Wednesday, March 29, 2006

DSC_0565.JPGI'm sure this blog has no more readers because of my blogging un-diligence. For the one or two of you still reading, here is another post from my week in Manhattan. NYC is full of dessert places, patisseries--overall, places that can satiate the biggest sweet tooth. ChikaLicious is a dessert bar in East Village; they serve solely desserts and have a semi-often changing menu. Julyanne, I'm sure you're cringing at the logo.

DSC_0553.JPGAmuse: Apple sorbet with peppercorn gelee

This was alright but I wasn't blown away. The sorbet was sort of lacking in flavor and the gelee was very subtle also.

DSC_0561.JPGWarm chocolate tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and red wine sauce

I kind of regret ordering this, as the chocolate tart turned out to taste exactly like a lava cake. The chocolate was really rich so I couldn't detect the tart pastry. The peppercorn ice cream was interesting and probably the best part of the dessert. The red wine sauce seemed out of place and wasn't that flavorful.

DSC_0562.JPGPetit Fours: truffle, brown butter cake, coconut marshmallow

All were pretty good, except the brown butter cake which was overwhelmingly heavy.

DSC_0558.JPGChikaLicious is a great concept, but a bit undeserving of all the hype it gets. The desserts are innovative and presented nicely, but just not all that good. It's worth a visit just to experience seeing Chika make the desserts, but don't expect mind-blowing desserts.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

I've been having one of the most amazing weeks here in the city. A number of unforgettable meals (Le Bernardin, wd-50) comes to mind. The only thing I regret is having no appetite in the beginning (I think it was due to some unfresh tiramisu last week). Anyway, after various pills, I regained my gluttonous eating powers in the middle of the week. Still 4 days wasted.

Also, I think I must look like a certain food critic because I've been getting preferential treatment at a few places that "recognized" me. Not that I'm complaining.

DSC_0181.JPGMy first lunch was at Lupa, a Roman trattoria in Soho and one of the city's most popular Italian restaurants. The line is pretty horrendous, so go on a weekday.

DSC_0170.JPGFocaccia was great. I soaked up quite a bit of that extra virgin olive oil.

DSC_0172.JPGOxtail "Crochetta Alla Vaccinara"- oxtail braised in white wine, tomato, celery, pine nuts and raisins.

This is one of Lupa's signature dishes, but I didn't think too much about it. I like oxtail a lot, and I'm glad this was tender and beefy, with a great dissolving quality. The only thing was the accompaniments were in competition and too overpowering. This was a very salty appetizer overall--the sauce was salty in itself, the celery was marinated and sour, and the sundried tomatoes were again very savory. The pine nuts added a great smoky flavor but the raisins were ineffective since the sauce was super salty. The lemon zest as garnish just didn't really work with all the other flavors. This oxtail just felt very heavy.

DSC_0177.JPGLupa did redeem itself with the pasta dish. I got the Linguine with mussels, which was cooked very simply in olive oil, garlic, and jalapenos. The pasta was al dente just like I like it. The mussels were fresh and juicy. The sauce was spicy and refreshing, yet subtle enough to allow me to taste the mussels and linguine.

Overall, NY really beats SF when it comes to Italian. Another thing that I will definitely miss is the plethora of patisseries. In SF there is only one Tartine; here, every corner has a bakery just as good.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

eating new york

Greetings from NYC. I'm on my spring break so I will spend approx a week here. Had my meal at wd-50 yesterday, which was amazing. If anyone has any suggestions for must haves, please comment.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chef Benno / Per Se

When I heard that Chef Jonathon Benno from per se was coming this time, I just had to get reservations. Since I won't going to French Laundry anytime soon (earliest would be summer), nor will I be able to secure a reservation at per se over spring break, this would be a good opportunity to have the food and meet the chef too. My meal at French Laundry over winter break lived up to all its hype, and this meal lived up to Thomas Keller standard.

A one hour reception featured *unlimited* FL and ps canapes:

"Cornet" of Marinated Atlantic Salmon "Tartare" with Sweet Red Onion "Crème Fraîche"

I never did quite forget these delicious cones, and they were just as good as I remember them. I think I must have had 3 or 4, which was great since I experimented with new ways of eating it (eating from side is nearly impossible).

Gruyère Cheese "Gougères"

Another FL classic and just as delicious as I remember. J mentioned it tasted like a cheese-it. Maybe TK can incorporate that somewhere in the name, in quotes of course.

Roasted Sweet Pepper on Herb-Scented "Panisse"

The panisse is the fried chick-pea cake, which had a slightly crunchy exterior and a very smooth and starchy filling. The texture definitely won over the flavor in this one.

“BLT”: House Cured Bacon, Arugula Purée and Black Truffle on Toasted "Pain de Campagne"

This was probably my least favorite canape. It was good, but there just really wasn't anything really special about it. I opened one and saw a generous shaving of black truffle, but somehow I really could not taste it. They should remove the bacon and arugula and just make it all truffle.

Hudson Valley "Foie Gras Mousse" with Quince "Marmalade" on "Croûton"

This was simply amazing and tops the salmon cornet as my favorite TK canape. I must have had at least 7 or 8 of these. It was a wonderful array of textures-the crunchy "crouton", the creamy and smooth foie gras, and the juicy marmalade. The foie gras was some of the best I've had, and all the flavors worked extremely well. Apparently, it took 4 hours to allumette the chives and place it on the foie gras with tweezers. I suppose it only makes sense that Benno is just as anal as TK.

I could have had an entire meal composed of only the foie gras. In fact, I wish I had jars of it for future eatage.

After all the canapes we proceed into the dining room. J commented on the superfluous quotations on the menu; but really, why is "tartlet" in quotes? Since when is a "tartlet" not a tartlet? If not what in the world is it?

Cauliflower “Panna Cotta” with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar

This is the first course often juxtaposed with the Oysters and Pearls. I really feel that there is no comparison, however. At some points it tasted kind of bitter, perhaps from alkalides in the cauliflower? Anyway, it didn't have the contrast of textures in O&P, and I felt the salty caviar worked a lot better with the sabayon rather than the "panna cotta."

I was excited to see the wonderful Bouchon epidiblets again. They also brought out good ol' Straus family unsalted butter.

Salad of Caramelized Belgian Endive, Winter Citrus “Supremes”, Citrus “Coulis”, Cilantro Shoots and Cilantro Oil

If only all salads could taste like this! The endive was delicious, and the blood orange, orange, and grapefruit slices went well with the savory endive. The zesty sauce on the plate was great too.

“Macaroni and Cheese” - Nova Scotia Lobster “Cuit Sous Vide” Parmesan “Crisp”, Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo

Recall that I was not too excited about the "Caesar Salad" lobster course at French Laundry, but I loved this one. The lobster was creamy and smooth, evident of being cooked in a vacuum pouch. I wish everything I ate could be sous vide!

Again, I really didn't like the parmesan crisp, since it was way too salty and overbearing. The orzo, however, was delicious. So buttery and rich, both texture and flavor complimented the lobster. This was just excellent.

Herb Roasted Rib-Eye and Grilled "Calotte" of Prime Beef "Rissolée" of Fingerling Potatoes, Young Watercress Leaves, Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms and "Béarnaise" Reduction

This was probably my favorite of the night. The beef, of Snake River Farms, was the perfect doneness--not a bit overcooked. The rib eye was great, but the star was the prime beef--so fatty and marbled. All the sides were great too. The mushrooms were crispy and tasted almost like a potato chip. The bernaise reduction was excellent. This entree parallels the FL duck breast in my mind. I think J and I were the only ones still savoring the beef when everyone was done for a good 10 minutes.

Shelburne Farm’s Two Year-Aged Cheddar, Apple “Tartlet”, Garden Mache And Cider “Mignonnette”

“Pina Colada” Pineapple Sorbet, Tahitian Vanilla Braised Pineapple, Coconut “nougatine” and Coconut Cream

This was a good dessert, though not as refreshing as the satsuma mandarin sorbet. The pineapple sorbet and braised pineapple were great, but most of all I enjoyed the paper thin pineapple slice. After a while, I got kind of sick of this dessert; it was just more of the same thing.

per se "Tarte au Chocolat" Candied Pecans, Caramelized Bananas and Spiced Caramel Ice Cream

I really liked this one. The caramel ice cream was excellent, and the tart was crunchy and nutty. It was a lot better than the chocolate hazelnut I had at Campton Place. The only thing I wasn't too fond of was the caramelized bananas--they were just mushy and had nothing special to offer.

Then this brought out an assortment of chocolates, shortbread, candies, and tarts. All of them were really good. The shortbread was the same as the ones at FL; the chocolates were great too. The lemony crumble cake was one of my favorites.

As if I hadn't eaten enough for the night, they brought out mini madelines. I love madelines, and these were great; fluffy, not too sweet, and still hot. They went well with my espresso.

Chef Benno and the team

I hear he is quite godlike in the kitchen; everyone is quiet, "like performing surgery." I remember the FL kitchen stood out to me because it was so hushed and everything revolved around the hovering TK. I guess it's the same with Benno.

They gave us some macaroons to take home: vanilla, chocolate, and almond. I had them the day after and they were great.

Overall, it was an excellent meal. I ate a great quantity, but it did not feel heavy at all; sated but not overloaded. When I went out to shake Benno's hand and to get his autograph, he repeated once more, "he is not a dictator." *Nervous laugh*

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ana Mandera
One of my favorite restaurants in the city is Ana Mandera, which serves up French-accented Vietnamese fare in Guiradelli Square. The interior is absolutely beautiful, and the attention to detail transports you back to the coloniel Vietnam days.
It's really pretty at night, but even during the day the place is well lit and peaceful. There is a sweeping staircase above a koi pond that leads to a loungy alcove, where there is a live jazz band.
The Lemon grass curry chicken with glass noodles was really good. The noodles were springy and delicate, and the chicken was sliced thin and lean. The flavor was excellent, well-seasoned and not at all over-salted. It reminded me of the cellophane noodles at Slanted Door, which is always a good thing.

The sauteed shrimp with tomato rice wine sauce and Asian noodles was pretty good too. The tomato sauce was fresh and chunky, and the shrimp was fresh and crisp. The noodles also had a good spring. Compared to the curry chicken, however, I felt this dish's flavor was a bit bland and not as captivating.

The seared mekong basa, scallion flowers, and spicy lemon sauce was alright. Catfish is probably my least favorite fish because of its muddy flavor; this one, however, didn't seem to have any of that muddy taste. The texture was really smooth, but I found it a bit firm. The sauce was also a bit too sweet; the lemon sauce should have had more lemon. I really liked the bed of snow pea shoots under the fish. Delicate and aromatic, it really added flavor and texture to the fish.
The Valrhona dark chocolate semi freddo was great. It was light and melted in your mouth, but rich enough that the chocolate coated your palate. The fresh vanilla cream was delicious too.

They use Mighty Leaf tea here, my favorite brand. I always ponder how they sew those tea bags!

Service was attentive and not at all obstrusive. Good food and inspired decor always makes for a good meal here.

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