Tag Archives: 2* Michelin

Seizan | Tokyo | Jan ’15

15 Mar
  • Rating: 17.5/20
  • Address: 2 Chome-17-29 Mita, Minato, Tokyo 108-0073, Japan
  • Phone: +81 3 3451 8320
  • Price: JPY15,000 (124 USD at 1 USD = 121.39 JPY)
  • Value: 3.5/5
  • Chef: Haruhiko Yamamoto
  • Michelin Stars: 2

 

2015-01-30 18.43.10 2015-01-30 18.43.15 2015-01-30 18.43.34

Raining.

Seizan  (日本料理 晴山) is helmed by a young 34 year-old chef, Haruhiko Yamamoto. The food is elegant, and relies on the high quality of its ingredients, rather than on sauces. It is in the same vein of harmonious great-ingredient cooking as Ginza Kojyu, though I felt the harmonies at Kojyu were slightly better (the dishes at Kojyu have also been on the menu longer). I visited this place because Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa of DEN mentioned Seizan was one of his favorite restaurants. It was well-worth the visit, and I believe Seizan has an even chance of being the next Kojyu.

Other reviews:


 

2015-01-30 18.44.42 2015-01-30 18.44.54 2015-01-30 18.49.20 2015-01-30 18.50.42 2015-01-30 18.50.50 2015-01-30 18.50.57

福井 黒龍 特選吟醸 (Fukui Kokuryu Tokusen Ginjo). Sweet and dry. Good. (4/5)

http://www.urbansake.com/sake/kokuryu-tokusen-ginjo

2015-01-30 18.52.46 2015-01-30 18.52.51 2015-01-30 18.53.38 2015-01-30 18.57.49

Shirako (cod milt) based soup with scallops and mochi, placed in a hollowed-out mikan (satsuma mandarin). The hollowed-out Mikan was set on a very hot stone, and the heat liberated a wonderful burnt citrus smell, probably due to volatile oils escaping. The citrus taste did not penetrate the soup, which had a creaminess reminiscent of Chinese shark-bone soups. Seared pieces of scallop and browned mochi within the soup. (4.5/5)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citrus_unshiu

2015-01-30 19.07.32 2015-01-30 19.07.12 2015-01-30 19.08.15 2015-01-30 19.12.01 2015-01-30 19.08.34

Ankimo (monkfish liver) with negi scallions. What appeared to be bok choy (xiao bai cai), and a well-balanced soy sauce which I think had yuzu inside. There were jellied white bits of fat, that are of unknown-animal origin. The ankimo was a bit cloying as a paste around those jellied bits, and the well-balanced soy sauce (not too salty) cut the cloying feeling somewhat, though not completely. Perhaps it could have been drizzled onto the ankimo instead of remaining at the bottom (4.25/5)

2015-01-30 19.19.16 2015-01-30 19.19.48 2015-01-30 19.19.51 2015-01-30 19.19.58

Matsubagani dumpling – where we were invited to feast on the remarkable sweet natural taste of crab. (Sweetness is meant literally, not metaphorically). A twist in the dish – an ineffable smokiness – was it in the crab or dashi? (4.75/5)

2015-01-30 19.31.50 2015-01-30 19.32.17 2015-01-30 19.32.22

Meiji maguro (young tuna, by-catch), seared. Smoky, smooth, sourness in the maguro from a bit of vinegar. Delicious. Sweet wasabi. Iodine taste from seaweed (4.5/5)

2015-01-30 19.42.45 2015-01-30 19.42.53

Kobe beef, no salt. Barley boiled in syrup (a caramel taste), on top of a ball of daikon. An onion. We were asked to roll it up and eat it. This reminded me of an inverse, inside-out Peking duck roll. (1) The Kobe beef tasted like duck on the outside. (2) The barley boiled in syrup reminded me of Peking duck sauce. (3) The onion provides a touch of astringency. (4.5/5)

2015-01-30 19.51.27 2015-01-30 19.51.33 2015-01-30 19.51.36 2015-01-30 19.55.33

Sawara (Spanish mackerel) with very late-season gingko nuts and ebi-imo yam (so called because it is curved like a prawn, and has shrimp-like stripes). The sawara was tender inside. Visually arresting plate of a Japanese crane (4.5/5)

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/cool_japan/cooking/AJ201212180010

2015-01-30 20.02.43 2015-01-30 20.03.24 2015-01-30 20.03.29

Anago (whitespotted conger). Good broth. Green stems were from the kabu white turnip. (3.75/5)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitespotted_conger

http://japanese-kitchen.net/white-turnip-kabu/

2015-01-30 20.04.14 2015-01-30 20.04.18

静岡 磯自慢 純米吟醸 (Shizuoka Isojiman Junmai Ginjo). Dry. (3.5/5)

2015-01-30 20.15.59 2015-01-30 20.16.07 2015-01-30 20.16.32 2015-01-30 20.16.35 2015-01-30 20.16.37 2015-01-30 20.17.54

Kamu (Japanese duck) rice, soy sauce-style, with scallions. Scallions were sweet. Not bad, though the rice was a bit much in proportion to the duck (3.5/5). In terms of duck rice preparation, I thought the duck fried rice I had earlier that January at Asia Grand in Singapore (the by-product of Peking duck) was much better.

2015-01-30 20.36.44 2015-01-30 20.37.06 2015-01-30 20.37.09 2015-01-30 20.37.33 2015-01-30 20.39.16 2015-01-30 20.39.20 2015-01-30 20.37.20

Strawberry mousse, strawberries, wine jelly (3.75/5). A refreshing end to the meal, though probably mostly pre-prepared. Desserts at kaiseki restaurants may be either proportionate and elegant, or underwhelming, according to your taste. This one felt underwhelming.

Shigeyoshi | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “supon”

3 Jan
  • Meal Rating: 17/20
  • Address: 6-35-3 Corp Olympia 1st floor, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
  • Telephone: 03-3400-4044
  • Dining Time: 100 minutes
  • Chef: Kenzo Sato
  • Style: Kappo (counter) Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 2

2014-12-16 11.07.06 2014-12-16 12.23.06

Shigeyoshi. Chef Kenzo Sato has been working at this restaurant for 40 years, and named the restaurant after his own mentor. He procures the best ingredients, and presents them very simply. One is invited to savor the pristine qualities of the ingredients. The most memorable dishes were a clam soup that was a meditation on the marine, a whole female snow crab served with eggs and guts, and the silky sweetness of his wonderful supon (snapping turtle soup).


Other Notable Links:

  • tomostyle has two write-ups on Shigeyoshi, on the strength of which I visited the restaurant – you can see them here: ONE, TWO

2014-12-16 11.07.06 2014-12-16 11.08.25 2014-12-16 11.08.29

  • Persimmon sauce, savory cream of a root vegetable (pressed to identify it, I’d say taro/yam)

2014-12-16 11.16.092014-12-16 11.16.22 2014-12-16 11.16.32

  • Hamaguri clam soup (Hamaguri “the common orient clam”, or Meretrix lusoria from the Tokyo bay)
    • A very clean, sweet taste of the sea (4.75/5)

2014-12-16 11.24.15

  • Matoya oyster from Mie
    • Matoya oysters are purified with UV rays. Chef Sato believes these are the best oysters in Japan
    • The oyster was primarily textural, not sweet and not cucumber (in the way Kumamoto oysters from Washington state are). It was also not salty. The texture was crunchy, with a gossamer outer sheet – the oyster mantle. It was a mild cornucopia of texture, bringing out heat and sourness of its condiments (4.25/5).
    • http://www.miebrand.jp/en/html/matoya.htm

2014-12-16 11.28.59

  • Gingko nuts
    • Pleasingly bitter, in a contained way. Lightly salted. These were end of season nuts

2014-12-16 11.35.21 2014-12-16 11.35.55

  • Matsuba Gani (snow crab, female)
    • Served with its meat in its own shell – a luxury of nose-to-tail dining (or is that carapace-to-shell dining?). Its own eggs and guts on top. But the magical moment was when I tasted the sour soy sauce poured into the shell (4.75/5)

2014-12-16 11.40.30 2014-12-16 11.40.42

 

2014-12-16 11.52.57 2014-12-16 11.44.11 2014-12-16 11.44.17

  • Supon (snapping turtle soup)
    • A Shigeyoshi signature, and the first of two times I was served supon on this trip. (the other time, at Den). A sweet beguiling taste which stretches out like a lazy cat across your tongue, coating it with the silky texture and mild taste of the soup. (5/5) Turtle, from Yoshinogawa, Tokushima preferecture
    • Note to self: The fragrance reminded me of the kuehs that were dipped into orange coconut sugar. I can’t recall their names though, and a Google search turns up nothing.

2014-12-16 11.53.21 2014-12-16 11.53.43 2014-12-16 11.59.45 2014-12-16 12.00.00

  • Sashimi (otoro, yari-ika, white fish)
    • The white fish was firm, not chewy – clear and muscular.
    • I found the most intriguing the yari-ika (spear squid) – it was prepared from the inner tentacles deep inside the squid head, once it has been de-membraned. A bite seemed to release starchy sweetness. It was only bettered on this trip by the ika at Ginza Kojyu (4.75/5)

2014-12-16 12.47.11 2014-12-16 12.47.15

2014-12-16 12.05.422014-12-16 12.07.03

  • Amadai and gobo
    • Amadai, taken from the area just behind the gills.
    • Salted skin. (4/5) Pickled gobo.

2014-12-16 12.13.37 2014-12-16 12.13.51 2014-12-16 12.14.01 2014-12-16 12.14.56

  • Wild radish from near Kyoto
    • Mild tasting dashi
    • (sic) “jibiye?”

2014-12-16 12.24.42 2014-12-16 12.25.04

  • Shrimp kakiage
    • Tasted good, but the batter was a bit soggy. (3.75/5)

2014-12-16 12.39.39

  • Grapefruit jelly
    • Bitter/refreshing

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

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

 

2014-12-17 13.21.56

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

2014-12-17 11.01.54 2014-12-17 11.10.15 2014-12-17 11.10.28

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

2014-12-17 11.16.44

2014-12-17 11.16.25

2014-12-17 11.18.20

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

2014-12-17 11.33.35 2014-12-17 11.33.48 2014-12-17 11.34.01 2014-12-17 11.34.45

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

2014-12-17 11.39.27 2014-12-17 11.53.19 2014-12-17 11.53.25

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

2014-12-17 12.05.33 2014-12-17 12.05.38 2014-12-17 12.05.55 2014-12-17 12.10.16 2014-12-17 12.10.29

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

2014-12-17 12.30.19 2014-12-17 12.30.24 2014-12-17 12.31.32

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

2014-12-17 12.34.39 2014-12-17 12.44.07 2014-12-17 12.44.14 2014-12-17 12.44.24 2014-12-17 12.44.50

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

2014-12-17 12.58.24 2014-12-17 12.58.30

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

2014-12-17 13.17.24 2014-12-17 13.17.33 2014-12-17 13.17.57


Other Notable Links:

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

 

2014-12-17 12.04.52

 

Sushi Mizutani | Tokyo | Dec ’14

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

2014-12-22 13.45.39

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

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

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

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

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


Other People’s Reaction:

Liked it:

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

Didn’t like it

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

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

2014-12-22 12.04.25 2014-12-22 12.04.51

Sashimi

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

Sushi

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

2014-12-22 13.29.12 2014-12-22 13.44.55

ABaC | Barcelona | Jun ’14 | “maximalism”

16 Nov
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Address: Avinguda del Tibidabo, 1, 08022 Barcelona, Spain
  • Phone:+34 933 19 66 00
  • Price per pax: ~€190 ($238 at 1 EUR = 1.25 USD)
  • Value: 3/5
  • Dining time: 150 minutes
  • Chef: Jordi Cruz [ex: Cercs Estany Clar (Barcelona), L’Angle de Sant Fruitós de Bages (Barcelona)]
  • Style: Modernist Catalan
  • Michelin Stars: 2

2014-06-20 12.29.56

There are for me two pertinent points about Jordi Cruz’s cuisine. Firstly, he does something memorable with top quality Catalan ingredients. As with the brilliant one-ingredient kokotxas dish at Mugaritz, I found the dish Chef Jordi Cruz made of the Catalan leek calçot absolutely stunning; and the lorito (pearly razorfish) very good. As a food tourist, I dislike restaurants which carry no signature of the region around them, as if they were trying to escape their surroundings, as if they were exiles in their own land. A really good restaurant should push the boundaries of what can be done with local ingredients. Perhaps that is why on this Spanish trip, I liked Mugaritz, Azurmendi, and ABaC more than Arzak and Akelarre. In the midst of modernist anarchy (the rule it seems in Spanish 2*’s and 3*’s) one needs these dishes to remind oneself that one actually is in Spain.

Secondly, he is of that modernist-style of ingredient assemblage, which both rebels against the nouvelle-cuisine idea of purity of taste, and as an extension of that culinary philosophy, a loose fluid plating style. “Nothing is true and everything is permitted”, at least when choosing ingredients for a dish. Chefs experiment, and diners pay for the privilege of trying the most successful of their experiments. Here at ABaC I encountered a cosmopolitan bunch – Momofuku Ko’s shaved foie, the intense savory candy of anago sauce etc. Among the novel compositions, a two part foie dish (foie with mole ice cream, foccaccia + pigeon tea + shaved foie) and a flavorful onion soup paired with spherified gruyere dumplings, were the most successful. Chef Jordi Cruz is one of the most talented chefs in this experimental style. His instincts tend toward bold flavors (there were no quiet meditative dishes, unlike Mugaritz), but the compositional instinct is true. My impression of ABaC is of a meal super-saturated with taste and colour -maximal maximalism.

If anything, that is the one thing that I feel could be improved at ABaC. My impression is that Chef Jordi is a flavor maximalist, with the flavor profile tuned to 11 on all dishes. Chef Jordi could yet vary the intensity of flavor in his cooking and deliver a few quieter dishes, in order to deliver a meal that is more than the sum of his flavorful hits, and has its own logical development. The art of listening to a full album may be a forgotten one in these days of Spotify, but the truth that a great album is never just an album of hits continues to apply. But it is a minor point. Overall, ABaC provides a very strong two-star standard meal.


2014-06-20 12.27.58 2014-06-20 12.29.45 2014-06-20 12.29.56 2014-06-20 12.31.25 2014-06-20 12.31.35 2014-06-20 12.31.38 2014-06-20 12.32.31 2014-06-20 12.35.56 2014-06-20 12.46.08 2014-06-20 12.46.18 2014-06-20 12.46.25 2014-06-20 12.46.39 2014-06-20 12.46.47 2014-06-20 12.47.07 2014-06-20 12.47.34 2014-06-20 12.47.41

  • Nitro bloody mary (4.25/5)
    • vodka, tomato juice, salt, pepper, mixed with liquid nitrogen to form a granite
    • paired with slices of cherry and begonia flower petals
    • a good savory start to the meal

2014-06-20 12.54.47 2014-06-20 12.55.08

  • the dark bread was crunchy and delicious (5/5) but the olive brioche was a bit cardboard-y (3.5/5), with some flour-y tastes inside

2014-06-20 12.58.48 2014-06-20 12.59.00 2014-06-20 12.59.05 2014-06-20 12.59.08

  • Foie gras foccacia and foie gras butter with sweet corn crumb and mole ice cream (5/5)
    • A dish in two parts. First, a crunchy foccaccia slice with shaved frozen foie gras, with pigeon tea. (5/5) This was a fantastic adaptation of the Momofuku Ko technique of prepping foie. The warm pigeon tea, a consomme, helped to cut the richness of the foie even further. (The shaving already helps by introducing a aerated, fluffy texture to the foie)
    • Second, a foie butter, with corn powder and Mexican mole ice cream (5/5). I remember being hugely impressed by the mole ice cream.

2014-06-20 13.06.51 2014-06-20 13.06.55

  • Frozen “Gazpacho” strawberries, tomatoes, basil and anchovies (4.25/5)
    • Spherified tomato water with liqueur

2014-06-20 13.12.13 2014-06-20 13.12.432014-06-20 13.12.212014-06-20 13.12.30

  • Our Chinese bread, fried brioche, roasted eel, smoked aioli and Japanese mustard (4.25/5)
    • it tasted like its description – a salty anago (salt-water eel) burger.
    • full of intense sweet-salty flavor, the fried brioche and aioli was a guilty pleasure.

2014-06-20 13.18.08 2014-06-20 13.18.24 2014-06-20 13.18.192014-06-20 13.18.15

  • Young leeks roasted with coconut ice cream (5/5)
    • genius. barbecued calçots, a kind of Catalan sweet leek, was well paired with balsamic vinegar and coconut ice cream. it seems so simple, but the combination of sweet sourness from the balsamic vinegar, richness from the coconut ice cream really highlighted the mild sweetness of the calçots, which had none of the pungency of leek. simplicity itself, and an apparent variation on the Catalan tradition of calçotada (calçot BBQ)
    • http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/barcelona/2013/calcots/

2014-06-20 13.22.35 2014-06-20 13.22.39 2014-06-20 13.22.51

  • “Parmesan gnocchi” and morels, acidulated water of mushrooms, bergamot and olive oil (4.25/5)
    • liquid parmesan gnocchi, raw champignon “button” mushrooms, fried girolle/chanterelle mushrooms, mushroom consomme
    • BTW, what’s with menus listing girolles as morels? it’s a common mistranslation.

2014-06-20 13.27.19 2014-06-20 13.27.27 2014-06-20 13.27.37 2014-06-20 13.27.31

  • Oyster with beef, baby radishes and sake (4/5)
    • Gillardeau oyster, veal soup jelly, radish, veal tendon. the veal tendon and Gillardeau oyster were similar in texture

2014-06-20 13.33.04 2014-06-20 13.33.18 2014-06-20 13.33.27

  • Squid treated as a risotto with hydrated tigernuts and caviar (4/5)
    • Tiger nuts, sweet and crunchy as a chestbut, with rosewater and Iranian caviar. A sweet nut cream for the risotto

2014-06-20 13.37.14 2014-06-20 13.37.16 2014-06-20 13.37.23

  • Onion soup reminiscence, cured egg yolk, onion water, butter bread and gruyere cheese (4.75/5)
    • Gruyere dumplings, 6 in a row, around a yolk, in an onion soup. Great taste, the burst of mild-flavored cheese coating the mouth when I bit into one of those gruyere dumplings was fantastic

2014-06-20 13.40.54 2014-06-20 13.41.00 2014-06-20 13.41.09

  • Smoked steak tartare, seasoned beef, cooked egg yolk and a veil of mustard with fine herbs (3.5/5)

 

2014-06-20 13.41.51 2014-06-20 13.46.14 2014-06-20 13.46.19 2014-06-20 13.46.25
2014-06-20 13.46.44

  • Palamós prawn with miso aubergine and scorched aubergine infusion (4.25/5)
    • aubergine water, Palamós prawn a la plancha. a sweet combination
    • the miso-aubergine water tasted of a pleasant savoriness, like soy sauce

2014-06-20 13.57.58 2014-06-20 13.58.01 2014-06-20 13.58.05 2014-06-20 13.58.19

2014-06-20 14.00.08 2014-06-20 14.06.58 2014-06-20 14.07.04 2014-06-20 14.07.18

  • Marinated Iberian pork with foie gras and barbecued Potatoes (4.5/5)
    • The filet mignon cut of Iberico pork, foie (with spongy texture) with a good sear, charcoal-ed bread; with rice foam. A coming together of very flavorful ingredients, the iberico had a profound flavor. This was a pleasing duet of dishes, the clean taste of white fish segueing into the rich tastes of iberico pork, dabbed with some more foie (a favorite ingredient of the chef). I came to appreciate here two features of Chef Jordi Cruz’s cuisine:
      • Firstly, his cuisine is not a sauce-driven one. Rather, it is driven by the high quality Spanish and Catalan ingredients available to him. Calçots, iberico pork, Lorito, Palamós prawns are clearly meant to drive their respective dishes.
      • Secondly, his style of cooking is a series of compositions that takes those ingredients as starting points; no ingredient is too sacred to be blended into a pop-culture mixer. Even with top-quality ingredients, he does not hesitate to pair them with bold flavors. Not for this chef the nouvelle-cuisine emphasis on how the ingredient tastes. He does not hesitate to put anago into a fried Chinese bun, or Gillardeau oyster with veal soup. When it succeeds, the result is genius – such as the calçots with balsamic vinegar and coconut ice cream. It is a style of cooking with no reference points except the Chef’s imagination. It must be what Arzak once was.

2014-06-20 14.10.34 2014-06-20 14.11.09


 

2014-06-20 14.17.38 2014-06-20 14.17.50 2014-06-20 14.17.52 2014-06-20 14.17.41

  • Yuzu & Meringue cupcake (4.25/5)
    • yuzu sorbet, strawberry meringue cupcake in rice paper (obulato?)

2014-06-20 14.23.55 2014-06-20 14.23.58 2014-06-20 14.24.04 2014-06-20 14.24.07-1

  • Chocolate, summer truffle, and “Tuber Albidum Pico” with yoghurt, flower honey, rosemary flowers and nuts (4/5)
    • I could not detect the truffle – but vanilla cream, white chocolate, yuzu cream was generally pleasant

2014-06-20 14.30.18

  • A dried-flower glass, crunchy yoghurt, flower honey and violet icecream. (4.5/5)
    • Flower paper, violet icecream, blueberry, yoghurt. The violet ice cream had a most brilliant and unearthly blue colour.

2014-06-20 14.31.02 2014-06-20 14.32.09-2 2014-06-20 14.35.37 2014-06-20 14.35.47 2014-06-20 14.35.52 2014-06-20 14.35.56 2014-06-20 14.36.32

  • Mignardises
    • Strawberry lipstick; yuzu macaron, liquid truffle (pistachio liqueur), tangerine jelly…

2014-06-20 16.16.06

Mugaritz | Errenteria | Jun ’14 | “dialogue”

16 Aug
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Address: Aldura Aldea, 20, 20100 Errenteria, Guipúzcoa, Spain
  • Phone: +34 943 52 24 55
  • Price per pax: €230 ($308 at 1 EUR = 1.35 USD)
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining time: 180 minutes
  • Chef: Andoni Luis Aduriz
  • Style: simultaneously Modernist and New Naturalist*
  • Michelin Stars: 2

* See Emma Marris’s Beyond Food and Evil for a descriptive essay on fellow Modernist-New-Naturalist travellers, Noma and COI.


2014-06-14 17.55.39 2014-06-14 17.55.53 2014-06-14 17.55.59 2014-06-14 17.56.12 2014-06-14 17.56.18 2014-06-14 18.04.29 2014-06-14 18.35.55 2014-06-14 18.38.46

Abstraction. Mugaritz is an abstract restaurant, in several senses of the term. In the first sense of an “abstract idea”, the dishes are like gilded puzzle-boxes, each of which houses a dominant idea or “what-if” in cooking. I saw such ideas in a sandwich composed entirely of one-ingredient – the gelatinous hake cheek (kokotxas); and the lamb with mould growth that approximated wool. In a second not unrelated sense of serving “abstract dishes”, the ingredients are pared down, and quiet moments and momentary effects are allowed to take their place on a meditative stage. The sheer strangeness of discovery, that a turf of grass served as an ornament at the start of the meal is actually edible, struck me on that evening of uncommon stillness. A meditative, quiet place, dinner that evening reminded me of a peaceful afternoon watching rocks at a Kyoto rock garden.

In a third sense, Mugaritz reminds me of “mathematical abstraction”, where the constants of the restaurant experience (the conventional, such as the orthodoxy that every diner is served a dish on his/her own schedule) suddenly become variable (One such dish was “Linking…”, where every patron in the restaurant started making the same aspic sauce with a grinder at the same moment). Such dishes remind me that Mugaritz plays on a larger canvas of effects, a higher-dimensional space than other restaurants. If the heart of mathematical abstraction is to seek a greater generality in order to conceive of how a mathematical system could otherwise be – to produce a series of fruitful and plausible alternative conceptions, then Mugaritz is such a mathematically abstract restaurant. You are likely to encounter at least one dish here that will challenge your preconceptions about dining.

Mugaritz, as reflected in the international quality of the diners, exists as a reference point in the frontiers of world gastronomy. There is a subversive humor at work, which I love. I have found it difficult to write about my Mugaritz experience. The restaurant seems as meditative as a Zen Buddhist temple; the courses as ineffable as a series of Zen Buddhist koans. Through a series of dishes, the restless intelligences of the chef and his staff engage you in a Socratic dialogue that continues long after you have left the table…

Notable Links:


My June 2014 menu –  “Simplicity, originality, lots of creativity, lots of innovation, lots of risk and uncertainty”

2014-06-14 18.47.22 2014-06-14 18.47.26 2014-06-14 18.48.09 2014-06-14 19.01.55 2014-06-14 19.02.01 2014-06-14 19.04.35 2014-06-14 19.04.39 2014-06-14 19.06.29

  • A dozen smeared radishes. (3.75/5)
    • A nice salty tomato paste, full of flavor, but it did not curb the astringency of raw radishes, which left a latex taste in the mouth.
    • The idea: Minimal transformation of ingredients, a la the veggie crudites from Blue Hill in New York.


2014-06-14 19.09.40 2014-06-14 19.09.44 2014-06-14 19.09.52

  • 7 spice Rattle. (3.5/5)
    • A rattle featuring an outer meringue case
    • The idea: Using ingredients to create a musical instrument.

2014-06-14 19.12.55 2014-06-14 19.13.00

  • Cultural textures. Several layers of dressed Kokotxas. (5/5)
    • Brilliant. This toast sandwich of kokotxas, a seemingly one-ingredient dish, had the natural taste of gelatin from the filling, pure kokotxas, as well as two slices of kokotxas chitterling, made crispy from that gelatin.
    • The idea: A one ingredient dish, playing with the potentials of gelatin in kokotxas, both in traditional gelatinous form, and crisp form

2014-06-14 19.17.40

  • Mushrooms: house grown colony. (4.75/5)
    • Baby mushrooms, tempura-ed at the bottom (with sour-lemon tastes changing into spiciness). The meaty texture was an ideal foil for the sour-lemon tastes

2014-06-14 19.18.24

2014-06-14 19.22.33 2014-06-14 19.23.07

  • Lacquered duck neck with herbs and dry grains. (5/5)
    • Duck neck with fresh herbs. All the natural tastes of duck skin with fresh tasting leaves.
    • I liked that the accompanying plate emphasised that the lacquered skin was the duck’s neck.
    • The idea: A duck neck that sheathed vegetables and not flesh.

2014-06-14 19.27.57 2014-06-14 19.28.22

  • Toast of roasted crusts. (5/5)
    • Iberico pork neck dumpling – a mantou bun fused with pork skin, And pork meat atop.
    • The idea: What if a pork bun could include crisp pork skin?

2014-06-14 19.33.30 2014-06-14 19.33.41 2014-06-14 19.33.52 2014-06-14 19.33.55

  • Vegetable tiles. A handful of Highland grass. (4.5/5)
    • All this while, there was a turf of grass in front of me. I was served a bowl of tip, and to eat that turf of grass.
    • It was surprising, and confounded at least two expectations – we don’t eat our table decorations, and we don’t eat grass.
    • The grass turned out to be young Ethiopian teff grass, which had a very neutral flavor, though a fresh loosely packed yet springy texture – exactly what you’d imagine a carpet of grass would taste like. It was a good textural vehicle for pinenut cream and malt crumble.

The idea: A secretly edible dish, was all the time in front of the diner. Mirroring the own epiphanies of Andoni Aduriz: “We realized that even what is closest to us can seem exotic and mysterious merely on account of our ignorance: even though we are surrounded by a specific environment, we’ve never really lived in close contact with it.” “It Is clear that today ‘exotic’ is no longer associated with distance. Today, exotic is synonymous with the unknown. And the unknown, or mysterious, can be hiding right next to us, under that apple tree.” – Aduriz, Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking, p26

2014-06-14 19.35.11 2014-06-14 19.36.45 2014-06-14 19.36.51 2014-06-14 19.37.01 2014-06-14 19.37.18 2014-06-14 19.38.46 2014-06-14 19.40.03 2014-06-14 19.40.09 2014-06-14 19.40.46 2014-06-14 19.41.44 2014-06-14 19.41.50 2014-06-14 19.41.09

  • …decadentia… (5/5)
    • At this point, I moved into the main building to continue with the meal.
    • I was served a great piece of bread, comforting because it was crusty.
    • And served a delicately textured fork, in a case.
    • Along with a smoked eel mousse, eel crisps, and edible flowers on top. I was instructed to eat the mousse with the fork, and then eat the fork! The fork was made from sugar…
    • Using the fork, it imparted a subtle sweetness to the smoked eel and flowers. Textural contrasts from eel crisps. And then… down the memory hole went the fork, as I ate it in 4 bites.
    • What is one to say to such a dish, except “Bravo…Bravo!” to the imagination and the perfect execution of the kitchen. The whimsy and execution of the dish blew my mind. These are the touches that make the trip, no, pilgrimage, to Mugaritz worth it – nowhere else could you imagine serving these delicate set-pieces, these jeweled puzzle-boxes, these gilded conundrums, except at Mugaritz.
    • I still recall this dish very fondly.
    • The idea: Why should The Edible end at the tine of a fork?

2014-06-14 19.53.03 2014-06-14 19.53.35

  • Red scorpion fish marinated in its barrel bottom and sour textures. (4.5/5)
    • Fresh almonds, oxalis leaves, brown almond puree underneath red scorpionfish (sour)
    • The sourness did not rise to the level of a Peruvian Leche de Tigre (used to prepare ceviche), rather a mellow sourness. The fresh almonds were tender, and it was a perfect counterpoint to the fireworks of decadentia, a quieter marriage of two great ingredients – fresh and impeccably firm scorpionfish, and the taste of fresh almonds.

2014-06-14 19.56.55 2014-06-14 20.00.55

  • (Pig’s blood meringue) (5/5)
    • Every guest to Mugaritz gets a kitchen tour. In 2010, Mugaritz suffered a devastating fire. But the silver lining was that it allowed the kitchen to be extensively remodelled into the modernist wonder it is today. And the small bite I was served was an expression of the empirical spirit animating the chefs – a pig’s blood meringue.
    • Meringues are formed from egg whites because of their albumin content. But egg whites are not the only albumin-rich food available. Another is pig’s blood. The meringue, whipped up from pig’s blood, was seasoned with peppercorn, onion, cocoa and cinnamon. It tasted so much like an egg-white meringue that when told something was afoot with the meringue, I did not even suspect it was because of the composition of the meringue – rather focusing on the condiments.
    • While speaking to one of Chef Aduriz’s chefs (he was not in the kitchen that evening), I learned that they were preparing at least 40 different dishes. But they could not have had more than 6-7 tables that evening. I learnt later from reading the Mugaritz book that this was because of the kitchen’s philosophy in only sourcing the best produce – often limited in quantity – and thus each diner would get a personalised menu that would not overlap completely with any other diner’s.

“We set out […] to access the produce provided by nature in the most direct and purest way possible, whether of not we could find it in the markets, regardless of demand, and without any concern for the two conditions usually required of a product in order to ensure profitability for the producer and security for the buyer, namely quantity and reliability (most chefs need to know they’ll get a minimum quantity of an ingredient, year in year out). No, we will not need a lot. No, we will not always need it”. (Aduriz, p. 28)

“We know that there is insecurity in providing exceptional produce. However, the comfort, regularity and consistency offered by the market of supply and demand also makes them all products more or less the same. It evens out the differences that make them unique. But we want those peas. We know that they are not always going to be available. We also know that when we have them, they will be extraordinary. Even if we have so few that half the diners will not be able to try them. We will give them something equally wonderful instead.” (Aduriz, p.28)

    • The idea: Meringues are formed from albumin. Science!

2014-06-14 20.03.50 2014-06-14 20.04.38 2014-06-14 20.08.43 2014-06-14 20.08.47 2014-06-14 20.09.10

  • Lukewarm scallop with sour lentil consommé. (4.75/5)
    • A scallop with fermented lentils. The lentil consomme had the sour taste of off-beer, in the most delicious way possible. It had a gorgeous rounded and complete flavor, its viscosity and intensity of taste reminiscent of the best Cantonese soups.
    • The scallop had the smoothness and integrity of abalone, and interestingly did not even begin to resolve into strands when cut, as most scallops are wont to do. A high quality combination.

2014-06-14 20.13.30 2014-06-14 20.13.36

  • Pear. Honey vinegar and toasted milk. (4.5/5)
    • The pear, fragrant and honeyed, hard and crunchy in texture (reminiscent of a calcified Asian pear Pyrus pyrifolia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrus_pyrifolia), was paired with an aggressive sour-honey vinaigrette.
    • Two roughnesses (the hardness of the pear, and the sour-sweet of the vinaigrette) cancelled each other out, leaving a pleasant synthesis of texture and taste.

2014-06-14 20.13.51 2014-06-14 20.18.17 2014-06-14 20.18.36 2014-06-14 20.20.07 2014-06-14 20.20.16 2014-06-14 20.20.23 2014-06-14 20.20.12

  • The game at the table; gambling a bite of bread and heavy cream. (4.75/5)
    • I played a game with my server Mohamed – we would each have up to three bone pieces, and secretly put 0-3 in our fists. At the same time, we would put forward our fists, and guess what the combined number of bone pieces was. I recalled many childhood games from this exercise.
    • If it was for two people, then apparently the winner would get a large helping of caviar, and the loser none – sourcehttp://kuloksilver.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/gehry-arzak-mugaritz-and-hitchcock/
    • But anyway, I made the exercise academic by winning 😛
    • Milkskin, “caviar” made from algas marinas algae, and cream.
    • The idea: Interactive games before food. Game theory in sharing.

2014-06-14 20.24.24 2014-06-14 20.31.01 2014-06-14 20.31.04

  • Coastal fish with mushroom threads. (4.75/5)
    • Seabream, with crisped seabream bones, and mushrooms, in a pil-pil style sauce (garlic a bit more understated than usual)
    • To me, it was a showcase of supreme confidence from the kitchen to served crisp bones. Any imperfections in preparation could lead to unpleasant consequences, like getting the bones embedded in the throat. I was very pleased to see that at least one restaurant has attempted to use crisped bones.

2014-06-14 20.41.50

  • Cod tongues in a bone marrow emulsion. (4.5/5)
    • Tongue of kokotxas, of the highest melt-in-the-mouth quality, with a garlicky bone marrow sauce. Complementing cubes of salty crisp pork lard, with coriander.

2014-06-14 20.50.26 2014-06-14 20.50.41

  • Chicken and lobster Catalan cream. (4.5/5)
    • Catalan cream is essentially creme brulee. Here it was savory, not sweet, bursting with seafood – scallop, shellfish, prawn, something orange that was either uni or lobster brain or lobster roe (you can see it pictured) – and topped with phyllo pastry.

2014-06-14 20.52.05 2014-06-14 20.58.37 2014-06-14 20.58.50

  • Fifth quarter octopus. (4.75/5)
    • Octopus, incredibly tender between the individual suckers, was pressure cooked to arrive at that temperature. It put in the pressure cooker, and then skinned of membrane. A textural marvel.
    • The idea: Octopus, achieving a balance of tenderness and integrity that you previously thought impossible.

2014-06-14 21.06.11 2014-06-14 21.08.08 2014-06-14 21.08.44 2014-06-14 21.09.49 2014-06-14 21.11.04

  • Linking… dip of fried bacon and saffron, cornbread. (4.25/5)
    • Corn, bacon, garlic, and aspic jelly with flowers. Saffron added a gingery aftertaste. The tastes were not what you’d call full-bodied. But the idea was novel.
    • The idea: The entire restaurant performing a rhythmic ritual all at once

2014-06-14 21.20.14 2014-06-14 21.20.28 2014-06-14 21.20.51

  • Eucalyptus smoked loin of lamb with its cultivated wool. (4.5/5)
    • Lamb with the smell of liquid smoke – black cotton, actually the fuzz from soybean fermentations, inspired by a Southeast Asian soybean dish called “tempeh”. It is a new twist on the “sheep with wool” dish – usually the wool is made of cotton candy (see my post on Borago, Santiago). Here the wool was made with the edible mold.
    • The last two dishes (linking, and lamb), while not purely delicious, are signposts to future developments.
    • Idea: The fuzz

2014-06-14 21.26.53

  • Frozen apple chippings with mature cheese. (5/5)
    • When you first look at this dish, you’d think the shavings were apple, and the crumble on top some crumbly cheese. But it’d be wrong. This is a trompe l’oeil dish.
    • The frozen sheets are actually very cold mature cheese, and the crumble and goo on top, processed apple juice. The effect of juxtaposition is that I just tasted an amazing combination of cheese and apple with every bite, trying to get at the nonexistent apple in the frozen cheese sheets, but gaining it only in the toppings. Delicious.

2014-06-14 21.32.09 2014-06-14 21.32.21 2014-06-14 21.32.52

  • Starched handkerchief of fruit and flowers. (4/5)
    • Plum tastes in the rice flour.

2014-06-14 21.33.52 2014-06-14 21.33.55

  • Lemon Succade with our herbs from yesterday and today. (5/5)
    • A whole candied half of lemon peel (succade), forming a bowl for lemon sherbet. The peel was crisp, and completely without rind. It evoked an egg, playing off egg-lemon similarities.

2014-06-14 21.37.17 2014-06-14 21.37.24

  • Caffè latte cookies… Light. (5/5)
    • A light ice cream sandwich – room temperature meringue, and cold icecream. One of the best meringue biscuits I’ve tried (up there with atera’s lobster rolls and saltines). Light taste of coffee – latte icecream

2014-06-14 21.37.30 2014-06-14 21.37.40 2014-06-14 21.40.18 2014-06-14 21.40.24 2014-06-14 21.40.43 2014-06-14 21.40.53 2014-06-14 21.41.05 2014-06-14 21.42.20

  • An almost impossible bite: sugary porra (3.75/5)
    • The rocks which had been on the table throughout the meal, were to be grated over a porra (deep fried pastry stick in Spanish, though a swear word in Portugese), in a throwback to the turf of grass in the first half of the meal. It was made of sugar, cloves, vanilla and star anise.

2014-06-14 21.53.57 2014-06-14 21.54.27 2014-06-14 21.54.22

  • Mignardises: Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Sloth) (5/5)

2014-06-14 21.54.53 2014-06-14 21.55.07

    • Pride: A gilded but hollow chocolate, the gold reflected in the surrounding mirrors.

2014-06-14 21.56.24 2014-06-14 21.56.16

    • Envy: If I had been two, then one chocolate would have been a big gold one, and the other a small silver one. Who’s going to take the larger? The smaller? Similar concept to the game for caviar above.

2014-06-14 21.58.06 2014-06-14 21.58.12

    • Wrath: A spicy chocolate marshmallow

2014-06-14 21.59.12 2014-06-14 21.59.30

    • Gluttony: Lots of chocolate puffed corn.

2014-06-14 21.59.53 2014-06-14 22.00.36

    • Greed: Nothing

2014-06-14 22.01.41 2014-06-14 22.01.24 2014-06-14 22.01.31

    • Lust: Dehydrated strawberry and flower film. Red, and in reaching for lust, the diner becomes “red-handed”

2014-06-14 22.02.59 2014-06-14 22.02.52

    • Sloth: A chocolate truffle. Usually people don’t finish this one. I did.

2014-06-14 22.07.53 2014-06-14 22.36.10

 

* I was left speechless – and I left the restaurant with the knowledge that my memories of that meal would be lifelong.


APPENDIX: Mohamed’s recommendations for Denia: Casa Federico in Denia for paella; Aroz Caldoso at Casa Pepa in Ondara.

Le Parc Franck Putelat | Carcassonne | Jun ’14 | “ingredient Gestalt shifts”

2 Jul
  • Rating: 16.5/20
  • Address: 80 Chemin des Anglais, 11000 Carcassonne, France
  • Phone: +33 4 68 71 80 80
  • Price per pax (after tax + tip, some cocktails and wine): €100 ($136 at 1 EUR = 1.36 USD)
  • Course Progression (for me): cocktail – snacks – bread service – 1 amuse – 1 main – 2 desserts – mignardises. 
    • I ordered a la carte. 5 course, 7 course, and grand tasting options also exist
  • Value: 3.5/5
  • Dining Time: 210 minutes
  • Chef: Franck Putelat [wiki-biography]
  • Style: Classical with modernist touches
  • Michelin Stars: 2

Carcassonne is a beautiful city. Home to a medieval castle that was besieged during the Albigensian Crusades (to root out the Cathar heretics) in 1209, and annexed to the kingdom of France in 1226, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (thanks to the 19th century restorer Viollet-Le-Duc, and an encyclopedia of medieval defences:

For example, there is your textbook moat, probably filled with fetid sewage from the castle’s inhabitants. Then the Narbonne Gate “castle entrance on the town side has an effective defense system with two portcullises […] The portcullises were operated from control rooms on different floors, with no communication between them, to guard against possible treachery by soldiers.” (A sign in the castle). “The roadway between the outer gate and the inner gate at the Narbonne towers twists first to the right and then to the left. This is not the result of a drunken engineer but is another deliberate defensive device, used at the gates of most fortified castles to make it more difficult for the enemy to charge the gate with any momentum” (Ina Caro, The Road from the Past, p82)

Then, there is the wooden hoarding, “a projecting wooden gallery installed on top of the ramparts as an additional defence during sieges. The beams supporting the hoarding slid into holes in the masonry made for the purpose during construction. Openings in the floor allowed arrows to be fired and stones to be dropped from above. [No, boys and girls, they didn’t drop hot oil! It was expensive and precious, not to mention a fire hazard to the wooden hoardings] The exterior wall also had loopholes for firing arrows” (A sign in the castle)

In addition…

“The top of the wall consists of embrasures (indentations or openings enabling the defending archers to shoot) and merlons (raised portions behind which the defending archers could stand for protection); together, they are called battlements. You will notice that the battlements are only on the wall’s outer face, thereby providing protection only for archers facing outward. Therefore if this outer wall was captured, besiegers would not be shielded from fire from the inner wall.” (Ina Caro, The Road from the Past, p80)

“These thirteenth-century towers do not go straight up and down; rather, they were made thicker at the base so that tunneling or mining through them was more difficult. One tower, for example, has walls six feet thick at the top and thirteen feet thick at the base. the slant also prevented movable assault towers from getting close to the wall”(Ina Caro, The Road from the Past, p82)

Ina Caro also contends that the moat, was a dry moat – a trench, which functioned as a no-man’s-land without protection from arrow fire from the towers and battlements. Was the moat wet or dry? – This is a job for the professional medieval historian to settle.

So why did they lose to the crusaders sent by Pope Innocent III in 1209? Because within 2 weeks the city ran out of water. The nearby river doesn’t pass through the old city.


2014-06-05 17.11.27 2014-06-05 17.11.33 2014-06-05 17.11.47 2014-06-05 18.41.46
Chef Franck Putelat, a second-place winner at 2003’s Bocuse d’Or, became Chef of the Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne (the only hotel within the medieval old city) in 1998, and set up his own restaurant in 2005, Le Parc. He was awarded his second Michelin star only two years ago, in 2012, and a good friend of Gilles Goujon, owner of L’Auberge du Vieux Puits in 45-minutes-away Fontjoncouse (subject of my next report). The restaurant also gained a 7 room boutique hotel in 2013.

We actually came to Le Parc first to stay. I was recommended this place by the bloggers at Smiling Lion Eats (highly recommended to read), since it was a 10 minute walk away from the Old City (the medieval castle), and the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowd. It was a very nice place to stay, full of chic furnishings, good for couples. At 7pm, after a good half-day exploring the medieval castle, we were hungry and decided to eat at our hotel restaurant.

Some general comments: I enjoyed the ingredient referencing. Chef Putelat really knows how to emphasise the commonalities and qualities of ingredients. To bring out the silken qualities of young foie gras, he uses it like silken tofu in a tom yum soup. To emphasise the meatiness of Tarbouriech oyster, he pairs it with beef tartare and a re-imagined frites. He visually plays with smoked haddock, makes it seem like white asparagus, which is the other passenger on the plate. And there is a Bocuse d’Or competition dish on the a la carte menu which studs springy lard into a classic beef filet, enriched with a perfect jus. It is classical cooking at its finest (it could have only been improved in one way – if truffles were in season, and thus more richly perfumed the dish).

He is also creative in presentation. To joke about his location in the most medieval of castles, he serves his bread on chain-mail “plates”. He serves his olive oil in test tubes. And he serves his alcohol in liquid droppers.

Yet there are points of improvement. My strawberry cocktail is served between lukewarm and cold, an insipid start to my meal. The desserts, while impressive to look at, can be dominated by a single taste (The pineapple strongly dominated the last dessert). And mea culpa, I had a string of misses with the local cheeses. I tried some dishes of the other set menus. They were very good, and probably were a more cohesive meal than my own selections. If I return, I would put myself in the hands of Chef Putelat completely.


2014-06-05 18.42.14 2014-06-05 18.42.35 2014-06-05 18.45.08 2014-06-05 18.45.31 2014-06-05 18.45.36

  • Cocktail: Strawberry liqueur, lemon (3.25/5)
    • Served between warm and cool, watery, and when it wasn’t watery, it hit a one-dimensional sweetness. an insipid start to the meal. I think most cocktails should be served ice cold

2014-06-05 18.46.22 2014-06-05 18.46.26

  • Bread, served with Picholine olive oil
    • The chain mail was cool, but that meant that crumbs hit the table all the time, seeping through the cracks.

2014-06-05 18.46.31 2014-06-05 18.51.24 2014-06-05 18.51.44

  • Snacks –
    • lemon olive madeleine (3.5/5)
    • salmon gravlax with lemon cream (3.5/5) [gravlax == cured in sugar, salt, dill]
    • pistachio macaron with duck liver (4.25/5)
      • worked surprisingly well, the creaminess of the duck liver
    • beef croquette (3.5/5)

2014-06-05 19.07.49 2014-06-05 19.08.31 2014-06-05 19.20.12 2014-06-05 19.20.31 2014-06-05 19.20.56 2014-06-05 19.24.20 2014-06-05 19.24.38

  • Amuse: Red Pepper-Tomato Veloute “Gazpacho”, quail egg, squid ink crouton (3.75/5)

2014-06-05 19.30.51 2014-06-05 20.06.18 2014-06-05 20.06.47 2014-06-05 20.07.06 2014-06-05 20.07.12

  • Main: Beef Filet “Bocuse D’Or”. Served on January 29, 2003 in Lyon (4.75/5)
    • submitted by Chef Putelat as a competition dish in the 2003 Bocuse D’Or. A memory-intense dish, beef filets studded with cubes of truffle, and salty springy lard. Perfectly done. Accompanied with jus de boeuf, and stuffed artichoke with truffle. I was really impressed by this, a rolling symphony of salting that flirted with the variant porkiness of lard, springy to the chew, and the perfume of truffles. The beef was cooked perfectly, and the vegetables carefully sculpted in the classical tradition
    • the only imperfection came that the truffles were out of season, and thus the dish, relying on the intensity of truffle to complement the beef, fell short of its full potential. However there is nothing that the kitchen can be faulted with. I was especially excited to tuck into this competition dish as it captured a lot of hard thinking.
    • The classical flavors of beef, jus, truffle were rationalised into geometric shapes, the only concession to modernist taste. The pork was a surprising and completely successful combination with the beef.
    • this won Chef Putelat second place [Bocuse d’Argent] at the Bocuse d’Or in 2003.

2014-06-05 20.09.25

2014-06-05 20.57.16 2014-06-05 20.57.24 2014-06-05 20.57.36 2014-06-05 21.01.49

  • Cheese. Fresh and Matured from Aude Area and from Elsewhere. (3.25/5)
    • Clockwise from 11 o’clock: Bethmale cheese, Cantal cheese 24 months, Ecu Cathare
    • All a bit dry and salty, harsh to the tongue, not really to my taste.

2014-06-05 21.26.02 2014-06-05 21.26.16

  • Dessert 1: Pistachio Meringue, Cherry-Orange Sorbet, Lime Spiral (4.25/5)
    • Pleasant

2014-06-05 21.41.01 2014-06-05 21.41.05

  • Dessert 2: Satin Pineapple, Lime, Juniper Berries Sherbet (4.25/5)
    • A green hollow cuboid tunnel of lime sugar, in it a traffic buildup of pineapple-stuffed-meringues. precariously perched on the edge of a square pistachio cake in the hollow of which is filled with pineapple, topped with juniper berry sherbet. The tension of the eye rests on the thin biscuit stick forming an X with the lime cuboid. Puree dots.
    • This dish looked very pretty. It was however a bit too sweet, the candying of pineapple going a bit far. The look was sophisticated, the taste less so, more like some pretty pineapple candy.

2014-06-05 21.50.52 2014-06-05 21.50.56 2014-06-05 21.51.17

 


 

EMOTION… MENU

2014-06-05 19.32.52

  • White Asparagus from Mr Cardoso at Saint Couat. Smoked Haddock, Yellow of Crystallized Egg, Squid Ink Bread (4.75/5)
    • a really playful dish, where the ring of smoked haddock was cut to look like white asparagus. I always enjoy these surrealist contraposition of ingredients when they arise (aterarazor clams, garlic, almond; restaurant andresquid and rice). but this was no slouch on the taste front. a very good cream of white asparagus accompanied the juicy spear

2014-06-05 20.07.55

  • Shell, Razor Clams and Coriander, Albedo of Lemon. Short Lived Foie Gras, Citrus Broth From Bachès (4.5/5)
    • Tom yum soup, coriander, and seared foie gras. I don’t know what the foie was, but this was supremely sweet and springy, like the most silken tofu (and was even slightly more silken than the Fat Duck version. was the goose very young?). no doubt the Thai preparation was meant to evoke its tofu-ish qualities. A very good dish.

2014-06-05 20.39.07

  • John Dory, Almond Cream, Girolle, Olive Emulsion

2014-06-05 21.00.20 2014-06-05 21.01.08

  • Raw Milk Reblochon From Savoie Leeks (4.75/5)
    • a really addictive reblochon espuma. sweet and milky, in a satisfying adult cheese-candy experience.

2014-06-05 21.41.35 2014-06-05 21.41.43

  • Poached Rhubarb in the Vanilla and Anis. Blood Orange Sherbet with “Sapon”

CLASSIQUE… FICTION… MENU

2014-06-05 19.33.11

  • Tartare-Frite. Tarbouriech Oyster, Beef Tenderloin, Monalisa (4.5/5)

2014-06-05 19.46.26

  • Argenteuil. Green Asparagus, Frogs Off the Bones, Crust. (4/5)
    • green curry. Chef Putelat in a Thai mood.

2014-06-05 20.05.55 2014-06-05 20.07.44

  • Barigoule. Boneless Red Mullet, Purple Artichoke, Orange Powder.

2014-06-05 20.30.20 2014-06-05 20.39.18

  • A La Française. Veal Chop, Hay From Ruis, Green Peas.
  • Cheese. Fresh and Matured from Aude Area and from Elsewhere.

2014-06-05 21.26.31 2014-06-05 21.26.59

  • Banana-Split. Gariguette Strawberries, Chocolate from Peru, Almond Ice Cream.

2014-06-05 21.42.08

  • Eclair. Choux Pastry, Meyer lemon, Micheline Sherbet
    • Micheline liqueur, we were told, similar to green chartreuse.

Double review of Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, April ’14) and Hedone (London, May ’14)

8 Jun
  • Atelier Crenn rating: 17/20
  • Hedone rating: 16/20

MODERNISM

I visited the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona recently for the first time, and happened to look upon the Josep M Subirachs’ Passion Edificio, and was especially struck by the sculpture of Christ hanging by the wrists. The difference is that this Christ was hanging only by his hands from a cross horizontally suspended from the front of the church, instead of being vertically planted into the ground. Subirach’s atypical sculpture emphasised one element of the grotesque brutality of crucifixion – the downward pressure of gravity on hands – out of a few other choices, the flayed skin from the condemned’s back, the nails being driven through the hands to create the stigmata (usually the emphasis).

This highly personal idiosyncracy, is what I consider the touchstone of modernism in the arts. To me, Modernism is an individualist ethos, not a style. I much prefer this highly stylised sort of sculpture over the strict requirements of Renaissance photorealism began to be relaxed for the painters, with the perfection of perspectival rules, most of which leaves me cold. It seems to me that much of the painter’s energy was engaged in portraiture as ur-photography for the nobility, so that art from those centuries tend to be either functional portraits that were intended as ur-photos, or second-rate allegorical scenes.

Modernism could thus be equivalent to the maxim of “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. And in the splintering, we find very few schools with many people working within a strictly defined aesthetic, as the photorealistic Renaissance school. The radical cubist portraiture of Picasso (Ambrose Vollard, man with guitar) may be allied with the cubist landscapes of Braque, but one generally finds not that many major cubist styles that Picasso had not done (he was legendarily prolific with 50,000+ paintings; and in the 30s, he painted luminously round portraits of his mistress, and in his 50s he created a much more fluid subject-cubism with surrealist backdrops, I recall a picture of a convoluted sea monster on a beach, which name temporarily escapes me). Why is Gaudi’s interpretation of Christ hanging from the “ceiling” by the wrists successful? What makes it successful (and surprising) is a long history of Christ crucifixion depictions, such that the viewer always has that reference point of a vertical cross. And that reference point is a pillar of strength in modernist interpretations, because it gives another data point to dazzle the diner (see, the Atera cracked-egg dessert, or the Alinea balloon).

And so too is modernism in food, if the increasing amount of personalisation outside of the French-haute cuisine style can be analogised with the increasingly personalised styles at the dawn of modernism in the early 20th century. When Ferran Adria calls his style of food “techno-emotional”, it is not the direct style of food that other chefs imitate (who explicitly calls his/her food “techno-emotional”?) but the ethos of changing the menu every year to something completely different, committed to providing the diner with new dishes and new sensations no matter what the cost. In this sense el Bulli seems similar to the practice of the unclassifiable Picasso (who was more than a cubist, producing some first-rate Blue-period pictures). This seems the real legacy of modernism in food, an ethic of constant and personal exploration.


ON ATELIER CRENN

On top of the substratum of the chef’s ethic (of ceaseless exploration of new flavor possibilities, of organic, of loca-vore, which is the internalised ethic of almost all of the top chefs in the US) is style. Here Chef Dominique Crenn, to extend the analogy of early modernist art, seems to be a cross between a surrealist and a abstract painter. This is not a merely visual analogy, this style extends to the flavor combinations she produces as well. Atelier Crenn may well be the most imaginative restaurant I had the chance to visit in the US this year (more than Alinea, or Atera; who else could think of an all-encompassing dessert from the life of bees, or create a vegetable pin-cushion using a vinegar meringue, or a Dali-esque composition involving Birth?), but there is something missing about the harmony of the tastes sometimes. Atelier Crenn is still a work in progress, and of the 5 fine-dining meals I had in the Bay Area in April, it was perhaps the weakest. But it is also one of two meals (with Manresa) that satisfied the intellectual and artistic senses the most. There is no doubt that Chef Crenn is a true artist, my hope for my next visit is that the pleasures of tongue will match the pleasure she conjures for the eyes.

In my first fine-dining visit to California (Atelier Crenn, Saison, Benu, Manresa, Meadowood), I found that the old stereotype about Californian cooking, where ingredient-simplicity rules (under the influence of Alice Waters from Chez Panisse), is simply not valid. Chefs there are taking great risks with modifying the ingredients. If Atelier Crenn is abstract surrealism, then one can analogise Californian-naturalism a la Waters, with Renaissance realism in art history. Modernism’s personal expression makes it prone to going out of fashion, as adhesion to an artist’s personal aesthetics can easily change, but it generates greater loyalty than a widely-accepted dogma as Californian naturalism, or Renaissance realism. That is the evangelist-mass-adopter distinction found in Silicon Valley business thinking. But like Renaissance realism is a second-rate artistic school for me, pure naturalism when it comes to ingredients, seeking to transform them as minimally as possible, seems a second-rate cooking philosophy. Pure naturalism cannot produce truly great dishes. While I have never found a formula for the great dishes I have liked, I don’t remember ever thinking a very simply cooked dish was truly great – there are usually just too many jagged edges in the ingredient pairings, that must be smoothed down by the chef to ensure a harmonious interlocking taste profile. It is necessary for a chef to have the leeway to transform the ingredients.


ON HEDONE

Mikael Jonsson of Hedone is a man who has surely has opinions on Californian cuisine. Formerly co-writing the influential  Gastroville blog with Vedar Milor (now writing as Gastromondiale), he opened Hedone in London in 2011, and seems to have taken down the restaurant reviews he formerly wrote on Gastroville. Hedone is a restaurant that specialises in ingredients sourcing. Indeed, ingredients seem to have been the focus of the Gastroville and Gastromondiale blogs. The restaurant is pegged by Mr Andy Hayler (a hugely influential critic and blogger who has been to every 3* restaurant in the world), as serving food between the 2*-3* level. When I visited in late May, the impeccably sourced ingredients, were half-the-time minimally transformed. This created an association in my mind between Hedone and my trip to California. Here, in London, of all places, I had found a restaurant that seemed in tune with the stereotypical Californian naturalist philosophy, minimally transforming ingredients a la Waters.

That half of the Hedone menu (Dorset seabass, Scottish hand-dived scallop, asparagus, pork, lamb) reminded me heavily of that ingredients-first philosophy. While I enjoyed that half of the menu, I also found there to be limits on how nice a pure-ingredient dish could be. Perhaps the best of those was the Scottish hand-dived scallop, which had a crunchiness that was really superb. So it was all the more disappointing when the oyster, and lamb (the last main) were comparatively devoid of taste. When Hedone’s ingredient dishes work, they are very good though not great dishes. I remember the texture of the scallops, but not as well the mint, lime, cucumber flavors that came with it. So too the sea bass, where the bass was good but the accompaniments more forgettable. But sometimes the cult of the ingredient-dish can puzzle with its intimations of the Eleusinian mysteries – the bland lamb (very good, I’m sure) and nice pork (pleasant) not really showcasing any added delta in performance from superior ingredients.

One commonality of both my Atelier Crenn and Hedone meals was that the last mains (guinea fowl, AC; lamb, Hedone) were disappointing, which lowers the score of both restaurants. The last main is the crescendo, which all courses build up to. More care must be paid by both restaurants to the last main.

The more modernist touches on display at Hedone were pleasant but paid less attention to the texture of the dish than I would like (I liked the taste of a cuttlefish confit, but had to basically saw my way through a thin slice of cuttlefish; a Parmesan ravioli was a bit rough). Where Hedone really shines are the desserts – a chocolate fondant and Gariguette strawberries are truly memorable creations.

Hedone reminds me of Saison, though much less polished. What I think separates the two is that there a consistent cooking philosophy across the plate at Saison: transformation by fire. I did not as much perceive the individual style of Mikael Jonsson in his cooking, beyond the testimony of his ingredients themselves. I do genuinely wonder if Hedone will develop a signature style as Mr Jonsson matures as a chef, given his own ideological commitments to clarity of ingredient tastes set out in his Gastroville blog.

Which provokes the amusing thought-experiment. What if the two restaurants switched places? It almost seems as if Hedone and Mikael Jonsson are spiritual successors to the ingredient-first philosophies of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. That we should eat the very best local ingredients in fine-dining, is now a global ethos that has transcended France and Alice Waters’ California. And Atelier Crenn being particularly modernist-process-driven, is a restaurant that could really exist anywhere in the world today.


ATELIER CRENN (San Francisco, April 2014)

  • Address: 3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123, United States
  • Rating: 17/20
  • Value for money: 2/5
  • Price I paid (after tax and tip, ex. drink): $260 ($195 base menu price)
  • Chef: Dominique Crenn (ex. Luce (SF))
  • Michelin Stars: 2

*Note: Menu and dish descriptions are a poem written by Dominique Crenn herself.

EDIT: Here is a video of most of the dishes, being prepared by the kitchen.

2014-04-23 23.55.48 2014-04-24 00.11.581. Spring has come with its cool breeze (4.25/5)

    • Kir Breton, creme de cassis jelly within
    • Cider suspension with the creme de cassis jelly, within a cocoa butter shell.
    • Fruity, dominating liqueur. Very enjoyable.

2014-04-24 00.13.22 2014-04-24 00.14.23 2014-04-24 00.17.20 2014-04-24 00.17.312. Mellow serenades of colors licorice and orange (4.25/5)

    • Uni custard, with caviar from Sacramento Delta. Smoked potato gelee, licorice consomme. Interesting.

2014-04-24 00.17.383. Under the midnight glow I can taste the sweetness of the sea (4/5)

    • Kusshi oyster poached with black garlic, seaweed

2014-04-24 00.22.51Crackers

    • bitter tasting, almost like cordyceps

2014-04-24 00.27.01 2014-04-24 00.27.124. Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land (5/5)

    • This was the most memorable dish of the night. Squid like a noodle. Ham (Californian Berkshire ham hock, belying the description which foreshadowed Iberico) and truffle (Perigord, from Tasmania, Australia) consomme,
    • Lardo, aioli. potato chip.
    • Complex broth. Salty squid noodles. A complex bite, where the ham and truffles did most of the heavy lifting, with good squid texture approximating noodles. A surrealist ramen.

2014-04-24 00.34.47 2014-04-24 00.35.055. A gentle smell, oceanic, of yummy feeling (4.5/5)

2014-04-24 00.43.276.As the shell was found, its natural beauty made no noise (4/5)

    • Abalone, sundried tomato jelly, crispy yuba, yuzu foam, yuzu leaves
    • Quite good. Did not rise above the yuzu-and-seafood theme. (see also, Brooklyn Fare)

2014-04-24 00.49.31 2014-04-24 00.49.36 2014-04-24 00.49.547. The half moon, silky and smooth (4/5)

    • Chef Crenn’s take on French onion soup. Broth of roasted charred onion. Dumpling comte + black truffle, shiso, lemon balm. Apple vinegar jelly.
    • Quite sour.

2014-04-24 00.57.178. I refreshed as I gazed at your smooth green coat (4.5/5, functional dish)

    • Shiso + green pea sorbet, pickled green strawberry. Rice wine vinegar ice.
    • Very refreshing and successful palate cleanser. I especially liked the shiso and green strawberry, but I did not have a strong impression from the rice wine vinegar rice (would have given 5/5 if I had)

2014-04-24 01.01.379. Elegantly sitting on branches (4.75/5)

    • Carrot jerky from branches (a bit of a trope, see my meal at Borago, and Ruth Reichl’s report of her 2014 meal at Alinea LINK).
    • Carrot had a really intense candy flavor, salted, and with the right dash of cayenne pepper. A delight.

2014-04-24 01.05.4510. Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories (4.25/5)

    • Pumpkin, sunflower, flaxseed, cooked in different ways. Smoked buckwheat, Liquid nitrogen white balls of smoked sturgeon pearls. Dashi. Yuzu, fermented chilli, steelhead trout roe. bottarga of sturgeon roe
    • Surely the most complex dish of the night. I could not really draw out a “childhood memory” from this dish, but it was good. I was not sure what the smoked sturgeon pearls added to the dish though.

2014-04-24 01.12.2311. Feeling of black sand under my toes, I dreamed of (4.75/5)

    • Grade A1 wagyu cured. Apple puree, onion gelee. Soil of rye + squid ink. Horseradish puree. Onion gelee.
    • Another successful dish. While at first glance one might decry the use of A1 wagyu in this dish (as opposed to a higher grade), this gave it a firm, striated consistency, and it is difficulty to see how it would have worked with oilier grades of wagyu. Hammy.

2014-04-24 01.16.15 2014-04-24 01.20.51 2014-04-24 01.21.02Housemade brioche (5/5)

    • A+, buttery and flakey.

2014-04-24 01.22.5112. .These creatures, who move with a slow, vague wavering of claws (3.75/5)

    • Lobster bisque, phytoplankton dumpling, bone marrow, sea grapes, pickled onions, dashi gelee covering the lobster bisque, gelee of lobster brain.
    • A statement is being made about bottom feeders (Dan Barber, in his newest book the Third Plate, highlights the chef Angel Leon of Aponiente, who cooked phytoplankton bread to highlight the lower phytotrophic levels of the marine food chain). I appreciate the cooking with phytoplankton, but the taste of Main lobster bisque was too one-dimensional (cream, mostly) and that overwhelmed the complexity of this dish

2014-04-24 01.35.1615.Walking deep in the woods, as the earth might have something to spare (3.75/5)

    • Pine-scented meringue, pumpernickel, basil, hen of the woods, shaved hazelnut
    • The pine, hazelnut and hen of woods (AKA maitake) (lightly roasted) gave an earthy smell to the dish. However the taste was too one dimensional (salt predominating) and it was also very dry.

2014-04-24 01.42.08 2014-04-24 01.44.0216.Birth which gives its morning mystery (4.25/5)

    • Duck consomme, meant to be drunk with a chocolate branch, duck and corn eggs, nested corn silk. wild rice, pear, apple, vanilla puree.
    • “Birth” – another conceptual dish which leaves me with no doubt that Chef Crenn is an artist’s chef. One might draw the comparison to a surrealist Dali painting of Birth – the surreal imagery of a nest on a highly fluid and stylised branch; and the taste of chocolate and duck consomme, which is a surreal pairing, reinforces this impression. It was impressive to look at, and good in conception. However it is not purely delicious, rather contrasting in flavor.

2014-04-24 01.51.2817.Where birds sing and are causing ripples in the nearby water (3.25/5)

    • Guinea fowl, pintade, with nori seaweed butter, and lemon, preserved cabbage.
    • Tough texture.

2014-04-24 01.56.58 2014-04-24 01.57.0318.Dotting the fragrant flora (4/5)

    • Vinegar meringue (Spanish banyoules vinegar)
    • Fresh salad.
    • A very unique and creative presentation

2014-04-24 02.00.30 2014-04-24 02.02.06 2014-04-24 02.02.2019.Spring has come and is full of sweet surprises::: (this line of the poem refers to the following entire sequence of desserts)

A stick of sugarcane with -lemongrass, in the vial: chia seed; shiso; finger lime; guava juice. (4.25/5)

    • refreshing

2014-04-24 02.06.29 2014-04-24 02.06.43Essence of the Bay Area (4.25/5)

    • Eucalyptus-menthold popsicle
    • Eucalyptus is an invasive species throughout the Bay Area
    • The revaluation of ingredient values is on.

2014-04-24 02.12.16 2014-04-24 02.12.36 2014-04-24 02.12.46Honeycomb (4.5/5)

    • Chamomile-honey cake; Beeswax sorbet; white choc cremeux; pistachio/pear; honey meringue. Wax mold using bubble wrap. Caramel of beeswax and bees pollen.
    • Full marks for imagination, a tour-de-force of the bee, but the use of pollen in the beeswax sorbet did irritate my palate a bit.

2014-04-24 02.20.12 2014-04-24 02.20.24 2014-04-24 02.20.36

2014-04-24 02.24.24

2014-04-24 02.23.182014-04-24 02.24.35 2014-04-24 02.25.41 2014-04-24 02.28.27

 Mignardises (5/5)

    • Passionfruit Marshmallow “kiss”.
    • Ginger.
    • Nougat of  mango + brazil nut + macadamia
    • Citrus macaron
    • Toffee + cocoa nibs
    • Quinoa + milk chocolate + sesame
    • Roasted macadamia + dark chocolate ganache + star anise
    • Coffee bonbon.

 HEDONE (London, May 2014)

  • Address: 301-303 Chiswick High Rd, London W4 4HH, United Kingdom
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value for money: 2/5
  • Price I paid (after tax and tip, and two drinks): 120 pounds, or $210 (1 GBP = 1.6805 USD)
  • Chef: Mikael Jonsson (ex-writer at Gastroville)
  • Michelin Stars: 1

2014-05-30 22.26.52

2014-05-30 22.26.47

 

2014-05-30 18.37.04 2014-05-30 18.49.25

Mojito

2014-05-30 18.56.07 2014-05-30 18.56.171. Beetroot cream, smoked eel (4.25/5)

    • pleasant combination

2014-05-30 18.57.372.Rye crisp with cheese (3.75/5)

    • a musty cheese

2014-05-30 19.02.393.Buckwheat crisp, bone marrow, sturgeon caviar (4.25/5)

2014-05-30 19.08.51 2014-05-30 19.09.034. Poached oyster (Dorset), granny smith apple jelly, elderflowers, pickled shallot (3.25/5)

    • poached very well, though largely tasteless.

2014-05-30 19.14.26 2014-05-30 19.14.315.Umami flan, bread consomme, bread croutons (4/5)

    • umami from katsuobushi, fish stock, and white egg. not bad

2014-05-30 19.17.12 2014-05-30 19.17.30 2014-05-30 19.17.46 2014-05-30 19.18.07 2014-05-30 19.20.416.Baguettes (5/5)

    • I was looking forward to trying this bread, learnt from French master baker Alex Croquet. It did not disappoint. With a marvellously irregular crust and complex toasty flavors, I was very impressed with the bread.

2014-05-30 19.26.267.Scottish hand dived scallop, mint, lime, cucumber (4.5/5)

    • strong integrity of scallop texture, crunchy, in a way I’ve never had before. World-class scallops
    • Well accompanied with mint, lime, cucumber flavors. This was a hallmark let-ingredients-speak-for-themselves dish.

2014-05-30 19.42.028.English green asparagus, pistachio, avocado, wild garlic (4/5)

    • Asparagus veolute, garlic leaves, pistachio puree, raw avocado, nasturtium
    • Sweet and juicy asparagus spears.

2014-05-30 19.54.22 2014-05-30 19.54.27 2014-05-30 19.54.389.Pan fried sea bass (Dorset), fennel chips, black olive sauce (4.25/5)

    • Really nice pan-fried sea bass, though the accompaniments (black olive esp.) were a bit puzzling.

2014-05-30 20.19.29 2014-05-30 20.23.08 2014-05-30 20.23.1610.Cuttlefish (4.25/5)

    • Smoked, pan-fried cuttlefish leg, Mandarin Sicilian tomatoes, sheet of thin cuttlefish with ink
    • Not bad in taste, though the sheet of thin cuttlefish was nigh un-cuttable with my knife. I spent maybe 10 seconds sawing through that piece.

2014-05-30 20.46.19 2014-05-30 20.47.4711.Liquid Parmesan ravioli, onion consomme, mild horseradish, smoked guanciale (4.25/5)

    • Light horseradish foam. I enjoyed the Roscoff onion consomme, with sweet flavors, but the ravioli was a bit rough in texture. The onion and parmesan were the two dominant tastes
    • it was less accomplished than a smooth quail egg Ravioli I had at Schwa (Chicago) in March.

2014-05-30 20.58.1812.Suckling pork rack, garden pea, morels, red pepper (4/5)

    • very good crisp skin, garden pea was in two forms, pureed and regular. morels with smoked paprika and lime juice.

2014-05-30 21.12.3713.Rack of Bourbonnais lamb, Petit Violet artichoke, rosemary and rocket infusion (2.75/5)

    • A disappointing let down at the crescendo. A cut of lamb whose tendon-ous texture I would not have minded one bit if it had profound flavor, was mostly flavorless and bland except on the outside.

2014-05-30 21.36.51 2014-05-30 21.36.56 2014-05-30 21.37.1014.Gariguette strawberries, hibiscus, coconut (4.5/5)

    • Hedone has first class desserts. Here two discs of Hibiscus gelatin with coconut sorbet and dried strawberry meringue. The Gariguettes were sweet enough to not die of comparative tartness in a contrasting mouthful with the sweet meringue and coconut sorbet.

2014-05-30 21.53.11 2014-05-30 21.53.1815. Warm chocolate, powdered raspberry, passion fruit jelly, Madagascar vanilla ice cream (4.5/5)

    • Warm chocolate fondant below a chocolate disc with raspberry powder, and vanilla ice cream on top. Classic and enjoyable.

2014-05-30 22.11.05 2014-05-30 22.11.4416.Mignardises

    • Black sesame macaron, green tea bon bon

2014-05-30 22.22.49

Benu | San Francisco, CA | Apr ’14 | “saucing”

27 May
  • Address: 22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Phone: (415) 685-4860
  • Price I paid (after tax + tip, incl. a $16 beer and $25 supplement): $330/ ~$305 without drinks
  • Courses: (20 main/22 total) 18 savory / 1 bread/ 2 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $15
  • Rating: 17.5/20
  • Value: 3/5
  • Dining Time: 160 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 7 minutes
  • Chef: Corey Lee (ex. chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, Per Se, Daniel, Lespinasse, Guy Savoy, Alain Senderens)
  • In Own Words: “My family used to run through the cheese section of the grocery store,” he says—in flight from the unfamiliar dairy smell. At home, they kept two fridges, one for Korean food and one for American. “It informed how I see my American-ness versus my Korean-ness. There is some separation there. Benu’s food is about how those two can coexist.” – http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2013/12/17/corey-lee-wise-chef-of-the-west
  • Style: Asian-fusion
  • Michelin Stars: 2

After London, Lee spent time in the kitchens at Daniel and Lespinasse in New York. “You heard about it—there’s this kid that’s a badass and he’s an awesome cook,” Chang says. “He’s a fighter—a tiny pitbull. Nobody’s going to outwork him, and you’re not going to outthink him, either.”

“His commitment to his career was profound,” says Thomas Keller, who hired Lee to work at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in New York City. “It was a rare—that’s an understatement—approach from a man so young, that kind of foresight and ambition and willingness to learn.” Lee was with Keller for nine years. To his physical endurance and mental wherewithal he added finesse, and the confidence to make his cooking personal.

“Thomas Keller was the first chef to do French interpretations of American food,” Lee says. “For him, it was mac and cheese. For me, it might be re-creating flavors from when I was younger, finding a way to refine them. It’s realizing that people can find your own experiences interesting.” – http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2013/12/17/corey-lee-wise-chef-of-the-west

2014-04-25 22.00.07 2014-04-25 22.00.13 2014-04-25 22.00.22 2014-04-25 22.00.38

I approached benu knowing that this restaurant would probably have the highest probability for differing opinions. Dining at Atelier Crenn and Saison the previous days, I had heard nothing but the highest praise for Benu. My maitre d’ at Saison had worked at Benu, and my server at Crenn considered Benu and Meadowood to contain the highest potential for a truly great meal. But at the same time I knew most of the Asian dishes benu would riff on, inside and out. There would be little wow-factor for me in terms of novelty. And it turns out that what would wow me, were the superlative sauces.

I confess to having immediately left my meal at Benu slightly underwhelmed, primarily because I felt I had experienced most of the original touchpoints (Nasi Lemak, xiaolongbao, galbi) in Asian restaurants, and I felt that while they were interesting takes on them, they did not go substantially beyond the original dishes. However, with a month’s reflection behind me, I have substantially revised my opinion of Benu. In my mind, I perhaps came in with the wrong expectations, expecting innovation on top of Asian dishes. The dishes (xiaolongbao, galbi) were brought to a high-pitch of quality, and with the relative paucity of top-quality Asian food in the US, it is heartening to see Benu being a standard bearer for Asian-American cooking.

Saucing. While there were cute little visual tricks in the meal, such as the “oyster, pork belly, kimchi” being served in a Chinese take-out box, and a beggar’s purse being served, the star of the show was the sauces, which relied heavily on aging/fermenting and traditionally Asian condiments like gochujang and Shaoxing wine. They were thick, complex, rich. The dishes which really impressed me with taste combinations – “oyster, pork belly, kimchi” a creamy kimchi based sauced, “wild bamboo fungi and shoots, chicken, cabbage” had a really rich chicken broth that would put the watery cabbage dreck most Chinese restaurants serve to shame, “whole baby sea bream” had an amazing tangy tangerine sauce that I ate off the plate, “Okhotsk sea cucumber” had another amazing peppery sauce with gochujang. “Roast quail” had a cognac glaze with lam kok olive that was addictive. Any restaurant to have two or three amazing sauces has already hit a home-run. To have five, seems like carefulness.

At the same time, Benu is a restaurant that is not particularly tied to California. Chef Corey Lee was originally slated to open Benu in NYC, and it really could open anywhere in America. Benu is not Californian in the stereotypical way (in the way of Manresa or Saison) – relying essentially on the quality of its native bounty and farms. What is distinctive about this restaurant is the care put into saucing, and its mission to modernise American conceptions of Asian cooking. Benu seems the state-of-the-art in Asian-American cooking today.

Rating: 17.5/20

Memory: “oyster, pork belly, kimchi”, “wild bamboo fungi and shoots, chicken, cabbage” , “whole baby sea bream”, “Okhotsk sea cucumber”, “roast quail”, “shad roe, bacon, horseradish, spring vegetables”

Notable Links: Andy Hayler and Ruth Reichl were recently in town, and had very similar menus to my own dinner, that the two of them liked different dishes than I did (and liked different dishes from each other) attests that Benu has no real absolute meh-dishes, just dishes that cater differently to the taste of different diners.

*This is a post from the road, with spotty wi-fi and all. It may have more typos than usual, and definitely has less links and details than I would like. Apologies.

2014-04-25 22.11.57 2014-04-25 22.13.12


2014-04-25 22.17.19 2014-04-25 22.17.381. thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger (4/5)

    • The century-egg process of harsh alkali, is paired with a neutral potage. This was reminiscent of the century-egg porridge one finds at dim-sum restaurants. What was particularly interesting about this preparation was the choice of quail eggs (higher yolk to white ratio) than chicken or duck eggs. I enjoyed it, but it did not differ much from the standard century-egg porridge recipe elsewhere.

2014-04-25 22.24.49

2. braised abalone with toasted grain jelly (4/5)

    • abalone from Big Island in Hawaii
    • yuzu and barley for toasted grain jelly

2014-04-25 22.29.30 2014-04-25 22.29.45

3. oyster, pork belly, kimchi (4.75/5)

    • miyagi oyster, creamy,  and savory. not the main player. oyster gave it a creamy texture
    • Great. A novel combination, take-out box style is paired with oyster and pork belly. A bold flavor of kimchi.

2014-04-25 22.34.45

4. eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche (4.75/5)

    • creme fraiche with lime salt
    • feuille dough, freshwater eel

2014-04-25 22.42.39

5. anchovy, celery, peanut (3.5/5)

    • caramelised anchovy, celery, peanut
    • Nasi Lemak combination. (anchovy, peanut form the complements to the Singaporean/Malayan dish Nasi Lemak) usually paired with cucumber for freshness – here celery. Ultimately what makes the original Nasi Lemak dish delicious is the creaminess of coconut rice, and the greasiness of fried egg and chicken wings. Therefore I felt it lacked a creamy counterpoint.

2014-04-25 22.44.43 2014-04-25 22.44.49

6. homemade sunflower tofu (3.75/5)

    • Made from Sunflower seeds, real sunflower flavor
    • fermented sunflower tofu

2014-04-25 22.49.43 2014-04-25 22.49.56

7. xo sausage with basil curd (3.75/5)

2014-04-25 22.53.30

8. beggar’s purse of treasures from the oak (3.5/5)

    • purse made from acorn flour, black truffle, iberico ham, red onion, quail egg yolk inside the beggar’s purse

2014-04-25 22.56.16

9. salt and pepper squid (4/5)

    • squidcracker, with squid meat
    • chilli powder, fried garlic powder, confit squid, pickled serrano chilli
    • good mix of tastes, a two/three-bite dish. rather insubstantial

2014-04-25 23.00.34 2014-04-25 23.02.26 2014-04-25 23.02.53(bread) orange blossom honey/wild ginseng, McClellan farms butter.

    • poured over the butter, for dipping with the bread

2014-04-25 23.04.01 2014-04-25 23.04.2110. wild bamboo fungi and shoots, chicken, cabbage (3.75/5)

    • a Chinese banquet dish, which could have been quite insubstantial – however the richness of the broth saved it from a being a mere bitplayer. the lightness was intentional. usually the light vegetable dish is the one I like least about Chinese banquet menus, because it (usually cabbage) contains neither texture nor has it been braised with meat long enough for it to complement the sweetness of cabbage.

2014-04-25 23.12.31

11. shad roe, bacon, horseradish, spring vegetables (4.5/5)

    • shad roe (which I made bottarga with in April, tossed perfectly with a squeeze of 1/4 lemon, (European) parsley, and al dente spaghetti) has a 3-4 week season every year when the saltwater shad spawns, and can only be found in the colder waters of the Northeast. It was easy to find it in Rhode Island in spring, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant had imported it from the northeast. What I especially like about shad roe is the size of shad eggs – small enough to have a macro-texture, large-enough to be distinct if you really want to emphasise it (like curing it for bottarga, as I did). The size occupies a happy medium.
    • here you can read a paean to shad roe: http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Rite-of-Spring-Shad-Roe.

As a meal, it’s terribly sophisticated and satisfying. And it makes me feel part of a legacy of legendary bon vivants: Joseph Mitchell, the midcentury New Yorker’s streetwise columnist, gathering tales of the Fulton Fish Market over an early-morning shad roe omelet at a fishmongers’ hangout. Or Eartha Kitt singing Cole Porter: “Why ask if shad do it? Waiter, bring me shad roe.”

    • here at benu, wrapped in bacon, and grilled. the day I had it was the last day on the menu!
    • bacon added a savory flavor, though the actual presence of bacon was unnecessary, since it had imparted its flavor to the shad roe fully.

2014-04-25 23.18.49

12. pig’s head with lentil hozõn and bõnji (3.75/5)

    • hozon (a miso-paste-analogue applied to non-soy products, namely fermented nuts and grains) and bonji (a soy-sauce-analogue applied to non-soy products) are products dreamt up by the food-entrepreneur David Chang of Momofuku. Benu is I think the only restaurant outside of the Momofuku chain I have encountered these products in. The two (Benu and Momofuku) share a similar commitment to bring bold Asian flavors to an American audience
    • taste of the Chinese sausage lapcheong, with Shaoxing wine, dates, and black peppercorn
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hozon
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonji

2014-04-25 23.25.27 2014-04-25 23.29.11 2014-04-25 23.29.24 2014-04-25 23.29.44

13. lobster coral xiao long bao (4.25/5)

    • good, xiao long bao with lobster. sauce = yuzu(?) and banyeuls vinegar

2014-04-25 23.33.35

“five tines a winner”

2014-04-25 23.36.41 2014-04-25 23.36.50

14. whole baby sea bream, spring onion, lily bulb, aged tangerine peel (5/5)

    • tai. deboned painstakingly
    • done in a gently steamed style (literally, qingzhen, which means “lightly steamed”). raw radish and raw lily bulb. hard to see how it could have been improved upon.
    • usually chinese sauces aren’t edible by themselves. but this aged tangerine sauce was just restrained enough to be sticky sweet, eat-off-your-plate

2014-04-25 23.47.32 2014-04-25 23.47.45 2014-04-25 23.47.58

15. Okhotsk sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp, cucumber, perilla, fermented pepper (supplement) (4/5)

    • Okhotsk Sea == off the east coast of Russia, from Sakhalin Island.
    • peppery, good sauce, with gochujang – the sea cucumber itself had a pleasant hard gelatin flavor, but there are limits to how exciting a homogeneous mass of gelatin can be, even with a sea cucumber as excitingly-shaped as this one. (do I use it to comb my hair or what?)
    • but the action was all in the sauce.
    • a savory and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gochujang

2014-04-25 23.57.2116. roast quail, lam kok olive, dandelion, walnut, hot mustard (5/5)

    • the apogee of saucing tonight – (quail from Wolf Ranch, Northern California) – with a bitter horseradish, cognac glaze, Michigan cherries and Lam Kok olives. It was earthy, coffee-ish, and reminded me of the champagne pork ribs (sauced with some hard liqueur and coffee) I like at Singapore’s old-school Teochew eating-house Por Kee

2014-04-26 00.10.4917. beef braised in pear juice with oyster plants (3.75/5)

    • shortrib cut, galbi. brisket-like in taste and tasting of harsh low-quality beef. (though I’m sure the kitchen did not skimp, but that was the effect) not a fan of this cut of beef.

2014-04-26 00.20.50 2014-04-26 00.20.56 2014-04-26 00.21.02 2014-04-26 00.21.17 2014-04-26 00.21.2618. “shark’s fin soup”, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham custard (4.25/5)

    • shark’s fin is made from an artificial soy base, the manufacture prompted by Chef Corey Lee’s attempt to incorporate the wavy and pliant but crunchy texture of shark’s fin without using the actual product. the product he came up fulfils the _crunchiness_ of shark’s fin alright, but doesn’t have the pliancy of real shark’s fin. Benu faux-Shark-fin Veracity: 50%
    • the taste profile is similar to the classic Chinese soup “Buddha Jumps over the Wall”, which is characterised by scallop, ham, chicken, abalone and shark’s fin). Here the seafood taste was provided by dungeness crab, and the ham custard gave it the pork flavor.

2014-04-26 00.33.14 2014-04-26 00.33.4219. sake lees sherbet, strawberry, nasturtium (4/5)

    • a play on “strawberries and cream”
    • nasturtium for pepperiness, needed more. taste of nasturtium didn’t come out

2014-04-26 00.46.46 2014-04-26 00.47.1120. fresh and dried yuba, almond, white chocolate (5/5)

    • not bad for texture
    • really profound almond flavor, with white chocolate. The soft form of yuba was a bit unnecessary, but the crisp type of yuba, with almond streussel and almond tuile was a textural delight.

2014-04-26 00.55.23 2014-04-26 00.55.34mignardises.

2014-04-26 01.05.19 2014-04-26 01.05.54 2014-04-26 01.06.54 2014-04-26 01.07.00

Manresa | Los Gatos, CA | Apr ’14 | “the early spring garden”

9 May
  • Address: 320 Village Ln, Los Gatos, CA 95030
  • Phone: (408) 354-4330
  • Price (after tax + tip): $334 (incl. drinks [$20 pre-tax] and cheese supplement [$35 pre-tax]) // ~$250 without
  • Courses: (11 main / 22 total): 5 amuse / 5 bread / 7 savory / 1 cheese / 3 desserts / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $30
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Value: 2.5/5
  • Dining Time: 220 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 10 minutes
  • Chef: David Kinch (ex. Quilted Giraffe, L’Esperance, Akelarre, Sent Sovi); Chef de Cuisine Jessica Largey (ex. Providence (LA))
  • In Own Words: “When we’re young cooks, what we do is we’re always putting one more thing on the plate – “what can we add to this plate?” But the older you get and the more confident you are, and the more you realise that really – what nature gives us is the key to what we do, it’s – “what we can take off the plate?”” – source
  • Style: Vegetable-focused
  • Michelin Stars: 2

 

2014-04-27 19.51.28

The town of Los Gatos, CA is one of the most prosperous communities I have seen in America. Think immaculate bushes, and, tastefully decorated houses. It is among the richest communities in the Bay Area, and America at large. (verified according to this Businessweek report). The town is home to some notable personalities, including the immortality researcher Aubrey de Grey.

In the midst of this wealth stands a restaurant dedicated to vegetables, Manresa, the spiritual counterpart to l’Arpege (Paris) in the United States. Its debt to l’Arpege is clear in many ways. In his cookbook, Chef David Kinch devotes a chapter to Alain Passard’s philosophies; Manresa has an egg dish explicitly named the “Arpege egg”. Indeed my meal would show a similar care and respect for vegetables, (the signature “Into the vegetable garden…”), as well as an impressive duck dish featuring harmonious ingredients colours, reminiscent of the similar colour-coded cooking of some of l’Arpege’s most spectacular dishes, a signature Passard “style”.

In my visit there, I thought the flavor profile was subtle, seeking a quiet harmony. Manresa is not a restaurant that seeks out to shock and awe in every course – a sign of a mature aesthetic. There is something of the Japanese kaiseki philosophy in Chef Kinch’s cooking – trust in the ingredients, restraint. Dishes which I was not sure whether I liked right after eating them, have in the course of remembering them, grown in my estimation.

The cooking wasn’t always this vegetable-forward. My server for the night had been with the restaurant from the start. Conversing with him about the changes he has seen, I found out that about 70-75% of their clientele is regional, from around California, and the remaining 25-30% is national, with internationals still forming quite a rare minority. This is probably due to Los Gatos’s geographical position right in the very end of the Bay, more internationals passing through the further SFO (San Francisco) than SJS (San Jose) – it takes a special effort to head down to Manresa. In the early years Chef Kinch, cooked in a more rustic French style, but that shifted towards his current vegetable forward fare. The transformation of the restaurant towards haute-fare was made complete this year, as now Manresa only serves a $195 tasting menu.

Again, the blogger “Food Snob” has written the canonical post about Chef Kinch’s history, so I won’t re-invent the wheel and direct you to his write-up if you want to find out more about Chef Kinch. An excerpt:

Kinch first hit the national headlines in the summer of 2004, when at the behest of Eric Ripert, he prepared a meal at Le Bernardin for a group of journalists. Ripert had just eaten at the chef’s then newly-opened restaurant and was amazed: ‘that guy is seriously talented. I was like, Son of a *****! He has an incredible, obsessive knowledge of his products and the rare talent to elevate ingredients to their best.’ The assembled guests were stunned and delighted by what he had cooked with the local produce that he had brought with him all the way from the Bay Area.

Since then, inspired by Passard’s biodynamic gardens, Kinch has followed in his footsteps, establishing a partnership with farmer Cynthia Sandberg to create their own potager to produce Manresa’s produce. This search for superior ingredients, in combination with his creativity and talent as a chef, has won him loyal and growing admiration locally and globally. In 2007, he was invited to speak at Pamplona’s I Congresso ‘Vive las Verduras’ and then at the Festival International de la Gastronomie de Mougins the year after. He is currently recognised as a chef on the forefront of gastronomy.

[…]

Kinch believes that ‘there are two characteristics that enable restaurants to transcend the ordinary. First is that someone has a vision…the other is a sense of place – the restaurant couldn’t be anywhere else than where it is.’ He wanted the cooking to reflect who and where he was and to, like Chapel had, ‘create a sense of place’. Thus, sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean (thus bringing to mind the Basque country) and amid some of the richest farmland in the United States, he quickly fell in love with the area’s unique and fruitful terroir. Whilst in Saratoga, the chef had his own herb garden and employed a forager on nearly full-time basis, but after the move to Manresa, he expanded his local supply lines: he buys from (and surfs with) the producers at the much-loved Dirty Girl Farm; sources his cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines from the nearby Novakovich family; and knows well the retired IBM software developer, Gene Lester, who owns twelve acres filled with hundreds of rare and exotic citrus to which he lets friends help themselves.

Each of these suppliers is important yet secondary. It is actually a two-acre plot in Ben Lomond, twenty-five miles from Manresa, which shares a mutually-dependent and mutually-rewarding relationship with the restaurant. It is called Love Apple Farm and run together with attorney-turned-farmer, Cynthia Sandberg. Several years ago, it dawned on Kinch that local chefs were ‘go[ing] to the farmers’ market and all…buying the same organic leeks and lettuces. We’re all doing the same thing. I wanted to do better.’ To him, the natural next step was growing his own. Originally, he thought about buying a farm, but after tasting some of Sandberg’s organic tomatoes, he asked her to supply him exclusively. When it came to negotiations, each had a final condition, which fortuitously turned out to be the same thing – to try biodynamics. By November 2005, the pair had made their first ‘preparation’ of manure-stuffed cow horns to be buried beneath the soil. By summer 2006, the garden’s crop was on the restaurant’s menu.

http://foodsnobblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/manresa-los-gatos/

2014-04-27 20.12.29

Manresa is famous for its sole-customer relationship with Love Apple Farms; the farm supplies exclusively to Manresa. When I went in late April, there was going to be a celebration in Los Gatos the next day to celebrate the release of the film “The Farmer and the Chef” – the film about the relationship between David Kinch and Love Apple Farms proprietor Cynthia Sandberg. It is one of the great culinary partnerships.

I would recommend Manresa to a diner who is tired of the sensational but anonymous New International style of cooking – dashis, gelees, exotic citruses, foie; mindless trend-following – cooked up in so many Michelin-starred kitchens. Here is a kitchen that intelligently brings the taste of California to the diner.

Rating: 18/20

Memory: “Into the Vegetable Garden…”, Duck and rice, “yuzu-jalapeno”, Rhubarb compote with elderflower

Other notable write-ups


The Early Spring Garden (late April)

2014-04-27 20.26.54

Garden path

2014-04-27 20.26.47

Promotional Flyer for a May visit by Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi, 3* Michelin, Bilbao)

2014-04-27 20.35.23 2014-04-27 20.38.46 2014-04-27 20.39.35 2014-04-27 20.41.41Santa Cruz 75 Cocktail (Osocalis Brandy, Lemon, Love Apple Farm Honey, NVI Lasalles Brut Champagne)

2014-04-27 20.49.35 2014-04-27 20.49.411. Petit fours “red pepper-black olive” (4/5)

    • A cute piece of visual trickery, where similar looking dishes are presented at the beginning and end of the meal. (also see, Eleven Madison Park)
    • Here black olive madeleine, a buttery delight. On top of petit-four of red pepper. Strong and intense capsicum scent and flavor.

2014-04-27 20.52.58 2014-04-27 20.53.152. Kohlrabi and meyer lemon croquette (3.75/5)

    • Liquid center of lemon and kohlrabi. Lemon butter (rich) was the dominant taste, complemented well with side ingredient kohlrabi, root-vegetable taste.

2014-04-27 20.57.153.Olive oil and spring savory (4.25/5)

    • Olive oil ice cream, made from Sciabaca olive oil, an exceptional and fruity olive oil.
    • On top a kale chip savory.
    • This was served as a palate cleanser.