Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Michelin 2015 San Francisco Bay Area

***
Benu (new)
French Laundry
Meadowood
Saison (new)

**
Acquerello (new)
Atelier Crenn (seriously?)
Baume (seriously?)
Coi
Manresa
Quince

*
Allspice
Ame
Auberge du Soleil
Aziza
Bouchon
Boulevard (seriously?)
Campton Place
Chez TJ
Commis
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Gary Danko
Keiko a Nob Hill
Kusakabe (new)
La Folie
La Toque
Luce
Madera
Madrona Manor
Maruya (new)
Michael Mina
Plumed Horse
Solbar
Sons & Daughters
SPQR
Spruce
State Bird Provisions
Terra
Terrapin Creek
Village Pub
Wakuriya

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Michelin 2015 NYC

***
Brooklyn Fare
Le Bernardin
Eleven Madison Park
Jean-Georges
Masa
Per Se

**
Aquavit (new)
Atera (seriously?)
Blanca (new)
Daniel
Ichimura (new)
Jungsik
Marea
Momofuku Ko
Soto

*
15 East
Ai Fiori
Aldea
Andanada (new)
Aureole
Babbo
Batard (new)
Betony (new)
Blue Hill
Bouley
The Breslin
Brushstroke
Cafe Boulud
Cafe China
Carbone
Casa Enrique (new)
Casa Mono
Caviar Russe
Danny Bar Wine Bar & Kitchen
Delaware and Hudson (new)
Del Posto
Dovetail
Gotham Bar & Grill
Gramercy Tavern
Hakkasan
Jewel Bako
Juni (new)
Junoon
Kajitsu
Kyo Ya
La Vara (new)
Lincoln
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)
Public
River Cafe
Rosanjin
Seasonal
Spotted Pig
Sushi Azabu
Sushi of Gari
Take Root (new)
Telepan
Tori Shin
Torrisi Italian Specialties
Tulsi
Wallse
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
*Closed

Geno's Steaks
Pat's King of Steaks
Morimoto
Vetri

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)
bottarga/roe
sea urchin
abalone
ankimo
razor clam
oyster
spot prawn
pork belly
lardo
sardine/boquerones/anchovy/mackerel
farro
brodo/consomme
salted
raw
charred
crispy skin (chicken/duck/pork)
fatty
bone-in
whole

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.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Worst of 2010 (and Beyond)

1. Butternut squash soup

Make it stop. I can't take another spoonful, even if it is well prepared and not the typical gloppy sort.

2. Liquid nitrogen

Seriously what is wrong with using the freezer. Because that crumbling plasterboard texture is so appetizing?

3. Truffle oil

Reminds me of drugstore knockoff of expensive perfume. I would rather ingest the perfume than the oil.

4. Vanilla in anything savory

I don't care if you are Guy Savoy. Please keep it away from my seafood.

5. Chocolate in everything sweet

Have some creativity (and I don't mean the tired use of bacon, which I otherwise still love).

6. Servers who crouch down and/or touch me

I don't know who decided this increases tips, but this is just plain weird.

7. Wine lists limited to domestic wines

I like local almost as much as any politically correct diner, but I like things that taste good more. I have one word for this kind of wine list: corkage.

8. Wine lists limited to bottles over $100

Corkage.

9. Wine lists that offer only Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon, and Krug NV for sparkling wine options

I must be in Vegas.

10. Mixology

I have yet to taste anything to rival the classic martini, and I would rather get full on food, not cocktails.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Places I've Eaten in Seoul

Places I would go back to eat
*Closed

Crystal Jade Palace
Hong Yuan
Gimbap & Ramyun
Jihwaja
Korea House
Mezzaluna
Mikado
Myeong Dong Kalguksu
Nolita Garden
Palsun
Paris Grill
The Restaurant
Sakanaya
Sariwon
Soho
The Spice
Timber House
Xian
Wong Jokbal Bo Saam (cash only)
Won Kang (cash only)
Yamamoto

Chicago Michelin 2011

***
Alinea
L20

**
Avenues
Charlie Trotter's
Ria

*
Blackbird
Boka
Bonsoirée
Crofton on Wells
Everest
graham elliot
Longman & Eagle
NAHA
NoMI
Schwa
Seasons
Sepia
Sixteen
Spiaggia
Takashi
Topolobampo
Tru
Vie

Bib Gourmand
Ann Sather
Belly Shack
Bistro 110
The Bristol
Browntrout
Ceres’ Table
Cumin
deca
De Cero
DeCOLORES
Frances’ Deli
Frontera Grill
Gilt Bar
Girl & The Goat
Green Zebra
Han 202
Hopleaf
Jaipur
Kith & Kin
La Creperie
La Petite Folie
Los Nopales
Lula Café
mado
Mexique
M. Henry
Mixteco Grill
Nana
Nightwood
Opart Thai House
Otom
Paramount Room
Perennial
The Publican
The Purple Pig
Raj Darbar
Riccardo Trattoria
Smak-Tak
Smoque BBQ
Spacca Napoli
Taste of Peru
Thai Village
Twin Anchors
Urban Belly
Veerasway
West Town Tavern

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New York Michelin 2011

***
Daniel
Jean Georges
Le Bernardin
Masa
Per Se

**
Alto
Chef Table at Brooklyn Fare (new)
Corton
Gilt
Gordon Ramsay at The London
Kajitsu (new)
Marea (new)
Momofuku Ko
Picholine
Soto (new)

*
Adour
Aldea (new)
Annisa
Anthos (closed)
Aureole
A Voce Columbus
A Voce Madison (new)
Blue Hill
Bouley
Breslin (new)
Café Boulud
Casa Mono
Convivio
Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen (new)
Del Posto
Dovetail (new)
Dressler
Eleven Madison Park
Gotham Bar and Grill
Gramercy Tavern
Jewel Bako
Kyo Ya
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Laut (new)
Marc Forgione
Minetta Tavern
The Modern
Oceana
Peter Luger
Public
River Café
Rouge Tomate
Saul
Seäsonal
Shalezeh
SHO Shaun Hergatt
Spotted Pig
Sushi Azabu
Sushi of Gari
Veritas (closed)
Wallsé
wd50

San Francisco Bay Area Michelin 2011

***
The French Laundry
The Restaurant at Meadowood (new)

**
Coi
Cyrus
Manresa

*
Acquerello
Alexander’s Steakhouse (new)
Ame
Applewood (new)
Auberge de Soleil
Aziza
Baumé (new)
Bouchon
Boulevard
Campton Place (new)
Chez TJ
Commis
Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton
Dio Deka (new)
Etoile
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Fleur de Lys
Frances (new)
Gary Danko
La Folie
La Toque
Luce
Madera (new)
Madrona Manor
Masa’s
Mirepoix (new)
Murray Circle
One Market
Plumed Horse
Quince
Redd
Saison (new)
Santé
Solbar
Spruce (new)
Terra
Ubuntu
The Village Pub
Wakuriya (new)

Bib Gourmand
A16
BarBersQ
Bay Wolf
Bellanico
Betelnut
Bistro Aix (new)
Bistro Jeanty (new)
Bistro 29 (new)
Bottega (new)
Brown Sugar Kitchen
Burma Superstar
Café des Amis (new)
Cafe Gibraltar
Camino
C Casa (new)
Chapeau (new)
Chevalier
Chu (new)
Coa (new)
Colibrí
Cook St. Helena
Corso
Crouching Tiger
Cucina Paradiso
Delarosa (new)
Delfina
Domo (new)
Dosa
eVe (new)
FIVE
flour + water
Gather (new)
Girl and the Fig
Hachi Ju Hachi (new)
Henry’s Hunan
Hibiscus (new)
Hong Kong Flower Lounge
Incanto
Insalata’s
Kabab & Curry’s (new)
The Kitchen
K & L Bistro
Kokkari Estiatorio
La Costanera (new)
Laurus (new)
Le Charm
Mamacita
Marinitas
Market
Monti’s Rotisserie
Nopa
Oenotri (new)
Perbacco
Picán
Risibisi
Rivoli (new)
Sakae
Santi (new)
Sauce
Slanted Door
Slow Club
Sociale
Sons & Daughters (new)
SPQR (new)
Starbelly (new)
Sumika (new)
Sushi Ran
Tavern at Lark Creek
Thai House (new)
Troya (new)
Vanessa’s Bistro
Willi’s Wine Bar
Wood Tavern (new)
Yank Sing

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hungry in Plano

Jasper's Plano
7161 Bishop Road
Plano, TX 75024
(469)229-9111
Executive Chef Kent Rathbun
Chef Annika Sacher
Lunch and Dinner daily

Jasper's on Urbanspoon

Overcooked ribs with a bizarre soggy flour coating on top. Ketchup-y BBQ sauce.

Dessicated, overcooked home fries coated with flavorless sour cream and bacos-like bacon bits, decimating any hope of a crispy exterior, served as the "baked potato salad" accompaniment to the ribs. Would have been more accurate to call it "baked potato jerky."

Gave up on the plate and tried for a side of macaroni and cheese. Limp, overcooked mini-farfalle such that pasta pieces and boiled ham slices both had the same texture; flavor overall was not bad, but the aged gouda had a very gamey aftertaste-- a bit too aggressive for a comfort food offering like mac and cheese and yet not interesting enough to be a riff on the classic. Nicely seasoned, however.

Yawn-inducing wine list. After finally locating a half bottle that was not horribly overpriced, a 2005 Crianza, the bottle was warm to the touch when the server finally fished it out "from the cellar." Cooked flavor confirmed that the wine had not been properly stored.

Must not be unusual for diners to leave most of the food and more than half of the wine unfinished. Server noticed nothing and cheerily announced, "Hope to see you again soon!"

First impression of Kent Rathbun not so great. Also confirmed that I don't really trust the opinion of Bon Appetit (see menu).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Form Over Function

Benu
22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415)685-4860
Chef Corey Lee
Dinner Tuesday through Saturday

Tried: August 2010

Benu on Urbanspoon

Baume
201 South California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650)328-8899
Chef Bruno Chemel
Lunch Friday only
Dinner Wednesday through Sunday

Tried: September 2010

Baume on Urbanspoon


I went to Benu with unbelievably high expectations and to Baume with relatively low expectations, and left with basically the same impression from both-- that each restaurant suffers from too much focus on appearance instead of content. Somewhere underneath the sculted exterior (in the case of Benu) and the unnecessary theatrics (in the case of Baume), the potential for great food is struggling to escape from each chef's blinding vision of what he wants the restaurant to be.

The plating and presentation of every single dish at Benu, from the starting amuse to the concluding petit fours, were flawless. They were easily the most beautiful plates I have ever seen in any restaurant, including French Laundry, and they could all be featured as museusm pieces if anyone were to curate a collection on fine dining. Sadly, the taste did not live up to the beauty and majesty of their appearance. Monkfish liver, one of my all time favorite ingredients, tasted fishy in the context of contorting it to look and act like foie gras torchon-- it was literally fish out of water. In a similar fashion, the components of most of the tasting menu were underseasoned or mismatched, not helped by wine pairings that were overpowering, had too high alcohol levels, or had lost aromatics likely from having the bottles open for too long. The "shark fin" soup, composed of black truffle custard, Jinhua ham, and dungeness crab, and the beef rib cap, served with mitsuba greens with a hint of Korean sesame-soy flavoring, were the only dishes among the lineup that contained a sparkle of vitality and animation, something that made you want to exclaim "mmmm" with a satisfied exhale.

In contrast, the food at Baume, if you could separate it from all of the distractions of the bubbles, foam, smoke, and sodium alginate, was almost delicious. For example, the abalone with matsutake mushrooms would have been pure poetry if not for the off-putting smoke and paint-chip texture of the shiso sorbet, since both the abalone and the matsutake mushrooms were perfectly prepared. Had the chef made a real sorbet, the dish would have been a winner.

Since I had the menu decouverte, I only observed but did not personally experience the sillyness of knocking over the vegetable terrine as the servers were instructing the diners to do with the dish in order to see its stacked presentation (begging the question of why it was not plated that way in the kitchen in the first place). The only thing I discovered from the menu decouverte is why most of these techniques have been discarded by restaurants years ago; I felt like I needed to get an antidote to liquid nitrogen after the meal. Ferran Adria must be turning over in his bed at Harvard. Baume is about as avant-garde as Madonna in ripped lace and plastic jewelry. Almost every dish was foaming, fizzing, bubbling, smoking, or encased in rubbery bubbles of sodium alginate. The most frustrating part is that there might actually be tasty food underneath the smoke and mirrors.

While both of these restaurants show glimmers of promise, I have neither the level of patience nor the credit card limit to be able to indulge in further investigation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Declining Returns

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC 20004
(202) 626-0015
Chef Arthur Cavaliere
Lunch weekdays
Dinner nightly

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

Last tried: August 2010

This was the second time in a month that a previously impressive place has sadly declined since my last visit. I also noticed for the first time how dated the restaurant appeared, reminiscent of a formerly attractive older woman stuck in the hairstyle, makeup, and outfit that were fashionable once upon a time. I toyed with the idea of ordering some of the more traditional French dishes such as frisee salad with lardons and egg or moules mariniere-- until I saw the digital photos of those dishes in a slide show playing on the large flat screen television next to the bar area, displaying overwrought, vertical incarnations of those French classics, all of which would have been perfectly at home in a Wolfgang Puck establishment during the Dynasty/Dallas era.

I still loved the layers of crispy potato tuiles in the Central burger, still cooked perfectly medium rare with the melting cheese and rendered bacon strips enhancing the flavor of the overall burger, but the bun was cold, leaving me to question its freshness. Although it did not taste stale, it had definitely seen better days. The accompanying salad, although properly dressed with a well-seasoned vinaigrette, was composed of unintentionally wilted greens, including overcooked green beans that seemed out of place, as though the kitchen wanted to use up leftovers from an unsuccessful nicoise salad offering.

Recalling a past interview of Michel Richard in which he fondly described his first memory of the crunchy texture of Kentucky Fried Chicken and how he fell in love with the possibilities of American cuisine, I ordered the fried chicken with mashed potatoes. For $21, I got two pieces of chicken, one boneless/skinless breast cutlet and a frenched thigh, on a gummy bed of mashed potatoes that had an odd microwaved flavor that mirrored its texture. The fried chicken pieces were definitely crispy, given that the kitchen cheated and used panko bread crumbs, but that is chicken katsu, not fried chicken. Even worse, both pieces were flavorless and dry inside the thick, although undeniably crunchy, crust of fried panko batter. I did, however, love the horseradish aioli accompanying the dish, which had more flavor and punch than anything else I had ordered. I did not need a full gravy boat of the aioli, but I certainly appreciated the generosity, especially since it was also quite good on the burger to counter some of the gaminess of the beef (not dry aged gaminess but older meat gaminess).

Consistent with the over-the-top theme, my favorite dessert, the "Kit Kat," a hazelnut-crusted chocolate wafer topped with chocolate ganache, came on a plate of hazelnut creme anglaise and accompanied by a scoop of hazelnut ice cream. Each of these components were beautiful. Stick them together the way they were presented, and they get lost in an overindulgent sugary mess. In addition, the coffee was nice and watery like old tea, which I could fully appreciate because the coffee was served ten minutes before dessert, notwithstanding my request that they be served together.

At least the wine list still had a number of interesting selections, dispersed among yawn-inducing choices like the Veuve Cliquot yellow label offered at $100/bottle, Grgich Hills Chardonnay at$82/bottle, and an unidentified Pauillac at $65/bottle (albeit it was at least the 2005 vintage). So the impressive wine towers decorating the dining room are not completely wasted.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kitchen Confidential Redux

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

UPDATE:
Medium Raw is No. 2 on the New York Times Bestsellers List for hardcover fiction.

PREVIOUS POST:
I have never tasted Anthony Bourdain's cooking or tried his former restaurant, Les Halles in New York. So when I say I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain, I am referring to the author, not the chef. I have read A Cook's Tour and Nasty Bits in addition to Kitchen Confidential, and I scarfed up every word of Medium Raw within 48 hours of getting my copy.

I did not read any book reviews, interviews, or blog posts before experiencing the book for myself. The only preview I had was to a small slice of his grueling book tour schedule and only from the outside. A friend had generously treated me to a ticket for a book-signing dinner event at Left Bank Restaurant in Larkspur, California. For $125/person, we stood in a line around the block while each person received an autographed copy of Medium Raw (attendees had the option of getting the autograph personalized by providing the spelling of names to one of the ushers who would write them out in large block letters with a thick black Sharpie on post-it notes to be placed inside the book cover or in some instances, on foreheads or chests), got the opportunity to snap photos with a dazed-looking Bourdain, who was wearing that unmistakable please-get-me-out-of-here look on his face which none of the hundreds of his fans seemed to recognize despite its frequent appearance on television, and then got squeezed into communal tables for a surprisingly decent banquet dinner, featuring well-executed house-made charcuterie, flavorful fish soup (despite being a bit thin and lukewarm), followed by an impressive boudin blanc and pork tenderloin, accompanied by generous pours of surprisingly decent Chardonnays and Pinots from Trione Winery in Sonoma.

Even though I knew that the event would be a zoo, I was still excited, like everyone else, to get a glimpse of the man in person. I wish I could say that Bourdain did not seem like a caged animal, signing book after book and then getting up to recite a stand-up comedy routine while acting like it was his first time making witty observations about Rachael Ray and the Food Network and answering the same questions he must get in every single lunch, dinner, and other event he has to endure during his book tour. Throughout the evening, Chef Roland Passot (whom I would bet money has never spent that much time in one shot at any of his Left Bank franchises) was yelling into a microphone in the dining room like Ozzy Osbourne. As the cherry clafoutis desserts were being dropped by the harried servers and after Bourdain delivered a few more stock lines about Tyler Florence's influence on Applebee's and Guy Fieri's wardrobe choices, his assistants escorted him out through a side door to a waiting towncar. He was still unable to avoid being stalked by a couple of giggling, drunk girls in short skirts teetering on heels. He is, after all, not a bad-looking guy and famous to boot, even if he is not the bad-boy chef he used to be.

In sum, the entire experience was akin to seeing the movie rendition of a book you love and being invariably disappointed. Sadly, my sneaking suspicion that I might be disappointed was confirmed after I had digested all 281 pages of Medium Raw, and sad was the dominant emotion I felt thinking about what I read. I miss that foul-mouthed young chef with his devil-may-care attitude, and after reading Medium Raw, I suspect Bourdain does too. His wistfulness is palpable from the pages of every disjointed story, composed in a style that tries too hard to be effortless and flip but is instead oddly reminiscent of the ringmold/squeeze bottle presentations that Bourdain ridiculed in Kitchen Confidential. His observations and commentary, so fresh and enlightening ten years ago now seem somewhat contrived and calculated. The unabashed curse words that so effectively seasoned his prose in his earlier books sounded more like something written by an amateur writer trying to emulate Bourdain.

My impressions of Bourdain as a supremely talented writer, with great expertise in his chosen subject matter (at least at one point in his life Bourdain actually was a chef, unlike his BFF Michael Ruhlman who still makes me itchy every time he talks about being a chef) and an almost unending capacity to entertain, have not changed. But even while reading his still-entertaining prose, I could not help but feel, notwithstanding his oft-repeated proclamation that he is no longer cool (do the words "doth protest too much" ring a bell), like I was watching an aged rock star desperately clinging to the stage. Despite his resolute endeavors to be honest with and about himself and his unrelenting and genuine dedication to no-BS, Bourdain still seems to be in denial about the fact that he is a writer, not a chef. I may be wrong, but I am guessing that restaurants and chefs around the world who burden him with tasting menus and extra courses are doing so because he is a food and travel writer, not because he is a fellow chef. Deep down, he knows this, and even though things are much better now and he would not want that life back, he misses that crazy young chef. Me, I miss the crazy young writer.

Bourdain's ever-colorful description of his last experience at Per Se during the few weeks before Jonathan Benno left reads like a self-portrait-- dissatisfied, disappointed, and guilt-ridden for feeling that way. Perhaps, once he comes to terms with his success and his new life, I might like the next book as much as I liked his earlier creations.