Posts Tagged ‘1 star michelin’

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

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

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

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

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

On with my meal at Okuda NYC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Torishin, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 362 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019, United States
URL: http://torishinny.com/
Phone:  +1 212-757-0108
Type of cuisine: Japanese Yakitori (grilled chicken)

On the day of my visit, in May 2016, Torishin was “ages away” from what most online reviews seem to rave about: at the entrance, a middle aged man (perhaps in his late 40ish) in a suit was standing behind the bar completely ignoring both my wife and myself while we were seating at his bar for at least 30 minutes . You would think a yakuza (he looked Japanese) waiting for a secret code in order for him to acknowledge your presence. Then we moved to the dining area and sat at the bar counter only to be served by a waiter (medium built skinny chinese nervous-looking male) with an aggressive and confrontational demeanor coming straight from a ghetto. I mean, YES…the food is Ok, but the food is even better  anywhere else in New York anyways , the rest of the staff (especially the waitresses) offered a stellar service, but that was marred by two dudes who do not deserve to work at a Michelin restaurant. If I wanted to meet a yakuza and a little ‘bum’ from a triad, I would go somewhere else..NOT to a Michelin star restaurant. Offering extra food items that were not ordered by the client and telling the client that it is “on the house ” BUT making him pay for that ….that was   yet another act of the “ghetto” mentality that, somehow, found its way at Torishin on the evening of  our visit.  Add to that the puny portions at inflated cost, and what  I was left with was the perfect example of a 3rd rate dining experience. My wife who is extremely tolerant and patient and familiar with restaurants of all dining standards  could not resist from asking me ”are you sure this is a Michelin starred eatery??”’….

 

01Torishin is a    yakitori of   NYC with   a  michelin star. A  Michelin star  for a restaurant that basically grills  chicken … will unavoidably  lead to  unrealistic expectations, but michelin starred yakitoris are  not something unheard of  (in Japan, they do exist).

Overall rating for
food: 5/10
service: 5/10
dining experience: 3/10

I went dining with my wife and our meal consisted of the following menu items:

 

02 Chicken wings  (1st item from the left on the previous picture), looking like ribs at first glance, the flavor of the wings was enhanced by the fine  taste of the grilled fat and a tasty crispy skin.  Grilled corn was a ridiculously small piece of corn, which although of good  quality … had an inflated cost for the quantity served.

03Duck – I was spoiled with superlative duck in Asia (Hong kong, Vietnam, Japan).  Torishin’s duck paled  in comparison.  5/10

 

04 Chicken rib was  tender and  meaty as you would expect  from a finely cooked piece of chicken rib,  although, to be honest, most people would prefer a laidback street food stand doing decent skewers rather this sort of sophisticated place..no need of bells and whistles for such simple food…the only reason I went there is because I wanted this sort of food, on that specific evening, but NYC has no street food offering this sort of food..    6/10

BreastChicken breast in green shiso leaf is one item I loved when eating yakitori food on my last visit in Tokyo. Back then, I was trying shiso leaf for the first time and found it to complement chicken meat really well…though, perhaps, an acquired taste for  many  palates.  From where I come, it was common to pair  meat with leaves. We did not have shiso leaves but betel and other leaves, instead. And eventhough they taste different, shiso and /or betel do add a complex taste sensation to  meats that I am particularly fond of.  Shiso having quite a taste that is hard to describe (a bit astrigent  and reminding me vaguely of aniseed and basil), it is  better to try  it for yourself as any description of it will hardly do justice to its real taste. At Torishin, they add a bit of plum sauce on the leaves as to cut through the pungency of the shiso leaf.  Ok, but not on par with, say, its equivalent at a decent yakitori place in Tokyo 6/10

 

06 Chicken and duck meatball  is an item that I did not order, so when it was served to me, I thought they did a mistake. But no, it was not a mistake as … “it is on the house”… as/per my waiter — apparently a common  gesture of the chef as to please his guest,  but they did charge it …when the bill arrived….(one of the pet peeves of  an evening that had  nothing to do with the standards that one should  expect from a respectable  restaurant) –

05Egg plants, served with quality bonito flakes, were too mushy to be enjoyed as it should have been. You could argue that perhaps Japanese people prefer it that way, but you would fail by doing so. Japanese do love certain textures that we, in the west, are sometimes not accustomed to, but I know exactly what Japanese like and do set my mind  to like the exact same textures that  they do when I go to a Japanese restaurant. Not to worry: I am not one of those idiots who  go to a restaurant with zero idea of what should be expected but just their own idea of what things should be. To the contrary, I spend decades understanding and appreciating a cuisine, alongside those truely in the know (and not by watching youtube videos or listening to what a stupid self-proclaimed expert has to tell  me) before assessing the food in question. So here, an utterly mushy eggplant defeats the point of enjoying an eggplant. And any serious Japanese diner, regardless of his  love for textures that are sometimes different to textures that are appreciated  by westerners, would still have the same opinion  as what I have just submitted as he knows that limpy and flacid are not features that  he needs to expect from an eggplant … 0/10.

07Wagyu was tasty, as expected from any   piece of red meat that you could haved  grilled at home (and NO…it was not better than what you could have grilled at home) , and yet it came with an inflated price tag eventhough it was  not of the superbly  marbled A5 grade … 6/10

Other pieces that I did order and that were Ok: chicken tenderloin,  chicken thigh,  tofu as well as  pork belly.

Pros –   The fabulous service from the female squad was the “saving grace’ of a service that , at times, was of the standard of what one  can imagine could only  come from an eatery located in a  ghetto …

Cons – (1)  Service was  a mixed affair. the female squad offering world class service, the male squad generally professional but having two members that I could have done without: one man at the entrance, the only one wearing a suit on that evening, supposedly there to serve you drinks at the bar that is at the entrance while you are waiting for a seat. That guy in a suit  acted as if we were invisible…we were just 2 at that bar.  Not what you want at a michelin star restaurant. Then my main waiter (medium built skinny chinese nervous-looking male) ,  objectively unkempt,  cranky and deploying all possible efforts to get me to buy as much food as it can possibly be. I mean, I  know a restaurant is a business, therefore you need to sell and sell …but there are tons of waiters that are capable of better than being ..annoying (I have just ordered 12 items already….including the luxurious wagyu….some great sake and beer…so how much is enough sir?).  That waiter’s  idiotic behaviour reached its pinnacle when I left a tip that was actually twice the amount that it was supposed to be … he had, of course,  to recount each single of the bills  in front of his customer.  (2)the surreal stone age tactic of offering me a food item that is supposedly on the house…but that you’ll still charge me for (the meat balls).

Bottom line: Torishin is not   “special” enough  to justify   passing  past any shortcoming. The Michelin star of torishin is not justified at all :  In Japan, what torishin  is offering would pass as   standard yakitori food at  any Okay yakitori. The michelin starred yakitoris of Japan are far superior to this. Sadly, torishin thinks that it is a true Michelin star, therefore  it is more than happy to cash in on its   ordinary grilled food ( you will pay through the nose for what is essentially  some  meat and veggies that are grilled). It will be hard to explain to a  Michelin starred restaurant cooking elaborate recipes (sauces, complex dishes, etc), delivering a flawless service as well as a superb dining  experience that it is competing with an eatery that is basically just grilling meats and veggies with the flaws that I have encountered here.

 

 

 

 

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Event: Dinner at Peter Luger
Addr: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211-6131
Phone: (718) 387-7400
Type of cuisine: American Steakhouse
Time/Date: Saturday Febr 23rd 2014, 18:00
URL: http://www.peterluger.com
Michelin star: 1

 

You know you are at the top of your game when you make your competitors nervous, the faith of PL: some of the so-called food journalists are just waiting for an occasion to put it down ( and we all know how easy it is for some of the so-called food journalists to do that as some of them are essentially just “hipsters wannabes” and PL being a classic restaurant, you can imagine the rest …), since PL does not “pay them to play”. Then there are the clueless peeps who never went there but who are paid to bash PL as just a destination for tourists, only to reveal their crooked agenda as any serious North American steak connoisseur (I am talking about a serious one, not one of the numerous online so-called connoisseurs who are basically just promoters in disguise of their friends of the industry who are paying them to play) do know that the tourists flocking there are actually well travelled and knowledgeable foodies who are true connoisseurs of steaks and who do actually have the means to really taste PL’s steaks and accurately assess it. Seems that all that garbage is not enough to mute the hordes of fans of PL: the place is always packed to the brim … with people who truely know what a great steak is and can afford backing their claims! PL’s Porter House is a benchmark North American steak. Any serious connoisseur of North American steaks knows that. I do, too. And the  popularity of PL does testify (who, in his right mind, will swallow the “garbage” that PL is good only for tourists, unless, of course, if it is to serve an agenda) to that.

***Sorry, no pics – Just wanted to eat quietly with no hassle / distraction of photo nor note taking. After all, it’s a steakhouse, so the 1000th picture of their steaks or 3000th picture of their side of spinach won’t make those items look nor taste any better ;p

 

NY is not far from Montreal, so I recently spent a weekend in  NY to  see if  Peter Luger is still doing great especially after reports from some food journalists about PL losing a bit of its past glory (my 4th visit here in 6 yrs).

Picked:
-The Porterhouse steak: The succulent beef flavor that shone through is a reminder that Peter Luger has mastered, for so long, the art of delivering the perfect North American porterhouse steak: this is one of the few great American steakhouses which dry aging technique of the meat is rarely paralleled. But there’s much more, of course: the right grade and the right cooking degree for the right cut. It’s a breeze to appreciate that they are genuinely obsessive about where that beef grew up, how well did it live, what was it fed with, how great and knowledgeable was the butcher behind that cut, how properly aged and hanged was the cut, etc. One of the few benchmark aged USDA prime Porterhouse (some complain about the sauce that’s underneath the steak…well, this adds to the character of that Porterhouse. If you can’t take it, simply ask them to serve it aside). 9/10
-Their legendary creamed spinach: deliciously rich as usual, though hardly something that anyone behind a kitchen should miss. Still, they do it well, it tastes good and it’s a perfect logical match to that Porterhouse steak 7/10
-Their old fashioned sauce: not too sure how that fares with their patrons, but their old fashioned sauce is not to my taste (I do not find that it pairs well with meat). Of course, a question of personal preference (anyways, the only time I am fine with sauce over my steak is when I eat it French-style as with steak au poivre) , especially since the sauce that’s underneath that Porterhouse largely suffices for me. I won’t score that sauce since this boils down to a matter of personal taste only (I am just not used to pair my steak with the flavor profile of this kind of sauce – a mix of sweet and savoury flavors which, for my palate, had following dominating aromas: horseradish/ tamarind/vinegar/molasse. There are, of course, more ingredients to the recipe, but those were the ones that my palate has primarily detected). I did replicate that sauce at home and after several tries, it now tastes almost like theirs, so that my palate gets used to it.  Yep, that is how food works lol: you do not like it, do not  ive up on it, just accompany your palate in gradually appreciating it and there will be more power to you ;p
-The fabled side of beacon, which I finally got to try this time (kept skipping that one on the past 2 visits): Decent thick slabs of porky meatyness, but beacon abound in North America, its preparation varying widely in quality and depth of deliciousness from one place to another, so it is hard for me to get excited over  their beacon. Certainly not bad, but there are definitely better beacon to be enjoyed across North America 6/10
-The dessert list here features typical classic American steakhouse dessert items (Ice cream, pecan pie, cheese cake, etc). This time, I tried  their Cheese cake (7/10) which was as classically well executed as it gets (as expected, New York style cheesecake that was and as I wrote, in its classic version), the schlag that I also tried being just Ok.

PL is what it is, not what you want it to be, which is exactly how things should work: it has its charms (the classic setting), its relative weaknesses (obviously, not a modern trendy fancy steakhouse so  if that’s what you are looking for, you’ve knocked at the wrong door + it’s not cheap) , its own character (old world charm). You learn to know what they are, if that pleases you, you go, if that does not fit, then you look elsewhere. I am delighted  to observe that  PL  remains as it is, which means at it has always been, regardless of the pressure that new trends put on our perceptions/appreciations: a classic house with personality.

I have read online arguments about PL being a tourist trap to some (100% pure BS! IMHO) , that they have suffered at some point from a shortage of Porterhouse, that they once had a matriarch who was second to none when it comes to selecting the finest meat and that perhaps her successors are not as diligent as she used to, but I have also spent 15 years in North America, enough time to familiarize myself  with most major NYC’s and USA’s steakhouses and came to the conclusion that if PL is a tourist trap, then the definition of tourist trap has evolved into a compliment. There’s no way a serious steak connoisseur  would confuse PL with a tourist trap. Has PL delivered the perfect Porterhouse steak on each of my 4 visits (I took the Porterhouse everytime I went there)? The answer is NO.

On one particular visit, I could easily name  plenty of American steakhouses which Porterhouse was superior. But it’s naïve to attempt to convince oneself  about the definitive appreciation  to have of a  restaurant based on just one meal. You can judge the meal, which I do too and that is  fine, but not a restaurant. Which leads me to where I am getting at: on the two other visits, their Porterhouse outshone their major competitors by leaps with effective superior aging technique and far better sourcing of the meat. Are there steakhouses in NYC where I had more fun? Of course Yes. Are there better cost performance steakhouses?  Absolutely.  But again, ambience and better value have nothing to do with why I like Peter Luger: the quality of its Porterhouse!   I was impressed to see that PL continues to deliver some of this globe’s finest American Porterhouse steaks. The Porterhouse steak, their star item, remaining as glorious as ever.

Portehouse steak  (9/10), Appetizers (6/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (7/10 )

Recommended: This  great article on America’s current finest steakhouses