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Eleven Madison Park (Manhattan, NY) – The Gourmand Tasting

June 8, 2011

According to WordPress, I started writing this post on May 24, 2010. (I actually got started on it early!) However, like a lot of my posts of other breath-taking tasting menus, I got stuck halfway through and I’ve never bothered to complete it. (Yes, I’ve had writer’s block for more than a year, what can I say?!)

Sadly, since my meal at Eleven Madison Park (or, as I like to lovingly refer to it, “EMP”), the gourmand menu at is no more, replaced with a simple matrix of ingredients to be manipulated into full-fledged courses. However, I have no doubt that this new menu arrangement is just as good. A restaurant like EMP doesn’t just stop serving good food, and the fact that it won Outstanding Restaurant at the 2011 James Beard Awards only supports that. Dining at EMP will be an amazing experience, no matter what or when you try it.

Anyway, seeing that this review is now useless, I’m turning the post into a photo-blog. I mean, we all like photos, right…? (I know, total cop-out. But if I don’t post this now, I never will!)

Hors d’oeuvres

Course 1: Sterling Royal Caviar, Spheres of Smoked Sturgeon and Salmon Cream

Course 2: Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Custard with Green Apple, Shellfish Ragout

Course 3: Garden Pea and Mint Lollipop

I will write something for this one: The above lollipop was the best single bite during my entire May 2010 NYC trip and the reason I considered EMP to be my favorite restaurant of 2010. Imagine the texture of a fudgsicle – that crisp, hard coating that, when bitten into, gives way to a cool, soft filling – but replace the chocolate taste with the brightest peas you’ve ever tasted. I felt like the temperature only enhanced the flavor, making it taste fresher, cleaner… I’ve been chasing the taste of peas ever since, hoping to find something similar to this bite.

Course 4: Spring Out of Winter – Variations of Asparagus with Jamon Iberico

Course 5: Foie Gras Torchon with Tete de Cochon, Pickled Spring Vegetables and Horseradish

Course 6: Atlantic Halibut Seared with Smoked Spring Garlic and Crayfish

Course 7: Nova Scotia Lobster Poached with Young Carrots, Ginger and Vadouvan Granola

Course 8: Earth and Ocean – Slow Cooked Poussin with Hawaiian Blue Prawns and Seaweed

Course 9: Colorado Lamb Herb Roasted with Sucrine Lettuce, Garden Peas and Oregon Morels

Fromage – A Selection of Artisanal Cheeses

Course 10: “Soda Pop” – Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pomelo and Lemon

Course 11: Milk and Chocolate – Variations of Flavor and Texture

Mignardises

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905
Website: http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Del Posto (Manhattan, NY) – Happy Birthday to Me!

June 1, 2011

For the past 3 years, April 5th was primarily associated with one major event: It was the day we got numbers from my client.  Nevermind that it also happens to be the day of my birth – I worked in public accounting and April 5th was still part of busy season. Sure, on the day of, we’d eat a slice of cake and someone would sing me a song, but at the end of the day you’d still find me crunching numbers til 3AM.

This year was different though. You know why? ‘Cause I ain’t in public accounting anymore. No deadlines, no numbers – I took the entire day off and treated myself to lunch at Del Posto.

It had been a while since I’ve had a really nice meal out so I really wanted to go somewhere spectacular for my birthday. Out of all the places that came to mind, I couldn’t think of any place I wanted to try more than Del Posto. Recently awarded 1 star by the Michelin Guide and 4 stars by the NY Times (the first Italian restaurant in 36 years to receive such an honor), this was a restaurant worthy of the occasion.

Considering its reputation, it’s surprising how relatively affordable the place is. Del Posto offers a three-course lunch prix fixe for $29 with the option of an additional pasta course for only $10 more. Add on a free glass of prosecco thanks to foursquare (be sure to check in!) and you’ve got a four-course, 4-star meal for $40, before tax and tip.

Bread with butter and smoked whipped lardo

Some people believe that you can tell how good a restaurant is based on its bread basket alone. If I followed that rule, this meal was going to be extraordinary. C’mon – I had a whole basket of baguettes, olive rolls and focaccia and a dish of whipped lardo, JUST FOR ME.

Like most great meals, this one started with an amuse bouche…or three to be exact. Crispy Roman-style saffron risotto balls, choux pastry filled with pureed mortadella and a small shotglass of Roman-style chicken eggdrop soup were presented on a platter before my first course. (Of course, I polished off the soup before realizing I hadn’t taken a picture of the platter as a whole. My bad.)

Course 1: Zampone with Lentil Vinaigrette & Salsa Verde

A zampone is a stuffed pig’s trotter – think of a ground sausage type interior surrounded by the original pig’s own fatty skin. Exactly as you’d expect, it was a very meaty dish; the lentils and salsa verde barely held their own against the porkiness of the zampone. In retrospect, this may have been too heavy a dish to start; however, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Course 2: Whole Wheat Tonnarelli with Spicy Cicerchie, Fried Rosemary & Shaved Bonito

I ordered the whole wheat tonnarelli for two reasons, one of which being the whole wheat pasta and the other being the use of bonito. After tasting the dish, I realized why both were a necessary component to this course. The whole wheat gave the tender pasta texture and toothiness, and the vegetable broth in which the pasta was served was thoroughly enhanced by the umami of the bonito.

Course 3: Arctic Char with Watercress, Black Truffles and Chestnuts

If it wasn’t for Danny of Kung Food Panda and his recommendation of the arctic char, I may have not have gotten an extra course. Therefore I have to thank him for this one; his choice was spot on. That fish was fatty and flaky and absolutely delectable. The nutty chestnuts and earthy truffles were a wonderful complement to the hearty fish.

Course 4: Sfera di Caprino with Celery & Fig Agrodolce & Celery Sorbetto

Finally came the course I had been waiting for: Dessert. Going into the meal, the one thing I knew I was going to order was the dessert with the celery sorbetto. It’s actually quite funny that this, of all things, caught my eye because I’m not a fan of celery at all. I’m the kind of person who smothers a celery stick in peanut butter and then only eats the peanut butter.

However, dislike of celery aside, I absolutely adored this dessert. Yes, the sorbetto still tasted of celery but it was tempered with the flavor of sugar and limes – the typically bland, watery flavor was now citric and robust! And when I paired that refreshing celery with the creaminess of the bread crumb encrusted goat cheese and the syrupy sweetness of the figs, I tasted my favorite course of the entire meal (and quite possibly my favorite course of 2011 thus far!).

Considering all of its outstanding reviews and the weight I was placing on them due to the occasion, it’s amazing that Del Posto was not only able to meet but even exceeded my expectations. The food was amazing (as you now know) and the service was delightful. (They even played “Happy Birthday” on the piano for me!) And during the entire meal, one particular thought kept reappearing in my mind: “I might be the happiest girl in the world right now. Happy birthday to me!”

Del Posto
85 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(212) 497-8090
Website: http://www.delposto.com/
Twitter: @DelPosto

Del Posto on Urbanspoon

The Dining Room (Pasadena, CA) – Let the Pictures Speak for Themselves

August 8, 2010

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m always behind on my fine dining reviews. ALWAYS. My stomach is more ambitious than my mind – More often than not, I end up ordering the most extravagant tasting menu at a restaurant, go home, look at my pictures, realize I have to write a review individually addressing 10+ dishes, and then get completely overwhelmed. I tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow…Or the day after…Or the day after…

…2+ months later, I finally get to writing it. I mean, I always get to it sooner or later. Most of the time, it’s just later. Much later.

This meal, however, I can’t even PRETEND I’m going to write a review.
I just can’t.
I think it’s physically impossible.
(Well, impossible for me. Not impossible for kevinEats, but that’s another story.)

There’s just too much to squeeze into one post. If I tried, I would consider the resulting review to be an insult to the food and the experience, both of which were incomparable. So I’m just going to write a quick intro and let the pictures speak for themselves.

———-

(Picture taken by Kevin of kevinEats.)

When Kevin of kevinEats invited me to join him, Ryan of Epicuryan and some of their friends to dine at at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena on Michael Voltaggio’s last night, I didn’t have to think twice – I immediately said yes. I had tasted Voltaggio’s food before – his sampling at Breadbar’s Hatchi was one of my top 3 meals in 2009 – and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

With the night of the dinner being Voltaggio’s last night there and with The Dining Room itself under renovation until October 2010, my first meal at The Dining Room was to be my last there. Thus, it only made sense to go big: In honor of Voltaggio’s last night, we ate the entire menu.

All 22 courses of it.

Amuse Bouche: Gougère with Caviar Cream, Tomato Pâte De Fruit With Basil and Sea Salt

Course 1: Octopus, Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro

Course 2: Soft Shell Crab, Scrambled Corn, Old Bay, Vanilla-Crab Jus

Course 3: Japanese Kampachi, Jamon Iberico, Sea Sponge, Grapefruit, Crispy Rice

Course 4: Vegetables of the Season, Burrata, Nori Butter, Coffee-Cardamom “Soil”

Course 5: Foie Gras Frito, Black Sesame, Pickled Blueberries, Basil

Course 6: Foie Gras Terrine, Strawberry-Yuzu, Arugula Cake, Minus 8 Vinegar

Course 7: Halibut Cheeks, Red Curry, Coconut Rice, Baby Leeks

Course 8: Pacific Cod, Asparagus, Bonito, Marcona Almond Milk

Course 9: Arctic Char, Green Pea Tapioca, Black Olive, Porcini Chicharrón

Course 10: Salt Baked Turbot, a Jus of Itself, Summer Vegetables Roasted in Hay

Course 11: Veal Sweetbreads Tempura, Kale, Buttermilk, Mustard, Potato Puree

Course 12: Pastrami Pigeon, Swiss Cheese, Sauerkraut, Rye

Course 13: Kurobuta Pork Belly, Bok Choy “Kim Chi”, Sweet Potato Preserves, Peanut Butter Powder

Course 14: Jameson Farm Lamb, Fresh Chickpeas, Flavors of Hummus, Yogurt

Course 15: Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig, Banana Polenta, Chanterelles, Cipollini, Red Onion

Course 16: Beef Cheeks, Porcini Mushroom, Cannelé, Garlic Froth

Course 17: Wagyu Short Rib, Potato Confit, Nantes Carrot, Bone Marrow, Coconut Soubise

Course 18: Japanese Kuroge Rib Cap, Fried Béarnaise, Young Turnips, Bordelaise

Pre-Dessert: Peach and Yogurt “Dippin’ Dots”

Course 19: Baba Au Rhum, Textures of Coconut and Pineapple, Compressed Mango

Course 20: Chocolate Caramel Ganache, Chocolate Sorbet, Salty Hazelnut Praline, Cocoa Tuile

Course 21: Lavender Flower Macaroon, Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Vanilla-Passion Sorbet, Floral Cotton Candy

Course 22: Carrot Cake, Carrot Sorbet, Yuzu Curd, Cream Cheese Snow

The Dining Room (at the Langham) – CLOSED
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 568-3900
Website: http://pasadena.langhamhotels.com
Twitter: @TheDiningRoom

The Dining Room (at the Langham) on Urbanspoon

Marea (Manhattan, NY) – This Is Food Porn.

May 20, 2010

Before reading any further, please first watch the following Youtube clip from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Food Porn Part II. (Start watching at 3:10 – That’s when it starts getting gooooood…)

Okay, now that I’ve made you hungry, I’ll also make you jealous: The sea urchin and lardo? The burrata and lobster? The octopus and bone marrow?

I ate that. ALL OF THAT.

I find it fitting that Marea is established right across the southern border of Central Park. When I think of Central Park, I think of a lush, green oasis in a concrete jungle; when I think of Marea, I think of a modern, bright dining room in a sea of older, dim restaurants.

Although the fundamental characteristics between Marea and other NYC fine dining establishments are the same (e.g. big windows, crisp linens, glass centerpieces, etc.), there’s something about Marea that is so visually appealing to me. Maybe it was because I went to Marea on a perfectly sunny spring day, but the whole space just seemed to sparkle the moment I walked in. This has to be one of my favorite dining rooms thus far.

Marea’s lunch menu is simple – a two course business lunch for $38, with each additional course costing $19 (although, looking at their online menu now, they’ve increased it to $42 and $21, respectively). The “Ricci” (i.e. the sea urchin and lardo) is not on their lunch menu but after seeing the above No Reservations episode, I begged my way to an order.

(Note: I am going to start transcribing quotes from the No Reservations episode because, honestly, can I describe the following better than King of My Heart? I don’t think so.)

“Two fat sacks of sea urchin roe, plumped with goodness. The briny, swollen membranes held aloft by two tiny chariots of toast. A gossamer thin sheet of lardo, lightly cured pork fat from the mountains of Tuscany, draped over the top and ever so slightly heated, allowed to wilt, to melt over the aroused golden pillows, like a dying swan.” – Anthony Bourdain

Ricci – Sea urchin, lardo, sea salt.

A side tangent: I recently had a very similar dish – uni on toast with olive oil – at Church and State in Los Angeles. There, the olive oil seemed to overwhelm the sea urchin and gave almost a greasy consistency to the uni. This was not the case at Marea.

The sea urchin and lardo, in this instance, were complimentary – Each component maintained the qualities that make it delicious and the other only enhanced the overall taste. The uni was buttery, the lardo was smoky…I only wish we had ordered more.

“Combine seafood and cheese – it’s just not done! It’s like catching your parents having sex! Instinctively, it’s like eww! But not this time…This time it tastes like shame. Delicious, delicious shame.” – Anthony Bourdain

Astice – Nova Scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil.

Lobster and burrata. Burrata and lobster. Can you really go wrong? Burrata, by itself, is on my list of favorite things. (Coincidentally enough, sea urchin and bone marrow are also on that list.) Add lobster and it’s become an ever higher ranked favorite!

I was originally worried about the texture of this dish – as Anthony Bourdain already stated, lobster and cheese aren’t really supposed to go together. However, the lobster was firm enough to provide some contrast against the soft burrata.

“It starts innocently enough – hand made fusilli and baby octopus, tossed and mingled together with…OMFG, NO! Bone marrow! The unearthly product melted into and fortifying the sauce like some celestial butter.” – Anthony Bourdain

Fusilli – Durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus, bone marrow.

Ordering a pasta dish for lunch after devouring a pasta tasting dinner at Babbo the night before is risky. Finding out that pasta dish can hold its own, even after a full pasta tasting menu, is both relieving and exciting.

The fusilli had great texture, perfectly al dente, and had a great chewiness to it. The octopus was tender, not at all tough. As for the bone marrow? Finding bone marrow was like finding buried treasure – my eyes lit up with every chunk of fatty marrow I dug from underneath the pasta.

To conclude: In the spirit of food porn, let’s just say eating at Marea would be the money shot. (And I’m just going to leave it at that.)

Marea
240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10021
(212) 582-5100
Website: http://www.marea-nyc.com/

Marea on Urbanspoon

Aureole (Las Vegas, NV) / Charlie Palmer @ Bloomingdale’s (Costa Mesa, CA) – CPx2

March 23, 2010

That’s right, this is going to be a double dose of Charlie Palmer, pioneer of progressive American Cuisine! Charlie Palmer + Charlie Palmer! CPx2!

(…Okay, enough of that. Can you tell I can’t think of any ideas for a lead in? I’m just going to get right into this.)

Aureole

I’m going to straight with you: This is going to be a biased review.

My mistake wasn’t making a reservation at Aureole; the mistake was keeping it after a long, hard night of drinking. The morning of my Aureole reservation, I found myself lying in bed with a hangover and a craving for the cheapest steak and eggs I could find on the Strip. After pounding down a whole steak, two eggs over easy, a side of toast and god knows how many cups of coffee, my headache and nausea had subsided…but so had my hunger for food.

I may have lost my appetite that day, I’d like to think my sense of taste remained relatively intact (whether it actually was, you can decide). Thus, taste away I did.

(The stark white exterior is a foreshadowing of its the cold white interior.)

The first thing I noticed when I descended down the staircase into Aureole’s dining room was the sterility of the restaurant. I typically love modern design but the glass tower coupled with the cavernous room made the whole area seem cold and unemotional (especially after L’Atelier’s bustling open kitchen the night before). I pictured the dining space circling Aureole’s signature 42-foot glass wine tower, making it the center of attention; however, in reality, the wine tower acted more as a dividing wall than a focus piece and I sat with my back facing the tower for the entire night.

As mentioned, I wasn’t hungry when I arrived at dinner so I ordered from the 3-course theater menu and added the starter of the trio of house cured salmon. The trio had a wide range of flavor combinations, from the familiar creamy dill in the gravlax to the unique citrus tones in the pepper crusted salmon.

My first course, the Thai popcorn shrimp, was more a soup than an appetizer. The curry flavor in the spicy coconut broth was bold and had a lingering kick to it, which was completely unexpected. To drink a whole bowl was overwhelming – I picked the morsels of shrimp from the depths of the broth and moved on.

The pork scallopini was uneventful both times I tried it (I tried it twice as I had most of it boxed up to go). The cream sauce was thick and the pork was charred…I picked out the noodles instead as they were delightfully chewy.

Dessert was a banana bread pudding – that’s all I remember about that.

Considering the circumstances and taking into account my incapacitated position, Aureole still did not meet my expectations. As I previously mentioned, this is somewhat of a biased review so take from this what you want. All I can say is, even thinking back on the experience now, I still can’t say I fully enjoyed my meal at Aureole.

Aureole
3950 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7401
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/

Aureole (Mandalay Bay) on Urbanspoon

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s

(As the name implies, this is Charlie Palmer’s restaurant. It’s next to a Bloomingdale’s.)

The lounge in Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s is as hip as Aureole in Las Vegas is sterile. When I walked in, I immediately thought to myself,

“I don’t think I’m cool enough for this place.”

I don’t find myself in the heart of Orange County often, but work has sent me to this far away land and I told myself I would make the best of the situation. Thus, when I discovered the nearby Charlie Palmer had two happy hours a day (with the second one going from 10PM-midnight) and that I would be able to sneak out early sometime mid-week, I made sure to take advantage.

I expected to roll in dressed in my normal number crunching uniform, find myself a little corner spot to bunker down with my ethics textbook, grab a glass of wine and a couple appetizers and enjoy Charlie’s only California establishment. Instead I find myself feeling thoroughly under dressed, awkwardly sitting in a corner booth of a place that sounded like an LA club with matching clientele. (Again, note: This was at 10:30PM on a Wednesday night. Not quite what I had imagined.)

Although I felt sorely out of place, I wasn’t going to deny myself food and wine just because I looked like an accountant in a club. I promptly ordered myself a glass of wine, and three appetizers: the bone marrow, a seafood sausage and a truffle grilled cheese.

My favorite of the three was definitely the bone marrow, with its pickled onions and slightly sugary raisins. The sweetness was enjoyable, not overpowering, and the vinegar cut through the buttery marrow, adding a touch of tang to every bite. My only qualm with the dish was that half of my toast was burnt, which resulted in my overloading the non-burnt pieces with heaping lumps of marrow.

According to the waitress, the seafood sausage was a recent addition to the menu, only added a couple weeks prior. The sausages are made in house and are composed of a mix of shrimp, scallops, salmon and bass. Reminiscent of fish balls you may find in Asian supermarkets, the seafood sausage was actually smoother in texture and much softer, almost like the inside of a perfectly cooked scallop. However, the one I received was over seasoned and required a nibble of bread with every bite to counter the salt.

The truffle mac and cheese was probably the most underwhelming dish of the three as it was simply a grilled cheese sandwich with a hint of truffle. Nothing spectacular, almost one note – I wished I had tried something a bit more adventurous instead.

All in all, once I got my food and settling in with book in hand, it was actually quite an enjoyable experience. Not quite the quiet night I expected but hey – the wine was half-off, the food met expectations and I got some work done to boot. Next time I’ll just remember to bring a change of clothes…

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s
3333 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 352-2525
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza on Urbanspoon

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