February 7, 2010
(Picture taken by Austin of Living to Eat.)
Yes, it’s true – I *heart* Chef Ben Bailly. Not quite love – it’s going to take another serving or two of his famous black truffle mac and cheese for me to get to that level – but definitely *heart*. I fall into *heart* rather quickly; I just can’t help myself.
Take Petrossian for example – I’ve been *heart*ing it for a while now, ever since the words “truffle mac and cheese” fell upon my ears. Thus, when this current Winter 2010 DineLA Restaurant Week came rolling around, I knew – If I only had one restaurant to go to this season, it would be Petrossian.
After hearing so much about it, it was surprisingly to walk into Petrossian for the first time. It was this little unassuming spot on the corner of Robertson and Rosewood, without a single valet umbrella in sight. (I got lucky and found myself a free meter on the street.) Their dining room is clean and simplistic – a combination of mirror and glass and black and white. While I first made myself comfortable there, I soon overhead the bustle of the kitchen behind the wall and relocated myself to the boutique where I could catch a glimpse of the kitchen. You can’t tell when peeking in from the outside but Petrossian’s kitchen is very small; it’s amazing Chef Ben can produce such wondrous dishes from a single stove. (Yes, a single stove. Four burners – That’s it!)
Now, onto the food…Oh, THE FOOD.
Although I went for DineLA, their regular menu was so tempting I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with only three dishes. Thus, my three course DineLA prix fixe of shrimp papillotte, pork belly and pistachio creme brulee soon became a five course meal, with the addition of the napoleon tartare and truffle mac and cheese both ordered a la carte. Little would I know, this five course would later turn into a seven course, with the blinis and mushroom cappuccino delivered compliments of the chef. By the end of the meal, I was holding my stomach in a mix of pain and pure bliss. (So much food! Need more space!)
The night began with the trio of blinis topped with trout roe, salmon roe and caviar. I usually have roe prepared Japanese style over rice, so tasting a more traditional preparation was a nice change of pace. I particularly enjoyed the salty caviar against the creme fraiche, although the salmon and trout roes were also fantastic.
The next course was the first of the DineLA three – the shrimp “papillotte” with passion fruit and chili ginger sauce. Traditionally, to be cooked “en papillotte” means a protein (typically fish) is wrapped in parchment paper and cooked to lock in the moisture. The shrimp were not quite cooked en papillotte; instead of wrapped in parchment paper, they were wrapped in thin wonton skins and fried. When tasted with the tangy passion fruit ginger sauce, one could see a slight Asian influence in the dish.
Just as the two light starters perked my appetite, then came THE DISH: Chef Ben’s famous truffle mac and cheese.
When I had mentioned I was going to Petrossian, one dish was shouted from the heavens with foodies rallying like it was the next coming – the truffle mac and cheese. Chewy orrechiette pasta, smothered in cream, black truffles and bacon…The aroma alone made my mouth water. While the description may sound heavy, it was perfectly balanced and not at all overwhelming. The flavor caused my eyes to roll into the back of my head in delight with every bite. Absolutely amazing.
If there was a dish that could have followed up the truffle mac and cheese without disappointment, it would be the napoleon tartare. Raw steak with a layer of caviar streaked through the center – there is nothing more luxurious than that. Seasoned by Chef Ben himself, I could have eaten the whole thing with a fork – no crostinis necessary. (They have a version of the Napoleon tartare without caviar but seriously people – why would you NOT add caviar?!)
After the tartare came the mushroom cappuccino. It was a complex soup that tasted like a field of mushrooms – deep and earthy, each sip felt like it was warming my soul. The chestnuts hidden at the bottom of the cup added some texture and a bit of sweetness to that final sip.
Our last savory dish of the night was the DineLA pork belly, a glorious slab larger than the palm of my hand. Its delicious fat glistened in the candlelight, each bite melted in my mouth. Petrossian’s pork belly could arguably be the best piece of pork belly I’ve had in my life.
Finally, I arrived at dessert. By this time, I had already reached foodie delirium and only allowed myself a couple tastes of each dessert. Flavor-wise, the pistachio creme brulee was the most unique, with the roasted pistachios giving off almost a green tea/matcha taste. (Chef Ben seemed surprised by this comment – there were only pistachios in the brulee, no tricks!) I personally favored the panna cotta with strawberry jam; it was light ending to a large meal and my gorged self really couldn’t handle anything more than that.
So now you see why I say I *heart* both Chef Ben Bailly and Petrossian; the thought of this meal still causes my heart to beat faster. Now to go again to see if this is just *heart* or love… (If this is how I’m kicking off 2010, the rest of the year has some damn high expectations to live up to!)
January 10, 2010
I think it’s safe to say: Everyone loves Anthony Bourdain.
I have yet to meet a person who has been indifferent to him, let alone hated him. I, myself, can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with the man – It was way back when (you know, back when The Food Network was actually a legit food network) and I was watching A Cook’s Tour on TV. Bourdain, as usual, was in the middle of some far off land and had just taken a bite of the regional iguana dish. It was at that moment he spoke the words that stole my heart. He said:
“Unbelievably horrible. I just want to die. I mean really bad. I want to dip my head into a bucket of lye, you know, pull my eyes out of their sockets and jump off a cliff.”
(Yes, THAT’s the kind of stuff that makes my heart flutter.)
It was at that moment, I knew – Anthony Bourdain WILL NOT bullshit you. If something is horrific, he WILL tell you. On the same note, if he says something is awesome, you better believe it.
Fast forward to November 2009 – I was in the process of planning my first trip to back to NY since the beginning of the millenium and I conveniently stumble upon Anthony Bourdain’s list of 13 places to eat before you die, 3 of which were located in NYC.
Is this a sign? (Maybe.)
Is the King of My Heart trying to tell me something? (I doubt it.)
Am I going to heed his call? (OF COURSE.)
(Note: If you’re an Anthony Bourdain hater out there, please – stay hidden and don’t comment. I like being young and naive.)
(Okay, NOW comes the part about the food.)
Spots 8 and 9 on Anthony Bourdain’s bucket list are just a block apart, which makes them easy to knock off the list. Katz’s Deli and Russ and Daughters are two NYC institutions that have been around for the last century, give or take a couple years (Katz’s opened in 1888, Russ and Daughters in 1914), and they’re both still serving the same things they were when they first opened.
Russ and Daughters
If the day I went was representative of a normal day at Russ and Daughters, be prepared to WAIT. Even though it was pouring outside, this little place was packed to the brim with people, waiting for their smoked fish and Jewish sides.
While others were stocking up on pickled herring and latkes, I had my eyes on a lox bagel with the works (i.e. onions, tomatoes and capers). You get your choice of lox – I chose the Scottish salmon as it was supposed to be “the perfect union of silky texture, balanced smoked, and total sophistication”. I waited 30 minutes for my little bagel sandwich, then rushed over to Katz’s with my goodies all wrapped up in a bag.
I finally got the chance to chow down later in the day and the lox was just as it was described – the texture was smooth, the flavor had just a hint of smokiness…it was some great lox. I almost wish I had just ordered the lox by itself – while the bagel itself was fine, they had smeared on too much cream cheese (at least, for my taste) and had sliced the onions and tomatoes a little thin.
The crowd in Katz’s was just as big as the one in Russ but, luckily, I didn’t have to wait – my sister from another mother, Jenn, had been waiting in line at Katz’s while I was waiting in line at Russ. (Tag team!) I found her sitting at a table, sandwich already split in two, patiently waiting for me to deliver my part of the deal.
Katz’s pastrami is so moist, it just flakes apart in your mouth. It’s probably the best pastrami I’ve had to date…but that’s not saying very much. I’ve yet to try LA’s pastrami institution (i.e. Langer’s) so I don’t know how the East compares with the West. Plus, at the end of the day, Katz’s pastrami sandwich is a $15 pastrami sandwich.
Is it worth the price? *shrugs* It is good though.
December 28, 2009
/’fru pi/ [froo-pee]
– noun informal
1. an ardent fan of a chef or of a particular style of cooking
2. a food groupie
I don’t quite know when but, at some point, I think I’ve turned into a Marcel Vigneron froupie. Whenever I hear the name “Marcel”, part of me wants to squeal like a teenage girl at the premiere of a Twilight flick.
Maybe it’s his engaging on-screen personality that makes my heart skip a beat or his iconic Wolverine-like hair that makes me melt? …No – it’s his food that brings out my inner froupie.
(“OMGAhhhhh!!! It’s MARCEL!”)
I was very excited for the December Hatchi event at Breadbar as this was my first chance to taste dishes by Marcel and Marcel alone (i.e. sans José Andrés, at the Bazaar). I was also hoping he’d bust out the molecular gastronomy and he did not disappoint – spherifications, foams and liquid nitrogen, we got it all.
To begin, his amuse bouche was a simplistic spherification of pomegranate juice with a single blueberry tucked inside.
Course 1: Hamachi Sashimi
His first course (my favorite course of the night) was a fantastic hamachi sashimi. The composition of the dish – the fresh fish, the citrus of kumquats, the sweetness of the momo chan (i.e. little green baby peaches), the texture of seaweed – was thoughtful; each bite was enjoyable.
Course 2: Dayboat Scallop
The second course was a dayboat scallop, sitting atop cauliflower couscous and seaweed. The molecular portion of this dish wasn’t blatantly apparent until I overheard him explaining the dish to the diners next to me: the puree on the plate (the pink, purple and yellow) are all the same. In order for him to obtain the different colors, an acid is added to the mixture that causes the colors to bloom from purple to pink.
Course 3: Langoustine Ravioli
The third course was a tad confusing to me, only because I seemed to enjoy the avocado wrapped mango more than the langoustine ravioli. The ravioli, on its own, was reminiscent of har gao that had been steamed in a dim sum cart for a tad too long; however, when tasted with the avocado and mango, it picked up a little bit of flavor and life. (Note: I was happy to see a foam make an appearance on the menu – What is a meal with Marcel without foam?!)
Course 4: Misohoney Black Cod
The fourth course was another simple, clean dish – a miso honey black cod sitting in broth. Although I had just come off of a seafood high at Le Bernardin the Saturday prior, I still thoroughly enjoyed the buttery texture of the cod and the lightness of the broth.
Course 5: Lyonaise Salad
The fifth course was a salad with bacon and a breaded egg. Not bad, but nothing impressive.
Course 6: Vadouvan Lamb
The fifth course may have fallen a bit flat, but the sixth course was a surprising tender rack of lamb with a deconstructed tzatziki. My piece of lamb was a tad too fatty for my preferences but what meat I was able to scrounge off the bone was succulent and delicious.
Course 7: Grass Fed “Corned Beef”
The seventh course, a gigantic chunk of short rib, was daunting in size (I just can’t eat that much anymore!). I didn’t eat the entire piece but the bit I did devour was also very tender. The three types of corn (e.g. the baby corn, the pureed corn and the popped corn) were fun and did exactly as described – they added texture to the dish, keeping you interested as you made your way through the mountain of meat.
Course 8: Souffle
Marcel’s last course was a green chartreuse souffle. I tried the green chartreuse in one of the cocktails for the night – the herbaceous flavor was a bit strong for my taste. However, the flavor mellowed out in the souffle, making it a nice ending to the meal.
I almost made it through the entire night without any froupie tendencies but I caved in last minute – I may not have screamed his name across the Breadbar dining room but (as you can see above) I got a picture with Marcel in the end.
I’m such a froupie.
Hatchi with Marcel Vigneron
December 17, 2009
Seeing that Le Bernardin is arguably the best seafood restaurant in the nation, it seems fitting to begin this review with a fishing story of my own. Like most stereotyical fishing stories, my story starts with an outrageous claim and ends with no proof that what I claim ever existed…but trust me, it’s true.
I was at Le Bernardin on Saturday night and was *THIS CLOSE!* to…*dramatic pause*…ERIC RIPERT.
Yes, you read that correctly, I SAW ERIC RIPERT. I watched him wander from the bar to the dining room, stopping by and chatting with the patrons at each table. I watched him walk from the dining room to the kitchen, disappearing behind the swinging doors. However, I did NOT see him drop by my table and, by the time I thought of asking to meet the chef, he had left for the night. No picture, no proof…all I have is disappointment and regret for not jumping him when I had the chance.
Luckily, that was my only disappointment that night.
It’s times like these that I absolutely hate my inability to write eloquently. How do I describe my 3-star experience at Le Bernardin beyond “Just…WOW.”? Where do I begin to describe the dishes we were served, how can I convey to you the thoughts that ran through my head with every bite? I can only hope that pictures do more justice than words – there are so many words one can use; I can only use the ones within my reach.
Of the three prix fixe options at Le Bernardin (4-, 7- or 8-courses), my dining companion Jenn and I both ordered the 8-course Chef’s tasting menu, complete with wine pairing. After completing our meal, both of us agreed – the wine pairing was a MUST. Some dishes were amazing with or without the pairing but others were elevated to that next level (to the level one would expect from a restaurant like Le Bernardin) because of that one sip. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, I forgot to write down what we were served for the amuse-bouche but it wasn’t a standout dish in any fashion so I’m not sure if it matters. There was something odd about the texture of the dish – it was little mushy and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from the seafood or from the accompanying puree underneath. The foam (made of mushrooms, if my memory serves me correctly) complemented the other flavors well; however, the texture was still very distracting.
Course 1: Smoked Yellowfin Tuna “Prosciutto”; Japanese Pickled Vegetables and Crispy Kombu (Pairing: Muscadet ‘Clos des Briords’, Pepiere, Loire 2008)
The smooth smokiness of the tuna played well against the crisp sweetness of the Japanese pickles. I admit, I did without the crispy kombu (a type of seaweed typically used in Japanese cooking); it may have added a hint of saltiness to each bite but it was also a battle to break it into pieces.
Course 2: Poached Pastured Egg; Osetra Caviar; Mariniere Broth and English Muffin (Pairing: Krug, Grande Cuvee)
When first looking at the menu, there were three dishes that caught my eye and ultimately resulted in my choosing the Chef’s tasting over the Le Bernardin tasting, this being the first. The egg, perfectly poached, floating in a pool of broth, rich with the flavor of white wine and mussels – it was divine. The dish just asked to be sopped with the two strips of lightly toasted English muffin (and I, of course, gladly obliged, sopping the running yolks and the broth as daintily as I could).
Course 3: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad; Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette (Pairing: Gewurztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige 2007)
The second of my three must haves, this was a prime example of a good dish elevated by an excellent wine pairing. The course, by itself was a solid dish – the langoustine was tender and the there was just enough foie to add a hint of flavor to, but not overwhelm, the other components of the dish. However, the wine brought out the sweetness of the langoustine, creating a very pleasant taste all together.
Course 4: Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip – Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth (Pairing: Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Chenevottes, Bernard Moreau 2006)
Typically, I’m not a huge monkfish fan – I enjoy some of the flakier fishes and monkfish tends to be a bit too dense for me. However, I polished off the fish, along with everything else, in order to taste as much of the sake and miso broth as possible. (Le Bernardin may be known for seafood but their sauces and broths are what really make the dish and compliment the natural flavors of the seafood.)
Course 5: Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham – Green Peppercorn Sauce (Pairing: Rioja, Reserve ‘Vina Ardanza’, La Rioja Alta, Spain 2000)
A psuedo Top Chef groupie (I’m not a true groupie as I missed most of seasons 3-5), I was excited to see a dish featured in the Le Bernardin challenge of season 5. It was suggested that we enjoy the creaminess of the parsnip custard (served separately) in between bites of the bass, a welcome change from the saltiness of the ham and peppercorn sauce and the braised celery.
Course 6: Baked Lobster on a Bed of Truffled Foie Gras Stuffing; Brandy Red Wine Sauce (Pairing: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Pauillac Bordeaux 2001)
Lobster with foie and truffles – this could be the definition of luxury. The fattiness of the lobster against the foie was fantastic, although I actually could have done without half the lobster (the portion size was rather large in comparison to the other courses and it just got heavy after a while).
Course 7: Creamy Goat Cheese Spheres, Concord Grape, Candied Walnut, Black Pepper (Pairing: Torrontez Sparkling-Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia Argentina)
The third of the three, this was easily my favorite course of the night. The goat cheese popped in my mouth and mixed in with the sweetness of the walnuts and grape – not quite a sweet and savory but more something perfectly in the middle. With a sip of the paired sparkling wine, I was in heaven.
Course 8: Caramelized Corn Custard, Hazelnut Praline, Brown Butter Ice Cream, Popcorn Tuile (Pairing: Ron Zacapa Rum, Guatemala)
Another not quite sweet, not quite savory but perfectly in between dessert, this was another favorite, partially because of the novelty of the popcorn tuile. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple piece of sugar; however, it tasted exactly like a freshly popped kernel of corn.
…There’s really nothing left to say besides that.
155 W 51st St
Manhattan, NY 10019
December 13, 2009
Yes, I know, I’m behind. I know the finale of Top Chef was on Wednesday and that it’s Sunday right now. I know that means I’m four days late with this post.
…I don’t get Bravo at home, okay?!
Anyway, I finally got all caught up with this season’s Top Chef and am very happy with the outcome. I was always sort of rooting for Michael since we met him in person at his Breadbar Hatchi event in July – he seemed like a great guy and his food was an experience to remember. (If you’re wondering if his food tastes as good as it looks on tv, well, it does.) My friends and I asked him about his Top Chef experience at the time and subsequently joked around amongst ourselves how hard it would be if he won the whole thing and had it keep it to himself…
Well, what do you know: He won the whole thing.
So a congratulations to Michael Voltaggio, Season 6 Winner of Top Chef! You’re a cool guy and maybe I’ll see you at the Dining Room at the Langham in the near future!