Torishin, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 362 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019, United States
URL: http://torishinny.com/
Phone:  +1 212-757-0108
Type of cuisine: Japanese Yakitori (grilled chicken)

01Torishin is well known as one of  NYC’s  finest  yakitoris,  and  to many  NYC’s local foodies, this is their very best yakitori. Torishin sole  michelin star (a sole star they seem to be very proud of.,,btw..) may set unrealistic expectations, but michelin starred yakitoris is not something unheard of  (in Japan, they do exist). I am not always aligned on Michelin choices, but I agree with the idea to bestow Michelin stars (or any other sort of rewards)   in relation to  the   standards of the category that a restaurant  pertains to (for example, Sushi-ya, Yakitori-ya, etc).

Everything was excellent as far as food went:

Edamame was of top quality, served lightly grilled.

02 Chicken wings were no ordinary wings (1st item from the left on the previous picture), looking like ribs at first glance, the flavor of the wings was enhanced by the exciting taste of the grilled fat and a tasty crispy skin. Sounds easy to achieve, indeed, but in reality …..many are not capable to get it this right. 8/10 Grilled corn was a ridiculously small piece of corn, which although of great quality … had an inflated cost for the quantity served.

03Duck – I was spoiled with superlative duck in Asia (Hong kong, Vietnam, Japan) as well as in Europe, so Torishin’s paled a bit in comparison, but this was still a superb piece of grilled duck.  8/10

 

04 Chicken rib supremely tender and gorgeously meaty. It is easy to look down on food this simple. After all,  this is just grilled meat. But time and again, I kept wondering if this was really that simple….as the precise cooking, exquisite seasoning, enticing  grilling flavors as well as the  vibrant  textures on display are not that common at yakitori-yas in North America (although, to be honest, I prefer a laidback street food stand doing decent skewers rather this sort of sophisticated place..no need of bells and whistles for such simple food…the only reason I went there is because I wanted this sort of food, on that specific evening, but NYC has no street food offering this sort of food…) –    9/10

BreastChicken breast in green shiso leaf is one item I loved when eating yakitori food on my last visit in Tokyo. Back then, I was trying shiso leaf for the first time and found it to complement chicken meat really well…though, perhaps, an acquired taste for  many  palates.  From where I come, it was common to pair  meat with leaves. We did not have shiso leaves but betel and other leaves, instead. And eventhough they taste different, shiso and /or betel do add a complex taste sensation to  meats that I am particularly fond of.  Shiso having quite a taste that is hard to describe (a bit astrigent  and reminding me vaguely of aniseed and basil), it is  better to try  it for yourself as any description of it will hardly do justice to its real taste. They add a bit of plum sauce on the leaves as to cut through the pungency of the shiso leaf. 9/10

 

06 Chicken and duck meatball  is an item that I did not order, so when it was served to me, I thought they did a mistake. But no, it was not as … “it is on the house”… as/per my waiter — apparently a common  gesture of the chef as to please his guest,  but they did charge it …when the bill arrived….one of the pet peeves of  an evening that could have been great otherwise.

05Egg plants, served with quality bonito flakes, were too mushy to be enjoyed as it should have been 5/10.

07Wagyu is another crowd pleaser – Although   not of the superbly  marbled A5 grade, this was a piece of joy in the mouth of the meat lover that I am. 8/10

Other pieces that I did enjoy: chicken tenderloin,  chicken thigh,  tofu as well as  pork belly.

 

Pros –  (1) While there is no elaborate cooking to be expected from a Yakitori-ya, it is no stretch to conclude that Torishin is one of the few standard bearers for yakitori food in North America. All in all, a strong 8/10 for the food  –  as genuine and perfected as yakitori food will taste, smell  and feels like in North America   (2) Fabulous service from all the squad except the 2 mentioned below

Cons – (1)  Service was  a mixed affair. the female squad offering world class service, the male squad generally professional but having two members that I could have done without: one man at the entrance, the only one wearing a suit on that evening, supposedly there to serve you drinks at the bar that is at the entrance while you are waiting for a seat. That guy in a suit  acted as if we were invisible…we were just 2 at that bar.  Not what you want at a michelin star restaurant. Then my main waiter, deploying all possible efforts to get me to buy as much food as it can possibly be. I mean, I  know a restaurant is a business, therefore you need to sell and sell …but there are tons of waiters that are capable of better than being ..annoying (I have just ordered 12 items already….including the luxurious wagyu….some great sake and beer…so how much is enough sir?)    (2)the surreal stone age tactic of offering me a food item that is supposedly on the house…but that you’ll still charge me for (the meat balls).

Bottom line: I enjoyed some of the very best Yakitori food in North America  here (the quality of the produce and refinement of the cooking  are  largely ahead of anything you  will find at the majority of the yakitori-yas  across North America) and will return at Torishin BUT with in mind the sour observation that …some just can’t get the basic things right. The great yakitori food that they are cooking here does not deserve the flaws mentioned in the “cons” section. The flaws killed the mood,  which is not really what I am looking for when dining out.

What I think weeks later: Some of their employees do obviously have no clue of what it takes to live up to the reputation of having a Michelin star.  Charging a patron for an item that is    “””””on the house””””    and that you’ll end up charging me  ….that is multiple-century old and boring tactic that you do not want to experience at a restaurant, Michelin starred or not. Now, Imagine when that happens at a Michelin starred restaurant. On the aspect of the food, I did compare  Torishin to what is found in America and in that regard, this was some benchmark Yakitori food. If I compare it to what can be found in Tokyo, to take an example,  ….well..things are a bit different: Torishin, in Tokyo, would be    just a  normal / standard   yakitori-ya of the refined type. I did not review them on this blog, but last time I was in Tokyo, I tried Souten, Torikichi, Hachibei, Isehiro , some few more humble yakitori-yas there, and they dazzled, which is not what I would say of Torishin. Even a place like Tofuro …offering skewers that are  better than at Torishin…and yet hardly considered in Tokyo’s top 100… would be a far better yakitori-ya if they’d choose to specialize themselves in grilled chicken.

 

 

Marea, New York
Michelin stars: 2
Addr: 240 Central Park S., New York, NY 10019
URL: http://www.marea-nyc.com/index.php/
Phone:  212-582-5100
Type of cuisine: (Their contemporary version of)  Italian cuisine .

MAREA 01Widely known as one of NYC’s  best Italian restaurants, celebrated for its homemade handmade  pasta dishes (some of the best in the country, according to NSE  ) ,  Marea is situated in Manhattan. They offer what is  more accurately their contemporary take (refined,  small portions) on Italian cuisine, with combinations of ingredients that are not always traditionally Italian (cheese and seafood, to take an example) but the fundamentals of Italian cooking are never too far.

What we ate:

3The trio of crudo (big eye tuna, long island fluke, pacific jack mackerel) ,  top quality raw ingredient.  they did  avoid the mistake of overseasoning them. 8/10

4 ZUPPA – almond and watercress soup, seppia, shrimp, roasted peppers. It had  everything a great soup needs: acidity, sweetness, texture, enticing flavors. Complex in a highly enjoyable way 8/10

2Gnochetti, ruby shrimp, chilies, rosemary. properly rendered consistency  (to the tooth) of the pasta , the chilies not too hot, which was a good idea as to add an extra layer of flavor without the distracting (unecessary) piquancy, the ruby shrimp not a serious challenger to some of the far more delicious shrimps of the mediterannea but the overall is tasty and well executed. I could not fault this dish, I could not fault one single dish of this entire meal, actually …BUT   in comparison to   other 2 Michelin star Italian meals that I had elsewhere a 7/10 would be a fair rating (what would it take to score this dish with a higher rating? A sauce that’s spectacular as I have enjoyed at plenty of other Italian restaurants. This one was great. Just not supremely delicious.

1 Tagliata – creekstone farms sirloin, bone marrow  panzanella, braised romaine. / the sirloin seasoned exquisitely,  their take on the bread and tomatoes panzanella salad a good idea …but time and again I could not stop thinking about how dazzling this entire meal would have been with produce as spectacular as what can sometimes be found in some parts of Italy. 7/10

 

5Polipo / octopus –  I had octopus a tad more remarkable than this (meaning with bolder maritime flavor) , in North America, but this was of really  good quality,  the seasoning enticing , it had an ideal chewy consistency (enough firmness to remind ourselves that this is octopus, and not a jellyfish but also  tender enough for proper enjoyable chew).   7.5 /10

 

6PANNA COTTA  – sicilian pistachio panna cotta, raspberry , rhubarb rose granita as well as a bit of  aniseed. This was fine, rather than dazzling, panaccotta (had the pistachio flavor been more expressive and the taste a tad richer, I would call it “dazzling” instead of “fine…BUT expressive pistacchio flavor would clash with flavors of raspberry and rose granita…so instead of the pistachio flavor, use something else that you can easily pair with the rest ).  Still …, a fair 7/10

7SORBETTI blood peach, apricot, strawberry balsamic – Sorbetti were excellent even by fine sorbetti  standards in Italy. The suggestion that sorbetti are better in Italy is oftently a fabrication of the mind. In North America, there are sorbetti  that are as good and this is one perfect example of just that  9/10

 

PROS: Marea does what it takes, in light of what we are accustomed to in North America…to deserve its accolades – nothing to fault here, not extravagant but tasteful contemporary interior,  great service.

CONS: However great the ingredients  – and great  they are at Marea (by North American standards),  it would take the finer ingredients of some parts of Italy ………AND  a  sense to make food taste extraordinary for me to understand the shower of raves on Marea.

Verdict:  An 8/10 by  the standards of  Contemporary Italian cuisine in North America  ..SO NOT  to be compared to my ratings of places like, to take an example,  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan —  a two star Michelin too —  which would, with no doubt  be a 10/10 in my books if it was in NYC.  We are in a completely different set of expectations …) – But a 7.5/10 when I compare it to the 2 Michelin star Italian food I had elsewhere (Michelin star is international, so I believe that is fair to also assess Marea against the 2 star Michelin food found outside of North America ).   I am ignorant about many cuisines (Brazilian, Romanian, etc) , but Italian, French, most African / Asian /Carribean cuisines are food that I have patiently mastered/familiarized myself with and cooked for decades.  By familiarizing myself with I mean …learning from those in the know, the Moms and Pops and NOT by watching food shows on TV or following recipes 0n the web. So, I know what I need to expect from such food. From Italian food, I expect the most (perfecting the simple texture of your pasta or risotto, pulling off superb flavors  ) from the least (simple/ classic combinations of  ingredients).  Of this lunch at Marea, I saw no evidence of perfected textures and the sort of dazzling flavors I came to expect, at times,  from some other 2 star Michelin offering Italian food, but   there was nothing to fault neither, and the food is certainly really good by  Italian upmarket restaurant standards in North America, though, not peerless by those same standards —).

What I think weeks later: Carefully observe..there are restaurants going above and beyond the…..international norms. There are restaurants doing the necessary to reach local/regional standards. Marea does what it takes to be a great italian table in North America. But when compared to some 2 star italian restaurants abroad, well …it is a NO match. Too bad the Montreal food scene is notoriously known as inconsistent..because,I had Italian  food , in Montreal, that was  easily BETTER………………….

The news came from Newswire. They were the first to announce that Michelin’s major competitor, Gault & Millau was interested by Montreal. That is great news for Tourism Montreal and their load of online associates, but I hope Michelin does not jump on the bandwagon. Montreal has  couple of world class Chefs such as Michele Mercuri and Chef De Montigny, but the standard of the quality of the food at the big majority of our local  restaurants is such inconsistent (one day top, most of the time subpar) that Michelin will quickly realize how risky it would be to set foot in one of world’s most unreliable food cities.

Moxies is a chain of  bar and grill . As much as I am partial to artisan Chef cooking (that personal touch of the cook cooking his own food will always remain the standard to beat in my opinion), as much as I have no problem at all with chains of restaurants. As long as it tastes fine to my palate, a chain restaurant will please me. Moxies food was quite tasty  (I ordered their  peppercorn sirloin with  peppercorn brandy butter sauce – the brandy butter sauce superbly executed —rich as it should but judiciously seasoned—, the sirloin cooked at requested doneness, which was medium rare in this instance. My dining companion went on with a faultless pizza — Rustic italian pizza |  grana padano, pulled short rib, caramelized  onions, prosciutto & pancetta– , as tasty as they come).

PROS: By Montreal standards, in the context of a chain restaurant, I think that Moxies offers a fautless bar and grill experience.

CONS: Sirloin steaks have rarely dazzled, for my taste. And it is their reigning steak.

Bottom like: 7/10 (Category: Grill and bar in Montreal) I liked Moxies as it succeeds where many failed- the ” cool-place-to-chill  with friends while munching on some tasty bites and good drinks” scene is prosperous in town, but few manage to offer both Moxies relax ambience as well as something that can appeal to the palate. My dining companion suggested that the  peppercorn sirloin is an overpriced and overrated affair and indeed,  steaks can easily fall in the category of the most overrated food items. But based on that delicious Pizza my dining companion was having, I trust that Moxies is one place that perfectly understands what appeals to nowadays palates (aging the meat of their steaks, adding “punch” to their pizza, etc) – enjoyable  festive   bites by chain restaurant standards. In the  category “Grill and bar” , Moxies clearly pertains to the top 3 in Montreal (NOT to br confused with my top 3 restaurants in Montreal) . Moxies   1207, boulevard Robert-Bourassa, Montréal, QC Phone:(514) 393-1207

Poutine BalthazarIn the city of Laval, a poutine attracts its share of raves. It is the poutine Balthazar. Home made french fries, swiss cheese, pepper sauce and pulled duck confit. All fine enough -the cheese tasting fresh, the not too peppery pepper sauce an interesting alternative to the classic poutine sauce, pulled duck confit always a popular choice –,  though not really a poutine that I  would rave about (the pulled duck fine rather than dazzling, same could be said about the french fries – In such condition, I prefer a  classic poutine). A 6/10, above average, in my (subjective) assessment, but I was not as impressed as many have been reporting about. Newer generations  of foodies or people bored with classic poutine may like this better, perhaps. But Balthazar is a classy place, the service charming and I will go back for more of their great beers as well as the other food items that I haven’t had a chance to sample. Le Balthazar 195, promenade du Centropolis Laval,Québec H7T 0B3 (450) 682-2007 http://lebalthazar.com/

05Ichigo Ichie Izakaya – I went twice at Ichigo Ichie. The first time, I ordered marinated tuna served with yuzu sauce (the picture above), the bowl of ramen that was a hit the last time I had it, as well as some skewers (chicken gizzards, pork belly, shishito peppers ). The bowl was not as impressive as on my first visit (noodles cooked longer than what i came to be accustomed to, the egg not runny, so cooked too long), and the marinaded tuna left me indifferent (here, the tuna needs to be   stellar   to leave an impression but on that evening, it did not, for me) . On my 2nd visit, I remembered that at an isakaya, the items of the day and recs of the staff is what I should look for, and I did just that. So, I sat at the bar and asked the bartender what were his top  picks and his (a first rate piece of beef tataki nigiri / some mochi with a twist (mixed with beacon) – thoughtful take on the theme of the mochi and one that was  well made) were some of the best isakaya food  items I had in this city.  My verdict: 8/10 by our local Isakaya standards.  Many isakayas have opened in town, and this one pertains to the leading pack. Just ensure that you ask the staff for their suggestions. Ichigo Ichie  360 Rachel Est, Montreal, QC Phone:(514) 282-0009

La Caye is a Haitian restaurant situated in the heart of downtown Brooklyn.

LA CAYE 02My starter was a faultless acra, freshly fried,the texture nicely crunchy (not dry as it is oftently the case elsewhere) on the outside, superbly soft on the inside (oftently mushy at most tropical eateries), the taste genuine (exactly as a talented Haitian Mammie-cook would cook it, but here the texture  is more refined than rustic) and  great. 8/10

LA CAYE 03My dining companion went on with a  lambi  (stewed conch) – the seafood  of superb quality, cooked to a perfect chewy texture, the sauce well made. Again and again, talented Haitian Mammie cooking quality, with refined presentation.   8/10

LA CAYE 04Faultless is also how I  would describe my red snapper, broiled to perfect moist consistency on the inside, the skin lightly crisp as it should, the seasoning well judged. Hard to improve upon that one. 9/10

Rounded off the meal with an excellent  Pen Patat/Pain Patate (sweet potato bread), the potato flavor particularly  exquisite 9/10 as well as a pineapple upside down cake which was technically  baked properly and tasted fine, but I had pineapple upside down cakes which pineapple flavor was more expressive than this one.

Pros: A first-rate Haitian restaurant

Cons: No Rhum at a Haitian restaurant (there was none on the evening of my visit)?

Overall: 8/10 (Categ: Finest Haitian restaurant in North America) Many restaurants cooking caribbean food  suffer from occasional issues such as rice not moist enough because it was not cooked to order, fried bananas bathed too long in oil, overcooked seafood, etc. In a nutshell, issues due to a problem of time management. And yet, you get used to it. But during this meal, not one single item could be faulted on the aspect of the timing (cooking of the fish? timed right. The plantain bananas. same thing. the lambi, same thing, etc). For someone like me who expects a certain degree of mastery (mastery of the timing of the cooking in this example) at a restaurant, the level  of  perfection found on this evening had to eventually  jump to my attention. I liked La Caye (a small but tastefully decorated interior, bathed in dark wood, good service) as it offers  refined food that is  genuinely Haitian. But it  can be  pricey  ( fresh quality ingredients, which is what they use — especially seafood — is never going to be cheap, obviously  ). La Caye, Addr: 35 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, United States Phone:+1 718-858-4160  http://www.lacayebk.com/#!menu/c24tf

What I think weeks later: Sometimes people ask me if it is possible to have an accurate opinion of some food if you are not from the country of the food you are assessing. You do not need to be from  the country of the food you are talking about. I do not need to be Haitian to understand genuine Haitian flavors.  You can be Haitian and have no real interest in Haitian food. The key, if you can’t afford travelling, is to reach out to a Haitian friend’s Mom and ask her to  cook some Haitian food for you and teach you how genuine Haitian food should taste, smell  and feel like. Ask the same thing to 2,3 other Haitian Moms and next time you will know what you are talking about, lol.  That said, in North America, most Haitian eateries  do usually reproduce the flavors of the homeland effortlessly —- that is widely confirmed by Haitians of all generations, eventhough  you can always be  surprised, at times,  by some few laughable attempts at Haitian cooking  (especially here in Montreal) — and La Caye is no exception, though,  for now, it stands as  the best Haitian restaurant that I know in North America.

***Hoogan & Beaufort was my coup de coeur of 2015. Impressed with my first visit, I dropped by 3 months later.

02Malpeque oysters from Prince Edward Islands topped with a delicious apple cider sabayon, and a bit of apples. In Montreal, the only restaurant that impressed me with a better sabayon was La Porte (now closed). You would think that a sabayon is not a big deal,  but not many local restaurants do deliver sabayons of superb quality. This was one of good standard. The apple brunoise not in big quantity at all (a mistake I sometimes stumble upon at many restaurants, a recent example was the ceviche at Boulud) which was well judged as it allowed  the meaty flesh of the oyster and its sabayon to steal the show as it is supposed to be. Easy to do, in theory, but, alas, many tables fail to deliver it this well. 8/10

01Couteau de mer / carotte blanche / concombre / oignons sauvages – Razor clam (extremely thin slices), white carrots (as a cream – or  “soup”, as my waiter did introduce it to me) , cucumber and onions – Oftently, at most restaurants, a dish of more than two ingredients is about the two ingredients, then the rest is meaningless (just for the “show”), meaning that the full collection of ingredients do rarely complement each other. But here, razor clams, white carrots, cucumber, onions…they all, individually as well as a whole, were significant. Certainly not a dish for the flinstones, rather  a “gourmet” dish  which  utter  refined work of the colors and the shapes  revealed a remarkable understanding of ingredient combinations that work superbly well. 9/10

03Tataki de cerf de boileau/Oignon vert grille / armillaire de miel / Cresson / Raifort /Tournesol – I have always defined great cooking as the ability of  juxtaposing layers of varied flavors and ingredients  without diminishing the enjoyment of the taste of the food. This item was about that and much more: a first rate tataki of venison was enhanced by honey and raifort accents, its puree of sunflower adding surprise effect (as it is no common puree), water cress, honey, onions kept lifting the flavor profile of this benchmark venison tataki. There will never be a shortage of fine tataki in Montreal, but I have to  “”” fly back  “”””  almost 10 years in time  to find another souvenir of what a stellar tataki could smell, taste and feels like at a restaurant in Montreal. 10/10

04Agneau/Sucrine/Bagna Cauda/Olive verte/Noix de cajou –  Morsels of quality lamb, some grilled, others worked as an effiloche (pulled lamb). Succulent,  technically flawless and marked by the usual finesse that is proper to this kitchen brigade.  9/10

Overall: 10/10 (Categ: Top Tier in Montreal) Ingredients of such quality have a price tag, they are not cheap. So it goes without saying that you should  not go there  expecting the huge portions that your favourite pet, Roman Hulkov, the Russian bear, feeds on. It is the universal reality of contemporary restaurants: forget the huge portions! That said, the portions are not exaggeratedly  meager neither: the tataki was of perfectly fair portion. The lamb, too. At  then end of the day,  they are cooking first rate food, they are charging prices that are reasonable in light of the quality of the cooking that is offered  and “first rate” is also how I would describe the overall experience at this restaurant. Hoogan & Beaufort did it again.

 

 

KINOYA***Kinoya was fine by the standards of our local isakayas – As explained elsewhere on this blog, I keep my assessment of a restaurant ..local. Meaning, that I do not think about Japan when I assess a Japanese inspired restaurant that is not in Japan. With that in mind, Kinoya did  surprisingly well on my sole visit there. There is no shortage of isakayas in Montreal nowadays but the big majority of them are not capable of pulling off tokoyaki  (8/10) as well as tuna tataki  (8/10) of the quality that I ate under this roof (superb work of  the texture and the taste in both cases). Even the edamame impressed…yes, the edamame! How come ..you might ask?? as this does not involve anything special  (just buying the edamame).  Well, obviously, some isakayas can’t even get the sourcing of their edamame right and they are not serving us   fresh edamames. But that is not an issue, here at Kinoya as the edamame is first-rate, tasting fresh, boiled  to order. My only quip was with the salmon  tartare. This is my 3rd time trying this in an isakaya in Montreal and it is the last time too! When I was in Japan, I did not play attention at this item while eating at Isakayas there, I am not even sure if they do serve that tartare in Japan the way they do it here in Montreal, but its taste  in our local Isakayas is definitely NOT my cup of tea (I love wasabi, but perhaps mixing it with honey — which is how they flavor that tuna tartare — is a taste that I simply cannot fall in love with). Apart the tuna tartare, there is just the decor that I did  not like, on that evening: way too busy looking for my taste, a bit too “North American isakaya”  -looking for me.  I liked Kinoya and I would be curious to try  their ramen and see if they make me change my unflattering opinion of  ramen at the local isakayas.

STK01***At Vieux Port steakhouse, I had goat cheese on a bed of baby green salad mesclun (the goat cheese a bit tough texture wise)  4/10 in my personal imperfect subjective assessment,  char-grilled filet mignon (which char-grill flavor was missing in action, the meat’s temperate lukewarm for my taste…meat needs to rest upon grilling, indeed, but this arrived lukewarm at the table on  this particular meal) 4/10,  and some pasta (fazoletti, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, which I would describe as being nondescript — meaning just   of the normal/standard/common/undistinctive type of pasta dishes found at most eateries in town) 6/10. Excellent service, cosy  stone wall interior  but for the food served on that particular evening, one needs to  expect more:  my  char-grilled meat should come with CHAR-GRILL FLAVOR. I am not asking for the moon, here. Just the basics and that was not fulfilled during this meal. This was a meal served to a large group of patrons, so perhaps things are usually better than what I was having. But I can talk only about what I know, and of that specific meal all I would have as a message to the kitchen brigade is this: Unleash some madness, folks!

 

.