Tag Archives: molecular

atera | New York | Sep ’13 | “aesthete’s table”

28 Sep
  • Address: 77 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013
  • Telephone: (212) 226-1444
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $250
  • Courses: (16 main/27 total) 9 amuse / 11 savory / 5 dessert / 2 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $17.5
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Value: 3/5
  • Dining Time: 150 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 6 minutes
  • Chef: Matthew Lightner (ex. noma)
  • Style: Avant-garde / Foraging
  • Michelin Stars: 2

The concept: I believe that chef’s tables are the next big trend in fine-dining worldwide. Why? For three reasons:

  1. Supply: Fine-dining has never been better world-wide, with an increasing ferment of ideas from chefs globally as they exchange ideas over Twitter and Instagram. Many recipes are freely shared over the Internet. Inspiration is nothing more than a Follow on a great chef’s Twitter account away. So there is a large volume of information and combinations which are waiting to be tested on discerning diners. The format that enables the most communication and empirical feedback on new dishes and presentation, is the table of small bites, the chef’s table.
  2. Demand: I estimate about 60% of fine-dining patrons are well-heeled professionals,  more scarce of time than money. They will ceteris paribus prefer to maximise the amount of novel ideas they imbibe and consume per unit of time, which also benefits the chef’s table format.
  3. Chef-watching: it is enjoyable to watch skilled artisans prepare your food, or tweezer decorations in.

atera is one of a bunch of high-end chef’s tables in New York which have won great acclaim – think Momofuku Ko (2* Michelin), Brooklyn Fare (3* Michelin), atera (2* Michelin), Blanca (1* Michelin) – for their innovative preparation of dishes. The format is perhaps many chefs’ dream, being given complete license to experiment with food, with appreciative and adventurous customers.

How will chef’s tasting counters change in the medium term (3-5 years)? Ruth Reichl thinks that they need to evolve beyond providing great food and wine, to providing more interactivity and theatre.

The chef seems to be challenging himself to wrest the maximum amount of flavor out of every ingredient, wanting to satisfy you with a single bite. A little tortellini had a filling so powerful you sat there, your mouth pulsing with flavor, long after the dish had been taken away. I looked down the counter: everyone looked stunned, happy. 

I enjoyed every minute of that meal. But I wonder where the restaurant will be five years from now. At the moment these expensive tasting experiences for a small, exclusive  audience- think Ko, Aterra, Brooklyn Fare – are the meals of the moment.  How will they evolve?

Every chef dreams of doing meals like these, but if they are to last I expect they’ll have to offer more than merely fabulous food and wonderful wine. Patrons will demand interaction with the kitchen, comfortable seats, good lighting, a more integrated experience. 

American food is at a high point; we’ve never had more talented chefs or more interesting restaurants. But that’s precisely why the smartest chefs are thinking beyond cuisine to the total experience. When you leave a restaurant like Blanca, you want to remember more than the pleasant service and wonderful food. – Ruth Reichl @ Blanca

What I like about chef’s tables is that there is simply more interactivity with the chefs. You get to ask questions about your food, find out what went into the making of your dish, and so on. The best experience along this line that I had in 2013 was at the Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo in June [link], where I felt completely free to ask Chef Hashimoto any questions about his molecular cuisine..

The restaurant: atera opened in May 2012, and made quite a stir when it got 2* Michelin in the 2013 guide.

The chef: Matthew Lightner, formerly of Portland, has done stints in Mugaritz and noma. He started out in 2012 trying to forage for atera, but it has proved a bit troublesome to find ingredients in NYC, and now he relies on the (still excellent) option of farmers’ markets in NYC.

The area: TriBeCa, despite being one of the most desirable celebrity zipcodes, seemed quite a desolate area, based on evidence from a Saturday night. Perhaps it was all the construction on Worth Street.

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Menu

Snacks

  1. Beer & Buttermilk Macaron | Creme Fraiche, Caviar.
  2. Lightly Pickled Beet Coated in Beeswax
  3. Geoduck & Pork Fat over Air Baguette with Smoked Potato Puree
  4. Amerynth Toast | Smoked Trout Roe, Ramp
  5. Lobster Roll with Yeast Meringue
  6. Beef Tendon | Uni fish Sauce
  7. Pickled Quails Egg | Chicken Liver Pate, Huckleberry, Pig Blood Wafer
  8. Bone Marrow | Heart of Palm
  9. Swordfish Belly

Mains

  1. Fresh Peaches | Frilled Dianthis ‘Rose de Mai’ (dianthus plumarius) | Roasted Corn
  2. Blue Fin Tuna | Sunflower (helianthus annuus) | Tomato Preserves
  3. Razor Clam | Garlic & Almond
  4. Sea Urchin | Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus)| Carrot
  5. Diver Scallop | Hazelnut (corylus avellana) | Fermented Cabbage Leaf
  6. Dried Beets | Brown Butter, Blackberry
  7. Peekytoe Crab Ravioli | Toasted Grain Dashi
  8. Sepia | Chicken Bouillon
  9. Grilled Halibut | Arctic Rose (rosa acicularis) | chamomile
  10. Roasted Squab | Bronze Fennel (foeniculum vulgare ‘purpureum’) | Currants, Black Garlic
  11. Elysian Field Lamb | Liver Miso, Wheatberries

Desserts

  1. Cheesecake | Wood Sorrel (oxalis acetosella) | Lemon Sherbet
  2. Strawberries | Saltine meringue
  3. Cracked Egg Ice Cream | Egg Yolk Jam
  4. Walnut Sundae | Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis) | Celery Root
  5. Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich | Oak (quercus robus) | Vanilla

Mignardises

  1. Black Walnut and Hazelnut Truffles
  2. Chocolate Caramel Pretzels

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squabs

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Snacks

2013-09-14 18.11.332013-09-14 18.11.23Beer & Buttermilk Macaron | Creme Fraiche, Caviar (4.5/5)

Texture and taste. The macaron shell tasted like Chinese prawn crackers, well complemented by sourness of creme fraiche.

2013-09-14 18.12.33 2013-09-14 18.12.42Lightly Pickled Beet Coated in Beeswax (4/5)

A very pretty presentation of pickled beet. Light sourness.

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Geoduck & Pork Fat over Air Baguette with Smoked Potato Puree (4.75/5)

Geoduck had a crunchy texture approaching dried jellyfish. The air baguette had the texture of a Chinese fortune cookie. Well finished by Pork fat. This dish transported me to memories of oriental food, especially of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore, where geoduck was an occasional ingredient in the mandatory lo-hei salad on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

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Amerynth Toast | Smoked Trout Roe, Ramp (4.25/5)

Strong grassy taste from ramp. Amerynth is a cousin grain of quinoa.

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Lobster Roll with Yeast Meringue (5/5)

The best. Sweet crunchy lobster, contrasted with an airy meringue sandwich. I would pay for a full size meringue lobster roll.

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Beef Tendon | Uni fish Sauce (4.5/5)

Sous-vide the beef tendon for 24 hours, then put it in the dehydrator. Deep fry it, and it expands, like chicharones. Imaginative technique. to get beef tendon into this form.

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Pickled Quails Egg | Chicken Liver Pate, Huckleberry, Pig Blood Wafer (5/5)

Stunning flavours coaxed out of the pig blood wafer. The slightly sweet biscuit contrasted with the meatiness of chicken liver to give an uncanny resemblance to a chocolate oreo cookie.

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Bone Marrow | Heart of Palm (5/5)

A seeming piece of bone is actually sculpted heart of palm. Crunchy, cradling delish marrow.

2013-09-14 18.31.45Swordfish Belly (4.5/5)

Fishy ham. A creative preparation of cured swordfish, to achieve the ham taste.

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Mains

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Fresh Peaches | Frilled Dianthis ‘Rose de Mai’ (dianthus plumarius) | Roasted Corn (4.5/5)

A delicious combination of corn cream and peach, with scent notes from the dianthis.

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Blue Fin Tuna | Sunflower (helianthus annuus) | Tomato Preserves (4.25/5)

An anise flavour comes straight from the dill flower. A medley of herbs such as sheep’s sorrel decorates the dish. The central axis is a tomato jam with fresh blue fin tuna, with a strong helping of fleur de sel underneath.

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Razor Clam | Garlic & Almond (3.75/5)

A visual pun: it is confusing when you take a bite, if you are going to taste clam, pickled garlic, or almond. Full marks for presentation. Tastewise, it was quite average – the almond was problem, being much harder than the rest: Imagine biting into a clam sandwich, with pickled almond as the bread.

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Sea Urchin | Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus)| Carrot (4.75/5)

Santa Barbara sea urchin and carrot was an inspired combination, and was beautifully presented. For that alone it would have gotten a perfect rating.  Fresh spongey texture of uni, with a carrot-miso paste mix. However, in the night I was there, a whole slew of dishes were peculiarly oversalted. Salting was a problem with this dish, which had too much soy sauce.

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Squab still there

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Diver Scallop | Hazelnut (corylus avellana) | Fermented Cabbage Leaf (4/5)

Diver scallop gently warmed over coals, with hazlenut butter and scallop roe underneath, shredded sauerkraut below. Okay.

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Action shot2013-09-14 19.02.16

Dried Beets | Brown Butter, Blackberry (4.25/5)

Dehydrated beets, with tart blackberries and brown butter consomme. Very rich.

Are dehydrated beets a thing amongst noma alumni? I had a similar dish of dehydrated rehydrated beets masterfully done in Providence’s birch, under chef Ben Sukle.

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Peekytoe Crab Ravioli | Toasted Grain Dashi (4.5/5)

Shredded crab, put in the beancurd film off a boiling beancurd broth (a refined form of the Singaporean dried beancurd skin tau kwa), to become a ravioli. An accomplished and delicate dish. The dashi, however, was again oversalted.

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Sepia | Chicken Bouillon (3.75/5)

One of atera’s signature preparations. What appears to be rice noodles in soy sauce is acually shredded sepia, or cuttlefish (what’s the difference between cuttlefish and squid?) in a roasted chicken broth. The noodles were slightly crunchy in texture. Oversalty.

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2013-09-14 19.22.09Grilled Halibut | Arctic Rose (rosa acicularis) | chamomile (4/5)

Nova Scotia halibut, with pickled arctic rose petals, and roasted bones of fish reduced to a sauce and emulsified with chamomile. The pickled rose petals had a sensational taste which I hope to try again, marrying the fragrance of Ispahan with a fruity sourness. Halibut was well-cooked.

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Roasted Squab | Bronze Fennel (foeniculum vulgare ‘purpureum’) | Currants, Black Garlic (4.75/5)

The centerpiece which we had been waiting for, squab breast. Sinewy to the knife, it was apparently created as a tribute to an art piece [see SpanishHipster for the exact art piece this dish was inspired from]. Again, full marks to presentation. Accompaniments: FennelSea-buckthorn, tart gooseberries, blueberry sauce, black garlic , and a tomato ragout with squab liver, gizzard, & heart.

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Elysian Field Lamb | Black Walnut Miso, Wheatberries and Eggplant (4.5/5)

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Desserts & Mignardises

Desserts are said to be atera’s specialty. Certainly, it is unusual that chef Lightner takes the lead in creating the desserts.

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Cheesecake | Wood Sorrel (oxalis acetosella) | Lemon Sherbet (4.25/5)

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Strawberries | Saltine meringue (4.75/5)

A saltine made of meringue! Great construction.

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Cracked Egg Ice Cream | Egg Yolk Jam (5/5)

Another atera specialty, mango jam within goatsmilk ice cream and a sugar shell. An innovative riff on the cracked sugar shells desserts that have been all-the-rage recently – I’ve seen them served at least thrice in the past year at the Joel Robuchon Restaurant [Macau], RyuGin [Tokyo – report], and Restaurant Andre [Singapore – report]. This photo-realistic facsimile of egg was amazing.

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Walnut Sundae | Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis) | Celery Root (4.75/5)

Toasted walnut sundae, with celery root dehydrated and then rehydrated in walnut liquor syrup. Celery root then took on the beguiling appearance of walnut, making them indistinguishable except to tooth and tongue.

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Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich | Oak (quercus robus) | Vanilla (5/5)

This high-concept confection crystalizes a few current themes in New York dining: local, experimental and nostalgic. Chef Matthew Lightner’s Bourbon Cask Ice Cream Sandwich neatly presses ice cream made from bourbon-barrel-aged milk (using spirits originated by New York distillery Tuthilltown) between cookies made from ground oak chips, cocoa powder and olive oil. Considering its complexity, it tastes surprisingly like an ice cream sandwich. It may come to the table on a piece of chilled slate, but the crinkly, shiny wrapper keeps it fun. – The Metro 

Yup!

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Black Walnut and Hazelnut Truffle (5/5)

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Chocolate Caramel Pretzels (5/5)

Despite being small, these pretzels packed a delicious salty punch from the caramel.

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The plating: If I were to sum up atera in a single sentence, it might be that “presentation is as much substance as taste”. Plating at atera is of paramount importance; to pick a few dishes at random –  the squab art piece, the celery root that was put through the wringer of dehydration and rehydration to look like walnut, the cracked egg – were all masterclasses in plating and presentation. If one eats with one’s eyes, one will eat very well indeed on plates such as the razor clam, garlic, almond pile.

The meal: I enjoyed the pre-meal snacks, and the desserts a lot more than the mains, which I believe suffers from a problem of over-salting. Certainly atera does not go for the heartiness of a plate of pasta in a restaurant like Marea, but instead focuses on transmogrifying its natural ingredients to make jokes, to play with our conceptions of what food should look like, our notions of verisimilitude. I rate atera top-class on visual artistry, but this diner is more accustomed to a different idiom – one of heartiness – for at least some of the main dishes. Heartiness is the generosity and warmth of comfort food – think a whimsical chunk of steak at Tapas Molecular Bar, or a warm kelp risotto at Restaurant Andre. That atera does not serve a single hearty dish, but relentless aesthetic small bites, was a horizon-expanding concept. It will certainly need to win over and re-educate fine-diners to its aesthetic philosophy. I foresee increasing enthusiasm for this kind of meal amongst the fine-dining crowd as an experience, but I doubt it will attract a large group of regulars.

In the future, thus, I think what will happen is:

  1. more chef’s tables
  2. atera’s aesthetic philosophy will attract less regulars, but educate a wider base of diners.
  3. to attract a wider base of diners, chef’s tables will need to foster more interaction between chefs, servers, diners (an easy consequence of the seating arrangement)

Expertise: The kitchen is especially skilled in meringue preparation; certainly the yeast meringue for the lobster roll and the saltine meringue for dessert were amazing pieces of craftsmanship.

Overall: 18/20

Memory: Pickled beet in beeswax, lobster roll with yeast meringue, pigs blood wafer, bone marrow with “bone”, swordfish ham, a pile of razor clam + garlic + almonds, peekytoe crab ravioli, pickled rose petals on a halibut dish, the artistic presentation of squab breast, a saltine meringue, cracked egg, celery root made to look like walnut, bourbon cask sandwich, black walnut + hazelnut truffle, chocolate pretzels

Alcohol Memories: 

  1. raisiny-sweet = 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Montilla-Moriles Don PX Gran Reserva
  2. anise-sweet = Luli aperitif wine
  3. Sazerac (atera lounge makes a good Sazerac)

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Other Notable Write-ups

  1. Spanish Hipster’s September 2013 visit to Atera – As always, this blog has amazing visuals – written by a former RISD alumnus, Elise Porter!
  2. Historical review of the 2012 Atera menu by Docsconz.
  3. The Toqueland interview with Matthew Lightner.

As readers of this site probably know, Lightner’s style is an arresting marriage of two of-the-moment movements–modernist and foraging–set within that most au courant of dining contexts: the countertop restaurant. – Toqueland

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Tapas Molecular Bar | Tokyo | Jun ’13 | “pure whimsy and fun”

8 Sep

Address: 2-1-1, Nihonbashimuromachi | 38F, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture 103-8328, Japan

Telephone: +81 3-3270-8188

Back in June, when I was traveling for 2 weeks in Japan, I had a very pleasant tour through some of Tokyo’s finer restaurants. The previous night played host to a traditional yet arch-modern meal in RyuGin, and now I was swinging  to the other end of the spectrum with pure molecular wizardry on display at Tapas Molecular Bar. I found out about Tapas Molecular Bar thanks to Adam Goldberg, who highlighted this as one of his favorite places in the city.

The restaurant: My understanding is that Tapas Molecular Bar (TMB) was set up by Jeff Ramsey, originally sous-chef under Jose Andres at Washington DC molecular restaurant Minibar. However, as of 2012, Jeff Ramsey has left the kitchen, and it is now being helmed by Chef Koichi Hashimoto. Hashimoto-san was in the kitchen when I was there, and there was nothing but a glass box, containing the ingredients to be used in our dinner (dramatic foreshadowing) separating us 7 diners and Hashimoto and his British assistant chef Aaron Cardwell. The mise-en-scene (prior preparation) had already been assembled before our arrival.

Pre-meal, I was treated to a fantastic view over Tokyo in the bar area.

TMB is not an original act. It was highlighted in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine as one of the prime offenders in copying ideas wholesale. Many of the dishes from reports in 2010 seem to have been copied from Minibar by Jose Andres in Washington DC, and I counted at least one dish on the night that was recognisably another restaurant’s (Mugaritz’s stone potato). My impression thus is that the chefs are skilled executors rather than creative forces in their own right.

The people: Two international East Asian yuppie bankers to my left, and a well-heeled Houston family of 4 to my right.

The environs: Nihombashi is a very upscale area, with swanky hotels and glitz restaurants, right north of the Ginza district. Right on the ground floor is the Tokyo HQ of fine-fruit purveyors Sembikiya. In Japan, fruit is considered a gift item. I have heard it speculated that it is because in Europe, the hard water led to fruit becoming a necessity as a vessel for clean water content, and Japan’s soft water made fruit unnecessary as a water vessel, and thus fruit acquired a luxury position. This reasoning sounds like fruitcake to me (luxury fruit in Japan is an at most two centuries old phenomenon, see this BBC article on Sembikiya, which traces back its history only to the 19th century, and soft water would be a fact of Japanese agriculture for millennia.)

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“dear me, if that isn’t a gold durian…”
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Spectacular views over Tokyo

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the menu

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Cherry Bonbon

Cherry with a bonbon liquid bomb of liqueur inside, coated with jello on the outside.

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Stone Potato (5/5)

Four stones, but only one is a potato. Chorizo sauce in a industrial-looking tube, and salt on a rock plate.

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I picked the right one!

This is a very labour-intensive carnival piece. Each potato is baked with flour water brushed on top, 3-4 times each to get the desired stoney effect. For pure whimsy this dish was a home-run. This dish is the infamous stone potato of Mugaritz restaurant in Spain.

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Chefs and their alginate.

2013-06-05 05.18.24Green Pea Mint (4.5/5)

The alginate beads are used to form a pea risotto, with a bit of ham mixed in. It was a decent combination, and the value of the dish lay primarily in its theatrical creation. Green-pea with sodium(?) alginate  is dropped into calcium chloride(?),  which causes spherification to happen. I was expecting a skin to form on the pea, but the alginate forms the beads without any membrane whatsover.

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Fromage Blanc, Flower and Butterfly (4.25/5)

A very pretty plating, but somewhat lacking in cohesion of tastes: the butterflies were made of sugar, the vinaigrette made of raspberry, and the foam a honey rosewater concoction, on top of some fromage blanc.

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Spring Landscape (4.75/5)

Lightly tempura-battered veggies, made to look like an enchanted forest, crumble of black garlic (which has a natural taste of wolfsberry, as I later found out) and onion, naturally fermented. A delicious combination

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Green Laver, Razor Clam, and Yuzu (3.75/5)

I did not have a strong impression of this dish; the yuzu was in the foam.

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foreshadowing with a syringe2013-06-05 05.45.00

Smoked Egg (4.5/5)

Liquid smoke piped into a jar, with an onsen cooked egg (low temperatures). This dish was quite nice, and smoked eggs was something I would later have in two forms in Singapore, at Jaan (the best onsen-style smoked confection, Julien Royer’s 62 degree, 55 minutes smoked egg), and David Pynt’s smoked quail eggs. This dish was naked and unadorned, and I felt it missed something that would make it perfect [I would later be enlightened by Julien Royer that what was missing was charred Jamon Iberico and potatoes]. The biscotti spoon to eat with added a touch of whimsy, but little tastewise.

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(off-menu) Prawn Bisque (4.5/5)

Blowtorched bisque (made of crab shell), and prawn. A sherry jelly for palate cleansing. An interesting take on the skin that forms on thick soups like bisques, I have never had a blowtorched soup before!

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Baby Pork Hazelnut (5/5)

This was an inverted xiaolongbao (soup dumpling). Here the pork (topped with shaved hazelnut), would form the outer covering for a soup within. How did they do it? I asked Aaron, the assistant chef. It turns out that they bake the chop, after they stuff a gelatin cube into the pork, and then cover it up with meat glue. The pork tasted superb, and the mechanics of the dish were sublime.

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the magic levitating spoons with their ingredients foreshadowing the different courses

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Warm Sizzling Beef (5/5)

Wagyu, already tender, is tenderised above and beyond, by being cooped up in a pressurised container with nitrous oxide for 6 hours. This also gives it a sizzling effect on the plate. It is not because it is red hot, but because of the gaseous behaviour of nitrous oxide.

The Edible Art on my plate is silkscreen printed mayonnaise, coloured with bamboo charcoal. Superb execution, bravo, bravo, bravo!

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(off-menu) Vegetable Soup

A rather-forgettable bland vegetable combination, but perhaps a good palate cleanser after the excitement of Warm, Sizzling Beef.

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Osuimono (4.75/5)

Osuimono is the other basic Japanese soup: the main alternative to miso soup when you’re making 1 soup-1 dish. At its best, osuimono is a very light broth: it should never be weighed down with too many ingredients, too much salt or – and this is a common mistake – too much soy sauce.

The basic ingredients are water, dashi, soy sauce and sake, but there’s a lot of room for variation with what you put into it. Dropping a beaten egg in it, for instance, works wonderfully. For this recipe, however, I used a filet of sole, some spring onion and lime rinds.

Kanoko’s Kitchen.

The threads of the meal come back to weave a narrative. Earlier, Chef Hashimoto syringed green stuff into an alginated soup. We now find out that the soup is osuimono, a classic Japanese clear fish-soup, with syringed kombu inside. This round spoonful of osuimono, perhaps best captures what is classic and modern about Tokyo cooking in one picture.

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Green Tea Puff (5/5)

Our friend liquid nitrogen makes its first appearance on the Tapas stage. But why is this little green tea macaron-shaped pastry, doused in liquid nitrogen for about 5-10 seconds, called a “puff”?

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the answer: because you keep it in your mouth and it starts puffing out of your nose!

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Egg (5/5)

Mango gelatin, and sweet white stuff in a white chocolate egg. A nest made of pastry. An incredibly plated dessert, it well-satisfied my sweet tooth.

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The array

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Japanese Paper (4/5)

Flattened candy floss, with flowers in between.

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Strawberry Milk (3.75/5)

The photo smells (faintly) of milk, and the crumpled paper display is made of strawberry. Taken together, this dish smells like strawberries & cream. The smell was a bit too faint on the photo to really make that association, however.

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Choco-banana (4/5)

Now with pop-rocks inside! Everyone is doing pop-rocks now, it seems to be an in-thing. I’ve had it variously, besides in Tokyo, in Singapore’s Jaan, Singapore’s Andre, and Singapore’s Saveur.

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Cherry Blossom

Can’t really remember what this tasted like. Underneath the cherry-blossom….

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The real Choco-Banana? (3.5/5)

Banana-“rice” krispies, bound with chocolate. Quite ordinary.

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Fruits (5/5)

Miracle Fruit, on the right, contains miraculin, which makes sour things taste sweet for 2 hours. We were promptly given lemons and limes.

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Tapas Molecular Bar is an incredibly fun restaurant (some would say amusement park). I would not hesitate to go back when I am next in Tokyo. It was deeply impressive that the pair of Chef Hashimoto and Aaron Cardwell were able to create all the dishes for 7 people without any help during the 2+ hours I was there, which speaks to a very disciplined mise-en-scene preparation process that preceded us diners coming in.

Memory: Stone Potato, Baby Pork Hazelnut (inverted xiaolongbao), Warm Sizzling Beef (Nitrous Oxide), spherified Osuimono, Green Tea Puff (the magic dragon), Egg (white chocolate and mango gelatin), Miracle Berry and Fruits.

Verdict: 18/20

Other great write-ups of Tapas:

  1. http://tomostyle.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/tapas-molecular-bar-tokyo-japan/
  2. http://www.alifewortheating.com/tokyo/tapas-molecular-bar-revisited
  3. http://www.alifewortheating.com/tokyo/tapas-molecular-bar

Nihonryori Ryugin | Tokyo | 04/06/13 | “molecular kaiseki”

19 Aug
  • Address: Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
  • Number: +81-3-3423-8006
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $260
  • Courses: (12 main/14 total) 10 savory / 2 palate cleanser / 2 dessert /
  • Price/Main Course: $22
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 133 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 9.5 minutes
  • Chef: Seiji Yamamoto (Aoyagi, Tokushima)
  • Style: Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 3

Reservation available time : 11:30am-6:00pm

Ryugin popped on my radar when Chef Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Los Angeles) mailed me a DVD of Yamamoto performing cooking tricks that resembled a hybrid of Homaro Cantu’s (Moto, Chicago) high-tech-ery and Adoni Aduriz’s (Mugartiz, a favorite of mine) more organic approach. Indeed, as I did more research, I learned that Yamamoto and Aduriz were great friends, citing each other as influences and inspiration. The food at Mugaritz has an underlying Asian twist and it is possible to see how the two could find common ground to push each other further.3 A few inquiries found that, while experimental, Ryugin still had the Japanese attention to ingredient quality. The restaurant seemed to be at the forefront of an Eastern response to the largely Spanish molecular gastronomy “movement.” – ChuckEats on Ryugin.

Recently, I was staying in Tokyo for 6 days, and came in without a single booking for any restaurant. On a lazy Tuesday night, I managed to get a same-night table at the kaiseki (Japanese multi-course) specialists Ryugin. Weeknight tables are easier to get, since a great deal of fine dining is consumed by the professional class, which makes Friday-Sunday the busy days.

Ryugin is the brainchild of chef Seiji Yamamoto, who specialises in updating the traditional Japanese set-meal “kaiseki” with the latest molecular techniques, in what might be dubbed “molecular kaiseki”. Chef Yamamoto has been known to make burdock root corks for faux-wine, and his famous 196 degree series of fruit desserts involve some molecular trickery. The restaurant is located in gaijin work-and-play area, Roppongi Hills, and Chef Yamamoto has in the mean-time opened a branch serving the same innovative “molecular kaiseki” cuisine in Hong Kong.

Fiercely colourful crockery line the tables, in an intimate 26-seater restaurant, which is done is an classic black Japanese style, (similar to the l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon colour-scheme.)  It is ranked #2 in Asia for 2013 by San Pellegrino, just behind The Creations of Narisawa.

(In spite of the tongue-in-cheek title, liquid nitrogen was only used once, for one of the desserts. The meal was still focused on (and achievable with) traditional cooking techniques, with premium ingredients)

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Summer Menu 2013

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(cold) Grilled Corn Small Egg Custard with Fresh Sea Urchin and Fragrance of 3 varieties of Onions (5/5)

A simple pairing of egg custard and uni (sweet). 3 types of onions refer to green onion flowers (pictured), fried onion (brown bits pictured), diced onion (the white cubes). Showcased delicate raw sweet smell of spring onions without the bitterness.

2013-06-04 08.25.212013-06-04 08.25.00 (hot) Seasonal Vegetables with Pine Nuts dressing. Array of Flavors and Textures in one plate. (4.75/5)

“30 kinds of vegetables”. The salad, with crunchy vinegared bamboo shoots, pine-nuts, cucumber, savory green paste, mushrooms, was an upscale of an form of Asian vegetable medley. The salad tasted intensely of mushrooms and bamboo, and clearly labour-intensive. (as with Michel Bras’s gargouillou, and Alain Passard’s one-leaf-at-a-time approach to salads)

In Singapore, a similar dish called  盆菜 “pen cai” is made with tons of fungus and beehoon.

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(cold) Simmered Summer Vegetables and Cold Shabu-Shabu Beef with Kinome flavor (5/5)

The shabu-shabu tasted delicate and beefy, and falling-off tender. The jelly is made from boiling bonito fish, and lended a umami flavor to the dish. Blue Eggplant underneath the shabu-shabu, was from the Yokohama region. The star of the dish was kinome, leaves of the Japanese Ash (AKA Szechuan Peppercorn). Imagine lemongrass, but without the acrid lime taste. If lemongrass’s sourness can be a sawtooth wave, kinome resembles more a gentle sine wave. This was one of my favourite courses. Harmoniously composed.

(By comparison, the next night, at Tapas Molecular Bar, the beef was tender by virtue of pounding into submission wagyu beef with nitrous oxide for 6 hours.)

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(hot) Ichiban Dashi Soup. Pike Eel with Egg Plant stuffed inside in Summer Presentation (3.5/5)

The eggplant is folded within the pike eel. The pike eel was largely tasteless and flaky (so I guess I was to focus on its texture), the eggplant sweet; together they went well. I was told to eat before it disintegrates, since the geometric folding would not last long in the soup.

Alas! Given my inexpert chopstick handling, as well as the size of the morsel (two normal chopsticks full), they went together for 2 bites at most. This is a cutlery conundrum, calling for a new variant – gentle spatula tongs.

But a more experienced epicure educates:

There is no ingredient that tests the knife skills of a chef more than hamo, pike conger eel, which has rows of tiny coarse bones that are impossible to remove. Only an experienced chef with superior knife skills can perform honegiri (which means ‘bone cutting’ in Japanese), a process of making precise incisions into the bones without cutting through the skin or destroying the flesh. When a properly incised piece of hamo is blanched in hot water, it should blossom like a chrysanthemum flower with perfectly even sections, and create a light and fluffy texture. The hamo by Chef Yamamoto at Ryugin was the most perfect demonstration of hamo workmanship that I have seen to date. It was stuffed with sweet caramelized kamo-nasu eggplant and served in a wonderful bonito ichiban dashi. – Tomostyle

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The revelation of the dish was the water shield, or mugwortfrom the soup. This gelatinous herb is called “gin sai” or water shield. It’s crunchy inside and jello outside, like a natural red ruby (Thai dessert), which has a crunchy chestnut core surrounded by flour.2013-06-04 08.54.322013-06-04 08.54.48

(cold) Today’s Array of Ocean’s Delicacy. RyuGin style (5/5)

Clockwise from 8 o’clock:
1. Squid and prawn in Japanese soy sauce.
2. Lightly smoked bonito with Japanese mustard.
3. Flatfish with lemon juice.
4. Roasted potato stems with seaweed [texture of bai cai, seaweed umami]
5. Squid and seaweed.

Center:
6. Abalone and Crab Salad

Excellent.

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(hot) RyuGin’s famous Summer Dish: Swimming Ayu fish Grilled over Charcoal with Bamboo Aroma (5/5)

Ayu is a Japanese river fish; they were grilled in swimming position. Sauce is watermelon-pepper. (Ayu has a bittersweet part in its head, which I am told is the source of a watermelon flavour in the head). Advised to eat from crunchy head (w/o sauce) to crunchy tail (w/ sauce). Fantastic in conception and the fish were expertly grilled. The watermelon flavour in the ayu is a sort of bitter-sweet.

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Cherry pickled with ginger

Palate refresher. I am quite full at this point.

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Simmered preparation in Luxurious presentation – Soft Simmered Octopus – Simmered Abalone – Shrimp Ball and Green Peas (4.75/5)

Technically expert simmering with a winter melon piece draped over it.

The deviation from Chinese simmering technique came from the green peas! Crunchy like slightly simmered water chestnut. (“wakamame” peas?)

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Pork Neck Grilled on Charcoal and Straw Smoked with Wild Honey Soy Sauce and Mustard (5/5)

Pork neck was fatty and delicious.
Young corn had its thinking cap on.

2013-06-04 09.46.44

(hot) Pike Eel Scramble Eggs over the Rice Cooked from the Pike Eel Broth. Miso Soup and Pickles. (3.5/5)

Rice was unspectacular, but the pickled sardines were very good.

2013-06-04 09.47.12Refresher

2013-06-04 09.59.06

(off-menu) Chicken Rice Ball

Very fragrant. You can see the many herbs that went into it.

2013-06-04 10.04.56

Refresher2013-06-04 10.10.29

hmm…

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I broke it with a tap of my spoon… (on instructions) 2013-06-04 10.10.56

(cold) (hot) Roppongi’s special. Small piece of Ripe Mango. (5/5) !!!

oh!

A delicate bijou (of mild-tasting sugar?) coloured and shaped to look like a mango, containing freeze-dried mango powder, is broken by the diner and afterwards mixed with warm mango poured into the diner’s plate. This is the signature minus-196 degree dessert from RyuGin, which has been used for apples and peaches too, among others. (minus 196 is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen).

spectacular.

EDIT: here’s a video that goes into the complicated process of making one of these: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/07/05/watch-how-to-make-one-of-japans-elite-restaurants-desserts/

2013-06-04 10.16.28

(hot) (cold) Baked Ginjou Sake Oyuki Souffle, and Feathery Soft Served Ice Cream (5/5)

The premium sake souffle tasted like premium sake, which is the highest compliment I can give this dish. (and it goes all the way down into the base of the box).

Ryugin keeps getting better and better, living up to its promotion to 3 Michelin stars. Chef Seiji Yamamoto runs a tight ship at his Roppongi restaurant where the service and the courses seem to flow effortlessly. A recent revisit was right up there as one of the best meals of my life, and the highlight for me was their autumn harvest sake dessert. I went back and forth with my spoon, enjoying both the silkiness of the cold amazake soft serve and the warm fluffiness (and such enticing aromas!) of the sake soufflé. The juxtaposition of temperatures and textures was both pure genius and pure pleasure. – Tomostyle

2013-06-04 10.23.31

Matcha

Very bitter Japanese green tea, palate cleansing and bracing. The sequence of dishes is brought full circle; I am again ejected into the starry Tokyo night.

____________

My general thoughts on Ryugin:

  • Very theatrical. Most theatrical being the roasted swimming Ayu (river fish), and the Minus-196 Mango.
  • Their eggplants are very good.
  • Water shield, and kinome are herbs that should be used more often.
  • Bonito, which formed the base of the shabu-shabu jelly, is very versatile (dried bonito flakes are often used in Japanese home-cooking).

What I was impressed with was the high standard of imagination in every dish. Seiji Yamamoto has a perfectionist streak, and it shows in the plating and presentation of every dish. A beautiful dinner.

Verdict: 20/20

Memory: Uni Custard, Shabu-Shabu in Bonito Jelly, Swimming Ayu, Grilled Pork Neck, Minus-196 Mango, and Sake Souffle.

Restaurant André | Singapore | 31/07/13 and 10/08/13 | “octaphilosophy”

13 Aug
  • Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855
  • Phone: +65 6534 8880
  •  Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $350
  • Courses: (11-12 main/18-19 total) 3 amuse / 1 bread / 8 main / 3-4 desserts / 3 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $29-32
  • Rating: 16/20 or 19.5/20
  • Value: 1/5 or 2/5
  • Dining Time: 200 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Andre Chiang (ex. Pierre Gagnaire, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, L’Astrance, La Maison Troisgros, Le Jardin des Sens)
  • Style: Avant-garde French

This was my 2nd and 3rd time at Andre. My 1st time at Andre in 2011 was when I really discovered the fine dining scene in general. I was very eager to revisit the scene of a dinner that made a big impression on me, for its creativity and whimsy. There has also been a subtle shift in his philosophy. When I went in 2011, Chef Andre said he did not believe in molecularising food, and forcing produce into predefined pigeonholes. While Andre is all about letting the produce speak for itself, Andre seems to have co-opted some molecular tricks in his cooking, judging by my two meals in 2013.

Restaurant Andre gets a box of ingredients every morning, with the ingredients sourcers given only the instruction to get what is freshest in the market. Chef Andre and his team then decide what meal to serve based on the ingredients in the mystery box, but always structured according to the Octaphilosophy – “Pure Salt Artisan South Texture Unique Memory Terroir”. Therefore dining at Andre is like jazz, the kitchen will always hit the 8 notes of octaphilosophy, but what specific form it takes may only be finalised at the last minute. What this means is that Andre can be hit or miss. My meal on Wednesday was very good, but somehow seemed a bit tired, as if the same dishes were being served by the kitchen for a while now. And indeed the same menu has been served for a while now: check out Julian Teoh’s meal from October 2012, which is exactly the same except for Main #8 Terroir, where he was served rabbit. Julian Teoh, BTW, is a very fine writer and food blogger. The same menu (again, except Main #8 Terroir) was given a mixed review in April 2013 by a couple of Singapore food bloggers.

(Caveat: Evelyn Chen of Bibikgourmand seem to have had a different Summer 2012 menu.)

So the same menu was served to me on Wednesday. While I thought it was technically excellent cooking, I wanted to see a different side of the kitchen. For my second 2013 outing at Andre, I expressed my desire to see the kitchen change it up. What followed was a whirlwind of creativity, one of the best meals I have ever had. The same food had an ineffable pizazz, a vibrant creativity that captures the magic of Andre’s octaphilosophy. As a diner who indulges in meals to experience the creativity of chefs, the second dinner was simply stunning.

Chef Andre always has a post-prandial chat with his diners. Apparently the restaurant has no recipe bank at all, no database of dishes. It’s all in Andre’s memory, or in the memory of his sous-chef who’s been with him for 10 years. Since Andre doesn’t have a recipe, he draws pictures, and the staff will try to figure out from the drawings how to create the dish.

Chef Andre’s favorite restaurants on his nights out are: Burnt Ends (chef Andre’s other restaurant), inspired by Extebarri in San Sebastian, also in the World’s Top 50 restaurant list. The two restaurants close on different days. [Andre closes Monday; Burnt Ends closes Sunday]; Teppei, an izakaya. Few can get in right now, since it’s fully-booked until the end of the year. The chef at Teppei does an omakase menu for $40, $60, $80; and Red Star, an old Chinese dim sum place, which looks like it comes from the 70s. (also one of the few remaining places in Singapore for paper wrapped chicken)

I was really impressed with was Andre’s book collection, starring such tomes from Herve This (father of molecular gastronomy), and international chefs such as Charlie Trotter‘s. In his spare time, Andre confesses not to reading much cooking books, preferring to read books on design, or doing pottery (he makes over half of the restaurants Andre dishes, and has designed an extremely chic coffee cup, which you can see on Julian Teoh’s post)

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Octaphilosophy Menu 31/07/2013

  1. Lobster Sandwich
  2. Chicken Masala
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy
  6. Pure: Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis (Dehydrated Olives)
  7. Salt: “Undersea forest” (salt without salt) Gillardeau Oyster/ Sea Corals/ Granny Smith Apple Mousse/ Caviar
  8. Artisan: Mais/ Salsify/ Sesame Salt/ Smoked Eggplant
  9. South: Heirloom Tomato/ Tomate – Ananas / Sea Urchin Risotto
  10. Texture: Homard Bleu/ “Airy” Gnocchi/ St Jacques Creme Anglaise
  11. Unique: Barigoule Artichokes/ Granny Smith Apple Kisu/ Olives/ Tomato Confit
  12. Memory: Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis
  13. Terroir: Canard de Challan/ Braised Mustard Seeds/ Charcoaled Baby Leeks.
  14. Pre-dessert #1: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Eucalyptus
  15. Pre-dessert #2: Wild Berry Shaved Ice/ Honey/ Fig
  16. Dessert: Snickers 2013
  17. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  18. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  19. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups
  20. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow
  21. French Earl Grey Crystalline

2013-07-31 08.19.47 2013-07-31 08.19.52 2013-07-31 08.19.59 2013-07-31 08.20.05

  1. Lobster Sandwich
  2. Chicken Masala
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy

2013-07-31 08.26.22

Main #1 Pure: Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis (5/5)

Clockwise from 6 o’clock: Homard Bleu Lobster, cucumber hat, abalone (?) + pickled onion (?), red cabbage puree (?),

cucumber core cylinder, the rest of the amaebi prawn + Japanese chive, smoked rock fish??? + herb???, smoked mussel

Centre: Kelp coulis with hay-smoked bouchot mussel

A great combination of textures. Andre’s wife Pam told us that we should discover our own version of the dish by mixing the ingredients together at our own whimsy. Great pure flavors.

2013-07-31 08.39.42

Main #2 Salt: “Undersea forest” (salt without salt) Gillardeau Oyster/ Sea Corals/ Granny Smith Apple Mousse/ Caviar  (4.5/5)

A very pretty dish, reminiscent of an undersea forest. The theme was getting the natural salty flavors of the sea, without using actual salt. Oyster, seaweed, and green apples has been a mainstay of Andre’s cooking of Salt since the beginning of the restaurant.

(The Summer 2011 Salt dish I had was “Black Label Oyster, Seaweed, Sea Grapes, Granny Smith Foam”)

What I felt this Salt dish lacked was that the foam did not mix strongly with the oyster tartare; my hypothesis is that the green apple foam goes down the throat much faster than the oyster tartare, which is slowly chewed, so the ingredients didn’t a chance to mix.

As one might expect, the eye-candy decorations don’t taste very strongly, and the seaweed foams also didn’t get to interact much.

2013-07-31 09.08.13 2013-07-31 09.08.32

Main #3 Artisan: Mais/ Salsify/ Sesame Salt/ Smoked Corn (4.5/5)

Smoked corn, which tasted like a fairly sweet but ordinary young corn, was placed before us. At the side, corn cream and deep fried gobo, which is Japanese for burdock root. The right side was spectacular in taste, featuring individually roasted and crinkly brown, salty, ears of corn. The left was a boiled corn. And beforehand, Pam let us taste the sweetness of the corn leaf, which was as sweet as sugarcane.

(If they feed that to grass-fed cows, I can only imagine the delightful results. According to Mark Schatzker’s book on steak, grass-fed steak is delicious proportional to the amount of sugar in the grass).

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Main #4 South: Heirloom Tomato/ Tomate – Ananas / Sea Urchin Risotto (4.75/5)

The risotto was well-prepared, and (the vinegared rice + green oil “caviar” + the raw uni + smoked fruits de la mer) that made up the risotto gave it the appearance of deconstructed sushi. The sorbet of sour plum (the coral plate of South) was paired with a bitter pear (which made things interesting) and tart cutting tomatoes (which I didn’t quite like).

2013-07-31 09.48.34

Main #5 Texture: Homard Bleu/ “Airy” Gnocchi/ St Jacques Creme Anglaise (5/5)

For me, the first 5/5 cooked dish of the night. St Jacques Creme Anglaise, which is a “creme anglaise” made from scallop and olive oil, was paired with one-ingredient potato gnocchi, 100% made of potato (no flour, no egg), with blue lobster lightly roasted, that had a great crunchiness. Technically excellent cooking. The gnocchi melting in the mouth and was on the verge of disintegration. This was superb.

How did chef cook his 1-ingredient gnocchi?

2013-07-31 10.04.37Main #6 Unique: Barigoule Artichokes/ Granny Smith Apple Kisu/ Olives/ Tomato Confit (4.75/5)

Technically excellent crisped Kisu (a Japanese fish) rolls, in an extra-acidic wine sauce. This is a barigoule, “a traditional Provençal dish of artichokes braised with onions, garlic and carrots in a seasoned broth of wine and water”. The Japanese needlefish was seared on the outside, and then stuffed with its own tartare.

2013-07-31 10.19.38

Main #7 Memory: Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis (5/5)

Andre manages to make the foie gras jelly with a skin on top, which a wooden spoon gently pierces. Very rustic, and incredible dish. Julian Teoh has a great paragraph on this dish –

Chiang invented this dish back in the 1990s with the Pourcels, and it has been on his menus ever since in some shape or form (see the foie gras photo above).  I had it many times at Jaan and loved it always.  The gelée seems warmer than from what I recall of the Jaan version, and the coulis seemed more runny and there’s more of it; presumably the old thicker version was meant to envelope the morels.  This version is lighter and more pared back and, I think, works better as part of a multi-course tasting as a result.  Truffles are from Perigord, Marhoul tells me, and is a very rare (perhaps the only?) exception to Chiang’s obsession with seasonality.  As a signature dish, it needs to be on the menu all year, so during the off-season (like now), they are made from frozen specimens.”

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Main #8 Terroir: Canard de Challans/ Braised Mustard Seeds/ Charcoaled Baby Leeks. (5/5)

A marvelous crisp croquette with a meaty interior, accompanying the famous (and perfectly roasted Challans duck). Leek ash added an interesting burnt sweetness to the dish. Presented in the traditional Andre yin-yang style, the jus from the meat completing the shape of mousse below.

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Pre-dessert #1: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Eucalyptus

A refreshing dessert. Pam told us that eucalyptus represented the spa, but I’m pretty sure she was joking.

2013-07-31 11.06.45

Pre-dessert #2: Wild Berry Shaved Ice/ Honey/ Fig

Another refreshing dessert. This was my first indication that chef Andre had picked up some molecular techniques between 2011 and 2013. Perhaps this is down to Japanese chef pâtissier Makito Hiratsuka who has worked at the avant-garde El Bulli, and El Celler de Can Roca

For comparison, the pre-dessert in 2011 was Wild Strawberries with Marshmallow in Ice.

2013-07-31 11.21.34

Dessert: Snickers 2013 (4.5/5)

While a very good dessert and rendition of the Snickers taste, this 2013 edition of Snickers has the soil-syndrome, where the soil-texture can sometimes make eating a spoonful of Snickers seem like anonymous sweetness. The kitchen has a much more powerful rendition of this dish called “Crystal Snickers” (see next meal).

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  1. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  2. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  3. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups
  4. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow (not pictured, but will be shown in next meal)
  5. French Earl Grey Crystalline

A lovely bunch of mignardises to end the meal. The white chocolate sangria chupa chups are very, very good.

A technically excellent meal. There are about seven main variables to a restaurant Andre meal (the six Octaphilosophy elements besides Pure, which depends on the seasonal incredients, and Memory, which is always foie gras chawanmushi, plus dessert). In those seven main variables, I felt that two (Texture: one-ingredient gnocchi with blue lobster, and Terroir: Challans duck) really hit the heights.

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Octaphilosophy Menu 10/08/2013

  1. Popcorn & Vanilla
  2. Lobster Sandwich
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy
  6. Pure: Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis
  7. Salt: “Conch” (salt without salt) Oyster Ice Cream/ Granny Smith Apple Espuma/ Seaweed Salad/ Sea Coral
  8. Artisan: Braised Aubergine/ Cockscomb/ Crispy Duck Tongues
  9. Texture: Kelp risotto/ Seafood on Arrival/ Swiss Chard Crispy
  10. South: Smoked basil cappellini with bottarga/ Warm Toro Vinaigrette/ Toasted Baby Eel Persillade
  11. Unique: Potato Salad/ Scallop Ravioli/ Sea Urchin/ Truffle Apple Chiffonade
  12. Memory: Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis
  13. Terroir: Pork Belly cooked in Butter/ Spelt/ Apricot Ragout/ Broccoli Mousse.
  14. Pre-dessert #1: “Ispahan” Lychee Nata de Coco Jelly/ Rose Espuma/ Freeze-dried raspberries
  15. Pre-dessert #2: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Lychee Shots
  16. Pre-dessert #3: (what you see is what you get) Melon Soup/ Muscat Grapes/ Bitter Almond
  17. Dessert: Crystal Snickers
  18. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  19. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  20. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups
  21. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow
  22. French Earl Grey Crystalline

2013-08-10 07.52.39

  1. Popcorn & Vanilla
  2. Lobster Sandwich
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy

I felt similarly about this as a week earlier. I appreciated the still-crunchy texture of the lobster roll (literal roll), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the amaebi prawn head (all crisped up and ready to go) served well as a spoon for Chef’s delicious chocolate garlic soil (5/5).

2013-08-10 08.02.19

Main #1 “Pure” – Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis (5/5)

Clockwise from 6 o’clock: Homard Bleu Lobster, cucumber hat, abalone (?) + pickled onion (?), red cabbage puree (?),

cucumber core cylinder, the rest of the amaebi prawn + Japanese chive, smoked rock fish??? + herb???, smoked mussel

Centre: Kelp coulis with hay-smoked bouchot mussel

Pure is Andre’s unseasoned and uncooked dish. The textures went perfectly with each other, and the quenelle of cream in the centre was great.

2013-08-10 08.18.01

Main #2 “Salt” – “Conch” (salt without salt) Oyster Ice Cream/ Granny Smith Apple Espuma/ Seaweed Salad/ Sea Coral (5/5)

This is one of Restaurant Andre’s great dishes. It was introduced by Stepan Marhoul, restaurant Andre’s manager. Oyster ice cream, which has to be made with the flesh of firmer oysters and not the creamier ones, was perfectly cold and tasted of the cold, salty sea. Underneath the oyster ice cream, which had a firm texture, was a small oyster. Green apple, which seems to be one of the kitchen’s favorite ingredients, is here a foam, set beside the ice cream. Served on an oyster shell in a bed of coral salt. A very tricky and technically perfect dish.

Comparison: It had one major advantage over the oyster tartare version of Salt (“Salt A”) on my previous meal. I felt that since  the foam and the ice cream (“Salt B”) were of similar textures, they mixed better together and had the flavor combination that the kitchen was aiming for. With the oyster tartare, the foam did not taste as strongly, and my hypothesis is that it was because the green apple foam goes down the throat much faster than the oyster tartare, which is slowly chewed, so the ingredients didn’t a chance to mix flavours too much.

2013-08-10 08.27.14Main #3 “Artisan” – Braised Aubergine/ Cockscomb/ Crispy Duck Tongues (5/5)

An eggplant terrine which my knife went through like melted butter, and yet preserved structural right-angled integrity, with crisp roasted duck tongues that had internal taste of foie gras, and a crisp roasted texture that formed a salty, fatty skin around melt-in-the-mouth tongues, sandwiching chopped cockscomb. Impressive cooking technique for the eggplant, and the duck tongues. I loved this dish.

On the right: Deep fried burdock root on a smoked eggplant root. A great accompaniment.

Where does Chef Andre get these duck tongues?

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Main #4 “Texture” – Kelp risotto/ Seafood on Arrival/ Swiss Chard Crispy (5/5)

Dehydrated sea kelp, risotto at a right and hearty warm-hot temperature. Citrus coulis?. Seared seabass and dehydrated kelp. An inviting dish which I’ll confess to wolfing down.

2013-08-10 09.03.25 2013-08-10 09.03.18 2013-08-10 09.03.22Main #5 “South” –  Smoked basil cappellini with bottarga/ Warm Toro Vinaigrette/ Toasted Baby Eel Persillade 

(5/5 for cappellini)

Andre consistently takes a two-dish approach to South, representing Acidity, Colour and Generosity. I’ve talked about the coral plate, so I’ll mention that the smoked basil capellini had a texture like QQ-wonton mee. It went deliciously with bottarga, which I was told is similar to bonito shavings in Japan. The vinaigrette was made from tuna belly drippings. A hearty noodle.

Left: Lychee yuzu sorbet with tomato and hamachi; Right: Cappellini broccoli sauce, oil drippings from roasting toro made into a vinaigrette

2013-08-10 09.27.19 2013-08-10 09.28.45Main #6 “Unique” – Potato Salad/ Scallop Ravioli/ Sea Urchin/ Truffle Apple Chiffonade (5/5)

Served on a hot stone, this dish was newly created by the kitchen. A warm ball of potato topped with shaved scallop and sea urchin. Contrasted well with green apple matchsticks (chiffonade) and St Jacques Creme Anglais (a scallop sauce). Served on a warm hearty stone.

I accidentally didn’t take photos of the full-dish (it looked too delicious), but this dish tasted and looked masterful. You’ll just have to imagine four risotto balls orbiting a pool of St Jacques creme Anglaise. The cloud of potato melted in my mouth with the shaved scallop remaining, the sourness of green apple complementing the uni and scallop.

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Main #7 “Memory” – Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis (5/5)

As always, incredible. Love the film on the foie gras jelly.

2013-08-10 09.47.34Main #8 “Terroir” – Pork Belly cooked in Butter/ Spelt/ Apricot Ragout/ Broccoli Mousse. (4.75/5)

This course was the sledge-hammer of the meal. I began to feel really full from this point onwards. The pork, was perfectly roasted, but was a bit tasteless in the middle (the white bit). The broccoli mousse makes a reprise from the smoked basil cappellini. What was most fascinating was the spelt + red quinoa + apricot granola in the middle. It was an inspired mix of cooked and roasted spelt, and roasted red quinoa. It looked and tasted like an ancient cereal gruel.

2013-08-10 09.59.26Pre-dessert #1: “Ispahan” Lychee Nata de Coco Jelly/ Rose Espuma/ Freeze-dried raspberries (5/5)

Andre’s tribute to Pierre Herme’s famous Ispahan pastry. Three different textures – crunchy freeze dried raspberries (simulating the macaron layer), rose foam (simulating the rose cream) and lychee nata de coco (simulating the lychee fruit) combined. Whimsical and imaginative.

2013-08-10 10.07.03 Pre-dessert #2: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Lychee Shots 

A pre-dessert to refresh – very light and palate cleansing.

2013-08-10 10.13.15Pre-dessert #3: (what you see is what you get) Melon Soup/ Muscat Grapes/ Bitter Almond (4.5/5)

A dish that doesn’t hide its flavors from you. A technically well executed dish, especially the pretty jelly of sliced muscat grapes.

2013-08-10 10.23.43Dessert: Crystal Snickers (5/5)

A thin, hard sugar containing all elements of the snickers bar. Brought to life by Makito Hiratsuka. It was the concentrated essence of a snickers bar in a crystal ball.

Food: André’s cooking is an expression of his skills and his training.  His much-vaunted Octaphilosophy is not so much a statement of intent as a statement of who he is as a person and a chef, and there rests the fine distinction between hubris and sincerity (I hurry to add that Chiang falls on the right side of that line).  The eight spokes of Octaphilosophy each represent a savoury course, but with the addition of Japanese chef pâtissier Makito Hiratsuka, whose CV is almost as star-studded as his boss’ (El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, Paco Torreblanca), desserts are now given an ­avant-garde twist. – Julian Teoh

 

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  1. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  2. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  3. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups (not pictured)
  4. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow
  5. French Earl Grey Crystalline

Same as Wednesday, except the Earl Grey Crystalline was warm and crisp on both sides of the candy, which made it better. Strawberry Sangria chupa chups was as delicious as before. If the kitchen ever decides to sell the white chocolate strawberry sangria Chupa Chups, I know I would buy them.

One of the best meals I have ever eaten, this meal featured the kitchen at the height of its powers. Of the seven main variables to a restaurant Andre meal I talked about (the six Octaphilosophy elements besides Pure, which depends on the seasonal incredients, and Memory, which is always foie gras chawanmushi, plus dessert), all of them were amazing and memorable in some way or other.

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Conclusion: Andre can be a hit-or-slightly-miss affair, but when it is a hit, it is a jackpot. You’ll always get a technically excellent meal, but subject yourself to Chef Andre’s whims and magic can happen.

Verdict (31/07/13): 16/20

Verdict (10/08/13): 19.5/20

Memory: Challans Duck, Blue Lobster with 1-ingredient gnocchi, Undersea Forest Oyster Tartare, Oyster Ice Cream, Eggplant Terrine and Crisp Duck Tongue, Dehydrated Kelp Risotto, Potato Salad with Scallop, Andre’s tribute to Ispahan, Crystal Snickers