Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Besh Steak

This must have been what everyone was raving about. John Besh's brazenly titled "Besh Steak" is nestled deep in New Orleans's Harrahs Casino. The restaurant is elegant and welcoming. Luckily the sound of the droning, endless slot machines doesn't follow us to dinner. I've never had a bad meal in a casino. I would imagine that they demand the very best quality at all times. The bone-marrow pâté accompanying our bread drives this point straight home.

Service really can make or break a restaurant experience. Our server is pleasant, knowledgable, and if he wasn't a low level sommelier, I would be surprised. He just happens to be one of the main wine guides for the restaurant. He pairs us with a beautiful French 2012 Domaine De La Janasse, Côtes Du Rhône. (After our initial mandatory cocktails of course, well refined beauties...) Our fried oysters are world class and the Cesar Salad is exactly what one would expect from a high level steakhouse. 

My 30 Day-Aged 16oz Prime New York Strip arrives swimming in blue cheese butter medallions and bordelaise sauce. I swapped the onion rings to sautéed mushrooms. One of my best decisions in a long time. They are, I must admit, the best mushrooms I have ever had. The flavor is engulfing and intoxicating. The steak is perfectly cooked. The cut is enormously thick. It's filling to a new level. The subtle sour flavor of the meat after its long dry age is probably an acquired taste, but I just happen to have it acquired already. It grows more intense as I work my way through the gargantuan slab. 

The dessert is playful and unique. A hard chocolate ball filled with milk chocolate mousse, surrounded by raspberries and bits of chocolate cake. It takes some violence to break into the chocolate ball. We've earned our reward.

Complaints? We never saw a cocktail menu...  I'm really reaching here. This is a world class steakhouse that has a unique flair that places like Ruth's Chris and Morton's tend to miss in their massive corporate sprawls. I highly recommend Besh Steak. Don't forget your wallet. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lola's New Orleans.


The moment you step on the same block, the smell in the air violently invades your olfactory excitement. Alliumphobics not welcome. (Of course I didn't know that word, I looked it up.)

The dining room is small and welcoming, we feel right at home. It's loud, but not annoyingly so. The ambiance is pleasantly smooth. The Sangria goes down beautifully, both red and white, and it keeps coming. I'm already impressed and nothing has come out yet. The real treasure starts with the bread and garlic aioli spread. The very essence of garlic is deeply infused into the buttery, citrusy topping. I down much more bread than usual. My mouth is already screaming obscenities of intense protest. We’re not used to this intensity, me and my mouth.

Calamari to die for. I always ensure people that it doesn’t have to remind you of eating a chopped up tire. This dish is buttery and smooth, charred to perfection with a spicy sauce. Luckily I’m here with two other people that love to eat. So the dishes start to come. Tomato basil salad, spinach goat cheese salad, ceviche, garlic shrimp; that should be enough to start to meal. Each dish is unique and thoughtfully refined to perfection. Care and love are prominent here. I haven’t been to Spain yet, but this meal is pushing me and pushing me.  Sangria keeps coming. I’m nearing full and our main dishes are still on the way.

I’m glad my friends like to share. Because the seafood paella is floral and lighthearted and amazing. It’s probably the best I’ve ever hard. And the roasted duck breast with fig reduction is undeniably good. The fig complements the ducks fatty meat to a nice balance of sweet and savory. My grilled yellow fin tuna steak is the worst dish of the night. It’s near excellent.

I think we ordered flourless chocolate cake with homemade caramel and whipped cream… but I’m in a state of hypnosis…deep in my phone looking at flight prices to Barcelona.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lüke New Orleans


         Ever since I moved to New Orleans, people have been raving about both chef John Besh, and his French-German brasserie Lüke. Boasts of grandiosity filled my ears, the best, the epitome of New Orleans. I had to go.
         We arrived at Lüke for our 9:00PM reservation and were eagerly greeted and shown to our table. The dining room is engulfed with classic old-world elegance. The room is small, neat and uniquely classy.  Within minutes, a Bufala Negra makes it’s way to my hand. It’s one of the best cocktails i’ve ever had. Buffalo Trace, basil, 20 year Balsamic vinegar, and ginger ale. The Balsamic lends a perfect balance of sweet and tart bringing the cocktail a highly refined character. The subtle note of basil finishes perfectly.
         The bread arrives and is disappointing. It seems like an afterthought, something you might get at a generic chain establishment. For a restaurant claiming roots in German and French cuisine, I would expect extreme dedication to the bread. Instead we’re disappointed by mediocrity.  
         We order a dozen P&J raw oysters and the buttermilk fried quail appetizer. The oysters go down beautifully, a perfect sense of setting. We are obviously within vicinity of the gulf, and that should be celebrated. There is no excuse for bad oysters in New Orleans. The quail is excessively fried and swimming in the essence of honey. The first bites are interesting, but the dish quickly becomes overbearing and palette destroying. We don’t finish the dish between three of us.
         The main dishes arrive. The Fresh Gulf Drum, the Shrimp Cavatelli Etouffee, and the Grilled Swordfish. And my real disappointment sets in. All of the main dishes are bland and uninteresting. Although fine and perfectly adequate for a lesser restaurant, nothing is above average. Nothing screams brilliance or magnificence like I would expect from a highly acclaimed chef. The Brussels sprouts end up being the single best thing on the menu (and good they are.)
         And this makes me look further and further into how success can cripple. We see it time and time again, a chef, an athlete, etc spreading themselves too thin. Gordon Ramsay has nearly 40 restaurants worldwide is too busy being on television and yelling at people and ends up losing 2 Michelin stars in the process.  Rhonda Rousey is busy making movies and ends up asleep on the mat early in the second round. And Eric Ripert focus’s on Le Bernardin, and consistently and relentlessly maintains his 3 Michelin stars year after year.

         Maybe John Besh is spread too thin. Ten or so restaurants, cook books, tv shows, etc etc. But i’m not done. He obviously deserves a second chance. Besh Steak next.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Le Bernardin

The culmination. Years of loving food. Countless places and meals; good, bad, and everything in between. From tiny plastic stools in Vietnam with overflowing, beautiful Pho, to gargantuan Texas beef, to Moroccan Tagines and regrettable late night McDonalds escapades, to Peruvian Guinea Pigs washed down with Coca Sours, and Maldivian meals fit for a king.

It’s easy to call someone a master chef. It is not easy, however, to reach the level of a man like Eric Ripert. His flagship and masterpiece, Le Bernardin, is on the agenda for tonight… and we’re late. Eleven minutes late to be exact. Ben’s flight was delayed several hours, but we finally arrive at the restaurant. I’m nervous, waiting on the phone call canceling our reservation. A reservation that I made exactly one month in advance. And with a sigh of relief, we’re greeted warmly and seated right away.

Running across town hasn’t prepared either of us for what’s to come. We take a minute to breathe as we’re seated. It takes a moment to take in the beauty of the restaurant. The décor and perfection of the room is mind-blowing and elegant. It’s easy to see where Le Bernardine’s monthly flower budget of $12,000 goes. A stunningly painted seascape by artist Ran Ortner hangs proudly on the wall as a reminder of where our meal truly began. I’ve never felt so comfortable and welcome in somewhere so clean and beautiful.

We’re going all out tonight. The chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings. My wallet can cry later, my taste buds will not. I haven’t eaten much today in preparation for the 8+ course meal. I start off with what is immediately the most interesting and refined cocktail of my life. The Blossom Dearie (Rittenhouse Rye, Yuzu Sake, Bonne Maman Orange Marmalade, and Shiso Leaf). It warms and sets the mood. This is what a 3 star cocktail tastes like. Even better than expected.

The service is, without a doubt, the best that I have ever experienced. Everything is timed perfectly. This is a well-rehearsed dance that has been done a thousand times. There are no dropped plates here. Nothing is spilled, no crumbs are on the floor, nothing is dirty, the wine is poured to exactly the same volume in every glass. An entire sommelier department, signified by the tastevin’s donned around their necks, give an expertly crafted selection of wines to accompany each successive dish. We’ve made a good decision taking on the pairings.

The first course arrives. A Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio with Iberico ham, sea beans, and Lemon- extra virgin olive oil. It’s paired with a Gelber Muskateller, Steirische Klassik, a beautiful Austrian wine from 2013. The tender fish melts in my mouth, the lemon olive oil pulls the tuna flavor to the forefront. The texture and presentation; simple and perfect. Everything starts to come together as the courses continue. Every detail is painstakingly important right down to the custom plates and bowls.

The second course is a King Fish Caviar served with Yuki No Bosha, Yamahai Junmai Sake. Three pieces of King Fish topped with Osetra Caviar swim in a bath of Marinière broth. The broth steals the dish. It’s nothing short of amazing. Every drop disappears. The sake is a fantastic complement. Its subtle flavor mixes expertly with the fish.

The third dish is a pan-roasted langoustine with shaved foie gras and aged sherry-verjus vinaigrette, served with a glass of French Chardonnay. Already one of my favorite crustaceans, this dish steals my heart. I’m already jealous of myself. The texture of the shellfish makes the dish.

Next, we’re served a lobster tail with herb spring roll and lemongrass consommé with a glass of Krug Brut. The dish is heavily influenced with Asian flavors and style. The tastes are vastly different than the rest of the meal and bring a nice juxtaposition to what we’ve already experienced. By now, the bubbly champagne starts to bring on a welcomed swimming feeling. I would never have guessed to pair champagne with lobster. By now, I’m floating in heaven.

Next, the monkfish arrives. A pan roasted monkfish with sautéed cepes, pearl onions, a la crème, and a paprika sauce served with a Fleurie, Clos de la Grand’Cour, Jean-Louis Dutraive, Beaujolais from France (2014). I’m feeling quite fancy now as I have no idea what most of that means. I’ve heard of monkfish! And paprika! It looks like I’m getting somewhere! As expected, it’s fantastic, light, airy, and perfect. I wish these dishes would just keep coming forever.

If we hadn’t been treated well enough, the White Tuna and Kobe Beef arrive with a 2009 Italian Barbaresco, Valeirano, Ada Nada, Piedmont. I looked at the wine and had to stop. I’ve never seen a wine like this. The color is unreal, almost orange. The evening sunlight glistens through the stems after an aerating swirl. The steak is perfect. There is no other word to describe it. The tuna complements it intensely. The wine is heavenly. This wine steals the entire evening. I’ve never tasted anything like it. I’m currently looking for a bottle of my own.

I guess it’s time for dessert. First a Matcha Green Tea custard with preserved Lychee and Jasmine ice cream and Nanbubijin, Koji Junmai Sake. I’m typically not a big dessert fan. Today, that’s put on the back burner. It’s followed by Marinated “golden blueberries” with frozen sweet corn meringue and a Hungarian Oremus Tokaji dessert wine. The meal finishes exactly as it should, with these two excellent desserts.

We sit and look at each other. The meal has been all consuming. I’m barely aware that I’m right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of New York City. We’ve accomplished our goal. We’ve just had one of the best meals on the planet. It’s easy to see how Le Bernardin has three Michelin Stars. Every detail, every single thing, is absolutely perfect. Period.

It’s time for us to head to New Haven. Our best friends are about to be married, so tonight we celebrate. But first, the check…

Monday, July 20, 2015

Blue Hill NY

Dan Barber has taken "Farm to Table" to the highest possible level of culinary achievement. Maybe your local restaurant sources eggs and bacon from local farmers, but Chef Barber is working with Botanists at Cornell University to breed blithe resistant cucumbers and giving lectures on "cultivating flavor." If a strong positive argument exists for GMO experimentation, this is it. This is not Monsanto. This is sustainable engineering. And everyone is noticing, from the TED conference to the Michelin Guide and The James Beard Foundation, Harvard, and all the way to the President where Dan serves on the Council for Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

The dining room is stuffy and small.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn't much a fan of the atmosphere. I expected a rustic, “earthy garden” agenda. I wanted old wooden tables and gardening tools and plants growing out of the walls, a casually dressed staff, and a light atmosphere. But this is all white tablecloth, fancy pants, and very formal. Honestly, it’s a bit stagnant. A friend later suggested that the whole point might be to show that hard work and farming is right on par with any other white-tablecloth restaurant out there. A good thought, but I wonder if it has more to do with accolades.

But oh my, the food. I can forgive almost any other issues (we found Blue Hill to be slightly lacking in the service department) for food like this. I start with the Once in a Lifetime Blue Hill & Stillwater Artisanal Ale, a gargantuan beast of a beer. It's excellent and has a strongly refined taste for a 7.4% craft. We choose the Farmers Feast tasting menu. A surprisingly fresh radish with white chocolate arrives to start the meal, followed by some excellently cured meats. Yellowtail flounder with corn and fava beans, an expertly crafted salad with fresh fruit and greens, a cast iron farm fresh egg with mixed greens and potatoes, a succulent fatty pork dish, a blueberry dish with honey and milk, deconstructed chocolate covered cherries, fresh apricot, the dishes keep coming and coming and you wonder if it's ever going to stop. This is the poster child for farm fresh. How do simple dishes have such refined and bold flavors? Every step of the process is controlled by the Chef, literally from the ground up.

Anyone interested in farming, sustainable food culture, biology, or anyone that enjoys the works of a dedicated and brilliant master, Blue Hill NY is a must. Book in advance and be prepared to spend some money, but go, as soon as you can. His larger and more experimental restaurant and farm called Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown is on the list for my next trip to New York. From everything I can tell, that's where he does the real work.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pok Pok NY

Chef Andy Ricker has captured the very essence and soul of Thailand's vast and exciting cuisine, and put it right in Brooklyn. The dining room buzzes with activity. It's apparent right away that the staff are extensively familiar with the menu, the bar, and the flavors. Their sense of pride in their work prepares you for the treat that awaits you. The dining room is cramped and small, just like it would be in Thailand. The well deserved Michelin Star hangs joyfully on the wall between the bathrooms.

I start with a watermelon and cachaca cocktail with muddled mint and lime. It's excellently refreshing and well refined. Perfect after the hot NYC streets. It IS a bit of a haul to Western Brooklyn (especially when train construction cuts out the closest two stops) to get out to Pok Pok, but it's well worth the journey. My Yam Samun Phrai arrives with a packet of sticky rice and i'm transported right back to my time in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand. Shrimp, cashews, lime, carrots, parsnip, betel leaf, lemongrass, basil, shallots, white turmeric, and pork in a coconut milk sauce served as a cold salad.  By the third bite, my nose is running from the cold spice of the dish. My taste buds are confused and alive and screaming for more. This is the intensity that Southeast Asian food culture is so well known for. For old times sake, I finish my meal with a cold Chang beer. My only regret is having to go alone. Pok Pok is set up more as a communal sharing restaurant, a place to enjoy a good meal with friends and family. I would have preferred having less quantity and trying more dishes. But going alone is much better than not going at all. 

If you want to go to Thailand, but you only have an hour or so, If you can't afford the plane ticket, or don't have time to sit in the air for 20 hours, Pok Pok just might give you the fix you need. At Least for a little while. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bar Masa NYC

I've been meaning to start this for a long while. Thoughts that no one would ever care to read about what I think of food, or that I have zero culinary training, or that I'll seem like a self-rightous, self-indulgent glutton are not big motivators. But I guess you have to start somewhere. If anything, it will be a memory exercise for myself. So many meals are gone with the past now, meals i'll never remember again. Maybe I can hold on to the special ones a little bit better by writing it all down.

And what better place to start than arguably the best food city on earth? New York City. Over 24,000 eating establishments. Where to begin?

Bar Masa, that's where. If you're going to be self indulgent, this is a pretty good place to start. And you're in luck! This is the "cheaper" and "more accessible" version of Masa Takayama's three Michelin starred flagship just down the hallway. The Chef's fervent attention to detail and style is apparent immediately. The bar in question, a single slab made entirely from African bubinga wood, is a work of art all on its own. I can't imagine how much it cost, or how hard it was to transport up to the 4th floor. The dining room is spotless, elegant, and simply decorated.  Any corner of the establishment could pass the most stringent of white glove tests. A calm feeling envelops you. These people are experts. You are in good hands. My cocktail sets the mood perfectly.

The sharply dressed bartender addresses me. "The sashimi is coming now." A few moments to prepare. My sashimi tasting arrive. I don't want to disrupt its elegant presentation. For a second atleast... And then i'm shipped off to a new world of complex flavors and textures. The Shiitake mushroom side is a perfectly smokey palette cleanser. But then it's all just...gone. It's all gone, just that fast. And you feel like you're back in Vegas, knowing that just one more hand...just one more hand and you'll win it all back.

The problem? Here you win every time. Without fail. This is where you need self control. Maybe your kids don't need to go to college that bad... Only two more rounds. You can't come here and NOT have the Uni. 

And then just as easily as you sunk in, you're back out in the world. And your life is a little bit better.

Don't go hungry and you might escape without a second mortgage. But it's worth every cent. Next time, i'm going to the Masa down the hall. I just HAVE to know how it could be that much better.