Elske *

Elske
1350 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-1314
Website

Last year, Chicago’s West Loop welcomed the Danish-inspired restaurant, Elske. Located along W Randolph Street, this was a great addition to a neighborhood with a bustling dining scene. As one of the most awaited opening in 2016, the restaurant did not disappoint. It was voted number two in Bon Appetite Best New Restaurant in 2017, a three star review from Chicago Tribune, and most recent accolade, a Michelin star. The owners are husband and wife David and Anna Posey who both worked at the Michelin starred Blackbird in Chicago. Prior to opening Elske, David held the position of chef de cuisine at Blackbird while Anna was a pastry chef at Publican.

The restaurant’s expansive space seats about fifty guests, and has large store front windows that looks out to the street. The dining room has uncovered dark wooden communal tables, walls of exposed brick, and smooth concrete for floors. At the front is the bar area located next to the open kitchen. On a good day, an outdoor space with a fire place doubles up as an additional dining space.

Elske has an a la carte menu that is inexpensive. There are no plates over $24. In addition, an affordable $85 tasting menu is quite appealing to my pocket, which is what perpetuated my visit.

The tasting menu started with Tea of lightly smoked fruits and vegetables, which was a cup of tea infused with subtle smoked vegetables and fruits flavors. This was followed by Broccoli and amaranth fritter with spicy date jams. A single crunchy bite of grainy fritter boasts a dynamic duo of both sweet and spicy. Duck liver tart with salted ramp and buckwheat was next. The decadent tart teases nice hints of brininess with a touch of bitterness.

The meal continued with an interesting dish called, Chilled zucchini and buttermilk cream with braised pistachio, blueberries and elder, which were thinly sliced chilled zucchinis blanketed in thick cream. The cream has a mixture of sour, sweet, and nuttiness that worked superbly with the zucchini’s cold element. Roasted sturgeon with fried artichoke, caviar and lovage came afterwards. The sturgeon was roasted impeccably, it was tender and moist. The lovage sauce with caviar provided the saltiness, elevating the fish, while the fried artichoke makes fine accompaniment.

Grilled Vegas strip steak with braised dandelion greens, smoked beef and roasted marrow was the main course. The steak was scrumptious, packed with flavors, and has delightful presence of smokiness. Adding richness to the dish, was the roasted bone marrow consommé.

Frozen fennel jelly with mint followed the main dish. This concoction was a tongue soothing cube of jelly mint that helps rinse the palate off savory remnants. For dessert, Roasted peach sorbet, frozen yogurt, rose and bitter almonds was served. The peach sorbet went perfectly well with the yogurt, creating a pleasant blend of cold fruitiness and sourness. The garnished of dehydrated rose petal added texture.

Needless to say, this was quite the enjoyable meal. The dishes were creative and refined using cooking techniques that are evident of experienced chefs. The flavor combination was unique but made sense as it rightfully complemented each other.  Though the restaurant served “New American” cuisine with Danish influence, I find that the flavor profile leans more towards Nordic. The wine pairing was also decently priced at $45, and comprised of five glasses. It was mostly European wines with the exception of the red wine paired with the steak, which came from California.

Wine Pairing:

After dining at the three Michelin starred Grace the previous night, I wanted something informal and relaxing. Elske was the right place. I had an early dinner on this particular visit and was seated at the bar. The bartender that evening was genuinely friendly and conversant. When I started my meal there were a few tables occupied but as the night progressed, the dining room and bar filled up fairly quick. Despite the sudden influx of patrons at this time, the service did not falter.

There is a growing number of restaurants opening up in the past few years that offers quality food in strip down settings. From Paris to New York, this type of dining trend has been well received by the masses. In Chicago, such restaurant came in the form of Elske where I was treated with fine dining fare without the prentious atmosphere.

 

Grace ***

Grace
652 W Randolph St
Chicago IL 60661
(312) 234-9494
Website

*The restaurant abruptly closed on December 19, 2017.

Along with New York City and San Francisco, Chicago is hailed as one of dining capital in the US. The city has a total of 25 Michelin starred restaurants sprinkled throughout. At the epicenter is the neighborhood of West Loop. With an abundance of great places to eat and drink, the neighborhood’s culinary excellence is anchored by the three Michelin starred, Grace.

Grace was opened in 2012 by co-owners head chef Curtis Duffy and GM/sommelier Michael Muser. At that time, it was by far the most ambitious and most anticipated restaurant openings in Chicago, as well as in the country. The restaurant was immediately awarded two Michelin stars after a few month of opening. A year later in 2013, Grace was elevated to three stars, a status it has maintained ever since. The restaurant has since received other accolades in such a short span, adding merits such as the four-star review from the Chicago-Tribune, Forbes Five Stars and AAA Five Diamonds.

Chef Curtis Duffy can easily boast a robust kitchen experience working in some of Chicago’s top restaurants. He once worked with the late Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant before moving on to Trio, cooking alongside Chicago’s most decorated chef, Grant Achatz. In 2004, he was recruited by Chef Achatz as the opening sous-chef of the critically acclaimed Alinea. After a few years there, he took on the head chef position at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel where he also met his future business partner Michael Muser. At Avenues, Chef Duffy cooking reportoire was awarded two Michelin stars.

The restaurant resides along the strip of W. Randolph Street where some of Chicago’s best dining venues are also located. Grace unassuming façade of rusted steel with glass doors opens directly to the hostess table. A short hallway leads to a muted and windowless dining room with tones of neutral colors. It is dimly lit by hanging decanter lights and the floors are cover in thick carpets, which helps dampen the noise. In the dining room are identical oversize round table draped in grey cloth, cream leather chairs, handsome blond wood panel walls, and a glass enclosed kitchen. The columns in the middle are nicely incorporated with its modern interior.

Fauna:

There were only two dining option at Grace, the vegetable centric “Flora,” and the meat and seafood “Fauna,” which were both priced at $235. I had the latter which began with an array of small bites on a plate made from beeswax. Consisting of Iberian ham, beets, chickpea and yuzu gummy, these small bites were a very good start to this meal.

For the first course, GUINEA HEN-ramp, radish, chive blossom was presented in a yogurt glass cup sealed in foil, and when opened it releases an enticing smoky aroma. I was instructed to lick the other side of the lid which was spread with a zesty coconut cream. The glass was stuffed with guinea hen pate infused with a wonderful smokiness in company of radish, ramps, scallions and coconut cream.

ALASKAN KING CRAB-sudachi, cucumber, lemon mint was next. Served on a martini tumbler glass, it has a crystalized sugar in the middle separating the ingredients. At the bottom of the glass are pieces of delicious crab meat in cumber juice. Breaking the crystalized sugar mixes all the ingredients, creating a fantastic balance of flavors. There was also a distinct peppery note that blended perfectly.

Third course was the BAY SCALLOPS-white poppy, romaine, nasturtium. Meaty scallops were ultra-fresh and sweet. Rich milky sauce from white poppy seeds elevated the scallops by providing an extra layer of flavor. That was followed by an extra dish from the Flora menu, CARROT-green strawberry, hazelnut, amaranth. This vegetarian plate has so much going on. It has an earthiness coming from the carrot, some nuttiness from the hazel nuts, citric features from the orange sauce, and a refreshing acidity from green strawberries. Yet, they all managed to come together in harmony.

The meal proceeded with PORK- gnudi, porcini, spinach. The nicely braised pork was topped with crispy red cabbage and spinach. A piece of gnudi on the side was a pleasant accompaniment to this dish. Afterward the SQUAB-beet, fig, endive was served. The flavorful squab meat was extra tender, moist with a beautiful pink middle. And, complementing it was a vibrant thick beets puree with a honey like sweetness.

For the main course, MIYAZAKI BEEF – grains, hon shimeji, kaffir lime was a pure luxury. Miyazaki beef is one the finest on the planet and it was cooked impeccably here. Each bite melts eloquently in the mouth like a cotton candy. There are hints of nutty and citrus element in the background that paired accordingly with the beef.

Prior to dessert, the BLOOD ORANGE- vanilla, tangerine lace was the palate cleanser. The chilled blood orange yields a soothing citrus tang with a nice touch of vanilla cream. Dessert was HUCKLEBERRY- honey, fenugreek, basil, huckleberry ice cream has a nice sweet sourness while other components provide an interesting peppery and minty combination. This was refreshing and fruity at the same time. Next was the CASHEW- cocoa, crème fraîche, Hoja Santa, which was a plate of chocolaty pleasure. The chocolate came in mouse, jelly and cake form and the hoja santa was featured as a sorbet, cream drops and leaves. The assortments of rich chocolate sweetness, herbal essence and savory tartness were put wonderfully together. Lastly a green sphere served on wooden rocker pops with chilled honey dew liquid inside the mouth. It was a refreshing finish to this meal.

The “Fauna” was a terrific tasting menu that showcased the restaurant’s ability and the technical cooking prowess. Using quality and luxurious ingredients sourced both globally and locally, the kitchen creates food that is complex and light. They were able to successfully marry different elements on the plate to create a unique myriad of taste. Every dish was artfully conceived, full of colors and pleasing to look at. Additionally, the $125 wine pairing comprise of nine glasses of predominantly European wines were perfectly designed to add an enriching after taste with every course.

There is a hushed atmosphere in dining room. It is so quiet that you can hear the pin drop, and even the staff spoke in low clear tone. The service was formal throughout my meal, but managed to loosen up from time to time. They handled each table flawlessly and were significantly in tune with one another. Their attention to detail and awareness was incomparable. Providing an exceptional dining experience to each guest was expertly performed by the staff.

Wine Pairing:

Chicago dining has gotten better throughout the years, the city was voted as Bon Appetite best restaurant city in 2016. At the top spot are the three Michelin starred Alinea and Grace. Though Alinea gets majority of the praise, Grace on the other hand has been making a name for itself since opening in 2013. My visit at this restaurant was outstanding in every aspect. The food and the service were equally magnificent, a true tale sign of what greatness represents.

The documentary “For Grace” chronicled the process of opening the restaurant and the challenges that Chef Duffy and Mr. Muser had to face. In the opening scene, Chef Duffy talks about his goal to make Grace as one of best the restaurant in the country. Along with Mr. Muser they had achieved that goal in such a short time. Grace rightfully sits among the great restaurants in the US.

Cafe China *


Cafe China 
13 E 37th St.
New York NY 10016
(212) 213-2810
Website

Chinese food has been one of the most popular here in the US. It is cheap, tasty, quick, and readily available at any hour of the day. For the most part it has been a quintessential food to many Americans.. There are a number of widely known dishes such as fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, lemon chicken, egg roll and of course, none is more famous than General Tso Chicken, (which was also voted as Grubhub fourth most ordered dish), that can found at every Chinese restaurant in New York City, and all across America. Nestled in Midtown Manhattan, Café China is not your proto-typical Chinese restaurant that serves bastardized version of Chinese food made to please American palates. Instead, they specialize in Sichuan cuisine which is distinctively spicy and pungent.

Unlike other Chinese restaurants, Café China’s interior is appealing. It has an L shape marble bar in the front that greets guests as they come in. Chandeliers and lamps brighten up the space. Its walls are adorned with large mirrors, and 1920 Old Shanghai photographs of Chinese women. Uncovered tables are paired with chairs that are seen in NYC public school. There are also leather benches with velvet back rest.

Café China has garnered a two star review from New York Times, a Michelin star for four consecutive years, and continuously ranked as among the top Chinese restaurant in New York City. Its menu is not overly extensive compared to others, and for the most part the dishes are offered for both lunch and dinner. The prices are fairly reasonable with entrée averaging about $25 for dinner and even cheaper during the afternoon.

Small plates like the Jellyfish in Scallion Pesto- Julienne jellyfish seasoned with scallion pesto were an interesting use of western ingredient in Asian food. In this case it was done properly, the subtlety of the gelatinous jelly fish was wonderfully flavored with pesto sauce. Both the Crystal Shrimp Dumplings and the Vegetable Pot Stickers were good, but nothing really to rave about. But the simple Sweet Potato Pancake on the other hand, had a nice fried crust and sweetness.

For entrées, the classic Kung Pao Chicken- stir fried with peanuts, peppercorn & chili peppers was a better version that I had before and has an abundance of tingling sensation. The Three Pepper Chicken- stir fried with chili peppers & peppercorn were tender pieces of chicken cooked with three types of pepper that yielded a numbing spiciness.

Fragrant Fish Filet filets of sole w/snow pea shoots & green chili pepper, were steamed chunks of sole that were lightly dressed with soy sauce which provided the right amount of saltiness. Snow pea shoots gave it an herbal aroma that went very well with green chili pepper’s spiciness. The Braised Fish Filet with Tofu filets of sole w/ chili sauce, peanuts and cilantro was a bowl of fiery pleasure. Fillet of braised sole and tofu are drowned in thick spicy sauce. Both of these dishes were pleasant.

Shredded Beef with Green Chili had a nice sum of spiciness that went along with tasty shredded beef. The Beef Sautéed with Tea Tree Mushroom was slightly milder and has very good flavors. It also has a strong earthiness provided by the tea tree mushroom. The vegetarian entrée of Egg Plant in Garlic Sauce were egg plants swimming in sweet syrupy garlic sauce was surprisingly appetizing.

My meals at Café China were quite enjoyable. The food was consistent, straight-forward, and had a certain refinement. It also had tremendous amount of spicy element that manages to blend properly with other ingredients on the plate without over powering them.

Subject to personal opinion, Cafe China might not compare to other Sichuan restaurant in New York City, but there is no denying that this is a solid restaurant. Cafe China constantly delivers spicy and flavorsome Sichuan food that New Yorkers have come to enjoy.

Geranium ***

Geranium
Per Henrik Lings Allé 4
2100 København Ø, Denmark
+45 69 96 00 20
Website

Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, is high on the list as the best city to eat on earth. The birthplace of New Nordic cuisine, and home to numerous world celebrated restaurants, also has the highest concentration of Michelin starred places in the region. The city was hailed as the gastronomic capital of Scandinavia. In 2016 when the Michelin guide promoted the restaurant Geranium to three stars, it further solidified the city’s status.

Geranium is the first and only three Michelin-starred restaurant in Denmark. It also claimed the top spot in the Nordic White Guide 2017/18, and currently ranked number 19 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. With all the awards, the path to greatness was challenging for co-owners head chef Rasmus Kofoed, and Soren Ledet, the wine/restaurant director. They opened the restaurant in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star a year later, but bankruptcy of an investor led to its closure. In 2010, the duo re-opened Geranium at its current location and regained the Michelin star in 2012. The second star came the following year and finally the third star in 2016.

Aside from the Michelin accolades, Chef Kofoed was the only person to win bronze, silver and gold at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition (the trophies are proudly displayed in the restaurants lounge area), and was voted Danish Chef of the year in 2003. He is arguably the most decorated chef in Denmark. His culinary career started at Copenhagen’s Hotel D’Angleterre before embarking to Belgium’s two-Michelin starred Scholeshof. After coming back to Denmark Chef Koefed took the reigns at the now closed two Michelin-starred Kommandanten (the first restaurant in Denmark to hold multiple stars), and held various head chef position in the city. His final stop before Geranium was the head chef position of Hotel D’Angleterre. Mr. Ledet on the other hand, was a former chef at noma turned sommelier. He curated Geraniums award-winning wine list that was recognized by Wine Spectator.

The restaurant is housed on the 8th floor of the Tiel Parken stadium, which is also home to FC Copenhagen, the most successful football club in the nation. Geraniums floor to ceiling windows provide a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The interior is stylish and strictly Scandinavian with white and gray color scheme. The open concept dining room is slated with natural wood floorings, neatly dressed oversize round tables, and custom made Danish-designed chairs and benches. There is an open kitchen in the front of the dining room giving diners a theatric aspect and direct view of Chef Koefed and his chefs in action.

A seasonal “Geranium Universe” tasting menu cost 2000 DKK (750 DKK deposit to confirm the reservation) is offered both lunch and dinner, which consist of fifteen plus courses.

To start, I was served a decadent custard of Lobster Milk, Juice from Fermented Carrots & Sea Buckthorn. The custard has layers of sweet, savory, and vinegary essence that comes together in harmony. At the bottom, are delicious pieces of lobster meat. Next, was the Jerusalem Artichoke Leaves, Hazel Nut Oil & Rye Vinegar. A pair of crispy chips shaped like a leaf from Jerusalem artichoke, and served with a tasty mayonnaise dip from hazel nut and rye vinegar.  This was followed by the “Razor Clams” with Mineral & Sour Cream. These ingeniously constructed edible razor clams made from wheat and squid ink, were delightfully filled with chopped raw razor clams, sour cream, tarragon and parsley.

Then came the, Tomato Water, Ham Fat and Aromatic Herbs. This was a small cup of tomato water served with a spoon filled with herbs and petals. The tomato water has incredible robust flavors. Mixing the herbs with the tomato water, as instructed by my server, releases the elegant aromatics of the dish. The “Dillstone” Trout, Horse Radish & Frozen Juice from Pickle Dill was a brilliantly conceived dish. Coated in dill and shaped to replicate a stone, the humble trout was elevated, and given a certain refinement. The chilled bitterness of the horse radish with pickle dill was the rightful cohort to the dill stone. The Nettles, Smoked Cheese & Dried Oyster had  rich smoky features, as well as having a clear oyster presence.

After six terrific appetizers, it was time to move on to the main dishes. The first course was a seasonal Danish delicacy; Smoked Lumpfish Roe & Fermented Creamy Cauliflower. The subtle lumpfish roe was given a touch of smokiness that went very well with the sharpness of the fermented cauliflower cream. Salted Hake, Parsley Stems & Finnish Caviar in Buttermilk was the second course, and also Geranium’s signature dish. This had delicate flavors that were heightened with the saltiness of the caviar. The buttermilk gave it the perfect hint of creaminess, while the fried fish scales provided the crunchy textures. Next was an enjoyable bread course of Crispy Grains, Bread with Old Grains & Gluten Free Bread with Seeds. Two types of bread and cheese sticks served with homemade butter.

The meal continued with the Scallop in Juniper Aroma, Flippa Reduction & Browned Butter.  Prepared tableside by Chef Koefed himself, the scrumptious scallop marine’s sweetness was magnificently lifted by the broth’s nuttiness.  Lightly Salted Turbot, Green Herbs, Celeriac & Pickel Pine was a tender piece of mildly seasoned fish with a nicely seared outer layer. In harmony with the turbot was the pleasant tartness of the celeriac sauce. Thevibrant herbs and its vegetal essence balanced all the component on the plate.  The following course was Tartlet with Fjord Shrimp, Sol & Pickled Elder Flowers, a tart filled with crispy shrimps, herbs and flowers comes with very good flavors. The final main course was the Stuffed Morels, Wild Mushrooms, Smoked Chicken Fat & Hops. The profound earthiness of the mushrooms and morels were combined exquisitely with savory lushness from the consommé of smoke chicken fat.

Prior to dessert I was given a tour of the restaurant. We started in the lounge area, which was separated by a marble center island table with an enclosed fire place, before proceeding to their wine storage. We continued to their private dining area, where we sampled in-house cured meats. I made my way to the back kitchen that looks down on the football pitch, before exiting to the dining room.

Back to my table, dessert began with A Bite of Beetroot, Blackcurrant, Yoghurt & Tagetes; a tiny ball caramelized in beets had a soothing sweetness while also having a lingering liquorish sourness. Served in pair, were the Ice Cream from Beeswax & Pollen, Dried Apples and Elderberries. The ice cream had a beautiful refreshing natural sweetness, while the bowl with dried apples and elderberries had a pleasing fruity dulcet.  For the final dessert, I was served the Caramel With Roasted Grains, Chamomile & Pear.  On the plate was a rich puffy mousse sweetened by caramel syrup, which was fittingly accompanied by grainy sweetness of the pear.

I opted to have the mignardises at the lounge where I was served Pumpkin Tree & Cake With Pumpkin Seed Oil, Caramel, Dried Plum Juice & Aromatic Seeds, Chocolate with Oats & Sea Buckthorn, Marshmallow with Rose Hip and Green Egg with Pine.  I had these confectionary delights with a cup of fresh Danish latte, carefully brewed in-front of me.

After fifteen or so courses and four hours later, the culinary marathon was sadly came to an end. This was an amazing meal that had plenty of unique and intricate flavor combinations, with different textures. One course after another continued to excite the palate while also appealing visually. The cooking focused and precise down to the very smallest details, and the use of local seasonal ingredients was remarkable. Chef Kofoed’s repertoire that won him numerous culinary accolades, and made him one of the top toques in the world was on display on my visit.

As with any place in Copenhagen wine marked up is ridiculously out of this world. It was no different at Geranium where the wine pairing cost 1500 DKK ($210). While there was a cheaper juice pairing, the restaurant was happy to accommodate my request of a mixture of wines and juice pairing for a lesser value at 1000 DKK. Having the best of both options, the juice pairing of Green Apples &Elderflower, Gooseberries, Sunflower Seeds & Tarragon and Cloudberry were creative and fascinating, especially with how their sweetness complemented the food properly. The same can be said with the four glasses of European wines as it adds an extra after taste.

The service was sincerely friendly and particularly attentive. Though the manner of professionalism were still on display they were still able to make it fun.  I was thoroughly impressed with the young and diverse staff on how well trained they were. Everyone that brought the food to my table, from the hostess to the chefs, and wait staff were equally knowledgeable, and very much involved in providing a dining experience. As with Chef Koefed, his presence in the dining room was very much noticeable. He served, performed table side preparation, and interacted with his guests, stopping by every table every so often.

Wine Pairing:

A meal at Geranium is costly but well worth the price of admission. There is no better restaurant in Copenhagen. For years it has lived in the shadow of noma but since its closure and the arrival of the third Michelin star, Geranium has undisputedly become the top dining venue in Copenhagen.

While three Michelin stars are the highest accolades that a restaurant can achieve, not all with this honor is equally in the same caliber. Geranium, on the other hand is the Creme de la Creme of these select group and rightfully one of the very best in the world. Dining at this restaurant was epic and unforgettable and will forever be etched in memory. This was New Nordic cuisine at its finest.

 

Relae *

Dining Room

Relae
Jægersborggade 41
2200 København N, Denmark
+45 36 96 66 09
Official Site

Voted as the world’s best restaurant three times, the two Michelin-starred Noma single handedly brought New Nordic Cuisine to mainstream and in the process transformed Copenhagen into a gastronomic hub. The kitchen serves as a talent incubator producing an impressive list of alumni. One of its most prominent alum was Italian born chef Christian Puglisi who was the sous chef for more than two years before leaving in 2010 to open his own restaurant, Relae in Copenhagen’s trendy section of Norrebro.

Prior to Noma, Chef Puglisi worked at then three Michelin starred Taillevent in Paris, and the world renowned El Bulli in Spain. With his strong pedigree, it was no surprise that Relae was a success from day one. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 201,1 and presently occupies the 39th spot of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant (it debut in 2015 at no. 45). In addition, it was crowned the International Food Made Good Champion 2016 Winner and was the recipient of the Sustainable Restaurant award in 2015 and 2016.

Relae is situated along a charming cobblestone street filled with boutique stores and coffee shops. This subterranean restaurant has an open kitchen in the front with counter seating on the side that can accommodate up to six guests. The dining room has low ceilings, white walls, linen less oak tables and Scandinavian dining chairs.

There are only two types of dinning option available, the seven course “Ralae Experience” for 895 KR and a shorter “Relea Menu” for 475 KR. I had the “Relae Experience” on my visit.

Radish and preserved strawberries kick things off. This was a piece of red radish topped with strawberries and covered in sorrel leaves. The crunchy radish and its mustardy taste were complemented nicely by the strawberry sweetness. The sorrel leaves yields a pleasant sour note. The sour dough bread with spicy olive oil was freshly baked, warm and extra-tender in the middle.

Onion and birch, was a preserved half onion in birch water. The onion has a distinct sweet oniony taste and lucid texture that was wonderfully lifted by the birch water’s clean flavor.  This was followed by Oyster, spinach & juniper; a finely chopped spinach with chunks of luscious oyster hidden beneath. Its profound maritime presence was greatly enhance by the acidity of the oyster emulsion dressing.

Next up was a cup of lumpfish roe, celeriac & almond; a Danish delicacy at their peak from January to May.  The delicate roe was brilliantly combined with the almond cream subtleness. Mussel and ramson had plenty of deep oceanic essence while also having a defined garlic undertone. Providing an extra layer of saltiness was the mussel juice. The meal continued with a humble plate of potato, parmesan and black pepper. Slice potatoes drenched with five year old melted parmesan cheese.  By absorbing the aged cheese the potatoes was subdued in its sharp tanginess to create the right balance.

Hindsholm pork and spring greens was the main course. Hindsholm pork is a  type of pork that lives twice as long as a common hog and their meat are considered to be the finest in Denmark. In this dish, the pork meat was roasted to perfection, it was succulently tender and extremely flavorful. The combination of raw and cooked green vegetables on the plate were a delightful addition. Served on the side, was the Buckwheat tart with pig head meat and pig mayo. The tart was ultra-rich and fatty but was pleasing at the same time.

Fresh cheese, blueberries and black olives was a buckwheat pancake folded in half stuffed with fresh cheese. This has an interesting mixture of savory and tartness that worked fittingly with each other.

Dessert came in the form of yoghurt and citrus, served cold to sooth the palate.  The yogurt was blanketed with dehydrated orange which provided texture as well as the citric flavors that complemented its sourness. To finish was the mushroom and caramel. It had an appealing earthiness that was beautiful paired with the sweet caramel.

In this tasting, the food was unfussy yet skillfully prepared and vegetable heavy. Every plate is simple looking, there were no more than four ingredients used at a time. With this minimalist approach they were able to create a unique combination of taste that my palate had never experience before. The produce and other ingredients were highly seasonal, organic and local. The same goes for their wine list which consists of naturally grown wine from continental Europe.

There are no wait staff at the restaurant, the chefs that prepare the food also serves them. The staff is completely competent and friendly. Their informal service was the perfect fit for the restaurant laid back atmosphere. In the dining room, diners enjoy their food in the music of Nas, Biggie, Jay Z and other hip hop heavyweights.

With the success of Relae, Chef Puglisi has not only become one of the most recognizable chef in Denmark, but also one of the most successful restaurateur. He established his own mini empire in Copenhagen that includes Manfred a wine bar (located directly across the street from Relae), Braest an Italian restaurant, and a bakery Maribelle which all follow Relae’s concept of sustainability. As of last year, Chef Puglisi had turned over control of his flagship to his head chef Jonathan Tam to focus on his growing numbers of restaurant and other projects. With this changing of the guard, Relae continues to thrive and progress. Chef Tam was able to maintain what his predecessor has achieved. It remains a gastronomic stop in Copenhagen for all travelling gastronomes.

Copenhagen is in the top ten most expensive city in the world. To eat and drink at their top tier restaurant, one will need to have a deep pocket while the affordable ones are still pricey compared to New York City.  The wine and spirits at any eateries are marked up brutally. It makes me wonder how people can afford such a high price tag. Relae on the other hand allows diners to experience high quality food at a reasonable price.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester ***

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
53 Park Ln, Mayfair,London
W1K 1QA, UK
+44 20 7629 8866
Official Site

Alain Ducasse is one of the most decorated and influential chef/ restaurateur in the world. He holds an astronomical 18 Michelin stars (only bested by Joel Robuchon), including three restaurants in different cities with three stars; a feat that he was the first to accomplished. This was no easy task, but Chef Ducasse remarkably managed to achieve this twice. His dining empire stretches continents and his restaurant can be found in every major global city like New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. In London, he has the three Michelin starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, and Rivea in the Bulgari Hotel.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester opened its door in 2007. Within two years, it was awarded two stars by the Michelin guide. A year later the ultimate third star came; joining the ranks of Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, The Waterside Inn and The Fat Duck as the only restaurant in the UK to have three stars. Taking charge of the kitchen from day one and responsible for the restaurants ascession to the top was head chef Jocelyn Harland; who has since been dispatched to lead Le Meurice in Paris in early 2016. Sous chef Jean-Philippe Blondet, a veteran of the Ducasse restaurant group was promoted to head chef. He was tasked to maintain the Ducasse standard and under his leadership Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester retained its three stars in the current UK Michelin guide.

This flagship restaurant of the iconic Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair has an understated interior, with a touch of contemporary elegance. The dining room is surrounded by wooden paneled walls;, the tables are dressed in beige and white cloth, and the chairs are draped with lush leather. Its center piece, “Table Lumiere”, a private table for up-to-six guests is surrounded by fiber optics strand. Separated from the main dining room next to the windows is another area with additional tables. The space has plenty of natural lights, and Hyde Park serves as its background. Chandeliers shaped in metallic leaves stretched from one end to the other and hangs above its tall ceiling.

A la carte, tasting menu and a seasonal tasting menu are offered for both afternoon and evening while a special three course is available for lunch. On this visit, I had the seven course tasting menu for 145 GBP that started with a handful of gourges or cheese puffs. Soft and airy cheese puffs are flavored with either paprika or pepper was nice to snack on while waiting. First course was the Dorset crab celeriac and caviar. Thinly sliced celeriac rolled and stuffed with tasty crab meat are topped with caviar. The caviar topping was a great way to elevate the crab meat, giving it a bite of saltiness. As a bonus, a extra crispy crab claw fried in tempura batter is added to the already savory plate.

Next were the Guinea fowl and duck foie gras terrine rhubarb.  The terrine was scrumptious and had delightful richness. Providing a certain tartness to complement the terrine was the rhubarb. The third course, saute gourmand of lobster truffled chicken quenelles, was the signature dish of the restaurant. Lobster, chicken and pasta drowning in cream sauce packed of wonderful deep savory flavors. This course was the highlight of the meal.

Line-caught sea bass cucumber and juniper came after. The sea bass was firm yet delicately tender and was seasoned beautifully. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same with the cucumber on the plate as it was a tad too salty for my palate. For the main course, I was served the Milk-fed lamb green peas and mint.  Perfectly cooked lamb chops were extremely succulent and flavorful. Along with the peas and the green vegetable puree on this dish, the mint accompanied the lamb fittingly.

The cheese course was an Assortment of four French cheeses with varying types of textures and sharpness. Served with different condiments, the spicy puree worked particularly very well with all four cheeses.

The sweet course started with Mignardises & Gourmandise; consisting of macaroons, homemade caramel candy, coated almonds and chocolates all presented at the same time while desert followed shortly. Marking the end of the meal, I was served Berry contemporary vacherin that was mightly sweet and almost syrupy. However, the sweetness was wonderfully subdued by the vacherin, and its savory and acidic features. There was also a cold aspect to desert that was quiet refreshing.

With the exception of the cucumber in the sea bass course, this was a very good meal where the cooking standard is equally as high as the execution. I find their Modern French cuisine to be light and satisfying. In each course, the individual components worked together harmoniously, striking the right balance on the plate. To go along with this tasting, I requested for the 95 GBP wine paring that included Alain Ducasse’s own champagne label. The pairing was perfect, all seven individual glasses enhanced the flavors in each course it was paired with. The restaurants wine list is plentiful and consists of predominantly French wines and some from continental Europe and Australia. I was extremely surprised to see US wines on their list.

The service was polished and faultless. The multicultural staff exudes calm and confidence. They worked the busy dining room flawlessly and discreetly, glancing unnoticeably at every table often assuring diners were properly looked after.

Wine Pairing:

This was my first foray to an Alain Ducasse establishment. The service and the setting is what I anticipated. The food, though it was very good it just did not exceed what I was hoping for.  Perhaps it was the name associated with it or the three Michelin stars that set my expectation too high.  Nevertheless Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, is still worthy of the label as one of the finest dining venue that London has to offer.

 

Delaware and Hudson *

Delaware and Hudson
135 N 5th St,
Brooklyn, NY 11249
(718) 218-8191
Official Website

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the epicenter of hipster nation, has a glut of places to eat and drink. Along with highly rated restaurants, there are Michelin starred venues scattered throughout the neighborhood including Delaware and Hudson. Its Chef and owner Patty Jackson, is a seasoned veteran of the New York City culinary scene with an impressive cooking resume. Starting as a pastry chef, she was the Executive Pastry Chef of Alto before taking on the Executive Chef position for both Centovini and I Trulli simultaneously. In 2014, Chef Jackson opened Delaware and Hudson, a 40-seat seasonal American restaurant.  Her Mid-Atlantic inspired cuisine at the restaurant was well received by both critics and the dining public. Garnering one star review from the New York Times as well as being named as one of their best new restaurant in 2014. Less than a year later, it earned its first Michelin star, which by itself an incredible feat.  With the Michelin star, Chef Jackson joins a very select group of female-led kitchen with this accolade.

The restaurants interior is simple and plain. It has bare wooden tables, exposed ceilings, epoxy coated floor, and walls with framed photographs of vegetables. Adjacent to the dining area is the bar room, also known as The Tavern.

A la carte menu are offered for lunch, brunch and all day at The Tavern. At dinner, the only option is the $68 pre fixe that consists of four courses, and diners are allowed to choose their entree.

My meal started with a parade of snacks placed in front of me simultaneously. The pretzel rolls were freshly baked and still warm. The savory cup cheese custard with chow chow was thick and heavy. Cutting down the richness of the cheese was its relish topping.  House-cured duck pastrami, damson plums has a tremendous of amount cured flavors that was enhanced by its mustard like sauce. The smoked mackerel pate with radish presented on top of thin crispy bread yields a deep oceanic essence with a touch of profound smokiness.  Served on the shell, were the crispy fried malpeque oysters, kohlrabi slaw that had a nice briny sweetness to it. Sour-braised meatball, ginger snap gravy was scrumptious with good lingering sour note. There is also a gingery spiciness from the gravy that complemented the meatballs.

The first course was the potato and cheese filled dumplings, country ham, and brussels sprouts, walnuts.  In this hearty dish all the component play a significant role. The bacon’s saltiness provided the flavor while the walnut gave the dumplings the extra texture that it needed.

Dining with a companion, I was able to sample two of the four main courses available on that evening. The Atlantic cod-parsnip puree, roasted carrots, sauteed greens was a superbly cooked piece of cod placed on a bed of sautéed vegetables. It was tender yet also firm and the puree of parsnip provided a certain nuttiness to the dish. Hasenpfeffer-rabbit leg, roasted corn mush, oyster mushrooms is a traditional German rabbit stew brought by German immigrants that settled in the Mid-Atlantic States in the mid 1800’s. The rabbit leg was seared with a beautiful layer of crispiness; on the other hand the inner part was juicy and flavorful.  The earthiness of the mushroom and carrots combined with the roasted features of the corn mash made up a pleasant accompaniment to the rabbit.

For dessert I was served the chocolate cake, with vanilla mouse and banana, which was dosed in sweet syrup. There was nothing special about this dessert, but there’s no better way to end a meal than with chocolate and vanilla. Petites four were brought by Chef Jackson herself, and consisted of more chocolates.

The meal was pleasant and enjoyable. Each plate had very good flavors that were uncomplicated. The food was neither simple nor complex, but rather prepared with solid cooking technique driven by fresh seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms in the surrounding area. The restaurant has terrific collection of craft beers and ciders from New York and the Mid-Atlantic States, as well as a modest wine list. By the glass options are reasonably priced, and there are plenty of both red and white bottles below the $60 mark.

The staff had a good deal of knowledge of food and drinks. Service was smooth, efficient and has a relax attitude that was a perfect fit for the neighborhood. Delaware and Hudson has a casual vibe. During my visit on a Saturday evening, the restaurant was bustling with an eclectic group of guest from all age range; some are dress to impress while others are with their jeans and t-shirts.

Dining trends these days stay away from white table cloth, immaculate dress wait staff and the formality in service. Instead, chefs and restaurateurs shifted their focus more on the food and less on the settings. Now, there are casual restaurants that serve multi-course meal prepared in ultra-modern techniques with global influences and a hefty price tag. Delaware and Hudson followed this trend halfway and was able to succeed. They offer very good tasting food without the fireworks that produces the wow factor, a relax atmosphere, and a price point that is approachable to many.

Jones Wood Foundry

Dining Room

Jones Wood Foundry
401 E 76th St.
New York, NY 10021
(212) 249-2700
Website

In the late 1700’s, there was successful merchant named John Jones who owned a large land in upper Manhattan in what is today the Upper East Side. During that time, the area was known as Jones Wood. Fast forward four hundred years later, a restaurant housed in a 19th century building on 75th street by First Avenue was fittingly named Jones Wood Foundry.

At first glance Jones Wood Foundry looks more like a pub than a restaurant. A long bar greets you as you enter. After making your way through the bar and down a few steps is an area next to a tiny courtyard (use for outdoor seating on warmer months). It has exposed brick walls and a lengthy communal table in the middle sitting directly below the skylight. Behind it is the dimly lit main dining room with low ceilings. Worn out wooden floors, heavy marble tables with cabin chairs along with the décor, created a rustic interior in the space imitating an old English pub.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner as well as brunch on the weekend. The menu has a slight variation but for the most part dishes are available at all times.

Starters like the RICOTTA – sourdough, aged balsamic, thyme, rosemary were the blandness and thick textures of the ricotta was delightfully flavored by the strong balsamic vinegar. The CHICKEN LIVER FOIE GRAS PARFAIT- brioche, grape chutney, cornichon was buttery, extremely rich, and bursting with so much flavor. Toasted brioche was the perfect company for the parfait.

The soup of SPICED BUTTERNUT SQUASH -brown butter crouton, toasted pumpkin seed and its pleasant thick earthy sweetness was perfect for the cold weather. On the lighter side the KALE SALAD – red cabbage, green apple, spiced pecan, shaved parmesan was particularly fresh and lively. The crunchy leafy vegetable has a nice bitterness to it.

For the entrée, the FISH & CHIPS -beer battered cod, triple cooked chips, tartar sauce, lemon at $25 is probably the most expensive fish & chips I’ve seen so far in New York City. The batter has a beautiful crispness while the cod was incredibly moist and tender. The ORGANIC SCOTTISH SALMON BURGER red pepper relish, avocado, chancellor sauce has the right meat to bread ratio. Scrumptious salmon patty on a potato bun was cooked beautifully. Enhancing the burger are the toppings and its pickled sweetness. Served on a cast iron skillet was the hearty SHEPHERD’S PIE- lamb shoulder, mashed potato, cheddar cheese. This filling dish has different savory layers that will undoubtedly satisfy any signs of hunger.

For dessert, chocolate lovers will be pleased by the MILK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE – creme anglaise. This thick chocolate mousse was dosed in syrupy sweetness. The bitter citrus notes in background kept sweetness at bay.

The humble British fare is often seen in many New York City pubs and sport bars. But in the kitchen of Jones Wood Foundry it was given a certain refinement. They focused on serving dishes that looks appetizing and taste good. While its generous portions will not leave diners feeling unsatisfied at the end of the meal. Furthermore, the prices are not outside the norm for the area. They have good beer selections which consist mainly of American and English brew available in draft and in bottles. Surprisingly for a pub, they have a pretty decent wine list that includes “British Fizz” or British sparkling wines

Named after what the area was once called, Jones Wood Foundry does not only reflect the Upper East Side and its history, but it is also a neighborhood restaurant usually filled with locals. Its casual settings coupled with staffs that are genuinely friendly and willing creates a homey vibe. Here guest can have a nice cold pint while watching a game at the bar or dine in for some quality pub fare at any given time.

Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas

Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas
at The Gallery at Westbury Plaza
1002 Old Country Rd
Westbury NY 11590
(516) 228-5400
Official Site

The fare in most US malls mainly consist of the usual suspects of the food court, which is predominantly led by the essential food chains of the world. In Garden City, Long Island, The Gallery at Westbury Plaza mall offers shoppers a different take on mall food with a spunky restaurant called, Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas.

An offshoot of the Clifton NJ location, (which, oddly enough is also located in the mall), Spuntino opened in the ground floor of The Gallery at Westbury Plaza in 2014.  Occupying a large space, the restaurant has a bar area with communal tables in the middle, and a lengthy marble top bar that are often filled with locals. The industrial designed dining room has an open kitchen and walls of enclosed wine racks. It has semi-circle booth seats and plenty of uncovered tables to go along with metal dining chairs. Light bulbs hanging from the ceilings lit up the whole room.

Spuntino practices the “locavore” movement. Many of its ingredients come from the surrounding area of Long Island. The menu has a variety of choices at a very reasonable price.

A good way to start a meal here is having the bruschetta of SEARED TUNA -Topped with arugula, chili peppers, olives and lemon zest Bruschetta. Two pieces of grilled bread topped with superbly seared tuna bursting in spiciness and acidity. Another good starter is theInsalata” of BURRATA –Maple roasted butternut squash, garlic chili oil, balsamic glaze.

For pasta, the CASARECCE ALLA NORMA- Casarecce, Italian cherry tomato, grilled eggplant and smoked mozzarella was a joy to have.  Its sauce had a nice hint of sweetness and charred smokiness. The RISOTTO AI FUNGHI- Vialone nano rice, wild mushroom ragu, fontina and mascarpone cheese finished with rosemary and truffle oil had a rich consistency and a strong earthiness. Their LAMB CHOPS Gluten Free – Herb-marinated lamb chop was cooked in the simplest form and has beautiful herbal flavors.


Seafood dishes like the CALAMARI-Hand-cut, breaded to order, calamari served with house-made tomato sauce was fried to have a nice clean crispiness. OCTOPUS- Farro, olives, celery and cherry tomatoes with lemon vinaigrette and parsley oil were tender chunks of grilled octopus meat resting on top of bed of farro. Enhancing this dish was the citrus elements from lemon vinaigrette. SEARED SALMON – Roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine, fresh wild herb vinaigrette was nicely done. The salmon’s outer layer has a beautiful seared texture while having a sumptuous inner part. The dish was server with a sprig of sweet and sour that blended harmoniously with the salmon.

At Spuntino the kitchen emphasizes on taste that are both pleasant and satisfying. The cooking is simple and uncomplicated. To pair with the food is the restaurant vast’s wine list. Though the list is predominantly Italian they also offer wines from other countries, as well as from local Long Island wineries.

Spuntino is not your typical place to dine at a mall outside of New York City. It is a Manhattan quality restaurant that offers delicious food at a decent price with good wine in a relaxed environment. To have an enjoyable meal at Spuntino is almost a guarantee.

 

 

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Carma

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Carma
38-40 Carmine St,
New York, NY 10014
(212)243-0388
Official Site

A la carte tasting is what I often refer to as small plates or tapas style dining. To be able to sample a variety of dishes is a pure joy to the palate. Along Carmine Street in the West Village, Carma, an Asian tapas and wine bar allows guests with such experience. Their modern Asian fare with Western influences was created by the same executive chef of the Michelin starred DinTai Fung. The food was such hit for New Yorkers that Carma expanded to the East Village with Carma Dim Sum Bar.

The restaurant has two separate dining rooms filled with smooth wooden top tables and Danish designed chairs. It has exposed brick walls, herringbone pattern oak floors, and light bulbs that drop down from the ceiling illuminating the whole space. During good weather, an outdoor area in the back is available for al fresco dining. The vibe in the restaurant is chill and is equaled by a tremendously friendly service.

One menu is offered all day at Carma that consist of mainly small plates made for sharing. Many of the dishes are moderately priced, none exceeding more than $20 (except for the whole fish which is market price). Dining in a group allows everyone to easily sample the whole menu.

Highlighting Carma’s “Signature Dim Sum” was the Foie Gras Soup Dumpling. Decadent foie gras infused soup trapped inside the dumplings is released in one bite. This was probably the best dumplings I’ve ever had.

The tapas selection of Tempura Fresh Water Eel…Burrata Cheese, Cucumber, Served with Bun, was nicely done in putting together the richness of the Burrata cheese with the eels graininess. Mexican inspired PEKING DUCK TACOS – Shredded Peking duck marinated in homemade Hoisin BBQ sauce came in three small hard tacos. The combination of the flavorful shredded duck meat and the homemade guacamole created a terrific filling.

Fresh White Fish Cakes looks more like Chinese mini buns than a cake. Cooked pan fried, giving top and bottom a burnt crust, and in the middle of the cake was the delicious grounded white fish stuffing. Five Spice Beef…Served with Pickled Radish were slices of sweet marinated cured beef served in room temperature. It had dry texture similar to beef jerky but is also tender and is easily chewed.

The Kung Pao Organic Chicken Breast…Hot Chili Pepper, Peppercorn, Spinach Sauce was not your typical Kung Pao chicken. The sauce was made from spinach sprinkled with pepper corn and nuts that surprisingly went extremely well with the all fieriness on the plate. This was an ingenious reinvention of classic Chinese fare. The Organic Chicken Lettuce Wrap on the other hand was the weakest and the most uninspiring dish I had here. Yet it still managed to please my palate with its flavorings.

 

Vegetable dishes such as The Spicy Hunan Chinese Celery & Smoked Tofu had a good blend of spiciness and smokiness. The mixture of the contrasting texture of the tofu softness and the crunchiness of the celery worked well together. Roasted Japanese Eggplant with spicy garlic sauce was served piping hot in a cover bowl. Once the cover was removed it yielded beautiful savory aromas. Eggplant served like a sponge absorbed all those fantastic flavors from the sauce.

“Carma House Special” like the Baked Miso Cod, was a sumptuous piece of cod coated in sweet sauce. Fresh sautéed Chinese broccoli and eggplant on the plate serve as a terrific accompaniment to the cod. The fried Coconut Milk Calamari has a beautiful crispiness and the distinct coconut milk can be tasted in the batter.

The kitchen’s creativity in reinventing Asian cuisine and incorporating global ingredients was impressive. On every plate there was an assortment of flavor combination that worked well with one another while also keeping the taste of the Far East intact. To pair perfectly with their food is their decent drink list that consisted of an eclectic wine selection, imported beer, Asian inflicted cocktail, and an assortment of sake.

New York City is full of “Modern Asian” or “Asian Fusion” restaurant, which have its unique differences. This can cause some confusion on the plate which type really is. At Carma, they are able to blend East and West cooking that produces a successful “Asian Fusion” cuisine.

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