Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I went to the luxurious mall at Hudson Yards and tried couple of the food items (the shopping mall has eateries recently opened by some of the most popular Chefs out there)  that some of NYC’s food journalists have called their current hits. One that caught my attention was Fuku’s Vada Pav (pictured above), a deep fried potato patty with hints of fried garlic, pickle, scallion sauce, inspired by one of my all time favourite deep fried food items, Maharashtra’s Wada Pav. WP is easy to make and easy to love. If you have been cooking a bit, that’s the sort of combination of ingredients that rarely fails to be a hit (logical combination of ingredients where one ingredient serves as a flavour enhancer to the next). At Fuku, such  potential was left at bay, as the patty was WAY  too dry. So dry that I was not able to discern any flavour. I was not expecting Fuku to deliver a dazzling WP. I was simply expecting a deep fried potato patty to be what it’s supposed to be: a food item that rarely fails to be enjoyable. Somehow, they could not manage that. They have just one way out, with this one and it is to freshly fry and serve their WP as the customer orders it. Or find a way to emulate that effect.  0/10

In that mall, we found kawi creative enough (for food served inside a mall in North America) but absudly pricey as well as a tad unnecessarily fancy. At Kawi, we enjoyed their sweet and sour ribs. It is not the best we had, but probably one of their better menu items.

 

Cousins Maine Lobster, 77 Lexington Ave, NYC- This is an offshoot of a franchise food truck business based in Los Angeles. I grew up on an Island of the Indian Ocean with  the freshest  seafood possible at the lowest unimaginable cost . So now, it is payback time, lol. I have to pay for all that fresh low-cost (with low cost not synonymous of low quality, in this instance ) seafood I was blessed with in  my tender childhood, and you could not have found  a better place than a city of the western world to make that payback time a reality. CML’s seafood  was certainly not going to be a serious threat to  the dazzling seafood of my tender childhood, even at equal cost, but at what it is — essentially a chain selling lobster-rolls and some other few lobster-based fast-seafood items –, it is certainly an example for others to follow. My review here.

Sushi Amane has, at its helm, a young talented Chef who has spent several years at the current world’s best sushiya in Tokyo (Sushi Saito). The young talent has decided to give a try to NYC. I went paying a visit to Sushi Amane. There were certainly some very delicious food items to be enjoyed during that meal, but also some noticeable flaws that I took the time to constructively write about, here. Ironically, at the time of writing these lines, despite the abundance of online reviews on SA, from both the so-called self proclaimed food experts as well as the majority of opinions on the crowd-sourced review forums, no one have noticed what  I have noticed…so either those folks have no clue of what assessing sushi should be about, or I was simply unlucky. Anyways…

Quality Meats is  a steakhouse that I really wanted to love, based on the rave reviews of some of NYC’s best steakhouse experts. I was less lucky than them with my steak, but the sides were  good. My review here.

Jeju Noodle bar is a Korean Noodle bar  restaurant that delivered superb Korean freshly made Instant Noodles (Ramyun) gourmet dishes. They also have some competently rendered cooked and raw food items. Service is great, the experience very enjoyable. My review, here.

Roberta’s Pizza started in Brooklyn and it was so popular that they now have several branches across the US. I went to the one in Brooklyn, where it all started. Do not expect anything fancy, here. You go there essentially for the pizza and when you try it, you will understand why their competitors are not sleeping at night, Lol. It is always hard to call a pizza ‘world class’ or ‘benchmark’. Therefore I will refrain from using such superlatives, but let us just politely put it that way: the legions of people flocking to Roberta’s Pizza have not lost their mind. My review, here.

There were  lots of buzz about Ichiran NYC  and I have nothing again buzz. After all, how can you be in business without buzz? Buzz is essential. I am all for the buzz, but then you need to deliver, and that is exactly where I was  disappointed with Ichiran NYC. Listen, I know it is a chain of ramen. I know we are not in Japan. I know it can’t have the exclusive feel of an artisan Chef’s ramenya. And I went there with all of that in mind, which means with very realistic expectations and I was still disappointed because very basic things such as serving a proper warm fully runny egg and a decent chashu seemed to have eluded them. Which is not what one needs to experience at a ramenya, whether it is a chain or a solo operation.  My review here.

Haitian food is one of my top 7 preferred cuisines in the world. We live in a world that is dominated by what the West wants to sell you as great or not, therefore none of the major online  food writers  will have the gut to even mention that Haitian cuisine exists, lol. Mind you, their purpose is to serve as ‘promoters’ of the food industry colonialist mentality, a mentality that takes the form of such thinking  as ”’Western and Japanese food and produce’ are of course…  the best in the World. All the rest does not even exist”. I do not need them to know what’s great or not and one of the things I find great is the dazzling simple homey cuisine from Haiti. They do not have many dishes, but a great sense of flavours. Deep, bold, rich flavours with the delicious lambi en sauce, lalo, bouillon, etc coming to mind. Of course, this is not food to put on instagram, but I do not eat Instagram, I eat  food!!  My preferred Haitian restaurant, for now, in NY , is La Caye but LC is so popular that the wait was too long. We therefore had a Plan B, which was a Haitian eatery that I was going to try for the first time, Chloe’s Restaurant & Lounge in Brooklyn, NY. Chloe’s was a mixed affair. My review, here.

I also tried Sorbillo NYC – great effort by the local pizza scene in NYC to minimize the greatness of SNYC. But the real connoisseurs of the Neapolitan pizza are not going to be fooled: it is, right now, in NYC, one of their very best Neapolitan pizza. Of course, you are not in Naples, therefore the price tag of such pizza in NYC may enrage those who know the cost of such pizza back in Italy. Of course, you do not have easy access in NYC to the dazzling produce of Italy. But at the end of the day, it is one great Neapolitan piZza in NYC. My review of Sorbillo, here.

Le Dôme (108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris, Phone: 01 43 35 25 81), opened in 1897, is an upscale historical brasserie  in Paris. 

Saumon marine a l’aneth (dill marinated salmon) was fine enough, but it would not be hard to fine better versions of that, at plenty of restaurants in Paris 6/10

I came here for the oysters. It is actually Huitrerie Garnier that I wanted to revisit. Huitrerie Garnier is one of my go to places for oysters in Paris, but it is closed till September (From Sept to Dec, oysters are as fresh as it gets and Huitrerie Garnier operates only when oysters are at their best).  As I was walking nearby Le Dôme, I remembered that they have quite a variety of interesting oysters and decided to push open their door. The raising and maturation of oysters, in France, is taken to a level rarely seen elsewhere around the globe***. Many regions of France have first-rate oysters. My favourite have been the fines de claires and spéciales de claires of Yves Papin (Marennes Oléron in  Charente Maritime), Roumegous (Charente maritime), the Isigny, Saint-Vaast (Normandie), Gruissan (Aude), and many more.  This time, I focused on Brittany. In France, oysters are offered  by weight. Numbers 0 to 5  are assigned to oysters. The higher is the number, the smaller is the oyster (that is explained here). I ordered 3 types of oysters: the cupped oysters  boudeuse de bretagne (Cote Des Menhirs) and tsarskaya no2 (Parcs Saint Kerber) as well as the flat oysters  Plate de Cancale no.­000 from that same Parcs Saint Kerber.

The oysters matched what their marketing do suggest:

the hint of sweetness, the meaty texture for the tsarskaya. There is a lot of marketing / buzz behind the tsarkaya, but although a great oyster, I am not particularly enamoured with it in a way that some other oysters of France have impressed me.

Plates de Cancale had their typical light nutty flavour in evidence

And the boudeuse  had a concentrated flavor and it was fleshy as expected from  an oyster “that refused to grow”.

And of course, the nice fresh iodine flavor that every single oyster of this globe has to come with, was there, in every single bite.

Le Dôme served  perfectly well shucked oysters of fine quality with a flawless mignonette. I still prefer Huitre Garnier for oysters in Paris, and Paris has plenty of stellar oysters to feast on, anyways.

Mousse au chocolat, marmelade d’oranges, sorbet passion – classic French kitchen brigades are what you are looking for when it comes to a fine mousse of chocolate. The chocolate was of fine quality, its thick consistency tolerable, but there were many rivers to cross between the finer mousse of chocolate of France and this one (just not as dazzling on the palate). 6/10

Millefeuille ” Napoléon” parfumé au rhum et à la vanille – Rhum and vanilla flavored Millefeuille came with a spectacular rustic flaky look that some generations of French may have flirted with, at some point in their life, but it was not as memorable on the palate nor to the smell as the finer Millefeuille that those same generations have known. Still, this was tolerable, just  not as enjoyable as it should have been. 5/10

Bottom line: Le Dôme is ideal for a piece of restaurant history in Paris. It has couple of historical companions in the vincinity. Last time I was here, it was 25 years ago and I am glad that such historic restaurants is still open. Couple of metro stations away, at metro st germain des pres, restaurant history goes on with cafe de flore, brasserie Lipp. On the culinary front, well, the best of classic French cooking in Paris will not come from here. It is neither good, nor bad. Overall rating (Categ: French Brasserie): Food (6/10 Yes, the oysters are well sourced,  BUT such classic French brasserie needs to offer better renditions of basic classic French desserts such as a chocolate mousse or a Millefeuille), Service (7/10 Classic old world masculine servic ), Ambience: 8/10 (civilized).

 

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The crowd-sourced reviewed websites have decided to have a closer look at their trust relationship with you and I, the people who used to (my case) or continue to share our reviews on their platforms. Yelp, for example, has now a heroic system that manages to guess who they can trust more. They basically do not bother about asking you to prove that you went dining at the restaurant that you are reviewing. No! At least, in my experience, Yelp did not. Instead, they went ahead, using a keyboard, a mouse, and their trust in a system they imagined very wise…some kind of messiah but in its electronic rendition, and decided that some views are better than others. Personally, this was a very easy situation to face and handle: as my sole interest is to share my dining adventures with a small group of individuals (a tiny group of foodies abroad who do help me finding great places where to go eating in their cities. In return, they do appreciate that I share my findings), I have my blog that can fulfill that task. Therefore, Yelp or not, life goes on for me. I was on Yelp, too, in the past, solely because I thought constructive to share my experience with the most, but when I saw how Yelp had no consideration for my views, I was very happy to delete my account and did certainly not lose any sleep over it. Of course Yelp did not lose any sleep over this, too, and I do understand the importance of protecting a business against trolls. Trolls hurt. I recall a restaurant called Palais de L’Inde in Montreal. It was my favourite Indian eatery in town. It was a bit of a letdown in terms of interior decor, but the Chef was skilled, they had a real tandoori oven (a rarity in Montreal nowadays) and the food dazzled. Palais de L’Inde was destroyed by online trolls and I was saddened to have lost one of my rare goto restaurants. The reviews on Palais de L’Inde were virtually never accompanied with pictures of the food that was eaten, description of the actual food virtually absent, so it was evident that this was the action of people who wanted Le Palais de l’Inde closed (ie, competitors). The sad story of le Palais de L’Inde is unfortunately common, therefore the crowd-sourced reviews web sites had to do something. Where things took an unexpected turn is in the actions they took: you would think that those smart ppl at the head of such brilliantly designed platforms such as Yelp would think about the obvious…simply asking you to prove that you went dining at the restaurant you are reviewing..you know, that piece of paper called the ´tab’ ..,well, No…it was not enoughly obvious to our illuminaries. Food for thoughts to our illuminaries: when you brag about delivering views that can be trusted, back it by facts! You are lucky that there are millions of dudes out there who seem to appreciate that you are laughing at them.

In 2015, 3 major restaurants opened in Montreal: Le Mousso, Hoogan & Beaufort as well as Montreal Plaza.

Montreal Plaza marks the return of local star Chef Charles-Antoine Crête who used to work at Toque!, Brasserie T!, as  well as Majestique. I do not know Charles-Antoine in person, but I once ate at Toque!, several years ago, and he was at the helm. From what I recall, his mastery of French classics stood out at that time. Then, I went to Bistrot T! in its first days and he was in charge of the cooking there, and again, his classical French cooking skills allowed for some well made  French bistrot fares.

I was there on February 12th 2016, in the evening, and have sampled the following dishes:

Montreal Plaza 01Salade de concombre mariné – Marinated cucumber salad (mixed with  algae)   expressed fresh acidity, the seasoning   judicious. As expected from  a kitchen brigade of this quality, the produce is well sourced, the notion of timing well mastered (we are a world away from the incompetent kitchen brigades that are seasoning their food way too long before serving it,   or marinating their vegetables  to the point of making it inedible). It is admittedly hard to get excited about a cucumber salad but this was  competently  executed.   7/10

Montreal Plaza 02Then a tartare of  artic char and rice crips – the tartare as fresh and tasty as it gets at a restaurant in town, the rice crisps tiny enough so that the star item remains the tartare itself. Oftently,  kitchen brigades do mistakenly mix tartares with sizeable rice crisps which diminish the appreciation of the tartare. A mistake that is avoided here. Very good 8/10

Montreal Plaza 03Sundae de Hamachi, crème d’oursin (Sea urchin cream / Hamachi) – The cream showcasing how confident with classic French cooking the brigade is as it was a flawless classic French rendition of a cream. Slices of superbly fresh hamachi could be found underneath the cream. All good (the taste, the textures), but sea urchin flavor  is tricky to impart in a cream, oftently hard to discern,  as proven by this item. In an instance like this one, just do a cream and leave the sea urchin atop. 7/10

 

Montreal Plaza 04Whelk gratiné / miso butter – whelk,   chopped carrots/celery/daikon atop.  The carrots seemed pickled and you also had a piece of milk bread as well as a some lime on the side. As it is the case with all the other dishes that I have tried on that evening, the execution is without reproach (the taste,  tenderness and freshness of that whelk were worthy of mention), but this dish did not do it for me as I found the intense acidity of the overall dish a bit overwhelming for my taste. Still, there is nothing faulty here, just a clash with my personal taste (I am not a fan of bold  sour flavors  in general). 7/10

 

Montreal Plaza 05Brochette de bavette/Daikon – The  high quality of that meat was a testament to the  serious sourcing found under this roof, the meat  flavorful and its consistency perfectly tender. Potatoes shaped like noodles as well as haskap were served atop the brochette.  8/10

Montreal Plaza 06Polenta/saucisse maison/mozzarella cheese/melon – The Polenta had proper creamy  texture, the corn flavor shining through as it should. They did  add melon, a piece of mozzarella cheese and homemade sausage, all add-ons that made  perfect sense on the palate. 7/10

PROS: The ingredient sourcing is great ,  the service superb.

CONS: Is milk bread what you really want to pair  with that dish of whelk gratiné? My palate did not think so….

My personal  overall rating for the food of this specific meal: 7/10. (Categ: North American, French, Cosmopolitan cuisine in Montreal)   During this specific meal, there was no highlight (no particular work of flavor/textures or combination of ingredients   that appeared, to me, as going above and beyond the standard of what is currently offered on our  local finest restaurant tables as it was the case with  my recent meal   at Le Mousso ,  but the cooking is certainly competent.

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CEFALUCefalu (Sicily) is a  picturesque  tiny seaside Mediterranean city of the kind that you would expect to see  in movies. Very easy on the eyes, it certainly won’t be hard, for the most, to fall for this place. It takes 1 hr by train (it costs €5 one way) to get there from Palermo.

CEFALU2In Cefalu, I ate at Al vicoletto (Addr: Via Madonna degli Angeli, 12 Piazza Duomo – Cefalu Phone: 0921 420971) , where I picked a risotto alla marinara (mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, parsley — the fresh maritime flavor of the seafood was not muted)  as well as a cold couscous made of olives and tomatoes (enticing fresh lemony acidity).

My verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>Bad): Ok. Honest casual food. Fine ingredient by the standards of the seafood that I kept finding in Palermo and its surroundings at most of their casual restaurants (not that bad, but not that impressive ..neither,  to tell you the truth). As ever, food this simple can always be bettered by spectacular ingredients and/or a touch of genius cooking at surprising the palate, which was not the case here, but  such features are rare across the globe.

Untitled3Really good pizze at Ciampini Bistro (Addr: Via della Fontanella di Borghese, 59, 00186 Roma Phone: 06 6813 5108 http://www.ciampini.com/en ) , with beautifully conceived  thin crust (soft) as well as ingredients of fine quality. The 4 cheeses Pizza being one of the finest in Rome. I went on a different day and tried other very simple trattoria items (chicken . It is situated in a very  touristicky area of  Rome (the Spanish steps), but this is not a place that is just taking avantage of the hordes of tourists passing by. At what it does (simple trattoria fares), it is doing a serious job. Not exceptional, and this is food that  tastes  similar to what you will get in any  good trattoria in America (…..thanks to the theme of the “globalization”, a magical theme denying any suprise effect to our  palates because food had to taste the same wherever you go — by magical, I hope you understood that I was sarcastic) but certainly fine.

My verdict (Very good>Good>OK>Bad): Good – Can’t go wrong here. Basic trattoria food,indeed, but well made.  Excellent service.

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Tofuro  is a chain of restaurant serving all sorts of food (soba, sushis, grilled chicken, misc Japanese bistrot food). I went to the one situated in Ginza .

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I picked a bowl of hot Soba which featured perfectly thin delicate noodles. I usually prefer thick soba noodles, but this was soba of flawless technique, the noodle impossibly refined, the broth having balanced seasoning.  I won’t hide the fact that this was a bit too gourmet for my taste as I am fonder of the mom and pop type of soba noodles that abound in Tokyo, but that should not detract from the observation that Tofuro’s soba was superb. 9/10

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The yakitori (grilled chicken) was another showcase of the high level of cooking technique found under this roof, with meat of fine quality and flavors that can only come from an inspired kitchen of talented cooks. Miles away from the poorly executed , oftently dry and tasteless, grilled chicken that can be found at plenty of bistrots. Superb yakitori offerings with not one single flaw to be noticed. 8/10

The service was also of really high standard.

Pros: It is rare to find a ‘jack of all trades’ (they do not specialize in one type of food) that does virtually execute pretty much everything flawlessly. I am not implying that Tofuro is exceptional. What  I can tell you,though, is that few restaurants can do as much …this well.

Cons: perhaps  such  refinement will not be the cup of tea of someone looking for rusticity

My verdict: 8/10 (Category: mid-level all-rounder isakaya/soba/yakitori in Tokyo) By reading reviews of local foodies, I realized that they tend to not like their chain restaurants that much, a recurrent trend  a bit  everywhere around the globe. But I could not care about feelings and perceptions. Chains or not, what matters to me is the food and how great it fared to me. Tofuro’s display was one of superb and consistent high level of technique. A place like this could easily remain in the top5 of Montreal’s finest restaurants for years and yet our top 5 is nowhere close in terms of consistency ( I ate 3 times, at Tofuro,within 1 week. Tried lunch and dinner and the  technique was great and  flawless on each instance).

What I think weeks later: Obviously, it would be irrational to expect a ‘jack of all trades’ to showcase the sort of homey/artisan feel that’s more appropriately the affair of a ‘specialist’ (sushiya, dedicated soba place, ramen ya, etc), but finding an all-rounder that does execute pretty much everything flawlessly, and oh, btw…at such low cost, with actually …quality produce, everything homemade, with such level of consistency, well …that is no ordinary achievement by any restaurant standards.