Archive for the ‘excellent service’ Category

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 truely 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 was not hard to get hooked to 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/

Rezdôra Osteria Emiliana
Phone: +1 (646) 692-9090
Email: reservations@rezdora.nyc
Addr: 27 East 20th Street, New York, NY 10003
URL: https://rezdora.nyc

On various recent visits  of New York, I went back to Peter Luger, the one in Brooklyn, for my fix of North American steak. PL’s porterhouse steak continues to be the steak against which I judge all other North American steaks. Whether PL is touristy or not, I could not care less. What matters to me is the dazzling steak they keep delivering, tourists or not in sight.  I returned to another place that seems to have attracted its hordes of tourists as it is a legendary eatery: Junior’s in Brooklyn. Junior’s remains one of my preferred eateries in New York, eventhough their celebrated cheesecake is not my cup of tea. Other restaurants that I tried:  LeñaSpanish Diner (among  the most exciting Spanish-style eateries of NYC right now…I know, not a revelation given how weak Spanish food is in NYC, but those are good by NYC Spanish food standards at this moment) of famous  Chefs Ferran Adria, Albert Adria and  José Andrés . I tried  Sorbillo NYC (easily one of the finest Neapolitan style pizze in NYC – My honest suggestion  to  the food journalists who seem to overlook  this gem of a Pizzaria: stop comparing  apples to grapes, stop! stop! I mean, most of the crap    you write  about pizze in NYC is seriously nau·se·at·ing. You know nothing about Neapolitan pizza..your comparisons of   pizze in Italy vs pizze in the US are worrying  signs of your total ignorance of basic things such as the importance  of the geographical environment   in your assessment of the pizza you are reviewing and btw….most of you are reviewing pasta dishes at a  pizzeria…c’mon!!??  ). New York ‘s restaurant  scene continues to be genuinely world class.

This time, I paid a visit to Rezdôra. A local reliable and knowledgeable foodie in NYC did  inform me about the opening of  this small Italian restaurant in Flatiron.  According to the media, the  Chef of Rezdora is Chef Stefano Secchi, a Chef who has honed his skills at some serious venues in Italy such as 1 star Michelin All’Enoteca (Canale), Hosteria Giusti as well as  3 star Michelin Osteria Francescana (the latter two establishments are located in Modena), and that he is  inspired  by the food of  the region of Emilia-Romagna , which food has been aggressively marketed as Italy’s best (for more, on that, click here).

 

 

 

Food in Emilia-Romagna does benefit from its local stellar ingredients, but there are some limitations to what you can do with that sort of food, oceans away from where it originates: to start, egg-based pasta (which local diners in Emilia-Romagna are accustomed to) is obviously more expensive to make than flour-based pastas. And  North American palates may not appreciate the difference.

When I went to eat at Il luogo di Aimo e Nadia and  Dal Pescatore, I took the time to broaden my knowledge of the traditional cuisines of Northern Italy (food from Emilia-Romagna, Mantuan food, etc) and I recall that one of the tests I did was to see how my palate would appreciate the difference between their local egg-based pasta vs the flour-based ones we are used to outside of Italy. I do, when time permits, make my own pasta at home and have tried both versions. But a trained palate will not fail to notice that flour in Italy, their water, the flavour of the dazzling eggs found there — all of that is different from what you will find in North America. My palate found their egg-based pasta to be more exciting, flavour-wise, but I can’t imagine one single restaurant trying to import the water and eggs from Italy. It will go bankrupt. This applies to the superb vegetables of Italy. Consequently, I went to Rezdora with the expectation that they do as great as it is possible to make food of Emilia-Romagna in North America.

 

1-Tagliolini al ragu. As expected, the tagliolini having the right thin shape and the right texture to soak up the ragu. The ragu made of pork shoulder, mortadella, ground pork and prosciutto simmered with parmesan sachets for 8hrs and finished with Italian olive oil. As one should better know, the environment (water, soil, etc) plays a massive role in the taste of both your pasta and your ragu. Therefore if you expect this dish to taste/feel/smell exactly as in Northern Italy, you have skipped those basics of the science of food. That said, this was freshly made tagliolini  (which doneness I would have preferred al dente – it was served a bit beyond that stage), the taste and texture of the ragu  having proper depth (the rich flavour of the meat is adequate, the sauce timely reduced –  and you do not feel any excess of fat in the sauce, which is what you should be looking for), with perhaps a tendency to put a bit more salt than I would have loved — salt enhances flavour, indeed, but in this instance, it went past that stage and was almost on the verge of starting to diminish the flavour of the overall dish — but that can be easily fixed. I generally prefer when the ragu is made of beef, pancetta and veal, but this was still good.  7/10

 

2-« Grandmother walking through the forest in Emilia » is the name of a dish  that consists of cappelleti verdi (homemade spinach infused pasta) filled with roasted leeks, baby leeks on a bed of black mushroom puree. In the ‘poetic’ naming of that dish, you  can see the influence of one of their Chef’s mentor, namely Chef Massimo Bottura of 3 star Michelin Osteria Francescana in Modena – who loves giving poetic descriptions to some of his dishes. This showcased a fine deal of technical precision in shaping the texture of that pasta. Too bad green peas are not in season right now, as great quality peas would have paired so well with them and brighten that dish. 8/10

 

3-Pappardelle verde, spinach pasta with ragu di cinghiale (boar ragu) and porcini. The dense pasta is, as usual, always great for sauces, sticking properly to the boar ragu. The first two dishes are classics of the house. I purposely added this dish and the next one to my meal as they were fresh new additions to their menu. Some kitchen brigades are somehow more excited/motivated when cooking new food items. But in this instance, the motivation was the same whether the dish was one of their classics or a new addition. The same fine ragu as with the first dish was there, only it is made of boar this time. The pasta’s texture properly rendered. Good. 7/10

4-Dolce scherzetto, roasted squash raviolini, burro rosolato and amaretti crumbs. Freshly made pasta (the case of all their pasta), with fillings of roasted squash and mostarda (a condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard-flavoured syrup), coated in sage-flecked brown butter sauce. Dressed with amaretti crumbs. I had variations on this during my last foodie tour of Northern Italy. Was this a serious challenge to what I had in Northern Italy? Was this up there with what a nonna would do back in Emilia Romagna? If you ask yourself such questions then you did not understand the basics of the science of food: Not the same terroir, not the same soil, not the same water. So, forget that. Can’t compare. Even the amaretti crumbs, as fine as these stood, could not compare to the stellar amaretti crumbs you may stumble upon in some parts of Italy. And regarding any comparison to la nonna, well…last time the media checked, their Chef was a young gentleman. So, he can’t be and can’t beat la nonna, lol.  The taste was pleasant rather than dazzling, the expected sweetness (coming obviously from the squash, mostarda and the amaretti crumbs)  not overwhelming. 6/10

 

5.Torta Barozzi – Dense, flourless cake made of rich, dark chocolate. The original recipe from Vignola (outside of Modena) —you can still enjoy the original TB at Pasticceria Gollini — remains a secrete, but if you have tried it (I tried it during my last  visit in Northern Italy), it has hardly any sugar, which is one thing I loved with this one version they made at Rezdora (it tasted of dark chocolate, which it has to, rather than of added-sugar to dark chocolate). The pastry Chef made a rendition that is quite  close to some of the versions (there are  a few, though)  that you can find in Italy,  and served it the traditional way, which means  to serve this cake all on its own (without any adornment), and that is appreciated.  However, I would have preferred a consistency that is moist and tender inside the cake (it was a bit tough, at serving) as it is usually the case with most incarnations of this torta in Italy. 6/10

My hats off  to their marketing team as it is currently a hot ticket in NYC. Extremely popular, indeed.

 

The pasta dishes were fine, considering the reality  of pasta dishes made freshly oceans and continents away from Italy. The limitation being that the soil, the water, the produce cannot be the same as in Italy, therefore no miracle is possible.

To be accurate, there are not stellar produce everywhere in Italy. As an example, most of the food that you will eat in big cities like Milan or Rome will taste as generic as anywhere else across the globe. What is accurate is that the best produce of Italy is ages ahead of the best produce that you will find in North America.

The only thing I hope they do at Rezdora  is to lower a little bit the salt input on some of the pasta dishes, unless, of course, most of their patrons are happy with that. The food comes in small portions, and it is not cheap, therefore they won’t win any award for « best value », but few restaurants in NYC would win that one anyways. At least the food is of quality, the wine list is well thought, and the next paragraph shows that they do nice things that do escape many of their competitors.

Bottom line: I arrived 30 mins before the opening in order to snatch a seat (they allow some few walk-ins for the seating at the bar, but the wait can be long, therefore it is better to arrive 30 mins before the opening and line up) at their bar considering that it was hard to book a table. Since it was a bit cold, they came outside and served us some sparkling wine. And no, there was no poster-diner (food blogger or food journalist promoting the food industry) lining up outside. Therefore that was a genuine gesture which appeared even more special given their already established popularity  (there are eateries with a lot to prove and yet they would never do this). A rare occurrence in NYC’s dining scene. Then when the door opened at 5hPM, the staff lined up to welcome the guests. I sat at the bar and the perfect balance between being Pro and Cool continued to be the trending pattern. A fine restaurant and an attention to details that most would not bother covering. Overall ratings (Category: Italian in NYC)  7/10 Food; Service 9/10.

 

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. At 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 chilhood in the Indian ocean, blessed with some of this globe’s best and freshest seafood sush 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 plenty of other 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 on their motherland. 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

Keen’s Steakhouse – New York, NY

Posted: July 6, 2019 in aged beef, best aged beef, best aged steak, best dry aged beef, best dry aged steak, best porterhouse steak, best restaurants in new york, Best steakhouses, best steaks, excellent service, High hospitality standards, new york, steak, steakhouse, The World's Best Steaks, Top steaks in the world
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Keens is an institution of NYC, a piece of restaurant  history that started in the  19th century (established in 1885). Its dark wood walls are covered with a tasteful  display of  memorabilia (time-honored paintings, photos, cartoons).   This restaurant could be an incredible shooting location for a movie.

 

The avid fan of history that I am  had to find himself in this charming old world  decor, espying what could have possibly been the pipe of Roosevelt over here (thousands  of clay pipes of  patrons who dined at Keens are on display on the steakhouse’s ceiling), climbing the same stairs as Einstein over there.   Nowadays, Keens is one of NYC’s most popular steakhouses, attracting tourists, locals as well as many connoisseurs of North American steaks (as you will see below, their steaks did not « rest on their laurels »). But, with legendary places like this one, I am on my guard, always ensuring that  the lore shall never be part of the lure.

On a previous visit here, over 2 years ago, I did try their fabled slow roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop (aka the ”mutton chop“). It is not mutton, anymore. It  is  lamb  that they do serve nowadays. The lamb is raised in  Colorado,  some of the  most sought after lamb  in the nation. Colorado does offer to its  free-ranging sheep,  vast swathes of vegetation to feed on, thanks to the numerous mountains and hills of the state. The sourcing of this piece of  pasture raised lamb was  of high level , its subtly earthy lamb flavor  (milder than, say the flavour of lamb from New Zeland)  dazzled. Boasting an enticing color, definely tender, this  was as great as your roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop  will be if served to you at a top tier  steakhouse. 9/10

Then last year I dropped by with a long time genuine connoisseur of North American steakhouses and we had the porterhouse.  For anyone truely familiar with beef aging, it was easy to enjoy the great effect of the dry aging (they dry-age and butcher the meat on the premises) process that went into that piece of meat (great concentration of beef flavor). The thing about aging meats is to think about the right effect for the right meat. Oftently, you see people dry aging then wet aging their meat (perfect recipe to cancel the benefit of dry aging that meat …), dry aging meat that has fat that is so delicate that it cannot  ‘age’  well (highly marbled wagyu as in this case at Dons de la Nature, one of Tokyo’s leading steakhouses. It is the sort of fat that is way too delicate to   benefit from dry aging — I will write, later on, a detailed article on what type of fat benefits from the aging process and why), dry aging fishes that have the taste of nothing if you age them (few fishes do benefit from the dry aging process, most do not…most fishes that are aged do simply fit in the ridiculous trend of aging the flesh for the pleasure of following a trend, as stupid as that – ). Not all steakhouses do master the dry aging of meats as  obsessively well as, at, let us say, Le Divil in Perpignan, but the concentration of flavor of that porterhouse steak  at Keens revealed some serious mastery of the dry aging of their meats.   8/10

 

This is my 3rd visit here, and this time I ordered the prime rib of beef  (king’s cut – meaning that it’s bone-in),  the  medium rare doneness that I wanted was precisely achieved,  and it came charred at my request, served with au jus.  The loin end   rarely fails to be flavorful once cooked,  and yet, you realize how, in the USA, they have perfected its cooking  with no shortage of dazzling renditions of the  prime rib such as the ones you can enjoy at  establishments such as the House of Prime RibLawry‘s or   Dickie Brennan‘s  to name a few. But this prime rib at Keens was not out of place in that fierce competition, as here again, you had all the qualities of a stellar piece of North American steak (the quality of the meat really high as you would expect from a North American steakhouse of this reputation, the standing rib roast timely cooked, its delicious fat properly rendered, the seasoning competent, the steak craveable ).   8/10

 

I love Keen but I was NOT  in love with my platter of a dozen of oysters: all had their superb maritime flavour in evidence, true, but some of the oysters were served a bit too cold than expected at a restaurant serving seafood. The shucking could have been better, too.

Our sides of creamed spinach , sautéed mushrooms and cooked broccoli did not tantalize both my girlfriend and myself :  for both of us,  this preparation of their creamed spinach  did not  enhance  the taste of the spinach. And they did add a bit less cream than I would have preferred.  Still, their way of doing it is one legit classic way of cooking the creamed spinach and I am fine with that.  The broccoli,  I need them to retain a vivid fresh appearance  (I am not here to talk about cooking techniques but there’s a technique for that, there is a technique that allows your broccoli  to be nicely cooked while retaining its perfect crunch and vivid looks, a technique that is widely documented. There is no doubt that the kitchen brigade at Keens knows how to do that, but, again, their choice is to remain classic, therefore they did use a more classical approach  and that is to be respected. As for the mushrooms, they  looked and felt as if they were sautéed a bit too long  and served a bit too late,  the taste of the mushrooms not in evidence.

The crab cake of my girlfriend  featured   fresh crab flavour, the seasoning well judged. The crab came from Maryland and it is in season right now, consequently its depth of flavour was remarkable. Of her crab cake, she said that it was about “”the full taste of the crab and not a lot of filler””, which was a good thing.  7/10

Bottom line: This article of the NY Mag had its author arguing that   « The meat isn’t first class anymore, especially by the standards of today » at Keens…another one of the absurd and senseless suggestions of our so-called food journalists. A steak is first class if the quality of the meat is great, the cooking accurate, the flavours on point, the extra steps to elevate the taste of that meat making a difference (for example, my pieces of steak, here, at Keens, did benefit from the nuances that an educated palate would detect as nuances that can only come from a competently dry aged piece of quality meat). And you do all of that better than at most other steakhouses, which is the case of Keens.  You stop being first  class the day your steak costs an arm and a leg only to have the taste and feel of a generic-tasting piece of meat that you  would buy at the supermarket (the case of one so-called legendary steakhouse right here in The old Montreal …). Keens has nothing to do with an outdated steakhouse.  For his  steaks, Keens is still one of NYC’s very best. I was not in love with the sides, but again, this was (more of) a matter of preference (at the exception of the mushrooms) rather than the sides being faulty. They need to control the temperature of those oysters, though. My number 1 North American steakhouse is still Peter Luger (the one in Brooklyn) , but that takes nothing away from the superb steaks of Keens. The service and ambience at Keens are  also  great. One of my preferred chophouses in NYC. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (7/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (8/10 ) –  Keens steakhouse Addr: 72 West 36th St. New York, NY 10018 Phone: 212-947-3636 URL: http://www.keens.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). Roberta’s Addr: 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206 Phone: 718-417- 1118; URL: http://robertaspizza.com/

Ichiran is one of the major ramen chains coming straight from Japan  that decided to open branches in Manhattan (two) as well as one in Brooklyn. In Japan, I tried both Ichiran and Ippudo (the other major competitor to Ichiran), but discretely, lol, as it is a bit as raving about Burger King and Mc Donald while you are in the US. Not that I do not like Mc Donald and Burger King (I do actually like both of them), but there are plenty of  artisan Chef’s (the opposite of a chain’s operation) ramenyas in Japan who do offer world class ramen  and that is what, as a true ramen fan, you should be looking for when in Japan. That said, here in NYC, Ippudo and Ichiran feature among the best ramenyas , consequently do  expect plenty of buzz about those two ramen chains.

 

The proof that ramen is extremely popular nowadays: there are 3 times more hits on my review of Ippudo than this entire blog would attract in 6 months. Yep, a miracle for a sleepy blog like this one (do not forget that this is a non marketed blog targeting just couple of close foodies, here and there, with whom I share about our foodie adventures). But that tells you how ramen is trendy.

I went slurping at one of their branches in New York, the one situated at 132W 31st .

First thing first:

My ratings of the ramen I had in Japan should NOT be compared with the ones of the bowls I had in Montreal, which, in turn should not be compared to my ratings of the bowls I had in NYC

For the simple reason that they can’t (different geographical areas mean the water is different, the ingredients comes from different soils, etc).

 

So, Ichiran NYC that is.

Style of ramen:  tonkotsu style.

Noodles: freshly made  as you came to expect from any respectable ramen shop. I picked them firm (you have to decide on  the consistency of your noodles) so that the noodles do hold in  the broth. The noodles compare favorably with its counterpart in Japan. 7/ 10

The broth: Pork-bone based that has enough strength to its taste, meaning enough nuances / complexity  flavor-wise.  Eventhough it is certainly not as exciting  as at an Ichiran in Japan. A bit thinner than its incarnation in Japan. Fine enough broth 6/ 10

The chashu (Japanese braised pork belly) – I was very disappointed with this. I kept reading   praises about their timely braised, boldly  flavoured  chashu at  Ichiran NYC. That it was delicious and so on. But mine was dry. It  had Zero flavor.  0/ 10

Tare (The sauce flavouring the broth): fine concentration of flavours, verging on the sweet side. Not as amazing  at its incarnation in Japan but still, flavorful / enjoyable enough. 6/ 10

Egg: served cold (I do not get that one). Not fully runny at all. There are parts of the world where the ramen is not their speciality and yet they are delivering beautifully fully runny eggs that are served warm and that blend well with the rest of the ramen at their ramenya. And here you have a popular Japanese chain of ramenya that seems to take such important feature lightly (as a reminder, the reason a ramenya adds a runny egg to its ramen is not to make the ramen cute and ready for instagram, Lol. It is because it add lots of enjoyment to the overall mouthfeel of the ramen). 0/ 10

Bottom line: The service is great and it is a lovely place. I went there to really like  Ichiran, but it was a disappointment on the aspect of the food.  Ichiran NYC Addr: 132 W 31st St, New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 465-0701 URL: https://www.ichiranusa.com/  Overall rating Food 5/10, Service 8/10

 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