Archive for the ‘1 star michelin’ Category

Sushi Azabu, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013, USA
URL: http://www.sushi-azabu.com/
Phone: +1 212-274-0428
Type of cuisine: Japanese (mainly a sushiya serving traditional Edo-Mae sushi)

In a city with many  great Japanese sushi Chefs, there is a sushiya for all kind of diners (the one who likes luxury, the one who does not, etc). My ideal sushiya has a great sushi Master at the helm, of course, and a decor that is intimate. A service that is great. A genuine feel of  Japan.  In New York, as far as top sushiya goes, Sushi Azabu is that ‘ONE’ for me. 

01 In NYC, you have Masa, which according to their local sushi experts,  is on top of the roof of their top tier sushiyas. Then, you have their other elite sushiyas , such as Nakazawa,  Yasuda, Azabu, 15 East. I tried Yasuda (I was missing the superb knife skills as well as the superior  work of the textures that I better enjoyed at other sushiyas in Nyc) and 15 East (I find Azabu better, in comparison, but 15 East had couple of noteworthy food items)  in 2015. Never tried Nakazawa, Masa and Jewel Bako. It is NYC, so keep in mind  that the price tag (therefore the cost performance, especially in comparison to what you can get in Japan at equal cost) will oftently be the issue.

I tried Azabu on Saturday Febr 4th 2017.
I picked the larger omakase and they fed my girlfriend on shrimp tempura and wagyu beef steak
The 1st course comprising of a piece of amberjack and salmon:
02Marinated Amberjack was seasoned exquisitely. As expected, from a kitchen of this quality, the marinating technique is flawless, its timing well judged. It came with a delicious piece of mushroom. (9/10)
03Smoked salmon boasted vibrant texture, the quality fish expressing plenty of complex joyous flavors 9/10
05Then an array of seafood items composed of octopus  (8/10 superb chew and texture), A first-rate piece of perfectly tenderized  abalone  which kept its maritime flavor at the forefront (9/10), amberjack and fluke and shrimp of impeccable quality. The wasabi is freshly grated wasabi root imported from Japan. This was a first-rate collection of sushis, even by the standard of a mid level sushiya in Tokyo.
06My current girlfriend  ordered some shrimp tempura which she had nothing to complain about.  I can see how extraordinarily lighter such  batter could be in the hands of a specialist of the tempura, but Azabu is a sushiya, not a specialist of the tempura, and the batter was still very well executed, the tempura light and tasting delicious,  (8/10).

07She also had her wagyu  beef steak, which was fine but both her and myself do regard wagyu as a (generally) vastly overrated meat. The finest Wagyu I had in Japan have  not changed my opinion about that, as already debated here.

08My tasting menu continued with some utterly fresh uni from Hokkaido  –the firmer bafun uni on the left, the creamier murasaki on the right — as tiny as I remember them from the last time I had them in Japan. As explained elsewhere on this blog, I prefer some of the sea urchin from the mediterranea and California. But Hokkaido’s uni are among world’s best, for sure, with, this time, the murasaki standing out for its sweeter flavor. Sometimes, it is the bafun uni that can be the sweetest of the two 8/10
09Then a tasting of  lean, medium fatty and  torched fatty tuna. The quality, high, as expected. This, too, would not be out of place at a serious mid level sushiya in Tokyo. 8/10
10King crab miso – the flavor and aroma of this particular miso preparation lifting up the flavor of the grilled crab remarkably well. Eventful 8/10
11Then the “Chef’s choice of nigiris” featuring flawless sea urchin/tuna/scallop/salmon/salmon roe/squid/wagyu beef. The fish sliced with precision (even world class Sawada was caught with one or two pieces that were imprecisely sliced ..and that happened at other highly regarded sushiyas of NYC, too), the rice served at body temperature (my preference), the proper pressure applied to the relevant rice/topping combination, the rice not overseasoned, i.e., not too vinegary.  The sushi rice, which subtle  sweet and umami flavor notes went so well with the toppings,  is  from Tsuyahime from Yamagata prefecture. Again, even for a mid level sushiya  in Tokyo, this would be excellent. 9/10
12As part of the previous Chef’s selection of  nigiris, there was also a piece of tamago that I did regard as a benchmark of its kind. I liked it so much that I ordered 3 of them. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, even some of the  best mid level sushiyas of Tokyo did not always deliver tamago that have impressed me, although the tamago will always be a matter of personal taste given the different types of tamago you will find at sushiyas. Either the umami flavor is  more present, or it is balanced with the sweet taste of the tamago,  or its focus is on the eggy flavor, etc.  I am fonder of the sweet kind of tamago. Azabu’s tamago is of the sweet kind, executed with great finesse, the fresh eggy aroma exciting on the palate, sweet like the one I had at sushi mizutani, as technically well crafted, but bigger in size and which I much preferred  (eventhough Mizutani’s featured a more complex set of nuanced flavors and  eggs of surreal quality) 10/10
13A miso that is a first-rate version of its kind, the taste enriched by the subtle nuances of the remarkable kind of miso they are using. (10/10)
14We ended the meal with some flawlessly textured home made green tea ice cream (for me) and an equally excellent Mochi and Vanilla / chocolate ice cream for her (9/10). I ordered the Mochi for my girlfriend to introduce her to the importance of textures in food for the Japanese.  There was a strawberry that came with her dessert, but I forgot to ask if it also came from Japan. The last time I was in Japan, I did try some of their most celebrated (consequently expensive) strawberries and left unimpressed. They tasted as good as any strawberry anywhere else on planet earth (which is exactly how this one at Azabu tasted like, too).
Pros: Azabu deserves to be considered among NYC’s top tier sushiyas. It is also a proper 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan. Its does not have the tsukiji market in its vincinity but they import their fish from Japan. The knife as well as overall cooking skills  is strong for this  category of  sushiya (comparable to a respectable mid level sushiya if this would be in  Tokyo), the tiny space so cozy, the service genuinely hospitable.
Cons: N/A
15 Overall food rating (categ: top tier sushiya in NYC) 8/10 – Top shelf sushiya in its category.  Just remember that there are two seatings per night (we had our table available till  08:30 pm, therefore i presume that the first seating  is from 05:30pm till 08:30 pm) and that its sushis are of the classic sort  (no experimental sushi here).
What do I think days later: One of the foodie friends who has recommended Azabu told me to expect excellent sushi but not unparralleled one. Azabu was exxellent, indeed,  as they fed me, up to now, with some of the best sushis that I ever had in NYC. As ever, restaurants do sometimes change some items on their menus, as I noticed, in old online reviews, that they once had a tamago similar to a creme brulee at Azabu. I doubt that such tamago would have the same impact as this tamago that deserved my praises, but I can only talk about the food they served me, of which I admired the precise slicing of the fish and assured technique in virtually everything (marinating, smoking, coaxing delicious flavors, etc). Based on what I came to expect from a 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan, Azabu did impress by not sticking to a safe/correct performance as it is so common at the big majority of eateries in North America. This was clearly the work of skilled Chefs with their personal imprint rather than some dudes replicating whatever someone else has asked them to simply replicate properly. Sushi Azabu also knows how to make the experience of a diner enjoyable, as, to take an example, there is no need for all parties of the same table to partake in a tasting menu. I can have my tasting menu while my girlfriend enjoys whatever she wants to eat. And here, there was not one single rotten apple that happened to find his way in the service with the sole intent of ruining your appreciation of the dining experience and the superb work of the rest of his team  as it was the  case during my last visit at another 1 star Michelin, Torishin. Was my foodie friend right when he mentioned that Azabu was not unparralled? If you find a 1 star Michelin that is unparralled, then it is a 3 star Michelin. Lol.  Unparralled is what you should expect at a 3 star Michelin, not 1, and yet a fraction of the 3 stars are unparralled. I loved sushi Azabu.
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River Café, Brooklyn
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States
URL: http://therivercafe.com
Phone: 1 718-522-5200
Type of cuisine: American cuisine (Essentially Classic French cooking technique using American ingredients)

RCThe River Café (near the Brooklyn Bridge) is an iconic restaurant which is widely known as one of the most romantic restaurants of New York city. I am usually not a fan of 1 star Michelin restaurants serving classic French cuisine in North America because their cooking hardly leaves any souvenir on my mind, but this was a special romantic occasion and River Café was the appropriate restaurant in this instance.

One unique / truely special romantic restaurant with an exceptional riverfront view over Manhattan, and one that chose not to rest on its laurels as even the food is not an afterthought. This is proper 1 star Michelin French/international/American  cooking.

The meal started with an amuse of Citrus and Olive Oil Poached Squid with Saffron Panna Cotta and sweet pepper Gelee. Pretty to espy and an indication that, although using classic French techniques, the creativity of this kitchen brigade is hard to ignore: the variety of colors is thoughtful, a cube of saffron panna cotta  with some poached squid is not a usual combination of food items at most restaurants, and yet they were complementary. My only regret is that I have familiarized  my palate with strong flavors to the extent that I have hard time appreciating the subtle flavors of this amuse. I won’t rate this amuse as I just do not have the required palate  to appreciate it.
RC2Tuna of prime quality served as a tartare with a layer of thin slices of the fish atop. This showcased a great understanding of how to get the most out of raw fish (well judged seasoning allowing the quality of the fish to be at the forefront while lifting up its natural flavor – I did not ask the staff if they did age the tuna a little bit, so I am not too sure if they did, but that was the effect I had in mouth and it dazzled. Miso/valencia orange/ pickled chili vinaigrette brought necessary complexity. 8/10
RC3Jumbo shrimps, poached to ideal doneness (tender while retaining a nice chew) served alongside a faultless citrus Maltaise sauce. Another display of some serious seafood cooking (superb produce, classic flavor combination but mastered really well) 8/10
RC5Steamed (with meyer lemon) salmon with an inspired  oriental broth (a shiitake mushroom broth that was as vibrant as some of its original Japanese renditions) was delicious, the aromas of the broth exciting and above all, balanced. This was served with jasmine rice. 8/10
RC4Poached lobster was another display of superb produce and great mastery of classic French cooking as the seafood tasted great, its poaching well timed, the classic French flavors enticing. If cooking using classic technique done this well is one’s definition of boring cooking, then I’d rather get bored lol. This came with lobster claw, spinach gratin and lobster infused marinara, squid ink cavatelli pasta (tiny quantity, wished I had more as that was  some great pastas that would not be considered as average in a good Italian restaurant ). 9/10
RC6Milk chocolate soufflé (served with toasted marshmallow, hot fudge, Tahitian vanilla bean ice milk) was risen properly but milk chocolate needs to be exciting at smell and in mouth to leave an impression. As with everything at the RC, this chocolate was of top quality, admittedly, but the soufflé was unexciting for my taste. Furthermore, when I see the mention of “milk”, I want to be blown away by some bold fresh milky fragrance….which was not the case with this dessert.  6/10
RC7Blueberry tartlet was  a proper rendition of the tartlet, the fruits of stellar quality, but the pastry lacking a bit of the exciting buttery fragrance that I prefer when enjoying a tartlet. Actually, this was made of caramelized almond which does  normally express very appealing flavor, but that was not put in evidence  6/10
On web sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp, some reviewers considered that the food at RC was average. I beg to differ. I would need to be totally ignorant of classic cooking (the presentation is contemporary but the food is backed by classic French cooking techniques) or to hate it in order to reach similar conclusion.
Pros: One unique / truely special romantic restaurant with an exceptional riverfront view over Manhattan, and one that chose not to rest on its laurels as even the food is not an afterthought.
Cons: A bit more “pep” (milk should be packed with bold lactic fresh flavor, caramelized almond should have the almond and caramel flavors better expressed, etc) is to be expected from the pastry creations I have sampled on that evening.
Overall food rating: 7.5/ 10 (Category: North american/french/international 1 star Michelin). It may sound harsh to score an overall 7.5/10 for the food after the series of really good savory dishes, but this is a 1 star Michelin, therefore the desserts needed to leave an impression too. They were good desserts, not great enough for a 1 star Michelin. That said, this is proper 1 star Michelin  French/international/American  cooking.  Same applies to the restaurant (in the classic restaurant category , obviously). It is pricey,should I repeat, but above all this is a world class romantic destination.

 

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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)

On the day of my visit, in May 2016, Torishin was “ages away” from what most online reviews seem to rave about: at the entrance, a middle age man (perhaps in his late 40ish) was standing behind the bar completely ignoring both my wife and myself while we were seating at his bar for at least 30 minutes . You would think a yakuza waiting for a secret code in order for him to acknowledge your presence. Then we moved to the dining area and sat at the bar counter only to be served by a waiter (medium size skinny man) with an aggressive and confrontational demeanor coming straight from a ghetto. I mean, YES…the food is Ok, but the food is even better  anywhere else in New York anyways , the rest of the staff (especially the waitresses) offered a stellar service, but that was marred by two men who do not deserve to work at a Michelin restaurant. If I wanted to meet a yakuza and a little ‘bum’ from a triad, I would go somewhere else..NOT to a Michelin star restaurant. Offering extra food items that were not ordered by the client and telling the client that it is “on the house ” BUT making him pay for that ….that was   yet another act of the “ghetto” mentality that, somehow, found its way at Torishin on the evening of  our visit. Again and again..NOT what you should  expect from  a respectable restaurant.

 

01Torishin is a well known   yakitori of   NYC with   a  michelin star. A  Michelin star  for a restaurant that basically grills  chicken … will unavoidably  lead to  unrealistic expectations, but michelin starred yakitoris are  not something unheard of  (in Japan, they do exist).

Overall rating for
food: 6/10
service: 5/10
dining experience: 3/10

I went dining with my wife and our meal consisted of the following menu items:

 

02 Chicken 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 fine  taste of the grilled fat and a tasty crispy skin.  Grilled corn was a ridiculously small piece of corn, which although of good  quality … had an inflated cost for the quantity served.

03Duck – I was spoiled with superlative duck in Asia (Hong kong, Vietnam, Japan).  Torishin’s duck paled  in comparison. 6/10

 

04 Chicken rib was  tender and  meaty as you would expect  from a finely cooked piece of chicken rib,  although, to be honest, most people would 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..    6/10

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. At Torishin, they add a bit of plum sauce on the leaves as to cut through the pungency of the shiso leaf.  Ok, but not on par with, say, its equivalent at a decent yakitori place in Tokyo 6/10

 

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 a mistake 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 had  nothing to do with the standards that one should  expect from a respectable  restaurant) –

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

07Wagyu was tasty, as expected from any   piece of red meat that you could haved  grilled at home , and yet it came with an inflated price tag eventhough it was  not of the superbly  marbled A5 grade  6/10

Other pieces that I did order and that were Ok: chicken tenderloin,  chicken thigh,  tofu as well as  pork belly.

Pros –   The fabulous service from the female squad was the “saving grace’ of a service that , at times, was of the standard of what one  can imagine could only  come from an eatery located in a  ghetto …

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?).  That waiter’s  idiotic behaviour reached its pinnacle when I left a tip that was actually twice the amount that it was supposed to be … he had, of course,  to recount each single of the bills  in front of his customer.  (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: Torishin is not   “special” enough  to justify   passing  past any shortcoming. The Michelin star of torishin is not justified at all :  In Japan, what torishin  is offering would pass as   standard yakitori food at  any Okay yakitori. The michelin starred yakitoris of Japan are far superior to this. Sadly, torishin thinks that it is a true Michelin star, therefore  it is more than happy to cash in on its   ordinary grilled food ( you will pay through the nose for what is essentially  some  meat and veggies that are grilled). In fine, it will be hard to explain to a  Michelin starred restaurant cooking elaborate recipes (sauces, complex dishes, etc), delivering a flawless service as well as a superb dining  experience that it is competing with an eatery that is basically just grilling meats and veggies with the flaws that I have encountered here.

 

 

 

 

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Sushi Oono –
Address:  1F, Nanou Building, 7-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Date and time of the meal:  Saturday November 22, 2014 18:00 (Dinner)
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13024790/

***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered  (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).

Sushi Oono (1)Sushi Oono was one of the two ultimate (the other one was Sawada) sushi meals of this trip. By then, the other Sushi shops that I have tried have been Sushi Mizutani, Sushi Sawada, Sushi Sho, Sushi Iwa, Sushi Aoki  and Daisan Harumi. At Sushi Sho, Sushi Iwa, Sushi Aoki  and Daisan Harumi,  I was with a tour guide so I spent most of my time talking to the person rather than bothering about reviewing my meals but I’ll still provide my opinion about those meals. I know some people hate comparisons and indeed, comparing is always an exercise of imperfection, but such is the nature of any opinion anyways and at the end of the round, unless the matter does not interest you or you are trying to play the ‘diplomat foodie’, you still have personal preferences. And preference, like it or not, that implies comparison.

Quick recap on the sushi shops visited during this trip:

So, Sushi Mizutani was the benchmark Sushi shop of this trip, Sawada was my preferred Sushi meal (eventhough some aspects of the food did not float my boat, but again food appreciation is subjective/personal so consider that when you peruse my review).

Sushi Sho ages his seafood and I was curious to see how I would appreciate it…alas, my palate got to the conclusion that although some seafood are fine when you age them (tuna, for eg), most could have been more exciting in mouth without the aging method (I know, it’s supposed to be the opposite, but for my palate that theory is at its best on paper), especially for sushis. I was born and raised in a fishermen village of the Indian Ocean and I do have fond memories of people rushing to the shore to avoid missing the freshest pieces of seafood that those fishermen were so proud to have snatched from the ocean floor just moments before and I am trying to imagine myself telling to my fella fishermen ‘hey Buds…take all your time…there is no rush..anyways we’ll age your seafood instead of enjoying it in its freshest state so you may as well let it rest for a while on the boat…”’….. A long time ago, aging seafood was indispensable by necessity, but that does not mean you should age all seafood. You need to know what seafood truely shines when aging it and that is where my problem lies: not ALL seafood are at their best when aged!!! Naturally, fans of the fad of aging fish won’t like to hear this kind of opinion but as loud as they are, we’ll have to agree to disagree whenever they will cross my path.

Daisan Harumi: interesting focus on the historical and educational importance of the sushis as I had fun learning a bit more about virtually everything that was flirting with my palate. Surprisingly, the flavors were not as ‘challenging’ and ‘old fashion’ as I was anticipating (for eg, no overly strong /brutal flavors, etc). When I was in Tokyo, I thought my meal at Sushi Oono was better and I was not that impressed with my meal here, but with time, it’s Daisan Harumi that is winning my heart. Daisan Harumi is not competing with the highly refined sushis of Sawada or Mizutani, it is not even trying to challenge Sushi shops of his rank (for eg, mid range Sushi shops like Sushi Iwa and Sushi Oono), but that does not matter as it is has its unique identity, doing things the way it deems worthy of its very own standards. The freshness of some of the seafood at Daisan Harumi did, at times, brought back memories of my tender childhood growing up on the shores of the Indian Ocean (minus the full-bodied maritime flavor of seafood fished in warm waters, obviously). Therefore, a very special place for very personal reasons.

Sushi Iwa: the most refined sushis of my mid range Sushi shop experiences in Tokyo, for now, and the best of that category, during this trip, for me. Some online accounts argued that it was good but not at the level of the top tier Sushi Shops of Tokyo. Well, that is comparing apples to grapes as Sushi Iwa is a mid range Sushi shop (second tier) establishment.

Sushi Aoki (Ginza): the tastiest and preferred sushis of my mid range Sushi shop experiences in Tokyo, for now.

The review of Sushi Oono:

Sushi Oono (one of the better rated Sushi shops of Tokyo –with a score of 4.15/5 — on the major local restaurant rating web site Tabelog http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13024790/) came as an alternative to Sukiyabaki Jiro in Ginza + Sushi Saito (impossible to book for the normal diner / by normal diner I mean any anonymous/normal person who calls a restaurant and wants to book a seat without the need of having contacts, or being a regular patron, or having the status of a poster-diner, etc), as well as Sushi Yoshitake (willing to find an availability for me but the schedules did not match).

The food ->

Sushi Oono - See eal-Sea eel was excellent both in flavor and texture. Nicely sourced and paired well with the judicious quantity of fresh grated root wasabi that it was flavored with. 8/10

Sushi Oono - Uni-Sea urchin (uni) is of the tiny type (as so oftently found at  most Sushi shops in Tokyo), those I was having being decent (the taste of the sea urchin, dazzling at Sawada, great at Mizutani and sublime at the other Mid level Sushi Shops I tried in Tokyo….were muted, here), no more.  6/10

-Squid – Tenderized enoughly for palatable comfort, while allowing enough chew to remind ourselves that this is squid, not a mousse (friendly reminder: be careful when you assess the texture/consistency of seafood….as tenderness or firmness does not mean the seafood is better or not…knowing how your seafood tastes/feels/smells like in its natural state will help avoiding many inaccuracies). For this level, Good 7/10

Sushi Oono - lean tuna

-Tuna: there was no otoro (fatty), but just akami (lean) –picture that’s on the left — and chutoro (medium-fat) tuna on the day of my visit…the lean tuna was great,but it was easy to find great akami everywhere else. Chutoro featured decent texture, the quality fine enough. 7/10

Sushi Oono - CrabCrab – Sizable portion but very ordinary crab,dry, lacking the exciting crab flavor I am expecting at this level. 5/10

Sushi Oono (3)

Mackerel- Fish of good quality for the standing of its Sushi shop. The Chef keeping it fresh and almost unaltered , no obvious extended work of the flavor apart a subtle flavor intensity coming from the GENTLE curing of the fish. Newer generations of diners seeking excitement might call this ordinary, but Sushi is not a show, it’s fish that you either source well or not, slice well or not, season well or not, nothing less, nothing more. Was that exceptional sourcing? No. Exceptional sourcing was what I have enjoyed at Sawada. Was that good sourcing? YES. For those who are curious about the subject, this meal was just slighly superior to a Good Sushi shop in the US/ Very good Sushi shop in Canada, certainly not vastly better ( I do not understand some of the online suggestions that the mid and some of the lower range Sushi shops of Tokyo are far better than anything found outside of Japan…well, I would not systematically bet on that) 7/10

Sea snail had limited flavor,  its typical natural chew kept unaltered . I prefer sea snail with more maritime flavor, but such feature depends heavily on the natural habitat of the seafood. This was still decent.  6/10

Sushi Oono - Gizzard chad

Gizzard shad – Precise with his knife skills, the fish fine in quality. I had spectacular examples of the Gizzard shad during this trip, and this was not one of those, but still….Very good for the standing of this shop (nice sourcing, timely cured) 7/10

Sushi Oono - Octopus and abalone Octopus and abalone were both served at the same time:

Octopus – Same principle as with the squid, they have tenderized it not too much so that enough of the natural chew of the octopus remains present. Not bad, tasty enough,just not as dazzling as at other places I have tried during this trip  6/10

Sushi Oono - Cod milt-Cod milt was ordinary, not the best, not bad neither but I had creamier, tastier ones in Tokyo during this trip (to my Canadian fellas who might find this too exotic, not to worry…cod milt is not disgusting at all, it can be very enjoyable actually…not akin to foie gras as some have suggested…more like scrambled tofu). 6/10

Abalone – Good, rather than excellent, timely steamed to a consistency balancing between the firm and enough tenderness for proper chew.7/10

Sushi Oono - Plum custardPlum soup egg custard: balanced flavors, the custard executed  properly. Good rather than delicious / exciting (some versions of this, tried right here in Tokyo,  at lesser eateries, were far more delicious) 7/10

Sushi Oono - Miso soupMiso soup was of the fine sort, with balanced seasoning (not too salty) and tasting good. Having had my share of misosoups in Tokyo, most of the finer kind, you realize that food is just a question of perception, often times, as people who claim they have tried miso soups in Japan, then in Montreal, would add that those in Montreal get nowhere close to those in Japan. Well, that is wrong. A great bowl of Miso soup in Montreal is as good and taste as authentic as the good bowls I have just enjoyed here in Tokyo. Anyways, a really good bowl, this one at Sushi Oono 7/10

Sushi Oono - Tamago-Tamago (in its cake version) featured good texture but lacked the fresh eggy flavor and enjoyable sweetness (it was bland) that I prefer and that was better expressed at the other Sushi shops 6/10

PROS: his pickled vegetable items were very enjoyable (there were plenty of those in between their sushi servings). I found the pickled items to have been the strong point of this meal.

CONS:it is the same problem as everywhere else in Tokyo…..it is hard for the mid level Sushi shops to find the finer produce that a top tier Sushi Shop like Sawada or Mizutani can get.

It would be flawed to compare Sushi Oono, a  1 star Michelin  and mid-range  Sushi shop  to top range  Mizutani and  Sawada, alas …even within the mid -range shops,  I found my meal at Sushi Oono a bit too safe /clean / linear. If there is one thing I  dislike it’s a performance that  errs on the side of caution (no bold seasoning, no spectacular marination, no outstanding curing technique, etc).  I appreciate that Sushi Oono is doing well enough for a mid-range sushi shop in Tokyo, but I am not exactly enamoured with such overall non risk-taking experience.

(1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered – The work of the rice at those high-end sushi shops of Tokyo is serious, but no more,meaning the sourcing is good, the rice cooking achieved with care but none of those sushi rice standing as spectacular as what some of the raves may suggest. So at Sushi Oono, there was no exception to that rule: he would flavor most  of his shari with a blend of white based vinegar, one of last sushi  had its rice  flavored with red vinegar on this evening, the consistency more hard than soft, but pleasant in mouth. No bold seasoning of the rice. The rice is of course of good quality, but its flavor very discrete so that the fish pairs well with the rice   (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping – No bold seasoning here. Nothing spectacular neither. Just good sushi rice that does not taste strong so that both the fish and the rice do combine well together   (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip- great knife skills for a Sushi shop of its standing. Work of textures and control of temperatures were flawless during this meal, the sushi enjoyed at proper body temp  (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best). Sourcing was decent, not a highlight as it was oftently the case at most Sushi shops of  the 2nd tier level.

Sushi Oono (2)

Overall food rating: 6/10 (Categories: Second tier Sushi Shop in Tokyo, Mid range Sushi Shop in Tokyo): At Sushi Oono, I was extremely lucky on the dining experience front as the other patrons were super friendly, the Chef humble and the overall experience highly enjoyable. It is on the aspect of the food that I felt I needed to get a bit more for my money , especially in light of the reputation of the house (in the top 10 Sushi Shops of Japan, etc). Virtually everything was fine (decent quality of the tuna, decent work of the rice), but no more (no outstanding work of the flavor of the mackerel, no outstanding quality of the produce, etc) . That said, it’s not a reproach to Sushi Oono at all as in general, I found that the Sushi-shop ‘system’, in Tokyo, regulates itself by clearly allowing the 1st tier Sushi Shops to have access to fish that the second tier will have to fight really hard for. Kinda logic/expected, indeed.

Restaurant: Dons de la Nature
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, B1F
Phone:+81 3-3563-4129
Cusine: Steakhouse (serving only one type of meat: Purebred Wagyu)
Date/Time of the meal: 19-11-2014 18:00
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://dons-nature.jp/

DLN is widely considered as a top tier steakhouse in Tokyo. Service (by the wife of the Chef)  was uneven for a 1 star Michelin restaurant: over-the-board friendly with some diners, decent with others…which, I gather, is ‘normal’  in ‘general life’ as this boils down to chemistry between people..less so  by the standards of  a 1 star Michelin restaurant. That said,  rest assured that the service is still really really good (you are in Japan, after all). The quality of the meat is the main reason that brought me here, and there is no denying it: the quality is, as expected, of top shelf mention. Sadly,  Wagyu is overrated, which is not the fault of DLN, indeed, but DLN …as a steakhouse…needs to pair  better red wine to their steak.  

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Dons de la Nature is widely considered  as one of Tokyo’s finest steakhouses. Which means that, here, you are exempt from the laughable mis-identification of the meat, a sad recurrent feature  at plenty of steakhouses around the globe. At Dons de la Nature, when they tell you they have Kobe beef, then it is the real one that  comes from Kobe in Japan (and not from elsewhere),  and when they say Wagyu,  then it is TRUE PUREBRED Japanese beef and they will tell you from what region in Japan.

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Traceability is taken seriously here. Wagyu beef is  usually (usually, I wrote, not always) fed on rice straw which is essential for achieving the high level of  intramuscular fat as well as whitening the marbled fat. The slaughter occurs in between 23 to 28 months.

THE FOOD:

I took no starter, fearing that the steak would be filling.

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The meat  available on the day of my visit was  Wagyu from the Oki Islands, (there was a choice of a highly marbled sirloin,  as well as tenderloin — for my taste, Sirloin features the  characteristics I am looking for when eating Wagyu as it’s not lean like tenderloin, the flavor certainly more expressive compared to tenderloin).

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Oftently, in Tokyo, steaks are cooked on an iron griddle (teppanyaki), but here, at Dons de la Nature, they grill it over charcoal (my  preferred cooking method for steak), no ordinary charcoal that is (they use the highly praised Binchōtan charcoal) ,  inside a kiln.  From such steakhouse, there’s not much to say about the basics (as expected, they get the requested doneness right, medium-rare in this case, the seasoning, although simple — a bit of salt — is judicious, the nice crust on the outside that most steak aficionados favor nowadays is achieved beautifully , and the kitchen  clearly knows how to delicately handle a meat of such extensive fat marbling ),

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so what I was looking for was how far the extensive marbling could impress in flavor. Unexpectedly,  the umami  kick  that the  media and plenty of online accounts have praised  continues to elude me (this was the 3rd Wagyu tasting of this trip, having tried Matsusaka a day prior, then Sanda) .Well, YES the umami dimension is  definitely there (afterall the effect of the marbling has to be ultimately felt)  but I get more exciting umami flavor from most   40 to 45 days perfectly dry aged corn-finished prime Black Angus cuts …that have less marbling.  I also do not get the comparision to  foie gras (a common comparison) that I oftently hear about. Do not get me wrong:  this is   quality red meat, that is for sure,  the fat much more delicate in taste and texture in comparison to a fatty cut of Black Angus, but at the end of the count …it is just not as flavorful.   I admire the  quality of Wagyu beef, but for the enjoyment part ..nah,sorry…I (my palate) just do not get it. This was a  6/10, at best, for me  (Grade: A5/  Breed: Japanese Black Wagyu from Oki Islands, 30 days of wet aging  + 30 other days of dry aging )

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The Chef’s wife has suggested to pair the steak with a glass of Camus Père & Fils Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 2001. This is a wine that scores high on paper: exceptional soil, exceptional vintage, too, as 2001 is one of the very best years of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine.  But the wine I was having had barely any structure (surprising for a wine known for its complexity), the wine devoid of the mouthfeel expected from a grand cru, the finish disappointingly short. Furthermore, this glass of wine was so dry that it clashed with the flavor of the meat I was having. Dryness is a characteristic of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine, but but this was way too dry to be enjoyable. This is an instance where you need a wine with silkier tannins/rounder palate.

Pros:  Wagyu is so praised outside of Japan that there are no shortage of marketing manipulations to call pretty much everything that looks like meat… Wagyu.  You therefore really appreciate the moment when you get to enjoy the real thing on its very own land, which is exactly what Dons de la Nature offers.

Cons:   Wine pairing to a steak is expected to be a highlight at a steakhouse. It has to.

 

Service: Very intimate, very very friendly. The wife of the Chef (she was the sole waitress on that evening) is very enthusiastic, perhaps more with some than  others, but I am nitpicking here. It is much more informal than at most of the steakhouses that I have been to.

My verdict and conclusion:  I won’t rate this house as I do not want my aversion to Wagyu to influence my opinion about Dons de la Nature.  But Wagyu, you my friend….even at the same cost as my favourite Black Angus steaks, there is simply no way I could appreciate you. I respect your legendary reputation but for me, it is clear  that your scarcity creates your value. Yes, you are beautiful to espy (I have rarely seen marbling of such striking beauty), but for my palate, you are not even half as flavorful as an expertly dry aged prime cut of Black Angus. And I just gave you 3 chances right here on your own lands! I even  ensured to lower my expectations (I had none, to tell you the truth) and I did erase  any notion of price from the equation so that the assessment’s  focus is on what matters most:  the flavor!!!.

What I think weeks later: That Wagyu is my all-time biggest disappointment on the aspect of food, that is life and I can deal with that. What struck me most was how the praises about its superlative flavor had absolutely nothing to do with what I have enjoyed. If the flavor of meat is going to be almost as subtle as the one of tofu….then I’ll take the tofu! Meat needs to be flavorful no matter how hard you have worked its quality.

Event: Dinner at Peter Luger
Addr: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211-6131
Phone: (718) 387-7400
Type of cuisine: American Steakhouse
Time/Date: Saturday Febr 23rd 2014, 18:00
URL: http://www.peterluger.com
Michelin star: 1

***NOTE – This meal at Peter Luger is listed on the left side of this blog among the other reviewed Michelin starred meals, since it is a Michelin starred restaurant at the moment of writing/posting this review. It goes without saying that the score that I did assign to it IS NOT to be compared with the score of the reviewed meals that  you’ll find there (PL is not a fine dining destination). That score reflects my appreciation of  PL  as a steakhouse delivering a North American Porterhouse steak of  world class standard, nothing  more, nothing less.  And in case you are the kind to believe that it is crazy to praise a place that  specialises in just one sort of  steak, then you are running straight into an instance where we’ll have to agree to ….disagree: for me, if  one thing is done better than anywhere else  (the North American Porterhouse cut of PL, in this case), then it deserves to be considered as highly as you’ll consider any other favourite food destination. Japanese people have got this since a long time (a specialist of pork cutlet, specialist of tempura, etc) and I’d rather admire a ‘specialist’ that does its craft beautifully rather than  … ‘a jack of all trades” playing it safely.

***Sorry, no pics – Just wanted to eat quietly with no hassle / distraction of photo nor note taking. After all, it’s a steakhouse, so the 1000th picture of their steaks or 3000th picture of their side of spinach won’t make those items look nor taste any better ;p

NY is not far from Montreal, so I recently spent a weekend in  NY to  see if  Peter Luger is still doing great especially after reports from some food journalists about PL losing a bit of its past glory (my 3rd visit here in 6 yrs).

Picked:
-The Porterhouse steak: The succulent beef flavor that shone through is a reminder that Peter Luger has mastered, for so long, the art of delivering the perfect North American porterhouse steak: this is one of the few great American steakhouses which dry aging technique of the meat is rarely paralleled. But there’s much more, of course: the right grade and the right cooking degree for the right cut. It’s a breeze to appreciate that they are genuinely obsessive about where that beef grew up, how well did it live, what was it fed with, how great and knowledgeable was the butcher behind that cut, how properly aged and hanged was the cut, etc. One of the few benchmark aged USDA prime Porterhouse (some complain about the sauce that’s underneath the steak…well, this adds to the character of that Porterhouse. If you can’t take it, simply ask them to serve it aside). 10/10
-Their legendary creamed spinach: deliciously rich as usual, though hardly something that anyone behind a kitchen should miss. Still, they do it well, it tastes good and it’s a perfect logical match to that Porterhouse steak 7/10
-Their old fashioned sauce: not too sure how that fares with their patrons, but their old fashioned sauce is not to my taste (I do not find that it pairs well with meat). Of course, a question of personal preference (anyways, the only time I am fine with sauce over my steak is when I eat it French-style as with steak au poivre) , especially since the sauce that’s underneath that Porterhouse largely suffices for me. I won’t score that sauce since this boils down to a matter of personal taste only (I am just not used to pair my steak with the flavor profile of this kind of sauce – a mix of sweet and savoury flavors which, for my palate, had following dominating aromas: horseradish/ tamarind/vinegar/molasse. There are, of course, more ingredients to the recipe, but those were the ones that my palate has primarily detected). I did replicate that sauce at home and after several tries, it now tastes almost like theirs, so that my palate gets used to it.  Yep, that is how food works lol: you do not like it, do not  ive up on it, just accompany your palate in gradually appreciating it and there will be more power to you ;p
-The fabled side of beacon, which I finally got to try this time (kept skipping that one on the past 2 visits): Decent thick slabs of porky meatyness, but beacon abound in North America, its preparation varying widely in quality and depth of deliciousness from one place to another, so it is hard for me to get excited over  their beacon. Certainly not bad, but there are definitely better beacon to be enjoyed across North America 6/10
-The dessert list here features typical classic American steakhouse dessert items (Ice cream, pecan pie, cheese cake, etc). This time, I tried  their Cheese cake (7/10) which was as classically well executed as it gets (as expected, New York style cheesecake that was and as I wrote, in its classic version), the schlag that I also tried being just Ok.

PL is what it is, not what you want it to be, which is exactly how things should work: it has its charms (the classic setting), its relative weaknesses (obviously, not a modern trendy fancy steakhouse so  if that’s what you are looking for, you’ve knocked at the wrong door + it’s not cheap) , its own character (old world charm). You learn to know what they are, if that pleases you, you go, if that does not fit, then you look elsewhere. I am delighted  to observe that  PL  remains as it is, which means at it has always been, regardless of the pressure that new trends put on our perceptions/appreciations: a classic house with personality.
I have read online arguments about PL being a tourist trap to some (100% pure BS! IMHO) , that they have suffered at some point from a shortage of Porterhouse, that they once had a matriarch who was second to none when it comes to selecting the finest meat and that perhaps her successors are not as diligent as she used to, but I have also spent 15 years in North America, enough time to familiarize myself  with most major NYC’s and USA’s steakhouses and came to the conclusion that if PL is a tourist trap, then the definition of tourist trap has evolved into a compliment. There’s no way a serious steak connoisseur  would confuse PL with a tourist trap. Has PL delivered the perfect Porterhouse steak on each of my 3 visits (I took the Porterhouse everytime I went there)? The answer is NO. On one particular visit, I could easily name  plenty of American steakhouses which Porterhouse was superior. But it’s naïve to attempt to convince oneself  about the definitive appreciation  to have of a  restaurant based on just one meal. You can judge the meal, which I do too and that is  fine, but not a restaurant. Which leads me to where I am getting at: on the two other visits, their Porterhouse outshone their major competitors by leaps with effective superior aging technique and far better sourcing of the meat. Are there steakhouses in NYC where I had more fun? Of course Yes. Are there better cost performance steakhouses?  Absolutely.  But again, ambience and better value have nothing to do with why I like Peter Luger: the quality of its Porterhouse!
Overall food rating: 8/10 I was impressed to see that PL continues to deliver some of this globe’s finest American Porterhouse steaks. The Porterhouse steak, their star item, remaining as glorious as ever.

Recommended: This  great article on America’s current finest steakhouses

I can’t manage — because of a lack of time —  the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you.  Off topic comments will be discarded.

Q&A – Peter R says that if PL is a 1 star Michelin Steakouse, then Carnevino in Las Vegas is a 3 star  Answer: Peter, I never went to Carnevino but heard that it’s highly regarded in  Las Vegas as one of their finest Steakhouses alongside Cut.  It’s on my TDL,  for sure (there’s also Raku in LV that I would like to dine at).   That said,  are we comparing apples to apples here:  do they serve the Porterhouse cut at  Carnevino? Did you try it? As you’ll see in my food report, I was floored by the Porterhouse steak, not by the rest (side, desserts, etc) and it is  a fact that as an all-rounder steakhouse (for eg, with not just one type of steak but a variety of them being great, better sides, better ambience, etc ) , there is no shortage of superior steakhouses in the US.  But based on the quality of its Porterhouse,  I find PL to be deserving of its accolades. Furthermore, PL is not influenced by trends and that, for me, is the  key for a restaurant to keep its own character intact. It might not please hipsters, but it adds a lot to my appreciation of a food destination.