Welcome to tastingmenu.com. My repository for thoughts
and notes on my eating experiences. Hopefully you'll find something
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WD-50, New York, NY, February 20,
2004 — A surprising side effect of eating out a lot is realizing
that a lot of restaurants are serving basically the same crap. And often
it doesn't matter that the repetitive dishes and preparations are good.
They just lose some of their magic when you have them with only slight
variations over and over again at restaurants lauded for their
"creativity". I know some combinations are "classic" and just
plain tasty. But sometimes it's nice to get a breath of fresh air. And
while not every dish we had was a home run,
wd~50 was not only a
breath of fresh air, but has stuck in our minds for months now as a very
exciting place to eat.
We ordered a series of appetizers and then some entrees. After we
munched on our basket full of
things started off with
Rabbit Sausage, Avocado, and Grainy Mustard Paper. The rabbit sausage
was nice. The mustard paper tasted incredible. The avocado was super
creamy. And the pickled rack of rabbit was cute. After a second pass on
the rabbit it was very saucy and herby. This was followed by
Butternut Squash-Tamarind Soup, Scallop "Cous Cous", and Lemon Paper.
This soup was pure sweet essence of squash. The "cous cous" however was
more of a novelty than a great addition. It distracted me a touch from
how good the soup was. The lemon paper was cool and cool tasting.
Next up was Gambon Shrimp, Onion-Clove Compote, and Red Pepper. I found this dish
fantastic. Peyman was not in sync
with my opinion so of course we had to order another one. I found the
second one just as delicious. Peyman slowly came around. After the
shrimp was Foie Gras and Anchovy Terrine, Citrus Chutney, and Tarragon. This dish
didn't quite work. The chutney overwhelmed the foie gras a bit, and the
anchovy flavors in the mix were just odd. I'm not a guy who's into
clichés. I don't need
my foie gras to always be paired with peaches, or figs, or some other sweet fruit. But
that said, the anchovies were still out-of-place (at least in this
After the foie gras we got
Venison Tartare, Edamame Ice Cream, and Crunchy Pears. The venison was
chocolaty, chewy, and had a yummy consistency. Even better was the
Smoked Eel, Cucumber, Pumpkin Seed, and Lime Chips. I have never had eel
that was this delicately smoked. The foie gras combo may have been odd,
but this dish worked! The lime was like little fireworks on the finish,
and the crushed toasted pumpkin seeds were awesome. More seafood arrived
in the form of Sardine, Lentils, Soy Caramel, and Nori Froth. The sardine was good. The
soy caramel glaze was special. The nori froth was subtle.
Many of the restaurants considered on the "cutting edge" these days all
have an affinity for small jokes throughout the meal. Grant Achatz
formerly of Trio in
Chicago (now Trio Atelier since he left) would send out "Salad"
which ended up being a granite of various lettuces (it was actually
quite good) but that's not the point.
Dufresne the "WD" in wd~50 did not name this next dish "Corned
'Beef' on Rye". Instead of focusing on being clever he just took a look
at the interesting flavor combinations existing in a traditional
sandwich and played with them such that they took on a new dimension.
The dish was called -
Corned Duck, Rye Crisp, Purple Mustard, and Horseradish Cream. The duck
was crunchy, with a "rare" meaty flavor, and a wasabi surprise. Fresh and
Next up was Snapper,
with Chestnuts, Daikon Radish, and Juniper Berries. The fish was
very very good. The lemon peel flavor was special. The daikon just ok.
And the juniper berries gave the dish a sort of Japanese quality.
Vegetable "Lasagna", in Green Lentil Broth. This wasn't my favorite,
just a lot of stuff going on, though the broth was great. More duck came
in the form of
Duck Breast, Pomelo, Sunchoke, and Roquefort. The roquefort came in the
form of a foam which had a little bit of a bitter aftertaste that seemed
beyond the pale to me. We also got the
and Flatiron Beef, Lily Bulb Puree, in
Black Olive Consommé. The short ribs were good. The olive sauce was
interesting, but the beef was delicious.
One of the most memorable dishes we had was next, the
Pork Belly, Black Soy Beans, and Turnips. The pork belly was like pork "foie
gras". It was glistening with incredible fat, and the sauce was a
perfect and subtle complement. The serving was pretty enormous. I
couldn't imagine eating the entire thing even if I had only eaten one
Desserts were numerous, lovely, interesting, and delicious. They
Parfait, Bittersweet Chocolate Cream, with Saffron Sauce, that had a
savory/bittersweet wafer which was delicious;
Banana, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, and Curry;
Spice Bread Panna Cotta,
Warm Papaya, with Tarragon;
Five Pears, Five Ways;
Chocolate Sorbet, and Beet Caramel - the beets combined beautifully
with the chocolate; and
Ravioli, Coconut Tapioca, Lime Sherbet, and Cumin - a hyper-original
(at least to my eyes) combination where the tanginess and the cumin were
delicious together. These little orange cubes looked like jewels.
Beautiful. Oh yeah, I can't say this definitively as I must have been so
distracted that I forgot to write it down, but if memory serves, the
petit fours were unbelievably creamy. The ingredient that gave them
this intense buttery beauty? Foie gras (I think).
I don't need crazy ingredients, wild presentations, or cleverness to
make me excited about a meal. Originality comes in many forms, and
sometimes simple dishes, prepared with incredible attention to detail
really raise the bar. They somehow make it look easy as they don't rely
on any tricks. The beet and chocolate combination for dessert didn't
exist to shock. The combination was on the plate because the ingredients
tasted wonderful together. And the innovation we experienced at wd~50
was equal to or above any of the exciting meals I've ever had. Yes, some
of the combinations weren't quite right. But the ones that were made me
swoon. Over the years I expect Dufresne to get an even better sense for
how to innovate and even more consistently deliver unparalleled
combinations of flavor, texture, and beauty. In some ways wd~50 is like
a diver who decides to do the dive with the greatest difficulty
multiplier. They don't nail it quite as often as someone doing a lesser
dive, but you have to give them credit for trying to do the hard stuff.
Innovating, exciting, staying accessible, and ultimately delivering
great flavor is a delicate balancing act. wd~50 deserves credit not only
for trying the hard stuff, but for delivering on it so often. I really
can't wait to go back.
New Wonton Garden,
New York, NY, February 20, 2004 —
This jaunt through New York City was going pretty well. We'd already
eaten at 6 restaurants, we still had 10 to go. Not bad for a 3 day trip.
And even though we've traveled to New York many times to eat, and we
Love (with a capital "L") Chinese food, we've never really gone deep
into New York's offerings of that cuisine. And frankly, we still weren't
on track to do that on this trip. But we were wandering around the city
and desperately hungry without a strong recommendation towards one
Chinese restaurant over another. This is when it's always important to
apply "the Peyman Principle". Go
where the crowds are. It's easy to dismiss this sort of mob mentality,
but especially when you're dealing with small ethnic restaurants, it's
not a bad theory. Why go somewhere that's empty? Somebody must know
something. And this is the logic that brought us to
Garden (not sure what became of the old one).
We didn't have a ton of food, but we did order a bunch of yummy
Steamed Pork Buns
were super fresh, steaming. and a slightly sweet light filling. The
Cantonese Dumplings came in a fantastic savory light sauce. And of
course I do love
(or Peking Ravioli as they were called when I grew up). They were coated
in a perfectly fried light dough and filled with
pork. And of course, we needed even more pork dumplings, so the
Chive Steamed Dumplings fit the bill. They filled our mouths full of flavor.
And they came with a hot soy-based
waterfall of goodness in terms of the sauce. We also ordered some
They were just ok. As good as the dumplings were, the
service was a little insane. There was a lot of language confusion to
the point where we needed to physically point at dishes we wanted to order.
If a neighboring diner didn't have it, it was near impossible for us to
order it. Still, it was well worth it. Yum.
New York, NY, February 20, 2004 — There is a "shininess" to
the concept of fusion food, it's superficial, but attractive. The
culture of food has borrowed from the broader pop culture in that trends
are popular. They are seams that businesses and media look for to ride
to more popularity. And the notion that combining two or more ethnic
cuisines into one "fusion" of sorts could result in interesting
combinations strikes many people as interesting and novel (myself
included). The problem is that typically these combinations end there -
at novelty. The reason a particular ethnic food is usually so
interesting and attractive is because it's been honed over hundreds (and
sometimes thousands) of years. It's been based on trial and error
combining indigenous and regional ingredients into just the right
combinations. When someone decides to take the "hits" of a pair of
ethnic cuisines and combine them, it is usually done casually, with more
attention paid to the surface of the dish, the unlikely ingredients,
instead of to the overall flavor. This difficult legacy means that when
a chef tries to do a riff on an ethnic food by expanding the framework,
and even combining it with another sensibility, the bar is high. This is
exactly what Floyd Cardoz tries to do at
Tabla in Manhattan.
There is the more casual (and apparently more traditional) Bread Bar, downstairs,
but we were eager to see what Tabla had to offer. We were already in a
good mood as the decor at Tabla was beautiful with bright textured colors and mosaics
draped around the old office building/bank lobby.
Things started off with
Pink Lentil Soup - French Lentils, Leeks, and
Ginger Yogurt. This spicy lentil; soup had the traditional Indian flavor
base - a combination of savory spices each with distinct and pungent
aromas and tastes. But there were also some interesting new flavors on
top of the traditional ones. This was true from a textural perspective
as well. The soup was followed up with a
Lamb Confit Samosa - Black Chickpeas Hummus,
and Cucumber Salad. The samosa was 100% light flakey spicy goodness.
At this point I was intrigued. Lentil Soup? Samosa? Nothing
non-traditional about those choices. But they each had a refined edge
and some seemingly non-traditional ingredients. I'll admit I'm not
nearly as deep in my knowledge of Indian food as I'd like to be, but I
don't know how traditional the leeks, ginger yogurt, and chummus was in
each of the dishes. Was it fusion? Maybe a fusion of Indian cuisine with
modern French and American techniques and refinement. I was enjoying
myself so far.
Next up was a
with Wild Mushrooms, Coconut, and
Pea Shoots. The risotto was creamy and tangy with fresh herbs and coconut
flavors, A bunch of enjoyable texture came from the shredded herbs. This
dish was salty and good. And again it was a subtle twist on the
traditional. Using the basmati rice, but preparing it as the risotto. I
also know that some regions of India (especially in the south)
definitely use coconut in their dishes making it seem like a cousin of
Thai food sometimes (at least to my ignorant palate).There was also
Warm Stuffed Locale
with Apple, Roasted
Vegetables, Roquefort, Toasted Walnuts, and Cider Vinaigrette. OK. I
am not a huge salad fan as it often seems to me to be a random
collection of ingredients that nobody felt like properly preparing. That
said, the salads here were done with care and flavor and often served as
the foundation to a main offering.
Organic Green Salad
with Crisped Rice and Lime
Chutney-Sherry Dressing was very good with its Indian flavor-tinged
vinaigrette. I didn't quite enjoy the
Hamachi Tartare and "Cru"
with Sea Urchin, Lemon Confit, and Toasted Coriander. Something about
it was not super, but the
delicate savory spices and sour complements were nice. The next dish was
also nothing to write home about -
Salad of Pork Confit
with French Lentils, Pickled
Onions, and Cider Mustard Vinaigrette. The pork was just ok but it
did fall apart on my fork.
Luckily as the item on salad archetype started
to get less interesting, the start of the next item on salad dish was
superb. We at the
Goan Crab Cake
with Papadum, Goan Guacamole, and
Tamarind Chutney. This was spicy on the finish. The papadum (a
lentil crisp) was delicious, and the chutney was tangy and super
complementary. Basically, the Crab rocked. We were at lunch with a
native of Goa and
she approved of this dish wholeheartedly. Less enjoyable was the
Torchon of Hudson Valley Foie Gras
Pineapple, Cashews, and Peppercress. Even in a restaurant redefining
the rules, this seemed a little out of place. The Foie Gras was not
super flavorful though it was beautiful to look at. The condiments made
it much better. The bread we got was mixed - the Nan was good, but the whole wheat paratha was
dry and plain.
Not to worry, next we were served
with Rock Shrimp Basmati Pilaf,
Bacon, and Pea Shoots, with Sour Spicy Glaze. The skate and rock shrimp
were the most interesting
of the entrees. Beautifully cooked with a delicate spiced tomato goodness
thrown in for good measure. The bacon overtones put this dish over the top.
Unsurprisingly, while this dish had many ingredients, the result was
accessible and simple. This is usually the way it is for the better
dishes. Order out of confusion.
Next up was the
Salad of Duck Breast and Confit
with Foie Gras,
Roasted Beets, and Citrus Vinaigrette. I couldn't find the foie gras,
but the temperature contrasts were good. And I'm always a fan of duck
breast. Equally good was the
Seared Hanger Steak and Sweet Spice Braised
Oxtail -with "Bombay Rice Pilaf", with Peanuts and Leeks.
Lots of flavor deeply integrated.
Most fusion cooking that I've tried uses
ethnic palettes as window dressing for their crappy food. But at Tabla
the authentic Indian flavors were deeply ingrained in the food, and the
main ingredients were still featured. And while the entrees were still
too big for my taste (though I'm in the minority in this country), and
the rest of the group I ate with were not quite as enthusiastic as I
was, I found Tabla deeper than I expected, and a restaurant I'd like to
eat at again.
New York, NY, February 19, 2004 — A couple of years ago I
read the book
The Fourth Star - Leslie Brenner's book on Daniel Boulud's
successful attempt to earn his fourth star from the New York Times for
his eponymous restaurant. The book sometimes gets confusing, but I
think that's testament to the multi-tasking going on in the kitchen when
things really get going. And we got plenty of views of the kitchen
during our most recent meal at
I am lucky in that I get to eat out a lot. After awhile you start to
notice patterns. Something that seemed pretty exciting, novel, and tasty
at one restaurant, all of a sudden feels banal after you've eaten it at
the fifth place. This is why in general I respond the most positively to
food that is simple. Too many restaurants fill a plate with a bunch of
"stuff" trying to be "interesting" and "creative". In the end these
dishes often end up being distracting and muddled. Sometimes I feel like
chefs use a multitude of ingredients to cover up the fact that their
food has no soul. And even if that's not their intent (as most chefs I'm
sure at least feel like they're trying to do something special) it often
is the result.
It would be silly to say that fewer ingredients and simpler dishes
always make for better food. Though statistically it certainly does feel
that way. I think the real issue is that there's a unique skill in
combining many ingredients and keeping the dish coherent. And there is
exceptional skill in combining a multitude of ingredients and conveying
some sort of soul. The first time I ate there it threw me for a loop. I
almost didn't know what to make of it. But this second time, I figured
it out. I apologize in advance for not being a better writer, but the
best way I know how to describe it is that a clear warm bell-like tone
of a rich tenor permeated just about every dish we ate at Daniel. This
is not to say it was a monotone. It was just a deep flavor that
resonated across almost every dish. It also served as a strong
foundation for the frequent spikes of flavor that appeared in different
dishes. I know it sounds odd to describe food in this way, but it's the
best I can do. This was all the more impressive given that Boulud isn't
regularly cooking there anymore. Instead the
kitchen is now run by
Dinner started off with a glass of
A combination of Champagne and Creme de Cassis in champagne flutes. Sort
of like an alcoholic Shirley Temple. Once the champagne was flowing, a
silver tray showed up with a huge number of amuse bouche. Parmesan
and Goat Cheese with Pine Nuts in pastry shells - awesome flavor with a
tangy cheesey concentrated yumminess.
Mousse with Huckleberry - maybe the best foie gras pate I've ever
eaten. It was creamy and almost liquid and had a perfect temperature -
not too cold. Definitely had that warm undertone of flavor. There was
and Gougeres. The chummus had a fresh neat flavor (I'm hard to
please on the chummus front) and the gougeres were little puffy airy
balls of goodness. There was also
Veloute with Lemongrass. The
oyster had milky, creamy, briney flavors and great tannins. The caviar
was a subtle balancing flavor but the
oyster was still the star. And finally there were
mini quiches -
they were custardy with an almost molten center even though they were
served at room
Soon after a basket of a variety of breads showed up. Just like last
time we were there the selection was large, and the quality great. They
included: garlic rosemary, black olive, and rustic sourdough. The
had a salty goodness on the outside with a cheesey roast garlic
flavor inside where there was actual roast garlic embedded in the bread.
rosemary olive bread was also good with super present flavors.
Next up was
Foie Gras Terrine with Gala Apples, Shallot Confit in Cider Vinegar and
Endive Walnut Salad. The shallots and gelee were bursting with
flavor. Shallots and apples are a great combination. We also got
Pheasant and Foie Gras Terrine with Spiced Chestnuts, Pickled Root
Vegetables, Black Truffle Coulis, and Spinach Salad. As good as the
first terrine was, the pheasant terrine was even better. It included a
new flavor - a gamey, savory
goodness. The condiments were nice but I just wanted more of the pure
After the foie gras course we moved on to a first round of seafood.
Citrus Marinated Fluke with Cumin, Hearts of Palm Salad, Shiso Cream,
and Lemon Balm Oil. The fluke was interesting. It was followed by
Scallop Ceviche with Basil Pesto, Blood Orange Nage, Pine Nuts, and
Avocado. The scallop
was very good with the blood orange and had a good "dry" flavor that I
We were just getting started with seafood.
Seared Tuna with Truffles
showed up. The dish had an amazing grilled flavor and lovely truffles on
the finish. More showed up soon after including
with Orzo - the stock was super rich and delicious. It filled my
mouth. Not to be outdone we also ended up with
Truffle Crusted Lobster with Ten Winter Vegetables, Savoy Cabbage,
Truffle, and Lobster Cream. Lobster with crumbled and shaved
truffles. In general that's a no-lose combination. But it wasn't just
the luxury of the ingredients that made the dish great, it had that same
rich canvas of warm full comforting flavor on which to feature the
lobster and the truffle tastes. The components of these dishes are
complex, but the deep warm flavor that results is accessible and
The pacing for dinner could have been
perceived by some as a touch slow, but for us the breaks were nice as
this meal was a marathon, not a sprint.
Just when we'd caught our breath, we were
Potato Gnocchi in Meyer Lemon Sauce with Smoked Red Mullet Eggs Bottarga
The lemon was super sublte in the dish. The caviar was so generous (can
you be overly generous?) that it almost overwhelmed the dish (I saved a
bunch for the end). And just to mix things up a bit we also got
with Black Truffle in a Crayfish Emulsion. The combination of the truffle/crayfish/stock
was another complex but focused set of
flavors, and very good.
We'd seen the classic
dish traveling by many times on it's way to another table, and then
it finally arrived at our table -
with Porcini Mushroom and Black Truffle Perigord Sauce. The sole was
delicious. The fish had a great flakey but solid texture. Seared tuna
made its second appearance of the evening as
a la Plancha with Exotic Peppercorns, Parsnip Mousseline, Glazed
Salsify, and Shallot Confit in Port Wine (looks simpler than it
sounds). I've been to many French restaurants where the sauces overwhelm
the dishes. At Daniel they are really the baseline for each dish. And in
this case the tuna was perfectly cooked. And accompanied by the
flavorful port sauce, it was impossible not to enjoy.
And all throughout the evening, each person in
the kitchen was their own ball of intense
energy. Some were quiet and restrained, others a little more wild
(relatively). How nothing
all the movement and hard work, I don't know. There appeared to be just enough room
for everything to happen without disaster.
Next up was
a l'Orange wiuthh Braised Red Endive, Black Olive, and Polenta. This
dish was so juicy, and so hearty but had a focused perfect duck
flavor. Definitely not overwhelming. Just about every dish we ate had restrained refined flavors with
layers of detail piled on one another to form a seamless chorus. Each
layer peeled away would reveal another beneath. This was also true of
Milbrook Farm Venison Loin with Honey-Juniper Glaze, Kabocha Squash, and
Chestnut-Celery Chartreuse. This venison was among the juiciest I've ever
eaten and had an almost port
flavor. The accompaniments were enjoyable as well with the chartreuse
reminding me of my mom's flavorful not overly dry or juicy turkey stuffing.
I think that society generally frowns on
licking your plate at a restaurant. Alex
tried it and one of the chefs glanced over at just the right moment to
catch him. It was clear from the smile, that Alex' attempt to extract
the last bit of flavor still trapped on his dish was taken as a
What's dinner without a cheese course and a
series of exciting and delicious desserts. On the cheese front we had
that stood out including the Livarot from Normandy which was nutty, tangy,
and strong but
not overly acute (it was our best new discovery). The epoisses, talleggio,
and brin d'amour were all excellent as well (no surprise there). The dizzying array of complicated
and tasty desserts -
- almost buried us. These of course were followed by
luxuriously sweet, and possibly my favorite dessert at Daniel (and their
Madelines. At Daniel they had a lemony lightness that was unbeatable.
(Don't forget the
Daniel is a funny restaurant. The size both of
the physical space as well as the ambition are such that many people
want to knock it off the pedestal that it's perched itself so proudly
upon. But if you eat there a couple of times, you realize that the food
really is unique and special even with genetics rooted firmly in the
tradition of the high end French restaurant. And the special quality is
this ability to combine a bunch of ingredients on each plate, and many
plates in one meal, and somehow weave a thread throughout the entire
meal. A thread that envelops you with warmth and comfort. Luxurious
French comfort food? A meal at Daniel might not be the first thing that
comes to your mind with that phrase, but it is for me.
Ever since we finally got our act together and got our own RSS feed I've
finally gotten deep into the world of RSS. I tried newsgator awhile ago,
as well as myYahoo, but right now I'm loving
BlogLines. So in honor of me
finally catching up with the rest of the planet, I'm sharing some
clippings from some of the best food blogs on the web.
Derrick from Obsession with food describes a
new magazine from the folks at Cook's illustrated. Weird.
Kip of FOODBlog lists a whole bunch of
York (and other) food blogs he found which is a follow-up to yet
another post with
bunch of new food blogs he found, which is a follow-up to another
three lists of food blogs
here. I suppose if even a few of them are decent, this is an
embarrassment of riches for those of us that like to live vicariously
through other people's food adventures.
Even mainstream fashion magazines in France (Elle to be exact) are
mentioning food blogs.
Meg's Food and Wine Page reads like
Non-techies in the audience may or may not be excited. But tastingmenu
has finally joined the rest of the planet with our very own
RSS feed. Notice the new XML button on the top of
every page. This will take you to a webpage address that you can type
into any RSS reader, including
Bloglines, Newsgator, and
even My Yahoo. For future reference
our RSS page is located at:
"Shortly into an hour long interview, it was evident that beneath the
glossy chestnut hair, the expensive clothes and the cultured European
and British-accented English, is a woman who knows how to cook." I
suppose tastingmenu is not the place where you'd expect to find
political commentary - unless of course it's food related. The New York
Times (free registration required) has an
interview with Teresa Heinz Kerry about her relationship with food
On the other side of the aisle,
won Family Circle's cookie bake-off vote. I'm not surprised. Who the
hell prefers pumpkin spice cookies over chocolate chunk? Here are the
recipes for both.
Apparently for the last 20 elections husband of the person who lost the
Family Circle cookie bakeoff won the election. Interesting.
Harold McGee has a
of On Food and Cooking (courtesy of
Bourrez Votre Visage).
Mark Bittman (also in the Times) provides a couple of
and tips for cooking Indian food with yogurt.
Mamoun's, New York, NY, February
18, 2004 — I am a big fan of falafel and shwarma. Falafel are
little balls of ground chickpeas (or fava beans) deep fried. Shwarma is
basically layered and seasoned meat slowly turning on a skewer and
shaved off as it cooks.
Mamoun's in New York City is a relatively
popular late night hole-in-the-wall. The offerings are pretty basic.
shwarma, kafta, and shish-kebab plus all the appropriate
accoutrements - hummus, baba ganoush, tabouleh, etc.
In high school we had a place like this in Brookline, MA. We'd hop into
my friend's car and head down to the hospital district at one in the
morning. The food was hot, bursting with flavor, and the
making the food had a mild attitude - sort of a "yeah, we know the
food's good and your thrilled we're here to give it to you way late at
night, but could you just pick what you want and move on because there
are a lot of people in line behind you" kind of attitude.
The tehina was very good - tangy and textured. The sandwiches were
packed to the gills. The vegetables were crunchy. The meat was pretty
good too. Not quite as savory and juicy as I've had in the past but
still pretty yummy. The sharp middle eastern flavors, packed sandwiches,
and late hours help too.
New York, NY, February 19, 2004 —
I hate to generalize, and especially when it sounds so cliché, but there
is an aesthetic about Japan. It's actually more of a framework for
aesthetics - a value system. Multiple aesthetics spring forth from it.
But some of its core tenets include, simplicity, authenticity, beauty,
tradition. I know, it sounds cliché, but at the heart of many clichés is
a core of truth. And even though I've only been to Japan a few times
(and spent my time mostly in Tokyo) these tenets are undeniable -
especially when it comes to the food. I won't spend a ton of time
talking about the various foods in Japan and my
realization some time ago about my own shortsightedness about the
diversity of Japanese cuisine. But suffice it to say, Soba cuisine is
one of those many points on the Japanese spectrum that remains quite
underrepresented in the United States (and I think most of the rest of
(With that long preamble over with) walking into
Honmura An was like
walking into a tiny slice of Tokyo nestled in New York City. I don't
worry much about decor or environment, but I have to admit that the
comfort I felt walking in there, the familiarity, was nice, settling,
Salad that showed up just reinforced the emotional connection I was
already having with the restaurant. It contained sliced avocado served
with chopped scallion, wasabi, and bonito flakes. The flavors were stark
and simple. The bonito
flakes contrasted with the avocado. It doesn't get simpler (or more
beautiful) than this.
The avocado was followed up with
Salad - Blanched Asparagus with Sesame Seed Dressing. The sauce tasted like thousand island
dressing but it was still yummy. Next up was
Tamago - Thick Japanese Omelets Flavored with "Mirin" Japanese Sweet
Sake. I read a book once that said you could judge a sushi
restaurant in Japan based on the quality of its Tamago. The thinking is
that this simple dish will expose your talent or your flaws. Its
simplicity leaves nothing to hide flaws behind. The many layers of egg
cooked in a square copper pan, all the while manipulated expertly with
chopsticks, is definitely a sight to behold. And this particular
rendition couldn't have been sweeter, more
subtle, or more enjoyably complex.
At this point things were moving a long at a
perfect pace. It's amazing how much good timing can affect how much you
enjoy your meal.
Tataki is Carpaccio Style Japanese Rare Roast Beef and it's also
what showed up next at our table. The beef was served with spicy daikon.
The flavors were again stark and perfectly complementary. According to
the group at the table the dish had "wabi".
We also got some Prawn Tempura. Super simple. Peyman thought there was
too much shiso, but I thought it was nice. The frying was delicate,
deliberate, and balanced.
Gaki a Soba Gnocchi Served in a
Lacquer Ware Box with a Daikon Radish
Sauce. According to the menu it's "very healthy and esoteric".
According to us the "gnocchi" was like a Japanese
After the waitress broke it up with chopsticks we dipped it in a delicious dashi-based sauce
with grated daikon. I loved the sauce and the texture. Even though the
food was mesmerizing, it didn't stop us from checking out the
the back of the restaurant making soba by hand. Cool!
Up next was
- a hot duck-based soup topped with sliced duck and scallion. The duck broth
was gorgeous and oily in a good way. Its flavor was deep but light
(does that make any sense? It would if you'd tasted it). We also ordered
Okame "Rosy Cheek" (I love Japanese names). This mix was good as
And finally it was time for our
- the specialty of the house. I never thought cold noodles could be so
incredible. But never say never. If someone actually took the time to
properly edit my postings then they would tell me I'd overused the
notion of being surprised at how simple and yet beguilingly delicious
each dish was at this meal. Overused or otherwise, it just happens to be
the truth. The cold soba noodles were so simple and nutty. Once the
and condiments were added, the rich tangy brewed flavor truly came
out. Who would have thunk cold noodles could be so delicious? Not
me. But then I would have been wrong. Once you'd slurped up all the
noodles and a bunch of the sauce you would have thought that the fun
would be over as all you have left at this point is left over sauce and
some soba water (the water the noodles were cooked in that drained
through the bamboo strainer). Wrong again (sorry to be so negative). You
take the soba water and pour it into the teacup with the excess sauce,
mix it up, and drink it. Crazy! But
delicious. It makes a perfect "after-soup". The starchy water
perfectly balanced and was brightened by the deep dark flavor of the
sauce. With it's protocol of eating every last drop, soba may be one of
the world's perfect foods. It's also good in hot and cold weather.
In the mood for dessert? No problem. How about
Green Tea Sponge Cake. The cake was like a perfect microcosm of
perfect Japanese detail. It was as if it was built molecule by molecule
- each perfectly positioned and polished along the way. We also had
Soba Dumplings with
Red Bean and Bitter Nori
on the side. The sweet little soba "meatballs" in the sweet red
bean soup was good. The nori was in fact not bitter but a super yummy concentrated chickeny
savory saltiness. Alex thought it might be MSG.
Food is subjective. I can't deny that this
little oasis in the middle of Manhattan brought back so many positive
memories of the detail, design, and ultimately the appreciation for
flavor, freshness, beauty, and simplicity. But those values weren't hazy
memories. They were present in every dish, every bite, every taste at
Honmura An. And that's why I loved it.
Blue Ribbon Sushi,
New York, NY, February 18, 2004 —
I really do love living in Seattle. Especially since we moved into the
city proper. But I have to admit that things close down relatively
early. I'd like to be able to get some really good food after midnight
on a weeknight. That's just not really possible. And it's not just in
Seattle, but in most places on this planet. New York city is different.
Different good. Every day of the week
Sushi is open until 2am. You can't ask for more than that (even
though New York has more to offer). And on this night we asked, and Blue
Ribbon Sushi delivered.
We showed up at 1am. They were a little hard to find as there doesn't
appear to be an English sign anywhere (though the
Japanese one is cool - I don't know what it says). We weren't super hungry, but the thought of high
quality sushi is always enough to get us out to eat. The place is a
little small, but cozy and has some
beautiful little touches. First things first,
the wasabi was fresh by default. It's not like the prices don't reflect
these small touches, but still, it's worth it. We only had enough
appetite for a few dishes, but they were delicious.
We started off with a spicy kampachi handroll. It was quite good with
excellent and crispy nori. It wasn't quite conical, and more thick with
a long "cubetangle" of kampachi. I know that calling any spicy handroll
"authentic" is really an oxymoron, but the quality and freshness really
was authentic to me. We also ordered some
negitoro gunkan maki (toro
with scallions chopped fine on a bed of rice with nori wrapped around
the circumfrence). The oilyness of the fish made these almost creamy. It
was like uni in a good way. We also had a bunch of
ngiri sushi with
great fish to rice ratios. Pricey? Yes. Super quality? Yes. Open until
2am? Yes. Can't complain.
New York, NY, February 18, 2004 —
I really do love New York. For years I was raised to hate it as I grew
up in Boston. But eventually my love for food and world class cities
overcame any prejudice I had acquired from the sports world. And a few
months ago we took a fantastic trip to New York City where we ate, and
ate, and ate. Sixteen eating experiences in 6 days (including travel).
Not bad. What better place to start than with
The menu at Danube is divided into two
columns, one labeled Austrian, and the other Modern Eclectic. OK. Sounds
good to me.
Through the cozy foyer we entered an
absolutely gorgeous triangular room. It had a
(I don't know who painted this) feel (if that means anything). There
were beautiful mosaic paintings on the walls, and unfortunately not much
light. It was fine to eat by, but the
pictures came out a
little weird (apologies in advance). Luckily the food came out just
right (no apologies for that).
Things started off with a variety of warm
breads in baskets including pretzels and little
mini-challahs coated in poppy seeds that were light, airy, and
delicious. An amuse of
Salmon with Grainy Mustard, Creme
fraiche and Cucumber arrived. It had a totally surprising flavor, sweet, mixing with
mustard, and fruit undertones. I was expecting a cliché. This wasn't it.
Next up was
Coast Kumamoto Oyster, Diver Sea Scallop Carpaccio with Apple-Mint Gelée
and Frozen Riesling all served in a martini glass. This dish had bright, simple, flavors.
The scallop was super
complementary. And while there were lots of ingredients. The effect was simple
and powerful. It reinforces my theory how some of the best dishes I've
ever had have clear flavor triangles. This one was: briney, fruity, minty.
Following the oyster was
Harpooned Sashimi Quality Bluefin and Hamachi Tuna, Key Lime Pickled
Onion, Pumpkin Seed Oil, and Sesame Mustard Dressing. Other than the pumpkin seed,
this was a pretty typical
flavor combination. That said, it was beautifully executed and
definitely refined. The veggies among us got an incredible combination
Sweet Organic Beets, Horseradish Fromage Blanc, and Toasted Pumpkin Seed
Dressing. It had an awesome beet essence
Then we got
Scallop and New England Crabmeat with Paradeiser Coriander and a tomato
based sauce. Alex' brother Nick said "I would supersize this if
I could." He was right. It had beautiful simple clean flavors. The
tomato was like a blanket on the
perfectly prepared scallop.
Not to worry if you're still hungry, more
dishes to come. Including this one from the Austrian side of the menu:
Sturgeon (from the Columbia River) with Austrian Crescent Potato Leaf
Spinach, Belvedere Vodka and Oscetra Caviar. The sturgeon was nicely cooked, but a bit overwhelmed by
the spinach. And unfortunately there was not
quite enough caviar to give a spike the flavor. Luckily this was
Nantucket Wild Striped Black Bass with Cremini Mushrooms, Tortellini and
Tomato Herb Broth. The ravioli had an intense mushroom flavor. The fish
itself was amazing.
The light savory broth coated, melded with, and brought out the flavor
of the fish which was covered with veggie
scales. The flavor was indescribable. The sides were little flavor
spikes. Peyman called it a "concerto". If he always spoke this
way I'd wonder if it was an affectation. But I think the dish genuinely
Next up was
Boat Lobster with Roasted Sweet Organic Beet Fettuccine, Baby Turnips
Cooked in Tahitian Vanilla, and Horseradish Foam. This dish smelled like maple syrup
(in a good way). It was sweet, light, and
delicious. The beet pasta had a bright, fresh flavor.
We also got to eat
"Schlutzkrapfen" High Altitude Austrian Cheese Ravioli with Harvest Corn
Sauce and Smoked Wild Mushrooms. This dish smelled heavenly. This
seemed strongly attributable to the nutty, cheesey. carinthian
cheese in the ravioli. The cheese flavor really was incredibly
fulfilling. This was a gorgeous dish from the Austrian side of the menu.
As was the
Schnitzel with Austrian Crescent Potatoes, Cucumber Salad, Mixed Greens,
and Lingonberries. The meat was tangy, perfect, and had a delicious fried smell.
This veal was amazing! It was so perfectly fried. The cucumber salad underneath
traditional. The dish that followed it couldn't compete:
Rack of Colorado Lamb with Vegetable Barley, Glazed Cippolini Onion, and
Sweet Potato Puree. It was kind of boring.
Dessert was an extravaganza including eight (1,
desserts compliments of the pastry chef. I think this was because we
were closing down the place. There was a huge variety. We also each got
a serving of
Soup with Mandarin Elderflower Sorbet and Campari Sugar. This dish
was quite sweet
and had a buttery quality as well. The texture from the sugar crystals
was interesting and unique. This was not
a random sorbet. Yummy.
Danube was fantastic. And as good as the
"modern eclectic" side of the menu was, I think I most enjoyed the
Austrian dishes. Any ethnic cuisine refined is good by me. Danube was no
exception. I think I'm going to need to try Bouley's
eponymous restaurant on
the other side of the block to get the full picture.