Posts Tagged ‘new york’

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.

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 ….

 

 

 

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.

Sushi Azabu, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013, USA
URL: http://www.sushi-azabu.com/
Phone: +1 212-274-0428
Type of cuisine: Japanese (mainly a sushiya serving traditional Edo-Mae sushi)

In a city with many  great Japanese sushi Chefs, there is a sushiya for all kind of diners (the one who likes luxury, the one who does not, etc). My ideal sushiya has a great sushi Master at the helm, of course, and a decor that is intimate. A service that is great. A genuine feel of  Japan.  In New York, as far as top sushiya goes, Sushi Azabu is that ‘ONE’ for me. 

01 In NYC, you have Masa, which according to their local sushi experts,  is on top of the roof of their top tier sushiyas. Then, you have their other elite sushiyas , such as Nakazawa,  Yasuda, Azabu, 15 East. I tried Yasuda (I was missing the superb knife skills as well as the superior  work of the textures that I better enjoyed at other sushiyas in Nyc) and 15 East (I find Azabu better, in comparison, but 15 East had couple of noteworthy food items)  in 2015. Never tried Nakazawa, Masa and Jewel Bako. It is NYC, so keep in mind  that the price tag (therefore the cost performance, especially in comparison to what you can get in Japan at equal cost) will oftently be the issue.

I tried Azabu on Saturday Febr 4th 2017.
I picked the larger omakase and they fed my girlfriend on shrimp tempura and wagyu beef steak
The 1st course comprising of a piece of amberjack and salmon:
02Marinated Amberjack was seasoned exquisitely. As expected, from a kitchen of this quality, the marinating technique is flawless, its timing well judged. It came with a delicious piece of mushroom. (9/10)
03Smoked salmon boasted vibrant texture, the quality fish expressing plenty of complex joyous flavors 9/10
05Then an array of seafood items composed of octopus  (8/10 superb chew and texture), A first-rate piece of perfectly tenderized  abalone  which kept its maritime flavor at the forefront (9/10), amberjack and fluke and shrimp of impeccable quality. The wasabi is freshly grated wasabi root imported from Japan. This was a first-rate collection of sushis, even by the standard of a mid level sushiya in Tokyo.
06My current girlfriend  ordered some shrimp tempura which she had nothing to complain about.  I can see how extraordinarily lighter such  batter could be in the hands of a specialist of the tempura, but Azabu is a sushiya, not a specialist of the tempura, and the batter was still very well executed, the tempura light and tasting delicious,  (8/10).

07She also had her wagyu  beef steak, which was fine but both her and myself do regard wagyu as a (generally) vastly overrated meat. The finest Wagyu I had in Japan have  not changed my opinion about that, as already debated here.

08My tasting menu continued with some utterly fresh uni from Hokkaido  –the firmer bafun uni on the left, the creamier murasaki on the right — as tiny as I remember them from the last time I had them in Japan. As explained elsewhere on this blog, I prefer some of the sea urchin from the mediterranea and California. But Hokkaido’s uni are among world’s best, for sure, with, this time, the murasaki standing out for its sweeter flavor. Sometimes, it is the bafun uni that can be the sweetest of the two 8/10
09Then a tasting of  lean, medium fatty and  torched fatty tuna. The quality, high, as expected. This, too, would not be out of place at a serious mid level sushiya in Tokyo. 8/10
10King crab miso – the flavor and aroma of this particular miso preparation lifting up the flavor of the grilled crab remarkably well. Eventful 8/10
11Then the “Chef’s choice of nigiris” featuring flawless sea urchin/tuna/scallop/salmon/salmon roe/squid/wagyu beef. The fish sliced with precision (even world class Sawada was caught with one or two pieces that were imprecisely sliced ..and that happened at other highly regarded sushiyas of NYC, too), the rice served at body temperature (my preference), the proper pressure applied to the relevant rice/topping combination, the rice not overseasoned, i.e., not too vinegary.  The sushi rice, which subtle  sweet and umami flavor notes went so well with the toppings,  is  from Tsuyahime from Yamagata prefecture. Again, even for a mid level sushiya  in Tokyo, this would be excellent. 9/10
12As part of the previous Chef’s selection of  nigiris, there was also a piece of tamago that I did regard as a benchmark of its kind. I liked it so much that I ordered 3 of them. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, even some of the  best mid level sushiyas of Tokyo did not always deliver tamago that have impressed me, although the tamago will always be a matter of personal taste given the different types of tamago you will find at sushiyas. Either the umami flavor is  more present, or it is balanced with the sweet taste of the tamago,  or its focus is on the eggy flavor, etc.  I am fonder of the sweet kind of tamago. Azabu’s tamago is of the sweet kind, executed with great finesse, the fresh eggy aroma exciting on the palate, sweet like the one I had at sushi mizutani, as technically well crafted, but bigger in size and which I much preferred  (eventhough Mizutani’s featured a more complex set of nuanced flavors and  eggs of surreal quality) 10/10
13A miso that is a first-rate version of its kind, the taste enriched by the subtle nuances of the remarkable kind of miso they are using. (10/10)
14We ended the meal with some flawlessly textured home made green tea ice cream (for me) and an equally excellent Mochi and Vanilla / chocolate ice cream for her (9/10). I ordered the Mochi for my girlfriend to introduce her to the importance of textures in food for the Japanese.  There was a strawberry that came with her dessert, but I forgot to ask if it also came from Japan. The last time I was in Japan, I did try some of their most celebrated (consequently expensive) strawberries and left unimpressed. They tasted as good as any strawberry anywhere else on planet earth (which is exactly how this one at Azabu tasted like, too).
Pros: Azabu deserves to be considered among NYC’s top tier sushiyas. It is also a proper 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan. Its does not have the tsukiji market in its vincinity but they import their fish from Japan. The knife as well as overall cooking skills  is strong for this  category of  sushiya (comparable to a respectable mid level sushiya if this would be in  Tokyo), the tiny space so cozy, the service genuinely hospitable.
Cons: N/A
15 Overall food rating (categ: top tier sushiya in NYC) 8/10 – Top shelf sushiya in its category.  Just remember that there are two seatings per night (we had our table available till  08:30 pm, therefore i presume that the first seating  is from 05:30pm till 08:30 pm) and that its sushis are of the classic sort  (no experimental sushi here).
What do I think days later: One of the foodie friends who has recommended Azabu told me to expect excellent sushi but not unparralleled one. Azabu was exxellent, indeed,  as they fed me, up to now, with some of the best sushis that I ever had in NYC. As ever, restaurants do sometimes change some items on their menus, as I noticed, in old online reviews, that they once had a tamago similar to a creme brulee at Azabu. I doubt that such tamago would have the same impact as this tamago that deserved my praises, but I can only talk about the food they served me, of which I admired the precise slicing of the fish and assured technique in virtually everything (marinating, smoking, coaxing delicious flavors, etc). Based on what I came to expect from a 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan, Azabu did impress by not sticking to a safe/correct performance as it is so common at the big majority of eateries in North America. This was clearly the work of skilled Chefs with their personal imprint rather than some dudes replicating whatever someone else has asked them to simply replicate properly. Sushi Azabu also knows how to make the experience of a diner enjoyable, as, to take an example, there is no need for all parties of the same table to partake in a tasting menu. I can have my tasting menu while my girlfriend enjoys whatever she wants to eat. And here, there was not one single rotten apple that happened to find his way in the service with the sole intent of ruining your appreciation of the dining experience and the superb work of the rest of his team  as it was the  case during my last visit at another 1 star Michelin, Torishin. Was my foodie friend right when he mentioned that Azabu was not unparralled? If you find a 1 star Michelin that is unparralled, then it is a 3 star Michelin. Lol.  Unparralled is what you should expect at a 3 star Michelin, not 1, and yet a fraction of the 3 stars are unparralled. I loved sushi Azabu.

sh01Strip House Steakhouse is considered as one of the very best steakhouses of New York by the big majority of the city’s  most serious  steakhouse connoisseurs, some of them even  considering the steaks more flavorful at Strip House than at the legendary Peter Luger. It would be a nonsense to eat an average piece of steak in the Mecca of North American style steakhouses, New York, so I did a lot of searches and Strip House ended up ranking high on my list of steakhouses to try in New York.

West coast met East coast in a platter of perfectly well shucked quality oysters, with a dazzling mignonette, and an equally dazzling home made sauce, some tabasco. Oysters have to be great at a steak house of this reputation and they were. Where I needed them to excel was in their homemade sauce and mignonette. They did. 7/10

Lobster bisque , maine lobster, pearl couscous tasted enticingly of fresh lobster flavor, which it has to, indeed. It paled a bit, though, in comparison to the finer lobster bisque that could come from a fine French restaurant (its way-too-thick texture just not as refined, the flavor just not as complex) but that was to be expected at a steak house. 6/10

sh05Filet mignon was the pick of my girlfriend. She thought that the  char was not necessary for a filet mignon (well…honey, it is a North American steakhouse, lol!! Not a French restaurant …) but thought that it tasted fine enough. 6/10

 

sh02 The strip  is their signature steak , but I went for my preferred cut , the bone-in rib eye. The USDA prime meat is wet-aged for at least 21 days.  I usually prefer the effect of a 35 to 40 days dry-aged cut, which was not the case of this steak I was having.  They use a 1800 degree broiler to cook the steak and coat it with olive oil and pepper and that allowed for a nice tasty brown crust. I chose the 20 oz bone-in rib eye . Not much to say about my steak, as a steak house of this quality will usually get the requested doneness right (medium rare to my request), the meat certainly well sourced. Which is exactly what happened here. But the 20  oz bone in rib eye is wet aged, and for someone like me who has long embraced the hype of the dry aged meat, this wet aged piece left no impression (just not enough umami sensation on the palate, just not as meaty and flavorful, I find). Great char, nice  salt and pepper rub, though. Still…game, set and match: dry aged meat wins, for my taste. 6/10

sh03Crisp goose fat potatoes came in the form of a big croquette (6/10), quality asparagus retained a superb crunch (good, but somehow Wolfgang does a tastier rendition)

 

sh04Creamed spinach was fine, but I found the one at Peter Luger a tad more exciting in mouth. Still, this was tasty and had an enticing cheesy-alike taste that I kinda liked. 6/10

Ice cream and sorbet were good,  coffee (Rwanda single origin) was watery and not as flavorful as its enticing description (Silky body, lemon acidity, notes of pineapple and dark chocolate)  may suggest.

Pros: A classy steakhouse, with superb service and its own cachet
Cons: No serious quibble to raise, but as a diner you need to know that they have wet aged as well as dry aged cuts. If, like me, your ideal North American style steak is a 40 days expertly dry aged bone in 2″ inch thick 20 oz cut, then their 20 oz bone in rib eye is not what you are looking for. But they have other steaks that are dry aged such as the 14oz rib eye, 14oz new york strip, porterhouse for two.

Bottom line: a service and an overall dining experience that far surpassed what I have experienced at Peter Luger and Wolfgang. However, they need to fix the issue of the watery coffee. It is easy to make great coffee, so no excuse there. On the topic of the food, I was not blown away. True. But it would be accurate to underline  that no wet aged steak has ever impressed me, so,  obviously,  just a matter of personal taste. 6/10 as an overall rating  for the sides (fine sides, though a tad less impressive than at Wolfgang, for the sake of comparison). I won’t rate the steak – it was a perfectly well executed steak of the wet aged sort, but wet aged  steaks  are not my cup of  tea. 10/10 for the service and overall dining experience.

 

 

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