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.

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.

Sushi Azabu *

Sushi Counter

Sushi Azabu
428 Greenwich St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 274-0428
Official Site

The best sushi is often a combination of the freshest fish and rice cooked to perfection. New Yorkers are very fortunate to have a multitude of sushi restaurants that understand and deliver this perfect combination. One of that easily comes to mind is TriBeCa’s Sushi Azabu.

Located in the basement of another restaurant called Greenwich Grill, this Michelin starred sushi spot can be a bit challenging to find. There are no signs outside, but for sushi connoisseurs, the location is something you simply must know.

When you arrive, a person in the front wearing a headset with a mouthpiece will ask you which restaurant you are here for. After it’s determined that you are there for Sushi Azabu, your arrival is announced through their wireless ear and mouth piece, secret-agent style. You are then escorted through a packed dining room and into a staircase were the scent of fish is noticeable as soon you begin your descent.

As you enter the underground sushi haven, a soft light drops neatly on top of the glossy blond tables and immediately you notice that there is no music. This combined ambiance provides Sushi Azabu a peaceful and calm setting.

There is a strong presence of Japan throughout the restaurant. The interior is designed with bamboo ceilings, stone floorings, and bright red walls. A long brown leather bench stretches at almost the length of the space. A large Japanese goldfish print overlooks a natural oak sushi bar that can sit about eight guests. It is the preferred choice of seating by many patrons that consist mostly Japanese and local TriBeCans.

Dining Room Sushi Bar

The sushi at Sushi Azabu is plain and simple—no frills just traditional Edomai style. Fish and rice brushed with soy sauce according to the chef. There are several set menus that are available, as well as sushi’s al la carte. If budget permits, I suggest going for the omakase menu at $100 per person. In this menu, there are several hot and raw dishes to go along with the sushi.

I’ve had the omakase here before. It began with a mouthwatering oceanic taste, with a little sour and sweet chopped giant oyster. Chilled and served in half shell garnished with fish roe, scallions and soy sauce, followed by assorted sashimi that melts in your mouth with every bite. This was a fine introduction to a great meal. My personal favorite was the tuna.

Omakase:

Giant Oyster

Sashimi

The following courses were the only two cook dishes in the omakase, the first one was the savory Grilled Fatty Tuna. Beautiful chunks soft and milky fatty tuna meat with a slight sweetness from the marinade. Egg Custard, or in Japanese, Chawanmushi was the other cooked dish. This is one of the only few Japanese dishes that a spoon is used. It was a really nice ‘in between’ filler.

The next and last course before the sushi was the Pickled Clams that has a slippery texture and a salty and sour taste. Then a brief intermission, as the sushi chef looks at his paper, planning each piece that he will be serving.

Pickled Oyster

The sushi pieces is as follows: Amberjack, botan shrimp, fluke, flavorful fatty tuna, red snapper, eel, salmon (my choice; the chef will ask you what would you like), uni and tuna scallion roll. They were all high quality, clean and some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had. The rice was cooked to perfection with a vinegary touch of flavor. It was masterfully compacted and served at room temperature. Each piece explodes with flavor in every bite.

Miso soup is served before the dessert and their version includes a head of a large prawn that is bountifully infused in the soup, creating an abundance of seafood flavor.

Tuna Roll

Miso Soup

I can’t barely remember the desert I had at the end of my omakase since my focus is more on the sushi.I do remember that it’s was a semi sweet green tea ice cream .

I’ve had many visits at Sushi Azabu and each time is better than the last. The most recent one where I had the Koi course (10 pieces of sushi and a miso soup for $35) was magical. The fish was extra fresh. To add to the sushi, the Grilled Black Cod marinated in miso sauce was a delightful hot dish. The cod was properly grilled tasting moist and buttery.

Koi Course

Sushi Azabu’s food is matched with a two paged list of sake that is imported directly from Japan. There is a good variety of sake, available in either full or half bottle.

Grilled Black Cod

Reservations are a must, and they require guest to be on time. There seems to be an unofficial time limit of about two hours per seating especially by the bar on a busy night. But the staff assures guest that they are able to enjoy their dinner during that time. The servers are well trained and approachable. Service never falters and reliable from my different visits.

Consistency and simplicity is the trade mark of Sushi Azabu and for a restaurant at this caliber the prices are reasonable. The quality of ingredients that are used, the flawless execution combined with the techniques that are applied in each and every individual sushi ranks Sushi Azabu among the elite of sushi restaurant in New York City.
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Yuba Restaurant

Sushi CounterYuba Restaurant
105 E 9th St
New York, NY 1000
(212) 777-8188
Official Site

It’s not hard to find a good Japanese restaurant in New York City, especially if you’re in East Village where there’s an unlimited amount of cheap sushi and ramen places flocked by NYU students on a budget. Then there is Yuba Restaurant, a restaurant that might be a tad too pricey for the neighborhood’s inhabitants but it’s where sushi aficionados can indulge in quality nagiri’s and rolls.

Located on one of the only few blocks where pedestrian traffic is limited in the neighborhood, this modern Japanese restaurant can be easily overlooked while walking along East 9th St. A sign hanging above is all that shows that this place exists. There are a few intrigued passersby that will take a peek inside its large store front windows.

The restaurants simple interior and absence of music from its speakers gives the impression of a relaxed atmosphere were diners can have a peaceful conversation in a normal tone of voice. The décor is so uncomplicated that it seems almost dull. Dark wooden tables are spread throughout the space; paintings of Brooklyn Bridge adorn the wall and a sushi bar located toward the back. Completing the space are round lights on the ceiling that illuminates the surrounding area appropriately. The long leather tufted back bench along its walls and bar on the opposite side looked as if it has never seen an alcohol service.

 

 

Yuba Restaurant opened in 2010 by two of Masa Takayama’s disciples, George Ruan and Jack Wei. This restaurant is no stranger to incorporating luxury ingredients. There is foie gras, caviar, and truffles in their menu, but unlike other high end sushi spots in New York, the prices here are decent that it makes you wonder if they are operating at a loss. Their omakase starts at $50 per person which consists of 12 pieces of sushi that includes special pieces with fish shipped directly from Japan and the a la carte sushi is priced between $3 and $6 per piece. The menu is extensive, with selections of small, large, and hot and cold plates which can be ordered if you’re not in the mood for sushi. Special lunch sets of sushi, sashimi, and rolls range from $11 to $15 are also available. The sets include the restaurants version of miso soup, made with yuba (tofu skin).

 

 

Sushi pieces like the medium raw wagyu beef, squid with a lemon zest, and the octopus were very good. There are also enjoyable small plates like the crunchy and flavor packed Sweet Corn Tempura and the servers’ recommendation of Layered Yuba Pouch with mushrooms braised in a thick Asian sauce.

The drink list is nothing to brag about, but good enough to say they have a nice selection of sake that compliments the food and Japanese beer that is also available. Don’t even bother with the wine, especially if one is a connoisseur.

On my recent visits at Yuba Restaurant, I ordered the sushi omakase for dinner and sat at the sushi bar where I was able to witness the sushi chef’s artistry. He began with a small plate of pickled vegetables, preparing my palate for a night of aquatic goodness. Then one by one the sushi is placed in front of me, no extra soy sauce needed as he glazed them each perfectly while the chef and owner, George Ruan, looked on. Just when I thought the meal had reached greatness from the first six pieces, to my surprise, it was just the beginning. The second half of the omakase was amazing. It started with a snapper with truffle, an off the menu item. The blend of the sharp truffle taste with the flavor and texture of the blow torched snapper was memorable, followed by salmon, then tuna, and afterwards the mackerel and uni. He then ended with an Anago Sea Eel that melts in the mouth. After the meal, the friendly Chef Ruan freely chatted about his days at Masa and his experience as a sushi chef. It was an interesting and fun conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An absolute East Village gem, the staff make you feel at home, especially the manager, Nina, who’s welcoming and warm attitude is an attribute to this unpretentious restaurant.

The fish that is used are fresh, clean, and of the highest quality. The focus and the precision of the chefs are showcased in their food. If this restaurant was located outside of New York City this would have been buzzing in the media; but then again this is New York where high quality sushi restaurants are everywhere and some are even comparable to the very best in Japan. Yuba Restaurant can be easily lost in the conversation of the top sushi restaurants in New York. High end food, casual settings, and prices that won’t break the bank, that’s Yuba Restaurant.

Matsuri

Matsuri
369 W 16th St
(between 8th Ave & 9th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
212 243 6400
Official Site

*This venue is now closed.

Housed in Chelsea’s Maritime Hotel along with similarly chic bar/lounge and dinning hot spots is Japanese restaurant Matsuri. I was both intrigued and delighted on my visit to this exquisite restaurant. This is one of the places that come to my mind when I have a craving for some Sake and exceptional Japanese food.

Upon arrival to Matsuri guests are greeted by a female hostess dressed in Geisha attire who then escorts them directly to their table or to the lounge area called the “Sake Room” for some pre-dinner drinks. The restaurant is dark, intimate, not too crowded and has a relaxed atmosphere. After the entrance the “Sake Room” (resembling a balcony hanging over the dining area) is the first section of the restaurant. Then from there guests make their way down a small staircase into a spacious and dim dining room that feels like a place where a Shogun calls home. Japanese aesthetics can be felt and seen throughout the space, hanging above are beautifully decorative paper lanterns inscribed with Japanese characters, wall panels are painted with Japanese motifs and bonsai trees sparsely placed throughout. The high ceiling’s curved wooden beams have been described by “Blackbook Mag” as “like the bowels of a samurai ship. ” Guests can sit at tables in the center or in wooden booths that line the sides and corners of the space and elevated on a platform. At the center of the dinner area is a sushi bar.

 

 

 

 

Acclaimed chef Tadashi Ono who has mastered the art of Japanese and French cuisine helms the kitchen at Matsuri. Dinner is incredible and the price tag is the average range for Japanese food and the location. A $69 five course tasting menu (with decent serving sizes) that can be paired with Sake is the way to go. Their Sake drink list maybe the most extensive collection in NYC. Among the appetizers I’ve tried: the Yellowtail Sashimi with yuzu green pepper sauce and the Crabmeat Shumai steamed dumpling with ginger. The sashimi was very good – fresh and clean, while the crab meat was not bad either. For entrées I’ve tasted: the Sake Black Cod, grilled and marinated with sake paste and the Short Rib of Beef, braised slowly with dark miso sauce. The Sake Black Cod has a perfect salty taste that was not overpowering; and Short Rib’s texture was smooth and delicate with an amazing taste. Finally of the desserts, I’ve tasted: the Green Tea tiramisu with red bean ice cream and the Chocolate Cake with raspberry sorbet. Both were very good considering deserts are not usually noteworthy among Japanese cuisine.

 

 

Overall Matsuri has a good vibe, friendly servers, good food and nice décor. With an extensive Sake list and great food, it’s a great place to start out for drinks or dinner before heading out to party in the neighboring Meatpacking District. I always have a great experience at Matsuri every time I come. “Matsuri” being the word for “festival” in Japanese, every meal at this exotic an exquisite restaurant is surely a festivity!!!