Tag Archives: 3* Michelin

Auberge de l’Ill in Illhauersern, France (Dec ’15): “black diamond”

5 Feb
Earlier this month, I guest-posted about the Alsace 3* restaurant the Auberge de l’Ill on my friend Julian Teoh’s blog. (Julian is a semi-professional food writer who moonlights as a lawyer, who writes an excellent guide to Southeast Asia’s dining options, especially around his two most-frequented countries Singapore and Malaysia. He also has an obsession with Alsatian wine and food, and is president of the Alsatian Wine Society in Singapore). You can see an alternate edited version with some of Julian’s touches over here.

The Auberge de l’Ill is located in Illhauersern, 20 minutes away from Colmar, and the only three-star Michelin restaurant remaining in the Alsace region, after the demotions of the two 3-star Strasbourg restaurants Au Crocodile (which lost its stars in 2002) and Buerehiesel (which lost its stars in 2011) and of L’Arnsbourg in Baerenthal (2015, after chef Jean-Georges Klein left for the Villa René Lalique). Today, Marc Haeberlin, third generation of the Haeberlin family, is in charge of the kitchen, after his father Paul passed away in 2008. It is the second oldest holder of 3-Michelin stars in France, having had them since 1967. (Bocuse beats it by a year).

I came to the Auberge for one reason – classic cuisine. Their signature dish, the truffe sous la cendre (literally, truffle under the ashes) captivated my imagination. A whole truffle, is wrapped in a paste of mince, pork, foie, wrapped in a baseball of puff-pastry, and then baked. There are only a few restaurants that do whole truffle dishes. L’Ambroisie in Paris occasionally does a black truffle tart (Feuilleté de truffe fraîche, bel humeur), and it is an occasional and special order for Daniel in New York. Kawamura in Tokyo does a white truffle croquette and pie if you order ahead. But at those other restaurants, their fame rested on other dishes. The truffe sous la cendre was the “black diamond” of this culinary peak, the Auberge‘s most iconic signature dish.

The meal. I went fully classic this time around. All of the dishes I tried were marked as Haeberlin classics. But I wasn’t too impressed by what ended up on the plate. A foie terrine, while good for foie terrines and served with a nice warm brioche and a bit of riesling jelly, was unremarkable. The highlight of the four courses turned out to be the salmon souffle, a paradoxically light dish with a souffle cloud encasing a rectangle of salmon. The truffe sous la cendre, was an epic baseball of heaviness. Pork, pigeon, foie, encased a whole black truffle, cooked in a doughy-flaky puff pastry. The truffle had a hard-jellied texture, and it was a pleasure to chew upon. There was a sweetness to the truffle, and a savory black truffle sauce. While the dish was visually impressive, and certainly satisfying, I felt it was not as great as it could have been. The puff pastry was doughy and felt undercooked to me. The meat-filling insulating the truffle was nothing more special than mincemeat.

I finished off with a Haeberlin peach. The peach had been poached, coated with a champagne sabayon made with whipped cream and pistachio ice cream. (A video of Marc Haeberlin making it, here.) While it was fairly pleasant, poached-peach wise, it lacked a bit of the wow factor you get from modern desserts. (I would say in fact, that the desserts I had in New York earlier on in my trip – at Momofuku Ko, Contra, Semilla, Birch in Providence, were more to my taste than here). I think what spoiled the illusion of transcendence most, was the fact that the white chocolate nameplate for the Auberge de L’ill was actually sticky, and stuck to my back teeth. With an uncomfortable feeling of having a white chocolate nameplate stuck to my back molars, I was transported to memories of mass-produced ice cream sundaes with whipped cream. And the association stuck.

I must admit I wasn’t too impressed by what ended up on the plate.  I didn’t fully connect with this meal (too heavy and sledgehammer-simple for my tastes), but to be fair, it is unrepresentative of Marc Haeberlin’s cooking, which is more Asian- and Japanese-influenced these days.

The final damage, inclusive of all the trimmings you would expect at a three-star table, tallied up to 280 euros. This is on the high-side for the Auberge – the classic tasting menu of Paul Haeberlin goes for about 120 euros, and the modern menu of Marc Haeberlin for 170 euros.  My whole black truffle, an a la carte only order, was a big contributor to that damage, making up 160 of the 280 euros.

Is the Auberge worth the trip?   Yes, if you’re looking for a history lesson. There are only a few time-machines to 3-star cuisine from earlier ages left in France (Bocuse, this one) so treat it as such. The view of the river Ill is spectacular, and in warmer times a post-prandial coffee on the terrace is a treat (in the winter, it is a bit too cold).

But if you’re looking for a great 3* meal, I think a more reliable deal would be to cross the German border to the Black Forest and sample the cuisine at either the Bareiss or Schwarzwaldstube.  From my recent experiences, the fine-dining across the German border is much more spectacular than what you can try at the Auberge.

Rating of this historical meal: 16/20

Notable links:

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  1. Amuse: turbot, sunchoke cream, sunchoke chips (3.25/5)
    1.  A slightly dry fried (why??) turbot. It was overdry, probably because it had been pre-filetted. The sunchoke accompaniments were undistinguished.

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  1. La terrine de foie gras d’oie (3.75/5)
    1.  Foie terrine, warm brioche and a bit of riesling jelly. Nowadays, you can probably get foie terrines of similar quality from a French bistro. Good, but really not a 3-star dish (or even a 1-star dish) in the modern world. To be honest, a bit disappointing compared to the extravagant fancies of Claus-Peter Lumpp over the border at Bareiss and Harald Wohlfahrt’s excellent jellied foie terrine at Schwarzwaldstube.

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  1. Le saumon souffle “Auberge de l’Ill” (4.5/5)
    1. A souffle cloud encasing a rectangle of salmon, tomato paste, and puff pastry. Could have this every other day, to be honest, it went down the hatch like a puff of aether.

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  1. La truffe sous la cendre (4.25/5)
    1.     As above: “an epic baseball of heaviness. Pork, pigeon, foie, encased a whole black truffle, cooked in a doughy-flaky puff pastry. The truffle had a hard-jellied texture, it was a pleasure to chew and ruminate upon thoughts of French decadence. There was a sweetness to the truffle, and a savory black truffle sauce. While the dish was visually impressive, and certainly satisfying, it was not as great as it could have been. The puff pastry was doughy – it felt undercooked to me. The meat-filling insulating the truffle was nothing more special than mincemeat.

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  1. La peche Haeberlin (4/5)
    1.     As above: “The peach had been poached, coated with a champagne sabayon made with whipped cream and pistachio ice cream. (A video of Marc Haeberlin making it, here.) While it was fairly pleasant, poached-peach wise, it lacked a bit of the wow factor you get from modern desserts. (I would say in fact, that the desserts I had in New York earlier on in my trip – at Momofuku Ko, Contra, Semilla, Birch in Providence, were more to my taste than here). I think what spoiled the illusion of transcendence most, was the fact that the white chocolate nameplate for the Auberge de L’ill was actually sticky, and stuck to my back teeth. With an uncomfortable feeling of having a white chocolate nameplate stuck to my back molars, I was transported to memories of mass-produced ice cream sundaes with whipped cream. And the association stuck.”

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Bareiss in Baiersbronn (Dec ’15): “best French meal of 2015”

1 Feb

Germany rarely comes up as a destination dining country. For the traveller on a budget, this is probably for good reason. Sauerkraut, potatoes, dumplings and boiled fleisch, rarely sets pulses racing. However, the German Black Forest is blessed with a number of multiple-starred restaurants. In the small village of Baiersbronn alone, there are two 3-star restaurants (Bareiss, and Schwarzwaldstube) and one 2-star restaurant, Sackmann.

As a local remarked to me, “we used to go to Alsace [across the German-French border] to have a good meal, now the Alsatians come here.”

Germany has a total of 10 3-Michelin star restaurants. The two closest to each other are Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube, located in the Black Forest town of Baiersbronn. For a village of 15,000 people, that is exceptional. It bore remark from the New York Times in 2013, which has contributed to a trickle of Americans among the mostly French and German tourists to the region. These restaurants have generally been untouched by the international Twitterati and Instagram celebrities.

The Bareiss is a grand family-run hotel, with Hermann Bareiss (the patriach) still making the rounds to greet diners after every dinner. I liked this personal touch, and the pictueresque setting of the hotel was really beautiful, with twinkly lights strung up all over the estate during the Christmas season. I had two meals there before Bareiss closed for the season, one a dinner tasting menu, and once for an a la carte lunch.

Bareiss’s chef Claus Peter Lumpp is a life-long member of the Bareiss establishment, having started his career there and generally spent most of his time there aside from a year staging at various 3* temples across the continent.

While The Fat Duck in Britain and elBulli in Spain were taking centre stage in the international gastronomic world in the mid 2000’s, quietly the gastronomic equivalent of a “Wirtschaftswunder” was taking place in Germany. This “Wunder” started in 2004 (2005 guide) when Michelin appointed Joachim Wissler’s Vendôme in Bergisch-Gladbach as Germany’s sixth three-star restaurant. The next year (2006 guide) Christian Bau’s Schloss Berg in Perl-Nennig was admitted to Michelin’s top category and so was Sven Elferveld’sAqua in Wolfsburg in 2008 (2009 guide). Most impressive however, was the historic three-star hattrick in 2007 (2008 guide), with restaurants Amador (then located in Langen), Gästehaus Erfort in Saarbrücken and Restaurant Bareiss in Baiersbronn as the new laureates. Germany currently has no fewer than 11 three-star restaurants. See this link for a full list. 

Where three chefs of these new three-star restaurants had at some point in their career worked at Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn, Claus Peter Lumpp (b.1964) of Restaurant Bareiss had followed a different path and spent the first years of his training (1982-1985) at ‘the other place’ in Baiersbronn, Bareiss (then called Kurhotel Mittaltal). Bareiss is a family-run destination hotel in the Black Forest, which apart from some 100 luxury rooms and suites, also houses several ‘Stubes’ and the fine dining restaurant called Restaurant Bareiss (‘Bareiss’). Before returning as head chef to the then 2-star Bareiss in 1992, Lumpp worked at some of Europe’s most renowned restaurants, including 3-star restaurants Le Louis XV (Alain Ducasse) in Monaco, Tantris (Heinz Winkler) and Aubergine (Eckart Witzigmann), both in Munich, and Antica Osteria del Ponte (Ezio Santin) in Milan. At Bareiss he succeeded Paul Mertschuweit, also known as “the tongue of Bareiss”. – Elizabeth Auerbach

The cooking, both here and at Schwarzwaldstube, brought to mind an earlier era of French cuisine. It doesn’t feel like nouvelle cuisine, but rather modern classic French cuisine – because of the classic and heavy sauces, with incredible terrestial ingredients in foie and game. Bareiss is by far the more formal of the two, possibly because it is the “younger” restaurant measured by age at the three-star table.

There are three features of Claus Peter Lumpp’s cooking that I like. First, it is classical French, updated with innovative touches. His cooking features the generous ingredients of foie, lamb, deer, chicken, all with heavy sauces. It is influenced by regional dishes (cassoulet, tarte flambee). In an age where chefs generally have a light touch, his take-no-prisoners style of salting and saucing is paradoxically and figuratively refreshing, and literally food-coma-inducing. The salt is really on the high side, though never unpleasant.

Second, the classical preparations are moderated by touches of fruit in his compositions. His red-wine-caramel and foie terrine, justly praised, would be a lot more heavy if it were not paired with Williams Pear. His tarte flambee has a delicious plum sauce. His pheasant soup has the crunch of unskinned grapes, his scallops have citrus, and the apple dessert is a marvelous assembly of apple textures.

Thirdly, the preparations are exuberant. He prepares multiple variations on a theme, like Pierre Gagnaire, and allows the diner to try his different experiments. His dishes within a theme often don’t harmonize (they are separate dishes and should be treated as such), but it shows there is a highly creative mind at work.

The weaknesses of his cooking are more minor. His Asian preparations aren’t all that – a Japanese tartare of scallops with soy and seaweed, or slices of lamb breast prepared with an Indian tandoori sauce, or a cold kingfish sushi served as appetizers, are obvious and in some ways “basic” interpretations of the Japanese and Indian style. But this is to be expected of a restaurant which caters 90% to German and French on either side of the border, and 10% Americans. These dishes however are only on the a la carte menu, and apparent to repeat diners.

The wine service is well-led by Jurgen Fendt, one of the best sommeliers in Germany (he has represented the country three times at the Sommelier World Cup). A selection of red wine from Fendt’s own vineyard was probably my favorite wine of all he offered me at Bareiss.

For those who care, the differences between Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube are:

  • + Schwarzwaldstube has better cheeses, from M Bernard Antony. Bareiss’s cheese selection is very good (they served a variety of sauces and grapes) but in excellence Schwarzwaldstube is more consistent.
  • + The service is more formal at Bareiss, surprisingly Schwarzwaldstube has a younger serving crowd.
  • + Jurgen Fendt’s wine service at Bareiss was my favorite between the two restaurants

Overall rating: 19.5/20 (first meal 19.5/20, second meal 18.5/20)

Most memorable dishes: Foie terrine with red wine-caramel jelly, Apple dessert, chicken cassoulet, boiled beef with horseradish, pheasant tarte flambee

Notable links


MEAL 1 (DINNER, TASTING MENU)
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  1. Apéritif etagère (4.5/5)
    1. Kingfish sushi – not bad, though served cold (with a sweet starch and long sour aftertaste). Kingfish AKA Mackerel doesn’t have Japanese name as far as I know. It was nothing like Japanese sushi,  though I found it commendable that they tried and prepped the rice.
    2. Chestnut cream
    3. Old cheese cake
    4. Fig and chestnut tart – Had a complex and satisfying taste with something piquant, maybe cinnamon.

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  1. Cold & warm Amuse Bouche
    1. Cold amuse bouche: Variation of kohlrabi. (4/5)
    2. The first two courses were a study in spiciness, not a common accent in French food. The German Kohlrabi has a sharp, unpleasant, bitter taste when cut raw, similar to raw onion. A butter sauce helped soothe it. It was an ebb and flow of discomfort, but not my favorite dish. This was a world away from the sugary kohlrabi I had at Blue Hills at Stone Barns.
    3. Warm amuse bouche: Boiled veal with beetroot and horseradish, beet sugar. (5/5)
    4. This was served as an amuse. It was shocking. It looked like a typical nouvelle cuisine dish, elegantly constructed. But an intense horseradish kick broke the rules of engagement – no spiciness! The sauce was at first sweet from the beet juice, and transitioned to savory as it began to resemble a veal red wine sauce. It was a “three-body” sauce, orbiting spicy, sweet and savory until it vanished. Superb.

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  1. Variation of goose foie gras with Williams pear soaked in red wine and wintery spicy punch (5/5)
    1. First plate: foie terrine with red wine and caramel jelly, with a pear sponge on top. Various preparations of pear with foie, including cream, ice cream. Second plate: Kugelhopf with foie cream. Drink: wintery spicy punch. A perfect expression of the generosity of the season.
    2. Fruity, rich, the red-wine-and caremel jelly between the lobes of foie in the terrine were the best part of the trio of dishes. This was what I had come for – classic cooking that was innovative without resorting to molecular tricks. The red wine and caramel jelly has to be tasted to be believed, it is a perfect accompaniment to the foie gras. Fully understandable how this is Lumpp’s signature dish.
    3. The foie terrine is served with different accompaniments according to the season. This season, it was Williams pear, the fruit element of which lightened the dish.

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  1. Breton scallop with potato mousseline chives and roasted panko (5/5)
    1. I thought this was a really fantastic and classical tasting dish.
    2. Clearly, no one comes to the Black Forest to taste hand-dived scallop with its unique crunchiness. But the sweetness of the scallop was excellent, served with fried garlic, mashed potato, togarashi (flying fish roe), and a rich sauce. Very little could be improved.
    3. These scallops were twice-weekly deliveries from the Brittany from a dedicated fisherman.

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  1. Crisp fried bass with glazed black salsify and Madeira (4.5/5)
    1. This was served with a second preparation: Bass ragout in a tomato-based sauce. The first preparation had a skin crisped to perfection, thinner than paper. The technical merits of this were very good. The ragout was a bit less interesting, though delicious in its own right.

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  1. Cassolette of black-feather chicken with braised celeriac and Perigord truffle (5/5)
    1. Savory chicken from Alsace, a cousin of Bresse chicken. This was another excellent, if classic dish. The matchsticks of black truffle, were of top quality, and added an enticing smell to the dish. The chicken was heavily salted, and it was served with beans in a pseudo-cassoulet form. The dish was unrecognizable from its peasant-dish origins, and with a rich sauce, delicately cooked chicken, and top grade truffle, was a fully paid-up member of the haute-French establishment

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  1. Saddle of roe deer fried with aromatics and braised shoulder from the Bareiss hunting grounds with caramelized red cabbage and sweet chestnuts (4.5/5)
    1. The deer was classically excellent. The saddle of roe deer possessed a crumb of bitterness., but it represented a welcome break from the train of dishes with savory sauces, because the sauce was predominantly sweet and featured sweet chestnuts. The combination, while not as strong standalone (because who naturally craves a sweet sauce with protein for a main?), was an intelligent progression in the menu. The braised shoulder of the roe deer was heavily stewed, a sweet heap of meat in the style of Mexican pulled pork or Singaporean rendang.

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  1. Assorted cheese from the trolley
    1. Highlights were (1)  36 month aged Gouda, (2) Shropshire blue, as well as (3) petit fiance cheeses. They were served with grapes and various jams, in the overwhelmingly generous fashion that characterizes the more classic and out of the way country-side 3* restaurants.

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  1. Valrhona chocolate tartlets with mandarins, almond ice-cream and grand Marnier (4/5)
    1. Vanilla nougat macaron, Grand Marnier custard. While the macaron was soggy and dunked like a Oreo into mandarin sauce (it baffles me why), the rest was pleasant if non-descript. The chocolate cake was served with a passionfruit sauce. Dessert was not one of the great strengths of Bareiss tasting menu, but it was a minor blip in this meal, and the dessert in the next meal was much stronger.

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  1. Friandises
    1. “Blackforest cake” cornets and white chocolate rum bonbons.
  2. Confectionary & chocolate from the trolley
MEAL 2 (LUNCH, A LA CARTE)
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  1. Apéritif etagère (4.5/5) – the same excellent set of bites was served

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  1. Cold & warm Amuse Bouche
    1. Cold amuse bouche: Wintery herbs, with mushroom soup, crouton slices, and grilled onions. (4.5/5) It was served with shavings of a savory hard cheese called Belper Knolle. It was fresh tasting, minty, with distinct plays of cheesy textures and crispy croutons
    2. Warm amuse: Cod poached in olive oil with black forest mushrooms with bits of bacon glass, where the bacon was rendered crisp and translucent (4.75). Excellent.

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  1. Scallops (4.5/5)
    1. Rosette of gratinated scallops with chive cream and imperial caviar (4.75/5)
    2. Tartare of scallops with roasted sesame and sea vegetable salad (4/5)
    3. Fried scallop with chicory, spice and citrus flavors (4.25/5)
    4. I opted for a different preparation of scallops from the a la carte menu. The scallop ensemble had three interesting themes. The first (A) was classic French – a cut rosette of scallops with rich caviar, and served on a potato gratin; the second (B) was Japanese – barebones with only a scallop tartare, soy and seaweed to mark is at Japanese – served with a crisp sesame tuile; the third (C) was in the vague international style, (or a synthesis?) between the two, fried scallops with endives and citrus such as grapefruit, the kind of dish that could have been served in any restaurant in the world, due to the ubiquity of ingredients and minimal stamp or style on the ingredients.
    5. Of course, the best was the classic preparation (A), on the strength of that, I rate the ensemble 4.5/5.
    6. Overall the scallops were sweet and firm, though they didn’t have the most crunchy of textures, which is expected because as mentioned above, Bareiss only takes twice weekly deliveries from Brittany.

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  1. Pheasant (4.5/5)
    1. Essence of pheasant flavoured with juniper, candied walnuts, breast of pheasant and quince jelly  (4.5/5)
    2. Tarte flambée with braised leg of pheasant with dried plums preserved in cognac and sweet chestnut (4.75/5)
    3. Soups at Bareiss are split into a heartier soup and a lighter soup. I chose the lighter option of pheasant consomme over cream of chestnut soup. The preparation here was hearty French, with touches of elegance, such as unskinned grapes in consomme.
    4. (A) The pheasant soup, with unskinned grapes, was a hearty one. The breasts retained a delightful crunch as the hot soup was poured on top. It was clear and restorative. (B) The plum-pheasant tarte flambee was textbooks, with an enviable crispness. The tarte must be heard to be believed, a knife through its heart produced a crackling that resounded through the small restaurant.

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  1. Lamb grown on Älbler Wacholderheide (4.25/5)
    1. Fried lamb chop on cumin sauce with raw marinated cabbage salad, smoked potato cream and fermented garlic (4.25/5)
    2. Focaccia with braised lamb shoulder compote (4.5/5)
    3. Lambs’ sweetbreads aioli and red onions (same as above)
    4. Glazed breast of lamb on tandoori purée and crostini (3.75/5)
    5. Overall – (4.25/5) The lamb, grown in the Albler heath (Wacholderheide means heath) was the recommendation of the manager. The overall theme of this ensemble was vaguely Indian. (A) The first preparation was a crackling crisp lamb chop, delicious on the bone. (B) A soaked focaccia with lamb shoulder, sweetbread, aioli and red onions was an onslaught of richness, only alleviated with pickled onions. The sauce was savory, with pickled onions to cut the richness. Very good. The (C) slices of lamb breast were perhaps the weakest of the ensemble, which was served with tandoori sauce puree. It was nothing more than it sounds. I was also getting stuffed at this point, which may have interfered with my enjoyment a bit.
    6. My reference high-end “Asian lamb” dish is still the Fat Duck’s reinterpretation of a lamb Kebab) If I were to nitpick, I would say the weakness of this dish is that it wears its theme (Indian) in too safe a way, the heavy sauce is exactly how it would be served in an Indian restaurant, albeit in an Indian restaurant it would have been in curry form. The imaginative leap is not as far as it was in the Fat Duck (cucumber & green pepper oils to lighten the dish, instead of vegetable slices). It is a similar theme with the Japanese preparation of scallops, these two “Asian” preparations were obvious and imitative of food you could conceivably get in an Indian or Japanese restaurant. But not to dwell too much on it – Bareiss is after all, a restaurant that caters mostly to a local French and German clientele, and the chef’s strong suit is not his international cooking but his interpretations of classical cuisine.

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  1. Apple (4.75/5)
    1. Baked apple sorbet with braised apple and butter biscuit cream (4.5/5)
    2. Vanilla parfait with apple ragout and caramel sauce (5/5)
    3. Green apple foam (4/5)
    4. The dessert ensemble, was a step up from the previous day. I chose Apple over the three C’s Chocolate, Citrus fruits, and Curd and exotic Fruits, because I wanted something classic. It delivered. (A) The first preparation of baked apple sorbet with a slice of braised apple and butter biscuit cream was a pleasing melange of the flavors of apple pie. But the highlight of the ensemble belonged to (B), which was an even better interpretation of apple pie, a structurally pleasing tower of different types of apple, arranged onto two discs of wafers and topped with vanilla ice cream. The crispness of pastry, the varied crunch of different apple (the best desserts are often the richness of different fruits cooked differently and reassembled), it needs nothing more than vanilla ice cream to be perfect. (C) the last preparation was more a coda than anything else, a technically impressive green apple foam, somehow maintaining enough structural integrity to be coated with chocolate.

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  1. Friandises
    1.   “Blackforest cake” cornets and white chocolate rum bonbons.
  2. Confectionary & chocolate from the trolley

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong (Nov ’15): “high-end fast food”

19 Jan

Joel Robuchon needs no introduction. Voted Chef of the Century in 1989, his restaurant Jamin in Paris in the 1980s and 1990s was considered among the best restaurants in the world. He retired in July 1996 due to concerns over the stress-wracked lifestyle of a chef, but came up the Atelier Robuchon concept, a counter-dining fine-dining concept, while eating in sushi bars in Tokyo: a sexy restaurant, dressed up in black and red, with counter-seating allowing diners to see dishes being finished and assembled in a show kitchen.

Robuchon made his official comeback in 2003, opening two branches of L’Atelier Robuchon in short order, first in Tokyo in April 2003, and Paris in May 2003. Since then, he has gone back into full-concept fine dining with “full-service” Joel Robuchon restaurants, which currently exist in Las Vegas, Tokyo, Bordeaux, Singapore and Macau. His Ateliers occupy a wider footprint – existing in Bangkok, Paris (two of them), Singapore, HK, Taipei, London, Tokyo, as well as London (a New York branch also once existed). His Ateliers have been unflatteringly described as the “McDonalds of fine-dining”, where a revolving door of chefs, largely anonymous workmen while in his employ, create a standard array of Robuchon dishes using ingredients from the Robuchon larder. His Atelier’s are generally pegged at a one-star rating, with the exception of the St Germaine branch in Paris, and this branch in HK, which has three Michelin stars. The successful Atelier project is probably the inspiration for similar casual fine-dining chains today, such as David Thompson’s Long Chim.

That the 3 Michelin star rating for L’Atelier HK is over-inflated, no one disputes, not even Joel Robuchon himself, who hypothesizes that it may be down to the wine list or the decor. This is usually cited as the main piece of evidence for the unreliability of the HK guide, because the Ateliers are the one restaurant you can actually benchmark across countries..

My meal at L’Atelier:

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  • L’Amuse-Bouche (foie custard with cheese foam, potato croquette)

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  • La Langoustine (Langoustine carpaccio, beetroot and apple salad with green mustard sorbet) (3/5)
    • The contrast between the green mustard sorbet (which was quite good, fresh and piquant, good enough to serve by itself on the parallel vegetarian menu), and the langoustine could not be more stark. The langoustine was not very fresh, to the point where when we tried to use a fork or spoon to get it off, the raw langoustine simply disintegrated into chunks. We could not get any single piece to lift whole onto a spoon. It tasted fine, but the texture was offputting.

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  • Le foie gras (Pan-fried duck foie gras with pear and celery) (4/5)
    • Decent and classic combination of foie and pear. Reliable crowd pleaser. For a foie-pear dish that really sets the bar, see my review of Bareiss (upcoming)

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  • La Saint-Jacques (Pan seared Hokkaido scallops with baby artichoke puree and curcuma emulsion) (4/5)
    • Not bad. This was served with Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes, which were indeed very buttery.

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  • Le Marron (chestnut mousse with pecan dacquoise and vintage rum ice-cream)
    • I had a work call midway through (it was a crunch week), and they served dessert while I was away. The ice cream had partially melted by time I returned. It tasted fairly good, but I won’t rate it since I didn’t have it in its optimal state.

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Overall L’Atelier in HK is a decent fine-dining restaurant. I appreciated the nice touches of the bacon baguettes and lemon cakes, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for fine-dining in Hong Kong (not especially since a branch can be found in Singapore and most major cities in Asia). That would go to Dynasty Restaurant for Chinese food; or Ta Vie, Neighborhood, or Bo Innovation for an interesting Western-ish meal. At heart, L’Atelier is a restaurant designed to serve Robuchon experience in a scalable way. This is reflected in the dishes, which are similar across different countries (Le Caviar, the geometrically pleasing Robuchon dish, is as consistent a fixture in each of the Robuchon restaurants as the Big Mac is at McDonald’s). It probably impacts the construction of the dishes, most of which are uncomplicated and can be executed capably by local line-cooks.

If a cookie-cutter fine-dining experience is what you want, L’Atelier will provide it. But for me, the Ateliers just seem a bit soulless. I’m still not sure what is the point of dining there. At that price point (>=HKD1800 with a glass or two of wine), you can get so much more than a cookie-cutter fine-dining meal.

Notable links:

Restaurant rating: 15/20

Sushi Saito in Tokyo (Aug ’15)

2 Aug
  • Price: ~$250 USD (two carafes of sake)

“2-3 years ago it used to be so easy to get into Saito. Sometimes you could just go in for lunch without any reservations.”

I heard this lament more than once from my friend, an old Saito regular. The rules have, of course, changed permanently. Saito is now canonized as one of the top 2-3 sushi places in Tokyo, if not as the very best of them all. Reservations are made 4 months out even for erstwhile regulars, and it is almost impossible to get a reservation if you are not a regular. It started perhaps with the Michelin guide’s seal of approval, and was exacerbated in the last couple of years with a weak yen luring more gastro-tourists into the country.

In the midst of this media attention, Saito seems to remain fairly normal. He plans to focus on his Tokyo branch, but will open a branch in Malaysia early next year, at the new St Regis hotel in Kuala Lumpur Sentral.

Does the sushi live up to its reputation? I can say Saito’s sushi is the best I’ve tried in Tokyo so far:

  • He makes incredible rice. What will stick with me above all is Saito’s sense of balance – his rice has the perfect temperature (warm), texture (soft but distintegrates unobstrusively in the first two bites) and taste (perfect conveyance for a salty vinegar). I found it comforting to eat each piece – the rice just ever-so-warm and perfectly vinegary, providing a foil for the topping.
  • He elevates not just the luxury cuts but the common cuts too – Several specimens were brought to a level of perfection I had not experienced before. The luxury cuts (tuna, nodoguro, kinmedai) were all top-class, but these are ingredients which can be bought by any chef. The test of skill is to elevate the more difficult cuts. I thought I had many eye-opening morsels. The iwashi (sardine) was one of many highlights – a cheap and common fish raised to a sublime level of melting perfection. The octopus had a magical contrast of textures. And Saito’s hand-dexterity was evident when he made an uni nigiri, which I have never seen before.

I also enjoyed that the atmosphere was relaxed and easy, without any of the tiresome hushed reverence. Reverence is suited for a pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage is a one-off. Hopefully I’ll be back at Saito before long.

Evaluating sushi. I came skeptical of high-end sushi because the possibilities for composition seem limited. I was disappointed by experiences at Mizutani and Hashiguchi because I expected more creativity and intense flavors. But I think I had the wrong critical lenses. Sushi is a parade of perfect morsels, and when you eat it a thousand times you become familiar with a thousand references and appreciate sterling examples of the craft. For me, it seems enjoying a sushi meal is about paying attention the micro-factors of balance, seasoning, preparation, and ignoring the macro-factors of dish composition where a sushi chef’s hands are tied.

Standout cuts: Octopus, Nodoguro, Tuna (akami, chutoro, otoro), Iwashi (sardine) nigiri, Anago (sea eel) nigiri, Murasaki uni nigiri


Pictures of a meal at Sushi Saito

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Shiro ebi

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Chiba abalone, octopus

(5/5 for octopus)

  • What I found amazing was the texture of octopus – the outer “skin” was soft and jelly-like, where the inner core of the tentacle was meaty – like two different materials had come together. It takes so much ingenuity to make octopus delicious, this octopus was one of the best-examples I’ve had

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Bonito-zuke (cured in soy)

  • Nice balance between scallions and ginger, a good contrast of jelly and sear

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Kokuryu Daiginjo

(5/5)

  • Ultra-rare, and with a dry minerality. A perfect complement to Saito’s sushi, and possibly the best pairing sake on the menu

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Kare no engawa
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Kani (crab) miso
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Seared nodoburo

(5/5)

  • The meat had little resistance, the skin had a delicious seared taste.

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Kare (flatfish)

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Kinmedai (splendid alfonsino)

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Kohada (Gizzard shad)

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Akami (lean tuna)

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Chutoro (medium-fat tuna)

(5/5)

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Otoro (tuna belly)

(5/5)

  • There can be no faulting perfection. From a 200kg tuna caught from the cold waters of Oma

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Ika (squid)

  • A squeeze of sudachi lime and salt

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Hiroki sake

  • Fruity and assertive (4.5/5)

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Iwashi (sardine)

(5/5)

  • The strong taste of sardine was evident in the first bite, but how smooth the fish was! It was like silk, going down the mouth, paired with a little dab of ginger. The freshness was unparalleled. The rice, a vinegary ephemeral cloud, a kiss of love towards the star of the show, the unheralded sardine – usually so tough when canned, but here with the grace of the best cuts. The standout piece from today’s meal.

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Kuruma ebi (tiger prawn)

  • One thing special about Saito is that he folds the prawn-head innards just under the rice.

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Aji (horsemackerel)

(4.5/5)

  • Fatty and unctuous

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Hamaguri (clam)

(4/5)

  • Sweet sauce

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Murasaki uni (sea urchin)

(4.5/5)

  1. This marks a first – I had never seen uni used as nigiri. The tongues are soft and liable to fall apart, and testament to Saito’s dexterity. Cold, and a good contrast with the rice.

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Anago (5/5)

  • Typically paired with sweet sauce, here Saito applied dabs of salt (and sudachi lime?) which was equally delicious.

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Temaki

(4.25/5)

  • Made by Saito’s assistant chef –

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Tamago

(4.25/5)

  • Soft, custardy, sweet, a nice end to the meal

Quintessence in Tokyo (Aug ’15): infinite variety

2 Aug
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Price: ~$300 USD with 3 glasses of wine
  • Chef: Shuzo Kishida
  • Style: Modern French in the Japanese Style
  • Michelin stars: 3

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety. Other women cloy the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where most she satisfies…”  – Antony and Cleopatra

There are two kinds of fine-dining restaurants – one which serves a fixed repertoire and one that improvises and comes up with new dishes at a frantic pace. The restaurant Quintessence is of the second kind, a restaurant that rewards multiple visits because Chef Shuzo Kishida will not serve the same dish to a diner twice (outside of a handful of signature dishes or special requests for repeated dishes). The usual result of such a philosophy is half-baked chaos, but Quintessence pulls it together because of impeccable attention to the cooking process (and a handful of trademark obsessive cooking techniques, such as putting meat in and out of the oven 30 times). With no mistakes in execution, we could judge the ideas by what was on the plate. I am already looking forward to a second visit to Quintessence to see what dishes I will be served next time.

Previously sous-chef (and in charge of meat) under Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance, Chef Shuzo Kishida has held three Michelin stars for about a decade now. The restaurant focuses on what’s called three processes – good products, light and understated seasoning, and attention to the cooking process. Sounds obvious – until you understand what lengths these tenets are taken to. Ingredients like goat’s milk are procured fresh from Kyoto everyday. Sauces are custom-made for each main ingredient. Fish and meat cooked according to multi-stage processes, involving multiple ovens or multiple times in-and-out of an oven.

Nouvelle-cuisine was formulated in the 1960s and 1970s as a reaction against old-school French cuisine, and focused on cooking out the best of ingredients instead of smothering them in sauces. Today, people say that nouvelle cuisine has gone out of vogue because its tenets are mainstream. That is true – step into any modern kitchen and you will find focus on fresh ingredients and light sauces. Quintessence’s version of modern French is the essence of nouvelle cuisine – light, ingredient focused, obsessed with the minutest details of the cooking process.

I don’t have a full photo collection from this meal, since there is a no-photo policy (spottily-enforced). I managed to take a few photos from my iPhone but no high-quality pictures.


  • Sable Bottarga
    • Sable biscuit, with a thick slice of Sardinian bottarga glued together with seaweed butter, chipolette chives sprinkled
    • (4/5)
  • Soupe de Moules Mont St-Michel
    • A cold tomato soup with warm creamy mussels from Mt St Michel served in a small glass and sprinkled with saffron – the mussels were perfect in everyway, I think the skirt had been removed, and thus only the creamy innards remained for a hearty and satisfying contrast.
    • (4.75/5)

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  • Assaisonement
    • Quintessence’s signature dish – a goat’s milk bavarois, made with goat’s milk everyday transported fresh from Kyoto, fleur de sel from Brittany (high minerality), lily bulbs, shaved macadamia, a fruity olive oil from the south of france.
    • The intensity of flavor from the goat’s milk was amazing. Every spoonful had a perfect proportion of salt, milkiness and green fruity olive oil, with sweetness and textural contrast from lily bulbs and macadamia. A perfect combination of ingredients.
    • While Quintessence strives never to repeat a dish, this dish is the one constant in the menu. It is not to see why.
    • containing specks of salt, the fruitiness of olive oil, and the sweetness of lily bulbs and starchy contrast o
    • (5/5)

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  • Taboulet de St Jacques
    • A weird dish, tabbouleh (herbs with bulgur wheat [I think basil + shiso?]) were added with lemon cream and grilled St Jacques scallop. It was served just warm.
    • (3.5/5)

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  • Salade Aubergine et Oursin
    • Sauteed aubergine with nuts and herbs. Very tasty, the sauce a sour pesto
    • Ozayu herb
    • Topped with Murasaki sea urchin from Hokkaido (a more watery kind than Bafun)
    • Impeccably cooked
    • I didn’t think the combination of pesto and sea urchin was synergistic, but they didn’t detract from each other.
    • (4/5)
  • Ormeaux et Noix
    • Abalone with abalone liver sauce, vegetable bouillon, young edamame
    • The abalone liver sauce was strong, with a salty mineral taste. The abalone was impeccably cooked, and the young edamame added good texture contrast
    • What was interesting was an almost harsh char on the surface of the abalone – despite this the abalone was highly tender.
    • Coincidentally, my friend and I were reminded by this Quintessence dish of another dish half the world away: a roasted abalone with abalone liver sauce served at Saison in Spring 2014. The similarities were striking – a roasted abalone, an abalone liver sauce. Of the two abalone dishes I still prefer Saison’s, as it was highly aggressive with saucing (pairing the liver sauce with capers), whereas Quintessence’s version was more subtle.
    • However the subtlety has great merit – you do not leave Quintessence feeling bloated, but instead full of energy and willing to return for another round.
    • (4.25/5)

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  • Nodoguro
    • Blackthroat seaperch, a red fish with white meat, is incredibly fatty.
    • Accompaniments; Vegetacle sauce,  quinoa with seaweed
    • The flesh was falling apart smooth, with an amazing crisp on the skin. The pairing of the two was uncanny, since I expected the crispness of the skin to be accompanied with some toughness to the flesh. But the rosy-hued flesh were parted easily with fork tines.
    • It was a highly labor-intensive process to bring a perfect piece of nodoguro to the table. At the same time, I wondered if I was able to tell if the fish had been sous-vide and the skin flash-seared.
    • The fish was pan seared, then put in a 320 deg C oven, then a 90 deg C oven, and then researed afterwards with the skin
    • (5/5)

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  • Veau Roti
    • Languedoc milk veal, put in-and-out of a 300 deg C oven for 3 hours [1 minute inside, 5 minutes outside, repeat 30 times]
    • Sauce of chopped mushroom, orange zest, and grand marnier
    • Fried beetroot beignets (beetroot from Hokkaido), grilled dragonfruit bud
    • The veal was perfectly cooked, but needed a bit more salt. The beetroot beignets were perfect, crisp on the outside, no sogginess, a wonderful sweet pliable crunch.
    • (4.25/5)
  • Bleu de Laqueuille
    • Pineapple jam, walnut toast, blue cheese
  • Glace de Sougen Lie et Melon
    • Melon sherbet and Japanese sake ice cream.
    • Good combination – sake ice cream had a vanilla base
    • (4.5/5)

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  • Mascarpone Mousse
    • Knafeh (shredded phyllo dough) covering a puck of mascarpone, a syrup made of Glengoyne whisky. Interesting combination
    • (4/5)

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  • Tarte Rhubarbe
    • Chickpea powder in the feuilletine, rhubarb, blueberry and grapes
    • (3.5/5)

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  • Glace Meringue
    • Ending off the meal on a high was a Quintessence signature: Meringue ice cream. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, you’re right – what looked like ice cream was not ice cream at all, but crushed meringues, mixed with dry ice to make it cold and creamy, with ginger confit and lychee liqueur poured on top.
    • The taste was uncanny – the egg-white taste of meringue with the cold texture of ice cream. Fruity lychee, sweet ginger, meringue – these combined for a perfect bite.
    • The origin story: Chef Kishida noticed that Japanese people loved the taste of meringues, but found them too sweet otherwise. He also noticed that cold temperatures suppressed the perception of sweetness. Combining these two ideas, he came up with his signature meringue ice cream.
    • Tokyo spoils you.
    • (5/5)
  • Champagne: Chinchilla Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
    • Delicious lightness, a savory note (4.75/5)
  • Vin Blanc: Cotes de Provence Inspiration 2012/ Gavaisson
    • Sweet (4.25/5)
  • Vin Rouge: Fixin Fondemans 2007/ Mongeard Mugneret

Bo Innovation | Hong Kong | Jul ’14

14 Feb
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Address: 60 Johnston Road, Hong Kong
  • Phone: +852 2850 8371
  • Price: HKD2,400 (310 USD at 1 USD = 7.76HKD)
  • Value: 2/5
  • Chef: Alvin Leung

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My meal at Bo Innovation featured touches of Hong Kong, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Alvin Leung shuns the “molecular” tag, and his type of innovation involves bringing the East Asian flavors and remixing it with classic preparations like baked alaska, hollandaise. For your main, you are dine on beef, but it is paired with oxtongue cooked in bak-kut-teh spices and coated with chocolate.

The three highlights: I found myself impressed by Chef Leung’s re-imaginings: the Lap Mei Fan baked alaska, which featured a sensational Chinese-sausage ice cream, a jar of spam puree with black truffle, a bak kut teh oxtongue. (these three dishes, the best, were only available in the extended tasting menu – which means that diners ordering a shorter menu might find Bo Innovation disappointing).

The others dishes generally lacked a foundation: Outside of one or dishes, like the lap mei fan baked alaska, or the bak kut teh oxtongue, I didn’t find the cooking at Bo Innovation very compelling. Most of the other dishes had multiple ingredients that didn’t make sense on that plate, as if the kitchen had to show off how avant garde it was, without considering whether the ingredients were harmonious or not. Multiple dishes didn’t have a compelling backbone to build on: for example it was hard to see what were the supporting ingredients in the MULHOE, RED FISH and BLUE LOBSTER, as well as the COCONUT dessert. Every component shouted on the palate. The result was often not in harmony. At 3 very good dishes, the hit-miss ratio was a bit low for me as well.

The HK food blogger g4gary has an intelligent observation: “As for the endless debate of whether the 3-star bestowed upon the place is justified, while I agree this is perhaps the most atypical 3-starred restaurant I have set foot in, if you took the literal definition of Michelin 3-stars meaning restaurants serving exceptional cuisine that [is] worth a special journey, I could see why Bo Innovation would make the grade. Strange as it sounds, his food is uniquely Hong Kong – it wouldn’t have made much sense to serve the same food anywhere else in the world – so from that perspective, the meal itself does worth a special journey for some adventurous minds. Guess I would leave it at that.

Don’t take it literally: I think this is probably what went through the Michelin inspectors’ minds when they awarded Bo Innovation 3-stars. In terms of refinement and objective enjoyment, this is probably a restaurant that merits 1-star. But the literal interpretation of 3-stars as “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” opens a can of worms. Lesser chefs who hop onto the “innovation” bandwagon to create an endless array of average but novel dishes are rewarded, and chefs who focus on perfecting their dishes are penalized. I think the Michelin brand has stood the test of time because of the accumulated wisdom about what a 1-star, 2-star, and 3-star restaurant means in terms of excellence, and not because of its literal rubric of “journey-worthiness”. The recent rush to star “innovative” restaurants strikes me as a half-baked attempt to compete with the San Pellegrino guide.

Other links

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  • Waffle/ onion/ ham  (3.75/5)
    • Street food. Flour, fried. Tastes of onion

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  • CAVIAR: smoked quail egg, taro nest (4.25/5)
    • Presented on a silver tree to emphasise the “nest”. Enjoyable.
    • The quail egg was hard,

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  • MULHOE: foie gras, spicy korean miso, pear, sea urchin, sea bladder, smoked squid, sea bream, jicama (4.25/5)
    • Squeezing foie and spicy miso out a tube, the ingredients in a sweet cold pear consomme
    • Korean-influenced dish. Perhaps the restaurant is vying to be a pan-Asian culinary champion?

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  • LAP MEI FAN: baked alaska, “lap cheong” (5/5)
    • Hot-cold contrast, a crowd pleaser with the strong tastes of alcohol. Highly visual dish, setting the alcohol on fire
    • The sweetness of Chinese sausage was a revelation, used in a a smooth icecream that contrasted well with texture of puffed rice underneath.

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  • UMAMI: black truffle, toro, har mi oil, vermicelli, rice noodle (3.75/5)
    • The spongey tuna belly toro was a bit sour.
    • The given explanation for the existence of this dish was that each of the ingredients had strong umami components. As a dish however, it failed to be more than the sum of its ingredients – though the ingredients were strong.
    • The most overwhelming part of the dish was the har mi (dried shrimp) on the vermicelli, which dominated the toro and truffle.

2014-07-16 19.48.27

  • MOLECULAR: “xiao long bao” (3.75/5)
    • A Bo Innovation signature, this xiaolongbao featured ginger with a spherified meat broth. Not bad.

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2014-07-16 19.57.39 2014-07-16 19.58.30 2014-07-16 19.59.03

  • BABY FOOD: black truffle “chian dan chee” (4.5/5)
    • Audaciously remixing high and low gastronomy – variety meats in the form of spam foam, mixed with yolk and crispy bits of ham, and truffle foam.
    • It tasted good, but to me it felt like a cheap trick. Spam has already been engineered to appeal to our fat and salt craving brains, it would not take much for a chef to make spam delicious.

2014-07-16 20.09.21

  • RED FISH: yunnan ham, dry mandarin peel, wild mushroom, jerusalem artichoke, pickled pearl onion (3.75/5)
    • Yunnan ham sauce, yellow foot mushroom,
    • The sunchoke (or jerusalem artichoke) was just a block of sweet starch, which could have been reduced in portion, and the chips (mandarin peel?) had no taste

2014-07-16 20.20.25 2014-07-16 20.20.42 2014-07-16 20.20.57 2014-07-16 20.24.13

  • BLUE LOBSTER: sichuan hollandaise, hot shaohsing broth, chinese leek dumpling, charred corn
    • lobster bisque, shaoxing wine, a slight bitter aftertaste. hollandaise with sichuan peppercorn
    • 3.75/5

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  • MAO TAI: calamansi
    • when you’re drunk, you can go with the flow and Epicurean feeling (3.5/5)

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  • SWEETBREAD: oyster sauces, mountain yam, spring onion, ginger
    • Not bad sweetbreads, braised in oyster sauce. (4/5)

2014-07-16 20.44.22 2014-07-16 20.44.49 2014-07-16 20.47.47

  • SAGA-GYU BEEF: striploin, bakkutteh chocolate ox tongue, truffled taro, spring onion (4.5/5)
    • the beef was A3 saga-gyu, North Kyushu. I found the most unique part of this dish the bak-kut-teh ox tongue coated in choclate sauce. A liverish texture for the tongue, soft and pliant, with an interesting thick chocolate paste coating it.
    • The bak kut teh flavor was mild, and imparting a herbal flavor to the oxtongue. Not a dish I crave, but when reflecting on my meal 6 months later it is one of the two things I remember

2014-07-16 20.56.58 2014-07-16 20.57.50

  • ALMOND: genmai, okinawa black sugar, cinnamon (3.5/5)
    • spherified almond milk (outer texture like a Chinese “tangyuan” dessert dumpling, inside texture of tofu), genmai tea flavored with black sugar and cinnamon.
    • the tea was overwhelmed with sugar

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  • COCONUT: palm sugar, coconut water, chocolate, pina colada, cherry, pandan
    • A curious combination. It is not quite chendol, with pandan cream and young coconut meringues.
    • It was a splatter of ingredients that evoked Southeast Asia – palm sugar, water, pandan (and an interesting touch of dried wolfsberries in the soil), but did not come together very well
    • (4/5) – the individual ingredients were nice.

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  • Petit fours (based off 8 treasures tea)
    • generally around 4/5
    • longan (lit: dragon eye), coconut jelly
    • osmanthus steamed sponge cake
    • rose macaron, lychee, butter cream
    • lotus seed, custard, sticky rice dumpling
    • mandarin peel chocolate truffle
    • red date marshmallow
    • wolfberry, tianjin pear, crystal bun
    • chrysanthemum meringue

Kagurazaka Ishikawa | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “mixing”

1 Jan
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Address: Japan, 〒162-0825 東京都新宿区 神楽坂5−37 高村ビル1F
  • Phone: +81 3-5225-0173
  • Price per pax (including two rounds of sake split among 5): 23,000 Yen ($193 at 100 Yen = 0.83 USD)
  • Value: 2.5/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Chef: Hideki Ishikawa
  • Michelin stars: 3

2014-12-16 00.21.07

Our December meal at Ishikawa seemed to be based on the idea of a “delicious mix”. We mixed our appetizers, our 2 sashimi courses, and our rice course. The taste results were very good, but clearly less “pre-meditated” than other high-end restaurants.

Truth be told, I personally felt it was an underwhelming meal. But many Japanese food connoisseurs, such as Robbie Swinnerton and Melinda Joe and Mesubim, seem to like it, so I would like to form a second opinion.

Hospitality, as is the case in Japan, was exceptional. Chef Ishikawa is an easy-going personality, and it was touching (and appreciated) that the kitchen crew sent us off in our taxis.


 

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  • Appetizer: Blanched Blowfish Tossed with Japanese Herbs and Grated White Radish Sauce
    • Fugu with ponzu. Good (4/5)

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  • Deep-fried: “Kakiage’ Wagu Tongue, Lotus Root and Mitsuba Greens Topped with Turnip
    • Wagyu Tongue was a bit tough and overcooked, and the thick sauce was just for texture, with little taste. A bit puzzling to me. It was impressive that the batter maintained its crunch for quite a while after being immersed in sauce (3.5/5)

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  • Soup: White Miso Soup with Blowfish Milt; Thinly Sliced Whale Skin
    • Fugu Milt – great, an unending creamy texture that is nothing but cream. Milt provided the luxurious feeling. (Zatokujira AKA Humpback) whale skin was added for flavor, but I could have done without it (4.25/5)

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  • Sashimi: Sea Bream Garnished with Fresh Seaweed and Japanese Herbs
    • Genkai nada (Genkai sea, on the Northern coast of Fukuoka in Kyushu) Tai (sea bream), in a tough roiling sea “makes the tai more chewy”
    • served with shizuoka wasabi, a naturally sweet and hot wasabi.
    • The tai was chewy as intended. It was pleasant to eat with seaweed, but the structure of the dish puzzled me. Was the point to emphasise a single point of produce? (chewiness of rose-colored sea bream?) (3.25/5)

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  • Sashimi: Seared Ise Lobster with Vinegared Soy Sauce
    • Seared lobster. The barest kiss of smoke. Served with its moorish lobster guts, flavored with vinegared soy sauce. Very good (4.5/5)
    • Served in a lacquered gourd. Surprisingly light. Elegant

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  • Charcoal-grilled: Horsehead Snapper Flavored with Salted Bonito Innards Sauce; Gluten Bread with Walnut
    • Amadai (tilefish AKA horsehead snapper) was served this time without its scale. The skin was slathered with shuto, salted bonito innards (fermented for more than 6 months!). Banana walnut bread. The sake brought out a wonderful nutty flavor. (4/5)
    • Fresh and firm, salty outside.

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  • Delicacy: Fresh Water Eel, Gingko Nuts and Mashed Taro
    • Usually eel is boiled before it is grilled. Ishikawa directly grilled the eel to get a very fluffy texture, and had a very good taste of charcoal (4.5/5)

2014-12-15 22.49.15 2014-12-15 22.53.00

  • Hot Pot: Snow Crab, Tofu and Seasonal Vegetables
    • Tofu, perhaps the softest it could get while still able to be grasped by chopsticks – from a Kagurazaka tofu shop called katsuno-shop.
    • Crab, no sugar was mixed with its innards

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  • Steamed Rice: Freshly Harvested Rice Served with Sea Bream Paste and Pickled Vegetables
    • Koshihikari rice, Niigata, sweet and nutty – harvested in October
    • The sea bream paste tasted like canned tuna, to be very honest.
    • Pouring the broth after we were half done with the rice transformed it into a savory soup. Wasabi almost entirely faded to a ghostly spiciness in the broth (4/5)

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2014-12-15 23.31.18

  • Dessert: Sweet Red Beans, Yuzu Citrus Agar and Cream Cheese with Toasted Wafer
    • A most toasty wafer. I liked the red beans (4/5)

2014-12-15 23.36.51

 


2014-12-16 00.21.24

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Namazake Honmaru sake served: 4.25/5. Fruity

Sant Pau | Sant Pol de Mar | Jun ’14 | “playful surrealism”

31 Aug
  • Rating: 17.5/20
  • Address: Carrer Nou, 10, 08395 Sant Pol de Mar, Barcelona, Spain
  • Phone: +34 937 60 06 62
  • Price per pax: ~€193 ($254 at 1 EUR = 1.31 USD)
  • Value: 2.5/5
  • Dining time: 180 minutes
  • Chef: Carme Ruscadella
  • Style: Creative Catalan
  • Michelin Stars: 3

2014-06-17 12.26.13 2014-06-17 12.27.21 2014-06-17 12.28.09

SURREALISM. Surrealism is alive and well in Catalonia, only domesticated on a plate at Sant Pau. The kitchen of Carme Ruscadella cooks in a whimsical way that echoes her great Catalan artistic predecessors, but through the necessary precision to maintain 3 Michelin stars forestalling the excesses of Dali, a fascination with communicating geometrical shapes evoking Miro but departing from his primodial soup aesthetic with its liking for geometric precision.

THE ROOTS OF SURREALISM at my meal at Sant Pau:

  1. Fusion: (a Dali-esque technique recalling his 3-dimensional works like Lobster Telephone): “Padrón and rice croquette” Two typical Catalan tapas, the padron pepper and the croquette, were fused into a padron croquette. Seductively mute and provocative, a recently-birthed Venus.
  2. Whimsical descriptions: “Lobster pizza: raw and cooked vegetables, creamy mozzarella”: Lobster “pizza”, overflowing a dough base, had none of the flat pizza geometry, instead forming a tower of ingredients. To describe it as “pizza” was accurate in the technical sense that there was dough underneath, and in the sense that the flavors were broadly what we’d recognise as margherita pizza. The description was off-beat. It was quite a change from my last major meal at Asador Etxebarri, where all the dish descriptions were literal and minimalist (mirroring the food). It was as whimsical as Mugaritz, but the dish descriptions at Mugaritz were literal, minimalist, and the surprise came from the menu description itself: “7 Spice Rattle”; “”Fifth Quarter Octopus”. For “Lobster Pizza”, the description was doubly absurd – firstly, no one does a lobster pizza; secondly, that wasn’t a lobster pizza.
  3. Atypical Geometric Constructions:Gambes on Sailor’s Toast: tribute to the local sailors cuisine”: Instead of serving the dish with prawns on top, the bread is served with prawns wrapped around it.
  4. Chimera: The Dragon at the end, was a chimera of 7 different textures, each sheet whimsically sculpted to resemble dragon-parts.

*(My favorite Food-Text Interplay at Per Se is the clever linguistic pun – “pearls” in “oysters and pearls” being tapioca pearls)

A MEAL AT SANT PAU AS FOOD

As a meal for showcasing artistic vision, Sant Pau is first-class. But tastewise, much of the meal was merely pleasant, with nothing that remains as a strong impression two months later. It is not the case at Sant Pau that dishes are composed to be eye-candy without having a strong taste-backbone – frequently the more visually stunning dishes were the ones that tasted better. Instead, the clunkers were dishes like “John dory and curry: courgette, eringui and potatoes”, and “Vegetal Dim Sum”, dishes in the International Style that tasted pleasant and were precisely executed, but seemed at Sant Pau to lack fireworks in both aesthetics and tastiness.

As a diner my overall impression was that, besides the stupendously delicious bread, every morsel of food at Sant Pau, taste-wise, was precisely calculated to be pleasant. The strongest impressions I carry are the riot of colours and the geometric precision of the dishes – a vibrant surreal feast for the eyes, the literal feast more muted. On the whole, I found Sant Pau worth the trip, there was a sense of play and mischief here I haven’t found elsewhere.


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Sant Pau bakes some of the best bread that I have had. Crusty (+++) , and full of browned flavor, it was among the top 2-3 on the monthlong Europe trip I’ve been chronicling, if not actually the top. I could not resist asking for more, and more, crusty bits (5/5)

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  • Tomato and strawberry velvet, manzanilla, quinoa (4.25/5)
    • tomato/strawberry, gazpacho, manzanilla sherry, and black quinoa, served in a cocktail glass

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  • Padrón and rice croquette (4.5/5)
    • Two typical Catalan tapas, the padron pepper and the croquette, were fused into a padron croquette. Seductively mute and provocative, a recently-birthed Venus with a bit of cheese inside the padron pepper. Why isn’t this combination more popular? Delicious.

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  • Vegetal Dim Sum (4/5)
    • Chive dumpling, with a hint of Chinese ginger (a la xiaolongbao sauce), with a nice sour tomato-ish sauce.

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  • Norway lobster and coconut gnocchi: in tempura with shiso sauce (4.5/5)
    • The gnocchi, gelled as if agarified, a translucent sauce with a pesto-like sauce made of Shiso.
    • This was a good dish, the langoustines (they described it as “langoustines” when serving the dish) nicely seasoned, though it had less of the firm bite of the ones at Ledoyen.

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  • Lobster pizza: raw and cooked vegetables, creamy mozzarella (4.5/5)
    • Basil, mozzarella, tomato, squash blossom. As mentioned, it was superficially plausible to be served a lobster pizza, but the full effect of surprise was completed only when seeing the dish, since it had undergone at least one reimagining.
    • The tastes, while good, was no more than exactly a “lobster pizza”, which did not fire my culinary imagination beyond comfort food. The bread was a robust biscuit cracker.

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  • Miso and foie cubes: champignons, vegetables, umeboshi, lemon (4.25/5)
    • Seared foie, green peas, crisp champignons.
    • The miso was given a bit of sausage-y, unctuous meatiness from the foie.

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  • Gambes on Sailor’s Toast: tribute to the local sailors cuisine (4.25/5)
    • The prawns were savory, a seafood toast an intense taste of seafood stew. It brought me to the docks of Sant Pol.

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  • Pirinese foal loin, black garlic, banana: medium-rare roasted (4.5/5)
    • Horse meat (why not?) with banana, a surprisingly good accompaniment with savory black garlic soil.
    • However, the meat was tender and relatively flavorless, unsurprising since it was a young foal. (veal often suffers from the same problem, the lack of distinctive taste of the meat) It was prepared well though.

2014-06-17 14.01.34 2014-06-17 14.02.00 2014-06-17 14.02.08 2014-06-17 14.02.36

  • Cheese for June – “Núm. 30 Second Series”: Serrat Gros, 3 combination with gamatxa wine and almonds
    • PRIMER JUEGO: Con cerezas bañadas en garnacha de Allela y almendras
    • SEGUNDO JUEGO: Dos cordones, de mazapán con garnacha y de queso
    • TERCER JUGEO: Macaron de almendra y garnacha relleno de queso
    • Serrat Gros: Queso artesano y de pastor (Ossera, Alt Urgell). Elaborado con leche cruda de cabras de raza alpina. Coagulación láctica, pasta blanda, piel enmohecida. Madurado en cava durante 8 semanas.
    • The first (undressed cheese) was notable for good cherries, juicy without being cloyingly sweet (4/5)
    • The second, with marzipan in a spiral was okay.(3.5/5)
    • The third, a raspberry macaron had good fruit flavor, contrasting with the cheese well (4.5/5)

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  • Pre Dessert: Calisay passion (4.5/5)
    • Passionfruit sorbet and Calysay, the tropical fruit liqueur, a refreshing trope.

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  • Cube: berries, shiso ice cream (3.75/5)
    • While I admire the Mondrian-esque construction, the shiso gelatin with raspberry, coconut, and a solid pillar of apple (I suspect this is important in its structural integrity) was taste-wise nothing special

2014-06-17 14.21.35

  • Tender almonds kiss, sea water (4.75/5)
    • The simplest dish, and the best (for some reason, the simplicity recalls a magical dessert of coconut and carrot at Asta in Boston)
    • Almond cream, fleur de sel, olive oil (fruity and green), with seawater-vanilla ice cream. Dotted with fresh almonds. Superb.

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  • Raisin tomatoes sponge: curd cheese, oregano, ratafía (4.5/5)
    • Tremendously sweet tomatoes (that were intensely raisin-ish, without a trace of tartness),  with sheep’s milk yoghurt, and coca – a sweet pizza-like pastry. The tomatoes had been oven-roasted, and not one bit of sugar was added – very surprising, given how sweet it was. Ratafia (a sweet liqueur) was in there somewhere (tomatoes?)
    • This was a clever dessert-pizza concept dish: the tomatoes functioning more as oversized raisins, the sheep’s milk yoghurt mirroring mozzarella, oregano mirroring basil (for the lobster pizza).
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca_(pastry)
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratafia
    • While Googling I also found an advert for a Tomaccio: an intensely sweet raisin tomato: http://www.raker.com/doc/raker.tomaccio.handout.pdf. Was this what I was served?

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  • Black and Green Olives, Aragón, sevillanas, sweet wine (4/5)
    • Olive oils, different types of olives blended with different kinds of chocolates. Minimalist, but I enjoyed the fruity-olive taste with chocolate. Pleasant

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  • The Dragon (4.25/5)
    • White chocolate
    • Black chocolate
    • Puff pastry, angel hair, pine nuts
    • Chocolate cookies
    • Lemon cookies
    • Licorice and sherbet philo
    • Mint brick
    • While reposing with a coffee in the garden, I was served the first in Sant Pau’s mythical beasts dessert series: The Dragon
  • Limoncello jelly – I was also given a tin to take home. Delicious.

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Akelarre | San Sebastián | Jun ’14 | “not a fan”

31 Jul
  • Rating: 13/20
  • Address: Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56, 20008 San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain
  • Phone: +34 943 31 12 09
  • Price per pax: €190 ($255 at 1 EUR = 1.35 USD)
  • Value: 1/5
  • Dining time: 150 minutes
  • Chef: Pedro Subijana
  • Style: Modernist
  • Michelin Stars: 3

2014-06-14 12.06.40 2014-06-14 12.06.59 2014-06-14 12.07.18 2014-06-14 12.07.26

I have two warnings to gourmet-travellers who are considering whether or not to go to Akelarre.

The first is that the Classics menu is a relative disappointment. Akelarre offers three menus, one based on seafood (Aranori), one based on meat (Bekarki)*, and one a series of Akelarre’s Classics. I ordered the Classics menu, thinking it was a menu of signature dishes. Akelarre has a reputation for turning out creative dishes, and I was hoping to get a meal featuring its creative signatures. I found it to be more Classic in the other sense**, with a very classical dish profile (risotto, pasta, beef, lobster salad). Yes, there were some interesting twists on them – a foie-oxtail tiramisu was interesting – but generally they seemed needless elaboration on top of the classical flavor profile. I was disappointed in the Classics menu, and I think I would have enjoyed myself much more with the other two menus, which seemed more creative, as I found out over lunch by noticing what the other tables were being served.

*(Reference: Entry on “Akelarre”, Where Chefs Eat, Joe Warwick,)

**(This double-meaning seems accidental, for that menu is indeed a compilation of Akelarre hits that have graced the Aranori and Bekarki menus in previous years. They seem to have selected a conservative set of dishes as their “classics”.)

The second is a warning about ingredients. I was served frisee leaves in the lobster salad, that had clearly reddened at its stems. This is a tell-tale sign of old-leaves that have been prepped a long time in advance (maybe hours or days ahead, who knows.) That it made its way to my plate is either a failure of Quality Control from the kitchen, or ridiculously zealous cost-saving from the kitchen. Neither reflects well on Akelarre. I choose to believe the former, since the whole raison d’etre of haute-cuisine is to sample great ingredients, or at very least, better-than-normal ones. I hope my dish was an isolated lapse from the kitchen, and that this is not a systemic pattern at the restaurant.

My meal here plodded with the ordinary. It was less accomplished than a disappointing Arzak meal I had the previous day. While I might return to savour the view (Akelarre is situated beautifully on the Basque shore), I would not order the Classics menu, and in the mean I hope Mr Subijana can ensure that less-than-optimal ingredients will not leave his kitchen.


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  • Sea Garden
    • Prawn’s Sand (4.5/5)
      • Delicious. Sweet, salty, prawny
    • Oyster Leaf.
      • with local wine jelly. Tasting remarkably like oyster.
    • Mussel with “Shell” (4.75/5)
      • Shell of cocoa butter
    • Sea Urchin’s Sponge
    • Beach Pebbles (Shallot and Corn) (4.5/5)
      • Nice corn flavor
    • Codium Seaweed Coral (goose barnacles tasting tempura) (4.5/5)
      • Supposedly tasting like percebes.
      • Good

2014-06-14 12.26.43 2014-06-14 12.26.45 2014-06-14 12.26.48 2014-06-14 12.27.33 2014-06-14 12.33.53 2014-06-14 12.34.57 2014-06-14 12.36.24 2014-06-14 12.37.04 2014-06-14 12.37.10 2014-06-14 12.37.17

  • Lobster salad with Cider vinegar (4.25/5)
    • The lobster was well-prepared, savory and appropriate on the lobster claw, tail and other assorted parts. The whole emphasis on the luxury-ingredient, lobster, made it seem like hotel cuisine.
    • Upon inspection however, I found oxidised salad leaves. Not just one, but multiple oxidised leaves, the red ends of which were not trimmed. That this found its way to my plate in a 3* restaurant is very questionable. Presumably, Chef Subijana does not intend to send out days-old frisee salad leaves (after all, they are one of the cheapest ingredients, a fraction above the price of air). Who then prepares the salad leaves? His sous chef? And how can Mr Subijana allow this dish, using clearly old salad leaves to leave the kitchen? I am forced to conclude that either the Quality Control of the kitchen has dropped, or Akelarre is economising on even the cheapest ingredients (then how can a diner trust that the kitchen is providing the best?)
    • Neither possibility reflects well on the kitchen. This is not a failure of technique (which would be understandable), but of ingredient-quality, the foundation of haute-cuisine. That the days-old leaves made it to my plate, would be questionable at any Michelin-starred restaurant. Even more so at 3* Akelarre.
    • Very disappointing.

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Reddened stems

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  • Pasta, Piquillo and Ibérico Carpaccio, Mushrooms and Parmesan (4.25/5)
    • A carpaccio of pasta, not entirely successful, for the dough-sheet had a starchy texture in the middle, probably a bit undercooked.
    • The truffle had little taste (understandably, given they were not Australian truffles and we were in June), but was redeemed by the earthier dark mushrooms.

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  • Rice with Snails and Periwinkles in Tomato and Basil Film (3.5/5)
    • Carnaroli rice.
    • A lukewarm risotto rice, a bit crunchy, seemingly undercooked, with some sausage-like meat (periwinkles and snails).

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  • Whole-Grain Red Mullet with Sauce “Fusilli” (3.75/5)
    • Red mullet fillet, head and bone praline, liver and onion. Fusilli stuffed with parsley, soy, ajo blanco sauce
    • Whole-grain = use the whole red mullet, head, bones liver
    • The red mullet was good, though a residual shiny sheen of oil on its skin was a bit thick for my taste. The conceit of using fusilli for the different sauces was creative, though the jelly tasted like tasteless water, and it was hard to get into the sauce.

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  • Carved Beef, Tail Cake, “Potatoes and Peppers” (3.75/5)
    • Tail Cake with Foie
    • Coppered Potato and Piquillo peppers
    • A tiramisu of foie and oxtail, bitter. And some beef with jus, and pepper and potato crisps. Okay. Very classic flavor profile. I guess I can’t say I wasn’t warned. I guess I assumed classics meant signature dishes. Given Akelarre’s reputation for creativity, I was hoping for their signature creative dishes, but what I got was classic dishes with a little twist.

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  • Gin-Tonic on a Plate (3.75/5)
    • Jelly of gin and tonic, juniper sauce (the gin parfum). Mix as desired
    • Bitter jelly, with lemon ice cream. It was okay.

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  • Warm Red Fruit Cake, with Candied Fennel (4/5)
    • A nice fruit/spice cake, flavor profile like British mince pies, except with a bit more raspberry. Good fruit spice.

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Arzak | San Sebastián | Jun ’14 | “un-Basqued”

26 Jul
  • Rating: 16.5/20
  • Address: Avenida del Alcalde José Elosegi, 273, 20015 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
  • Phone:+34 943 27 84 65
  • Price per pax: €217 ($291 at 1 EUR = 1.35 USD)
  • Value: 1/5
  • Dining time: 130 minutes
  • Chef: Elena Arzak
  • Style: Modernist
  • Michelin Stars: 3

Notable links:


 

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Arzak has had mixed reviews in the last few years. Michelin continues to rate it highly. But reviews by some food bloggers (Andy Hayler, Elizabeth Auerbach) are less complementary. I was determined to enter Arzak with no expectations, and approach Elena Arzak’s cuisine with an open mind. (and I do not think comparisons to the Arzak of Juan Mari are relevant at all.) Where would this Banco de Sabores take me?

It turns out, I was transported in an Asian direction, unintentionally or intentionally. More specifically, Chinese cooking. A soy-sauce-inflected seabass, nut & seed sauces for pigeon, a scorpionfish dumpling and a sardine sphere that hinted at dim sum, sesame seeds infused with soy and wasabi. Regardless of whether my guess of Chinese experimentation on the part of Chef Elena is correct, I also noticed a lack of an identifiably Basque style to the cooking. And this is perhaps what disappointed me a little about Arzak. The oriental features of the meal were not particularly strong (the nut & seed sauces for the pigeon aside), and I ended the meal thinking that Arzak would have had a stronger meal had they chosen to put their own spin on some dish rooted in Basque country.

2014-06-13 12.40.03Indeed, a 2004 report by the lady “lxt” mentions how Arzak builds on traditional Basque ground:

Under no condition does Arzak fall under the category of those fickle travelers who bounce from corner to corner in their attempt to fit the “current trend.” Perhaps someone dining at Arzak for years may feel nostalgia toward the times when its cuisine was more in accord with the restaurant’s rustic décor, but it hasn’t lost its “personality,” and its development represents nothing but a steady, undeviating, long evolution of contrasted flavors, precisely articulated structures and decisive details, as a result of a highly developed aesthetic intuition while standing sturdily on the raw ground of tradition, letting each dish convey a unique rhythmic movement of a beautifully harmonious ballad. Elena managed to break “the traditional box by sliding out from beneath the roof and extending into the landscape” (Philip Johnson) rather than breaking the foundation of the old “house” completely to rebuild the new cuisine. – lxt

Dining at Arzak 10 years later, it feels as if the pressures to remain innovative has created a restaurant abdicating its Basque roots, experimenting with both oriental gestures and the trappings of modernism. It’s a new ship, this ship of Theseus, and one that’s not recognisably Basque.


*(A special mention for the service, which was excellent)

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  • Scorpionfish mousse with katafi (4.25/5)
    • Scorpionfish in a wispy noodled croquette. Not bad.

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  • Bitter raspberry (3.75/5)
    • Melon-ham cork, raspberry mixed with a bit of apple. Visually interesting, tastewise though ingredients were fairly normal.

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  • “Gilda” of carrots and ssam-jang (3.5/5)
    • Carrot and black olive

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  • Sweet chilli pepper and sardine sphere (4.25/5)

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  • Chorizo with tonic (3.75/5)
    • Ginger ale with ham taste. Ham taste a bit muddled under the ginger ale.

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  • Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche: Crispy manioc hydrated with huitlacoche stuffed with a preparation of onion, green tea and foie gras (4/5)
    • A bit unwieldly to eat, since the foie gras et al. was underneath a manioc/yuca pastry creation. The fin made a it impossible to flip it over. I settled for flipping it onto its side, and eating it with an undersized spoon.
    • foie’s richness was cut by caramelized onions.

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  • Lobster “Sea and Garden”: Grilled lobster with a crispy star shaped crepe and fresh greens (4.75/5)
    • The best dish of the meal, lobster with tomato water. A star-shaped crepe. A side dish of zucchini (?) roasted with paprika. Spinach leaves with juniper. And various sesame seeds, infused with soy and wasabi, to get a rainbow of different colours.
    • The main axis was the lobster-and sesame seeds combo, enhanced with tomato water. The visual effect was quite stunning.

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  • Ovo-lacto: Egg with semi-crunchy shell and baobab accompanied by “lactic leaves” and curds (3.25/5)
    • A poached egg with crispy milk, and a circular dab of gorgonzola-idiazabal. The idea presumably was to showcase the intersection of milk and egg, two common proteins. But it tasted undistinguished, remaining just a poached egg, a bit of cheese, and milk.
    • The kitchen might also consider not putting so much powder on the crisp itself. While raising it to my mouth, I happened to inhale at the same time, breathing in a lot of powder, and coughing.

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  • Fish steak with potatoes: Fillet of seabass lightly marinated with gin and served with several flavors of potatoes (4/5)
    • Seabass in a light soy sauce. With dehydrated potato films (green potato, blue potato) and candied pistachios.
    • A dish reminiscent in presentation to The Fat Duck’s Sound of the Sea, only this one outdoes it with a visual movie of waves!
    • The seabass was a bit fishy – which I didn’t like, and actually very similar to a Chinese steaming of whole seabass in soy sauce. It was in fact, disregarding the potato films and the candied walnuts, a very Asian-influenced preparation. What did the additional ingredients add? Little – the potato films were mostly tasteless, there for eye-candy and texture, while the candied pistachio bits had crusted sugar on them – good bar snacks, but very little reason to be on the same plate with seabass.
    • I found Fat Duck’s Sound of the Sea to be successful because of the entire marine theme of the plate, but with only one marine item on Arzak’s plate (seabass), the rushing of waves did not enhance the dish. I think these extrasensory items, really only work if all the ingredients transport you to a certain remembered place. Arzak’s avant-garde dishes are at best rooted only in Arzak, and so the visual movie transported me nowhere, and was actually a bit of a distraction.
    • To the extent I was transported, I was transported by the taste of soy, to a crowded outdoor Chinese restaurant, eating a steamed fish in soy. Not really the seaside!

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  • Pigeon and seeds: Pigeon breast over a selection of dried fruits accompanied by an elaboration of seeds like pumpkin, grape or sunflower (4.25/5)
    • Pumpkin seed sauce: delicious. Grapeseed sauce (green dabs): delicious. Sunflower towers: nice. Pigeon leg, with papaya-black-olive-almond, sprinkled with chives: Not bad. Pigeon: with orange sauce. Good.
    • Reminded me of the nut candies I used to gorge on as a kid during Chinese New Year, mixed with pigeon.

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  • The big truffle: Large cocoa and sugar truffle with a creamy chocolate and carob filling (4.5/5)
    • Cotton candy surrounding a creamy filling, with chocolate poured on it. With orange flavor. Comforting.

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  • Black lemon: Crispy black lemon image with a sweet citrus cream interior sprinkled with the same fruit (3.75/5)

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  • Ice-cream assortment (4/5)
    • Carrot ice cream and carob ice cream

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  • Ferreteria
    • A nice selection of visually stunning odds and ends for mignardises. Though the tastes did not wow.
    • Coca-cola gelatin and pop rocks, Bolts, keys, screws. Other stuff.

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