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
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
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
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.