-man Ko kitchen crew (chef Maximus Ng and gang on the pass) reminded me of sushi as done by Jiro in that famous documentary. The various preparations and ingredient-pairings served to highlight the differences between the kinds of seafood (maybe 10 kinds over the course of lunch). It was enlightening to have bay scallops slightly poached in a mushroom-vinegar broth, grilled sepia with charred rice cakes, slow-cooked smoked trout with everything bagel spice (etc. etc.). Most seafood was lightly cooked, but quite a few were also cured prior.

No photos unfortunately! The pictures I carry in my head; the rest is up to your imagination.

Rating: 18/20

Memory: Potato cigarette with smoked cheese & chives, Cured bronzino, Mushroom consomme with bay scallop, Grilled Sepia, Puffed Egg, Maine Lobster with Brioche, Chocolate Black-Trumpet Ice Cream

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  1. English muffin with sesame (3.25/5) | Sliced popover with popcorn (4.5/5). I enjoyed the sliced popover, which was filled with popcorn cream, intense in flavour. In contrast though, the mini English muffin was a bit lukewarm and couldn’t taste the sesame (though I could see the coloration with my eyes)
  2. Shigoku oysters from WA | Mixed spice pepper vinegar | Paprika oil (4/5), Salty and plump. Naturalistic, a splodge of red oil on the oyster. Fruity in a very west coast way (the east coast oysters tend to be very salty)
  3. Potato cigarette with smoked pimento cheese and chives (5/5) Golden potato rolled in a cigarette, filled with smoked cheese, topped with chives. Great! Smoked flavor in the salty cheese was really delicious. It reminded me a bit of the addictive 7-Eleven Cheese Taquitos I used to buy every week on my way back from school in Singapore, without the pervasive grease.
  4. Braised daikon, with american caviar, nori (4.25/5). A flower-shaped column of pink daikon, slightly bitter, topped with caviar. Sprinkled with ash. A slight bitterness reset my tastebuds.
  5. Red snapper tartare | jelly made from its bones | Lime | Shiso. (4.25/5) Red snapper, a muscular fish, gave a sinewy and chewy tartare. Specked with bits of bright green lime “caviar”(?), which here functioned as capers to the standard beef tartare.
  6. Cured bronzino | Radishes | Puffed farrow (5/5)  The silky, fatty bronzino melted in my mouth – a cherished feeling. In combination with the previous dish, it was a showcase of contrasts: a lean sinewy fish before a fatty fish.
  7. Mackerel pickled in salt, its skin seared | a ring of shallot | blood orange zest | mustard seeds (4.5/5)– the mustard seeds were sprinkled last. The oily mackerel was pickled in salt to firm up the fish | topped with a small onion ring. Best part of dish: juxtaposing pickled mackerel with the seared skin surface.
  8. Chopped raw sunchoke | Caper pesto | Sardines (4/5) Raw sunchokes tasted like chopped water chestnut. A quiet dish, refreshing.
  9. Beet smoked and pickled | beet candied | Tarragon | Crispy trout skin | Slow cooked smoked trout | everything bagel spice (4.5/5) – A riot of colour, reds, light pink beet wafers, contrasting with the green of pesto.
  10. Mushroom consomme with black vinegar | Bay scallop | Pear | Raw mushroom underneath (5/5) Brilliant dish. You could call it a mushroom-black-vinegar consomme, but it reminded of nothing so much as a mee-pok broth. Mee-pok, done well, is my favorite Singaporean hawker dish of all – and the key is a black-vinegar based sauce with mushrooms. Knowing Chef Max as Singaporean, I do wonder if there was some Singaporean influence on this dish! But taken on its own merits, it was superb, a hot consomme is quickly poured into a bowl containing slices of raw bay scallop, the heat quickly poaching the external side of them and making them firmer. The pear was the right refreshing fruit note, not competing with the flavour of mushroom+vinegar. The best was the raw mushroom, its mushroom walls still retaining a firm texture and earthy crunch – filled with flavour from the broth.
  11. Grilled sepia | Charred rice cakes | Potato broth (4.5/5) – enjoyable charred rice cakes with grilled sepia (type of cuttlefish)
  12. Venison tartare | Quail Egg | Truffed Capers (3.5/5) I thought this might have been the weakest dish of the lunch (which also speaks to the high sustained quality of the experimental Ko lunch menu.) A variation on steak tartare, with two quarter-slices of hard-boiled egg (custard yolk consistency). Fine but standard fare. Venison offered a game-y twist on it.
  13. Puffed egg | shio kombu. (5/5) An apparent Ko old dish (as a veteran Ko diner recounted to me) – this egg was puffed up like a sponge. Taking bites of the eggy sponge, the shio kombu kept re-washing over the exposed bits, making the newly exposed egg sponge salty with kombu again. It was like dipping an ice cream cube into chocolate fondue – the chocolate crust perpetually forming on the diminishing ice cream is the gift that keeps on giving. Same here with the egg sponge – keeps on giving. The puffed egg was boiled in a pot, and I’ve no idea how they get the spongy texture.
  14. Roasted Maine lobster | Torn pieces of brioche | Sauce made from lobster roe | Miyage, shiso leaf and other herbs (5/5) Amazing. Tender bits of Maine lobster, an unexpeakably rich lobster roe sauce with the sweetness of egg and sugar, mixed with bits of torn brioche – a rich knockout.
  15. Tortellini with cream filling | shaved black truffle | Celery root chips (3.5/5) – a quiet and plain dish.
  16. Uni sauce with charred brussel sprouts | compressed apple cubes with apple juice | Meaty slices of grilled halibut | Burnt apple powder (4/5) It was pretty to see green cubes of apple in the orange uni sauce. I felt though that the uni sauce was overpowering in proportion to the apple cubes which were refreshing. The main player, a meaty halibut was perfectly cooked, tender.
  17. Lychee | Riesling gelee | Foie, cured frozen shaved | (4.5/5) Chef Christie used a microplane to carefully shave the foie over lychee and riesling gelee. The reason for shaving is to give the foie a lighter texture to compliment its heavier taste. The idea is very good, and has been used in Chang’s other restaurants (a cheese course at Ma Peche in particular) – though coming straight after the halibut and uni sauce,  it seemed the kitchen was going full throttle to satiate our appetites.
  18. Slices of pork ribs with secret awesomesauce rub | kimchi and caramellized red onion (4.5/5) The thick-slices of pink pork ribs (great) are almost incidental to the glorious spice-rub, the rub having been applied on identikit meats like lamb and venison before. Chef Max’s rub uses primarily cumin, fennel, 6 or 7 other spices I couldn’t catch [soy sauce? oyster sauce?], and the secret ingredient was the addition of an almost (for me, fully) imperceptible amount of star anise, the licorice taste of which heightens the meaty flavour. The principle comes from the Singaporean-Chinese dish called kong-bak.
  19. Roast barley sorbet with grapefruit foam | roast barley (4/5) A good palate cleanser and come-down after a trio of hard-hitting dishes, the bitterness of grapefruit a welcome cutting against the fat.
  20. Chocolate + black trumpet ice cream | candied black trumpets | almond biscotti tuile | huckleberry (4.75/5). My first reaction was incredulity. My second reaction was “you’re kidding”. Black trumpet, an intense tasting mushroom with truffle notes, in a dessert? And incorporated in an essential way in the ice cream? But it gave a wonderful mustiness to the chocolate, and this was better executed I think than truffle ice cream I had in Singapore’s Jaan the summer before – because the earthy taste of mushrooms was not overly unfamiliar, being helped by the strong chocolate flavour. Sidenote: “On the East Coast, the black trumpet is a summer and fall mushroom, with unpredictable swings in abundance; on the West Coast it’s a predictably common mushroom in winter among hte dense tanoak forests of the coastal mountains.” – Langdon Cook, Mushroom Hunters.
  21. “Rice cream cone” | Mochi ice cream, sticky rice in an ice cream cone (3.75/5)
  22. Chocolate macaron with amaro filling
  23. A Ko onigiri to go.

Contra | New York | Feb ’14

9 Feb
  • Address: 138 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
  • Phone: (212) 466-4633
  • Hours: Dinner: T-Th, 6-11pm; F-Sat, 6-12am
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $70
  • Courses: (5 main/6 total) 1 bread (extra $3 charge) / 3 savory / 2 dessert
  • Price/Main Course: $14
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 81 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 13.5 minutes
  • Chef: Jeremiah Stone (ex. Rino (Paris), Isa (NYC)), Fabian von Hauske (ex. Jean Georges, Faviken)
  • Style: New Naturalist
  • Michelin Stars: N/A

Contra is a restaurant on the Lower East Side that serves a constantly-changing tasting menu. At 5 courses for $55, it has been rightly called one of the bargains of New York. The food is New Naturalist in style – a style I believe is defined by:

  1. a “let-it-fall-where-it-may” plating aesthetic
  2. vegetable-and-(heirloom)-grain forward
  3. de-emphasis on meat
  4. 3-4 principal ingredients all mixed up

The sauces were very good: I found myself often licking and finishing whatever remnants of sauce remained on my plate, and I don’t remember not licking my spoon clean.

Contra often has guest chefs over; bringing in chefs such as birch’s Ben Sukle (Providence), and Alma’s Ari Taymor (L.A.). This ferment of guest chef stints is one of the chief reasons why East Coast cuisine, is incredibly dynamic today.

Rating: 16/20

Memory: Beef + Broccoli + Scallop; Tangerine + Popcorn

Other write-ups:

  1. Spanish Hipster – the beet dessert (which I had) features in their 2013 roundup
  2. Docsconz – a lamb head at Contra features in his best of 2013 list

____________

2014-02-08 20.33.42 2014-02-08 20.33.48

1. Beef, broccoli, scallop (4.75/5)

What do rough kale, raw beef, and XO sauce have in common? They contrast divinely with slices of sweet raw scallops. Haunting.

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2. Butternut squash, grains, mussels (4.25/5)

A hearty gruel on a cruel winter’s night. Or so I fantasised, eating whole wheat grain porridge, mixed with jardiniere-cut butternut squash, with meaty plump mussels (an ingredient I’m generally indifferent to), along with a mussel stock emulsified with oil, tasting remarkably of American cheese.

2014-02-08 21.06.40

3. Lamb, eggplant, mustard greens (3.75/5)

Lamb sirloin, eggplant puree, sweet sunchoke mash, mustard greens, green garlic sauce. The lamb was well cooked, and reminded me a bit of llama from Gustu (La Paz). The best part of the dish was the sunchoke mash, bringing out the delicate sweet flavour of sunchoke well.

2014-02-08 21.19.55 2014-02-08 21.19.46

4. Tangerine, popcorn (5/5)

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.

2014-02-08 21.26.49 2014-02-08 21.27.10 2014-02-08 21.27.30

5. Beet, hazelnut, yoghurt (4.5/5)

  1. Yoghurt Sorbet
  2. Chocolate-hazelnut cremeux
  3. Beet puree

Yoghurt went very well with the hazelnut cremeux (milk-sour turning nutty-sweet), pliable to a single stroke of the spoon, and the earthy taste of beet brought this dish metaphorically back to Earth. This seems a mainstay of the menu, featuring prominently in Spanish Hipster’s 2013 roundup.

A great menu; I shall certainly be back the next time I’m in New York.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns | Pocantico Hills, NY | Dec ’13 | “a farm-to-table pilgrimage; 4 hour extraganza”

13 Dec
Address: 630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
Phone: (914) 366-9600
____________
Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Located 15 minutes from Tarrytown, where they have the routine of taxis shuttling between the farm and station down-pat, the Stone Barns are part of the old Rockefeller estate owned by David Rockefeller and his daughter Peggy Dulany. On the maxim that the best place to make a place interesting to a cut swathe of the general public, the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns was created in 2004 by the Barber family. (the same year as per se, an annus mirabilis for New York dining). Under the guidance of Chef Dan Barber, the restaurant serves farm-fresh cuisine, with all kinds of novel platings seldom seen elsewhere. The farm as a whole is a Center for Food & Agriculture. I arrived here on a wintry Sunday afternoon – the only day on which Blue Hill is open for “lunch” hours (1pm).
Aside: Is it not interesting how rapidly a top-class restaurant can gentrify a rough area? I’m thinking of the gentrification of Melbourne’s back-alleys, formerly home to dumpsters, with coffee shops. The story is well-told in the documentary Human Scale. From being areas where Melbourne citizens feared to tread for the risk of robbery, they now thrive with human activity. I also recall the anecdote of a Nordic restaurant gentrifying a tough Copenhagen neighbourhood. In a city with modern transport infrastructure, sourcing ingredients is no longer a problem, and urban philanthropists (AKA restauranteurs) may do good upon any blighted part of the city, simply by setting up a top-class restaurant there. On a small scale, this is what happened to the Keong Saik area in Chinatown with the opening of Restaurant Andre. A restaurant, driven by the rising fine-dining spend by younger professionals, seems to be the fastest way to transform a neighbourhood. In the short term (as long as this rising dining spend lasts), urban planners may seek out alliances of convenience with restauranteurs.
In its focus on local ingredients, Blue Hill is at the very epicentre of the farm-to-table movement that is sweeping America today. All the better. The local-vore movement is making dining interesting. Whereas previously a hundred restaurants in a hundred cities might aim towards replicating a French experience, more chefs are paying regard to their surroundings, and using ingredients nearer them. The enforced constraints breed artistry. birch, in Providence, is a great example of building on local food roots in Rhode Island. Aska seems to do the same in the Northeast. They are relentlessly local in a way a restaurant like per se (or any single Singapore restaurant) is not. The plutocrat’s reach is a global terroir – 3* Michelin places like Masa, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, cater to this excellence-at-all-cost mentality. Every ingredient is part of the chef’s canvas. Local-vore restaurants turn away from this maxim.
Aside 2 for Singapore/Malayan readers: It is strange that for Malaya, there is not (and nowhere near) a real top-class restaurant with local Malayan ingredients. Imagine what one could do with sago worms, or the manis plant. One of these days, someone will create the noma of Malaya. And that is when the dining scene will get interesting.
The food. Wonderful platings. Wonderfully fresh vegetables, even in the infancy of winter. Highly memorable, food with a purpose, educating diners on seasonality (via a cute handbook they hand out at the start of every meal), ingredients (kohlrabi, wheat, bio-char charcoal), the taste of ricotta from cows in summer and cows in winter… Also, some of the best service I have received. A wonderful weekend that included dining at per se and Aska was rounded off at the best and most memorable place of the trio, Blue Hill. My meal there was long and involved (it lasted 4 hours, and I counted around 30+ courses), but I came out of it happy as a lark.
____________
Rating: 18/20
Memory: Bio-charred Cabbage, Mokum Carrots, Stone Barns Pork, Speck, Kohlrabi ‘Tacos’, Concord Grape Soup with Yoghurt Sorbet, “Party on a Pear Tree”
Book: Mike Tyson, Undisputed Truth
____________
2013-12-08 12.34.17
From Grand Central to Tarrytown
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The entrance to the complex
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Private dining area, outside
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Courtyard, looking out
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Restaurant Entrance, afar
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Private dining area (1)
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Stairway to private dining area
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Stone Barns the education center.
2013-12-08 14.08.52
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, entrance.
____________
Grazing, Pecking, Rooting
“A ton of amuses”
2013-12-08 14.13.42
“Vegetables on a Fence”
Sprayed simply with salt water to highlight the innate qualities of the veggies
2013-12-08 14.16.10
Turnip served from a cone (not pictured)
2013-12-08 14.17.00
Young ginger soda
2013-12-08 14.18.56
“Party in a Pear Tree”
Dried fig, crisped ham, a sour red paper, potato chip clasping a leaf (reminiscent of techniques from Joel Robuchon & Cesar Ramirez)
2013-12-08 14.41.05
2013-12-08 14.20.25
Pig’s Heart Pastrami, Pickled Carrot, Mustard Seed (on bird foot)
2013-12-08 14.20.39
Celery Root Jerky with Wintergreen Berries
“The wintergreen berries form the spearmint taste of your chewing gum!”
2013-12-08 14.23.36
A most excellent Tarragon Pesto, which I ate with…
2013-12-08 14.24.05 2013-12-08 14.24.11
Young Pea Shoots, “harvested” with Scissors
2013-12-08 14.24.20
Brussel Sprout Tree, “harvested” with Machete
“Brussel sprouts come from the same family as broccoli, and it shows”
2013-12-08 14.24.37
Beetroot Sushi (4.5/5)
The second time I’ve had beetroot sushi, the first was at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege. I enjoyed this a bit more, since the wasabi wasn’t overpowering, and I enjoyed the heresy of including seeds and puffed rice to add a different texture to the sushi. Nutty.
2013-12-08 14.26.38
Left to right:
Vichyssoise (sic?), sauerkraut, and pork crackling
Squash Whoopie Pie
Trumpet Mushroom + something
2013-12-08 14.29.45
Action Shot!!!
2013-12-08 14.31.34
Rhode Island Whitebait
“You know I love you, Rhode Island. Also, reminiscent of whitebait that’s commonly used by my mom.”
2013-12-08 14.31.48
Pork Liver and Chocolate. (4.25/5)
“Reminiscent of atera’s chicken liver sandwich, which wanted to be an Oreo”
2013-12-08 14.31.52 2013-12-08 14.31.56 2013-12-08 14.32.04
Beet Burger (4/5)
on a bed of sesame seeds.
2013-12-08 14.38.16
“Coppa Pizza”
Coppa and Corn Flatbread. (4.5/5)
“Great coppa (dry-cured pork shoulder), a rounded gentle meaty taste. Very pleasant – could eat it with cornbread all day long”
____________
20 Minutes at the Kitchen Table
At this point, I was on to the main courses, and promptly whisked off to the kitchen table, to catch the workings of the chefs. Brilliant.
2013-12-08 14.50.31 2013-12-08 14.53.21
Main Section
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Amuse-Bouche Section
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Winter Berry Tea
“Since you enjoyed the winterberries”
That made me feel special.
2013-12-08 14.56.40 2013-12-08 14.58.03
Tomato Tartare (4/5)
with Vegetable Flatbread
“Sour, with a sundried taste, the quail egg bound them together and made it come alive”
2013-12-08 15.03.08 2013-12-08 15.05.14
My server explained that charcoal in New York was usually now done in two petroleum drums drained of oxygen. Blue Hill was extending the concept of charcoal beyond just wood, but also to bones – specifically pig bones. “One step further than nose-to-tail!” – exact words. So now, even the bones of a pig are used for cooking. The charcoal imparts a different, meaty flavour to dishes. The technical term is “bio-char”.
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Bio-charred Cheese (Goats Milk) (3.75/5)
Pickled Plum, Bone Marrow Sauce
2013-12-08 15.07.37
Bio-charred Celery Root, Squid Ink (4/5)
“The squid ink was reduced to sauce with bio-charred vegetables. A geometric risotto of acute angles.” Reminiscent of the celerisotto from L’Arpege.
2013-12-08 15.07.48 2013-12-08 15.09.09
Bio-charred Cabbage
“It’s been inside, rotating for a bit. But what’s interesting is that there’s a convection zone underneath the char, which is steaming the cabbage underneath the outer layer”
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Bio-charred Cabbage, Quince, Speck (5/5)
The most successful of the bio-char mini-sequence of courses for me. The sauce was a meaty sauce, which was probably from the pork speck (a cured meat made with pork leg). The cubes of speck and quince on top of the cabbage made the exquisitely tender hunk of cabbage like a “cabbage steak”. Quince sauce by the side.
2013-12-08 15.12.04
____________
AND OUT WE GO…
RICOTTA
2013-12-08 15.26.09
Tevalde Wheat from Washington and Canada
Milled daily in a chute right in the restaurant, which is “very noisy”.
Similar to milling barley in Scottish whisky distilleries
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Whole Grain Brioche (4.5/5)
made from just-milled Tevalde Wheat.
Winter Green Marmalade & Cracked Pepper
Very fragrant.
2013-12-08 15.30.10
Ricotta, about to be sieved.
“The cows eat hay in winter, and this affects the ricotta made from their milk. The taste differs from season to season”
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Blue Hill Farm Ricotta Cheese (4.5/5)
& Whole Grain Brioche + Winter Green Marmalade (4.5/5)
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KOHLRABI
2013-12-08 15.41.12
“We’ve been breeding giant kohlrabi in partnership with a farm Upstate one hour North of here.”
2013-12-08 15.41.18
“They grow in black dirt, dating from an ancient glacial lake. Extremely fertile. There’s some here, but a lot less”
Why do you need a giant kohlrabi?
2013-12-08 15.48.09
Because…
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Kohlrabi Tacos!!!
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Here are your accompaniments…
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Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Broccoli Guacamole, Salt with Crushed Lobster Roe,
Smoked Beef Strips, Carrot Yoghurt, Fermented Corn, Watermelon Hot Sauce
Center: Maine Sea Scallops
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Kohlrabi ‘Taco’ (5/5)
The conceit is original (to me). The kohlrabi had a moderate sweetness, like a sugar infused turnip. A triumph of presentation.
____________
2013-12-08 16.04.06
Potato Bread
2013-12-08 16.04.09
From left to right:
Hudson Valley Butter, Blue Hill Pig Lardo, Fennel Salt, Beet Salt
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Blue Hill Farm Egg (4/5)
Speck, Cabbage
An incredibly fresh egg with speck from the pig’s leg, on a beautifully polished wood plate. Simple and satisfying.
2013-12-08 16.10.46
Satisfied.
2013-12-08 16.11.19
The leg of speck. The speck served was German style, which means that the bone was removed. I would end up being served two courses involving speck: (1) the bio-char cabbage, and (2) the speck with egg above. From the prosciuttopedia:
The key to its exquisite taste and quality is the well regulated production method which is based, as much today as in the past, on the raw material used. The so called creative phase is the salting, and seasoning of the meat with juniper, laurel and rosemary. The dry curing process is never longer than three weeks but varies in intensity according to the manufacturer. It is then ready to be smoked. A gentle alternation between smoking and drying, ensuring that the temperature never exceeds 20°C, represent the distinctive characteristics of Speck production. And lastly an additional maturing phase in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for a period that rarely exceeds 6 months, which enhances the typical aroma and flavor of Speck. During the maturing phase a thin layer of mold forms on the surface conferring a distinctive aroma to the product (reminiscent of nuts and porcini mushrooms, it is said!). The resulting flavor is simply unique. 
2013-12-08 16.20.32
Stone Barns Pork (5/5)
Jerusalem Artichoke, Brussel Sprouts
… including blood sausage, and pickled jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke). The pork was of the highest quality, tasting of divine pink silky bacon.
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Blue Hill Farm Goat (4.75/5)
Mokum Carrots, Toasted Spices, Tatsoi
The goat was good (tasting of an Indian braised curry preparation), but surprisingly for me, not the star of the show.
That honour belonged to the Mokum carrots, hauntingly roasted to be just chewy enough. Different colours of carrots tasted different. This was one of the top 3 carrot dishes I have tasted this year, along with birch’s roasted carrot and Eleven Madison Park’s carrot tartare.
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Rupert Cheese from Vermont, aged 16 months (3.25/5)
Candied Squash Seeds, Quince Jam
Rye Pretzel
“A little harsh and hard”
2013-12-08 16.51.51 2013-12-08 17.05.46 2013-12-08 17.08.27 2013-12-08 17.12.02 2013-12-08 17.13.35
Lemon Sorbet, Kumquats (4/5)
Served on a bed of smoked salt, lemon sorbet with olive oil poured over. Kumquat peel was great
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Clockwise from 2 o’clock:
Concord Grape Soup and Yoghurt Sorbet (4.75/5)
Cranberry Sorbet, Squash, Rosemary Pistachios (4/5)
Sweet Potato Sorbet with Stone Barns Honey, Ginger Granitas (4.25/5)
The most memorable sorbet was the concord grape soup with concord grape raisins. To get that much soup, more than a few grapes needed to be crushed. We are well and truly into concord grape season, Momofuku Ko (lunch edition) also had a concord-grape amuse a few weeks ago apparently.
Concord grapes remind me of the intense grape flavour of Kyoho grapes. Delicious.
2013-12-08 17.30.18 2013-12-08 17.30.46
Final Feast:
From left to right:
Hazelnut Meringue Needles (amidst the bush)
Carrot Crisp
Pear
Honeycomb
Chocolate Truffles
Almond Pralines
Apple, Cored
Rye Sourdough Biscuits in a Bag with Squash Jam
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Rye Sourdough Biscuit
2013-12-08 18.21.51
Lighting the path.
2013-12-08 18.21.58 2013-12-08 18.22.07
Goodbye Stone Barns, till we meet again.
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Aska | Brooklyn, NY | Dec ’13 | “Nordic stateside”

12 Dec
  • Address: 90 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
  • Phone: (718) 388-2969
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $140
  • Courses: (10 main/17 total) 4 amuse / 1 bread / 7 savory / 1 snack / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $14
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 195 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11.5 minutes
  • Chef: Fredrik Berselius
  • Style: New Nordic
  • Michelin Stars: 1
  • Notable: Aska 1.0 has closed. At the time of writing (14th March 2014) it will be looking for a bigger space.
2013-12-07 23.21.112013-12-07 19.52.23
I had never tried New Nordic Food before I set foot in Aska.

The style of cooking is most closely associated with FoodCamp’s host chef, René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. It is sometimes called “new Nordic,” although he and some other chefs from the region prefer the broader label “authentic cuisine.” It is earthy and refined, ancient and modern, both playful and deeply serious. Instead of the new (techniques, stabilizers, ingredients), it emphasizes the old (drying, smoking, pickling, curing, smoking) with a larger goal of returning balance to the earth itself.

Using rutabagas and whey; pine and juniper; and shells, hay, and twigs as its kitchen tools, it seeks to turn the culinary dial back toward the natural world. “The huge wave of technical cooking has passed,” said Rosio Sanchez, a pastry chef at Noma, who grew up in Chicago and has worked in some of America’s most technologically advanced kitchens, like Alinea and WD-50. “I came here because I wanted to get more into the product.”

[…]

The movement can be traced to 2004, when a dozen prominent chefs from around the region signed a Kitchen Manifesto agreeing to rededicate themselves to “purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics” in cooking.

– NYTimes

New Nordic is the rage, and it has come stateside. Aska is located in a grungy industrial sector of Williamsburg, part of Kinfolk Studios, which is a bike shop, a daytime cafe, a late night bar complete with DJs, and a creative agency. Previously, it functioned as a pop-up called Frej.
Mr. Berselius, who last year ran a kind of beta version of Aska called Frej in this same space, knows the latest kitchen technology from his time at Corton and Seäsonal. At Aska, he mostly confines himself to older methods. He cooks cream for hours until it is as thick as toothpaste and the color of butterscotch, then stirs in sour milk. It tastes like dulce de leche without the sugar and makes a dizzyingly rich sauce for pork belly or a tender strip of short rib. – Pete Wells
I was excited to try something fundamentally new. Cutting-edge food is a vocabulary unto itself, and Aska would teach me a few words, to follow a new tune.
2013-12-07 19.53.00 2013-12-07 19.55.37
The vibe of the place was young, with dried foliage bringing a memento mori of winter outside, indoors. Hunched yuppies bent over their candlelit tables. No one was wearing a suit, which meant that people here were dining for pleasure.
The plating was be austere. A parade of snacks was be solemnly highlighted on wood of similar grain and color to my table. Most of the mains were one or two bites, tops. The food was more meditative than purely delicious, though the sunchoke dish and pigs’ blood croquette were very delicious. Some dishes whispered “education”, such as vinegar marinated skate-wing, my first main, and oatmeal in a sweet onion broth. The line between education and pretension is fine. Take the oatmeal dish, for example. I could have made a similar sweet onion broth with oatmeal myself – the key there was the imagination of the chef, pairing the two ingredients together in a not immediately delicious way, as if to say that “these are the pairings of New Nordic food, take it or leave it”. Does one acquire a taste for such things? With many novel dishes, I found some favorites (a milk sorbet with spruce sauce) and some that left me cold – which is natural.
Aska seems to be a paradox if we think of New Nordic Food as a involving Nordic ingredients only. What are Rhode Island squid and oyster doing on the menu? But New Nordic Food isn’t just about these things:


To focus only on the ingredients of that region, chefs say, is missing the point.Ryan Miller, the chef at Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village, who worked in the Nordic region last year, explained. “It’s not like I learned about some new Danish cheese and came back and put it on my menu,” he said. “I learned to respect organization and education and making food in the most natural way possible.”The movement can be traced to 2004, when a dozen prominent chefs from around the region signed a Kitchen Manifesto agreeing to rededicate themselves to “purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics” in cooking. – NYTimes.

(Claus Meyer of noma also has a ten-point manifesto for New Nordic food.)



The question to me, is what really separates Aska from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, say? Blue Hill is pure, fresh, simple, and highly ethical in creating its food. No, the difference really seems to be:

  1. Austere Plating (A. as much wood as possible, the deader the better. B. make sure the food takes up less than 20% of the plate)
  2. Vinegar
  3. Anything to do with Pines, because winter.
  4. Survivalist Whole Ingredient Philosophy – take the squid’s ink and make a sauce, use burnt leaves for a consomme. (“Get your piping hot tripe!“)



That Nordic austereness is what really comes through with the food at Aska. I’ve been thinking that how food is plated is a major part of a restaurant’s philosophy. Chinese restaurants pile on the food, to simulate plenty and banquet feasts. Japanese sushi is served simply and without ornament at a sushi bar, to highlight the single-minded focus on fish. French restaurants ornament their plate to simulate sophistication. And Nordic food seems to be plated austerely to simulate Immanuel Kant.


A first impression, anyway. 

Rating: 16/20 (BTW, service was great)
Memory: Brown Butter Flatbread, Sunchoke 5 ways, Pigs Blood Croquette, Milk sorbet with spruce sauce.
Book: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s I am Zlatan.
____________
Weekend Tasting Menu
2013-12-07 19.55.46 2013-12-07 19.57.13
SNACKS
2013-12-07 20.15.13
Scallop Chip
“Unmistakably seafood, like a prawn cracker. Delicious”
2013-12-07 20.22.09 2013-12-07 20.22.18
Crispy Kale, Chamomile Emulsion
“Nice fatty middle, kale chip sandwich”
2013-12-07 20.25.42 2013-12-07 20.25.57
Dehydrated Roast Beet with Beet Vinegar
Everything with the hand. A sweet delicious candy; I think dehydrated beets are the best expression of beets. One of my favorite dishes from birch in Providence is this dehydrated-rehydrated beet dish.
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Molasses Shortbread & Smoked Cheese.
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Brown Butter Flatbread
Fennel Loaf
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Salted Whipped Butter
Snacks Verdict: I loved the flatbread (5/5) easily, and the sweet beet especially.
____________
MAINS
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Cauliflower
vinegar, skate
(3.75/5)
A jolting start to the meal. Skate wing was cooked in dill pickle vinegar, and covered with cauliflower puree and crumble. The skate has a sweet taste, and unfolded like preserved sweet noodles. Not a taste memory I was very familiar with.
2013-12-07 20.42.16
Inners
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Sunchoke
hedgehog mushroom
(5/5)
The 2nd dish turned out brilliant. This is the best sunchoke dish I have yet tasted. It may be dubbed “sunchoke 5 ways”.
  1. Strips of roasted sunchoke skin
  2. Discs of fermented sunchoke
  3. Rehydrated sunchoke chunks
  4. Fermented sunchoke jus, calrified and cooked with elderflower and butter
  5. Sunchoke puree.

Coaxing a bewildering amount of different flavours and textures from one ingredient. Bravo, absolute mastery of the sunchoke. The only barbarians on the plate were the little hedgehog mushrooms.

2013-12-07 21.19.55
Squid
elderberry, herbs
(4.5/5)
The capers actually turned out to be capered (vinegared?) underripe elderberries. The squid was Rhode Island squid, the upper half cut (not fried), and lower tentacles fried. Sauce made of butter emulsified with squid stock and squid ink. Very good buttered/fried calamari.
2013-12-07 21.25.29 2013-12-07 21.34.49
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Lamb
cabbage
(3.25/5)
“Burnt leaf consomme. With charred cabbage. ugh.”
2013-12-07 21.47.38
Herring
quail egg, cream
(3.5/5)
Pickled herring, soft boiled quails egg, sour cream. Alien to my tastes
2013-12-07 21.59.23
Oyster
broccoli
(4.5/5)
Verdant taste of shaved fennel and broccoli, with Pt Judith RI Oyster. Blue mussel stock with broccoli oil. Oyster surprisingly sweet, without any trace of salt
Like tasting a fruit at the bottom of a clean river bed.
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Pig’s Blood Croquette
(5/5)
A sweet, chocolatey flavour. atera also brought out the chocolatey flavours of pigs blood. It’s a thing. A sprinkling of sea salt.
2013-12-07 22.14.59
Oats
onion, rapeseed
(4/5)
Pickled pearl onions cupping rape seed oil, set upon steel cut oats cooked with sweet onion soup.
Oatmeal for dinner is a first. Assertive sweetness.
2013-12-07 22.32.21
Beef
nasturtium
(4.25/5)
100 day beef. A basement level of funk. Bound by a sticky funky beef jus.
2013-12-07 22.49.38
Potato
(4.5/5)
Very creative. Baked potato, with sorbet of potato skin. Brown butter caramel.
A tribute to traditional baked potato, transported to the dessert section.
Pity the potato skin sorbet didn’t remain standing on the potato!
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Apple
cardamom
(3/5)
A “hot” apple broth was lukewarm, and had a spicy eggnog taste. A clean tasting, but weak and puzzling dish.
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Milk
blueberry, spruce
(5/5)
Favorite dessert. A menthol broth from spruce sauce. With a milk sorbet and blueberry compote, garnished with fresh yarrow.
Tasted like wintertime. A delicate herbal broth
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Last Bite: Chocolate Arrack Cookie
“Arrack = a Swedish liquor”
____________
Good write-ups:

per se (extended tasting) | New York | Dec ’13 | “American opulence”

8 Dec
  • Address: 10 Columbus Circle, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10019
  • Phone: (212) 823-9335
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $600
  • Courses: (16 main/27 total) 2 amuse/  2 bread / 12 savory / 1 cheese / 3 dessert / 7 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $37.5
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Value: 2/5
  • Dining Time: 200 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 7.5 minutes
  • Chef: Eli Kaimeh (ex. Gramercy Tavern, Tocqueville, Daniel)
  • Style: Californian French
  • Michelin Stars: 3

“No restaurant does a better job of making personal and revelatory the experience of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on food and drink.” – Sam Sifton, NYTimes restaurant critic.

It is hard to know what to write about per se. In its 9 years of existence, it has become a destination restaurant, occupying pride of place in American opulence and luxury. Many eat at per se because it is widely considered to be the best restaurant in New York and probably America (a toss-up with the usual suspects: The French Laundry, Saison, Alinea, or Eleven Madison Park etc.), and making a reservation is moderately hard. A meal at per se doubles as a positional good – off the top of my head, I remember incidental mentions of per se in anecdotes about dating Goldman VPs on Wall Street Oasis, dating memoirs like Data: A Love Story, and tell-all memoirs. But it remains about food at last count.

I heard from many repeat diners that the best experience at Per Se is the extended tasting menu. Taking a cue from the genius Oscar Wilde, who is purported to have said: “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best”, my confederate and I booked our extended tasting menu for early December.

(Aside: Here is a video celebrating Thomas Keller’s career: http://vimeo.com/40499417)

____________


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Foyer: Outer garden.

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Non-functioning blue door, 

enter by sliding glass doors on the left

2013-12-06 13.14.42A foggy day in New York

(Had been foggy all over New England as well since the night before)

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Amuse #1: Gruyere cheese gougeres (4.5/5)

“Nice cheese puffs.”

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Amuse #2: Salmon cornet with red onion creme-fraiche (5/5)

The cooking at per se, in characterised by re-interpretations jumping off of familiar foods. The salmon cornets are like ice cream cones. A fine tartare of salmon now brings to my my mind shaved ice. A wrapped hard tuile contained a tangy and spicy red onion creme-fraiche. The creme fraiche tasted like the remainder of ice-cream in an ice cream cone of a Walls Cornetto. Perfect.

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#1: “SOBA”

Pickled Carrots, Petite Radish, Cilantro Shoots

and Gold Coast Dashi (4.5/5)

The dashi was incredible, a thick savory meal-in-itself. A mini hockey puck of fried soba, served drowned in soup, seemed to me like haute ramen. The lightly pickled carrots added an organic resistance to the tongue, playing with textures from thin-crisp noodles, pickles and vegetables, and soup, though it added little tastewise.

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#2: “OYSTERS AND PEARLS”

“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters

and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar (4/5)

This, along with the salmon cornet, are two of Thomas Keller’s most famous signature dishes, served at both The French Laundry and per se. I believe it is almost always on the menu. This dish is composed on a linguistic pun, the pearls are tapioca pearls (not pictured, hiding underneath the butter-poached sabayon), and the oysters are Island Creeks (the best, and my favorite). Donutsfordinner’s take on this dish:

Per Se’s famed “oysters and pearls” can be described in one of two ways: 1) sour cream and onion chips from the ocean, or 2) chicken and dumplings made with seawater. It’s just not what you’d expect, at every level. The caviar doesn’t pop in your mouth like salmon roe does, nor does it get stuck in your teeth like flying fish roe does; you wouldn’t know you were eating it if it wasn’t for the saline taste. The oysters, tiny to begin with, fall apart in your mouth at the slightest notion from your teeth. It seems as if the texture of the tapioca would be too similar to that of the roe, but it really adds to the sense that you’re just eating a dish of mama’s creamy dumplings.

I was not a big fan of this dish. The textures vanished into sameness. I’ve eaten quite a few Island Creek oysters, and the beauty of an Island Creek is the plump crunch of a saline fruit, just reserved enough in its salinity to not be overpowering. The baby oysters were stripped of the oyster frills, and did not have the plump crunch, instead defining a general region of fruity saltiness. The caviar likewise did not have any resistance. The hot sabayon concealed some sticky tapioca pearls – and I felt I was eating a general mass of salt, cream, and carbs. 2013-12-06 13.48.04

#3: MAINE SEA URCHIN

Applewood Smoked Bacon, Fuyu Persimmons

Scallion “Emincee” and Fresh Yuzu (4.5/5)

A large sensually folded tongue of crunchy uni was sprinkled with lime salt. and decorated with red lamp-shaped blossoms of pineapple sage. If we were to stop here, the dish would be a spectacular indulgence. Further down the bowl, a ragout of persimmons and bacon sat in a yuzu sauce, which was sweet, and tasted like a Chinese sweet sauce. The cubes of bacon coated in sweet sauce added little to the dish. 2013-12-06 13.59.12 2013-12-06 13.59.26

#4 HEN EGG CUSTARD

“Ragout” of Black Winter Truffles (4.75/5)

A white truffle-infused custard with a black truffle sauce on top. Rich and decadent. Very similar to a dish called “Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis” served in Singapore’s Restaurant Andre. I prefer Restaurant Andre’s version slightly, since he uses foie gras instead of custard, and has this terrific skin between the back truffle sauce and the custard.

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#5 ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM’S LAMB “BBQ”

“Socca”, Jingle Bell Peppers, Marinated Eggplant and “Raita” (4.5/5)

A high-end lamb kebab. A raita is a yoghurt dipping sauce, and here was made with cucumbers (underneath the kebab). Good. Lamb is from Thomas Keller’s farm in Pennsylvania.

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From top:

Unsalted Butter from Schwartz [sic?] Farms in California

Diane St. Clair’s Salted Butter from Vermont

Parker House Roll

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#6 SALAD OF COMPRESSED HONEYCRISP APPLES

Pecan “Brittle”, Crispy Salsify, Celery Branch

and Tellicherry Pepper “Mignonnette” (4.75/5)

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The apples were delicious, I could have had them as apple chips any day. The peppercorn custard (mignonette), celery and crisp salsify supported the main player – apple.

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My first time encountering whole salsify

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Salt Tasting Course: Clockwise from 1 o’clock:

[forgot – “Sel Blanc”?], Sel Gris, Salts from Essex, “Jurassic” era old mine salt from Utah, Carbon Salt from Hawaii, Red Salt from Hawaii

was paired with

BELOW:

Foie Gras Terrine, Caramelised Salsify, Banana Parisienne, and Hazelnut Puree (4.75/5)

and Warm Brioches

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2013-12-06 14.31.59I enjoyed this dish very much. A self-service dish, the “blank canvas” of foie gras terrine tasted like the Ferrero Rocher candy, thanks to the hazelnut sauce. Bananas Parisienne and Caramelised Salsify were good little snack-canapes.

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#7: COLUMBIA RIVER STURGEON “VERONIQUE”

Thompson Grapes, Pea Tendrils, Toasted Brioche

and Noilly Prat “Glacage” (4.5/5)

The sturgeon was a tender steak, and covered with a pie crust like covering. I wasn’t a fan of the sturgeon because I don’t like sturgeon that much. So this dish attained a local maxima (in the neighborhood of sturgeon) for fish enjoyment, but was not a global maxima of fish enjoyment (which for me in this style, would be cod. The sauce was an amazing thick sabayon-looking sauce that tasted of half notes of honey and sour tang. A tremendous Sauce Veronique.

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#9: “MACARONI AND CHEESE”

Hand Harvested Maine Sea Scallop

Parmesan Crisp, Creamy Lobster Broth

and Mascarpone Enriched Orzo (5/5)

The first unanimously great main of the meal. Usually, as our server explained, Mac and Cheese is prepared with lobster – but since they had amazing scallops, the kitchen decided to cook down the lobster with vermouth into a broth, and then infuse the risotto-looking orzo pasta with the broth and mascarpone. Lobster roe was crushed to provide the red oil at the side of the plates. Although we were not regulars enough to get the in-joke, we appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into this dish, especially the sacrificial lobsters.  The scallop was perfectly seared, and a parmesan tuille garnished the dish.

2013-12-06 15.13.04

As an aside, this dish reminded me of the laksa dish in Singapore (a form of curry noodle). The subtle sweetness of lobster reminded me of coconut milk, the scallop reminded me of the seafood that goes into the broth, and the orzo were of similar texture to the rice noodles commonly found it laksa.

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#10: “CUISSE DE CAILLE”

Wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon

French Prune, Hakurei Turnips and Savoy Cabbage Puree

Served with Grated Foie Gras “Pastrami” (4.5/5)

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#11: SNAKE RIVER FARMS’ “CALOTTE DE BOEUF”

Beech Mushrooms, Greenmarket Carrots with Caper Jus. (5/5)

Tremendous. One of the peaks of the meal. An uncommon cut of beef, the “calotte de boeuf” is the part wrapped around the rib-eye that is commonly sacrificed for filet mignon. It has higher marbling. Excellent paired with uncommonly smooth carrot puree – the carrots had first been roasted to bring out their sweetness, then pureed and sieved, and then infused with butter.

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#12: VON TRAPP BROTHERS “OMA”

Parsnip Pudding, Compressed Seckel Pears

Cipollini Onions and Heirloom Sorrel (4.5/5)

Deliciously sweet onions and compression made another entrance (this time for pear). Creamy and ripe, a beautiful cheese course.

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#13 “CREAMSICLE”
Satsuma Mandarin Jelly and Whipped Milk (3.75/5)

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Traffic light! Yes, I still play with my food.

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#14: DIANE ST. CLAIR’S BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM

Ovaltine “Panna Cotta” and Brown Sugar Crumble (4.75/5)

When I was a smaller child, I ate a lot of lime popsicles, the sorts with a green frozen covering and a sweet milk core. The interface region between lime and milk would be a magical transition between the sourness of lime and the sweetness of the milk core. The buttermilk ice-cream tasted like that interface region to me, a taste I love. Another trip down memory lane.

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#15: “DOBOS TORTE”

Chocolate “Cremeux”, Almond “Joconde” and Caramel Jelly (3.75/5)

Quite decent, but I’m almost completely jaded of chocolate desserts, unless it’s bloody amazing.

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Mignardises

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Apple Pie Macaron

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24 Chocolates

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Cappuccino Semifreddo

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Chocolate Hazelnuts

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Donuts

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The kitchen

____________

My first impression of per se under Eli Kaimeh is that the kitchen is a master of the miniature, perfecting dishes over the course of many years. The embarrassment of riches in per se reviews all over the food-blogosphere is testament to its status as the top destination restaurant in New York. The French Laundry/per se canon has solidified over the last 2 decades. The flip-side of perfection is conservatism. The trade-off seems to be between technical perfection and spontaneity. When the kitchen perfects, it mostly loses its adventurous spirit. Most of the very good dishes didn’t set my pulse racing.

“That was the moment I knew I had to leave the French Laundry.

I was so excited to explore and push new boundaries with food that I was in danger of compromising the vision that chef Keller had crafted over many years in his kitchen. I wanted to experiment and take risks, and I would need to risk failure and imperfection to move forward. Chef Keller had taken those same risks over and over again early in his career, but now he and The French Laundry were at a different stage of maturity. Every day in that kitchen was about striving for perfection through refining years of ideas that were known and comfortable. The team continued to finesse dishes and increase the level of sophistication, but it was done in a set style.”

– Grant Achatz (chef of Alinea), Life on the Line, relating an anecdote about trying to bring el Bulli ideas to the French Laundry.

For $600++ per person, I expected to be blown away by much more than I actually was, and I did not love it as much as I did Eleven Madison Park in November. I like restaurants that takes risks, that introduce new flavour combinations and more modernist techniques. per se’s food is elegant, but a bit sterile.

Rating: 18/20

Memory: Salmon Cornets, Soba and Gold Coast Dashi, Macaroni and Cheese, Calotte de Boeuf