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.

 

 

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.

2016 Dining Recap

 

Having visited a handful of Michelin starred, World’s 50 Best and other top restaurants in Asia and Europe, 2016 was great dining year. My journey began at Hong Kong where I dined at Lung King Heen, the very first three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the world. Needless to say, it had an extremely high quality Cantonese food. The restaurants location on the fourth floor of the Four Season hotel boasts a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor. The two Michelin-starred Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental offers a terrific weekend wine lunch which consists of five courses paired with four glasses of wine. This was one of the best deals out there at 928 HKD for a restaurant at this caliber. Dinner at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the only of the L’Ateliers with three Michelin stars) was also quite superb.

I waited in queue for hours at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, which at that time was the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world (until that distinction was awarded to Singapore’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken in the summer of last year). The dim sum was tasty and I enjoyed every single dish that I had. Frog legs and chicken congee at Tasty Congee & Wuntun Noodle Shop in the IFC was nothing short of delicious. Even better was the chicken and fish congee at the concierge recommended Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. 208 Ducento Otto serves up wonderful cocktails while Angel Share Whisky Bar & Restaurant and its expansive list of whisky is a must-visit for enthusiast while in Hong Kong.

That same journey through Asia led me to Tokyo, Japan. I had my very first meal in this sprawling metropolis at RyuGin, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant which has three Michelin stars and ranked number 31 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant. The modern kaiseki that it serves is a reflection of the agricultural bounty of Japan. With each dish skillfully prepared, this was one of the best meals I’ve had. In Ginza, the Omakase at the three Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshitake did not disappoint. The fish and other seafood used in every single piece of Nagiris were extremely fresh. Sushi might be star of the show at this restaurant, but the cooked dishes were equally sublime. It was highlighted by the abalone liver sauce mixed with sushi rice which was a mind-blowing dish that still resonates in my memory.

Hideki Ishikawa is Japan’s most decorated chef/restaurateur with three restaurants under his belt totaling eight Michelin stars. He also has the distinction shared by the likes of the Robuchon’s , the Keller’s and the Ducasse’s to have two restaurants at the same with the maximum rating from the Michelin guide. At his eponymous Ishikawa, I was served a wonderful contemporary style kaiseki that shows simplicity with plenty of subtle flavors. I also visited Kohaku the other three star restaurant of Chef Ishikawa, which is located in the same area and within walking distance from each other. The kitchen is under Koji Koizumi a disciple of Chef Ishikawa. There are many of similarities between them, but the two are distinctly different at the same time. Kohaku is a more modern prepared kaiseki that incorporate foreign ingredients, which are not usually use in Japanese cuisine.

Japan is surprisingly home to one of the finest French restaurant outside of France. Others can argue that it might better than its home country due to the high quality of ingredients it uses produced by Japan. Many of the top French chefs has an outpost sprinkled throughout country, but a large number of them are concentrated in Tokyo. I had a superb tasting menu at Chef Pierre Gaganaire, Two restaurant Peirre Gagnaire Au Tokyo on the 35floor of the ANA Intercontinental, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Each plate were carefully crafted, using only the finest local ingredients. As a bonus, guests enjoyed the scenic view of the whole city as the backdrop while dining. In Roppongi Hills, I dined at Chef of the Century Joel Robochon L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Along with Paris, the Tokyo branch is one of the first L’Ateliers. Having previously gone to the Hong Kong location, these two Michelin starred restaurant are a lot more casual, yet the quality of food is equally top-notched.

Inside the train station in Ginza, resides a minuscule ramen shop called Kagari Echika, which has garnered a lot of following. They served me tasty bowl of ramen, with a broth that has a certain delightful creaminess. In Shinjuku, high above the mall of the train station is Tenichi, where I had some delicate fried tempura accompanied with fresh sashimi. While at Sushi Mamire, I was served with affordable yet enjoyable pieces of sushi and rolls. Pagliaccio Due in Shiba, is an Italian restaurant that serves pleasant dishes like the Seafood Rissotto, and the spaghetti with fish. Night caps in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, were made lively with tunes from a funky jazz show. Soon after I feasted with the hotel famous weekend brunch. Finally, visiting Japan is not complete without trying the world famous Kobe beef. At Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, I had a magical experience without breaking the bank. The beef was as good as advertised, and every bite was heavenly like cotton candy that melts in the mouth.

From Izakaya’s, to noodle shops, to high end kaiseki, sushi (as well as low end), and to fine French restaurants, I had the greatest time dining in Tokyo. The uncompromising use of quality ingredients in this city restaurant makes Tokyo the gastronomic capital of the world. The two weeks I spent there was simply not enough.

The next stop in my search and passion for fine dining was a short trip to Basel, Switzerland. I had the opportunity to dine at the three Michelin star, Cheval Blanc. The restaurant is located in one of Europe’s oldest hotel Le Trois Rois. Bavarian chef Pete Knogl, is in charge of the kitchen and under his leadership Cheval Blanc was elevated to culinary stardom. The tasting menu has global influences and shows the precision cooking technique of Chef Knogl. Each dish was light and has a fantastic complex combination of flavors and textures.

I couldn’t end 2016 without grazing the home front for some great eats. After all, no one can beat New York City in anything, (at least to a New Yorker that is). I had very good meals at the Upper East Side’s, The NUAA. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves refined Thai fare that’s geared towards the Western palate. Last year, I saw an onslaught of new eateries opening up in the Financial District improving the neighborhood’s restaurants scene. Among them is Eataly Downtown which opened to the public last summer. Much smaller than its older siblings in the Flatiron, this mega food market brought a slew of dining options that includes another outlet of the seafood haven, Il Pesce. The restaurant offers appetizing sustainable seafood prepared in the simplest form. As the last stop of my 2016 journey, West Village Carma Asian Tapas, served an unmatchable creative Far Eastern fare in small plate format. I enjoyed the way the kitchen recreated classic Chinese dishes, as well as using other Western ingredients that aren’t usually found in Asian cooking.

Though 2016 didn’t boast much of my hometown’s variety of eateries, it was a star studded year of dining in the international level. Overall, I would say it was great and successful year of eating. I’m looking forward to an even better 2017 where I plan to focus on New York City, its outer boroughs and state side. Hopefully, I can sprinkle few international trips here and there.

Il Pesce

Il Pesce Il Pesce
@ Eataly Downtown
101 Liberty St
New York, NY 10006
(212)897-2895
Official Site

In less than ten years mega food market Eataly has taken the world by storm, opening branches in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Currently Eataly has set up shop in New York City and Chicago, but soon, it will be expanding its reach in Los Angeles and Boston. The summer of 2016 has marked its continuous expansion by opening a second location in downtown Manhattan’s Financial District. Though not as big as the original one in the Flatiron, it occupies a sizable square footage on the third floor of the brand new skyscrapers, 4 World Trade Center. Along with the market, it boasts a wine bar, a coffee shop, a gelateria, and four restaurants that include another outlet of the sea food haven, Il Pesce.

Dining Room

Designed with counter seating in front of an open kitchen, Il Pesce also has a spacious dining area that is frequented by tourist, finance industry workers and Battery Park City residence. The space is filled with marble top tables paired with white washed wooden chairs, and floor-to-ceiling windows that look down on the World Trade Center Memorial.

POLPO SALMONE

A single menu covers both lunch and dinner consisting of antipasti, pasta and entrees, as well as raw items. For appetizers, the POLPO-seared octopus with gigante beans, chicory, and pickled onion was a joy to eat. The dense octopus meat was easily chewed and flavorsome. The SALMONE MARINATO-House cured salmon with pickled peppers, radish, and cucumbers had a clean and distinctive cured taste.

CASARECCE CON GRANCHIO

Excellent al den te pasta dishes like the TAGLIATELLA AL NERO DI SEPPIA CON COZZE –house made squid ink tagliatelle with mussels, garlic, white wine, chili flakes, and parsley had a very good mild saltiness, and a strong deep sea presence. The CASARECCE CON GRANCHIO – Afeltra gragnano Casarecce pasta with lump crab meat, braised leeks purée, chili flake, chives, and bread crumbs on the other hand, had hints of spiciness blended nicely with lumps of delicious crab meat.

CAPESANTE ALLA PIASTRA

RAZZA

The main course of CAPESANTE ALLA PIASTRA-Seared scallops with purple potato, grapefruit, celery salad, and pancetta vinaigrette was terrific. The scallops were beautifully complemented with strong sour acidity. The RAZZA-seared skate wing with roasted baby carrots, lemon, capers, and brown butter, where the skate was cooked in brown butter gave it a pleasant nuttiness. Enhancing the fish was sour elements on the plate. TONNO- seared yellow fin tuna with peperonata was a beautiful piece of tuna. It had wonderful seared texture and a tender reddish inner section. The tuna scrumptious flavor was fittingly accompanied by the peperonata’s sweetness. The FRITTO MISTO ALLA LIGURE-ASSORTED FRIED SEAFOOD LIGUR-IAN STYLE was extremely fresh and delicately crispy. This was an oceanic delight to have.

TONNO

FRITTO MISTO ALLA LIGURE

Il Pesce’s uncomplicated cooking produces dishes that are both appetizing and satisfying. The freshness of the seafood brightened with layers of acidity, sourness and hints of spiciness can be tasted in every plate.
The casual atmosphere of the restaurant were matched with informal and friendly service. The staff has very good knowledge of the food and wine that it serves.

In the last five years, New York City has witnessed the rise of gourmet food market with quality places to eat in them, and there’s no signs of slowing down as more openings are stated in the future. Eataly was at the forefront of this movement when it opened in 2010. It’s newer and smaller downtown location have restaurants such as Il Pesce that are capable of delivering well-made food.

The NUAA

Dining Room

The NUAA
1122 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10065
(212) 888-2899
Official Site

The NUAA is a Thai restaurant in the Upper East Side next to the famous Dangerfield Comedy club. The owner and chef is Bangkok born Pitipong Bowornneeranar, a veteran of the New York City restaurant scene with over 20 years of experience working at different kitchens throughout the city. At the NUAA Chef Bowornneeranar serves modern Thai fare prepared with a great deal of attention to details.

Dining Room

The NUAA can’t be missed, with its red, wooden double doors along First Avenue. A lounge area with its own seating and a bar welcomes guests as soon as they walk into the restaurant. Toward the back is the dining room, decorated with detailed wood work, smooth dark table tops, coupled with matching armless leather padded chairs. Covering the ceiling and illuminating the space are metal plates shaped in petals with light bulbs. The stylish interior is made for a venue that can be found in the Meatpacking rather than the Upper East Side.

Lounge Bar

Though extensive the menu is not overwhelming. It’s broken down to soup/salad, starters, entrée’s and classic dishes. A cheaper prefix for $15 is available during lunch time with items that are also available during dinner.

SOM TUM-Green papaya salad, dried shrimp, peanuts, bird-eye chili vinaigrette KHAI LOK KHAEY Son-in-law fried quail eggs, Black pepper Brioche, crispy shallots, plum sugar-tamarind sauce

Salad like the SOM TUM-Green papaya salad, dried shrimp, peanuts, bird-eye chili vinaigrette was tremendously fresh and crunchy. Its vinaigrette dressing provided an extra depth of sourness and piquancy. Sprinkle of dried shrimp added textures as well as some saltiness to the salad. For appetizers the KHAI LOK KHAEY Son-in-law fried quail eggs, Black pepper Brioche, crispy shallots, plum sugar-tamarind sauce, was a classic Thai food that was reinvented at the restaurant by using quail eggs instead of regular eggs, and served on top of a brioche. The plum sugar-tamarind sauce sweet and sour elements were terrifically mixed with the savory quail eggs. LARB PLA Yellow fin spicy tuna tartar, Thai crispy taco, green herbs, red chili-kaffir lime vinaigrette, came in three delightful mini tacos with freshly chopped tuna. PO PIA TOD Crispy celery root-wild mushroom rolls, mixed vegetable, glass noodle, red Holland pepper-tamarind sauce, were spring rolls with tasty vegetables stuffing.

LARB PLA Yellow fin spicy tuna tartar, Thai crispy taco, green herbs, red chili-kaffir lime vinaigrette PO PIA TOD Crispy celery root-wild mushroom rolls, mixed vegetable, glass noodle, red Holland pepper-tamarind sauce

For entrée I chose the PLA NUENG Steamed Chilean sea bass, Soya bean, tender cauliflower, ginger soy reduction. A wonderful steamed fish that had a dense yet tender texture and was asserted by its tangy sauce of ginger soy. An accompaniment of colorful cauliflowers and vegetables created a visually appealing plate that tastes as good as it looks. PLA TOD Crispy skin whole Branzino, Caramelize cashew nut, green mango salad, spicy chili-lime vinaigrette was the most expensive item in the menu at $31. A whole Branzino fried precisely to have the skin side extra crispy while the inner part was pleasingly firm. Dipping sauce of spicy chili-lime vinaigrette provided an extra layer of flavor.

PLA NUENG Steamed Chilean sea bass, Soya bean, tender cauliflower, ginger soy reduction

PLA TOD Crispy skin whole Branzino, Caramelize cashew nut, green mango salad, spicy chili-lime vinaigrette

The KA NOM JEEN Colossal crab curry noodle Fedelini, pickled mustard green, sweet basil was a bowl of noodles mixed with delicious crab meat covered in curry. This was a well balance dish where each ingredient worked together without overpowering one another.  GAI YANG Kaffir lime infused Cornish game Hen 44 hours marinade, Brussels sprouts, eggplant caviar nam prik.  The hen was cooked beautifully and packed with flavors. Brussels sprout, eggplant and other vegetables was a pleasing addition to this dish.

KA NOM JEEN Colossal crab curry noodle Fedelini, pickled mustard green, sweet basil

GAI YANG Kaffir lime infused Cornish game Hen 44 hours marinade, Brussels sprouts, eggplant caviar nam prik

There were only two desserts on the menu, the White Chocolate Coconut Mousse Mango passion fruit, pandan jelly, coconut coated chiffon which had a blend of refreshing and fruity sweetness and the Cream Fraiche Vanilla Cheesecake Walnut brittle, short bread, strawberry jam, jasmince cream was rich and sugary. Both dish were good enough to end a meal on a sweet note.

White Chocolate Coconut Mousse Mango passion fruit, pandan jelly, coconut coated chiffon

With an average price of $23 for the entrée The NUAA is a tad pricier for a Thai restaurant that New Yorkers are usually accustomed to but also reasonable by New York City standard. Justifying these prices was the skillful cooking techniques that the kitchen displays. The successful mixtures of sweet, spicy and sour produce bold and intense flavors while having a strong emphasis on appearance.

Cream Fraiche Vanilla Cheesecake Walnut brittle, short bread, strawberry jam, jasmince cream

After a year between visits, the menu has changed with some of the dishes I had previously were no longer available. Having been back to The NUAA a couple times in the last few months the food had remained particularly very good and the service, as always, pleasant and welcoming. The staff are always on point in addressing my needs and answering my questions.

Restaurant

Thai food is known to be one of New Yorkers quintessential fare. The love for it created a buffet of Thai restaurants in the five boroughs. The saturated market produces an even keel of terrific eateries, with some earning a Michelin star like Somtum Der, Pok Pok, and Uncle Boons. The NUAA, on the other hand, not only impresses diners with their flavorsome Thai food but also with its stylish interior and excellent service.

Cheval Blanc ***

Dining Room

Cheval Blanc
at Grand Hotel LES TROIS ROIS
Blumenrain 8
CH-4001
Basel, Switzerland
+41 61 260 50 07
Official Site

Having the headquarters of the two largest pharmaceutical company in the world, Novartis and Hoffman-La Roche, Basel is known as the world’s pharma capital. The city offers more than that, it has a well preserved old town and a dining scene that is underrated compared to other Swiss cities like Zurich and Geneva.  When the restaurant, Cheval Blanc, received the coveted third Michelin star last year, it single handedly put the city of Basel in the global stage of gastronomy.

Grand Hotel LES TROIS ROIS

In charged of the kitchen is German chef Peter Knogl who trained under three Michelin starred chef Heinz Winkler at Tantris in Munich. Chef Knogl came to Cheval Blanc in 2007 and in a matter of months it received its first Michelin star, the second one came a year later and finally the third star was awarded in 2015.  The restaurant also received 19 points from the GaultMillau and was voted as the 2015 best restaurant in a hotel in Europe by the Prix Villegiature. Chef Knogl French haute cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influence had earned him the title as the best chef in Switzerland in 2011 and 2015.

Entrance

A la carte and two types of tasting menus for lunch and dinner are offered while special lunch set menus are also available. I had the longer tasting menu priced at CHF 220.

Tasting Menu:

Ragout de couteau de mer Textures de champignons, Peta Negra

The meal began with an array of snacks starting with Espuma Jalapeno.  I was instructed to use the spoon and to start from the bottom where a piece of shrimp buried below a chilled jalapeño cream.  Macaron/foie gras de canard, orange, Garam Masala had an airy texture with a touch of orange zest and spices that was in tune with the buttery foie gras. Ragout de couteau de mer, chopped razor clams presented in its half shell had an abundance of deep maritime essence.  Textures de champignons, Peta Negra, mushroom cream on top of crispy chip with some Peta Negra had a very good earthiness. These tasty small bites were a fantastic intro.

Kingfish, avocado, radish and Miso Langoustine, white asparagus and port

The first course was Kingfish, avocado, radish and Miso. Fresh and delicate kingfish had a sublime citric acidity. Avocado puree and radish on the plate worked in harmony together with the fish to create vibrant flavors. Next was Langoustine, white asparagus and port. Firmed and meaty langoustine sat  on top of beautifully poached white asparagus bathed in thick sauce with port wine. The sauce renders hints of sweetness that is infused into the langoustine which also had a hint of sour note in the background.

Filet of red mullet, crispy scales, saffron, black and vinaigrette of tomatoes

Third course was the Filet of red mullet, crispy scales, saffron, black and vinaigrette of tomatoes. The mullet was cooked precisely to have a crispy skin side including the scales keeping the inner part moist and soft. Enriching the fish was the sour acidity of the vivid yellow foam sauce.  Continuing on was the main course of Saddle of suckling lamb, flavored with sweet pepper and ginger. The juicy lamb had a deep scrumptious flavor that was asserted by the strong saltiness of the sauce which was made from its own juices.  Other components gives the dish extra dimension of sweet and spicy.

Saddle of suckling lamb, flavored with sweet pepper and ginger

The cheese course was supposedly a Selection of soft and hard cheeses from Maitre Antony in Ferrette but instead I requested for an all Swiss cheese. I was served with some excellent cheeses from different parts of the country with their own distinct sharpness but with similar firm textures that are common with Swiss cheese.

Cheese Course

Before moving to the sweet course I was served a refreshing palate cleanser of pinacolada. That was followed by a pre-dessert of Mango passion fruit, rice crispy and pannacotta which was a combination of tropical fruits. For dessert I was served Composition of Gariguette strawberries with lime cress. Using special Gariguette strawberries from France which has longer shape than common strawberry and has a sweet candy like taste it was prepared in different ways with varying textures and temperatures while keeping its natural taste. This was an excellent dessert.  To finally conclude the tasting were more sweets that include the mignardaise which was made up of tiny pastries and the petit four which was a collection of Swiss chocolates.

Chef Knogl was in the kitchen on my visit and his standard of cooking reflected on this tasting menu. One after the other every plate in every course has a level of consistency that is inviting to the palate. Each dish was light and has complex textures and taste prepared meticulously. There was a mixture of quality seasonal and foreign ingredients used exquisitely to create superb flavors combinations.

Composition of Gariguette strawberries with lime cress.

Their wine list is vast and comprised mostly from continental Europe. I opted for the 110 CHF wine pairing and made a special request to only have Swiss wine.  The sommelier came through masterfully in choosing red and white wines from different regions of the country. The pairing was in symphony and enhances each course in the tasting.

Mignardise Petit-fours

The restaurant’s staff was properly trained and well verse. They were formal yet extremely pleasant and welcoming. Service was restrained. The servers observed from a distant providing a senses of privacy and allowed me to focus and savor my food one bite at a time without too many intrusion.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

Located in the middle of the old part of Basel, Cheval Blanc is housed inside Grand Hotel Le Trois Rois, one of the oldest hotels in Europe and the most prestigious accommodation in the city. The restaurants interior is induced with class and a hush atmosphere. The dining room’s high ceilings with crystal chandeliers and tall windows overlooked the Rhine. Its clean white walls are decorated with oil paintings. A marble table serves as a centerpiece while the ten uniformed round tables covered in neatly pressed white cloth with each having its own candelabra are distanced properly from one another. Paired with the tables were classic wooden purple velvet chairs.

Dining Room

When a restaurant received plenty of accolades and is considered among the best in the country it sets high expectations. Cheval Blanc had exceeded mine and then more. It was perfection, Chef Knogl prepared a fantastic meal complemented with the finest Swiss wines and a staff focus in providing superior hospitality. I had a complete dining experience well worth the third Michelin star it received last year. Covering all aspect of a top tier dining destination Cheval Blanc exemplifies Swiss culinary excellence.