Thursday, October 08, 2015

Douchebag Central

Nozawa Bar
212 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA  90210
Chef Osamu Fujita
Dinner only Monday through Saturday

Sugarfish Sushi is located a couple of blocks away from a Cheesecake Factory that has valet parking and Spago Beverly Hills.  Located at the back of Sugarfish is Nozawa Bar, a private dining room sushi counter where the true douchebags dine.  If you don't know sushi, just shut up.  Don't throw ikura into your sake glass and shoot them.  Also, while it is correct to eat sushi with your fingers, it is not appropriate to eat sashimi with your fingers, so don't tell your guests to do so.  You may also want check with your new girlfriend with the inflated boobs and lips and expensive haircoloring whether she eats raw fish before infecting the entire sushi bar with your cologne.

Moving on from the diners to the food:  I have never seen a sushi counter with 8-10 guests where sushi is made by assembly line.  I don't recall even the cooks at the sushi boat counters in a Taiwan mall preparing sushi in this manner.  Chef Fujita slices the fish (into enormous, inelegant chunks) and also makes a series of rice balls.  One of his sous chefs places each fish slice on top of each bald nigiri, then another sous chef drizzles the soy sauce across the top of the assembled sushi.  Then the individual plates, each containing one such sushi piece, get passed around to each diner at the counter.  The drizzling of soy sauce over the plate, instead of brushing across the top of the fish, caused the soy sauce to drip over the rice, which was already somewhat soggy because it was made with too much vinegar and so loosely packed that every piece fell apart when picked up.  (If you use your hands to eat the sushi, as one generally should, you need to ask for an oshiburi.  The server will then provide a little plastic packet containing a wet cloth...).

Don't even get me started on the ankimo meatball drowned in miso sauce or the giant burrito sized hand rolls with too much ground-up fish.

At least the fish for the sushi was not pre-sliced.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Fine Dining?

1104 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA  90401
Chef Josiah Citrin
Dinner only Tuesday through Saturday


I have never seen bread service precede the amuse gueule.  Or all of the stemware for the next 5-6 courses being laid out in front of me in advance for the wine pairing as though I was going to play glasses.  3 hour tasting menu?  They can rip through it in 90 minutes (the stemware efficiency must be helping).

I thought I had a salty palate, but I was craving water as much as wine based on the aggressive seasoning in most of the dishes (although I did still enjoy the saltiness in the Normandy butter).

Don't tell me that white truffles are in season in early October, charge $120 for the supplement (OMG salty much?), and then present out-of-season black truffles studded all over the sauce (having said that, in an earlier course, the nicely hot eggplant-rosemary veloute with the cold black truffle creme quenelle was a surprising and tasty temperature and flavor contrast; I am so glad I did not listen to the captain instructing me to mix it all up before eating).  That truffle egg supplement was also a visual disaster -- although it was interesting to experience essentially a savory Ile Flotant with a runny yolk in the middle.

Foie terrine was flawless, and so was the caviar egg (but I kept thinking of Jon Favreau's Chef movie as I was eating it; I actually enjoyed these classic French dishes).

Chawan mushi on the other hand.  Sigh.  I know that the chef de cuisine is Japanese, and the matsutake mushrooms and spinach components were well-prepared, but the texture of the custard was grainy and too firm (instead of the correct consistency of silken tofu or super-soft and jiggly panna cotta).  Chawan mushi also needs a layer of broth on top, and needs to be scalding hot, neither of which happened here.

The Santa Barbara spot prawn was overcooked; the cod was undercooked (and the over-salted lobster bisque flavored broth, the hollandaise rouille, decorative calamari, and the chewy fish skin-- do I even need to describe it further?  what a trainwreck!); and the duck was under-rendered and this time, severely undersalted.

The bubblegum macaron, however, was well-executed if you can get over the swallowing chewing gum sensation of eating bubblegum flavor.

Not to mention, man, do Los Angeles people like to namedrop.  Servers and diners alike.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Omakase Does[Should] Not Mean Sucker

I must have eaten at a different restaurant than this critic.

Celery is not an appropriate garnish for sashimi.  Torching every other nigiri does not make up for the sad quality of the fish selections (not helped by all of the fish being pre-cut before service).

I have never seen salad as a first course on any omakase menu (and that was a very sad salad).

Plus, what is it with San Francisco restaurants using crappy out of season truffles and then announcing them like they are doing us a favor by unloading those sandy flavorless crumbs on poorly conceived dishes?

Friday, September 25, 2015

"How Is Everything?"

What to say to the service team and chef of a favorite restaurant when they are understaffed and clearly having a bad night (evidenced by repeated questions from the staff seeking reassurance that everything is great! when actually not...)?  Not wanting to add to the stress, I decide to say nothing, but pass everything to my dining partner who graciously eats what I cannot force myself to finish.  Given the price tag though, kind of a bummer.

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Weakness

I can never resist any menu items that include a runny egg or squid ink (except this, gross!)

Recently, I had an item that I cannot stop thinking about-- squid ink fried rice at Ippuku in Berkeley.  As if chicken butt and knee cartilage skewers were not enough to win me over...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I Just Don't Learn

I really need to stop trying name-brand chain restaurants, i.e., anything opened by Michael Mina, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Nobu Matsuhisa, Tom Colicchio.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Sometimes the Good Guys Win

"The Court ... PERMANENTLY ENJOINS AND RESTRAINS Defendant and her agents, servants, employees, representative, successors, and assigns from enforcing California Health and Safety Code § 25982 against Plaintiffs' USDA-approved poultry products containing foie gras."

See Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d'Oies du Quebec v. Harris, Case No. 2:12-cv-05735-SVW-RZ (N.D. Cal. Jan. 7, 2015), ECF No. 155 at 15 (emphasis in original).

Friday, November 14, 2014

Michelin 2015 Chicago

Grace (new)

42 Grams (new)

EL Ideas
Longman & Eagle
North Pond
Takashi (closed)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Michelin 2015 San Francisco Bay Area

Benu (new)
French Laundry
Saison (new)

Acquerello (new)
Atelier Crenn (seriously?)
Baume (seriously?)

Auberge du Soleil
Boulevard (seriously?)
Campton Place
Chez TJ
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Gary Danko
Keiko a Nob Hill
Kusakabe (new)
La Folie
La Toque
Madrona Manor
Maruya (new)
Michael Mina
Plumed Horse
Sons & Daughters
State Bird Provisions
Terrapin Creek
Village Pub

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Michelin 2015 NYC

*** (yawn)
Brooklyn Fare
Le Bernardin
Eleven Madison Park
Per Se

Aquavit (new)
Atera (seriously?)
Blanca (new)
Ichimura (new)
Momofuku Ko

15 East
Ai Fiori
Andanada (new)
Batard (new)
Betony (new)
Blue Hill
The Breslin
Cafe Boulud
Cafe China
Casa Enrique (new)
Casa Mono
Caviar Russe
Danny Bar Wine Bar & Kitchen
Delaware and Hudson (new)
Del Posto
Gotham Bar & Grill
Gramercy Tavern
Jewel Bako
Juni (new)
Kyo Ya
La Vara (new)
Luksus at Torst (new)
Meadowsweet (new)
Minetta Tavern
The Modern
The Musket Room
M. Wells Steakhouse (new)
The NoMad
Peter Luger
Picholine (new)
Piora (new)
Pok Pok (new)
River Cafe
Spotted Pig
Sushi Azabu
Sushi of Gari
Take Root (new)
Tori Shin
Torrisi Italian Specialties
Zabb Elee (new)
ZZ's Clam Bar (new)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Random Thoughts

I love that my favorite restaurants continue to be better and better every time.

I hate Shake Shack's new non-crinkle fries.  Not to mention the Shack burgers, once so good that I wondered why New Yorkers ever wanted In'n Out, are now so salty and sloppy that I forget why I used to like them so much.

I hate that Yahoo email keeps getting worse and worse with each update, trying to copy Google.  Either copy well or don't bother.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Places I've Eaten in Philadelphia

Places I would go back to eat

Geno's Steaks
Pat's King of Steaks

I am not really certain whether there is such thing as a "great cheesesteak," but in the battle of the two famous cheesesteak stands (only compared "wit-out, cheese whiz" combination), Pat's has better meat and bread, relatively speaking. Geno's roll has a spongier texture, and its cheese whiz was a bit watery (they also have the strangest tasting fries I have ever tried, like they were made from fake potatoes?).

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Another Sign of Age

I know a lot of people who like to go see newly released movies on opening day or soon thereafter. I used to be that way about restaurants-- maybe not within the first week of opening (after all, a new restaurant needs to settle in a bit), but at least within the first couple of months. As much as I enjoyed trying new restaurants, however, I rarely returned for a second visit unless the restaurant was truly spectacular.

More and more frequently, I am finding even that initial visit to a new restaurant to be more tedious than exciting. I catch myself bracing for the inevitable disappointment of poorly-handled ingredients or slogging my way through huge portions of mediocre preparations, at the end of which I am left with nothing but an expensive tab, not unlike a bad first date, and confirmation that I do not agree that this hot new place is all that. Chef/Author Gabrielle Hamilton said in an interview that she never bothers to try a restaurant unless at least three people whose opinions she trusts tell her she needs to try it. I wish I could adopt that approach, but I would have a difficult time coming up with three such people, even including professional restaurant critics and bloggers (chowhound, yelp, or otherwise) in addition to friends. Most diners do not know or care about what they are eating or how ingredients should be treated, and very few chefs will disclose their honest views about another restaurant to a diner (especially if they have less than a glowing opinion). I tell myself that I eat alone frequently because I travel so much for work, but if I am being honest, I would rather eat alone than with obnoxious foodies, people who rub chopsticks together at the sushi counter and create a wasabi-soy roux to dunk their fish, or people who order their meat well done. So not only do I have very few people whose opinions I trust, I have very few people with whom I am inclined to go to a restaurant.

In addition, while I am never opposed to paying for quality, dining out is not inexpensive. To give a couple of examples, I recently had the joy of eating a burned pizza with a soggy fried appetizer at a very popular restaurant, and the tab for two people, including wine but not dessert, came to $80 before tax and tip. (No one else seemed to notice such mishaps, as the place was jam-packed at 5pm and the servers were so slammed that I waited over forty minutes between my appetizer and my pizza. I was starving and ate everything, although not happily, and I still tipped $16.) I recently had dinner at a popular downtown restaurant with two other people, including wine and dessert, which totaled over $300. For that price, I had gummy gnocchi, sweetbreads that were so overcooked and rubbery that I could have bounced them across the table, and flavorless carpaccio.

This is why I find myself returning to my favorites rather than venturing out to sample the Best New Restaurants of 2XXX. Komi, Saison, and Manresa will never disappoint me.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Messed-Up Priorities

I was watching an interview of one of my favorite chefs/authors Gabrielle Hamilton (if you have not read Blood, Bones & Butter, get it now), and she described foodies as having "messed-up priorities." Even though I am completely food-obsessed, I do not consider myself a "foodie," which in my mind conjures up the image of someone pretentious and obnoxious who refuses to eat anywhere without a Michelin rating or collects name-brand restaurants like expensive purses or cars or whatever. Blecch.

But if I am absolutely honest with myself, I have to admit that other people might consider me a "foodie," under some variation of that term, if not my exact definition. When I taste good food, it makes me happy. Depending on how good it was, I can be in a good mood for days (which is saying a lot because I am generally a very grouchy individual). When I am looking forward to going to a restaurant that I love, such as KOMI, Saison, Manresa, or 15 East, I am can float in an anticipatory good mood for weeks.

Conversely, when I spend money and time (and calories, as I get older, this actually seems to matter) on a bad meal, I get extremely cranky. I completely understand Chef Hamilton's description of wanting "salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry," and bad food (e.g., overwrought food, anything adorned with truffle oil, anything "frozen" with liquid nitrogen) puts me in a bad mood.

I plan vacations around where and what I want to eat.

@#$%! I do have messed-up priorities, but I still refuse to consider myself a foodie. Those people are ignorant snobs that I do not want to eat with. They suck all of the enjoyment out of good food.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Texting in Restaurants

This post appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about texting in restuarants. While I understand and appreciate the general sentiment in theory, I have to say that because of my job, I would never be able to go to any restaurant or bar that bans texting. I completely understand that using cell phones at the table, camera flashes popping at every course, or even too loud conversations at a nearby table may disrupt the ambiance, but is it really offensive to simply see someone in the dining room texting? What about single diners reading a book or magazine? Is that offensive too?

My Blackberry is often the only thing that allows me to leave the chain of my office and computer because I can respond to emails and deal with work issues without having to physically be there all night. If texting were banned, I might as well stay at the office and eat styrofoam takeout for every meal and force my family and friends to join me there because I will not be able to join them at the restaurant or bar of their choosing if texting is not permitted.

I try my best to limit time spent looking at or typing into my Blackberry, and I would dearly love it if I could completely ignore my clients and my colleagues at work until it is convenient for me to respond, but my job does not work that way. So between declining to go out at all or going out with my Blackberry, I am sorry but I am toting my Blackberry so that I can dine out and not get fired.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Words I Can't Resist on a Menu

Certain menu items and descriptions just bore me to tears (modern, local, fresh, seared, grilled, breast, loin, chop), but after Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle blogged about menu descriptions that appeal to him, I started to think about some of my own trigger words. Here are the ingredients/adjectives that hook me almost every time:

sepia/squid ink
egg (deviled/slow-cooked/poached/runny/soft-boiled)
sea urchin
razor clam
spot prawn
pork belly
crispy skin (chicken/duck/pork)

No wonder my clothes don't fit ...

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Frank You Did Me So Wrong

O Ya
9 East Street
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 654-9900
Chef Tim Cushman
Dinner only Tuesday through Saturday

I adored Frank Bruni's sarcasm and writing style as much as I admired his taste in food-- until now. Whatever points he gained by recommending 15 East (one of my must-eat places whenever I am in New York), he lost it all with his crazy recommendation of O Ya. This place could only be described as the evil spawn of Nobu and Morimoto.

The three Asian sushi chefs behind the counter are trying to remain motivated among diners who would prefer to eat a deep fried spicy tuna hand roll with tempura flakes coated in truffle oil mayonnaise, as opposed to an actual fresh piece of fish. I saw a couple of regulars steal the tiny wooden spoons that Japanese restaurant provide for dishes like chawan mushi-- seriously people, go to a freakin kitchen store and BUY SOME!! In any event, I digress. My only point is when the dining audience is stupid, I guess one should not be surprised at the scariness coming out of the kitchen.

There is so much overmanipulation of every dish that any original flavor that any of the seafood might have had is extinguished to oblivion, leaving behind ill-conceived sauces and combinations that are too hideous to imagine. There is not enough toothpaste or Pepto in the world for me to be able to forget this meal quickly.

Especially since the sushi counter is a prominent (albeit mostly ignored by diners) part of the restaurant, I was flabbergasted to see my hamachi with julienned apples and jalapeno sauce (yes, it tasted exactly as good as good as it sounds-- shudder-- but it gets better) sit on the counter after the sushi chef had prepared it, have a server whisk it away, in the opposite direction from me into the HOT kitchen, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. And watched my server walk around the dining room (he wasn't slacking; he was quite busy), then go back to the kitchen, pick up my raw fish, which has been sitting in the warm kitchen this whole time, in all of its sauced glory, for a solid five minutes before it was returned to me, sitting at the counter. What kind of idiocy is that?

Even knowing that it is not the server's fault and that it is likely some management policy, I could not help but yell at him for how the restaurant was treating that poor fish. If there was a remote possibility of that original preparation tasting good, it was killed by the extra time sitting on the plate in the warm kitchen until the dish came back out and was presented to me at the counter, sitting six inches away from the chef who prepared it.

But even the rest of the fish that did not necessarily take a journey around the restaurant before being served were mostly mealy and awful, not to mention hideously overseasoned with things like spicy banana pepper mousse, something they call osetra caviar but tasted like oversalted paddlefish roe way past its prime, ceviche vinaigrette, cumin aioli, and sake sea urchin jus.

I had ordered the grand omakase and had to stop the bleeding two-thirds of the way into the meal. It was too painful. No ingredient or cook should be made to suffer like that. At least I could do something about it and walk out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shag or Die

This is the food version of that English game, "Shag or Die," meaning that you must pick one at the exclusion of the other (with my personal pick in parentheses, meaning that I have forego the other forever):

Sugar or Butter? (Butter)
Salt or Soy Sauce?  (Salt)
Eggs or Cheese?  (Eggs)
Fish or Steak?  (Fish)
Bread or Potato?  (Potato)
Rice or Pasta?  (Rice)
Fruit or Vegetables?  (Vegetables)
Coffee or Wine?  (Wine)
Red Wine or White Wine (White Wine:  Riesling, White Burgundy, Champagne, Sauternes...)
Beer or Soda?  (Soda)
Fried Chicken or Barbecue?  (Fried Chicken)
Hamburger or Pizza?  (Pizza)
Chinese or Mexican?  (Chinese)
Olive Oil or Vinegar (Vinegar)
Ice Cream or Bacon (Bacon)
Chocolate or Caramel (Caramel)
Nuts or Popcorn (Nuts)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Defense of the Amuse Bouche

One of my favorite parts of a fine dining experience is the amuse bouche, that little surprise gift from the kitchen to start the meal. In fact, I am quite greedy when it comes to these little preludes.

I first fell in love with Manresa after receiving not one but six mind-blowingly delicious little bites, and they are one of many reasons I keep going back six years later. The mezzethakia at KOMI is the stuff that dreams are made of, seven year after my first taste. I would sell my soul for an extra stomach just so I can keep tasting Johnny Monis' miniature creations.

Why are people coming down on amuses all of a sudden? Gordon Ramsay, on the BBC's Best Restaurants program, critized a French restaurant for giving guests more than one amuse. I could not disagree more. One of my pet peeves is being late for a restaurant reservation, but I had one of the most incredible amuse experiences at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas when my guest was late in meeting me for dinner. While I was sitting alone at the table waiting, the kitchen kept sending me a series of little snacks, including a beautiful briny oyster enrobed in creme fraiche gelee, a tiny little triple decker foie gras sandwich, a miniature burger the size of a macaroon, etc. I would never do that again on purpose-- well maybe-- but I almost wished that my guest took longer to arrive.

Note: My love of multiple amuses does not extend to a platter containing multiple amuses at once. Not to look a gift dish in the mouth, but amuses are generally not at their best when presented buffet style. Their beauty is in the fleeting tease of the palate, not working my way around a plate.