Archive for the ‘1 star michelin’ Category

Tempura Matsui, NYC – TM is considered as  the best tempura restaurant  of NYC. Celebrated  NYC’s food journalist Pete Wells rating it with the highest score he is capable of for a non western restaurant, a 2 over 4. Not that Pete Wells knows anything about non Western food. He does not. I mean, the dude knows what is a benchmark restaurant, when it comes to Western food. But for Non Western Food, he has no clue of what is a benchmark restaurant (have you seen Pete Wells scoring a non Western restaurant higher than 2 or 3 over 4?? Exactly ….) – Anyways, Pete Wells is still a dude to reckon with when it comes to informing yourself about NYC’s dining scene and his rating of TM, although it reveals how he is not capable of properly assessing a non Western restaurant (he is basically assessing a Japanese restaurant with the same expectations that he has about a fine dining North American or French restaurant, if that was still not clear in your mind!!), is still an indication that TM stands out of the pack at whatever it is doing in NYC. I went to find out.

In Japan, the finest tempura restaurants will reveal how perfecting tempura is not an ordinary task.
They have nothing to do with the ordinary tempura found at the big majority of eateries around the world. They do thrive on paper-thin shells of batter (koromo,  in Japanese) coating top quality seafood and vegetables using the finest oil possible and skills they have perfected for years to turn the tempura into a revelation. I wanted to see how Matsui in NYC would fare.

As explained elsewhere on this blog, I am not going to do an inventory of every single food item that I ate. A blog like mine prefers focusing on the the technical aspect of the meal, what needs to be expected from such meal and if  that  was achieved.

At Matsui, NYC, they use   sesame (The main oil used in the Edo era 江戸時代, widely used by Tempura Chefs in Tokyo), peanut  and cottonseed oils. The fish is  fried in oil that is hotter than the one used for vegetables. As it is typical of high end tempura-ya, you are served the light flavored   food items (fish, shrimps) first, then those with a stronger taste (root vegetables, for eg) . Some top quality daikon is left on the table, its purpose is to be incorporated in the sauce ( made of mirin,  soya sauce, dashi  ) in which you can dip some of your tempuras – the daikon  adds to the flavouring of the tempura, and that helps the sauce to stick to the tempura and your tempura not to turn soggy. You also have some salt available.

The meal started with an array of non-tempura mini creations. Traditionally, non tempura items were not served at tempura-yas, but the Chef told the medias that he does this to please his NYC’s clientele.

From right to left: Snow crab jelly (the enticing fresh maritime fragrance and superb natural sweetness of the crab at the fore), then sea urchin and high-grade chopped tuna atop some rice (the quality of the sea urchin from Hokkaido even better than at some of the elite sushiya of NYC), then Toro tuna sashimi/shrimp/salmon roe (top of the range salmon roe that was even better than the one I had at Sushi Noz the other day), then lobster/okra, soya jelly – all first-rate ingredients with competently rendered textures. The okra came from the US and could hold a candle to the best okras of this globe. 8/10

Seafood savory steamed egg custard, with chunks of abalone (superb balance between a nice firm chew and enough tenderness for an enjoyable mouthfeel – this is the consistency that I came to consider as the ideal one for abalone since the days of my tender childhood in the Indian ocean, blessed with some of this globe’s best and freshest seafood such as the abalone.  I am not a fan of the utterly tender/soft consistency that is sometimes the case with certain preparations of the abalone), lobster, shrimp and a topping of Salmon roe (Ikura). Again, high quality sourcing as it would be the case all along this meal. Served hot in this instance, the custard highly enjoyable, its execution flawless (the trio of core elements soy sauce/dashi stock/ mirin perfectly balanced, the silky-smooth texture competently achieved). 8/10

 

The first piece of tempura arrived. It was the shrimp. Both the head and the tail of the shrimp are served as it is common at many  tempura-yas. Deep-fried shrimp coated with  crispy tempura batter crumbs  never fails to be enjoyable.  Particularly the head (which is not phographed). Good quality of shrimp, tasty tempura. No excess batter as to fully enjoy the taste of the shrimp.  The flour batter did  not soak up  oil. Which is essential to top quality tempura. An important skill that is not as easy to master as it may sound.

There was also the  highly praised  Matsutake mushroom, a luxury that had its distinctive  aromas (quite tough to describe. I could describe it as either spicy-aromatic, pungent, or woodsy, and yet it will never do justice to what it really smells like. Even experts cannot describe its fragrance  accurately. The best way to understand its taste is just to sample it. ) brought to the fore. As for the tempura itself, I could appreciate that this had  a delicate crispness to its batter (made of egg, flour, water  – the flour is a special flour imported from Japan and that does a better job at helping the  batter to be lighter )  and it’s clear that the oil that was used is immaculate. The control of the temperature is crucial, of course, and yes,  they got that one under great control, too.

Japanese Whiting fish (Kisu: きす): The fish is of utter freshness, as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing. Being a high end tempura Chef is not just about deep frying seafood and vegetables. It is about —- among other high level technical qualities, of course —- knowing what fish is best for the tempura cooking method. You realize that when you are in the presence of true great Tempura Chefs (In Japan, I did try Tempuraiwai , Sonoji , and 7Chome Kyoboshi , and if you try them solely for bragging about having eaten upmarket deep fried food, if you can’t appreciate such details as the effect of every single fish’s taste and texture in their tempura’s incarnation, if you can’t appreciate the nuances of high end tempuras, nuances that are largely detailed in this article, then it would be wise to refrain from investing your money on this, obviously. Yes, most fishes are great when deep-fried, but the  Kisu: きす will reward the tempura Chef not only with a great taste, but its texture is also perfect for a tempura (not greasy, holding perfectly well to the batter, etc). And of course, its spine, full of calcium,  is always a delectable treat when deep fried. Another display of impeccable frying technique. Here, the work of the seasoning is not what you should be looking for. Instead, the focus is on  the quality of the ingredients and their very own flavor. Which means that the house needs to be extremely good at sourcing its ingredients.  The sourcing was indeed of top level.

Hokkaido Sea urchin (uni)  tempura – the soft consistency of the sea urchin is the perfect counter balance to the crunch of a fried batter, adding textural excitement on the palate, and that is exactly what came out from sampling this piece of tempura. The sea urchin  was  wrapped in edible kelp  (kombu) as to stop the creamy sea urchin from falling apart during the deep frying process as well as adding texture to it.   As you would expect from fresh quality sea urchin, wrapped like a ‘sandwich’ in any leafy element (in this case, the edible kelp), then deep fried in top quality oil, not one single presence of oil to be found, but just the great fresh taste of the seafood, this was a piece of joy in mouth. Again, as with all the other pieces of tempura, the high level tempura skills (light coating, superb quality batter, swift deep frying, great control of the heat of the oil) was always in evidence.

Abalone – The distinctive maritime flavor of the seafood  brought to the fore (here, too, an essential technical aspect of high end tempura). Tempura is just a cooking technique that is perfect in unlocking the inner flavors of an ingredient. It’s supposed to do that better than through, boiling, to take an example. If a piece tempura does not do that, then it is better to  simply boil or grill that ingredient. Here’s an example of a restaurant where you can better understand how tempura cooking fulfills that task of doing a better job at unlocking the flavors of an ingredient than boiling or grilling. And, as already stated earlier on, their work of the abalone is superior to the one of many elite Sushiyas in NYC because they do a better work at retaining  the seafood’s inner flavour and tenderizing it to  the perfect balance between the right firmness and the right crunch (not an easy task as many do tenderize the abalone too much, sometimes to the point of allowing it to feel almost like a gel, which has nothing to do with the sea snail’s natural consistency. I understand that you need to tenderize the abalone, but when it is almost like a gel, you are distancing yourself from the point of eating a piece of abalone, which is to enjoy some …sea snail. Tempura Matsui did a great job at reminding us that it is a sea snail that we are eating and not some Jell-O ).  So, yes it is tender, but it is also firm and features a nice crunch. 10/10 for the superb preparation  of the abalone! The cottonseed oil that they use  is designed to enhance the flavour of seafood and vegetables, and judging by the taste of this tempura, that was not just an advertising suggestion but a reality as well (the natural flavor of the abalone  is truely enhanced) . I was observing the Chef during the frying: he uses the right motions so that virtually no oil stays in the batter.

Crab – scored and served wrapped in shiso leaves .  Light coating that was technically well achieved. Not oily at all. Sesame oil is advertised as imparting more umami and aroma to the tempura, and here, too, that was not just some advertising suggestion blowing in the wind. So, you had more aroma because of the oil, but zero sign of oil. Yep, that is the ingenuity  of high end tempura.

Maitake mushroom 舞茸 : perfect technique in keeping any excess of moisture at bay, so that the batter adheres to the mushroom better. The  natural robust woodsy sensation coming from the mushroom testifying to the perfect timing and heat control of the deep-frying, a second too long, an oil way too hot — or not enoughly hot,  and the  natural fragrance of the mushroom  would have been  just a wish, obviously. But, then  you have got to make that happen, a feature that is not as easy at it may sound even at plenty of ambitious tempura-yas. And here, they nailed it.

There were plenty of other tempura pieces (onion, okra, eggplant, etc), but I’ll stop the inventory of the pieces of the tempuras here. It is pointless to go on and on with this. You have everything you need to  know about their tempura. That’s all we need. I also did not rate the tempura items as, in this instance, they would mean nothing (convey nothing) – as an example, if I prefer the taste of crab to mushroom, I may be tempted to rate the crab higher. But that would convey absolutely nothing. The only time you will see me rating a piece of tempura is if the performance was weak, or of benchmark mention. At Tempura Matsui, the performance was uniformly of a very high level of technique and that is all we need to extract from the assessment of the above mentioned pieces of tempuras.

After the flight of tempuras, I had:

 

Tendon Tempura Rice Bowl – Traditionally, the meal gets into its final stages with a dish of rice. Here, I did opt for some shrimp kagiake (several kinds of seafood and vegetables are deep-fried in batter)  tempura served atop freshly steamed rice. This came with a tentsuyu sauce and a tempura shiso leaf. Fine quality shrimp, fine taste, the tentsuyu sauce flawless. 7/10

 

Also served with the dish of rice: Akadashi red miso soup. Its miso paste is made of roasted barley flour, rice miso, steam-cooked soy bean. In this instance, dashi (dried kelp, bonito fish flakes ) is added. All of that translating into an expected fully-flavoured miso soup expressing enticing fresh strong bursts of umami taste sensations (from the particularly long fermentation of all involved ingredients, essentially) as well as toasty (coming from the roasted barley flour, obviously) and earthy notes. 8/10

Some pickles were also served. The pickles kept confirming the assured technical skills found all along this meal, with flawless pickling technique in evidence, and, of course, the expected top-flight ingredients and precise timing in serving the pickles that you came to expect at this level of dining. 8/10

Good to know – 3 facts :

(1)At your typical mainstream tempura restaurant, the batter is usually texturally thicker, the color dense, its seasoning competing with the flavour of the the ingredient. At a high end tempura restaurant, the focus is on both the technique of the batter (how feather light, how utterly crispy, how almost transparent it can be) and the quality of the ingredient (it has to express its intricate flavour fully and not compete with the batter’s flavour. The batter is actually not flavoured. For that to happen, the quality of the ingredient has to be of supreme quality, and there should be NO  seasoning involved). Tempura Matsui being a high end tempura restaurant, I do expect them to fulfill the basic above mentioned expectations any Tempura connoisseur has for a high end tempura. Did they? Absolutely.

(2)Many Japanese food items rely on subtlety in both the texture and the taste. Therefore keep that in mind as to avoid the inevitable clash with the perception of textures and flavours that you would have carried on from eating other types of food. You definitely need to spend some time educating you senses with what needs to be expected from Japanese high end tempura as your usual notions of texture and flavours have absolutely nothing to do with it.

(3)We are talking about feather light batter and the sole expression of the flavour of the featured ingredient here. If such things pass as pure BS to you, if you prefer bold flavours and thick tempura batter, then clearly, going to a high end tempura restaurant is like trying to rely on the moon to get some sunlight. Ain’t gonna happen.

 

Bottom line:  (Category: High-End tempura in North America) – The  level of technique (good control of the temperature of the oil, precise heat and timing, competently lightly  rendered textures where and when need be, every single item perfectly steamed on the inside, crisp on the outside, the inherent flavours of the ingredients brought to the  fore, etc) on display that you came  to expect  from a proper high end tempura shop of this reputation  was always in evidence. I think that Michelin got it right on this one (They did award Tempura Matsui with a 1 star). As argued elsewhere on this blog, I do not always agree with the Michelin star rating (a blatant example of that is the 1 star that was awarded to Torishin), but TM is a first-class restaurant from the classy behaviour of every single staff member, to the luxurious and tasteful Japanese-styled interior (they even have a high tech Japanese toilet in the restroom), up to the well sourced ingredients and great level of tempura technique on display. And to top it off, just a few blocks away, the spectacular water view of  the East  river awaits you. Glad to see that NYC has, finally, a high end tempura restaurant of world class quality. So there is no need to go to eat in Japan, anymore, as all Japanese cuisines are now represented in NYC at the high end level in the form of genuine world class Japanese restaurants that would be respectable venues even in Japan. Tempura Matsui. Overall ratings for Food: 8/10; Service: 9/10 Tempura Matsui Addr: 222 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016, United States Phone: +1 212-986-8885 URL: http://www.tempuramatsui.com

Sushi Noz – Chef Nozomu Abe, from Hokkaido (Japan) has spent years perfecting his edomae-style sushi in Japan (Sapporo, Tokyo) before moving to NYC in 2007.

Inside the luxurious traditionally styled sushiya you have an area with a sushi counter that they call the Hinoki counter (a 200 year old hinoki wood sushi bar, where you are served several small plates at the beginning of your omakase), this counter being a faithful replica of the counter you will find at some of the high end sushiyas of Japan, as well as another space they call the Ash room (because it is made of a variety of ash wood) and which omakase features nigiri only.

Sushi Noz is located in the posh neighbourhood of the Upper East side. It is just amazing to find that many world class sushiyas in one single city, outside of Japan, many if not most … capable of holding a candle to their counterparts of the mother land. The limitation being that they can’t always use Japanese ingredients even though most of the sushiyas in NYC do their best to do that. And of course you have the legal restrictions such as not allowing Japanese shellfish to be imported with their shells (you can imagine the difference that makes in terms of the flavor of the flesh of that shellfish), not using fish that is too young (you can do that in Japan, not in the USA, etc). Not to forget that elements such as the water that is used, the geographical environment, etc … do affect the taste of the food. Despite all of that, most of the sushiyas of NYC are still of world class mention.

As I generally do, I am not going to elaborate on every single food item that I did put in my mouth, the purpose of my reviews is to extract what needs to be underlined about the technical aspect of the sushi meal. Consequently, as I am not doing an exhaustive and orderly inventory of what I ate,  I do not list the food items in the order that they were served to me.

 

Amadai (Tile fish) was swiftly seared on the sides, kept raw on the inside, dressed with a homemade sauce, shiso flower, served with warm gingko nuts. The advertised rich and fresh maritime taste of the in-season luxurious fish (one of the most expensive fish on the market) at the fore. Warm quality gingko nuts never failing to be a crowd pleaser. 7/10

 

Aburi Toro ( seared fatty tuna)  nigiri – This was seared  under  binchotan coals,  one rare feature at a sushiya in NYC. When you hear people talking about the theatrics of the Chef, it is nothing ”out of context” that he is doing. Just pertinent   gestures like grilling his fatty tuna in front of you. This was a fine piece of fatty tuna, rather than a benchmark of its kind. In  this instance I would have preferred it in its  raw version, but of course, grilling such nice fat  is always a tasty idea. Which was certainly the case, here.    6/10

Chutoro (moderately fatty tuna), from Miyazaki in Japan,  features the meaty aspect of the lean tuna (Akami – which was also served during this meal), and elevate it with the feel of the fat of the Otoro (the premium fat from the belly of the tuna). Again, as at virtually all the fine sushiyas of NYC,  the sourcing of the tuna is rarely a disappointment. Only their counterparts in Japan are doing better. 7/10

Bafun sea urchin (uni)  from Hokkaido  was, as expected from a sushiya of this reputation, of the high quality type, the buttery texture and distinct maritime and rich umami flavour in evidence. They did   keep the sea urchin enoughly chilled, which is what you have to do for sushi. Consequently, the sea urchin did not melt and had a fine firm visual appeal when it was served. The advertised sweet, briny and creamy qualities, a reality, not just an advertising slogan. Very good sourcing, too. 8/10

Wild yellowtail (Buri 鰤) . I had it in winter, the season when it is at its peak,  in Tokyo at a high end Sushiya and it was spectacular. Here at SNOZ, its quality was fine. Fine fresh piece of yellowtail. They used it as part of a ‘Shabu-shabu’ (hotpot dish) serving (talking about PERTINENT theatrics! Again, why most Sushi Chefs are not incorporating this kind of PERTINENT theatrics in their work? It adds a lot to the sushi experience, edomae style or not). So, you had to dip the fish in the ‘broth’, then in a ponzu sauce (the ponzu sauce a highlight of  the meal due to its exciting fresh acidity and fabulous taste). 7/10 for the yellowtail, 8/10 for the superb ponzu sauce.

Rock fish , matsutake mushroom.  The fish grilled, then poached lightly in a broth made of its own flesh and the matsutake mushroom. Dressed with some sansho leaves. A delicious broth which saltiness never came from any seasoning but just from the mushroom and the fish’s bone, a technique that I do use a lot in my own cooking (for example, I use the salt extracted from celeriac instead of seasoning with salt whenever it is possible, etc) as the seasoning feels way more natural, obviously. And I truely enjoy the difference from the ‘artificial ‘ (as opposed to the ‘natural’ seasoning coming from the ingredient itself) feel  that I get (just based on personal taste) when I am using salt. Good  7/10

Salt water eel (Anago – ) – I was born at a stone’s throw of the Indian Ocean and I grew up preferring any creature that comes from the sea over its  freshwater counterpart.  Which is why I always loved Anago and it took me some time to fall for his cousin, the  freshwater eel (unagi). That said, Salt water eel is a tough cookie: its texture, if you do not have the required patience and skills, can be a nightmare to work with. In NYC, only the anago I had at Sushi Amane as well as the one that Chef Ichimura has crafted during his short journey at Ichimura NYC, left an impression on me. Both were stellar, but SA’s was the best of the two. SA had couple of things to iron out in order for me to be a fan of their overall work, but their Anago, on the evening I went to visit them, was a tough act to follow even by the standards of a benchmark piece of Anago in Japan. Sushi Noz’s was not in the league of SA’s anago (the spectacular multi dimensional maritime + smoky  flavours of SA’s anago were not there), but the sourcing was good, the anago timely smoked atop bamboo leaves, grilled on coals, dressed with a good –rather than spectacular —  homemade tsume sauce, the overall   enjoyable. 7/10

Pike mackerel (Sanma). In-season, therefore currently at its peak (Do not play attention at the dates that I do publish my posts. I publish them when I have time, therefore consider that a fish is served in-season when I do mention it, regardless of the date that I did post my review).  It was  grilled on charcoal (on one side) in the kitchen, then brought to the counter under a glass dome. The chef lifts  the dome and some smoke evaporates. Again, one of the theatrics that, here, are pertinent. It is then dressed with finely chopped scallions, oil, nori (edible seaweed), oyster sauce.   The hot (grilled on the outside) and cold (raw on the inside) contrasting temperatures never failing to be enjoyable. Technically well executed (salted and vinegared judiciously, then timely grilled so that the light flavour of the fish retains as much flavour as it could ). Fine rich but not strong fish taste as expected from pike mackerel. 7/10

 

Abalone (Awabi)  – The great taste of a marine snail  that was snatched from the floor of the ocean in between 3 to 7 years (the best, in terms of flavor).  In this instance, boiled, then steamed in its own broth,  which led to a fine  umami sensation. Sliced by the chef in front of his guests (Why plenty of Sushi Chefs do skip such  PERTINENT theatrics?! I mean, it adds to the experience and enjoyment of the patrons) . The consistency of the flesh retaining the  fine balance between a fine chew and enough tenderness that it typical of the traditional  Japanese preparation of this seafood . The Chef surely  has the “Gi” (the technique). Served with a delicious abalone’s liver sauce  (I appreciate that the Chef has full trust in the palate of all his patrons, Japanese or not).  Which I   did reproach to some other Sushi Chefs. Glad to see that this Chef, here, has an updated comprehension of how  non Japanese Sushi fans can also appreciate pretty much every single sushi item that the Japanese people do eat. 8/10

Pacific oyster from seattle came with water shield (Junsai), japanese lime juice jelly, bonito flakes. The oyster was plump, sizeable, packed with a blend of  ”eastern brininess” and  ”west coast’ complexity, its  earthy-rich and almost sweet character shining through. A first rate oyster.

Salmon roe (Ikura). Served in season – The level of the saltiness low and the expected savory bursts of flavor are mild  in this particular instance. It still   served as  a nice  contrast to  the (tasty, in this case) warm  rice that was served underneath.

Barracuda and sea urchin – great taste from the fresh grilled quality fish (its impeccable mild flavour delicious taste testifying to its quality). Underneath, a mix of  sea urchin and rice (sort of — technically not — ”risotto” of sea urchin), the rice properly  aldente as i prefer  it. Really good

Negi toro hand roll – a ”tartare” of tuna, mixed with radish pickle and perilla leaf was seasoned judiciously, the taste delicious. The Chef does the mix before his audience. Tuna rolls rarely fail to be enjoyable and this was not going to be an exception to that rule.

Squid is dressed with a bit of sweet soya, the mantle or its hood is used, the rice not too vinegary as to better complement the squid. One of the seafood pieces that’s hard to make in its nigiri form as the rice does not stick easily to the squid topping. A skilled Sushi Chef will make this pass as a piece of cake, though, as that was the case here. The quality of the squid, good, as testified by its fine translucent texture. Its natural chewy consistency barely altered. Good

King crab (Kani)  is poached. Cooked fresh, of course.  Its maritime fragrance in evidence,  as to remind the diner that this is what he should be dreaming about when he has to feed himself on imitation crab meat (kani surimi すり身 or kani kamaboko 蒲鉾). I do not know for you, but I prefer krab sticks…NOT! On this occasion, the flesh of crab was served in its nigiri form. Pleasant.

Rice: seasoned with red vinegar. Nothing more is added (I.e, sugar/mirin). Served generally either warm or at body temperature. The Chef keeps a tight control on the temperature of his rice (which is what needs to ne expected from any Sushi Chef, especially of  this level) as he changes the batch of freshly cooked rice as soon as he feels that the rice will go past body temperature. At the beginning of the meal, he offers a very enjoyable ‘show’ by preparing / seasoning the first batch of rice in front of his patrons. The rice is tasty and indeed, quite enjoyable when served warm or at body temperature, leading to  an exciting  contrast, in mouth,  between the temperature of the lukewarm rice and the cold fish. You really feel the grains against your tongue, they feel airy and that also  adds to the enjoyment of the rice.

Asari shiro miso. A clam-flavoured miso soup that was competently achieved, having a fine taste from which an enjoyable umami burst was noticeable. Very pleasant, indeed. 7/10

The tamago (Sort of Japanese omelette) was not too sweet, the  umami sensation coming from the elements of the dashi and shrimp is at the fore. Instead of having the sweetness dimension overwhelming the umami part, here it is the umami part that was more present, with a gentle sweet finish. A  technical feat that I like and find enjoyable. Good.  7/10

The meal did end with an enjoyable sesame pudding which texture could not be faulted. Atop, there was an equally enjoyable fig sauce.

SNOZ was fun: they really think about little details that escape plenty of other restaurateurs. It was fun to see the Chef preparing his sushi, while his Sous Chef was grating the fresh wasabi stem. It was fun to see the Chef tasting the broth made by his sous Chef and approving its taste, etc. Of course, fun is not enough if the food is an afterthought. But the food was not an afterthought.

Pros: the attention to details in virtually everything – the decor, the presentation, the exceptional service, they have a first-rate tea menu for those who do not drink alcohol, you have a printed menu of the items you are going to sample and you can bring that menu home, even the restroom is of the high tech Japanese sort!!

Cons: Not the fault of Sushi Noz, but it is true that is hard for a sushiya of NYC to compete with Japan’s sushiyas in terms of the variety of the exotic fishes. At least, Sushi Noz, managed to make me see past that by using varied ingredients, by varying  the textures and flavours  and cooking techniques, etc.

Bottom line: No one will ever have the monopoly  of the perfect restaurant  assessment. Not you, Not Me, Not Michelin, No one. Michelin did award SNOZ with 1 star. I do not always agree with the tyre company (as an example, the 1 star Michelin of Torishin  eludes me as well as  many serious restaurant connoisseurs… ),  but  for once, I totally agree with them awarding SNOZ with that star as you can see that the people behind SNOZ worked hard –and most importantly, they continue to do it really  well judging by what I have experienced on my visit– to earn that star and they truely deserve it. It would be completely  ignorant  to compare an elite sushiya of NYC (SNOZ is clearly an elite sushiya of NYC) to one in Japan (some of the usual reminders of why to avoid such senseless comparison are mentioned in the introduction of this review), so I will refrain from doing that. For me, there was no benchmark food items (of course, this is a subjective and personal opinion, obviously)  during this meal, but what matters is that, as a diner, you do have for your money as  the food was consistently tasty, the ingredients of fine quality,  the overall journey enjoyable with the nice ”theatrics” — nothing exaggerated, here, just little gestures that are fun — of the Chef, a sense of authenticity to be found in  the superb traditional decor and  waitstaff in traditional outfit, the world class service,  etc) . Overall ratings – Category: Elite Sushiya in NYC: Food (7.5/10); Service (10/10)  Sushi Noz Addr: 181 E 78th St, New York, NY 10075, United States Phone: +1 917-338-1792 URL: https://www.sushinoz.com/

JeJu Noodle Bar, New York
Type of food: Korean Noodle
Addr: 679 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10014, United States
Phone number (646) 666-0947
URL: http://jejunoodlebar.com/

Many hard-to-please and knowledgeable Korean gastronomes seem to have been pleasantly surprised by JJNB.
It serves Korean noodle soup  , primarily (the famous instant noodles that the Koreans are familiar with, since their tender childhood, but here it is  of the  ”freshly made” type that they get specially made for them and that they  do elevate into refined dishes of their own inspiration) . Their Head Chef/owner, Chef Douglas Kim,   told the medias that he never made noodle soup before. Instead, he has enjoyed an enviable career at celebrated restaurants such as Per Se, Bouley, Nobu and Zuma before stepping out to helm his own Noodle restaurant. The Chef said to the medias that he , I quote —”’  gains  inspiration from Korean dishes but that he is doing his own interpretations of them ” – . He could not have been more explicit.

I ordered some of their most popular dishes:

So Ramyun (I did order this for a take out, therefore  I did not take its picture), made of veal broth (that is blanched, then boiled throughout an entire day ) , garnished with “Soo Yuk” brisket (brined for several days before it is cooked), scallion, pickled garlic and garlic oil.   Koreans do have a cuisine that is  rich and complex in its nuances. As an example, take their soups . Studying their soups is like discovering an exciting library of information on its own. Therefore, it is interesting to see a Chef who focuses on one specific aspect of  this  complex cuisine (if you think that  Korean cuisine is simple, then it is obvious that you are limiting your assessment of this cuisine to the meat that you went  grilling at a Kbbq and  have not cooked it yourself). With this ramyun, most South Koreans will  feel in   familiar territory with a flavor profile that will remind them of a more concentrated and refined  version of their beloved seolleongtang, an  ox bone soup  very popular in South Korea. Here, the veal replacing the ox, obviously. This Chef seems to insist on a  flavour profile that is as genuine as it gets 11,046 km away from the motherland. As genuine as it is possible to be, of course, as anyone who is truely knowledgeable about food would know that water, soil, the geographical area are just a fraction of the factors that can’t make the same dish tasting …..the same in two countries that are that distant geographically. 8/10

 

Toro Ssam Bap featured super fresh tasting Toro (fatty part of the tuna, found in the belly portion of the fish) , scrambled egg, tobiko rice, that you wrap in toasted seaweed roll, the seaweed replacing, here, the traditional leafy vegetables that Korean would use to wrap (Ssam) a piece of meat  or other filling. Combining rice and proteins rarely fails to be enjoyable and this was no exception, but what did interest me here was the different techniques involved and how successful they were (the perfect texture of the scambled eggs, the judicious seasoning, the precise cooking of the rice, etc). A distracted eye and palate would look at a dish like this and would hastily suggest that “”bah..it is just rice and raw fish”, but there was way more than that.  This came  with pickled daikon that revealed some serious pickling technique. The rice was deliciously seasoned to perfectly match  the tuna, and the scrambled eggs. I did also order some extra sea urchin that were of top quality and was another logical add-on to the dish. This was  well thought and tasted great. 8/10

 

Wagyu ramyun came with raw A4 grade miyazaki wagyu (which is 100% purebred Japanese Wagyu) that is sliced thinly, brisket, kikurage mushrooms,  enoki, chives, Baek-Kimchi (white kimchi), chared scallion oil, sesame oil and sesame. As you would have guessed it, from  its collection of ingredients, this was rich in flavor. Impressive genuine taste coming from the white kimchi element. I have been a passionate fan of Korean flavors for over 2 decades, by now, and it makes me upset  when Koreans try to please western palates by altering the genuine flavor profile of such jewel of International  cooking like the Kimchi. I was therefore impressed to see that this Chef  is  keeping the core flavors of South Korean cuisine alive. The white kimchi bringing necessary acidity, the earthy mushrooms, toasty flavors coming from the sesame as well as the rich meat flavor were nice balanced. A contemporary and luxurious take on the Korean Ramyun  that refused to leave the core Korean flavours at bay. 8/10

Mul Hwe (which I forgot to photograph as I was discussing with another diner) –  Basically,  Hwe is  sashimi (fresh raw fish or meat sliced thinly)  —here, using 4 different types of seasonal raw fishes –  that the Koreans serve with side dishes such as pickles, tempura, etc. Here, in the kitchen, they did assemble all of those elements into one ‘salad’ if you wish, made it lighter than the traditional version and elevated it with  a splash of citrus, combining ingredients such as perilla, fresno chili, red onion. 8/10

 

Gochujang Bokum (Not pictured as I ordered it  it for take out) served with marinated ragu Beef, Iceberg lettuce, Nori, Pickled mustard and rice – I am a huge fan of the Gochujang, one of the core ingredients of Korean cooking. It is red chile paste made of fermented soybeans, glutinous rice, salt, and sometimes sweeteners.  The kitchen using it to make their beef ragu in this instance. 8/10

Prices are steep but the quality is  good and the portion sizes of the soups are sufficient.

Bottom line: The Chef/owner  is obviously proud of the genuine flavours of his motherland and I appreciate that. His kitchen brigade  was also successful at  using  plenty  of ingredients that always  felt complementary.   The Noodles are freshly made (the instant noodle texture is preserved) , cooked to proper soft and chewy consistency, the flavours enjoyable and delicately balanced, the creativity is there and it is true that they are doing things their own way –as an example, the kimchi is traditionally fermented, but here, they do brine it instead —  but never at the expense of the traditional Korean flavours where and when need be. Overall rating (Category: Korean Noodle in NYC), 8/10 for the food, 8/10 for the service. To top it off, you have the pretty Hudson river nearby.

 

 Okuda is a highly regarded kaiseki in New York. The restaurant’s owner is Japanese Chef  Toru Okuda who once had 3 Michelin stars in Japan for his restaurant Ginza Kojyu (that restaurant has now 2 Michelin stars).  Chef Okuda is a prolific Chef with couple of elite restaurants in Paris, Tokyo as well as this one in NYC.

A kaiseki meal relies on the ingredients (cooking skills  are also very important, of course) and I tend to avoid  kaiseki meals outside of Japan as it defeats the point of enjoying a meal which purpose is to showcase the glorious produce of Japan in its prime. So, away from Japan, if you understand the basics of the science of food, you can imagine that you cannot replicate the magic of a kaiseki meal. But I was curious to see how Okuda would still fare as a kaiseki outside of Japan.

In Japan, I tried couple of kaiseki meals, namely Kagurazaka Ishikawa , MizaiIwasaki and Sakurada .

You do not need to visit tons of restaurants to understand what a cuisine can taste and feel like at its best. You just need a genuine comprehension of  the basics of the science of  food (not many people do have that as many cannot understand that the environment  in a particular area affects the taste of the food in that area and makes it impossible for that same food to taste the same when cooked somewhere else), you just need to learn from those truely in the know (again, few people get this right. They follow the so-called online food experts, watch couple of youtube videos, try couple of random eateries and think that is enough to be knowledgeable about a given cuisine. Of the myriad of so-called food experts found online, I can guarantee you that few took the time to learn African food alongside an African Grandmother, Thai or Chinese food alongside a Thai or Chinese Mother, etc) ,  you just need to be passionate about all of that (Most are so busy making a buck out of the food industry that it shows that they are not passionate about what they are talking about ) and that is enough. From there, you go to the restaurants that you suspect are the best at what they do, and that is exactly what I have been doing for several decades and kaiseki cuisine was no exception to my modus operandi.

And NO, I do not review every single restaurant that I do visit as I do not always have time for that. What I do, though, when I have a moment, is to seize the opportunity of a review like this one  to educate ourselves through the knowledge that I have gathered from eating at those  restaurants and the long years I have spent studying the  cuisine in question.

On with my meal at Okuda NYC:

Napa cabbage soup, kuruma prawn, caviar, Yuzu . The “soup” was actually a “potage”. As it is the intent with some Japanese food items, the goal is to allow your palate to dig deep in the nuances of the inherent taste of the ingredient. Non Japanese have to train their palate for that, which I did for the past 25 years. And I am now rewarded with the capability  of enjoying very subtle flavours as much as their bold/strongly flavoured counterparts. That was useful, in an instance like this, because nothing was used to hide the inherent taste of the cabbage flavour. It was all about its very own and sole flavour, apart, of course, a very subtle,  barely noticeable contribution of the yuzu citrus. The prawn was of top quality ,  the case with all their ingredients, as you would expect. 8/10

Alaskan king crab, dashi vinegar, Japanese apple, daikon – The quality of the crab high, its freshness remarkable, the seasoning very enjoyable with the dashi vinegar featuring a  fine balance of fresh acidity. A first-rate nibble. 9/10

Dashi broth, Tilefish (amadai), carrot, radish, spinach, tofu, chrysanthemum. If you have trained your palate to the subtle nuances of some of the Japanese food items, you will thank it, as it was all about a maximum of flavour coming from the inherent taste of the quality ingredients. The homemade perfected soft texture of the tofu revealed some serious skills in the kitchen. As it is usually the case with high end kaiseki, every single ingredient is there for a reason. 8/10

Japanese grouper sashimi, featured a nice firm texture testifying to the utter freshness of the fish. I had more impressive versions of it elsewhere, but this was fine. 6/10

Spanish tuna sashimi was of fine quality as you would  expect at this level of dining, the tuna sliced then marinated by the Chef at the sushi counter,  and it came  with two mini ‘sticks’ of  mountain potato  from Japan. 7/10

Grated radish sauce, kinki fish (channel rockfish) , enoki mushroom – Again, top quality fresh fish with the fresh taste and smell of the ocean on evidence. This was grilled with its scales, a technique that enhanced the taste of this very delicious fish. 8/10

Matsutake, the prized mushroom. Fried and served with lime and salt. As expected, the sourcing is of top mention, and the way they fried it (zero sign of oil, the frying serving as an enhancer to the earthy flavour of the mastsutake — in a way that your palate simply would not think that it was fried) revealed some great understanding of the produce, which sounds like nothing, but then you have got to make that happen. Which they did.

Sea urchin, egg plant, miso, cod milt. Superb quality sea urchin from California. The cod milt preparation a true highlight as they made a rendition of it that would please the most, almost tasting like a crowd-pleasing cream dessert, but it was cod milt. 9/10

Wagyu, grated chestnut. Miyazaki Wagyu A5 tenderloin, cooked to precise medium -rare doneness, generously seasoned with salt. It tasted great. 8/10. The ”snow avalanche” of grated chestnut was not necessary, in my view, but it makes a good spectacle for sure.

Grated turnip, molded into a mini sphere shape with a piece of golden eye snapper (kindmedai) underneath. Another display of fine technique with the intentional gooey texture of the liquid in which the turnip and the fish were bathing nicely rendered. As you should know, before attending a kaiseki meal, for the Japanese, textures are as important as flavour. The fish of superb fresh quality and its cooking well timed. 8/10

Steamed rice  / ikura/seaweed/grated bottarga – this is where the importance of the proximity to the “terroir” makes a difference. Being close to the terroir means that you have access to the latest intel about what rice is at its prime at a given time, etc. This rice was good but not as dazzling as it can be at a high end kaiseki -ya in Japan. That said, this featured quality ingredients, as expected, and it tasted good 7/10

Miso soup had some dices of their superb soft tofu in it. The white miso (shiro miso) soup itself revealed a high level of technical skills as its delicate mild  flavour was remarkable. The Fresh exciting umami coming from that miso soup being another highlight of the tasting menu. 9/10

The dessert was offered as an assortment of mini creations such as a good lemon ice cream, with the fresh taste of the fruit at the fore. Even better was a pumpkin pudding with great luscious texture, some utterly fresh raspberry and blueberry encased in a delicious mini “dome” of jelly, a well made and tasty tiny piece of tamago underneath as well as some competently rendered sweet  red bean paste. 8/10

An elite Japanese venue in NYC, for sure. The above mentioned ratings of the individual food items are not to be compared to the ratings of my meals in Japan.

There won’t be an overall score for the food that I have just enjoyed at Okuda NYC as it will not convey anything: as a reminder, kaiseki is, by design, the cuisine that is the most “intimately linked” to the “terroir” of  Japan. It is its “raison d’etre”. Kaiseki is a cuisine which main purpose is to showcase the best of Japan’s produce in its prime (seasonality). Which means the proximity to Japanese terroir is of utter importance. And they had the courage to try to reproduce such “mission impossible” in NYC. Respect!

Overall rating for the service and dining experience is a 10/10 (hard to beat Japanese standards of service at the upmarket dining level). They stand predominate in that regard.

Bottom line: Proper 1 star Michelin. All the ingredients were there: the expected respect of seasonality, the assured technique, fabulous service, elegant interior, etc. It is virtually impossible for a Kaiseki that is outside of Japan to beat its counterpart of the motherland. If you find one, let me know and I will walk the equivalent of one tour of the globe, on my knees, to go and see that. But they did their best to get the job done. And that is already an exploit. Okuda, Addr: 458 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011, USA; Phone: +1 212-924-0017; URL: https://www.okuda.nyc

 

 

The cooking at Le Coucou (Addr: 138 Lafayette St, New York; Phone +1 212-271-4252) has been making headlines around New York  since the  opening of the restaurant in June 2016, with rave reviews  from New York’s major sources of information on their local restaurants: Time Out New York, New York Times, Zagat, Forbes, The Infatuation, Grubstreet, Village Voice and the Wall Street Journal. The Chef , Daniel Rose from Chicago, was an apprentice at Bruneau, when the restaurant was bestowed with 3 Michelin stars (Bruneau  has a sole Michelin star nowadays)  and trained under the supervision of 3 star Michelin Chef   Yannick Alleno (Yannick now owns a duo of 3 star Michelin restaurants in France,  Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen as well as Le 1947 in Courchevel) . Daniel, who  also owns successful restaurants Spring and Chez la vieille in Paris, is offering Classic French cooking at Le Coucou.

This  is, right now, a destination restaurant in New York serving some of the very best French fares outside of France. And it happens to have an interior that is very easy on the eyes.

 

I wanted to visit Le Coucou since a  long time, but it is a very popular restaurant and snatching a seat for dinner, here,  can be a bit tricky (they start taking reservations at midnight, 28 days prior to the day you want to book). For pictures of the interior, click here.  Everything else that you need to know about the restaurant is concisely described in this Zagat’s post, therefore I will focus on the food I was sampling.

Here are the food items we did order:

Oysters from Washington DC /seaweed butter – fresh maritime flavor. This, although pleasant, its sourcing great, its execution without reproach…was not going to help me understanding the hype about Le Coucou. 6/10

Endives/ham – Endives salad, with dried Iberico ham, served with a grapefruit vinaigrette. A superlative vinaigrette with fresh acidity and vibrant flavor of the sort that many restaurants have long forgotten about. That vinaigrette, as well as the rest of the condiments will be showered with praises, deservedly so, but the overall salad, although enjoyable, was not going to leave any lasting impression. Upon finishing this dish, all I had in mind, is the picture of Le coucou, that small unimpressive bird…though, do not get me wrong: the endives and oysters were made by a competent kitchen brigade, I am not denying that. But in light of the hype, I was expecting more. 6/10

I chose the veal tongue / golden ossetra caviar / creme fraiche – a thick slab of veal tongue, firm in consistency, with, of course, some room for proper chew. This is how a certain generation of French used to prefer their veal tongue. A feeling of a bistrot of la ´France rurale’. I appreciate that Daniel brought such memories back. 8/10 for the quality veal tongue, 10/10 for the dazzling (and pertinent, to this dish) homemade creme fraiche (it is rare for a creme fraiche at a top French table, in North America, ​to be packed with such exciting lactic freshness).

My girlfriend did opt for the Lobster salad, lettuce – on the side a dazzling lobster sauce mixed with egg yolk. 10/10 for that sauce. Perfectly well grilled small piece of tasty quality lobster. 7/10 for the lobster. Hard to tell when you look at the picture above, but there was a big lettuce, next to a tiny piece of lobster ..and that did not sit well with me (quite a weird sight, I found). May as well call it “lettuce salad” …. “avec un soupcon de queue de homard” ….

Lamb rack, egg plants, tomatoes stuffed with “choulder and chard” – faultless cooking with requested medium-rare doneness achieved successfully, quality lamb from Colorado, first-rate lamb jus sauce (mixed with red wine). 8/10 for the lamb, 10/10 for that exciting lamb jus. Clearly, this saucier is crazy … ;)

Prime filet of beef/bone marrow jus/oxtail potatoes – served with a dazzling sauce bordelaise (10/10), the filet mignon of superb quality (8/10),

Braised oxtail / potatoes boasting superlative textures and flavor. This would NOT be out of place at  a serious classic French 3 star Michelin table (10/10).

Cheeses (Aretheusa Blue, O’bannon Goat, Overjarige gouda, Hooligan, Red Hawk) of good quality, from several parts of the US as well as abroad, all served with a first rate sauce of plum/ porto. When sauces are done this well, all I can say is that “you are a first-rate french restaurant”!

Wine service and selection is of prime mention, here.

For desserts, we had:

Riz au lait (rice pudding) — My idea of the perfect riz au lait is the one that Bistrot Le Casse -Noix did serve me, years ago, in Paris. When it comes to the rice pudding, I do not like too many extra ingredients. At le Coucou, Le riz au lait comes with extra ingredients: chartreuse, pistachio. This rice pudding was still enjoyable with one flavor profile that some French of a certain generation will remember, only it is revisited and was well made (6/10)

Roasted pineapple is a simple dessert, consequently there is no shortage of decent roasted pineapples at good restaurants. What’s rare, though, are roasted pineapples that stand out. For some reason, the equation roasted pineapple=quality pineapple+dazzling flavors is an equation that is not taken as seriously as it should by many kitchen brigades. Mind you, who is going to blame a Chef, in the west, for not losing a sleep over some tropical fruits? Le Coucou is one rare restaurant, in the west, that does not underestimate that aspect, as the pineapple that they did use seemed to have been carefully hand picked at its optimal stage of ripeness. The roasted pineapple was served  with a yellow chartreuse sorbet and a touch of olive oil. This roasted pineapple was packed with memorable fruity aromas, a benchmark of its kind (10/10)

We also had a technically flawless  chiboust (impossibly light and delicate), with well judged meringue to pastry cream ratio. 9/10

As well as a coconut financier  with exciting fresh coconut flavor. The coconuts are from the Caribbean and are grated for their  financier. The sourcing of the coconut was not an afterthought, the technique of high level (9/10).  The talented Pastry Chef Daniel Skurnick, who worked previously for some of this globe’s best restaurants (The River Café, Jean-Georges)  is their current Pastry Chef.

Pros: First-rate updated French sauces. A meal as well as an overall dining experience with many highlights!
Cons: For my pineapple juice, may I suggest that you use that same outstanding pineapple you did use to make the ananas roti? Also:  c’mon folks…..that lobster / lettuce menu item…I mean…c’mon, that is more “coucou” the unimpressive bird than a “crowned eagle” …Lol.

The hospitality standards are up there with what the grand tables of this planet have to offer, minus the heavy decorum that can be found in some houses. The restaurant has a tiny but prettily decorated bar at the entrance. On the wall of that bar (you cannot sit there, btw), a painting that will remind you of Provence. It is the kind of bars you see in movies. The rest of the decor is lavishly styled, with chandeliers, candles on every table, large glass windows, vaulted ceiling, a modern open kitchen.

Overall food rating: 9/10 (Categ: Fine dining, Top tier French restaurant outside of France, Top tier restaurant in New York) –  Hey, mon Coucou, I have no clue if your sauces are always as dazzling as on the evening of my visit, but with sauces of this caliber… , I am flying, too!!!

Bottom line: I made it difficult for Le Coucou. I went there on a Monday, generally a quiet evening, when the best cooks of a kitchen brigade tend to stay at home. I decided not to take their most popular dishes (pike quenelles, tout le lapin, bourride). I brought my girlfriend, a hard-to-please diner. And the star Chef, Daniel Rose was not present. When the meal started, I was certain that I was going to corner the bird and accuse it of not living up to its hype. The oysters and anchovies were fine, but given the hype, they did not deliver the emotions we came for, therefore I was determined to “pluck the feathers” of the bird. But Le coucou fought back, and the bird went on cruising at exceptional altitudes. By the time the beef filet and carre d’agneau arrived at our table, the bird was out of reach, really high in the skies. Then the desserts were served, and I received a note, falling from the sky “coucou, I am not… I am actually a crowned eagle, ca te va? ” Crowned eagle, you are, buddy! Can’t agree more. Ca me va! Hype is always too much, oftently impossible to live up to, but Le Coucou deserves its reputation. It is, right now, a destination restaurant serving some of the very best French fares outside of France. And it happens to have an interior that is very easy on the eyes. I loved Le Coucou!

What I think weeks later: Daniel Rose is a TRUE / REAL Chef. You know you are dealing with a REAL Chef when his absence is not felt at all. That is because GREAT Chefs will never leave a kitchen in the hands of poorly trained cooks. I have no clue where Daniel was, on that evening, but if he happened to be at a bar, in the carribbean, sipping a pina colada while I was dining at his restaurant..I swear, I would take a plane, right away, fly to his hideaway and thank him…which, if you have read this blog, is not my normal reaction in such circumstance. Lol. But that is the thing: Daniel is a GREAT Chef! Michelin, please continue to stay away…Le Coucou is a bird that is great, the way it is right now, free from the ridiculous rules that have killed so many talents. Please, please …  DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, dear Michelin! Go elsewhere. Lol  UPDATE: In NOVEMBER 2018,  Michelin did award a star to le Coucou, which I hope is not going to be the beginning of the end for this restaurant – sometimes,  some restaurants do not have a star because they are way more inspired, creative and superior than those having the stars…then they gain their stars and are stuck in a formula…Good luck dear Coucou!

 

 

 

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 stem 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.

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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