Archive for the ‘coup de coeur’ Category

 

Eventhough this blog  has a strong focus on food — obviously..LOL..  — it remains a personal blog where I take the liberty, here and there, to share with you some  non food-related content as well.

Here, I would like to praise two of Africa’s most exciting voices: Winnie Nwagi, the African “Tina Turner” and Mandela Mubark Adams (aka FreeBoy), blessed with a voice that,  at  times, especially on the featuring song, will remind many melomaniacs of the illustrious Jamaican reggae musician “Shaggy“. The energy to be found in their duet ” Kwatu Essimu  ”  is epic, fun  and emotional. Their voices so powerful and enchanting.

Thanks Mama Africa for your endless list of incredible musicians (Sona Jobarteh, Manu Dibango, Mori Kante, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Myriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela , Fela Kuti  and so many other legendary music artists ) !

Et il n’y a pas que ta belle musique qui émerveille, Mère Afrique! T’inquiètes…on en reparlera…in this life or in the next ..comme diraient nos compères Anglos. À suivre…!  I shall never forget  you Mama!!!! Never!!!!

Pursuing this short post, with the amazing voice of one of my ATF music artists, an advocate of …what made   YOUR ..and MY.. EXISTENCE.. POSSIBLE …   (I will let you THINK about that one, IF  YOUR EXISTENCE…GENUINELY.. MATTERS TO YOU……….I mean, LOL………..), Sona Jobarteh:

 

 

 

Cannot stop. Non-stop. And I will not stop. So let’s continue to dance and have fun with the following exquisite rhythms:

This amazing song from Shan’L (Gabon) makes most of my days  (she sings it in French, my mother tongue) :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfFvIIOPpxg

Zuchu is a young lady from Tanzania, easy on the eyes, but her music (in Swahili)  goes beyond that visual evidence:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCmItvVgn6Qere

It is about the beat, the rhythm, the joy that music is supposed to bring to you. It’s supposed to make you dance, NOT…make you think. If you feel stuck with stupid things such as ………. “I am expecting the lyrics to be intellectual”, it is not music that you should look for. You need to look elsewhere. Music’s intent is to make you dance and have fun. So if you cannot dig that, go elsewhere! Do not get me wrong: I am a fan of Peter Tosh, Annie Lennox, Miriam Makeba, Dexter Holland, Fela Kuti, Alexander Blake Schwarzenbach, Bob Marley, Tom Scholz, Sona Jabarteh and a plethora of singers who are all intellectual and activists..so at the game of the “oh..i prefer the ….intellectual artist”, I can …………hold my own, obviously, Lol………..BUT….at the end of the round, know what you want: it is music…therefore, it is ..entertainment……………………you want to listen to music, then it is entertainment that you should be looking for. You need to play the “intellectual ….”, great, then let us play elsewhere (being intelligent is first and foremost about…….. getting your shit together……….).

Singuila is a bit like what Bobby Brown used to be in his heydays (a chick magnet with the music to match), and I can’t blame him for that, Lol – In this song, Singuila pays tribute to an ex-girlfriend and that echoes with me, as — whatever happened, I have and will always have the highest respect for my ex-girlfriends. Why? Because at some point in their life, I had their attention and I will always be respectful of that. With the only difference being that I let bygones be bygones. Not the case of Singuila in the following exquisite song, though – Lol…..

 

Last but not least, since I am an OLD SCHOOL ROMANTIC, this  duet made of Singuila and Cameroon’s superstar Charlotte Dipanda (as always, in my mother tongue, french):

Charlotte Dipanda feat Singuila – Coeur en Cage [Clip Officiel] – YouTube

Ending this post with an eye-candy video of the  colourful beauty of Africa, featuring two equally beautiful voices, Yemi Alade and Angelique Kidjo:

 

Pursuing my tour of some of the finest steakhouses of New York, having tried Peter Luger, Keens, Strip House, Quality Meats  and Wolfgang.

Dropped by Gallagher’s Steakhouse, a historical steakhouse, which, during the days of the prohibition, was the first illicit establishment selling alcohol where gamblers and stars of Broadway would meet.

In the incredibly competitive steakhouse market of NYC (perhaps, the steakhouse mecca of the world – I mean, do you know any other major city with that many world class steakhouses? Do you? ), you know you have reached the enviable status of a historic shrine at whatever you do when the NY Times writes romanticized write-ups with eye-candy photographs of this sort about you – .

At Gallagher’s Steakhouse,  I ordered:

Platter of 12 oysters – Dabob bay from Hood canal (Washington) and Canadian lucky lime. Nicely shucked quality fresh oysters. The lucky lime had the advertised citrus-tone finish in evidence. The intertidal beach cultured  Dabob bay oysters, quite briny for an oyster coming from the Pacific. The mignonette properly done. A platter of fine oysters. 7/10

The 20 oz rib eye steak (Grade: USDA Prime), dry aged for 28 – 32 days on premise in their glass-enclosed meat locker ( You can see it from the street – a sight to behold). The meat is grilled on hickory coals, a rarity in a city where most steakhouses do broil their steaks. Grilling meat over an open fire has always been my preferred grilling method for meats. The requested medium rare doneness achieved with utter precision. It delivered on flavor (the seasoning, exquisite –  the steak  as delicious as it gets) and was superbly tender throughout. The great grilling effect of the open fire in evidence to the eyes/smell/palate.  Dazzling crust. My steak had its juices settled within the meat, therefore timely rested. A steak is not a moon landing mission and one can do great steaks at home, indeed, but what matters here is that this is a steakhouse and it is doing one of the better steaks in NYC. Easily the best rib eye steak I ever had at all the top tier steakhouses of NY. 10/10

The creamed spinach. Here too, the G seems to have the edge as the creamed spinach had superb taste and great balance between the cream and spinach flavours. Superb texture too. Just some delicious creamed spinach like few — surprisingly, indeed – seem to be able to pull out at the NYC steakhouses. Vibrant fresh and delicious flavours. 9/10

Even the crème fraîche to accompany the baked potato was not of the ordinary sort. The baked potato managing, somehow, not to be just an average piece of tired looking baked potato simply because most kitchen brigades keep such simple things for granted (as most diners do, actually), when, in reality, the sourcing of your potato and how you timed its baking makes a big difference. Here, they did care about that difference.

Bottom line: A very beautiful steakhouse (the warmth of materials such as  wood and leather never failing to entice) in the classic genre. But the food was as great. Where many steakhouses seem to deliver  tired renditions of classic steakhouse food, the G seems to find a way to make it a bit more exciting in mouth (even their homemade sauce to accompany the steak, made of tomato/garlic/Worcestershire sauce, was well engineered as far as balancing flavors go, its taste great ). A commendable steakhouse, indeed.

Overall rating: Food 9/10 One of the very best steakhouses of NYC.   The steaks are great here, but everything else as well. For my taste, the G and Peter Luger are my No1 steakhouses in New York, with the G being a better all rounder, for sure. Furthermore, nothing beats the appealing  texture as well as memorable grilling aromas of a steak that is grilled on open fire (a broiled steak looks unappetizing in comparison). Service 8/10 (superb service in the typical classic NYC steakhouse way). Gallaghers Steakhouse Addr: 228 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019 Phone: 212-586-5000 URL: http://www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com/

 

This is one of the latest hottest bistrots of NYC. Situated in Brooklyn, it is always packed to the brim and, in terms of  popularity, could remind Montrealers of Au Pied de Cochon when APDC was in its prime (in the days of Martin Picard, Hughes Dufour).

You come here to have fun. It is small, full of social vibe.  The food is North American bistrot food. The wine list has few pages of  great findings. The menu is short but very appealing – as an example, on the evening of my visit, menu  items such as ‘roasted corn, nduja, basil, lemon, radicchio cups’, “crispy smashed fingerling potatoes, romesco, toasted pistachios” or ”Grilled Head-on spot prawns, Calabrian chillis, garlic mojo, lemon” generated  interest. Then, once you know what we now know about the skills of this kitchen, you can easily picture such food items as not just ‘generating interest’ but way more than that.

I came here for their their widely praised Burger. While waiting for it (it takes approx 30 mins to make), I had their

Cheese plate
ALP blossom (cow) from Austria
Delice de bourgogne (cow), France
Roomano (cow), Netherlands
all in superb condition.
It is obvious that they take care of their cheeses (aging, storing, etc) way better than at some ambitious tables.  These came with figs/hazelnut jam that would make a grandma of the countryside of France, known for her expertly concocted homemade jams, drooling of envy and jealousy “putain, mais comment qu’il a fait ca!!” (holy shit! How did he do that!!), It was that great indeed. There was also some  superb pepper mostarda. 9/10

Chicken liver pâté, Served with a super Hudson River Rye toast,  Some Pickled sour cherries that revealed some pickling technique that is of a high level, the cherries of great quality, some fresh quality parsley salad. The pâté itself having a delicious taste. First-rate bistrot food items. 8/10

Country ham croquettes featured top quality ham’s flavour, 1 year aged cheddar, a Dijonnaise that would NOT be out of place at an ambitious French table in France. Freshly cooked, timely served, this was a flawless croquette expressing superb flavours. 8/10

I did put an end to this superb North American bistrot meal with their fabled Burger, a Burger  that most Burger experts of NYC do consider as one of the very best of NYC :

Dry Aged Red Hook Tavern Burger (American cheese, white onion, frites) – When you do an online search for the best Burgers in the world, you will rarely stumble upon the Burgers of NYC, World’s capital of the Burger. Instead, you  end up with plenty of laughable Burgers and you realize that it was mainly for the roaring laughter, the derision. But in NYC, when they talk about the finest Burgers of the City, it is  serious business. And it did not take  long to get upfront and personal with how serious they are at RHT with their Burger: a bun that is a benchmark of its kind (a glorious soft texture, expertly designed to accompany perfectly well the patty without stealing the show from it) was paired, very simply, with a patty made of high grade dry-aged beef. Some  fabulous American cheese atop.  The cheese not melting as easily as most of the cheeses that are used with most Burgers out there, the patty not having any juice dripping and soaking the bun. They did carefully design that Burger  so that you get every single element of the Burger to express itself in its entirety, while perfectly complementing each other as a Burger. We were a world away from the big mess that many Burgers happen to be with their  piece of patty lost  in melting cheese,  their  bun   soaked in the juice of their patties, the overall flavour having the taste of nothing.  At RHT, they have  stripped the Burger from anything that’s distracting (the superfluous toppings, etc), and focused on delivering the perfected trinity of bun + patty + cheese.  A world class Burger! 9/10  (My fully detailed technical notes about this Burger can be found, here.)

This is food NOT  designed to parade on Instagram but to be enjoyed, as food is supposed to be. Soul satisfying, for sure. And it is affordable (a miracle, in NYC).

Bottom line: After the debacle of the day before at Oiji, it was great to have renewed with great food in NYC, one of World’s truly great dining destinations. Red Hook Tavern is a first-rate North American bistrot deserving of its resounding success (ingredients are top notch, the food reveals some serious skills in their kitchen, service and ambience are great). It is easy  to be hooked on  Red Hook Tavern. Overall rating (Categ: North American Bistrot) for Food: 8/10; Service: 9/10; Red Hook Tavern Addr: 329 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, United States Phone: +1 917-966-6094 URL: https://www.redhooktavern.com/

According to most connoisseurs of the Burger, New York has some of the very best burgers in the nation. It is an american food staple and you cannot visit NY without  trying its finest burgers. They have all sorts of Burgers from the gourmet to the classic ones. I know my classic burgers well, but when I go out it is to enjoy how far a Chef did push his craft. Not to content myself with a basic classic burger. Therefore, I maintained the focus on some of the elaborate burgers among the most celebrated burgers of  New York.

Admittedly, this is about the Burger. Not a landing mission on the moon. And we can all make world class burgers at home, too  . And Yep, prices are inflated as we came to expect from NYC. But this post is not about that. This post is about some of the best Burgers offered at the restaurants of NYC, which the below  mentioned burgers are reputed to be.

 

Emily – West Village‘s Emmy Burger Double Stack (LaFrieda dry-aged beef, EMMY sauce, caramelized onion, American cheese, & pickles on a pretzel bun – with curly fries).
-Did the house fulfilled the basic « ideal » requirement of having neither the bun, the patty nor the cheese being too disproportionate in quantity to one another? Nothing disproportionate (you take the bun and the patty -a big thick patty — and you put that in your mouth and you really feel the presence of the meat and the adequate quantity of bun that is necessary to call it a burger and not just a patty.
-Intensity of the flavour of the meat/patty when sampled with the bun and all the elements of the burger, without any condiments: ( ) barely noticeable ( ) Mildly beefy (x ) Densely beefy, and the flavor intensity is amplified by the delicious caramelized onions and aged Grafton cheddar cheese from Vermont.
-Doneness of the patty by default: medium rare
-How was the taste? Big chunk of patty that is more juicy than most of its competitors with a beefy taste that is at the fore. Amplified with their sweet caramelized onions and that cheese. Then the pretzel roll that contributes to the overall taste with its unusual (for a burger’s bun) pretzel flavour that’s actually adapted to a Burger in that sense that the bun is soft and the strong pretzel flavour that you came to expect from your classic pretzel is not in evidence (which is exactly what is required here as the normal pretzel flavour would have clashed with the taste of the patty) . So, as expected, lots of relatively (to your usual ‘white buns’) unique flavours.
-did it taste too ‘steaky’ for a burger given that it was dry aged? Well, it tasted of dry-aged beef, indeed. And I did not care about that. A quality  fresh meat’s taste is better, IMHO, than  the dry-aged flavour of meats used to make a burger’s patty. That said, this took nothing away from the top tier Burger that Emily’s Burger is. Indeed, one of the best Burgers of NYC.  Emily West Village Addr: 35 Downing St, New York, NY 10014, United States Phone: +1 917-935-6434 My full review, here.
Overall rating:  8/10

Red Hook Tavern‘s Dry Aged Red Hook Tavern Burger (American cheese, white onion, frites)
-Did the house fulfilled the basic « ideal » requirement of having neither the bun, the patty nor the cheese being too disproportionate in quantity to one another? There is just a big piece of patty with its bun. And Yep, here too, the burger is designed to have a reasonably balanced ratio of patty to bun.
-Intensity of the flavour of the meat/patty when sampled with the bun and all the elements of the burger, without any condiments: ( ) barely noticeable ( ) Mildly beefy (X ) Densely beefy
-Doneness of the patty by default: They did ask me what doneness I wanted. I told them to go with medium rare, which happens to be what they also recommend.
-Did the dry-aging of the meat led to a taste that is more adequate for a steak than to a burger? NO! And there was  no need for that, neither. Instead of annoying my nose and my palate  with that damn useless aroma of blue cheese (aka the ‘funk’ fragrance of dry aged beef  — yeah, I know, most want that nowadays), their dry aged meat  delivered what superb dry aged beef should focus on: some superb beef flavour!
-How was the taste? They did what needs to be done to intensify the beefy flavour of a burger: blending several cuts of meats. Dry aged New York strip and chuck, in this case. They did opt for the American cheese as the sole adornment of the patty, a cheese that had proven to be a fine companion to the patty. The result is that it was  flavour-packed with great pure flavour of beef enhanced by the fine slice of cheese. Apparently, this was inspired by the Burger at Peter Luger and the Burger experts of NYC do argue that the apprentice has surpassed the Master. I cannot talk to that because at PL, I always had the steaks. But RHT’s Burger had the bare essentials reviewed, covered and  perfected (a bun that’s a benchmark of its kind, a patty that is using prime quality beef, a delicious cheese designed to elevate the patty’s flavour and not overwhelm it, an overall taste that stood out among the finest burgers of the city). My fully detailed review here.  Red Hook Tavern Addr: 329 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, United States Phone: +1 917-966-6094 URL: https://www.redhooktavern.com/
Overall rating:  9/10

 

Bottom line: All the burgers of this round-up fulfilled the basic « ideal » requirement of having neither the bun, the patty nor the cheese being too disproportionate in quantity to one another. Of course, this cannot be always respected in an obsessive fashion (for example to the mm), lol, but common sense was applied in their judgement of the ratio of those components as to avoid to bury the flavour of the meat. The meat was always served medium rare (the ideal doneness that allows the meat flavour to express itself at its best– as per my request), as it seems ideal to our North American palates, generally juicy and beefy and seasoned with the welcoming (not distracting, in these instances) flavour enhancer kick of salt most burger fans in North America are expecting from their Burgers. When there was cheese, it was always melting soft and adequately served as a enhancer to the burger experience. The above 2 burgers were created with an attention to detail of world class mention for a Burger. 2 world class Burgers. Interestingly, their respective restaurants do offer some superb non-burger items as well. The overall /10 ratings are to convey the level of joy that was invading my palate at the time of biting into those burgers.

 

 

Why the tag “NOT-FULLY NON-CAUCASIAN-FRIENDLY” in some of   my blog posts?

This tag may sound controversial in circles where Caucasian people are celebrated and the rest of the world is ignored.

DO NOT GET ME WRONG: I love Caucasian  people , as much as I love NON-Caucasians, but Caucasians  are NOT  the only people on planet earth!

On Planet earth, there are actually way more NON- caucasians than caucasians!

The  reason why the NOT-FULLY NON-CAUCASIAN-FRIENDLY attitude is tolerated is because of a lack of education,  the pre-eminence of easy ignorance and of course, the belief that NON-CAUCASIANS are economically poorer. And above all, BECAUSE …TRUTH BE TOLD … IT is EASIER TO BE STUPID…THAN NOT!

With many non Caucasians becoming richer and travelling more and more, it is important that NON-CAUCASIANS get the right time about what awaits them.

Again, we ALL ALREADY know that most blogs  and online sources are CAUCASIAN-FRIENDLY (or ..trying HARD to be …politically correct .., therefore HIDING SUCH REALITY TO NON CAUCASIANS …) and there is nothing wrong about that (They are doing what they have got to do…!, LOL) – But I owe no one anything and find  that it is useful for NON CAUCASIANS to know what is IN for them.

I mean no offence here, BUT if YOU ARE STUPID ENOUGH TO TAKE OFFENCE WITH THAT, THEN .. BE MY  GUEST!

 

You are unlikely going to stumble upon a weak product coming from the better  chocolate makers of France, and the chocolate covered almonds that they make are  flawless treats they have perfected since a very long time.

With their Cauldron-toasted almonds, Michel Cluizel takes it to another level: roasting almonds on open fire (in a copper cauldron, in this case) allows for an extra dimension of toasty flavour that is quite addictive, indeed. And of course, as you would have guessed, the almonds (grilled in caramelized sugar),  as well as the dark chocolate in which they are coated  ( 60% cocoa ) — the toasty flavour of the roasted almonds responding perfectly well to the bitter chocolate — are of prime quality.

Bottom line: A coup de coeur for me. I have a soft spot for anything that takes advantage of open fire and Michel Cluizel did put that to good use with those superb chocolate covered almonds.

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 truly 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

Roberta’s pizza (above picture shows the take-out section of the establishment) has been hyped up as one of the biggest current hits of the dining scene of NYC.

It is relatively not that old (opened in 2008) and yet it is already a cult in NYC dining history. Its nontraditional

pizze featuring oftently in the top 5 of the best pizze in the nation, not a light exploit in the US.

It is an American-Italian pizza eatery, therefore I went with the flow and ordered exactly what the local crowd have been raving about, their Italian-American pizze (which ratings are not to be compared to my ratings of Neapolitan pizze, btw – two completely different styles).

-Torchietti pasta /topneck clams/ garlic/herbs – it is a pizza place. Not a pasta restaurant. Therefore no expectation, here. I just picked the pasta because I wanted some pasta as well. This was too salty (yep, the cook who cooked this dish seemed to have misjudged that the clams have already plenty of salt ) though pleasant enough 6/10

-« Babe: Pig in the city » is the name they gave to their pizza made of cheddar/mozzarella/ prosciutto cotto / onion / salsa verde – all their pizze are wood fired. Plated on metal pizza tray. No ample quantity of sauce, but just the right ratio. The dough made with specialty flour (they use a blend of specialty flours) and it did, obviously, rise for a long time, judging by the superb flavour of that crust. To get to such nicely rendered crust (excellent thin chewy crust with a superb light feel and ideal crisp to its texture) , they must have been using some of the best thin-crust pizza techniques of the industry. Delicious complementary flavours (the flavour of the crust responding well to the one of its toppings). 9/10

-Lieutenant Dan pizza (marinated summer peppers, pork sausages, cheddar, basil, onion, chili pepper, sesame) – They are so creative and fearless about their choices of toppings that, at times, a distracted palate can easily interpret the presence of some toppings as being « out of place ». That is not the case at all, in reality: take the sesame. It added to the overall festive mouthfeel of this pizza. Another thin crust pie that was well rendered (clearly, there is no quickie kneading operation in their pizza making process) as evidenced by its superb crunch, the right chew factor, and its exciting flavours. 9/10

-Freshly grilled pork collar /cucumbers/ spring onions /cabbage / salsa verde – had fine taste, the flavour that comes from the open fire always imparting an enticing smoky flavour as it did, here, with both the grilled protein as well as veggies. They seem to bother about quality organic veggies as that it how the veggies felt. The salsa verde had superb taste and texture. The grilled veggies tasted fine, too. Nice seasoning as well. Again, you are here for the pizza, but the non pizza items are still enjoyable enough as it was the case with this dish. 7/10

According to the media, the owners were not in the pizza industry before. Then one day they decided to open a pizza shop, went to Italy and learned from those in the know. And then came back and gave birth to Roberta’s. Well, if that is true, then they are the proof that sometimes, you need to come from « outside the box ´´ to offer a better show. As with any operation that is creative, they have to take risks (with their choice of varied toppings), therefore I suspect that it cannot be always as stellar as it was during my visit, but what matters is that Roberta’s has proven, once again, that it is capable of some of the best pizze in the nation.

Overall rating: 9/10 for the pizze – Category ´American-Italian pizza ‘. Their pizza had me at “hello” . They are technically as excellent as It is possible to be, they do come with a divine taste and a flawless crust.  If you hear someone telling you that this is as good as any other Italian-American pizza in nyc, then that is coming from the same dude who thinks that mp3 and aiff do have the same quality of sound. 9/10 for the excellent service – no drama, no attitude here, but humble professionals who are passionate about their jobs and doing it really well. Ambience was a 9/10 (the place does not look like much from both the inside and outside, ´rough looking’ from the outside, situated in a ´tough looking’ area, but it is full of life, in a civilized way, which is of course a good thing). I loved Roberta’s ! – Roberta’s Addr: 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206 Phone: 718-417- 1118; URL: http://robertaspizza.com/

Food assessment is one thing that virtually everyone will tell you that it is easy to do, and yet few are able to do it properly.

Take any write-up of the major food jounalists of this globe: they are able to  give a 10/10 to French food, but when it comes to ethnic food, the best they can score ethnic food with is, at best an 8/10.

That is due to a lack of competence: they do not have the proper skills to understand that the  best of ethnic food is as great as the best of Western food. Since they do not have the proper skills to understand that, their last resort is the impression that they have of the food they are eating. When you are ignorant and incompetent about something, your way out is to rely on impression. So their impression is that western food is superior, ethnic inferior. They do not do that only with ethnic vs western food.

They extend that incompetence to modern Vs traditional food. Just look at how they are generous in their ratings when they eat something novel. As if traditional food stops being great as soon as they meet modern cuisine.

We are talking here, about the so-called best experts and professionals of food criticism. You can imagine the rest.

As a straightforward answer to the question “is it easy to write reviews”, I think the most accurate  answer to that question is this: About anything is easy when it is done without rigor.

If writing about restaurant was just a matter of sitting at a table and contenting myself with describing my food,  then I’d not do this.

What attracted me into writing about dining is all the discipline that is involved:

how far can I control my human emotions and judge my food as accurately as possible? How far can I  detach mysefl from  the surrounding  distractions around my meal? How far can I resist to popular perceptions and freely express what’s on my mind (see previous question)?

How far do I know myself to provide  opinions on a given type of food:  for eg, I  sometimes see people judging food that  they just don’t like  in the first place.  That is easy to spot:  the person, whatever he or she eats,  is never capable of appreciating one single dish of that given type of cuisine. That is absolutely normal:  I, too, have some types of food that I just can’t appreciate. What is not normal though is to judge a type of food you can’t like since your perception of it is already biased.

I only review cuisines that I understand and appreciate because I can then accurately tell you which dish I found good or bad.

The cuisines that I do not like,  I simply describe them. I do not review them. I  patiently wait until I am genuinely  familiar, knowledgeable about them before providing my readers with opinions on them.

I also follow very strict practices that I believe are essential for your judgement about food to be accurate such as never eating anything and drinking only flat water within the 4,5 hours leading to a meal that I want to review. It is a nonsense to review a dinner without any ethic, any method, any discipline. But how many food critics do really abide by those fundamental rules…???…Lol.

In the series “Life lessons” I will share with you, today, what I believe should be the ideal gift you should give to your kids and I will explain why:

Forget the usual toys and common  gifts you are giving to your kids. You are getting it all wrong. That type of gifts will make your kids weak in life as they just create a foolish impression, in your kid,  that anything in life can be taken for granted, things do not have any value…they are just there to be owned without effort. In other words, your kid will have zero sense of value if you do that.

Of course it is to offer a toy to your toddler. But once the kid hits his 5th year, it is about time that you stop offering such gifts to him as in the long run it will hurt the adult that your kid will become one day, for the reason I have just submitted earlier on.

From age 5, the best gift to a kid is money. Why money? Because it will be the opportunity for him to understand the value of money, the most common asset that he will have to deal with his entire life. Now, I am not talking about offering him money and just hope that he will understand the point, Lol. No!

You give him money to teach him how he should, from very young, learn to save it and learn how to invest it. You do that in the 1st year, in between his 5th to 6th year.

At 6, it is about time that he understands another meaning of that money: how to earn it. This is the stage where you start assigning  to him basic tasks and responsabilities that lead to the possibility of amassing a capital.  Of course, common sense, Lol: we are not talking about telling your kid to go to work, here. Not at all.  But you can, as an example, teach him how to build a small city, how to govern it so that he explores the basic principles of how an economy works, etc.

Above all, he needs to quickly understand, not in theory, but with facts, how ..that money that he received for free, as a gift,  one year earlier, was hard earned by the person who gave it to him. You need to convey that principle by avoiding any abuse, of course, and by protecting the well being of our kids.

One of the big lessons that life has taught me is that we tend to underestimate the importance of revealing to our kids the most important aspects of the life they will face, later on, as an adult. It is a big mistake. The rich people are rich because they were smarter than the big majority of us in exposing the value of money to their kids when their kids were kids.

It is not about being materialistic. It is about educating that kid to face one important reality that lies ahead of him. That should not stop you from ensuring that your kids have also good moral values. That is not about turning your kid into a hardcore materialist.  After all, savage materialism pertains the  low-life,  barbarians.  This is about developing our sense of values since very young.

PS: This blog is primarily about food, indeed, but it is a personal blog that owes nothing to nobody, therefore I take the liberty to share with you all sorts of thoughts I deem constructive to share whether it is about food or not.