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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Sushi Yoshitake ***

 

Sushi Bar

Sushi Yoshitake
3F, Suzuryu Bldg
8-7-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan
104-0061
+81 3-6253-7331
Official Site

Reserving a top sushi restaurant in Tokyo is a task in itself and some are just nearly impossible to get in. A lot of them require a concierge from the hotel where you’re staying to make the reservation and most of the time, using the same service provided by a premium credit card is not acceptable. For the three Michelin starred, Sushi Yoshitake in Ginza, there were no exceptions and I had to go through the same concierge process. Sushi Yoshitake is one of the only three sushiya in Tokyo to receive the maximum rating from the guide, and is regarded amongst the top sushi restaurants in Tokyo.

Sushi Yoshitake

The restaurant received three stars in 2012 when it was first featured in the Michelin Guide. This was an incredible accomplishment by chef and owner Masahiro Yoshitake. Soon after, he opened a sister restaurant called Sushi Shikon in Hong Kong. Sushi Shikon debuted with two stars in 2013 and earned its third star just a year later. Having two restaurants dubbed with three Michelin stars simultaneously is a rare achievement for any chef. This is an honor that Chef Yoshitake shares with only a handful of other chefs in the world.

The restaurant

Sushi Yoshitake is on the third floor of a nondescript building on a side street. The place is small, clean and serene. It has a smooth natural finish counter made from a single slab of wood that only seats seven patrons. Behind the unique counter is where Chef Yoshitake does his magic along with his two other chefs. They wait patiently until all the guests on the reservation list arrive before they begin preparing for the meal. There is only one omakase choice for 24000 YEN. It is served daily for two evening seating; one at 6pm and the other at 9pm.

The omakase started with a series of appetizers that began with Steamed Egg Custard with Puffer Fish Soft Roe. A seasonal Japanese delicacy with its nice eggy and custard features combined to create an interesting unique taste. Next was Today’s Sashimi, fresh cuts of rockfish. With the skin side charred it added some nice textures and burnt taste to the fish natural flavors. The next dish was Tender Octopus, braised in sweet sauce, the octopus meat was firm yet tender that requires very minimal effort to breakdown. The sauce coated the octopus with color and some sweetness.

Steamed Abalone, Liver Sauce was the restaurant’s signature dish. The steamed abalone had several good textures, but the highlight of this dish was the sauce from the abalone liver. I could only describe the creaminess as heavenly as it takes your palette into this wonderful experience of flavors. Dipping the abalone in the sauces enhances it. After finishing the abalone, the chef added sushi rice to what’s left of the sauce and I was instructed to mix them together. The mixture produces another divine savory aspect to the sauce, not to mention a whole new dish in itself. 

I was then served Grilled Tilefish, perfectly grilled it was moist and tender while the skin was particularly crispy. Also on the plate was a half sliced Japanese lime, and by squeezing a few drops the mild taste of the tilefish is enhance. To follow was Steamed Clam with Sake and Canola Flower. Sliced clams soaked in sake and covered with green vegetables (similar to a broccoli stem) had a good subtle poise of bitterness and also a light floral oiliness. This was the last of the small dishes and marks the end of the first half of the omakase.

The sushi part of the omakase began with Ika – Squid, a fine piece of squid had smooth and chewy textures. Tai- Sea Bream followed after, its slightly sweet and delicate taste were well balanced. I was then served Yellow Tail which was completely off the menu. The flavors combined were absolutely delightful and just downright tantalizing.

Now the good stuff, Chu Toro-Medium Fatty Tuna, it had terrific equilibrium of delicious fattiness. O Toro-Fatty Tuna on the other hand just melts in your mouth. Tremendously soft and fatty that was sublime.

Kohada-Gizzard Shad, though also rich as the previous pieces, it has an oily content with a compress taste. Akgai-Ark Shell, had a clean ocean presence as well as having a tiny sourness in to it. Kuruma Ebi- Prawn came after, poached in a way that gave the shrimp a nice density that is tender at the same time. Uni-Sea Urchin was enormously buttery and amazingly delicious. Anago-Sea Eel, dashed with sweet soy sauces gives the eel’s grainy texture a wonderful sweetness.

Next was Tamaki- Tuna Hand Roll, crunchy seaweed stuffed with sushi rice and tuna. Chef Yoshitake used a lean tuna meat in this light and yet satisfying roll. Tamago-Egg Custard was perfectly done with cotton like softness and a delicate taste of sweet eggs. To end the omakase was Owan-Today Soup which was a miso soup. This was a cloudier version with strong seafood infused flavors. Enticed after seeing other guest ordered an additional Maki Roll I too requested for one which Chef Yoshitake pleasantly obliged. He used similar cut of tuna with the one used in the “Tamaki” to make six filling pieces.

This omakase was nothing short of outstanding. The hot and cold plates were terrific. The abalone liver sauce was exquisite and one the best dishes I’ve ever had. The sushi was on another level of excellence. Every fish and seafood was extremely fresh and clean. The rice held tightly together and renders a fabulous sour vinegar taste, providing an umami explosion in the palate. I let Chef Yoshitake choose the sake for me as the restaurant offers a range of reasonably price bottles as well as pricier wines. He picked three kind of sake in different temperatures and came in different type of carafes. All three were on point and went very well in the stages of the omakase.

With only seven guests at a time, the staff were able to give us their undivided attention. The service was friendly and authentic. A young Japanese man dressed immaculately in two piece suit assisted the guests while Chef Yoshitake and two of his assistant interact and prepare the meal behind the counter. Chef Yoshitake spent time living in New York with his wife explaining the western friendly attitude towards foreigners at the restaurant. As the night went on, and the omakase coming to a close, the atmosphere became more relax and engaging. The few local diners that were left started a conversation with me and soon Chef Yoshitake joined in.

Chef Yoshitake

Chef Yoshitake performs all dining phases at the restaurant. He does the slicing, rice cooking and the sushi making. He only uses the finest seasonal ingredients available that he procures directly from his distributor rather than from the market. He serves Edomae style sushi that is less traditional compare to other top sushiya in Tokyo. His sushi preparation and cuts are precisely made to be a perfect marriage with the flavor profile of his rice. His curing methods provide an extra depth of taste. Even with another world class restaurant Chef Yoshitake can be found behind the counter at Sushi Yoshitake at any day of the week. He consistently maintains the standard of the restaurants to stay on top in a city full of great suhiyas.

Somtum Der

Interior

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A
New York NY 10009
(212) 260-8570
Official Site

When the acclaimed Bangkok’s restaurant Somtum Der expanded to New York City almost two years ago it added another Thai eatery to an already saturated market. But this is not your typical “Thai” restaurant that the majority of Americans and New Yorkers are accustomed to. It specializes in Isaan cuisine, or Northeastern Thai fare, where food is spicier, pungent and has a distinct taste that is very similar to neighboring Laos but without the European influence.

The restaurant is open daily throughout the day and offers diners a wide array of small plates ranging from $8 to $15 dollars and meant to be shared. A group of four can easily sample through the menu.

At Somtum Der the dishes come out of the kitchen when ready in no particular order, but usually salads are the first ones to arrive at the table. “Tum Poo–Plara”, an original Isan papaya salad in fermented fish sauce and field crabs was strongly flavored with acidulous and spiciness. On the other hand, the “Tum Suo Der” Der styled papaya salad with sweet chili sauce had a contrast of sweet and fieriness. The salads were freshly made and prepared simply while using mainly raw ingredients.

Soup like “Gaeng Om Kai”, a chicken soup with local herbs Isan style had an aroma of deliciousness. Its broth was infused with different herbs, vegetables, and chopped chicken meat with the bones producing an intense flavor.

Gaeng Om Kai

The “Larb Hed Kao Kuo” made with minced mushroom salad with peppermint, lime, and freshly roasted rice brought a lot of heat in every bite. The “Koi Goong”, prawns mixed with fresh herbs and minced roasted rice. The prawns were soft boiled which allowed the meat to absorb the flavors of other ingredients. “Yum Crispy Leaf Fish”, where chunks of crisp leaf fish are bathed in a spicy dressing of onions, scallions, and chili peppers. This was a tasty dish that resembled a salad.

“Sa Poak Kai Der”, Der styled deep fried chicken thighs was a favorite. The perfectly seasoned chicken was fried with a deep crunch while keeping the meat moist and juicy. “Nue Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji” house special grilled marinated beef had a beautiful sweet taste that was partnered with the tender chopped meat. A similar preparation and flavor with the beef skewers but this time with a splash of coconut milk provided another form of sweetness.

Beef Skewers

The rice and noodle selection was a little bigger in portion than the rest. Noodle dishes like the “Pad Thai Mun Poo”, a special pad Thai made with crab meat and crab paste with home style sauce had a sprinkle of salinity and crabby flavor. The spicy fried rice with crisp leaf fish known as “Khao Pad Nam Prik Pao Pia SaLid” was appetizing and filling. The rice had a good flavor and pieces of fried fish were sprinkled throughout.

Pad Thai Mun Poo Khao Pad Nam Prik Pao Pia Sa Lid

The food is very good, although the level of fieriness in every plate is not for the faint of heart; it will definitely clear nasal congestion and bring tears to the eyes. Unlike Indian, Korean and Latin cuisine that uses heat to bring out the unique flavor of its dishes, Thai cuisine uses Thai Chili’s, also known as “Bird Eye Chili’s”, where the heat is powerful but not long lasting. Depending on how much you can handle, the staff is willing to adjust it to your taste. The spiciness does not overpower the strong and bold flavors at Somtum Der but rather coexists with it. After having returned multiple times ordering new and familiar dishes, there is a level of consistency that the kitchen delivers. Not to mention the reasonable price tab.

Interior Restaurant

Settling in the East Village (or Alphabet City to be precise), Somtum Der’s casual vibes fit the neighborhood. Matched by a simple interior of concrete flooring, blond communal tables in the middle with the rest of the space filled by two topped style tables. A salad bar next to the communal tables is where the papaya salads are created. The ceiling lights are covered in bamboo baskets and a counter top with steel red highchairs in the front look out to Avenue A. The restaurants hip young patrons are bumping to the sounds of the Wu Tang Clan while chowing down on their papaya salad. Also, the informal service equals the vibe. The staff is polite and helpful especially in suggesting dishes for those having Isaan cuisine for the first time.

Salad Bar

After a few months of opening, Somtum Der was reviewed and awarded a star by the New York Times and since then Isaan cuisine has been getting a lot of exposure. The 2015 New York Michelin Guide awarded a star to Isaan restaurants, Pok Pok NY and Queens, Zabb Elee. Prior to visiting Somtum Der, I’m shameful to admit that I’ve never had Isaan food, but now I can proudly say that I am a fan.

Danji

Dining Room

Danji
346 W 52nd St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 586-2880
Official Site

When a restaurant receives raving reviews after only a few months it opened its doors to the public and a star for each year that it has been in full operation by the Michelin guide (including the 2013 edition), then it must be worth a visit . I’m talking about Danji here, a modern Korean restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen where the chef and owner Hooni Kim previously cooked for some of New York City’s most notable restaurants like Daniel and Masa. Chef Kim’s interpretation of Korean cuisine combined with his French technique in small plate offerings has been impressing this city’s demanding diners for the past few years.

This tiny restaurant on West 52nd street has a total seating available for less than 40 people. Danji’s narrow layout is designed with a beautiful golden bar top in the front that can easily get crowded from guest waiting to be seated due to the restaurant’s no reservation policy for parties less than six. The bar is followed by two communal counter tables both accompanied by white frame high chairs. In the back are a series of two top tables and a long bench. The space is decorated with clay pots that are displayed along the whitewashed brick walls, hanging light bulbs from the ceiling and a section divider that showcases an assortment of wooden and metal spoons.

 

 

The staff is informative and warm. Old guests are welcomed while new ones are instructed that the menu is located in the drawer of the table. They will answer all of your questions about the menu and will even provide recommendations to make the meal more enjoyable.

Danji’s small plates are very good and reasonably priced. There is no item that cost more than $20. The menu is divided into “modern” and “traditional” dishes with close to ten items on each. A party of four can easily run through the entire menu.

An earthly bowl of mushroom risotto with truffle oil is a great intro to a wonderful meal and a side order of the trio of kimchi is an excellent compliment to each plate.

The best dish that I had here was the Poached Sablefish w. Spicy Daikon. This happens to be SPE certified .The poached sable fish has a nice soft texture and soaked in dark, sweet sauce that is very appealing to the palate. The chef, as well as our server recommended ordering a side of white rice to soak up all the succulent sauces after devouring the fish.

 

 

I enjoyed the spicy ‘K.F.C.’ Korean fire chicken wings. It has a nice crunch and spiciness. Another outstanding plate was the Spicy Yellow Tale Sashimi. The fresh fish that Chef Kim uses for the was so tender that it melts in your mouth and the jalapenos add a nice kick with every bite.

The Bulgogi beef sliders were tasty. The beef seemed like it was marinated with some sort of Asian or soy sauce that is very recognizable. The fried calamari with wasabi mayo was cooked just right and minimal chewing was required to break it down. The wasabi mayo added another depth to the taste.

During the lunch, excellent rice bowls like farmers market bibim – bop and dup bop brisket bulgogi are available as well as the empanada-like handmade vegetable dumplings.

 

 

All of these savory dishes goes along with Danji’s decent selection of sake, soju and an Asian inspired cocktail list. A price range between $20 – $50 for a bottle of sake or soju, while the majority of cocktails are priced at $12.

Chef Hooni Kim might not be a house hold name yet like David Chang when it comes to Korean cuisine, but his cooking and his restaurant Danji are simply superb. The food and the hospitality are always on point. It was consistent throughout my visits to Danji.

Asia Dog

No one thinks of America’s staple, the hot dog, dressed up other than with mustard, onion sauce, or sauerkraut. When most people think of this favorite quick bite, it’s of baseball games, Coney Island, or those many push carts that we know are housing “dirty dogs”. A hotdog for the Manhattanites on the go or hipsters on the move has just rolled onto Kenmare Street in NoliTa section of Manhattan. Its name is Asia Dog.

Asia Dog has taken a role that will test the diehard hot dog fans. Here is where you won’t find toppings associated with one of the favorite “on the go” meals of New York. Instead you will find a mixture of julienne vegetables seasoned with chutneys or Ethnic sides toned down to accommodate their new mates all mixed together to combine different flavors that go with your hotdog of choice. Not only does Asia Dog cater to the beef eaters, but the Vegetarians, and non-red meat eaters. They definitely want their customers to feel satisfied.

Asia Dog is a cool, yet tiny spot where the wood breakfast bench style forms an “L” shape upon entry. They have a stand up counter also and behind a wood counter are two people that have that relaxed young artsy look, one taking your order and the other preparing it. Above them is a huge menu that is concise and clear. Each topping choice is listed with their ingredients. The prices aren’t that bad either. For $8 you can enjoy two dogs with topping of your choice.

A few of my favorite hotdogs are the “Ginny”, a house made Kimichi with Nori flakes. The Kimichi with the chicken hotdog combination is something that I never thought would work but it hits to the point on this one. The “Sidney” topping consist of a Thai mango relish (cucumber, red onions and cilantro) with crushed peanuts that compliment the smoky flavor of the hotdogs. The “Vinhn a Bahn Mi” topping, made out of spicy aioli, pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeno and cilantro, comes with a pâté that can be ordered as pork or veggie. This topping is usually made for Vietnamese sandwiches but this also works very well with the hotdog. A side order of Korean Yam Fries is a good compliment to go along with the hotdogs. Sweet fries that are deep fried and served with a tangy, yet spicy mayonnaise sauce complete the meal at Asia Dog.

Combining East Asian flavors on an All-American comfort food was genius. The concept behind this eatery may have never been thought about, but in a city like New York where diners are exposed to all kinds of cuisine and are more adventurous, Asia Dog is perfect for New York.

Asia Dog
66 Kenmare St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 226-8861
Official Website

K2 Lounge at The Rubin Museum of Arts

 

K2 Lounge at The Rubin Museum of Arts
150 West 17th St.
New York NY 10011
212 620 5000
Official Site

New York City Fridays nights are the jumpstart to the weekend where endless booze and partying is the culture of this vibrant city. What a better way to kick-off the weekend than to visit the K2 Lounge at the Rubin Museum of Art’s café (aka Café@RMA.) On Friday’s the café is transformed into a vibrant lounge with Chelsea’s chic and trendy art loving crowd who enjoy the art, the drinks and the soothing yet upbeat music from the DJ’s eclectic song list (reminiscent of the playlist at Buddha Bar.)

The mix of Himalayan artwork displayed at every corner and soft neon lights from the curved ceilings, supported by round beams wrapped in brown marble wall paper, gives the atmosphere a flare of sexiness. Uniformed gold wooden round tables and chairs set against hard wood floors enhance the artsy scene. The bamboo bar crafted with an Asian aesthetic serves some pretty expensive martinis at $17 a pop. There are only 2 in house concoctions on the menu and oddly enough I like them both. One is the “Pomarita,” made with tequila, POM juice and triple sec; a great blend of taste, you can taste the tequila but it is neutralized by the sweetness of the POM juice. The other drink is the “Buddha’s Eye,” made with Midori, Malibu rum, pineapple juice and lime; very fruity but the taste of rum remains. The food at K2 Lounge is as good as the drinks. The Asian inspired dishes served tapas style were tasty and flavorful, however I come for the drinks.

 

 

As an added incentive to enter the museum, fees are waived every Friday night so if one is not inclined toward drinking; there are 6 floors of Himalayan art to be explored. Spend $7 at the lounge and you will get a free a ticket for the museum theater.

 

 

 

K2 Lounge has become one of my favorite destinations for Friday evenings. I can meet up with friends and enjoy a nice drink before heading out elsewhere to party or I can just enjoy the lounge after work and turn in early for a quiet weekend. If you ever want to impress someone and show that you have culture this is it. Booze and the arts under one roof, what a combination.

Do Hwa

Dining Room

Do Hwa
55 Carmine St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 414-1224
Official Site

Ask any person on the streets of New York City for a Korean restaurant and you would most likely be directed to Flushing Queens or Koreantown (aka K-Town) in Midtown Manhattan since these areas have the highest demographic of Korean population and businesses. I’ve never been to Flushing and quiet frankly the food at K-Town although not bad, just doesn’t do it for me. However there are a few Korean restaurants that have successfully ventured out from those areas. One such restaurant is Do Hwa in the West Village. Located on Carmine Street, this restaurant along with the neighborhood’s eclectic food scene makes the West Village a buffet of restaurants.

Do Hwa caught my eye while walking along Carmine Street after having dinner at a nearby restaurant. I was intrigued by the happy hour special on blackboard outside so I decided to take a peek. The place is dim, loud and caters mostly to the hip and trendy West Village crowd. Unlike restaurants in K-Town, there were very few Korean diners which lead me to question the authenticity of the cuisine. But other than the hot dog, pizza and the bagel, is there any niche food that’s a 100 percent authentic in NYC? Please let me know.

 

 

 

 

If one is into spicy food this the place to dine. One such spicy dish is the Dak Teegim crispy boneless fried chicken drizzled with jalapeno pepper sauce. Seasoned to perfection, it is juicy and soft while the jalapeno pepper sauce provided the right kick of spiciness. Starter dishes like the Dubu Junpan – seared organic tofu, scallion vinaigrette, and the Mak Gooksu cold buckwheat noodles topped with sesame kimchi, are pretty solid appetizers. The Dubu Jun seared tofu has a great soft texture and the Mak Gooksu has a sweetness that worked well with the kimchi. You are given 2 options with entrees – either with a grill, where guests can cook it on their own – served as a Ssam dish accompanied with chilli and miso sauces and other condiments like kimchi and vegetables; and the other option is already cooked by the kitchen. On one of my visits I went for the grill and had the Dak Gui chicken barbecue (thin breast slices) in sesame marinade; and the Seywoo Gui grill, peel and large shrimp with chili dipping sauces. The shrimps were fresh and so was the chicken. I also had the cooked in the kitchen Dak Gui which was very good with a very “far eastern” taste of mild sauces. Entrées are accompanied by condiments of cooked and pickled vegetables in small plates that can be a meal on its own.

The specialty drinks at Do Hwa is as good as the food. Such drinks were the Ginger Cinnamon Tea with Bourbon, where the bourbon dominated the taste while the flavor of the ginger tea complemented in the background; and the Jalapeno Margarita with pineapple and agave – which is spicy with the jalepeno and salt fusion and yet sweet with the agave and pineapple – a perfect combination.

 

 

 

 

The simple but chic décor along with its trendy staff of women gives the restaurant a hip setting. The dining room is dominated by black and white hollow block walls, concrete floors throughout and black wooden tables (some with a grill) partnered with black wooden chairs. While a white wall in the middle with Korean designs that plug the squarish cut out of the wall serves as a separator between the dining room and the bar area. At the bar guest can enjoy creative libations on the black wooden bar table where the paint is slowly chipping away showing the natural color of the wood. The happy hour menu is written on the wall and various movies are continuously showing in the bar area’s wall.

Before I began exploring the gastronomic beauty that this city has to offer I was a closed minded diner and would always think that if an ethnic restaurant is not in its own neighborhood, the food must not be good. Now, for me there are two types of foods, one that tastes good and one that tastes bad. Although Do Hwa may not serve the most authentic Korean cuisine and caters more to non-Korean diners, the food is still good and the atmosphere is enjoyable. Do Hwa is sure to offer a home cooked meal served family style that will leave you satisfied and more.