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.

Ishikawa ***

Counter
Ishikawa

5-37 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, Japan
+81 3-5225-0173
Official Site

Hideki Ishikawa is rarely mentioned when it comes to the list of great chefs of Japan. He has stayed under the radar in the cooking world but further investigation revealed that he is one of Japan’s most decorated chefs. He currently has three restaurants with a total of eight Michelin stars combined, more than any other Japanese chefs. With two of his restaurants garnering three stars each, Ishikawa holds that distinction with only handful of people. The headquarters of Chef Ishikawa’s star studded dining portfolio is his name sake restaurant the three Michelin starred Ishikawa in Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku where he leads the kitchen on a daily basis.

Ishikawa

The restaurant is on a small side street behind the Bishamonten temple and has an unassuming façade of black wooden fences. There is a small Japanese garden that’s noticeable before reaching the sliding door entrance of Ishikawa. As soon as I walked in, there was a loud greeting from the chefs marking my arrival. Inside there was a Zen like atmosphere, the lights were dimmed and hushed throughout the space. The interior is designed with different chambers providing privacy and intimacy while dining. Adjacent to the entrance in the front resides the counter with a smooth wooden top. It only seats seven guests and it is where I requested to be seated.

Dining Room

Ishikawa is only open during the evening and exclusively offers one kaiseki menu for 19000 YEN. To start the kaiseki meal I was served the Appetizer-Monkfish Liver, Shrimp and Shrimp, Covered with Egg Yolk Sauce. The monkfish liver had a fabulous creaminess that went well with the density of the shrimp.  Adding extra richness to the dish was the thick egg yolk sauce covering both the monk liver and shrimp. Deep-fried – Silver Pomfret, Oba Herbs and Sliced Lotus Root, Garnished with Arrowhead followed after. Thick lotus root fried in tempura style with tender fish filling had an incredible crispiness. Salt and sauce garnishes that it came with gives the lotus root two different types of perspective.

Appetizer-Monkfish Liver, Shrimp and Shrimp, Covered with Egg Yolk Sauce

Deep-fried – Silver Pomfret, Oba Herbs and Sliced Lotus Root, Garnished with Arrowhead

Next was the Soup-Rice Cake and Leeks, Soft-Shelled Turtle Stock with a Hint of Yuzu Citrus. There was plenty of bright subtlety in this clear soup while also having a lingering citrus acidity. That was followed by Sashimi- Sea Bream and Fresh Sea Urchin, Garnished with Fresh Seaweed and Japanese Herbs, Steamed Abalone with Stock Jelly which arrived in three separate tableware. The sea bream sashimi was extremely fresh and light with a certain mildness. Chef Ishikawa personally buys sushi grade fish at the market. The sea urchin was enormously buttery while the steamed abalone covered in jelly had an attractive taste.

Soup-Rice Cake and Leeks, Soft-Shelled Turtle Stock with a Hint of Yuzu Citrus

Sashimi- Sea Bream and Fresh Sea Urchin, Garnished with Fresh Seaweed and Japanese Herbs, Steamed Abalone with Stock Jelly

Sashimi- Sea Bream and Fresh Sea Urchin, Garnished with Fresh Seaweed and Japanese Herbs, Steamed Abalone with Stock Jelly

The meal proceeded with Charcoaled-grilled-Congers Eel and Shrimp Shaped Taro. Grilled wonderfully with charred outer layers that gave the eel a beautiful charcoal taste while having the inside soft and grainy. Next was the Delicacy-Snow Crab and Simmered Turnip. Served cold was a tasty crab meat in magnificent lucid broth. For a small offering it was filled with some terrific flavors.

Charcoaled-grilled-Congers Eel and Shrimp Shaped Taro

 Delicacy-Snow Crab and Simmered Turnip

Then came the Hot Pot- Thinly Sliced Japanese Wagyu Beef and Seasonal Vegetables which were filled with paper thin sliced of scrumptious Wagyu beef in hot broth of vegetables. Infused from the beef fat and fresh vegetables, the broth was packed with fantastic savory flavors and aromas.

Hot Pot- Thinly Sliced Japanese Wagyu Beef and Seasonal Vegetables

The Steamed Rice-Steamed Rice with Black-throat Seaperch, Miso Soup and Pickeld Vegetables. Chef Ishikawa presented me with a pot of rice with two large pieces of sea perch on top. He proceeded to mix it up before serving in a bowl. This was a very good and filling dish that would satisfy any one if one is still hungry after all the courses were served. There was plenty of rice left that I was asked if I would like to take it home. Miso soup with tofu and mushroom and pickled vegetables accompanied this rice dish.

Steamed Rice-Steamed Rice with Black-throat Seaperch

Steamed Rice-Steamed Rice with Black-throat Seaperch

For the sweet course the Dessert-Roasted Soybean Flour Mouse, Floating on Soybeans Soup was served. An interesting starchy dessert with a controlled amount of sweetness I myself liked. As to any ending on a kaiseiki, green matcha tea is served at the end to help with digestion.  

The meal progressed in an order that was extremely pleasing to the palate and where the ingredients are the star of the show with some appearing twice in different plates. Using ultra seasonal ingredients the chef was able to get their full potential. Each course was consistent with subtle flavors, the cooking technique is simple, yet there are so much thought and detail put in them. This terrific kaiseki was further improved with the sake’s from the restaurants list. I left it to Chef Ishikawa what would be the appropriate pairings. The different types of sake that he chose and their own distinct intensity asserted the individual plate.

Dessert-Roasted Soybean Flour Mouse, Floating on Soybeans Soup

There was a sense that I was coming to someone’s home when I came here. I was treated in a more personal level by Chef Ishikawa and his staff but at the same time their service was very proficient. The chef interacted with his guests at the counter and spoke enough English to converse with a foreigner like me. A show of nice gesture before starting the meal there was a printed menu in English with my name on it where I was sitting at the counter. Throughout my meal the chef and his staff were engaging and Chef Ishikawa himself was involved in serving the food.  Even at the end as I exited the restaurant Chef Ishikawa was waiting outside in the street to utter his goodbyes and see me through until I’m out of his sight.

Green Matcha Tea

Kaiseki is an elaborate Japanese culinary masterpiece in which Ishikawa exemplifies. At Ishikawa I was treated with a terrific kaiseki meal that had a balance of taste, textures and colors. The kaiseki is Chef Ishikawa own expression of contemporary style of cooking blended with traditional methods of simplicity. As great as the food was at the restaurant the chef and staff hospitality was remarkable, they created an environment where I was able to enjoy all facets of dining. Ishikawa is as good as any restaurant out there, a great destination dining that warrants to be on any food lovers list of places to visit in Tokyo.

 

 

 

Amber **

Dining Room

Amber
At The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
15 Queen’s Road, Central
Hong Kong, China
+852 2132 0066
Official Site

In Hong Kong, Western fare, like French, has a strong presence and is as popular as their local Cantonese counterpart. The top cooking personalities from France such as Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse have all setup locations in this city.  The most famous French restaurant, and many believed to be the best in Hong Kong, is the The Landmark Madarin Oriental Hotel flagship restaurant Amber. In a twist of irony the restaurant was led not by a French chef but by a Dutch chef, Richard Ekkabus. He trained under Michelin starred chefs in the Netherlands and in Paris with Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Passard and Guy Savoy. Since 2005 Chef Ekkabus has been the hotel’s culinary director which oversees the restaurant and lounge. Under his guidance, Amber was awarded  two Michelin stars in the guides inaugural edition in 2009 and has retained it ever since as well as being included in the San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 best restaurants and in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list every year. Currently restaurants day to day operation is being handled by chef de cuisine Maxime Gilbert.

mushroom and egg custard with puer and mushroom tea the mushroom macaroon with pumpkin puree “beignet”

Amber’s weekend wine lunch was one of the best deals of any top restaurant out there. It consists of six-courses with wine pairing for 928 HKD.  The meal began with a series of amuse bouche that primarily contained mushroom as one of the main ingredients starting with mushroom and egg custard with puer and mushroom tea. Served in a small cup was the fantastic custard below a strong savory tea.  Then there was the mushroom macaroon with pumpkin puree in between and “beignet” which came in two. The macaroon’s noticeable mushroom appeal and the buttery filling of pumpkin purée made up a pleasing combination. The beignet also made with mushroom came with chips made from the pumpkin puree gave a different dimension to the same ingredients. These little snacks were made to wake up the appetite.

Hokkaido sea urchin-in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar

Hokkaido sea urchin-in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar, crispy seaweed waffles (260 HKD extra) was the first course and the restaurants signature dish. Its gelatinous texture had a strong attributes of the ocean. The caviar topping gave it a saltiness that made it a wonderful and luxurious dish. The seaweed waffles served on the side was a nice supplement especially when eaten together.

duck “au sang” legs and wild mushrooms pie, perigourdine sauce

Next was the duck “au sang” legs and wild mushrooms pie, perigourdine sauce. The duck meat filling was flavorful and delectable while the puff pastry with its crunchiness was nicely done. The perigourdine sauce provided the strong earthy tones that worked accordingly with other components of the dish. The third and also the main course was the ‘aveyron’ lamb ribs braised in pinot noir, boulangere potatoes with taggiasche olives, tomato confit & mizuna leaves. Fatty lamb meat that fell off the bone and was braised in pinot noir was full of deep flavors. Beautifully cooked potatoes complemented the lamb and its sauce properly.

‘aveyron’ lamb ribs braised in pinot noir, boulangere potatoes with taggiasche olives, tomato confit & mizuna leaves

french unpasteurized cheeses A chefs selection for the table to share matured by bernard anton

For the cheese course, french unpasteurized cheeses A chefs selection for the table to share matured by bernard antony, features five types of delicious cheeses with different textures and pungency. Moving on to the dessert, first to arrive was the pineapple confit, grilled millefeuille, ‘grand cru’ madagascar vanilla cream licorice, lime & yoghurt mousse, exotic fruit sorbet. It had plenty of fruitiness as well as was refreshing while also having a hint of citrus undertone. Dulcey chocolate crispy microwave cake & peanut butter ice cream followed after. It was sweet and rich in chocolate. The peanut butter ice cream provided the chilled nutty sweetness. Then finally some more sweets, petit-fours served on a can that consisted of white and dark chocolate ended the meal.

pineapple confit, grilled millefeuille, ‘grand cru’ madagascar vanilla cream licorice, lime & yoghurt mousse, exotic fruit sorbet

DSCN7542

This was a well-executed contemporary French fare with many wonderful flavors. Numerous ingredients were successfully put together on the plate in a way that did not conflict with one another. The four glasses of wines from Europe and South America were accurately matched with each course as it brought out an extra taste at the end of every bite as well as providing a delicate balance.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

Amber’s dining room was designed by super star interior designer Adam Tihany whose works are seen in many of New York City’s great restaurants such as Per Se, Daniel, Le Cirque and Aureole. The room evokes luxury yet is understated with a brown color scheme of different types. The walls were handsomely finished mahogany wood, tall oversize vases with fresh flowers were carefully spread throughout. Its wide open space had tables close to each other but at the same time the sophisticated atmosphere kept the noise at a minimal. The center piece and the first thing that guests will notice once they enter the dining room is the chandeliers made of steel rod occupying the whole ceiling.

Lounge

Service at Amber was extremely formal, at times the staff would break the stiffness to have a small chat here and there. The Matre’d did all the talking and was utterly friendly. He stopped by my table at the right timing ever so often without being overly invasive. They were very attentive and communication was never an issue, English was spoken and each course was explained clearly and my questions answered without hesitation.

Dining Room

Charging high prices the weekend wine lunch was a great way to try the food at Amber before shelling out serious cash. The regular price of the tasting is very expensive and so is the a la carte. The prices are on the same range as in many three Michelin starred restaurants in Europe and the U.S.  But what you get for this six course tasting is well crafted food with a high level of cooking and an enjoyable dining experience. To many Amber is long overdue for a third star from the Michelin guide only time will tell. When I find my way back to Hong Kong I will definitely go full force at this restaurant.