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.

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.