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.

Monday, May 03, 2010

James Beard Awards 2010 Results

Outstanding Chef: Tom Colicchio
Outstanding Restaurant: Daniel
Best New Restaurant: Marea
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Nicole Plue (Redd)
Outstanding Service: Alinea
Outstanding Wine Service: Bernard Sun, Restaurant Jean Georges
Best Chef Southwest: Claude Le Tohic (Joel Robuchon MGM Grand Las Vegas)
Best Chef Southeast: Sean Brock (McCrady’s)
Best Chef South: Michael Schwartz (Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink)
Best Chef Pacific: David Kinch (Manresa)
Best Chef Northwest: Jason Wilson (Crush)
Best Chef Northeast: Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier (Arrows)
Best Chef New York City: Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park)
Best Chef Midwest: Alexander Roberts (Restaurant Alma)
Best Chef Mid-Atlantic: Jeff Michaud (Osteria)
Best Chef Great Lakes: Koren Grieveson (Avec)
Rising Star Chef: Timothy Hollingsworth (French Laundry)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Marlowe and Me

Marlowe
330 Townsend Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415)974-5599
Chef Jennifer Puccio
Lunch weekdays
Dinner Monday through Saturday

Marlowe on Urbanspoon

Last tried: May 2010

Prawns with hot & boozy cocktail sauce. I almost never order shrimp because they are nearly always overcooked, but so glad I decided to overcome my prejudice for these beauties. Be careful-- that horseradish bloody mary sauce kicks back, but it is completely addictive. (So far the Poulet vert and upside down apple crisp have been the only letdowns, but mostly because they are mundane when compared with the other offerings.)

Tried: April 2010

I have not been this excited about any place since I first tried Canteen. Marlowe is my new favorite restaurant in San Francisco, the kind of place where you can go over and over without breaking the bank or getting bored.

The Marlowe burger is the first one in the Bay Area that can rival Father's Office in Los Angeles, Holeman & Finch in Atlanta, and the foie short rib burger at db Bistro Moderne in New York. The horseradish aioli served with the the tempura-like French fries may even place the Marlowe burger above these other masterpieces. For the first time, I truly appreciated why burger snobs go apoplectic when people put ketchup on burgers and fries.

The generous mound of steak tartare has the exact right texture and the perfect balance of mustard and spices, my only "criticism" being that I would have preferred the quail egg raw, not poached. The chilled asparagus soup in the "soup'n sandwich" appetizer tasted fresher and sweeter than I can ever remember asparagus being, and the ricotta and morel bruschetta (the "sandwich" part of the appetizer) managed to be both light and decadent at the same time, with the creamy ricotta playing off the lush morels and the char on the large toast point from the grill. The bone marrow comes split in half for easy access, with a tangle of herb salad to cut the richness, and a small dish of caper salsa verde. I would have been happy to make a meal with just the bread and salsa verde, with a glass of the well-matched Loire Valley Rose, with its unmistakable cabernet franc charred bell pepper scent.

I cannot wait to go back to this place, again and again. Hopefully I will have enough room in my stomach to try everything else on the menu eventually, but I have a feeling that the Marlowe burger will be a non-negotiable staple, like the fried chicken at Little Skillet or the margherita pizza at Pizzeria Picco.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Slow Start to 2010

As a result of both limited time and a limited budget, I find myself increasingly reluctant to try any new restaurants and instead splurging only to visit my favorite restaurants in the area. The few times I ventured away from the places I knew would provide a good ROI, my expectations were rapidly shot down, with unpleasant reminders in the form of credit card statements that still glow in the dark.

A prime rib craving sent me to House of Prime Rib. Anthony Bourdain, experienced eater and self-professed king of no BS, espoused the place, so how bad could it be?

The place felt like Cheesecake Factory for meat. Worse, I do not recall any of the staff at The Cheesecake Factory looking as beaten-up and demoralized as all of the servers and "chefs" (someone must have decided that having all of the carvers introduced as "chef" and come over to each table would create the impression of fine dining) at House of Prime Rib. Unlike Bourdain, I have no particular aversion to or snobbery against chains or fast food; cheap and generally reliable-- what's not to like?

The only memorable item was the Yorkshire pudding, which was warm and perfectly seasoned, with toasty-crackly top and edges and a souffle-like interior. The salad, with canned shredded beets and Russian dressing spun-in tableside, was quaintly retro, as was the sourdough roll with a small bread knife stuck through it. But the star of the meal, the House of Prime Rib cut of meat, although carved expertly from the requested medium-rare portion in the silver bullet cart, was chewy and flavorless. Hardly the buttery, sweet, melty meat I was craving.

The next less than successful adventure was RN74. First of all, I am way too old to deal with the posing that goes on at the bar at this place. Reminds me of Bix or Spago in the early 9o's. As expected, the wine list was lovely, filled with extensive Burgundy selections, but even that fell short on the older vintages as well as bottles priced under $200. (I enjoy wine porn as much as the next guy, but does anyone actually spend that much on wine when dining out? I have always wondered about that, even when the economy was not in the toilet.) As for the food, I thought small plates calculated to match with wine should have been better articulated, but the combinations were clunky, such as mushy chickpeas with too-large chunks of undercooked chorizo, and everything tasted like a salt lick. Perhaps the intent is to make people drink more, but all it accomplished was to make me drain my water glass repeatedly. Thankfully service was perfectly attentive without being overbearing.

I have had some better luck on the non-fine dining end. Naked Lunch, the sandwich outpost of the former chef of Cafe Majestic, Ian Begg, offers truly spectactular sandwiches, and not just because they always have the foie gras duck prosciutto sandwich on the menu (fortunately they have replaced the truffle oil with truffle salt). Any roasted fish sandwich they offer, and I do mean "any," should not be missed. Before Naked Lunch, my love was Kitchenette, particularly anything described as "Korean" on the menu. Surprisingly, fried chicken sandwiches are not among the best offerings at either place.

Which brings me to Little Skillet. I could eat the 8-piece chicken box with potato salad, cole slaw, and biscuits every day (with a bottle of rose). Cash only, but this decadent meal will only set you back $18 (before the wine, which they do not serve). This place is dangerous to my existence, although if I die of heart failure and/or excessive cholesterol, I will no longer have to deal with discovery fights or firm management . . . .

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...