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.

Marea **

DSCN4261

Famous for his Italian fare and homemade pasta, Chef Michael White has created a restaurant empire in New York City that has been welcomed whole heartedly by this city’s serious diners. Marea, the flagship of his Altamarea restaurant group, on Central Park West is one of the top seafood and Italian restaurants in New York City. It has been a recipient of two Michelin stars for the past four years, a Three Star review from the NY Times, and one of the only few Relais & Châteaux certified dining establishments in the world. The praises in the culinary universe for Marea is immeasurable.

Opening in 2009 during the height of the recession when fine dining is said to be on respirators, it was the most ambitious and riskiest project of Chef White’s career. Fast forward to today, Marea is a busy restaurant and frequented by the New York City elite, moguls, and celebrities. On the weekend, the lounge in the front of the restaurant and its gold onyx bar is congested with patrons while more people are being ushered to the dining room way after 10 pm.

Housed in the old San Demonico space, this pescatarian haven is accessible through revolving doors where hostesses greet each guest with a friendly smile. After the welcoming festivities are over, guests are led to an elegant dining room where the tables are covered in white table cloths surrounded by lush chocolate leather seats and glossy rosewood flooring and walls. Sea shells are on display in the dining area and windows large enough to provide a back drop of Central Park. I couldn’t help but notice when I last visited Marea for dinner that hip-hop music was the choice of tunes in the restaurant. I never expected that.

The restaurant’s menu is significant and derived from the coast of Italy. A $99 four-course pri-fixe during dinner, where guests can design their own courses, is a brilliant way to get a taste of Chef White’s cooking. Between two people you can sample up to eight dishes.

All the dishes that I’ve had here were remarkable, beginning with the raw plates like the Tuna Tartare made with Blue Fin tuna, it was so fresh that it taste of the ocean was apparent. On the other hand The Dentice, or Pacific snapper, was cut thinly and given a citrusy touch. The seafood is fresh, as if it were caught from their natural habitat a few hours ago.

The antipasti dishes like the Polipo, octopus grilled to a nice texture and worked well with the pickled red onions. The Goberra Rosso is a large sautéed Mediterranean red prawn which was meaty and delicious. Next, I enjoyed the Nova Scotia lobster with Buratta cheese also known as Astice. A rule of thumb in the culinary world is to never mix seafood with cheese, but here, the Burratta and lobster were a perfect marriage making this an amazing dish.

Chef Michael White’s fresh pasta is just as advertised which is handmade daily in the restaurant. The Garganelli with crabs and sea urchin in a light sauce blended rightfully. Of course, you can’t come to this restaurant without having the Fusili pasta with braised octopus and bone marrow. This signature dish is raved about in the online community, along with the Astice, and I must say that I’m in agreement with what’s being said.

A variety of fish dishes, or main plates, are available to choose from. Ippogloso, or halibut, is a tender dish served with a salsa verde sauce which added moisture and additional flavor to the fish. Rombo, a dish highlighting a hearty fish called turbot. Turbot, similar to cod with its big flaky meat, holds together well but is very mild in flavor. It could easily get lost among strong herbs. The turbot was pan seared and accompanied by market green beans on a tangy lentil bean sauce. It seemed to get better and better as you continued to eat. The large sea scallops, Capesante, was also pan seared until just done and arranged on peaches, Chanterelle mushrooms, and garlic. These unique flavors added an additional layer of sweetness to the already tender, sweet scallops. Amazing!

The desserts are handled by Executive Pastry Chef Robert Truitt who was previously at Corton in Tribeca, also a two Michelin star restaurant. His desserts, like the Semifreddo Di Nocciola with hazelnut, chocolate, and mascarpone cheese and the Strati Di Cioccolato made with dark chocolate crema, salted caramel, and coffee crumble with gelato, as well as the Bamboloni , bite-sized round donuts with a side of dipping chocolate and spiced honey leaves a lasting impression after a fantastic meal at Marea.

Their wine list is massive and can become overwhelming as you flip through the many pages. Dominated by different regions of Italy, there are bottles that are priced as low as thirty dollars to as high as five figures. If opting for the dinner pri-fixe, have it paired with wine for a manageable $55 as a recommendation.

The service is professional and relaxed, engaging and not overly intrusive. Exactly what’s expected in a restaurant of this caliber.

Not only did Marea survive the worst recession to ever hit the globe, it also collected numerous accolades along the way. The consistency in providing New York City diners with the freshest seafood available and properly executing every plate that is put in front of their guests has made Marea one of the top restaurants in New York City.

Marea
240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-5100
Official Website

Prima

Interior

Prima
58 East 1 St
New York, NY 10003
(646) 559-4823
Official Site

*This venue is now closed.

There are some chefs today that tend to be over indulgent, especially with fish. They tend to utilize too many components in one dish. It’s a damn shame that the savory taste of a beautiful piece of tuna or salmon becomes lost within the purees, sauces, and caviars. Sometimes all it requires is simplicity, in which a small seafood restaurant in the East Village called Prima and its talented chef David Malbequi has perfected.

Chef Malbequi, a veteran of Daniel Boulud and Lourent Tourendel restaurant group, has mastered the art of cooking fish with very little ingredients. Using salt, pepper, and fresh herbs as a compliment, he allows the natural flavor to be the main attraction. His precision and execution are flawless.

The entrées at Prima consist of mainly fish, while the appetizers are divided in cooked and raw plates. For the oyster purist, you will be delighted to know that they offer five kinds of this delicacy.

 

 

 

 

Entrée’s that I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy at this restaurant are the delightful Red Snapper and Durade. Seasoned and cooked perfectly, the skin sides had a crispy texture while the inside of both fish were soft and moist. After devouring the entrée’s, an aphrodisiac moment kicks in asking myself “how can a simple dish be so delicious?”

The Tempura Hake that was named by Time Out NY as one of the best seafood dishes in New York City 2012 was their rendition to fish and chips. Two pieces of hake made with a special tempura batter that provided a different kind of crunch. The Sea Scallops, the only non-fish entrée in the menu were another simple, but titillating dish. The server suggested squeezing the lemon over the scallops; this bought out the sweetness and enhanced the taste magnificently.

Although there are homemade sauces that are paired with each entrée but I suggest staying away from them and have the dishes as is.

The appetizers are just as good as the entrées starting with the Octopus. Its tender meat with olives and lemon has a wonderful flavor that’s balanced by the feta cheese. Then there is Sardines Rillettes, a Portuguese sardine served in a can with olive oil and bread. Quality canned sardines that the Iberian Peninsula is known for and not your typical ones that are on the shelf at Gristedes.

 

 

In one of my visits to Prima, I ordered the Crab Cakes just to do a comparison of those that I’ve had in New York City. This was way better than many of the restaurants here.

Other than the excellent food that comes out the kitchen, Prima also has an outstanding cocktail program by Greg Sieder of The Summit Bar. This is the only restaurant where I bother not to look the wine list and just go with cocktails with my meal.

Each drink creation is well thought out and the numerous mixtures blend well together. There are sweet concoctions like the GP Spritz and The Last Cocktail, as well as potent manly drinks like The Mancini and their own version of Negroni called Lion In London. There are also aromatic and refreshing drinks like The Street .

 

 

Situated along East 1st, Prima has a casual neighborhood vibe. It’s a café in the morning where locals get their caffeine fix while working on their laptops. At night, the place morphs into a full service restaurant with a charming atmosphere and always welcoming, unpretentious staff.

This small space is dominated by marble top bar tables that are spaced evenly and paired with steel high chairs that lead to a small bar in the back with a semi open kitchen where the Chef and his crew can be seen hard at work. The exposed brick walls and painted concrete flooring completes the industrial chic interior of the restaurant.

Having visited Prima multiple times in the past few months they have stayed consistent with their food, drinks, and service. Impeccable all across the board is all that I can say.

Thalassa

Thalassa
179 Franklin St
(between Greenwich St & Hudson St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 941-7661
Official Site

Thalassa has always been on my radar as a restaurant to visit; when I did, I was very impressed and returned a few times, for drinks, then lunch and finally dinner. The restaurant, located along Franklin St. in TriBeCa, is among the most beautiful restaurant’s that I’ve seen in New York City.

Thelassa, which means “sea” in Greek, explains the maritime inspired interior and decor. Upon entering this restaurant you are greeted by a sleek mosaic marble bar lit with oceanic colored lights with white cloths hanging above that give the image of a boat’s sails. At the end of the bar and toward the dining room is a marble table with exquisite fresh sea food in ice. This massive bi level restaurant showcases a luxurious main dining room with exposed red brick, white leather chairs and perfect lighting. Diners can witness Executive Chef Raphael Abrahante prepare their dishes from the open kitchen. Thalassa’s downstairs section, “The Wine Room” has a more casual setting. The room is equipped with its own bar and gorgeous custom made dark wooden tables; wine bottles are displayed on the walls from the restaurant’s extensive wine list.

 

 

 

 

Thalassa serves contemporary Greek cuisine with some of the freshest sea food found in NYC. The last time I was here I came for dinner. I started with one of their signature dishes, the Maine Diver Scallops wrapped in kataifi filo with sheep’s milk butter and a Kalamata balsamic reduction. I’m not a fan of scallops but this was delicious and the balsamic reduction really added to the flavor. My friend and I also order Fried Zucchini and Eggplant chips made with Tzatziki sauce and saganaki graviera cheese, it was recommended by the bartender and boy was he on point. The chips with the sauce melt in your mouth with every bite. For my entrée I had the grilled Mediterranean white fish and New Zealand langustine with lemon potatoes and haricot verts. The fish and langustine were cooked to perfection. To finish off the meal I had the Kataifi with cream, pistachios, and chocolate. The dessert was as good as the rest of the meal. Our server selected for us a bottle of sovignon blanc that superbly complimented our meal. The food at Thalassa is a bit pricey, entrées will run an average of $25-$35 dollars, but it is definitely worth the price.

 

 

 

 

The restaurant prides itself on its extensive wine list, but their small list of in-house cocktails is equally impressive. Their signature drink, The Agave Rocks, made by their friendly and knowledgeable bartender “Spiro” was amazing. The drink is made with Mango Muddled with Organic Agave Nectar, Combier, Cynar, Lime Juice and Silver Tequila, on the rocks. It’s sweet but not too sweet and very fruity – the combination of mango and agave nectar brings out the natural sweetness.

The service at Thalassa is great and consistent; everyone was friendly and very professional. I received the same service at each of my 3 visits. It’s massive space is ideal for events such weddings and fund raisers. It’s also great for a nice quite dinner . Thalassa has everything that a restaurant should have, great food, amazing service, an extensive wine list and last but not the least, the WOW factor – the incredible ambiance and décor. I truly recommend Thalassa to anyone who loves great sea food or great food in general.