Archive for the ‘new york’ Category

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

 

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I went to the luxurious mall at Hudson Yards and tried couple of the food items (the shopping mall has eateries recently opened by some of the most popular Chefs out there)  that some of NYC’s food journalists have called their current hits. One that caught my attention was Fuku’s Vada Pav (pictured above), a deep fried potato patty with hints of fried garlic, pickle, scallion sauce, inspired by one of my all time favourite deep fried food items, Maharashtra’s Wada Pav. WP is easy to make and easy to love. If you have been cooking a bit, that’s the sort of combination of ingredients that rarely fails to be a hit (logical combination of ingredients where one ingredient serves as a flavour enhancer to the next). At Fuku, such  potential was left at bay, as the patty was WAY  too dry. So dry that I was not able to discern any flavour. I was not expecting Fuku to deliver a dazzling WP. I was simply expecting a deep fried potato patty to be what it’s supposed to be: a food item that rarely fails to be enjoyable. They have just one way out, with this one and it is to freshly fry and serve their WP as the customer orders it. Or find a way to emulate that effect.  0/10

In that mall, we found kawi creative enough (for food served inside a mall in North America) but absudly pricey as well as a tad unnecessarily fancy. At Kawi, we enjoyed their sweet and sour ribs. It is nit the best we had, but probably one of their better menu items.

Cousins Maine Lobster, 77 Lexington Ave, NYC- If you are heading to CML, expecting the same price tag than at a seafood shack in the Maine, then you are seriously delusional. It is a fast food-truck franchise selling very good lobster meat in a big western city that is known for the hefty prices of its dining scene. Once I got  past that, everything I found here, as far as food goes,  was  hard to improve upon:

I did request my lobster roll connecticut-style (the top split bun served warm, the lobster flesh seasoned with a spritz  of lemon juice). It came with a slaw of quality cabbage which seasoning was light in order to let the cabbage express itself. With cabbage of such quality, that was the right thing to do (too bad the salad was  a just a meager spoonful of that superb cabbage). The wild caught lobster meat of my lobster sandwich  had its fresh maritime fragrance in evidence, the meat speaking for itself .

The tater tots were also flawless:  freshly fried with the right amount of heat and a superb taste. I know, it is not rocket science to make that tot, but they did an excellent rendition of it.

I also tried the lobster tails, which small size could hardly   charm someone like me who grew up in a fishermen’s village with plenty of massive lobster tails to be found everywhere , but in the context of a fast (sea)food joint, if they had to sell the sort of lobster tails that I am talking about, they may as well open a seafood restaurant. The tiny lobster tail was still of good quality, its cooking beautifully timed. Is there better lobster roll in NYC? I know there are many great lobster rolls in NYC, but this one is among the very best lobster rolls of NYC. But it was not just about the sandwich as every single food item   was executed with finesse and featured great flavours, timed temperatures and enticing textures. The price tag, oh..the price tag…I know, but the cousins deserve their nation wide success story. 8/10

Also tried: Sorbillo NYC (great effort by the local pizza scene in NYC to minimize the greatness of SNYC, but the real connoisseurs of the Neapolitan pizza are not going to be fooled: it is, right now, in NYC, one of their very best Neapolitan pizza. Of course, you are not in Naples, therefore the price tag of such pizza in NYC may enrage those who know the cost of such pizza back in Italy. Of course, you do not have easy access in NYC to the dazzling produce of Italy. But at the end of the day, it is one great Neapolitan piZza in NYC.

Tasting some of world’s better oysters in Southern France + In Fontjoncouse I tried what Michelin dubs a “special journey” + Paris lost one of its best classic French restaurants (Moissonier) + The best and the worst food of 2016 / 2017 + The reviews that you have perused the most in 2017 + Cannot wait to try world famed Sorbillo Pizza in New York

Posted: January 3, 2018 in aged beef, Best and worst food of 2017, Best and Worst restaurant dishes of 2017, Best meals, Best oyster, best pizza, brooklyn, Mediterranea, new york, oyster, seafood, steak, steakhouse
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Welcoming this new  year with an overwiew of the highs and lows of my 2016/2017 foodie adventures:

The best  meals of 2016/2017:
Le Coucou (NYC), Sushi Azabu (NYC), Dons Bogam (NYC) , Hvor (Montreal) — but Chef S’Arto Chartier-Otis does not work there anymore, Pamika brasserie Thai (Montreal), Ichimura (NYC) but Chef Ichimura does not work there anymore, Nozy (Montreal), Cocoro (Montreal), Argo (Fira), TO Ouzeri (Fira), Old Tavern of Psaras (Athens), Mere Michel (Montreal), Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe (Atlantic City), Junior’s (Brooklyn), Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn), The River Café (Brooklyn), La Caye (Brooklyn),  The steak at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (NYC)

The most memorable food items of 2016/2017:
1.Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe (Pres d’Eugenie)
Wall of fame material.
2.Rutabaga fettucine, black truffles, hazelnut butter, mimolette cheese (Hvor, Montreal) – Lifetime achievement award!!!
3.Roasted pineapple (Le Coucou) –
They all say they can make it. In reality, few, very few can pull out some roasted pineapple of this quality.

My GO-TO places:

La Frite à Brigitte (Vaudreuil-Dorion). When I discovered Quebecois classic food, I was filled with awe. Simple French-based food but full of dazzling flavors. Quebecois people have an awesome palate. They have glorious food items like the Poutine. French fries, gravy, cheese curds. Sounds straightforward, right? Perhaps, but Poutine is one of the best inventions of all times. It is so tasty, so well thought, so great. La Frite à Brigitte is currently my GO-TO place for their superb poutine . I keep going there for more. La Frite à Brigitte Addr: 347 Boulevard Harwood, Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC Phone: (450) 510-5151. My other GO-TO place in Montreal is Reuben’s Deli & Steakhouse. I never tried any steak there, but their delis are some of the most refined and better executed of this globe. They seem to pull off great things after great things at Reuben’s: some of the best strawberry cheesecakes in town, the best sliders I ever had in Montreal, etc. I am not implying that it is the restaurant of the century, but at whatever it does, it consistently  outshines its competitors.  Reuben’s Addr: 1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc Phone: 514-866-1029. My other go-to places in  Montreal: Gyu-Kaku, the current best local table top bbq grill restaurant.    Ichi Go Ichie (the best Isakaya, right now, in Montreal) , Escondite (the best local tacos and tequila bar),  Panama, my preferred Greek eatery in town, as well Loukouman Addr: 522 Jarry Ouest Montréal, Québec, H3N-1E9 Phone: 514-272-5272  (indeed, some of the best loukoumades in town eventhough they do not use the pricey honey that I am usually fond of, but regardless, they are as fine as you will get them in town, better than the ones of Mr Puffs, most Greeks will tell you, and that is what I think,  too). Another go to spot is Nouilles de Lan Zhou.  I also tried   Souvlaki Bar (the one in Laval) as well as the Marathon that is at 3313 Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux (the Marathon in Laval is disappointing) and both were good by Montreal Souvlaki Chain eateries (food cooked to order, the pork souvlaki as tender and meaty as it should at Souvlaki bar, the gyros you should prioritize at Marathon, the ingredients are fine at both places). Talking about Greek eateries  in Montreal, I had some of the best pork souvlaki in Montreal around 25  years ago at a place called Marvens in Parc Extension. Marvens used to also serve one of the very best homemade sauce, their special sauce boasting a light orange hue. Remembering how great it used to be, I went back this past summer and I am saddened  to submit that Marvens’s star  has faded: the special sauce is so sour, nowadays, that it made the food almost inedible. Inedible is also how I would describe the once stellar pork souvlaki which consistency is nowadays dry and tough. People who knew Marvens 25 years ago will be in a serious shock.  Away from Montreal, I am  a big fan of Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn) that I never fail to visit every time I find myself in New York. Their seafood is so popular that it is even exported to Canada. This is the best seafood shack of  New York city. Jordan’s lobster dock 3165 Harkness Ave, Sheepshead Bay – Brooklyn, NY 11235 United States; Phone number (718) 934-6300; URL: http://www.jordanslobster.com .

The best food items of 2016/2017:
1.Mustard ice cream, grilled leavened bread, green tomatoes (Hvor, Montreal) – WOW!
2.Carpaccio of Quebec’s lamb, grated prosciutto (Hvor, Montreal) – You die  and are resurrected just for that!
3.Braised oxtail / potatoes (Le Coucou, NYC) – Even a 3 star Classic French Michelin restaurant in France would be J*E*A*L*O*U*S!!
4. Sea eel (anago) nigiri (Ichimura,NYC) – I thought this nigiri was  flown in straight from one of the best sushiyas of Tokyo!!
5.Langue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre (Marconi, Montreal) – Ok, my life did not feel shattered, but damn ..that was GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6. The ramen at Cocoro (Montreal) – SLURP! …because, in the ramenya world,  that is the way to show how enchanted you were, about your ramen!
7. Grilled goat at Petite Ya quartier (Mtl) – With flavors like these….Oh you, Mother Africa, you make it impossible …. to stop loving you!

-The LOWS:

-The overall experience at Torishin (NYC)
-The oysters at Docks Oyster House (Atlantic city)
-All the food at Vizantino taverna (Athens)
-My meal at Miss Favela (Brooklyn)

 

The reviews that you have perused the most in 2017: The review on Montreal steakhouses is the one that you keep favoring the most year after year.  It is an old review, dating back to  2013. Definitely not the review that I was expecting  to captivate any attention  on this blog, but somehow you like it.  At some point I did consider removing all posts of more than a year on this blog, as they become irrelevant,  but it would be a  nonsense to do so (I never saw a food blogger proceeding that way). The second most popular review was the one on Sushi Sawada (Tokyo). I am glad to see that you were interested by that review as it proves one thing: people are, sometimes, more interested by the content of a review, the technical aspect of the food that  lies before them (is it well conceived, does it respect the fundamentals of good cooking, you know…the right texture, the right temperature, etc) , rather than food porn (sexy instagram-esque pictures —  I was ready to shoot the pictures, actually, but we have got to respect the rules of a house, which, in the case of Sawada, forbids photo taking to normal diners). The 3rd most popular posts are  the ones on Dons de la Nature(Tokyo) and this post I wrote on Gault Millau Montreal/Yakitori Otto/Bombay Mahal Tali/Chez Jano.

4th most popular post, among you – The review on Argo (Fira) as well as the one on Kam Fung (Montreal)
5th  – L’Arpege (Paris)
6th – Ishikawa (Tokyo)
7th – Nice  (Cote d’Azur)
8th – Sushi Oono (Tokyo)
9th – Kanbai (Montreal)

This  web blog’s main intent is to cater to some close foodies with whom I share information about places where to dine at.  In the process, it benefits to the rest of the web as well – obviously. It is also an opportunity to have a firm  idea of how the information on the web is manipulated by many  individuals of the restaurant world (expecting otherwise would be utterly naive … ): although I was pleasantly surprised by the considerable amount of hits on the 9 posts I have just mentioned above (numbers that could almost rival those web sites that have a PR machine behind them — certainly a surprise for a web site that is anonymous like mine), it is clear that some  restaurants around the globe are paying the search engines to filter what can be found on them. That makes sense as it is all about business, protecting business, masquerading their failures as success, etc, and it takes a non restaurant-friendly source like the current  blog to remind you of that. Apparently, based on the wordpress stats of this blog,   you do  not care  for some of the very best restaurants of this globe …  Trattoria Vecchia Roma offers some of the best Traditional Cucina Romana in the world.  Sushi Azabu, Ichimura (New York) are some of the best sushiyas outside of Japan. Le Coucou (New York), one of the best French restaurants outside of France. Dons Bogam  (New York), one of the best Korean BBQ outside of South Korea.  Le Casse Noix (Paris),  has some of the best  riz au lait and Ile flottante in the world. Readers of this blog could not care less. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I believe that    truely exists.  Lol…a nonsense as those restaurants are some of the most popular of this planet…

Paris lost one of its best classic French restaurants (Moissonier) –  Moissonier , which  had  the best French pike quenelles as well as rice cake  of Paris, did close this summer. Paris will never be the same without  this restaurant which served classic French food from Lyon and Franche-Comté as remarkable as the impressive resume of its Chef (an Ex sous Chef of culinary legends such as Alain Senderens, The Troisgros family). Certainly  the sign that people, nowadays, are more interested by hype rather than substance: the closure of this restaurant did not make the headlines…  Moissonnier Addr: 28, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, Paris, Phone: 01 43 29 87 65

My special journey in Fontjoncouse – According to the Michelin guide, their 3 star restaurants “worth a special journey”.  L’Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse is a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is considered as one of the very best French restaurants in the world by those in the know. I had lunch and dinner there. You will find more, about my meals at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, here.

A stopover in Northern Catalonia’s Perpinyà  – At approximately 60 kms away from Fontjoncouse, you will find   Perpignan. Northern Catalonia was Spanish, then became French in 1659. It is an area that the French call Pyrénées-Orientales.  In Perpignan, I tried Le Divil which was recently credited with the title of the best restaurant for meats in France by Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘  (click here for that review) .

I was born to the sound of the sea waves hitting the rocks – It is magical. It really is, because all your life you remember the smell of that sea, the noise of the waves hitting those rocks and the treasure you sometimes found on those rocks. On those rocks, there were ..oftently..oysters! One of the ‘gemstones’ of the sea.  Decades later, oysters do not stop to fascinate me. While in Southern France, I had another opportunity to flirt with them, once again. This time, they were in one of France’s most important destinations of oysters, Leucate. Leucate is a commune in the department of Aude, a department with some of France’s most picturesque communes (Peyriac-de-Mer, one of its communes, has the potential to leave the most in awe). Most part of Leucate is composed of swathes of  beautiful landscapes (beaches, blue waters, the sea, the mountains).  Unexpectedly, the oysters ..those jewels of the sea…well, it is in the less pretty part of Leucate that you will find them. An area called Le Grau de Leucate where less than 30 oyster stands are offering the local Cap Leucate oyster. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

 

Cannot wait to try world famed Sorbillo Pizza in New York – New Yorkers, those lucky bastards! Lol. They attract the best of the best! Sushi Saito (Tokyo) is the current best sushiya in the world. Guess what… they had one of their Chefs who was ready to go working abroad, but it had to be ..guess where…in NYC, of course (Chef Shion Uino now working  at Sushi Amane at Mifune ). You remember the legendary Jiro, of Jiro Dreams? Well, that is not ‘new’ news anymore, but his apprentice  Nakazawa (one of the main characters of the movie Jiro Dreams) is ..guess where? Examples of great Chefs attracted by New York are endless (Ferran Adria, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera), with the latest being Legendary Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo. I have long been fascinated by Pizze, particularly the Neapolitan Pizza. Actually, my next major ‘foodie’ project is to spend 3 months in Naples and review every single of their Pizza shops (a bit like what this guy did, many years ago, but I will stick to Naples, world’s ‘temple’ of the Neapolitan Pizza).  It took me a while to be prepared for this project: first, I wanted to spend years tasting all sort of Neapolitan pizze, understanding  the techniques, the ingredients, etc. I did that for the past 20 years and do, consequently, nowadays, feel ready for the last step before visiting all the Pizza shops of Napoli:  doing an apprenticeship at 3 of the best Pizza shops of Napoli. This will not be easy, perhaps even impossible, but where there is a will, there is a way!  If that happens, the 3 shops will not be reviewed  (I am a bit ‘old school’ about this, and do have nothing against those who think otherwise — I mean we are in an era where most critics do not care about such details — but I insist on never reviewing establishments that I am familiar with), but revealed, of course  (I would like the relevant blog to feature videos of what I am learning at those shops, as well as detailed written  accounts of my journey as an apprentice pizzaiolo in Napoli) .  Regarding Sorbillo NYC, expect the food journalists of  NYC to review it inaccurately as they never went to Napoli and will review this shop with their North American taste. You will not fail to identify those who have no clue of what to expect from a Neapolitan pizza: they will complain about the crust being a bit limpy (Americans prefer a crispier crust). Well, it is the way it is done in Napoli, folks! If you want a pizza which pie is crispy, them opt for a Roman style pizza or any of  your usual  Italian-American pizze. In the meantime, Sorbillo NYC, here I come !  Zia Esterina Sorbillo  334 Bowery Street at Bond Street, NYC Phone: (646) 678-3392 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/

The GREATEST CHEFS of the globe – My generation was gifted with some of the most talented Chefs of all time. One of them was Jacques Maximin. Chef Maximin  has inspired legends such as Ferran Adria as well as highly regarded Chefs like  Franck Cerutti, Christophe Moret or Bruno Cirino. Nowadays, he is not an active Chef anymore. He stood out for his impressive creativity. Oftently, he was able to create, with limited time, what many of the  other legendary  Chefs would, sometimes,  take ages to achieve. Perhaps the culinary Genius who had the more wit, the best natural instinct when it came to Classic French cuisine:

 

Series “Follow this CHEF” – There are NOT that many TRUELY talented world class Chefs around the globe at this moment. Many are marketed as such, for sure, but few are THAT talented. One superb talent is Chef David Bizet. He is largely considered, by those in the know,  as one of this globe’s  most underrated star Chefs right now. David is relatively young, and yet he has been the right hand of several multiple  michelin starred Chefs (Christian Lesquer, Phillipe Legendre, Eric Briffard). David will, sooner or later, have  its 3 Michelin stars and he will deserve them (which is not the case of some Michelin triple starred chefs who earned their stars just by following following the ‘checklist’ of what it takes to get there). For now (January 2018), David is at the helm of L’orangerie (Four seasons)  in Paris.

New York City’s Michelin Stars for 2018  –  I do not understand the Michelin guide (yeah, I know, it is trendy to say so, in the anti-Michelin circles, but it is NOT better in the anti-Michelin world, neither! ) on one hand, you have plenty of Japanese restaurants in NYC  that are awarded stars, and deservedly so… because, yep, truth be told,  we are talking about hard working people, proud of their craft rather than a bunch of money hungry bums disguised as restaurateurs as widely seen elsewhere in some other supposedly food cities. But then, why demoting Jean-Georges? I do  oftently visit  NYC and do know Jean-Georges well  and there is no difference between  Jean-Georges  in its current form Vs the one of the other years. Same for Daniel, btw! Is it, because Michelin, came to the conclusion that they should  not have been awarded  3 stars in the first place? Well, if that is the reason, then dear Michelin, you should have thought about that…in the first place! Is it because both Jean-Georges and Daniel do not have the “grandiose’ looks and feel of   3 star Michelin restaurants  like Per Se and  Eleven Madison Park? The special ‘cachet’ of Masa? I am sure NOT,   as Michelin does not have a  limited vision  of what the restaurant world should be about: to the contrary of what the anti-Michelin lobby is trying to sell to us, you do not have 1 type of restaurant that Michelin favors. Michelin stars were awarded to plenty of restaurants that do, actually, fit the mold of its competitors and detractors  — for example, L’Arpège and L’Astrance in Paris, which are restaurants that Michelin competitors  such as Le Fooding and  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants do regard as ‘non-Michelin enough’, ‘non-Palace enough’. Well, in reality, both L’Arpège and L’Astrance have … 3 Michelin stars! Examples like those abound: MirazurOsteria FrancescanaAsador Etxebarri are  all  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants ‘bestsellers’. Well, they ALL have  Michelin stars, too!  Business is business…you can “bark”  as loud as you want, but at the end of the day, they are all competing for the same thing! At least, Michelin has managed, up to now, to avoid  laughable  decisions such as marketing  an ordinary restaurant  which best meal is  spaghetti and lobster …. as one of the top 100 best restaurants of the globe! A recent  “exploit” in the world  of  one of  Michelin’s  competitors (if, at least, that was the best spaghetti or the best obster out there, but no..not at all, not even close….Rfaol!).  Back to Michelin NYC 2018… I am not done with it: Torishin, the 1 star Michelin yakitori…can someone tell me how no Michelin inspector ever ran into the mixed bag of a service that did put me off when I was there (as reviewed here). What…??..the bad waiters I met at Torishin are nowhere to be found when the Michelin inspectors do visit Torishin? That mixed service would be BAU at a hole in a wall eatery managed by bums, nothing to do with a Michelin star restaurant!

 

 

 

N° 900 pizzeria is a one big succes story of  the Pizza  scene in the province of Quebec. Their growth  was such  that they have expanded to  16 restaurants across Quebec in a very short period of time. I went to the one in Laval (https://no900.com/restaurants/centropolis-laval/) and ordered a margherita pizza: the cornizone (puffy rim) in evidence as it should with its (expected ) tinges of a blackened edge, fresh herbs are used, cooked in a wood-burning oven, but the pie I was having became tough too quickly (in comparison to the better renditions of the neapolitan pizze I tried elsewhere), and the sauce (not enough sauce, btw)  lacked a bit of the bright acidity and high mineral content that  I came to expect from the better San Marzano tomato sauces I had. I am realitistic enough to avoid surreal expectations such as expecting a Neapolitan pizza to be as good in Montreal as it can be in Napoli, or even in a true world class foodie destination like NYC, but Bottega (the one of St Zotique) used to make a far better Neapolitan pizza (I wrote “used to” because on my last visit, last summer at Bottega, my pizza was a far cry  from the dazzling pizze   they have served me for many years). That said,  N° 900 pizzeria has a friendly service, a nice  ambience and the pizza is  pleasant enough for me to go back. Save your dreams of a stellar Neapolitan-style pizza for your next trip to Naples or  New York and just eat your pizza quickly (which you should do, anyways) to enjoy that pie while it is crispy and chewy.  N° 900 pizzeria, Addr: 540 Promenade Du Centropolis, Laval. Phone: (450) 973-0947 URL: https://no900.com/restaurants/centropolis-laval/

Restaurant Petit Seoul opened in December 2017 to wide acclaim from the local food critics and it quickly turned into a very popular restaurant. I did visit it on a Tuesday evening, an evening that was quiet even for its very popular neighbor Magpie Pizzeria, and yet Petit Seoul was full of patrons. There’s no doubt that the kitchen brigade can cook genuine South Korean food as evidenced by a successful haemulgeon (seafood pancake with spring onion, carrot, onion and sweet potato) , but they seem to want to please the local crowd a bit too much: the dolsot bibimbap was adapted to local palates, meaning that is was not as genuinely flavored as I came to expect from the finer  dolsot bibimbap I had elsewhere, even here in Montreal.  I was missing a bap (rice) that stands out (it was fine, especially for Montreal, but the bap needed to impress more — obviously — for a dish that relies heavily on rice. I was missing morsels of meat that can delight. The beefy flavor that I came to expect from my bibimbap‘s meat happened to be a wish, here, not a feature.  Korean chili paste flavor is one of the most fascinating flavors out there, the art of seasoning, marinating and pickling  are Korean’s specialities, and a superior bibimbap is THE opportunity to showcase the vast array of cooking techniques of the Koreans (there is a reason why the bibimbap is considered by many to be one of world’s  most popular dishes…), but all of that was toned down and you can thank our local diners for this: they want Korean food but the way they want it, not the way Koreans are supposed to do it. Petit Seoul is a business, therefore you can’t blame them to adapt to their clientele! Petit Seoul  Addr: 5245 Boulevard Saint-Laurent Montreal, Quebec H2T 1S4 Phone: (514) 379-4929 URL: https://www.facebook.com/restaurantpetitseoul/

Pamika Brasserie Thai – Pursued with another major local opening, Pamika, a  Thai-inspired restaurant that is already one of the most popular  restaurants  in Montreal. There, on a 1st visit, I ordered their beef salad made of grilled flank steak, their seafood Tom Kha soup (the broth made of coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal), as well as  their  red curry seafood  which is made of kaffir leaves, basil, coconut milk, red peppers, calamaris and shrimps). Every single dish was eventful, featuring vibrant colors, enticing textures, judicious seasoning and superbly well balanced  genuine Thai  flavors. At handling, and cooking  seafood, they seem to have an edge on plenty of ambitious local restaurants. The Gaeng Daeng (red curry) obviously made of  a high quality curry paste. On a second visit, I was less taken by the green curry/chicken/winter melon/Thai eggplant/coconut milk/basil , the Yellow curry/chicken thighs/potatoes/coconut milk as well as the Thai satay chicken skewers   but that was because of personal taste (sometimes, for Thai food,  I just prefer the old fashion rustic bold mom-and-pop Thai flavors + there are some Thai regional ways of making sauces that I prefer more than others and I tend to be partial to  charcoal grilled satay) and not for a lack of skills as they all  were competently executed and were tasty. A special of the day, on my second visit, consisted of a starter of marinated pork in lemon grass (picture above), the pork finished on a grill. That starter looked simple, but that is the sign of a great kitchen brigade: it makes everything it does look so simple. Not many kitchen brigades are capable to deliver such a perfected starter as most would either under or over season it, others would grill it too long or not enoughly long killing the  delicious  flavor of the meat  in the process, some would cook it well but serve it at the wrong moment which would reduce their work to a non happening. Behind that superlative starter  there was a great deal of technical mastery (timing of its cooking, timing of its serving,  superb work of its marinade —lemongrass is a tricky ingredient for marinades as you really need to know what you are doing with it or else it will make your food pass as punishment —  which is not given to all cooks, btw,  a precise balance of the flavors, again …not an  ability that all cooks happen to be gifted with). The signs of the skills of this kitchen continued to be on display in their flawless  condiments and sauces. Traditional Thai desserts may be perceived as basic to most western eyes and palates, but they remain enjoyable:  I tried the Khao neow ma muang (sticky rice with mango) as well as  the Thai tapioca pudding.  The mango of the Khao neow ma muang may not come from Thailand, but the kitchen picked a ripe mango of fine quality,  the sticky texture of the rice properly rendered, the warm coconut cream a benchmark of its kind.  Both desserts were  well executed, their respective   Thai flavor profiles in evidence. Here is an example of a talented kitchen brigade that is not hiding behind the fear of having to cook what its patrons  want it to cook. Instead, it is cooking what it is supposed to cook, pulling off  Thai flavors that are as genuine as they get in Montreal (which they manage to keep at the forefront even when they add their own  twists here and there).  It will always be delusional to expect Thai food to taste exactly the same as in Thailand , this far away from Thailand (obviously, to do so, you would need every single ingredient to come from Thailand and shipped to you in a blink of an eye after being  harvested, and not long after, it will inevitably cost an arm to eat there  and the restaurant will go bankrupt), and this is not your old fashion (heavy sauces, bold) type of Thai food (the genuine Thai flavors are there, though, which is what matters), but Pamika is an elite  ethnic restaurant  in Montreal  right now.  Seems like Montreal has an an all rounder, here  (service and overall dining experience are good, quality ingredients and cooking are on display). Pamika Brasserie Thai, Addr: 901 Sherbrooke East, Montreal, Phone: (514) 508-9444 URL: http://pamika.ca

 

Régine Café is one of the most-talked-about brunch spots of Montreal.  It did not take long for me to realize how popular this restaurant is, as lengthy queues began to form before opening time on the saturday I went there. I ordered their  “Champi” (poached eggs atop some bread and a piece of Mamirolle cheese, a side of sautéed mushrooms with sage).  The food is carefully plated, a feature that is enough for the nearby crowd of Le Plateau to fall in love with a breakfast / brunch restaurant …  but at least, Régine Café does a bit more than just the plating: the soft-boiled egg was precisely executed, the mushrooms timely sautéed, the seasoning well judged (nothing was over or underseasoned).  I also ordered their scotch egg, but  it  did not have the  tender sausage meat layer of the  best renditions I  tasted elsewhere. Furthermore, the crumb was short of the savoury depth I came to expect from the better scotch eggs. The food did not blow me away and, for my money, I prefer the brunch at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (downtown Montreal),  but Régine Café does what it takes to deserve its local popularity (a thoughtfully conceived menu, friendly service and overall great ambience). Régine Café Addr: 1840 Rue Beaubien Est, Montréal, QC Phone: (514) 903-0676 URL: http://www.reginecafe.ca

 

My next ‘immediate’ foodie project  – It is about time, for me, to take   my passion for food to another level. Cooking since my tender childhood and submitting my palate to all sorts of taste sensations  from all around the globe as well as trying to see what the girls and boys of the restaurant industry were  up to  (the sole reason I enjoyed visiting  restaurants) was useful, for sure. But now, I have seen what I had to and I am more than ready for the next steps: as mentioned earlier on, learning how to perfect the art of the Neapolitan Pizza, in Naples, is one of the next projects that is of interest. That can’t be done right away, though. Therefore, my next immediate foodie project is to focus on pushing taste sensations to dimensions that we are not used to, this side of our sphere. Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with the moringa (pictured above). It is ‘trendy’ , in the western world,  to introduce exotic ingredients in  our vocabulary, therefore the moringa is on everyone’s mind, but what matters to me is how complex, in terms of taste sensations, the moringa is. It is rare, in one single ingredient, to get to experience with a collection of clashing taste sensations like the ones delivered by the moringa. The moringa, on a culinary perspective, …it is a real ‘pain in the butt’, but as with everything that is not ‘easy to deal with’, it leads to interesting opportunities..

May 2018 be joyous, fruitful  for the epicurious in us and above all….DELICIOUS!

 

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

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

 

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

Here are the food items we did order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine service and selection is of prime mention, here.

For desserts, we had:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Ichimura (69 Leonard Str, New York, NY 10013, Phone: 212-404-4600, URL: https://www.sushiichimuranyc.com ) is situated in a quiet street of Tribeca. You push open a discrete black frame glass door (the mention ICHIMURA on it), and are greeted with a small waiting area bathed in immaculate white tones. Inside the sushiya,   blonde and  light cream tones as well as a  brown-quartz counter from Brazil dominates the serene room.

Tokyo trained Chef Eiji Ichimura is regarded in NYC as one of their best Sushi Masters. He spent 40 years perfecting his craft.  He was rewarded  with 2 Michelin  stars as well as  3 stars from the New York Times  (In the competitive market  of sushiyas in  NYC, that speaks volume) when he was working  at   Brushstroke, which he left last year to open his own sushiya in early 2017. As in the glorious days of the true artisan Chef, Chef Ichimura is alone behind his counter, crafting his sushi pieces.

Once in the room, you quickly realize that quality is a theme they do not take lightly: the fish is elegantly stored in boxes made of blonde wood. It should be like that at any top sushiya, indeed. But it is not always the case. The dazzling (see my account of that sea urchin, below) sea urchin came straight from a beautiful box with its seal of quality and freshness in evidence. That sea urchin was actually one of the very best Japanese sea urchin I ever had anywhere around the globe, including in Japan (second only to the sea urchin I had the last time I was at Sawada)

The 2 hrs surprise tasting menu (it is the sole menu option) started with:

Baby sea eel in a yuzu sauce- the sea eel had an agreeable texture that you generally obtain from baby sea eels that are either cooked live or shortly after they are dead. A baby sea eel of utter freshness. Mixed with a  yuzu sauce, this  was eventful. 10/10

Japanese egg plant/shiso leaf – The Japanese eggplants were timely cooked till tender and bathed in a delicious jus. 8/10

 

Firefly squid topped with an exquisite yuzu/miso condiment. Superlative ingredients and flavors that would not be out of place at a respectable 2 star Michelin in Tokyo, and this compliment also applies to the baby sea eel in Yuzu sauce. 10/10

Then, the gracious waitstaff (a well trained duo composed of a mild-mannered young man and energetic young woman whose hospitality standards would make any of the best restaurants of this globe very proud ) served a scallop/shitake mushroom chawanmushi (savory egg custard) – superb aromas coming from the superior fresh eggs (when people tell you that an egg is just an egg, just let them continue to talk and save your energy for the enjoyment of eggs of this quality, lol), the quality scallop adding to the great complex flavors on display 7/10

It was the turn of Chef Ichimura to serve us 3 sashimis: Squid, red snapper, bonito with fresh grated root wasabi. The bonito was aged, and partly seared. As with everything served all along this meal, every single ingredient was of top quality  by high end sushi standards in NYC. At times, some of the ingredients would compete with the very best in Tokyo (I will mention it whenever that happens) 8/10

According to the medias, Master Chef Ichimura likes enhancing flavors with his own ways of aging fish. Eventhough his sushis are crafted with respect to the traditional Edo style, they do not feel as “austere” on the palate as some other traditional sushis.

The waitstaff came back with:
Golden eye red snapper/Japanese daikon. The red snapper was timely poached, its broth serving as a reminder of why the way the Japanese make their broths has inspired many Chefs cooking other types of food. Lots of depth  in that broth. Chef Ichimura will appear, to his patrons, as the strong man at the counter, but he also has a skilled kitchen brigade, working in the background. There was  some boiled daikon radish, again, tasting exquisite , topped with a world class condiment made of yuzu and miso. 9/10

Then a “communion” between Master Chef Ichimura and his patrons, a “communion” that came in the form of a series of 14 nigiris, served one nigiri at a time to each of the diners.

To the contrary of sushi Azabu, which rice just “melts” with the fish on your palate (one effect I like), here at Ichimura, you will feel both the grains of rice ( their rice, at Ichimura, is seasoned with a combination of red and white vinegar that is not strong, so that it does not negate the flavor of the fish) and the fish, and yet, they are complementary (which, regardless of the debates over which technique is the best for the combination of sushi rice and fish .. is what you are looking for in a piece of sushi…the fish and the rice of your sushi need to complement each other). During my visit, here, at Ichimura, the preparation of the rice, its temperature, its effect in mouth varied. This was intentional, of course, and showcased how meticulous Chef Ichimura is about the interraction of his sushi rice with the fish. Personally, I like the two methods of the preparation of the sushi rice: serving great quality rice at a temperature and consistency the Master Chef deems optimal to pair with the majority of his fishes (which is, obviously, less time consuming and may appear as less complex as the other method….but that did not stop the sushi experts in Tokyo to consider Mizutani –now, closed — as one of their best sushiyas) or adjusting the texture/temperature of the rice to the fish (naturally, more spectacular…but as with everything aiming at the spectacular, one single “miss” may lead to disaster. When I was in Tokyo, I tried one sushiya of this sort, a highly regarded one, actually, but it was a big disappointment).

Each nigiri is brushed with a well judged quantity of sweet soy sauce, allowing for a nice complexity of enjoyable flavors. To the contrary of some other sushiyas where the flavor comes either from the rice or from the sauce that is used to brush the sushi, here, the flavors came from every single component of each sushi piece, with the very important observation that …they went harmoniously well together!

When the first batch of rice arrived, and the Chef started to serve his nigiris , two scenarios came to mind (I forgot to ask to ask the Chef or the staff) :
-Either the rice is warm and the Chef starts with fishes that are a better match to warmer rice. Then, he adapts his fish offerings to the changing temperatures of his rice.
OR
-his batch of rice has rice of different doneness and / or temperature.

Do not try to think that you are smart enough to second guess anything here! … as the TWO scenarios are POSSIBLE!

A black laquered plate made an appearance on the sushi counter.

The first nigiri to hit that plate was the striped jack – rice is a bit warm, and you feel the grains (the grains he uses are large ones) desintegrating ONLY once in mouth, which is an enjoyable feeling in this particular case. The warm rice lifted the flavor of the fish really well. The consistency of the rice is carefully engineered so that different levels of softness of the rice are on display depending on the fish topping. Whatever the consistency, the rice always sticks together (even world class Mizutani had one or two pieces which rice failed to stick together). The subsequent nigiris had rice which temperatures varied in their progression towards body temperature and the contrast between the rice temperatures and the fish was very enjoyable. Whiting, ocean trout, golden snapper.

-Horse mackerel – Gentle / sweet and sour enjoyable flavor, which is not aged for days, as it is served hours upon they receive it. 8/10

-Spanish mackerel, which, according to the NYT, is aged for 10 days by Chef Ichimura. Quality fish, indeed, but this was the only nigiri, on that particular evening, which rice temperature I did not find ideal for the fish (way too lukewarm) and that affected the enjoyment of that sushi (it was not a pleasant piece on the palate as the temperature of the rice was a distraction, not an enhancement to the topping ) 6/10

-Red tuna – perfect match to the warm rice 8/10

Other nigiris:

 

Gizzard shad – Curing process that is well mastered,  the  moment they chose to serve it was also well judged (once you cure the gizzard shad, you need  to know when to serve it).

 

scallop from Hokkaido – the rice that came with it was almost creamy, in an appetizing way. The proof that they also cook rice to varied doneness depending on the seafood it will be paired with. Another exemplary rice/seafood combination on all accounts (temperature/texture, profound understanding of the sushi rice/seafood synergy

 

botan ebi shrimp (perfect match to its warm rice)

 

a double-decked medium fatty tuna (slightly warm rice going well with the tuna) 8/10

 

Sea urchin nigiri from Hokkaido – rice, a bit warm, matching excitingly well the creamy sea urchin. The cliche goes like this ´sea urchin is sweet and luscious’, but oftently, that is not as evident as the cliche might suggest. Some top quality Japanese sea urchin I had, before, at high end sushiyas in Tokyo, were so tiny that you really had to force your mind into appreciating a fraction of whatever impression of sweetness and lusciousness people kept raving about. Not with this sea urchin I was having at Ichimura: here, evident lusciousness and dazzling natural sweetness were stealing the show at broad day light! This time, the grain did not dissolve in mouth (proof that Ichimura does not only work with doneness and temperatures of his rice…he takes the extra miles into ensuring how and when the grains should dissolve in your mouth…again, this seems to have been the case of many high end sushi Master Chefs …but on paper and in urban legends, only! rarely in reality. Ichimura makes it happen) and that was exactly what was required to match the creamy sea urchin. Fabulous customized design of that rice). 10/10

After that array of great  sushis, the “communion ” deserved a little pause during which the waitstaff reappeared, with this time the serving of the Miso soup – the miso soup had a base of roasted quality nori in it, which led to a taste that’s very earthy. Interesting is how I would describe it,  but  I am afraid I do not have the required palate to properly enjoy this miso soup.

The “communion” resumed, with the ultimate two nigiris: fatty tuna (Otoro) and sea eel (anago). The Chef ensured he had the last words, before retreating to the kitchen:

A piece of double-decked Otoro (fatty tuna belly). It will always be hard to compete with Tokyo’s finest pieces of Otoro, but this Otoro was a piece of joy in mouth and its quality was great 8/10

World class would be the term that a sushi expert would use to describe what they did at Ichimura with the rice of the sea eel (anago) nigiri: a high level technical demonstration of how the perfect consistency of the rice for the anago is that impossibly soft airy rice Ichimura has crafted on that evening, just for that piece of anago. If you have spent some time crafting an anago nigiri, you will realize that it is a real pain. It is is a pain, also, for a Sushi Chef. It takes skills, it is time consuming, and experience will matter. Ichimura’s was as skillfully composed as the one I had at Mizutani. Exact same quality, exact same texture (Master sushi Chefs do have different ways to work the texture of the anago, with both Mizutani and Ichimura offering it in a version that is almost as soft as cotton. At Daisan Harumi  and Sawada in Tokyo, the versions that were served to me were less softened, which I do equally appreciate) with the difference that Ichimura’s had a bit of the soft tiny bones in it (this is not a technical issue as one classic way to prepare the anago is to boil it till the tiny bones become soft. That is exactly what Chef Ichimura did achieve. But yes, indeed, some other Chefs try as hard as they can to make the tiny bones virtually absent, but both ways are legit). The tsume sauce as dazzling as the one I had at Mizutani. Ichimura impressed with one of the trickiest nigiris to craft. 10/10

 

The tamago was a summary of what was on display all along this meal: the technique? Flawless! The taste? Divine! As delicious as the benchmark tamago I had at Mizutani, though more sizeable. The ingredients? Eggs of superb fresh quality. 10/10

Chef Ichimura left the room, to prepare himself for the next seating (they have two seatings per night) : we knew this, because he went back and forth between his kitchen (behind a closed door) and his sushi counter, with, in his hands, the dinnerware he was going to use for the next seating.

The waitstaff appeared and served a dessert of mochi/macha ice cream/ shiratama (the white ball) – delicious flavors, superb chewy shiratama, lovely textures 9/10


The meal came to an end with a serving of Hojicha tea.

Pros: (1)An intimate sushi dining experience of great level, where a respectable experienced Sushi Master is alone, behind his counter, crafting some of the very best sushis of NYC (2)Master sushi Chef Ichimura takes very seriously the importance of associating the right texture and temperature of the rice to the right fish. It’s supposed to be like that, at top tier sushiyas, but even in Tokyo, many sushi Chefs serve their rice at the same temperature, because it is less time consuming…or, in some cases, because they just do not know how to do it properly.
Cons: N/A

Overall food rating (Categ: top tier  sushiya in NYC) 9/10. There was everything you would expect from a first-rate sushiya in a world class foodie city of the caliber of NYC: superior technique, great flavors, quality ingredients. Then, a bit more: plenty of thoughts were put in the rice preparation and that did add a lot to the enjoyment of the pieces of sushis.

Bottom line: Ichimura is, obviously, one of the great Sushi Masters of NYC, his Sushiya, a destination sushiya outside of Japan. NYC has a lot of great sushiyas and we all have our preferred ones. Azabu is currently my preferred sushiya in NYC .My love for Azabu aside, I was fair with Ichimura: it deserved a higher rating because it went to great lengths to make the work of the sushi rice technically complex . It deserved the nice words their cooking and craft gave me no other choice but to use profusely! Just ensure you understand Ichimura’s style: it is Edo style sushi enhanced by Chef Ichimura’s creativity. He bows before the altar of authenticity,  therefore there  is no butane blow torch, no salmon, no gimmicky interpretation of sushi, which is what  I prefer. UPDATE SUMMER  2017: CHEF ICHIMURA IS NOW WORKING AT UCHU‘S SUSHI BAR. 

Dons Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar (17 E 32nd St, New York, Phone: 212-683-2200, http://www.donsbogam.com) is considered a  top tier Korean bbq restaurant of New York city. Given the important community of Koreans in the city and the fierce competition between local Korean restaurants , it is easy to imagine the efforts that a top tier Korean bbq eatery is forced to  deploy: here, at Dons Bogam, the bulgogi is not prepared in advance in the kitchen. They cook it from scratch at your table. The quality of the cooking and the ingredients is also superior to what you will find at most Korean bbqs in NYC. Dons Bogam is a perfectly legit/genuine Korean bbq restaurant, except that it is a bit more upscale (prettier interior, better choices of wines, etc) that most of its  peers in New York.

For the barbecued meats, we chose the marinated jumbo shrimps (the marinade was not spicy, its intent was not to overwhelm the flavor of the shrimp but to  help the quality shrimp to speak for itself and that worked well), quality is also the main feature of the prime Jumulleok meat (marinated rib eye), which marinade paled a bit compared to how some other kbbq spots have marinated theirs in NYC (less flavorful, the sweetness standing as a distraction, not an enhancement, to the flavor of the beef, whereas sweet marinades of this sort went well with rib eye at other kbbq spots in nyc ), but the spicy short ribs (Maeun Galbi) managed to put a smile on the faces  of both my girlfriend and myself because it managed to be what it had to, meaning tasting delicious, meatily delicious ;). Rib eye can and should be ..meatily delicious, too, that is why, as long as they do not change its marinade, I will not order that marinated prime Jumulleok again.  Dons use charcoal (though, you will not smell charcoal and there will not be smokes of charcoal to espy — it is the way the  table top grilling’ venting system is designed ) for his barbecue meats, which is my preference.

The banchan (side dishes that come with your barbecued meat) comprised, on the evening I was there, of Potato salad/Pajeori (shredded green onion)/black beans/baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi)/Kongnamul (cold bean sprouts in sesame oil)/marinated salad/tiny myeolchi bokkeum (dried tiny anchovies with rice syrup and garlic) / pickled daikon  radish, all made in the house and not just properly – but  well executed. That is a difference I always insist on, because whenever you see me writing ´properly’ without any extra mention, think of ‘ safe reproduction of a recipe, but nothing more’, which is not the case here. In this case, you get the taste of what real Chefs with genuine skills can do. There was not one single miss in the Marinade, the pickling  and the fermenting. There was crunch where it needs to be, and seasoning that is always well balanced. The genuine flavors of South Korea  (the sole compromise is that it is a refinement on rustic korean banchan with the flavors not too bold/not too spicy, but that took nothing away from the traditional  South korean flavors ) were always in evidence. That said, and this is not nitpicking for  the sake of nitpicking, perhaps the addition of some Musaengchae (sweet and sour radish salad) would have been a good idea as I was missing another banchan or two that it is practical/ fun to wrap with the meat in the lettuce leaf that is served for that purpose. Yes, the shredded green onions, the pickled radish were there for that purpose, but another banchan of the like of the Musaengchae would have been even better, and more importantly, necessary. Still, this was an array of flawlessly executed nibbles well deserving of an  8/10 , with condiments and sauces that are examples of what you should be looking for (the ssamjang, to take an example, is of top flight execution).

To continue to test the skills of the kitchen (obviously, it is not the bbq meat that will reveal anything about the skills of the kitchen), we ordered the fried dumplings. If you have any doubt about a cook and want him to get a taste of what a skilled Chef is capable of, bring that dude here and have him taste this fried airy delicious dumpling. A first-rate fried dumpling with texture and taste that is hard to improve upon. 9/10

The test of the kitchen could have stopped with that superb fried dumpling, but I went ahead testing a South Korean staple that I know well and do enjoy a lot, the Kimchi bulgogi (kimchi/ground beef/steamed rice/vegetables/onions) served in a hot stone pot. Again, the flavors, the seasoning, the rice, the red pepper paste that served as the condiment to the dish,  the quality of the ingredients, the precise timing of the grilling process of the meat, all were of a high level of technical  preparation and execution ( as everything that was cooked all along this meal) and quality and it was genuinely as South Korean as it can be miles away from the motherland, only it was more refined than your usual mom and pop beef kimchi bulgogi rice dish. 8/10

Pros: Indeed, a classy Kbbq with TRUE skilled Chefs, who are cooking for real, and not just “safely replicating recipes to make a buck”. It sounds funny to put it that way, alas there are so many fake kitchen brigades out there that it will become increasingly important to explicitly segregate the fake from the real. Also: One rare kbbq spot that takes reservations, avoiding the usual long wait you will have to cope with at the other kbbqs in nyc.

Cons: (1)It is not a technical flaw, just a matter of taste, but the marinade of the Prime Jumulleok (prime rib eye) needs to better enhance the flavor of the meat. (2)Dons is not a bustling place in a way that some of the korean kbbq places in nyc are bustling, and that is not a criticism (I chose Dons for that characteristic), but an observation I had to make in orger to get to my next point: since the fun here will not come from the ‘bustling ambience’ found elsewhere, Dons should break the rule and get the fun to come from something else. One way, for them, to achieve this, is by making the replenish of the bachan a “surprise”, meaning not the same side dishes served over and over again (they will break the rules by doing so, but this will be more fun).

Overall Food rating: 8/10 (Category: Top tier Korean bbq in North America) – As expected from a Kbbq spot of this reputation, in a TRUE world class foodie destination of the caliber of NYC, the technique is well mastered. If you find any technical flaw here, you either have no clue of what to expect from Korean cooking or you are trying to imagine Korean food the way you want it to be.That said, there have been 1 or 2 Korean Bbq spots in North America that had marinated their rib eye in a way that I found a tad more eventful, and that also had a more interesting variety of banchans. And in case you wonder, well…No, that did not happen in Mtl (the best Kbbq place in Mtl would not even get a chance to open its doors in NYC).

Bottom line: Regardless of the fact that I slightly preferred one or two of its local competitors, I still highly recommend Dons Bogam. It is a bit pricier than most of its local peers, but you pay for higher grade meat, a classier restaurant. Dons did, obviously, not forget that people come to eat Korean food as what I was eating was South Korean (not an idea/a take on it), deliciously so, even without the bold mom-and-pop flavors (a reminder that it is not the intensity of the flavor that defines a cuisine).

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong (1 East 32nd street, New York, NY 10016, Phone: 212-966-9839) is the most popular kbbq spot in NYC, with long waits,  although at lunch time on a weekday, you can get in easily. The popularity of Baekjeong is such that, when celebrities need their fix of Kbbq, in town, they eat here. Baekjeong and Dons Bogam were the only Kbbq restaurants that I have not visited yet in NYC, therefore I went trying both of them. My review of Dons Bogam can be found here.

For the bbq, I chose two  meats: their marinated short rib as well as the seasoned prime short rib. The marinade is good, but the quality of the beef was passable during my lunch, there.  Let’s politely put it this way:  what they call prime quality beef, is not what other kbbq eateries in NYC would call prime. Both the marinated short rib and seasoned prime short ribs did nothing for me, because quality meat was missing in action here, which was unfortunate because the marinade was fine.

Banchans (side dishes that are served with your bbq meats) came in the form of:

-Pickled radish: pleasant, but no more. The pickling lacking depth. This was a world away from the superbly well mastered pickling technique that can be found, right here in NYC, at other Korean restaurants. 5/10

-Marinated cucumber. the marinating technique coming with the same issues that came with the pickling of the radish. 5/10

-Kimchi cabbage: again, and again ordinary / not fully complex in flavors. Kimchi can be eventful, but you would never know that, had this kimchi been your sole reference. 5/10

-A piece of tofu, which nice custardy softness I enjoyed. 6/10

There was also some shredded scallions, some raw egg batter that slowly cooks as your meat is grilling (this is always a fun idea at a kbbq), as well as their secret sauce (I am not a fan) to be mixed with your pieces of barbecued meats in the relevant wrapping lettuce.

Remembering the superb fried dumplings at the nearby Dons Bogam, I ordered some, here, for the sake of comparison: These were tasty, and I loved their non-refined appearance, but they were not in the league of the fried dumplings of  Dons. 6/10

Pros: the energy of the place (Fun, fun fun!)
Cons: Most of the food (at the exception of the fluffy steamed egg and pleasant tofu) was forgettable. C’mon folks, at a Kbbq, the meat and the banchan need to leave an impression, …… obviously!!

Overall food rating: 5/10 Culinary-wise, this got nowhere near the best Kbbqs I had in NYC…and the food at Baekjong was marginally cheaper, btw!

Bottom line: Surprisingly (given the showers of praises, online, and its popularity) , this meal at Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong did not live up to the hype. It is a very popular location, and many celebrities are big fans of it (they have several pics of celebrities in the restaurant), but that seems to be just an indication of how popular and fun the place is. It is fun, indeed, the waitstaff super friendly, but … I need the food to be part of the party, too.