Posts Tagged ‘Restaurant’

Pursuing my tour of some of the finest steakhouses of New York, having tried Peter Luger, Keens, Strip House, Quality Meats  and Wolfgang.

Dropped by Gallagher’s Steakhouse, a historical steakhouse, which, during the days of the prohibition, was the first illicit establishment selling alcohol where gamblers and stars of Broadway would meet.

In the incredibly competitive steakhouse market of NYC (perhaps, the steakhouse mecca of the world – I mean, do you know any other major city with that many world class steakhouses? Do you? ), you know you have reached the enviable status of a historic shrine at whatever you do when the NY Times writes romanticized write-ups with eye-candy photographs of this sort about you – .

At Gallagher’s Steakhouse,  I ordered:

Platter of 12 oysters – Dabob bay from Hood canal (Washington) and Canadian lucky lime. Nicely shucked quality fresh oysters. The lucky lime had the advertised citrus-tone finish in evidence. The intertidal beach cultured  Dabob bay oysters, quite briny for an oyster coming from the Pacific. The mignonette properly done. A platter of fine oysters. 7/10

The 20 oz rib eye steak (Grade: USDA Prime), dry aged for 28 – 32 days on premise in their glass-enclosed meat locker ( You can see it from the street – a sight to behold). The meat is grilled on hickory coals, a rarity in a city where most steakhouses do broil their steaks. Grilling meat over an open fire has always been my preferred grilling method for meats. The requested medium rare doneness achieved with utter precision. It delivered on flavor (the seasoning, exquisite –  the steak  as delicious as it gets) and was superbly tender throughout. The great grilling effect of the open fire in evidence to the eyes/smell/palate.  Dazzling crust. My steak had its juices settled within the meat, therefore timely rested. A steak is not a moon landing mission and one can do great steaks at home, indeed, but what matters here is that this is a steakhouse and it is doing one of the better steaks in NYC. Easily the best rib eye steak I ever had at all the top tier steakhouses of NY. 10/10

The creamed spinach. Here too, the G seems to have the edge as the creamed spinach had superb taste and great balance between the cream and spinach flavours. Superb texture too. Just some delicious creamed spinach like few — surprisingly, indeed – seem to be able to pull out at the NYC steakhouses. Vibrant fresh and delicious flavours. 9/10

Even the crème fraîche to accompany the baked potato was not of the ordinary sort. The baked potato managing, somehow, not to be just an average piece of tired looking baked potato simply because most kitchen brigades keep such simple things for granted (as most diners do, actually), when, in reality, the sourcing of your potato and how you timed its baking makes a big difference. Here, they did care about that difference.

Bottom line: A very beautiful steakhouse (the warmth of materials such as  wood and leather never failing to entice) in the classic genre. But the food was as great. Where many steakhouses seem to deliver  tired renditions of classic steakhouse food, the G seems to find a way to make it a bit more exciting in mouth (even their homemade sauce to accompany the steak, made of tomato/garlic/Worcestershire sauce, was well engineered as far as balancing flavors go, its taste great ). A commendable steakhouse, indeed.

Overall rating: Food 9/10 One of the very best steakhouses of NYC.   The steaks are great here, but everything else as well. For my taste, the G and Peter Luger are my No1 steakhouses in New York, with the G being a better all rounder, for sure. Furthermore, nothing beats the appealing  texture as well as memorable grilling aromas of a steak that is grilled on open fire (a broiled steak looks unappetizing in comparison). Service 8/10 (superb service in the typical classic NYC steakhouse way). Gallaghers Steakhouse Addr: 228 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019 Phone: 212-586-5000 URL: http://www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com/

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Indian Accent, New York, NY -Indian Accent is an upscale Contemporary High end Indian restaurant based in New Delhi with two offshoots abroad: one in NYC, the other one in London (UK).

This is the restaurant of Celebrity Indian Chef  Manish Mehrotra. He won many awards and his restaurant in New Delhi is currently World’s no 19 Best restaurant in the world, according to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 best restaurants. Some may criticize the fact that people are drawn to such restaurants by the  relevant advertising platforms  (San Pellegrino,  Michelin , food bloggers promoting those restaurants, the crowd-sourced review forums, Tourism authorities). But without such platforms, how would you pick your restaurants? By wandering in the streets and just push opening any random doors? Lol. So, yes, like any reasonable individual, I rely on those advertising platforms to find restaurants. That does not mean that I will be satisfied. That does not mean that they are reliable. Just mean that I have no other way but to rely on them to know what a  restaurant seems to be doing. It sucks, because there are certainly better restaurants that no one is talking about, but if no one is talking about you….how can I know that you exist?

Regarding my connection to Indian cuisine – I  come from a country that has Indian food  as one of the many cuisines of its cooking traditions. Consequently, I have long been partial to   traditional regional Indian cuisines.  Indian food is food that I have never tried outside of  its  traditional format with some of my all time favourite dishes being dishes such as the Hyderabadi haleemNihari, Baingan_bharta, Sarson da saag, Kuzhambu, Pongal, Chicken Tariwala,  as well  virtually all the dishes of Kodava cuisine .

The suggestion that decent Indian food does not exist in the USA is an ignorant suggestion. There is decent indian food in  the USA. Naturally, it cannot taste exactly like  in India as two different countries do imply  two different soils,  quality of water,  practices  (in many non western countries, your milk goes from the milker directly into your glass of milk with no transformation process in between. In the USA, it does not work that way. So right there, there is a universe of difference in how your dairy-based food will taste from one country to another. And examples of that sort do abound). Right now, New Jersey offers better Indian food than  NYC. NYC has couple of decent eateries,  but they are , in general, not in the same league as the ones of NJ. On the West Coast, the Puran Poli at Annapoorna, the dosas at Tirupathi Bhimas and Saravana Bhavan (all three eateries in Milpitas, CA) or the sea bass ke tikke / kundan kalia / paneer peshawari at Sakoon (Moutain View, CA)  would certainly not pass as ordinary to most Indians who truely know their food (I do not know if they are still good, though, but they used to be of the non ordinary sort).

It took me almost 3 decades to accept to try Indian food in its contemporary or so called ‘progressive’ or ‘modern’ form (which is what IA is about). Nowadays, there is a desire to elevate many traditional cuisines to their contemporary form and Indian cuisine is enjoying such update under the roof of restaurants such as IA or Masala library ( http://www.masalalibrary.co.in). IA offers a modern take on Northern Indian cuisine.

The Chef mentioned to the medias that his food is Indian as well as not Indian, since he was not trained in Indian  cuisine. Refined Indian food with an International accent is how he calls it. And that he is mainly breaking the rules (of Classic Indian cuisine). I went there with that in mind, therefore with the right expectations. All I know is that..if you dare breaking the rules, then you have to do better than the rules! So let us see.

 

Pumpkin soup and Blue cheese naan. – Both are served as Amuse-bouches. Meaning served free and according to the chef’s selection. Which explains the miniature nature of the two food items. Both happened to be the highlights of this meal. The mini naan (8/10 ) packed with the sort of  memorable genuine tandoor-baking  aromas that do usually come from an expertly rendered naan dough baked in an authentic tandoor oven, cooked by an experienced tandoor cook,  the blue cheese flavour adding to the excitement. That is how it felt like. Seeing how great that was, I decided to order a classic naan later on. The mini pumpkin soup was as great: delicious vibrant fresh fragrance of quality pumpkin, elevated by the superb kick of garam masala, with, in this instance, the cinnamon component of the garam masala standing out. The quality of the garam masala spice truely high. 8/10 for that delicious mini concoction, too.

-Potato sphere chaat, white pea mash. In the medias, their Chef seems to love to talk about chaat. Not too sure why. But he seems to love chaat, which is basically any  fried-dough snack in which you incorporate whatever ingredient you want.  In this case, they did use a filling of spiral-cut sweetened potatoes (think of a sweetened potatoes ‘bird nest’ )  as to impart an effect of crunch. This was topped with white pea mash, yogurt and tamarind mint sauce. Among the garnishes, there was a piece of watermelon. Served cold (not a flaw, but a feature), this had an overall  pleasant sweet and salty mouthfeel that reminded me of my childhood’s favourite tamarind-based snacks that we would enhance with a bit of salt.   7/10

Tofu masala, shishito peppers – The firm tofu as light as feather,  stir fried so that it gets a bit crunchy on the outside. Then it is cooked together with fried spices. . The quality masala not too strong. The overall flavours well balanced and genuinely Indian. Satisfying, indeed, but this is the sort of technically-easy-to-make dish that is expected to pack more punch even at a casual restaurant. Therefore I am expecting them to do better than just delivering a satisfying tofu masala dish.   6/10

Green pea kofta, cauliflower, coconut curry – Traditionally, Kofta are meatballs made with paneer cheese and potatoes. You can either fry them or serve them in a sauce. Here, they did  replace the meat by green pea and cauliflower to make the kofta and the curry is based on coconut. The expected rich taste and flavor profile is maintained, and that is appreciated, but  … this is mostly about substituting ingredients rather than elevating the food to new heights as far as textures and flavours are concerned (which Modern cooking should be about). 7/10

Pathar beef kabab, bone marrow nihari (not photographed) –Nihari is one of my all time favourite stews  as explained in the introduction. What they did at IA is to present it their  contemporary way, meaning it looked fancy and, of course, it had to come in a tiny portion. I was curious to see what they would do with the authentic nihari flavours, I still went ahead and ordered this food item. So, here, the sauce and the meat are disposed on a bone marrow  (all elements of the stew).  The original flavor profile of the stew was there (the curry mix was on point), indeed, though not in the league of the stellar nihari flavours  I had elsewhere at, actually, casual Indian eateries, and   it is hard to fall in love with  a fancy  presentation of a stew that is basically just a diminutive version of what it is supposed to be, with a flavor that is not that superior to the original version, at a cost that  suggests that it should have been superior to the traditional  rendition … 6/10

Butter chicken kulcha, sundried fenugreek. The flatbread was competently leavened (with whole milk yoghurt/baking powder), baked in a tandoor oven  in this case,  the butter chicken stuffing’s  flavour revealing  the use of quality ingredients, the genuine butter-chicken flavours maintained. Good 7/10

Creamy Black Lentil Dal – the classic Indian recipe  is applied, using the fine quality black whole urad dal, made in a rich sauce of butter, onion, tomato and cream . Fine balance of lentils to cream ratio. Can’t go wrong with that one. 7/10

Given how great the blue cheese naan was, I ordered some regular naan bread to see how that would fare. I love a regular naan that is well done. It is one of the fine breads of my childhood and the blue cheese naan led me to think that the naan preparation, here, could reconnect me with the usual great regular naan bread aromas that I hold especially dear to my heart. But I was taken aback by … a just Ok naan. A bit as if one kitchen made the blue cheese naan and another one made the regular naan. Let us not forget: for me, what made the blue cheese naan great was not the blue cheese  but…and I will repeat it, the ”‘sort of memorable genuine tandoor-baking  aromas that do usually come from an expertly rendered naan dough baked in an authentic tandoor oven, cooked by an experienced tandoor cook”’.  So, that should have applied to the regular naan, too. Oddly, the regular naan tasted ‘ordinary’ (the texture was there, but not the fresh glorious baked naan flavour of a good naan bread). 5/10

Makhan Malai : Their take on the popular Lucknow’s Awadhi cuisine milk cream-based dessert. Traditionally, the recipe requires full cream milk, dairy cream, sugar, rose water and saffron. At IA, this comes in the form of a milk froth, flavoured with saffron, garnished with rose petals, almonds and sugar. The sugar input lowered in comparison to traditional renditions of this dessert. I did not expect much from their version of this dessert, as there was no way it could compare to its renditions made in India where the milk is of a supreme quality that’s rarely matched this side of the globe, but truth be told, their take on this dessert had its foamy compelling texture competently rendered, the lactic fragrance not as dazzling as what could come from some of India’s dairy products (After all, their take on the Makhan Mailai did not benefit from the relevant traditional use of  stellar dairy components such as the Khoya and the  Chhana –  ) but still very enjoyable. 8/10

Pros: the food was satisfying, the service superb

Cons: (1)The fastest meal I ever had at a fine dining restaurant. All that food was served in 1 hr  (2) A staple like the regular naan bread cannot afford having an ´off-night’ at a restaurant of this reputation (3)  I did not find this meal to be an improvement over a normal fine classic Indian meal, which it needed to be.

Bottom line:  They certainly did not alter the integrity of indian flavours (they do things such as using the   same atta flour (for the naan bread) / salt (Tata salt) / Ghee from the motherland and that is a noteworthy effort that plenty of other Indian restaurants in North America would not bother to do), and the food was satisfying, for sure, with plenty of flavours that did reconnect me with what I liked in my tender childhood and do continue to love as an adult (which   played  at the advantage of the restaurant, naturally), but ultimately  if I crave for Indian high end cuisine, I will definitely opt for  High end Traditional Indian cuisine. IA was certainly an enjoyable experience (regardless of the fact that this was the quickest meal I ever had at a fine dining restaurant) , but nothing was ”outstanding” enough for me to prefer  IA over a  traditional Indian restaurant.   Overall rating (Category: Indian Fine Dining in New York): 7/10 (Food);  8/10 (superb service) –   Indian Accent Addr: 123 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019, United States Phone: Phone: +1 212-842-8070 URL: https://indianaccent.com/newyork/index.php

Keen’s Steakhouse – New York, NY

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

 

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

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

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

 

This is my 3rd visit here, and this time I ordered the prime rib of beef  (king’s cut – meaning that it’s bone-in),  the  medium rare doneness that I wanted was precisely achieved,  and it came charred at my request ( I suggest that you do not order a charred prime rib. I did request it charred as I was looking for that specific  effect on that evening, but prime rib is better in its non charred version IMHO), 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

 

Quality Meats NYC (Addr: 57 W 58th St, New York, NY 10019, USA Phone: +1 212-371-7777)   is a restaurant  backed by Smith & Wollensky, a steakhouse institution in NYC (that now has several branches across the US as well as abroad). It is part of a  group of restaurants that include some of the most successful eateries of NYC such as Don Angie, Smith & Wollensky, Park Avenue, etc. They do offer a contemporary take on North American familiar dishes  such as their take on the North American steaks . It  is hip and does have a social vibe. The decor features  several   elements  pertaining to the  neo rustic chic interior design, elements such as marble, wood, and stainless steel. Chandeliers and white ceramic tiles completing the decor.

I went there because not all steakhouses in NYC do offer great  bone-in rib eye steaks, my preferred cut for a steak. They do stellar Porterhouse steaks, at virtually all the great chop houses  in NYC. But rib eye steaks are either absent from their menus, or do come in meager size, and are rarely dry aged (it is pointless, for me, to splurge on wet aged meat, my palate oftently associating it with just a generic piece of steak).  On this particular occasion,  I was also looking for a steakhouse exempt from the usual  potential “”dry aged” or mixed  type of service (However great is the food, if the service has the potential to make me vomit, the food is worthless) . I heard that QM has fine  hospitality standards and that they  do  an excellent rib eye steak. I went  to find out.

My expectation was the usual expectation of any steak lover: I needed my steak to be a fully flavoured juicy slab of prime beef, exquisitely  seasoned, unleashing   a great deal of umami sensation in mouth. Did the steak meet that expectation? First, a description of the steak I did order:   a 24 oz. long-boned Black Angus Prime, dry-aged rib steak.  Aged for 40 days. My rib eye had a delicious seasoning, but it was cooked  past the requested medium rare doneness. A bit dry and tough here and there, as well. However, I will give them a second chance as this is a first rate restaurant that deserves a second chance. I surely will do that soon, with, next time, the choice of the porterhouse. I trust that this was an isolated slip as the local steakhouse experts have long praised the rib eye at QM. 5/10

Other items that I did sample here :

With my steak, I took the creamed spinach, which was tasty and   packed with enticing fresh spinach flavor. 8/10

The other side dish I did order was their popular crispy potatoes, which are blanched in duck fat, seasoned with garlic , thyme, and bay leaves and dressed at the last minute  with a hot sauce of butter seasoned with garlic , thyme, parsley, chives  and rosemary.  Great.  8/10

Bottom line: A classy restaurant. I hope I will be luckier with the steak the next time I will go back there. The sides are great.  The service, at the exception of a young lady with long straight black hair at the entrance (she seems to suffer from some serious attitude problem) was of world class mention. Definitely a place where I will return.

 

 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

 

 

Vizantino taverna (18 Kydatheneon Street, Plaka, Athens Phone +30 21 0322 7368)
Stumbled upon this  taverna of Plaka while walking in Plaka.

Spinach cheese pie – not freshly baked, meaning reheated, consequently hard and dry

Veal with eggplant – delicious eggplant, delicious sauce BUT The meat was reheated, therefore…again, it was dry … and could not  taste as meaty as it should have been. 

Lamb lemon sauce – at first, it was available. Then 5 minutes later, it was not …anymore. Therefore, they asked if I would like some grilled lamb, instead, which I agreed on, only to discover that … even the grilled lamb …they managed to  reheat it…!!

Cooked to order is a notion they have NEVER heard of, at Vizantino …

Overall food rating: 0/10 Dear cooks at vizantino, how would you feel if reheated food was served to you at a restaurant? Chances are that you would find it insulting and you would confront the restaurant staff. I happen to be well behaved and I do not go to restaurants to confront anyone, but ….by respect to the hard work of the honest workers of the restaurant industry, I hope that  words will spread so that you start realizing  that what you would not accept to be fed on…well, you SHOULD NOT feed people with it.   Yes, you are popular, but in an instance like this, what I could not fail to observe is that there were just tourists at your restaurant, which, btw.. should not be an excuse …for a serious restaurant, I mean…to serve reheated food – On the back of this meal, you do not seem interested to be a serious restaurant. You are an insult to the hard working and proud professionals that I have met all along this trip in Greece, namely the folks at Argo, the Old tavern of Psaras, Avli Tou Thodori, To Ouzeri, Yialo Yialo, all true restaurant  professionals who are located in places far more beautiful and touristy than the “slum village” corner of Plaka where you are operating and could have rested on their laurels because tourists would flock to their restaurants, anyways,  but  herein lies the difference between you and them: they are professionals. You are not.