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Riingo, New York, NY, February 21, 2004 I've said enough recently on the ups and downs of fusion cooking. Sometimes I think fusion cooking is like when couples have a child to save a marriage. "Hey, it's not working, so let's complicate matters further." That said, we were in New York City, there was lots of attention on this new restaurant, and one of the founding (if not cooking) Chefs was Marcus Samuelsson from Aquavit (which I've never eaten at but hear good things about). And besides, while I lament the fact that most fusion restaurants end up being good at neither cuisine while not creating anything new and interesting, if it were possible to combine French and Japanese cooking beautifully, I certainly would like to benefit from that combination. Given this outlook, we decided to give Riingo a try.

As things were gearing up some bread showed up with an edamame spread. It tasted fresh and yummy. There was also a dark flat bread which was very very good. To me it tasted like it had sesame in it, maybe some shrimp, and definitely a little kick. It too was very good. The attention to detail and complexity of the flavors were getting things off to a good start. Then our orders started to arrive.

First up was a Tuna Caesar with Sea Urchin Vinaigrette. I don't know what the hell we were thinking ordering this. What did we expect other than a boring caesar sald (in this case not even with good caesary flavor) and some slabs of tuna (which were nice but not that interesting). It came with a tuile that was so crispy it was literally hard to eat. We also got some tartare - kobe beef, tuna, and salmon to be exact. Hard to criticize piles of chopped raw meat and fish.

Next up was Nori Wrapped Foie Gras with Melon and Mackerel. I was really eager for this as the combination sounded interesting and of course I adore foie gras. Not this time as the dish was quite unenjoyable. The foie gras ended up being thick and gelatinous - not in a good way. This was followed by the Bass Ceviche with Tofu Chili Sauce, Edamame, and Pickled Vegetables. This dish had no flavor. I don't mean it was subtle. I mean there was a surprisingly tiny amount of flavor in this food. Things were going downhill in a hurry, but luckily the next thing that showed up was Seared Arctic Char with Herbs and Coconut Milk. The char was truly tasty. The skin was delicious with a mixing of caramelized soy flavor and some kind of kick which might have been wasabi. The effect was subtle and complex. Nice.

We got a few sides as well including Chili Mashed Potatoes, Yam Puree, and Potato Pancakes. The latke was different but nice. It was a little sweet but not cloying. As for the mashed potatoes with chili, we couldn't really taste any chili. So I guess it was just "Mash". As for the Yams, they were great. They're not typically my favorite, but they were beautifully cooked, not overly sweet, and a gorgeous orange color.

At this point we had lots of plates and dishes on the table. It was getting hard to maneuver. But to be fair, only our table seemed to suffer from this as we had a weirdly sized table. Maybe also the non-traditional way we order our meals and share also contributed to the crowding.

Towards the end of our meal our sushi and other more Japanese items arrived. This included: Tuna Foie Gras Ngiri, Maguro Ngiri, Kobe Beef Sushi, and Rice Puff Crusted  Shrimp. The tuna with foie gras frankly was fantastic. It was like a creamy savory butter pat gently hidden under the beautiful tuna. As for the maguro the rice under the fish seemed a bit small but otherwise it was perfect tuna excellence. (I know, it's wacky to complain about too little rice, but at least to me, even with wonderful ingredients, making something great is also about proper balance.) The kobe ngiri was amazing. Tender, juicy, really fantastic. And the shrimp maki had a perfect texture with what seemed like a sweet soy glaze inside.

Desserts followed including a Grapefruit Granite with Yogurt and Vanilla foam which was excellent and had super grapefruit flavor. Some excellent Green Tea Donuts (though Peyman thought the dough was nice, he thought they were overseared and didn't have a ton of flavor - Alex and I disagreed). And there were also Chocolate Covered Soy Beans - which were delicious and crunchy - and Wasabi Dusted Marshmallows and Petits Fours.

To be fair to Riingo, there really are two (if not three including Pastry) chefs and two kitchens. And the sushi bar and dessert really seemed to be from one end of the spectrum. And while the food from the main kitchen had it's high points, it also had several low points. And unfortunately for the customer, they don't know how to pick which dishes come from which kitchen. Combine this with the fact that the restaurant was only a few weeks old and maybe it's no surprise that things were not that memorable. And of course why do people assume that they can fuse two foods that have been developed over decades and even centuries. French and Japanese food may share some common values - attention to detail, etc. But that doesn't mean that they can be made compatible just by cooking them in the same restaurant.

As with many things, the more I eat out, the more I learn. And on the one hand I could easily say that the kitchen(s) at Riingo are obviously capable of turning out some standout food. But then again, so are a lot of kitchens. The trick is to do it consistently. And also it's true that they had just recently opened, but then again, if they're still working the kinks out, then why are they open and charging full price. I wouldn't mind trying it again, but only if they've really hit their stride.

 

     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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