welcome

New to Arthur Hungry? Check out some of my favorite posts, learn a little about me, or browse the complete archives.

status

In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.

search
rss

Entries in Favorites (14)

Wednesday
Sep092009

Sushi Kanesaka - 鮨かねさか

One of my goals going into this Japan trip was to evaluate the newly-minted Michelin Tokyo guide. On my last trip, Michelin had not yet ventured into the Far East. When the Tokyo guide made its debut in 2008, there was controversy over the ratings (as usual for any new city that Michelin enters), and questions arose over whether French guys could actually evaluate Japanese food. Despite the fact that Tokyo collected the most total Michelin stars of any city in the world (including Paris), many questioned whether the Japanese needed or wanted Michelin around. In response to the critics, Michelin reportedly changed its Tokyo team from 3 French inspectors and 2 Japanese inspectors for the 2008 edition to 5 Japanese inspectors and 1 French inspector for the 2009 revision. The result was 9 three star restaurants (trailing only Paris' 10) and 227 total stars (still tops in the world).

We were most curious to see how this played out in terms of Japanese cuisine. Old school stalwarts like Kyubey and Sazanka are not mentioned in the guide at all.

 

Sushi is my favorite food, and so we decided it was most certainly worth spending 2 meals to check out Michelin's choices. Our first meal was a lunch at Sushi Kanesaka, one of six sushiya that earned 2 stars. (Two earned 3 stars - Sushi Mizutani and Sukibayashi Jiro. We ate at Mizutani the next night, which I'll report on though without pictures.) I chose Kanesaka based on a few pics and good reports I found online.

Tucked away in the basement level of a Ginza office building, Sushi Kanesaka is a tiny, 14-seat establishment with a startlingly clean wooden counter. You'd never find it without looking for it, which seems to be a trend with these quality sushi joints. Kanesaka-san, who appeared to be about 35-40, was welcoming and downright friendly. Although one of his young apprentices was cutting our fish for us, Kanesaka-san constantly came over to check up and practice his English as well as his limited Cantonese. The place had a surprisingly open and relaxed atmosphere - there was none of the rigidity or formality that one might expect in a traditional sushi place. I enjoyed the pressure-free environment.

Sashimi/sushi and sushi-only lunches are offered at various price points, starting at ¥5,000 and topping out at ¥20,000. Prices rise a bit during dinner. We opted for the top sushi-only lunch at ¥15,000, and off we were.

 

SEAWEED SALAD - onions, green onions, sesameThey started us off with this lightly-vinegared seaweed salad. The thinly-sliced onions were bright and refreshing.

 

KAREI - flatfishAll it takes is one bite to realize that sushi in Japan is on a different level. First, the fish quality is impeccable. Karei, a flounder related to hirame which you find more commonly in the US, was bouncy and fresh. Second, and just as important, the rice here is a whole different ballgame. Kanesaka judiciously uses salt and akazu (a red vinegar made from sake lees) for his rice, resulting in a very gentle taste of vinegar and perfect texture. Here, more than any other sushi establishment I have ever been to, I could feel the separation of individual grains of rice in my mouth. It was astonishing.

Also, it's worth mentioning that rice was made and brought out literally a handful at a time. Every 2 rounds of fish or so, a tiny batch was brought out from the back and put into the rice container at the counter. You just can't beat freshness.

 

SHIMA AJI - striped jackShima aji, also known as striped jack or yellow jack, was delicious. Sort of like a cross between aji and hamachi, this was like a firmer, leaner version of your typical yellowtail.

 

CHEF AT WORKHere's a shot of Kanesaka-san's young apprentice in action - he had to be younger than me! But he clearly knew what he was doing. He's prepping a trio of tuna here. Check out the beautiful wood on the counter, and the raised cutting board.

 

BLUEFIN TUNA TRIOI thought you might enjoy this closer shot of the tuna. Check out that slab of otoro - how could you not get excited?

 

CHUTORO #1 - bluefin tunaThis was the first piece, the leanest of the three. Beautiful, smooth texture.

 

CHUTORO #2 - medium fatty bluefin tunaThe second piece was quite a bit more marbled, as you can see. I liked this one the best out of the three, as it struck the perfect balance of flavor, body, and oilyness.

 

OTORO - extra fatty bluefin tunaOtoro was literally bursting at the seams with butteriness. Total luxury!

 

IKA - squidIka is one of the things I rarely order in the US, as it often suffers from a chewy texture and fishy taste. I've always maintained that the first thing a sushi-eater needs to realize is that good sushi should never be "fishy." When someone tells me they don't like sushi because of the fishiness, I get all heated about it. It's a quality problem, not a sushi problem. So all you sushi-haters out there, keep trying it! Ika is probably the best example of the bad fishy sushi phenomenon which scares people away. At Kanesaka, the squid was served with just a pinch of salt, and had a wonderfully tender texture with clean flavor.

 

SHIRA EBI - baby white shrimpShira ebi, which I first tried at Gari in NYC, is one of my favorites. It's like a more delicate version of ama-ebi, and unfortunately I don't see it much back home.

 

AJI - horse mackerelAji, a perennial favorite of my dad's, was rich and oily. Served with a pinch of ginger between the rice and fish, and a touch of seaweed on top.

 

SABA - mackerelSaba, another oily fish. Kanesaka's version had a light, delicate marination.

 

KOHADA - gizzard shadSometimes translating sushi is pretty useless. Gizzard shad? Does anyone actually know what that is? Why not just call it kohada? Anyway, it's a small, shiny, herring-like fish, served with skin on. A nice littly bit of tang and slightly chewy texture.

 

AKAGAI - ark shellAkagai, a beautiful red clam, is another item that often suffers horribly due to low quality in America. The akagai at Kanesaka was pristine, with a bouncy, almost crunchy texture to it, and a subtle clam flavor.

 

AKAGAI HIMO - ark shell "mantle"The most prized piece of akagai is the himo, a little piece that connects to the main body. Yeah, it looks pretty savage. It has a nice crisp/crunchy texture.

 

KATSUO - bonitoKatsuo, most often dried into flakes and used for dashi broth, is also delicious as sushi. Leaner than tuna but intensely flavorful, the katsuo here was cooked slightly at the edges and left to sit in a soy/ponzu marinade for a little bit before being served. The narrow portion was particularly tasty.

 

KOBASHIRA - adductor muscle of bakagaiKobashira, which looks like little bay scallops, is actually the muscle portion of bakagai, also known as a hen or round clam. They tasted like firm little scallops. They must be in season, because we would later see them used at both RyuGin and Sushi Mizutani. Funny enough, learning about kobashira at Kanesaka earned me a lot of street cred with Mizutani-san the next day, when I was able to quickly identify it as he was prepping it. He was probably surprised that a gaijin like me knew what it was. Thanks, Kanesaka-san.

 

IKURA - salmon roeIkura is, to be honest, not one of my favorites. I often find it has been sitting in vinegar for far too long, with a sour taste that overwhelms. This version was tremendously delicate. Probably the best ikura I have tried.

 

UNI - sea urchinUni is probably second only to toro among sushi delicacies in my book. This perfect specimen from Hokkaido was creamy, sweet, and slightly briny. Top-notch.

 

SHAKO - mantis shrimpShako seems to be fairly common in Japan. It's usually cooked and has a slightly chewier texture than ebi.

 

ANAGO - sea eelAnago, the saltwater cousin of unagi, is another Che family favorite. Kanesaka's version was soft and flaky.

 

MISO SOUP - baby clamsThe arrival of miso soup signalled that the meal was starting to wind down. This soup had the cutest, tiniest little clams in the world.

 

TEKKA - tuna rollThey finished us off with a couple of maki - first this simple tekka roll, which had a very clean flavor to balance out all the exotic stuff we'd just eaten.

 

MAKI ACTION SHOTHere's a maki action shot - nothing too fancy going on here, just some straight up negitoromaki.

 

NEGITORO - fatty bluefina tuna with green onionMy favorite thing of all, negitoro. Buttery and flavorful, this is truly the epitome of sushi.

And there you have it. The meal at Kanesaka was incredible, and it was hard to imagine the difference between a 2-star sushi joint and a 3-star one. It really doesn't get any better. A couple of things to point out:

1) Value. This meal was ¥15,000 per head - about $160, tax/tip included. For the level of quality, that's ridiculous. You can drop $160 easily at many sushi places across the U.S. and not even come close to what we had here. I've still not been to Urasawa in LA, but I can imagine a meal like this costing much more. It's amazing to me that you can get some of the best sushi in Tokyo (and thus, surely some of the best sushi in the world) at such a bargain price compared to LA/Vegas/NYC.

2) Modernity, in a few senses. The rice is a little bit different than the truly traditional - with more grain separation and less vinegar. The intimate setting is open and pleasant, and lacks the strictness and rigidity that one might expect of the most traditional Japanese institutions. For this, I highly recommend Kanesaka to visitors. Kanesaka-san is extremely welcoming to foreigners and genuinely excited to serve us non-Japanese folks. Sukibayashi Jiro allows only Japanese into their main shop, and diverts foreigners to a secondary (and supposedly inferior) place in Roppongi. You'll see nothing of the sort at Kanesaka.

That's about it. It was interesting to compare to 3-star Mizutani (as well as former champ Kyubey), but I'll write about that more in the Mizutani post coming up. Kanesaka was absolutely top-shelf, and surprisingly easy to get in to. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a proper sushi experience in Tokyo (and really, that should be the #1 thing on anyone's list of to-dos in Tokyo).

Thursday
Aug242006

Sazanka, Hotel Okura

sazanka.jpg

Alright, it's been a long time coming. I apologize, and I hope it's worth it. If it's any consolation, I'm experimenting on this post with some YouTube videos. Next up is dinner at Sazanka, the teppanyaki restaurant on the 11th floor of the Hotel Okura, Tokyo. This place has a legendary reputation, and is considered by many to be one of the best teppanyaki restaurants in Japan. This was the 3rd trip in my life to Sazanka, making me one of the luckiest little boys on this side of the Pacific.

It is my personal opinion that teppanyaki is still ultimately the best way to enjoy good Kobe beef. To me, a meal at Sazanka means ultra high-grade Japanese beef in its greatest form. And to be honest with you, this third meal there was better than the ones I remember from before. It seems like each time it just gets better. I suspect this has more to do with the enhancement of my own palette in between trips to Japan, and a consistently growing appreciation of how much better Japanese food in Japan really is.

Our group of 11 was joined by Arthur Hungry inspiration and Tokyo resident Nobrin (her much more punctual, Japanese post on this meal can be found here), which meant enough people to fill a private room with a big long table and 2 Japanese grillmasters. Anyone who's been to Benihana will know what these rooms feel like, but the chefs at Sazanka are generally a lot less flashy than their Americanized counterparts. I guess when you're using the highest grade A5 Japanese cattle there is, you can forego the little spatula flips and stuff. Needless to say, the service is friendly and professional. The place also has a relatively casual atmosphere. It feels totally comfortable to be dressed casually here, but it'd be just as comfortable to have a business meal too.

The fixed menus start from around 10,000 yen (US$100 or so), but once you start adding expensive cuts of beef and fresh seasonal seafood to the mix, that price can absolutely skyrocket. A base Kobe beef meal starts somewhere in the $200s, and with all the bells and whistles you can break $400 per head. We went all out and got in the $400 range when you factor in all the food and drink, making this probably the most expensive Japanese meal you can find if you exclude high-end kaiseki.


IZU BLACK ABALONE Sazanka always carries whatever luxurious seafood there is in season. We happened to be there at just the right time for these gorgeous black abalones from Izu. Here's a video of them still moving, if I got it to work properly:

Just testing this stuff out. Let me know if you guys like it or not, and maybe I'll start posting more videos. In this one, you get to hear my dad and my uncle Jack having a deep discussion of these abalones' origins.


ABALONE CHILLIN' ON THE GRILL They always serve the seafood as a sort of appetizer, so as soon as the grill was hot the cooking began. The teppanyaki grilling table probably looks familiar to most of you. Do not click on the following if you're scared of slimey looking moving things.

I know I'm not gonna score any brownie points with PETA for posting this one. Check out the one on the bottom left. It totally started spazzing out. Not that we doubted its freshness... Anyway, there's more random Che family banter - some Cantonese, some dad on the phone, and some play by play by yours truly.


GRILLED ABALONE Finally, the finished product. With just a nice grill and some light seasoning, the subtle abalone flavor really came out. Each piece was perfectly tender as well.


ABALONE LIVER And now for something a little more exotic: abalone liver. Apparently, this is truly a rare delicacy. The livers from these black abalones are only edible during a very short period of time during the season. Usually, the liver has too many toxins built up inside, but we happened to be there during the 2 weeks where it was still alright. This was some of the strongest livery/foie-y tasting stuff I've ever had, and I don't think most people would enjoy it. I actually liked it quite a bit - it was like an intense, dense, concentrated ankimo. Very interesting stuff.


GRILLED BROCCOLINI, ONION, EGGPLANT, PEPPER I guess for the sake of thoroughness I should include these grilled veggies. They were quite delicious, actually, with a nice char to them. Obviously they're not the main event though.


GRADE A5 KOBE SIRLOIN AND FILLET, PRE-COOKING BAM. As you can imagine our jaws dropped when they brought out this baby. I guess the picture says more than anything I can really type here... the marbling on this stuff was incredible. They have both sirloin and filet cuts - as you might expect, we opted to have a higher proportion of the sirloin.


FILET ON THE GRILL Here's a shot of the filet cooking. It's grilled very lightly, with a nice sear on the outside.


FILET AS SERVED And the finished product, with some fried garlic chips on the side. Notice the slight glistening. This had a meatier texture than the sirloin, but was more tender than anything stateside. Nice, even marbling and good fatty flavor.


SIRLOIN ON THE GRILL Here is our expert chef chopping up the sirloin into more manageable pieces. Just looking at the white lines of fat on this make my mouth water. It's really an awesome sight.


ANOTHER SHOT OF SIRLOIN SLICED UP At this point, I'm thinking this beef must be pretty impossible to screw up. Just look at that color! Now for the finishing touch:

Sazanka can hold its own in the showtime department, as you can see. Luckily we had a big table that had 2 sets of beef cooking, because I missed the first round. Nothing like some hard liquor to finish off that beef.


SIRLOIN AS SERVED And this is it: absolute beef heaven. Each bite of this sirloin is like a dose of bovine perfection. There are those who say that beef can be too marbled or too fatty, and to those people I say NAY. The deliciousness of beef only goes up with marbling, and Sazanka is here to prove it. Entourage fans: What if I were to tell you that this beef is more tender than any meat you've ever had, and literally melts in your mouth? Is that something you might be interested in?


BEAN SPROUTS AND JAPANESE GREENS Another quick break from the meat overload - a break I didn't really need. I didn't eat much of this, but luckily Nobrin, who can't quite eat as much as me, was happy to trade me her beef for my bean sprouts. I say yes to that deal every time.


KOBE FAT TRIMMINGS FOR FRIED RICE This is gonna gross out some of you out there who aren't fat-loving carnivores like me. In teppanyaki, when you've got really high grade brief, the standard practice is to use the trimmed fat from the meat and use it for fried rice. The chef will chop it up into little bits and use it as the oil base. Here's another vid:

That looks pretty gross I guess, but keep in mind that it's for a huge amount of fried rice.


HUGE PILE OF RICE! A teppanyaki style fried rice is one of my favorite forms of the simple dish. Usually they'll just throw on a mountain of rice, some egg, some seasoning, and the fat trimmings. This leads to an amazingly flavorful, beefy fried rice.


OUR CHEF SERVING THE FRIED RICE And still, out of the monstrous stack of rice and oozing pile of fat, the Japanese manage to make it all look clean and presentable. Funny how that works, isn't it?


TEPPANYAKI FRIED RICE WITH KOBE TRIMMINGS And here is a closeup of the final product, served simply with a few shreds of pickles. The beef has done a thorough job of imparting it's marbled flavor throughout the entire bowl.


MISO SOUP, PICKLES And of course, at the end of the meal, you get some soup and pickles to go with your rice. This miso had a nice variety of mushrooms inside. Very soothing after eating so much meat.


HONEY DEW MELON They also throw in some incredibly sweet honey dew. I've talked about the melons before, and this is just more of the same. Sweet and juicy beyond belief.


CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM Of course it'd be more stereotypical to go with some green tea ice cream, but I like to buck trends. I got chocolate. That's right; you heard correctly. I like to live dangerously. So that's it. The best Kobe beef you can eat anywhere. I know it will be impossible to convince many of you that $400 isn't a total ripoff, but I will try. If you really want to experience a meal that is absolutely best in class and unlike anything else in the world, a top-shelf teppanyaki restaurant really fits the bill. There are no Benihana gimmicks here, just amazing food using exquisite ingredients. Eating here changed my perception of beef as a whole, just like Kyubey changed my perception of sushi. I urge you to try Sazanka if you get the chance.

Wednesday
Oct192005

The French Laundry

Working full days with a 1.5 hour commute sure has wreaked havoc on my free time. Posts like this one seem a daunting task when I get home at 7PM and want to go to bed at like 10 or 11. But do not fret, I will do my best to catch up on my huge backlog of photos. I didn't realize it but the site has just entered its third year as of about a week or two ago. I never thought I'd still be going now when I first decided to start the site during my trip to Hokkaido in 2003, but here I am. The France posts are probably celebration enough, but at Arthur Hungry the fun never stops, so here comes another treat!


frenchlaundry.jpg

Yep, the French Laundry. My mom says that goodness comes in bunches, and so while I spend most of the year eating cheapo college food in Boston, I got to go on an absolute eating frenzy for about a month, with 20 Michelin stars in 10 days capped off by a trip to America's top restaurant just a few days after I returned from France. I guess the French Laundry in Yountville doesn't really need much of an introduction. It's become such an icon in the US, and has spawned an empire for Thomas Keller. Keller is a celebrity all his own, and with the success of Per Se in New York his profile seems to keep on growing.

With my magnificent French meals still fresh in my memory, I was in good position to compare the best of what America has to offer with the best in Paris. It'd been years since I'd gone to French Laundry. I'd been twice, both times when I was quite a bit younger. My first trip there about 10 years ago, which was probably not more than a year or two after the place opened, was one of my first exposures to real fine dining. I went again a few years later, but sadly didn't return for a long time. In the time since, it became the most famous restaurant in the country, a legendary destination that people all over the US plan trips to California around.

Because Auntie Winifred and Uncle Mack were visiting, my mom thought we should go, and managed to book us in for a lunch (fortunately the food doesn't change for lunch). Lucky for me, I was in town and invited along. The drive was actually a lot shorter than I remember it. Then again, I was too young to operate a motor vehicle last time. The setting was instantly familiar. A simple, modest building (just a little house, really) stands on a quaint, unassuming Yountville block. You'd have no idea world-class food was being eaten inside. You enter through a litle front courtyard area that is quiet and serene. Inside, the decor is toned down and homey, but with a very serious vibe. Everyone inside knows how hard it was to get their table, and you can tell everyone is expecting the experience of a lifetime. The restaurant is divided into two floors with several adjoining rooms. We sat in the very center of a room with maybe 7 tables. I was worried that my pictures would bother some of our neighbors, but it didn't turn out to be a problem...

The restaurant offers 3 different menus: a seasonal 7 course menu, a 9 course Chef's Tasting, and a 9 course Vegetable Tasting. All start at $175 a head, with optional supplements. Me, being the glutton and spoiled brat that I am, got the most expensive thing possible, the Chef's Tasting with all possible pricey options. It capped out at a whopping $280, but even my mom didn't discourage me. I mean, when am I gonna make it out to the French Laundry again?

gruyère cheese gougères Shortly after sitting down we were brought these cheese gouègres - essentially fancy cheese puffs. They were very buttery and just delicious! I kinda wish I could have had more than one.

cornet of salmon tartare This amuse has become pretty much world-famous, and for good reason. The finely chopped tartare demonstrates all the wonderful flavors and complexities of raw fish, but in a decidedly Western style. The crunch of the cornet adds a perfect contrast in texture.

cauliflower "panna cotta" with Beau Soleil oyster glaze and Russian Sevruga caviar Another of Keller's many signature dishes, this savory panna cotta is an appetizer in its most Platonic form. The creamy cauliflower mixed with the salty caviar is perfect, and really makes you want to eat more. I was also immediately reminded of the caviar dish I had at Guy Savoy - the combination of creaminess with caviar was strikingly similar.

"peach melba" - poached moulard duck "foie gras au torchon", Masamoto Family Farm peach jelly, pickled white peaches, marinated red onion, "melba toast" and crisped Carolina rice - $25 This foie gras course was the first option, and added $25 to the price. If you haven't heard or noticed, Keller is pretty notorious for his use of " marks all over his menus, and this description shows that in full effect. I don't have much of an opinion about it, though they do sometimes seem pretty randomly placed. Anyway, this dish is supposedly the brainchild of Chef de Cuisine Corey Lee, who does much of the day-to-day leading in the kitchen when Keller is busy doing all that stuff superstar chefs have to do. And as the Aussies here say, good on Chef Lee for it. This is definitely one of the best and most creative foie gras interpretations out there, and an interesting play on a common treat. The foie gras goes wonderfully with the peach jelly (with this dish and the foie gras I had at Isa, I hereby declare that peaches are my favorite foie gras condiment), while the rice crispies and the unpictured toast add just the right element of crunch. This dish fires on all fronts.

sautéed fillet of wild Virginia striped bass, forest mushrooms "à la Grecque", wilted mizuna and 50 year old sherry vinegar "gastrique" As I copy this stuff from the menu, I keep flashing back to old English classes that told me to keep those commas inside the quotations, but oh well. I'm just the messenger. This was a smooth, silky piece of fish, and the accompanying veggies (mizuna is apparently a Japanese mustard green) were like a nice little warm salad. Good stuff.

Maine lobster tail "cuite sous vide", caramelized fennel bulb, marinated toybox tomatoes and "nage de fenouille" So after hearing and reading all the hype about sous vide, and Rubee's explanation of the Le Meurice perfect beef mystery, I'm always on the lookout for anything sous vide now. This tail wasn't anything new, but I must say it was one excellent piece of lobster - perfectly-cooked and full of texture. The fennel flavor was light and subtle but did just enough to balance the butter, and the veggies were delicious.

slow braised Devil's Gulch Ranch "épaule de lapin", glazed Tokyo turnips, Weiser Farm mulberries and griddled "Monte Cristo sandwich" I was most intrigued by this course when I read the description. I remember thinking to myself... do rabbits even have shoulders? They must be small! It turns out they do have shoulders, and they're big enough for more than one bite. The meat was very soft and tender, contrasted by the glazed and slightly crisp skin. The best part of the plate though was the sandwich, which was like a grilled ham and cheese, but egg-battered like French toast. Yummy.

herb roasted sirloin of Snake River Farm platinum grade "Wagyu", yukon gold potato "mille-feuille", sweet carrots "Vichy", crispy bone marrow, "boule d'épinards" and "sauce Bordelaise" - $80 There was a beautiful-looking, supplement-free lamb dish that was the other option on the menu, but I really am a glutton and just could not say no to this wagyu. It's frickin' platinum grade, whatever that means! And talk about quotation mark overload! (Seriously, is it really necessary to quote mark ball of spinach?)

Anyway, I wanted to see what Keller could do with wagyu beef. I was not disappointed. You can see the marbling and the perfect doneness in the picture, with just a dash of nice salt and pepper. This was a sirloin but still wonderfully fat and delicious, not to mention quite different than the Kobe beef I've had in Japan. This Western-style steak used the ingredient perfectly, exposing all of its marbled goodness. Worth noting are the delicious potatoes, and the deep-fried piece of bone marrow. Yeah, you didn't read that wrong. The little brown thing sitting on top of the rectangular potatoes is a straight up fried piece of marrow, and one of the most rich and oily things I've ever eaten. Even I, lover of all things greasy, had trouble taking it down. It was interesting, but not that great beyond the novelty. Still, this dish was just sublime.

"Meadow Creek Grayson", Jacobsen's Farm Green Gage plums, toasted Marcona almonds and port wine reduction One difference from the fine restaurants in France is the lack of a cheese cart. Instead, they bring you an actual prepared cheese course. I think as a cheese novice I like this way better - I don't have to pick stuff by my own uneducated self, and there's someone who knows what they're doing putting it all together. The cheese and plums were good, but the almonds stole the show. They were the crunchiest, tastiest almonds ever, and I almost killed myself when I dropped one of my three on the ground and couldn't find it.

mango sorbet, "yuzu scented génoise", goma "nougatine" and black sesame "coulis" This was an interesting dish to say the least, and a most unusual mix of stuff. The nougatine was the candy-like remains of crushed, hardened nougat that added a crunch into every bite of sorbet/cake. I'd say I enjoyed this course the least overall though - I felt like the sorbet was too rich and everything was too sweet, especially for the so-called palate cleanser.

"tentation au chocolat noisette et lait", milk chocolate "crémeux", hazelnut "streusel" with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and sweetened salty hazelnuts Luckily dessert bounced back with immense success. I absolutely love all things chocolatey and hazlenutty, and let me just say that despite all the fancy description, this was basically essence of chocolate and hazelnut in its greatest form, with some ice cream thrown in to balance things out. Creamy, crunchy, a bit sweet... simply great!

currant panna cotta Things were winding down now. This currant panna cotta was nice, if a bit on the yogurty side for my taste.

mignardises We were presented with this beautiful tower of cookies and treats. We were too full to really eat any of them. Actually, I think I'm the only person that had any. Luckily, they gave us a box to bring them home in, and I enjoyed a few in the following days.

almond macaroons I'm almost certain these macaroons were almond flavored, but for some reason I keep doubting myself. Either way, I was barely able to eat one because I was so full already. I remember it being quite comparable to the billions of macaroons I tried in France.

hazelnut and tea chocolates Finally, we were brought a beautiful tray lined with 5 or 6 different rows of chocolates. I chose hazelnut because I love the stuff and the tea (I believe it was earl grey?) because it sounded interesting. The hazelnut one was better (of course!) but the tea one had a very strong and distinct tea flavor.

And that's it for my triumphant return to the French Laundry. I must say that despite the fact that I had just come off a string of world-class meals, the French Laundry absolutely impressed me. The food is truly excellent, and can definitely hang with the big boys in France. The service was great - more personal than I remember it, and professional in every way. You also get some American touches... For example, our waiter asked each one of us about allergies as we picked our menu, displaying some Californian sensitivity that would be pretty unimaginable in France. And let's not forget about the fact that there's a Vegetarian menu. I'd say with a decent amount of confidence that the French Laundry probably serves the best vegetarian meal in the world. I would have gladly scraped off each of my mom's dishes had she not picked them all clean herself!

It was an excellent meal when all is said and done. I am sure that when (if?) Michelin comes to the Bay Area, FL will be the first with three stars, and deservingly so. I think more and more now that it would get three even if it were in Paris. Mr. Keller, you can use all the wacky quotation marks you want, just keep up the good work!

Sunday
Sep182005

Guy Savoy

So guys, I apologize for the long absence. Had a pretty hectic week here, with 2 papers due plus a friend's birthday. Anyway, I've caught up on the comments you've left so if you were waiting for a reply, go check again. The other reason I've been putting this post off is that I haven't had a chunk of free time long enough to do the whole thing. I'll warn you now... this upcoming post is officially the longest post ever.


guysavoy.jpg

Saturday night was it - the main event of our trip. Dinner for three at Guy Savoy, a Michelin three star, and the first three star meal of my life. My grandma, grandaunt, and two cousins were staying behind on this one so that my dad, aunt and I could go the distance with Savoy's biggest tasting menu. It's a menu I'd been studying for a couple of weeks already, since the planning stages of our trip. The "Textures et Saveurs" menu has 11 courses, and costs 285 euros per head, easily making it the most expensive meal that's ever gone into my belly. You can imagine how excited I was to go. I mean, how much better could it get than the meals I'd already had?

So at about 8PM, I put on my suit and tie and off we were. A quick cab ride later, we were there. It's a fairly inconspicuous place from the outside. A dark, wooden front with simple sans-serif letters are all that you can see, along with a doorman. Inside, the place doesn't look that big. It doesn't have the grand ceilings or open space of the other restaurants. Actually, the restaurant has an extremely modern design throughout, a shocking contrast to the flashy Baroque grandeur of Le Meurice the night before. Dark, sleek woods, contemporary furniture, and a variety of interesting art decorate the interior.

The place is actually divided into several different smaller rooms. The host led us to our table, which is in a smallish room in the back. On the way we passed Danny DeVito getting ready for his dinner, in a room across the restaurant from ours. Our room had 4 tables, populated by an American couple, a French couple, and a big group of some 8 or 10 Americans. The French couple, at the table next to us, appeared to be VIP, as Guy Savoy came out several times during the night and had extended conversations with them. We at least got to watch. I decided rather quickly that despite the amazing Le Meurice dining room, I felt a lot more comfortable in Guy Savoy. I really dug the cool, minimalist decor and atmosphere. I guess most people my age would...

foie gras and sourdough toast Literally the moment we sat down, we were brought these little single-bite skewers of foie gras with toasted sliced sourdough. Delicious - I started getting really hungry. We didn't have to think for long as we already knew we were getting the big dog dégustation.

chopped cauliflower and broccoli with tomato gaspacho, tomato stuffed with goat cheese Soon came this first cold amuse, a refreshing tomato broth with a healthy-tasting dose of veggies. The bite-sized cherry tomato with goat cheese was hidden under the right cover thing. A very solid start.

l'huître en nage glacée Next came one of Savoy's signature dishes, and the first listed item on the menu. This is simply an oyster sitting in an icy gelée of its own juices. You guys know I'm not big on oysters, but I really liked this a lot. I've never had anything that tasted quite so much like the sea before. The oyster lovers must be drooling at this one.

lobster, crusty and soft, raw and cooked, sauce made from its juices, snap peas, spring onion This one looks beautiful, doesn't it? This was the next listed dish, lobster served in a variety of ways. In the center is a lobster tartare, split in half by some kind of crunchy lobster 'cracker', if that makes any sense. Around the side are pieces of perfectly-cooked, tender lobster meat. The drizzled sauce had a hint of sweetness to it, as did the tartare. The snap peas and onions added a refreshing crunch. I freakin' loved this.

small peas served all ways This little spoon wasn't listed on our tasting menu, but it was an item on the regular menu as well as the summer tasting. It had some pea puree, peas, pea sauce and a small bit of egg yolk. Boy, did it taste as green as it looked. It was the most intense bite of pea flavor I've ever experienced, and I definitely enjoyed it. I doubt I could eat a whole plate of the stuff though, which is what the French woman who ordered it a la carte was doing right next to us. One spoonful was perfect.

colors of caviar This dish was pretty cool. It came out without the top layer, and displayed a generous amount of caviar at the top in all its glory. The bottom two layers are cream and pea puree. After a quick 'oooh', the waiter poured on the top layer of sabayon which kind of hid the caviar. When eaten together, the ingredients created a delicate balance of creaminess, veggie-ness, and saltiness. It actually had a similar feeling to the cauliflower panna cotta with caviar that I had at French Laundry a few weeks later - I'll write more about that in a while. Very good stuff.

'chop' of fat turbot with egg and spinach sprouts... Another pretty dish - this time just a simple, delicate piece of turbot with a beautifully-poached egg and some raw spinach. The waiter drizzled some very good olive oil on top. The fish was moist, tender, but still full of texture. As we ate, we wondered - why the hell are there holes in our plate? Is that just to look cool? Meanwhile, the valuable yolk and olive oil seemed to be falling through.

turbot part 2 - the soup underneath! And when the three of us finished our pieces of fish, the answer was revealed. Our plate was actually two pieces - the holes were just a cover for this bowl, which had a turbot consommé, potatoes and spinach in it. The egg yolk and olive oil had dripped through. After lifting off the cover, the waiter also added some more pieces of turbot, explaining that these are different cuts of meat that come from the side of the fish. This fired on every cylinder. The broth was delicious, still very hot, with a strong flavor from the fish and the olive oil. The fish itself did taste a bit different - a little fattier, I'd say. The soup was actually in the description on our menu, we'd just forgot about it when we got the first part of the dish. This one gets 68 billion style points.

roasted duck foie gras with a red cabbage nage, horseradish puree and mustard The requisite foie gras course this time was pretty unusual. Instead of some kind of sweet fruit, it came with a red cabbage sauce, which added an interesting sweet/bitter element to it. The mustard and horseradish gave it a bit of kick. The foie itself was, of course, excellent. Pretty unusual take on a regular item.

artchike soup with black truffles with a mushroom and truffle brioche This is Guy Savoy's major signature dish. My dad had been hyping it up, claiming that he doesn't even like artichokes but can't get enough of this. It didn't disappoint. I actually do like artichokes, and soup had heaps of artichoke taste (like my Aussie speak?). The truffles and cheese added some variety. The brioche (way in the back) was soft, flaky, and pretty much heavenly.

all-veal Finally came our main dish, a variety of veal. The bottom was a braised veal shank with parsnip puree, followed by a filet on the left. The top was a lightly-breaded sweetbread. On the right is a kidney, and the center is a fried tongue and some girolle mushrooms. I'd say in my order of preference went sweetbread, filet, shank, kidney, tongue. The tongue was a little bit weird for me, to be honest. It was fried and had a sort of chewy texture. But I loved the four others. The kidney had a great distinct kidney flavor. The shank was meltingly tender, though slightly underseasoned. The filet was simple but well-executed. The sweetbread was masterful - a perfect balance of crispy breading and delicious, almost creamy gland.

red fruit moelleux I apologize again for stupidly forgetting to take a picture of my cheese. Just believe me that I had some and it was good, but not really anything you haven't seen yet. Now, the first in a barrage of desserts - this was one of the 3 listed on the menu. I'm not sure how to translate 'moelleux', but it's a sort of soft but semi-solid puree. From left to right, they were blackcurrant, raspberry and strawberry. It was quite refreshing, and a neat, steady progression from sour to sweet.

blackcurrant with pistachio, madeleine, wrapped raspberry These things were good but less memorable. Pretty much tasted like a blackcurrant and a raspberry. The madeleine was definitely good, but not quite as impressive as the bigger ones we had at Le Meurice.

cerise à l'exotique I thought this had a cool French name. The second listed dessert, this so-called exotic-style cherry was actually pretty complicated: cherry gelée with lychee sorbet, cherry chips, and aloe vera. This was my favorite dessert of the night - cool, refreshing, sweet, and very inventive. The cherry gelée and lychee matched together perfectly, while the jello-like aloe vera balanced out the sweetness.

chocolate disc with tonka bean, cocoa sorbet Our final listed course, this deep, rich chocolate was flavored with tonka bean. I had no idea what a tonka bean was at the time - apparently, it's a South American bean that is sometimes used to flavor alcohol and cigarettes, and has a taste like tobacco. That didn't really occur to me - it tasted like chocolate and chocolate mousse/cream to me.

earl grey tea sorbet The menu was over, but stuff kept coming. This one was another winner. A light tea flavor to cleanse the palate a bit. This and the jasmine crème brûlée we had at Capelongue made for a high success rate with tea-based desserts.

lemon marshmallow, chocolate mousse What were we cleansing our palate for? Well... At Guy Savoy, after you finish dinner, they apparently come around with a frickin' DESSERT CART stocked with all kinds of goodies for you to pick and choose. Candies, mousses, ice creams - all kinds of stuff. I started off with a lemon marshmallow - fluffy and citrusy. Then I eyed their jar of chocolate mousse, which was creamy and delicious.

vanilla and toffee ice cream As our waiter introduced all the stuff on the cart, I sort of embarassingly asked how many I could pick. He told me as many as I wanted, so of course I tried all kinds of stuff. The ice creams were great. You can see the specks of vanilla bean, and believe me you could taste it. The toffee was like Haagen Daaz dulce de leche on steroids. Amazing caramel flavor, but not too sweet. I also got an apricot macaroon that came out blurry - it was good too.

And that was it. 18 courses, and the most expensive meal of my life. Was it the best meal I've ever had? Well, I feel pretty safe saying it's the best Western meal I've ever had, but I can't really compare it to Asian food. Needless to say, this was extremely satisfying. And though the three of us were extremely full, we never felt disgustingly stuffed. I don't know how considering the quantity of food.

How did Guy Savoy rate compared to the other meals? Well, the third star clearly meant something. The service was just out of this world - a perfect balance of professionalism and friendliness. My dad noted that despite what you might first expect, the service is not at all stiff, snobby or condescending. Our waiters were genuinely interested in our having a good meal. It sounds cheesy, but it was a noticeable difference. One of our main waiters was a Nordic-looking but very French guy, who perfectly skirted the line between being a classy professional and being your best friend. When we chatted with him he'd joke about people never think he looks French, which doesn't get him a ton of respect in the restaurant biz.

The teamwork that went on throughout the night was seamless. To be honest, we didn't have to ask for a single thing during our 4 hours there, and I mean that literally. I stood up to go to the bathroom, and before I was completely upright, one of the floorpeople had already read my mind, walked up to me, and offered to show me the way. It was an eye-opening experience.

Anything negative about the meal? Well, for one, I'd say it isn't completely fair to compare this meal with the others because we didn't have the big dog tasting menu anywhere else. Secondly, the bathroom that I was led to was a bit on the small side. That's about it... I hope I've recounted the experience well enough. Out of curiosity, I just did a word count of this post and it's longer than both of the papers I had to write for this week.

I'm now officially way behind on my posting, like I am after every summer... It's seriously like a month and a half delay now. I have a few more France meals to post about, a bunch of SF and Vancouver meals, and then finally some Sydney stuff. I'm honestly afraid that I might not catch up though. :P

 

Thursday
Sep082005

Le Meurice

Alright, so it appears the FTP issues are being caused by the wireless router we got over here. Hopefully I'll be able to sort them out; either way I've been able to upload files using a different connection. In the mean time, I've been having a blast here in Sydney, and some good eats too... but those are for later.

On the Friday of our France trip we finally bade farewell to our base camp in Maillane and got on an afternoon TGV for Paris. It turns out that on that day there was some kind of injury on the track that was causing delays throughout the country. Luckily for us, it was only for the southbound trains, so ours was fine. Hope the guy was okay... we had dinner reservations to make though. We arrived Paris in the late afternoon and checked into Hotel Scribe, a Sofitel-run spot at the edge of the 9th arrondissement. My dad had done his research well, and we got 3 connecting rooms with a big living room meeting area. The hotel is right near La Madeleine and walking distance to all the big shopping action.

 

lemeurice.jpg
Our dinner for Friday night was booked at Le Meurice, a Michelin two star that was this year awarded the title of "espoir." The translation is "hope," and it is a new designation in the guide for restaurants that appear to be approaching a promotion to three stars. Le Meurice has certainly been getting a lot of buzz throughout the blogosophere; most people seem to think the place is excellent and that it will get its third star soon. The chef, Yannick Alleno, actually used to helm the kitchen at the restaurant inside Hotel Scribe until he went to Le Meurice a few years ago. Since then, Le Meurice's reputation has been growing.

The dining room is just off to the right when you walk inside Hotel Meurice. If I had to use one word to describe it, I'd use grandiose. There are some pictures on the website that give you an idea of the place, but it's a pretty impressive sight in person. The place is extreme, formal, even gaudy. It kinda feels like it's meant for royalty, with crazy chandeliers, paintings on the wall, extremely fancy furniture, the whole deal really. I, being the modern high-tech jetsetter that I am, would say it's a bit stuffy of a place to eat at regularly, but I do admit it really is beautiful, and would be a great spot for that special occasion.

ham bread I actually sat a bit later than everyone, because I'd stupidly left my camera at our hotel, and I wasn't going to miss out on these photos. So by the time I got back, everyone was seated and had already had a bite of this ham bread stuff. It was browned on the outside and almost croissant-like inside. Very tasty.

melon gelee They had an interesting tasting menu that looked great, but there was a certain main dish that I really wanted to try, so we went a la carte. This amuse came soon after, and it was a great one. You can't see, but there are a good number of little chunks of melon inside, and the whole thing was sweet, refreshing, and very fresh. It got us all very eager to eat more.

lightly smoked back of Balik salmon in potato scales, leek cream and French caviar from the Aquitaine region - 68 euros I'm not usually one to order salmon, but this appetizer called my name, and I have to say this was the most exceptional piece of salmon I've ever had. At the time I had no idea what Balik salmon meant, but after the fact I looked it up and apparently it's one of the most prized smoked salmons in the world. It's a prime center cut from Russia, also known as Fillet Tolstoy. The potato on the edge gave it a light, crispy edge, while the meat itself was impossibly tender and smooth. The leek cream and caviar did a wonderful job salting each bite. I'm not caviar pro, but this stuff was good to me, although I don't think I'd ever had caviar from France before. Simply delicious.

breast of chicken from Bresse region, foie gras between skin and flesh, chanterelle mushrooms and stuffed turnips - 85 euros From there we moved immediately to our main dishes, which was mildly disappointing because I expected some kind of inter-course freebie. Can't complain too much though. This dish, which I saw on their online menu, was the major reason for me requesting Le Meurice as a stop on our trip. Foie gras between skin and flesh? How awesome does that sound? Thankfully, this dish absolutely delivered. When they served this, the foie gras was still actually between the meat and the skin; the photo above is after they cut it up and plated everything. This chicken was just ridiculously tender. Re-frickin-diculous. The turnips were also great - soothing, almost juicy, with a delightful chopped mushroom filling. And, needless to say, the foie gras was silky smooth.

Of course, I'm sure you're all asking: "Well Arthur? Which chicken was better, Le Meurice or Baumanière?" And to that question, I honestly have to wimp out and say I don't know. They were both delicious. I think the one at Le Meurice had a more pure chicken flavor that interacted with the chanterelles, while the one at Baumanière leaned a bit more on the sauce. I guess I'll have to eat a few more Bresse chickens before I can make a more concrete comparison...

poached filet of beef with bone marrow, early onion raviolis flavored with ginger - 58 euros I had to sneak a picture of this dazzling main dish that my dad got. We were perplexed as to how Alleno achieved such a perfect beef texture through poaching - we still don't understand. The beef was just cooked on the outside, and perfectly medium rare throughout the entire inside. The buttery bone marrow melted right in. The bite I had was amazing, and for 58 euros this was a relative steal on the main dish list.

white cow's cheese, Livarot, Pont-l'Évêque I tried a couple of new ones this time around... Didn't catch the name of the fresh white cow's cheese, but it looked better than it tasted. It looked really nice and creamy, but was actually a bit dry. The Livarot was nice... a bit stronger than the Pont l'Évêque.

chocolate shell with cream, strawberries with lemon sorbet and basil, macaroon with rose cream and berries These pre-desserts were excellent. Although I didn't care too much for the chocolate one, the macaroons with rose cream were delicious - very light, with a strong berry flavor and a very noticeable hint of rose. I had 3. The sorbet one was very refreshing; my aunt Agnes will attest to that. She had 3. Lucky for us both, there were people at the table who were too full to clean up their portions. :)

Caribbean chocolate fondant, speculos ice cream - 24 euros We'd yet to have a truly satisfying dessert experience - the stuff we had in Provence usually had an element that was overly sweet. At Le Meurice, the dessert finally started coming together. This chocolate was like a very rich cross between a cake and a wafer. Very satisfying for chocolate lovers, and well-balanced by the speculos (a type of cinnamon) ice cream.

vanilla, coffee, or chocolate: napoleon your favorite way - 24 euros My dad's dessert was a much more elaborate operation and very worthy of a story. The waiter brought a trolley over, a sort of millefeuille cart. On it was a huge pile of millefeuille-style pastry in plain and chocolate, a few containers with different flavored creams, as well as a few different sauces and a few toppings. My dad got to pick what combination of creams, pastry, sauce and nuts he wanted, and the waiter plated it at the table. This picture shows plain pastry with vanilla, coffee, and chocolate cream, chocolate sauce, and pistachios.

My dad couldn't stop fawning over this deconstruction of the millefeuille - it was like a Cubist interpretation of the common dessert. He ate his whole portion as well as half of my aunt's. I will say right now that in 21 years, I have never EVER seen my dad eat more than one portion of dessert, so the fact that this actually happened should earn Le Meurice some kind of gold star. No... platinum star. Le Meurice, I salute you.

lemon and olive oil madeleines With our coffee came these plump, green, healthy-sized madeleines. And they were the best madeleines of the trip, browned and crusty on the outside, buttery and cakey on the inside. The lemon and olive oil were both subtle but definitely there. Delicious.

This was an amazing meal, and a great start to our Paris stay. The only bummer, and I'm nitpicking here, is we didn't seem to get as many freebies as some other places. It would have been nice to get a hot amuse after the melon gelee, or something in between the app and the main. Still, the food and service are all class, and like Pim said, it seems a matter of time before it gets its third star. Maybe next time we should get the dégustation...