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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.

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 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.

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

 

 

 

License IV (Addr: 1524 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, Phone 514-938-8084, http://licence4.ca) offers classic French cuisine. The restaurant has just opened a few days ago, and it is a foodie friend who notified me about its opening as no serious restaurant-related online source has mentioned it. Given the ever growing French community in Quebec, I am surprised there are not that many restaurants cooking classic French fares. Perhaps the newer generations of the French are not into raclettes and crepes suzettes? Montreal will find that out, soon, as License IV brings such beautiful memories back.

It’s actually because I kept complaining that there are not many places making crepes suzette in the beautiful old fashion way, and not many places doing great tartiflettes in Montreal, that my foodie friend has suggested that I try License IV. “You won’t believe me…there is that new place cooking French food and that has crepe suzette and tartiflette on its menu“… he submitted.

License IV does not joke about its French identity:  It has a brasserie feel  (cute french brasserie looks, btw, with dark wood and green tones), songs like ´enfants de tout pays‘ and ´mon manege a moi” , do proudly play through their quality speakers.  The wait staff is from France. A true feeling of being agreeably transported to l’hexagone, which is to  my liking.

Moules marinières, celeri, beurre, vin blanc, onion, roquette, tomate $13 – it was easy to see that the Chef was properly trained in classic french cuisine as the flavor profile was genuine. There are different recipes for moules marinieres, and theirs was tasty as it’s supposed to be when using flavor-enhancing ingredients such as onion, celeriac, tomatoes and butter, and yet that (the tastynes of moules marinieres) is not always a given as the Chef still needs to have a good palate (which was the case, here).  Well done! 7/10

Escapade d’escargot poeles , sauce tomate, poivron, estragon, oignons, pastis $11 – land snail cooked in tomatoes. Again, genuine classic French flavors. The only limitation I could see …having nothing to do with the kitchen: the same ingredients, in some parts of France, are better. Still, no complaint at all. This is one proper French-based recipe of a dish of cooked snail in the context of a city like Montreal. 7/10

Bouillabaise , homard, saumon, morue, crevettes, moules, fond tomate, pomme de terre vapeur, pastis, croutons, rouille $28 – If you had your share of bouillabaise in the right places in France, you surely have your preferred ones. Many recipes have their own twists. No matter the twist, my preferred bouillabaise had their bold maritime flavor at the forefront. This did not, though make no mistake, the seafood was of good quality and had flavor (their flavors  did not take break as it was the case of these recent oysters at Docks Oyster House). I also would have preferred a bit more of the saffron. The piece of additional lemon confit was not a bad idea. All in all, a bouillabaise that was not bad, but it was a bit less eventful, for my taste, when compared to the best bouillabaises I had.

Wrapped up my meal with the crepe suzette. This is a bistrot, not a restaurant offering French haute cuisine, so no tableside presentation of your crepes suzette, as, say, at Taillevent (Paris) – which, is traditionally my preference. Regardless, I know what to expect from my crepe suzette. This was a properly executed (both the crepe and its grand marnier/orange sauce done properly). 7/10

All in all: 7/10 (Category: French bistrot in Montreal) – Condiments are well done, here. Classic French flavors are properly expressed, ingredients are as great as they can be at a restaurant in Montreal. Lifting up the maritime flavor of that bouillabaise would be, realistically, what they could have improved during this meal. Everything else was fine. I doubt the bread is baked in house (I did not ask them), mais putain qu’il était bon, ce pain baguette!   Service is perfect. This is a good addition to the Montreal restaurant scene. I will go back and see if they have the tartiflette  (it was not available the day of my visit). I hope they beat the best tartiflette I ever had in Quebec (One that Chef Anne  Desjardins had, once, cooked when her restaurant, L’eau à la bouche was still open in Sainte-Adèle).

Docks Oyster House (2401 Atlantic Ave, Atlantic city, Phone 609-345-0092 Url: http://www.docksoysterhouse.com) is an institution in Atlantic city, having fed its share of mouths for more than a century (since 1897).It is their destination seafood restaurant, in Atlantic city, with Zagat considering it as an iconic Jersey shore eat, the thrillist calling it ´quintessential’. Great then, as I happen to be a longtime seafood fan, and perhaps a bit more than just your average seafood fan as growing up in a fishermen village was not just an opportunity to appreciate the scenery of the village, in my case.

On to the food:

Lettuce/grapefruit/apple salad – the ingredients were fine, on their own, but the apples and grapefruit did not manage to lift that salad to another level (which is possible as done elsewhere, with the exact same ingredients). Complete absence of cohesion between its  ingredients. This  had the effect of 3 ordinary salads in one.  5/10

I wanted to test a bit the technique of the kitchen brigade, therefore I ordered the pommes souffles. The pommes souffles had no crisp (tired-looking elasticky texture), the potato flavor muted. 3/10

Desperately looking for a way to improve the enjoyment of my food, I took matters into my own hands and I decided to “stop asking what the kitchen can do for me” and to … “ask myself what I could do for the kitchen“. I found the safest solution one can think of, at a seafood restaurant: oysters! The kitchen will just have to shuck them. I therefore ordered, not just one type but a variety of oysters, to …multiply the pleasure … of what can’t fail to be a joy in mouth. A platter of bivalve molluscs made a spectacular appearance at my table: cape may salts (Cape May, New Jersey), malpeque (prince edward island), rappahannock (Virginia), blue points (Long island), chesapeake bay (Maryland), Long island medium (Norwalk, connecticut). The mignonette sauce as well as the ketchup/horse radish/lemon/tabasco sauce were properly done. I particularly liked the latter. However, I tasted every single oyster without any sauce and I was surprised that none of them had any flavor. Yep, you read this well: zero flavor! I do not know for you, but on my side of the wall, oysters do have a flavor. They can be farm-raised, they can come from the sea, some have less flavor than others, but they do have a flavor! What I was having, despite the variety of oysters that I ordered, were uniformly flavorless oysters. I mean, I know my palate perceives the seafood of the Atlantic ocean as less flavorful than their cousins of the Indian Ocean and the mediterranean sea, but the bivalve molluscs of the Atlantic ocean are still flavorful as they have been right here, in Atlantic city, at (at least) two other seafood eateries I ate at on that same week I dined at DOH. Therefore, it is not as if the nearby Atlantic ocean had just lost its maritime flavor or that the oysters served in Atlantic city happened to be on strike, their union deciding they would be devoid of any flavor on that particular week. 0/10

I came here for their lobster. They are known for their sizeable lobsters. Their lobsters come from the Maine, and have not seen any sign of hunger and drought. The babies are big, they look healthy, and if eating a 2lbs lobster is the norm your side of the wall, well here, those babies can triple that weight, as lobsters of 5, 6 or even 7lbs are waiting for you. They steamed mine correctly, as expected from any eatery offering seafood. But the lobster dipping sauce was like the … oysters: flavorless. Who knew that a sauce that’s supposed to be made of butter and garlic and lemon juice…all ingredients used to enhance flavor… would taste of  the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to taste? That is purely and simply hard to forgive. ​Ok, Houston, we have  a problem here! There is a reason that sauce is served with lobster, and that reason is to accentuate the flavor of the lobster. This  seemed  not  “obvious” enough to someone in the kitchen at DOH on that specific evening …

I initially had planned to order a dessert, but in light of what kept coming from the kitchen, I figured that was not a good idea.

Pros: They have the standard of hospitality I never fail to be partial to. They have the cachet of an elegant French brasserie (the main floor), which I am fond of. The dining room, upstairs, is pretty in its elegant simplicity. Even their restrooms, upstairs, caught my attention. DOH has all it takes to make me fall in love with a restaurant, except …

Cons: … the food I was having on that visit.

Overall food rating: 5/10

Bottom line: A bad night, for the food? Well, I hope. Seafood is pricey though, so I will let those who are paid to dine at restaurants and those whose meals are paid by others…to find out if the oysters and the lobster’s butter/garlic/lemon dipping sauce have reconnected with the flavors we came to expect from them, virtually everywhere in Atlantic city and around the world. I pay my meals with my hard earned money, therefore I’ll look forward to better seafood, elsewhere, next time I will drop by Jersey shore.

While visiting Atlantic city, I ate at another one of their most popular eateries (the other popular local restaurant that I tried is Docks oyster House, which was reviewed here), southern soul cooking  restaurant Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe (201 Melrose str, Atlantic city, Phone: +1 609-350-6800, Facebook link) –

Southern fried chicken (wings and breast were my choice) – Cooked fresh to order (this is what they wrote on the menu and it was not a tease as that is exactly what they did in reality), the chicken was delicious and moist and seasoned exquisitely, the genuine flavor profile of african american southern soul food in evidence. This came with a choice of two sides (I chose the collard greens as well as the  macaroni and cheese)  7/10

Collard greens (the leaves timely cooked, meaning not overcooked), tasting  great (superb classic southern seasoning) 8/10

Corn bread was pretty to espy and its execution as great as its looks, its taste deserving of the same compliments as its looks and execution (superb fresh corn flavor) 9/10.

Macaroni and cheese had a flavorful comforting homey taste to it, one forkful calling for the next. 7/10

Crab cake had decent  crab flavor, the quantity of crab meat was generous. The crab cake was served with a freshly made cole slaw as well as good french fries 7/10

All in all:  I am partial to artisan Chef cooking (a Chef cooking for real, instead of one who thinks he has enough awards to supervise an army), which is the type of cooking that is happening here at Kelsey & Kim’s. But then, it has to be done skillfully. That, too, is a reality, under their roof. This is one fine southern soul cooking, worthy of your time and hard earned money, to be enjoyed between New York and New Jersey. I will happily go back. No reservation for lunch, just walk-ins. Just remember that it is a bit far from the busiest part of the boardwalk (far from where the hotels Ceasars and Bally’s are situated), so you will need a car (taxis and uber are available in AC) to get there if you are staying near the above mentioned hotels.

Junior’s (386 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY;  Phone: 718-852-5257;  http://www.juniorscheesecake.com) is a popular restaurant of Brooklyn, widely known in NY for its cheesecakes.

I ordered:

Combo reuben – corned beef and pastrami, grilled sauerkraut, swiss on rye. – an insignificant part of the pastrami was a bit drier than what I am accustomed to with my reuben sandwich at other North American delis, but that was long forgotten and forgiven once I started eating it as its deliciousness and flawless execution were firm indications this was a serious reuben sandwich, truely packing a punch. Montreal and NYC have the best delis in the world and a reuben sandwich of this quality would not be out of place at a top tier deli in both cities. 8/10

Potato salad – rustic style typical to north american delis, no flaws, just good homey flavors. 7/10

Some sides came with my order: a coleslaw (not the regular one, but one with vinegar – nice fresh crunchy vegetables, all delicious) 7/10, housemade pickles that were timely brined and expressing remarkable freshness (a world away from its tired looking examples that can be found at some inferior delis) 9/10, a first- rate corn bread 9/10, as well as some tasty marinated beets 7/10. Simple, simple stuff that are exquisite here, but that many restaurants do not seem to be capable of.

Then, I ordered the world’s “most fabulous ” cheesecake (their words, not mine), which is the cheesecake that virtually everyone is raving about in nyc. This is made with philadelphia cream cheese, its bottom made of sponge cake (instead of a crust of graham cracker) and was a fine version of a North American cheesecake, but its cheesecake flavor paled a bit in comparison to the richer taste of Montreal-style’s best cheesecakes. Furthermore, its rustic appearance does not sit well with me: I love rusticity, but a cheesecake (especially, a strawberry cheesecake) needs to be easy on the eyes. In NYC, eventhough it’s not the same style of cheesecake as at Junior’s, the one from Ferrara bakery (195 Grand Street ) is the one that’s really knocking my socks off, for now. Still, Junior’s is artisanally made (they make a limited quantity, using artisanal techniques), it is a good cheesecake (just not as great as Montreal’s best) and you have got to sample it at least once if you happen to be in NYC. 7/ 10

All in all: Junior’s is oftently ignored in  most  listings of the great delicatessens of NY, but that is just because it has an extensive menu that  categorizes it as a diner, not a delicatessen. There are also little “technicalities” that keep Junior’s out of such listings. In the competitive delicatessen market of NY, whether the J is or is not the greatest samurai of the empire, it does not matter. At the end of the day, what we need to know is this: the delis at Junior’s are good. Really good. And that is coming from a Montrealer (Montreal is one North American city with world class delis, obviously)..

Bottom line: Junior’s can brag about anything they want (the word s “famous” and “fabulous” appear a lot on their menu), except for the cheesecake (sorry J, our finest cheesecakes in Montreal will beat yours, anyday!!) , I am down with them!

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.

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).