Posts Tagged ‘review’

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 — surprising, 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/

 

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, 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

 

 

New Yorkers, those lucky bastards! Lol. They attract the best of the best! Sushi Saito (Tokyo) is the current best sushiya in the world. Guess what… they had one of their Chefs who was ready to go working abroad, but it had to be ..guess where…in NYC, of course (Chef Shion Uino now working  at Sushi Amane at Mifune ). You remember the legendary Jiro, of Jiro Dreams? Well, that is not ‘new’ news anymore, but his apprentice  Nakazawa (one of the main characters of the movie Jiro Dreams) is ..guess where?

Examples of great Chefs attracted by New York are endless (Ferran Adria, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera, ), with the latest being Legendary Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo.  Gino is known as one of the best Pizzaioli  of Napoli (just to give you an idea of how popular the eatery is – locals do wait, on average, one hour in front of his pizzeria to get their fix of the best pizza of  Napoli ) and he is also famous for his  feud with  the local mafia over his refusal to pay  the pizzo. The pizzeria is so popular that it quickly expanded to Milano in Northern  Italy, then now, in New York City.

I have long been fascinated by Pizze, particularly the Neapolitan Pizza. Actually, one big dream that I do have would be  to spend 3 months in Naples and review every single of their Pizza shops (a bit like what this guy did, many years ago, but I will stick to Naples, world’s ‘temple’ of the Neapolitan Pizza).  It took me a while to be prepared for this project: first, I wanted to spend years tasting all sort of Neapolitan pizze, understanding  the techniques, the ingredients, etc.

I did that for the past 20 years and do, consequently, nowadays, feel ready for the last step before visiting all the Pizza shops of Napoli:  doing an apprenticeship at 3 of the best Pizza shops of Napoli. This will not be easy, perhaps even impossible, but where there is a will, there is a way!  If that happens, the 3 shops will not be reviewed  (I am a bit ‘old school’ about this, and do have nothing against those who think otherwise — I mean we are in an era where most critics do not care about such details — but I insist on never reviewing establishments that I am familiar with), but revealed, of course  (I would like the relevant blog to feature videos of what I am learning at those shops, as well as detailed written  accounts of my journey as an apprentice pizzaiolo in Napoli) .

Regarding Sorbillo NYC, as we all came to  expect,  the food journalists  did  review it inaccurately.  In order to protect their friends of the local pizza scene, they applied themselves to diminish the importance of Sorbillo in their reviews:  they had, of course, to review pastas at a …. pizza shop. They had to. They just could not refrain from using  that cheap shot. Mind you, there is not much they could do:  they never went to Napoli and went on reviewing  this shop with their North American taste. And more importantly, everyone knows that some of the major web sites reviewing those restaurants do have the restaurateurs ‘paying to play’ on their platforms. And those web sites cannot hide it anymore (just look at their disclaimers regarding their affiliation to the restaurateurs).  Gino Sorbillo is a restaurateur who has challenged the pizzo  of the mafia back home in Italy. Needless to guess that he was not going to accept the pressure of the ‘paying to play’ online  system that is so common nowadays.

You cannot  fail to identify those who have no clue of what to expect from a Neapolitan pizza: they will complain about the crust being a bit limpy (Americans prefer a crispier crust). Well, it is the way it is done in Napoli, folks! If you want a pizza which pie is crispy, then opt for a Roman style pizza or any of  your usual  Italian-American pizze. Some will complain about the sparse burnt edges of the pizza, Lol. Others will rage against  the fact that they could not ..fold their pizza… total DELIRIUM!! Ignorance is a bliss, indeed.

But the true connoiseurs of Neapolitan pizza were not going to be fooled by all of that –

Margherita con bufala – Mozzarella Bufala, San Marzano Tomatoes, Basil, Terre Francescane Organic EVOO. What I was looking for at Sorbillo is exactly what a true connoisseur of Neapolitan pizza would look for in his Neapolitan pizza: Is the dough made with Italian type 0 or 00 wheat flour (this takes educating your senses, palate, etc, for some time, but once that is done, you will know if your pizza was made with a dough of such quality) ? kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer and formed by hand? Is the dough topped with raw, pureed San Marzano tomatoes from Italy? is it made in a true wood burning brick oven? Were the ingredients fresh and of quality? fior di latte made from cow’s milk or is mozzarella di Bufala? fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil? Are the ingredients all-natural and fresh? The answer to all the above raised questions was positive.

I also ordered:

Polpette Napoletano – Meatballs and tomato ragù. The meatballs simmered in the sauce as it should, the consistency ideally  moist, the hearty flavor of the sauce in evidence. The sauce was hard to improve upon, its texture and taste as perfected as you will get from a Chef that knows his Italian food to the T, and most importantly…that knows how to technically execute it flawlessly. Only someone who has no real clue about what a legit version of the polpette does smell , taste and feel like would argue against that polpette. La Nonna or any Italian who truely knows his Italian food  would certainly be very proud with what this brigade  is doing as the essence of the  traditional recipe is faithfully applied here. 8/10

Crema di Tiramisù – The mascarpone/eggs/ sweet marsala wine competently rendered mix did blend appetizingly well with a perfectly fine espresso coffee  flavor.  Well judged quantity of mascarpone so that the tiramisu retains a proper creamy texture rather than verging too much on a mousse. This was also timely chilled to let the flavors develop. One version  of the tiramisu that would certainly make any Italian who knows his Tiramisu happy, which was actually the case of an Italian family sitting  at the neighboring table and who seemed to have  enjoyed both the very same polpette I did order  and this tiramisu as items that are executed properly . 7/10

Babà Napoletano – The rum-soaked oven-baked dolce was properly executed: leavened  to its traditional soft spongy consistency (whoever baked the mini cake did not take any shortcut as it was evident that they took the time that was necessary to go through the time consuming / slow leavening process that is required to make this cake), it was not too boozy and it did express a well judged intensity of sweetness. The cake was not too light, therefore its inside was not too dry (though a tidbit dryer than I would have liked, in some parts, but I am  nitpicking here). It  had very little alcohol, and soft texture and sweetness.  The nice golden brown exterior was also achieved as it should. It was served at room temperature, which was the right thing to do. A perfectly legit version of the Babà Napoletano. 7/10

Extra points for making all the desserts, the bread (really nice for a place that is not dedicated to bread), as well as their gnocchi   on the premises! It is way more that what we came to expect from a pizza place.

Bottom line: Those truly in the know would have found the  Sorbillo’s Neapolitan pizza I was having as authentic as a Neapolitan pizza will feel, smell and taste like outside of Italy:  A properly rendered thin and soft crust, the crust bubbling up as it should be, the charred spots present, again, as it’s supposed to be. The fresh tomato sauce packed with the minerality and bright acidity that is expected in a Neapolitan pizza (I saw way too many reviewers inaccurately complaining about the bright acidity of the tomato sauce in such pizza…not trying to be rude folks, but c’mon…take some lesson, learn how such pizza is authentically made before assessing it as you really sound ridiculous with such suggestions as ”I did not like it because the tomato sauce has ….bright acidity’ ), both the technique and the ingredients are on point. Sorbillo NYC 334 Bowery, New York, NY 10012, USA  Phone: (646) 678-3392 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/ Overall food rating: 8/10 (Category – Best Neapolitan Pizza shop outside of Italy – you need to be seriously clueless about Italian cooking to give this place the low ratings that the food journalists have rated it. Any serious Italian who knows his food will agree that this is a very good Italian Pizza shop), Service : 9/10 (Attentive, friendly and yet professional)

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

 

 

02L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the  restaurant chain  of Chef Robuchon, has — since  December 2016 — a branch  in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC  Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with  well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working  at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin  star.  In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le  Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.

I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and  another tasting  menu) :

foie-gras The amuse-bouche was  creamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a  Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item  provided an  enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly   7/10

salmon-tartareSalmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf.  The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same  as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar?  That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff,    top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the written menu.  This  fine logical combination of  ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence during this meal  7/10

 

scallopsScallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening  were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge.  Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives)  that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10

chataigneVeloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec,  therefore, this may come as a   pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as  the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10

 

lobsterLobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet  and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement,  but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10

halibut-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency  7/10 for the halibut, 8/10 for the risotto (it is a tasting menu, therefore the risotto came in small quantity)

 

quail-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail  was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your  usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal —  although, well composed  — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected  from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is  usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice)  eventhough their quail was enjoyable  (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula.   Still a   7/10

cocoParfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit  present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having  its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went  well with the passion fruit cremeux).    7/10

 

cranberryLe rubis – One of  the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary  from  locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream  which was a particularly enticing  flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt)  and a lychee chantilly.  I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still,  the execution was correct, the flavors fine.  7.5/10

The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk  bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire  talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual  mignardises (well made pâte de fruits and macarons).

Service was  professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the  black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.

PROS: By Montreal high end restaurant standards,  this is already a destination restaurant. Opting for the informal counter seating “Atelier” concept, rather than formal fine dining,  is “the way to go” in Montreal, I believe.

CONS: The  desserts lacked crunch and bite – which is understandable with one dessert, but not with two – and that is an aspect they could improve upon.  A texture change between two desserts is always more fun. Furthermore, I think that a chocolate-based dessert — like le “chocolat tendance” or the “chocolate sphere” found at the other AJRs around the globe — would have better complemented their wintery seasonal tasting menu and contribute a bit to the sense of “extravaganza” / “theatre” that you may sometimes find at other AJRs and that I was missing a little bit here.

Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal  top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who,  in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper  execution/flavors / textures  rather than  benchmark cooking.  But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will  admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM.

What I think days later: Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere. I do not see a  restaurant like this one making an impression in a world class foodie city  (i.e, New York, Tokyo, London, or Paris). On a personal level, I think that the Joel Robuchon brand  is, nowadays, relevant only if you try his 3 or 2 star Michelin restaurants around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant: Dons de la Nature
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, B1F
Phone:+81 3-3563-4129
Cusine: Steakhouse (serving only one type of meat: Purebred Wagyu)
Date/Time of the meal: 19-11-2014 18:00
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://dons-nature.jp/

DLN is widely considered as a top tier steakhouse in Tokyo. Service (by the wife of the Chef)  was uneven for a 1 star Michelin restaurant: over-the-board friendly with some diners, decent with others…which, I gather, is ‘normal’  in ‘general life’ as this boils down to chemistry between people..less so  by the standards of  a 1 star Michelin restaurant. That said,  rest assured that the service is still really really good (you are in Japan, after all). The quality of the meat is the main reason that brought me here, and there is no denying it: the quality is, as expected, of top shelf mention. Sadly,  Wagyu is overrated, which is not the fault of DLN, indeed, but DLN …as a steakhouse…needs to pair  better red wine to their steak.  

dons de la nature  5

Dons de la Nature is widely considered  as one of Tokyo’s finest steakhouses. Which means that, here, you are exempt from the laughable mis-identification of the meat, a sad recurrent feature  at plenty of steakhouses around the globe. At Dons de la Nature, when they tell you they have Kobe beef, then it is the real one that  comes from Kobe in Japan (and not from elsewhere),  and when they say Wagyu,  then it is TRUE PUREBRED Japanese beef and they will tell you from what region in Japan.

dons de la nature 1

Traceability is taken seriously here. Wagyu beef is  usually (usually, I wrote, not always) fed on rice straw which is essential for achieving the high level of  intramuscular fat as well as whitening the marbled fat. The slaughter occurs in between 23 to 28 months.

THE FOOD:

I took no starter, fearing that the steak would be filling.

dons de la nature  2

The meat  available on the day of my visit was  Wagyu from the Oki Islands, (there was a choice of a highly marbled sirloin,  as well as tenderloin — for my taste, Sirloin features the  characteristics I am looking for when eating Wagyu as it’s not lean like tenderloin, the flavor certainly more expressive compared to tenderloin).

dons de la nature  3

Oftently, in Tokyo, steaks are cooked on an iron griddle (teppanyaki), but here, at Dons de la Nature, they grill it over charcoal (my  preferred cooking method for steak), no ordinary charcoal that is (they use the highly praised Binchōtan charcoal) ,  inside a kiln.  From such steakhouse, there’s not much to say about the basics (as expected, they get the requested doneness right, medium-rare in this case, the seasoning, although simple — a bit of salt — is judicious, the nice crust on the outside that most steak aficionados favor nowadays is achieved beautifully , and the kitchen  clearly knows how to delicately handle a meat of such extensive fat marbling ),

dons de la nature  4

so what I was looking for was how far the extensive marbling could impress in flavor. Unexpectedly,  the umami  kick  that the  media and plenty of online accounts have praised  continues to elude me (this was the 3rd Wagyu tasting of this trip, having tried Matsusaka a day prior, then Sanda) .Well, YES the umami dimension is  definitely there (afterall the effect of the marbling has to be ultimately felt)  but I get more exciting umami flavor from most   40 to 45 days perfectly dry aged corn-finished prime Black Angus cuts …that have less marbling.  I also do not get the comparision to  foie gras (a common comparison) that I oftently hear about. Do not get me wrong:  this is   quality red meat, that is for sure,  the fat much more delicate in taste and texture in comparison to a fatty cut of Black Angus, but at the end of the count …it is just not as flavorful.   I admire the  quality of Wagyu beef, but for the enjoyment part ..nah,sorry…I (my palate) just do not get it. This was a  6/10, at best, for me  (Grade: A5/  Breed: Japanese Black Wagyu from Oki Islands, 30 days of wet aging  + 30 other days of dry aging )

Untitled

The Chef’s wife has suggested to pair the steak with a glass of Camus Père & Fils Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 2001. This is a wine that scores high on paper: exceptional soil, exceptional vintage, too, as 2001 is one of the very best years of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine.  But the wine I was having had barely any structure (surprising for a wine known for its complexity), the wine devoid of the mouthfeel expected from a grand cru, the finish disappointingly short. Furthermore, this glass of wine was so dry that it clashed with the flavor of the meat I was having. Dryness is a characteristic of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine, but but this was way too dry to be enjoyable. This is an instance where you need a wine with silkier tannins/rounder palate.

Pros:  Wagyu is so praised outside of Japan that there are no shortage of marketing manipulations to call pretty much everything that looks like meat… Wagyu.  You therefore really appreciate the moment when you get to enjoy the real thing on its very own land, which is exactly what Dons de la Nature offers.

Cons:   Wine pairing to a steak is expected to be a highlight at a steakhouse. It has to.

 

Service: Very intimate, very very friendly. The wife of the Chef (she was the sole waitress on that evening) is very enthusiastic, perhaps more with some than  others, but I am nitpicking here. It is much more informal than at most of the steakhouses that I have been to.

My verdict and conclusion:  I won’t rate this house as I do not want my aversion to Wagyu to influence my opinion about Dons de la Nature.  But Wagyu, you my friend….even at the same cost as my favourite Black Angus steaks, there is simply no way I could appreciate you. I respect your legendary reputation but for me, it is clear  that your scarcity creates your value. Yes, you are beautiful to espy (I have rarely seen marbling of such striking beauty), but for my palate, you are not even half as flavorful as an expertly dry aged prime cut of Black Angus. And I just gave you 3 chances right here on your own lands! I even  ensured to lower my expectations (I had none, to tell you the truth) and I did erase  any notion of price from the equation so that the assessment’s  focus is on what matters most:  the flavor!!!.

What I think weeks later: That Wagyu is my all-time biggest disappointment on the aspect of food, that is life and I can deal with that. What struck me most was how the praises about its superlative flavor had absolutely nothing to do with what I have enjoyed. If the flavor of meat is going to be almost as subtle as the one of tofu….then I’ll take the tofu! Meat needs to be flavorful no matter how hard you have worked its quality.