Giro Giro Hitoshina, Kyoto

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I would love to give you a full and detailed review of my meal at Giro Giro Hitoshina in Kyoto. Sadly a number of days have passed, and there was no written version of the menu we tasted. Our friendly and knowledgeable waiter came by throughout the course of the meal and gave us descriptions of each course, but unfortunately my memory is rather poor. I will, however, provide what I remember to the best of my abilities!

I believe this is sticky rice in broth (filled with something?) topped with a cherry leaf and rice puffs. While I don’t remember the exact components, I do remember that this started our meal on a high note.

Next was an assortment of appetizers. In the back: a small, pickled squid (strange and exceedingly acidic). There was also octopus, a slice of tamagoyaki, tofu, and a couple of other small components which I can no longer identify.

Next: sashimi!

Stewed pork belly (kakuni) in a rich, green (I think cabbage or pea) broth. I remember this dish well because it was probably my favorite (who can resist soft, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly?).

I believe this was a deep fried spring roll with three different sauces (two green, one red). The flavors were rich and well composed but one of the sauces was a little slimy.

Tempura with some type of jelly. I don’t remember exactly what the fish were (pretty sure they weren’t shishamo) but, following my adventures cooking wakasagi, I had a difficult time eating these. My dining companion, however, loved them.

Finally a trio of desserts (also my ochoko for sake). On the left: some type of stiff, jelly-like square with (I think!) a banana chip. In the middle: sweet lemon with some type of sauce (this was really good). On the right: matcha tiramisu (this was probably my favorite of the three).

While Giro Giro, like Kikunoi, can be classified as kaiseki, it’s a type of non-traditional, fusion kaiseki. And it’s wonderful. For innovative kaiseki on a budget, at around 3,600 yen, this is the place to go.


Kikunoi, Kyoto

June 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you have the opportunity (and the money) to have a real kaiseki meal in Kyoto, go to Kikunoi and you will have done well. The service, the decor, the food—it’s a given, everything here is impeccable. My dining companion and I had a private tatami room with a window facing a small waterfall, a gracious and informative attendant, and well, here‘s an explanation of what ryotei is. When you make the reservation for your meal, you will be asked to choose a price point (15,750 to 26,250 yen). The quality of ingredients will reflect the price you choose. We chose the second most expensive at 21,000 yen. Here follows an (almost) complete list of our impressive meal.

Tai (red sea bream) milt, sea cucumber roe, ponzu, lemon juice, spring orchid blossom. This creamy starter was probably my favorite dish that evening.

Our beautiful and impressive assortment of appetizers: tai (red sea bream) sushi with kinome (prickly ash leaf bud), grilled squid with nori seaweed and egg yolk; fava beans; salt-pickled “firefly” squid; mountain yam “butterfly”; poached egg-bearing octopus; yurine (lily bulb) petal with salmon roe; udo stalk petals; skewer of prawn, avocado, and tai lever pate.

Sashimi of tai, sashimi of giant prawn, ponzu jelly, wasabi, suizenji seaweed jelly, curled udo stalk and carrot, shiso leaf, mixed sprouts.

Sashimi of young maguro (bluefin tuna), mustard, soy-marinated egg yolk sauce.

Steamed Wakasa tilefish, sticky rice, bamboo shoot, cherry leaf, warabi fern heads, toasted rice crackers, ginger juice.

Ocean trout low-temperature poached, crisped trout skin, grated radish with kinome and Seville orange juice.

Grilled bamboo shoot (harvested that morning), kinome miso sauce, mustard-vinegar soy sauce.

Salad of octopus, udo stalk, fuki, urui (wild onion), kinome herb vinegar jelly. This was my least favorite dish—it was too acidic.

Strawberry-wasabi sorbet.

Hotpot of abalone, bamboo shoot, wakame seaweed, rapini, kinome herb.

Bamboo shoot rice, tai, sesame paste, kinome herb, wasabi, sesame seeds, toasted rice crackers, green tea broth; pickled chopped eggplant, salt-pickled rapini, pickled daikon radish.

Pistachio ice cream, mango soup, chopped pistachio. Even my non-sweet-inclined dining companion was blown away by this dessert.

And finally warabi mochi and matcha to finish.

Oriental Lounge, Nihonbashi, Tokyo

May 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Having afternoon tea at the Oriental Lounge was a welcome oasis of relaxation for me during an activity-packed vacation. The service is attentive and respectful, and it doesn’t hurt that the lounge is located on the 38th floor of a building in the middle of Nihonbashi. Even raining and grey (the beginnings of a storm that ended up leaving me stranded in Yokohama), the view is beautiful.

Tea starts with the savory: foie gras parfait and lychee puree with Vin Santo jelly, open-faced sandwich of salmon and avocado omelet, taraba crab and green pea mousse petit tart, pork pastrami and mango cream sandwich. This is a strong quartet, although admittedly on the sweet side.

Next up is a triplet of scones (original, chocolate chip, and cranberry) accompanied by butter and two house jams (cherry and tangerine, if I recall correctly). The scones aren’t the best you’ll ever have, but they are good.

This is followed by what I assume was a palate cleanser. Wasabi jelly and pink grapefruit. I dislike wasabi so I was relieved that I couldn’t taste it in this. All in all, a somewhat strange idea with unmemorable execution.

Finally, the petits fours! (And may I say they were the highlight of my meal.) Here’s a breakdown from the top, left to right: strawberry truffle, strawberry mousse, orange flavored egg tart, red currant and meringue petit tarte, tiramisu, sakura cream and raspberry muffin, basil flavored cheese sable.

The truffle was a little on the sweet side for my tastes, but the strawberry mousse had just the right amount of sweetness, tasting intensely of strawberries, a little tart, with an almost buttery texture. The petit tarte is similarly well balanced and the egg tart is perfect, the dense pastry crust providing contrast to the fluffiness of the filling. The tiramisu is equal parts sweet and creamy with a bitter dusting of dark cocoa on top. The sakura cream and raspberry muffin is almost marshmallowy in flavor with the tartness of the raspberry balancing out the butteriness of the cake and cream. At the end the cheese biscuit adds an unexpected, but welcome, savory bite.

The afternoon tea is 4,200 yen with unlimited access to freshly infused tea and coffee beverages. You can also opt for the ‘luxury afternoon tea’  for 6,000 yen, which comes with champagne. Having recently experienced afternoon tea at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, this was a welcome change of scenery and taste.

Nagi Ramen, Shibuya, Tokyo

May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had hoped to sample every bowl of ramen in Tokyo. But time was short and the weather had turned against me. This brings me to Nagi Ramen, the one place on my list I ended up making it to. And if you only make it to one ramen shop in Tokyo, you won’t regret this one. Nagi has several locations throughout Tokyo, each shop specializing in a different soup.

Obviously I chose the Shibuya location, which specializes in pork (pork!). When you walk in you need to buy a ticket from the vending machine (if you don’t read Japanese you might have some trouble deciphering it). I chose, of course, the pork ramen (豚王). After you have your ticket you will be seated and presented with a questionnaire. This is where you can customize your bowl (I’m not sure if they have an English version, but one of the employees might be able to help). On the form you can choose the amount of oil, garlic, thickness, and heaviness of the broth, how hard you want the noodles, in addition to a number of other details. I know what I like, so I opted for a dark, thick, garlicky broth with katame (al dente) noodles.

The place is cramped and warm, but honestly who cares? This is my perfect bowl. Perfect! The broth is creamy, porky, thick, completely delightful. The meat is tender and fatty and the noodles are firm. If, like me, your ramen preferences lean towards cloudy bowls of porky heaven, Nagi is not to be missed.

NYC Eats Round-Up

February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Crif Dogs on St. Marks (Photo: flickr4jazz)

First, Crif Dogs. I managed to hit up both the new location in Williamsburg and the old standby on St. Marks. Got Chihuahua dogs (bacon wrapped dog covered with avocadoes and sour cream) at both places. My usual, although sometimes I’ll go for the Jon-Jon Deragon (crif dog with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions & everything bagel seeds). Williamsburg location seems up to snuff but I had to wait for almost 40 minutes for my dog at the EV location (pretty unacceptable).

Chihuahua Dog (Photo: star5112)

I also managed to get to the new Meatball Shop location in Williamsburg. I wasn’t too hungry so I had a couple of sliders.

Chicken slider with tomato sauce and veggie slider with pesto (Photo: gsz)

I had the spicy pork ball with tomato sauce and the special, which was a Bolognese ball, with spicy meat sauce. I thought it was good, but not as spectacular as I expected based on how everyone raves about them. I have been informed that I may have orderly badly so I’ll have to give it another go.

Minetta Tavern (Photo: wallyg)

Another first for me was Minetta Tavern where I, of course, had to sample their Black Label Burger (which is selection of prime dry-aged beef cuts with caramelized onions and pommes frites). This is a seriously hyped burger and, amazingly, it does not disappoint (although it’s pricey). The meat is juicy and packed with beefy-flavor. The Mouclade (bouchot mussels, white wine, saffron, curry, crème fraîche) which my dining partner ordered, while perhaps less famous, was also enjoyable.

Bon Chon Chicken (Photo: Leica at Le fang, le kwatsa)

Somehow Bon Chon has become my last night in NY tradition. This time we went to the 5th ave location and got the usual mix, one spicy and one soy. There is something incredibly satiating about Bon Chon chicken, simultaneously sweet and crunchy. In a word, perfect. A satisfying end to a satisfying week.

Per Se, New York, NY

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Per Se (Photo: niallkennedy)

Per Se! Finally! I can cross #1 off my list of RESTAURANTS I WILL EAT AT OR CRY. Unfortunately it was too dark for photos (there are some very lovely photos of a different tasting menu here). In any case, I was far too stupendously busy enjoying my selfish self. We had the chef’s tasting menu with a partial wine pairing and it was, as I suspected, a perfectly spectacular meal. I wouldn’t say that it was surprising, but it was done right, in every imaginable sense.

Salmon Tartare Coronets (Photo: roboppy)

The Salmon Tartare Coronets were one of two amuse-bouche.

Oysters and Pearls (Photo: roboppy)

Followed by the first course on our menu, the Oysters and Pearls (“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar).
This is the rest of our menu. For dessert my brother got the Champagne Apples while I opted for the Salted Chocolate Peanuts. They were both immaculate, but we both preferred the ones we ordered.

Coffee and Doughnuts (Photo: roboppy)

The ‘coffee’ component of the ‘Coffee and Doughnuts’ dessert (cinnamon sugar doughnuts with a cappuccino semifreddo topped with foam). I was already about to split at this point, but I still came close to eating the whole thing.

One thing I have to say is that I would have enjoyed the meal a lot more if I didn’t feel like I was going to die at the end. Half-tasting menu please?

Roberta’s, Brooklyn, NY

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Roberta's (Photo: Adam Kuban)

Roberta’s, about a ten minute walk from my apartment, was always my go-to neighborhood spot when I lived in Brooklyn. It’s really one of the only decent places you can go without taking the subway plus it has the added bonus of being close to the Narrows (the only place in the neighborhood that serves up a serious cocktail). No doubt you’ve heard a thousand wonderful things about Roberta’s from the NY Times, GQ, and any food critic that matters.

The thing is, I love Roberta’s. But I don’t agree with the critics. I will defend Roberta’s as having one of the city’s best brunches. Their pancakes are irreproachable, the pork jowl with poached egg and polenta is more than noteworthy, and the fried chicken is my favorite in NYC.

Pork Jowl, Poached Egg, Polenta (Photo: star5112)

I will even defend their pizza. This wasn’t true for a long time. Their pizza has always been decent but expensive and not nearly on the level of places like Motorino. The last time I ate there, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I had the Beastmaster and was shocked to find Roberta’s pizza, suddenly on par with pretty much anywhere in NY. On my return this winter I shared the Duck Hunt (pawlet, duck prosciutto, sweet potato, leek, onion, chili flake, black pepper) with a couple of friends. While I still prefer Motorino, there is no denying this is an impeccable pizza.

Beastmaster (Photo: roboppy)

But at that time, and to this day, I will not defend their other dinner options. Let me rephrase. Their dinner options are not bad, per se. But they are small and overpriced, especially taking into account that they are hardly perfect. Let me start with my minute serving of Foie Gras (almond, black pepper, apple) for $17. I admit, the waiter warned me it was small. In general, I have no issue with this kind of portioning, especially for an ingredient like foie. And the foie was perfectly fine. But for $17 dollars (for what is really a small plate), I expect at least perfection. The dish was, unfortunately, ruined by the ‘apple’ component. Not only did it not make sense in the context of the dish but, even more reprehensibly, the apple was mealy. In my book, mealy apples are unforgivable and that bite of apple ruined my entire experience.

This brings me to the Octopus (black garlic, treviso, sea bream) and Bay Scallops (trout skin, meyer lemon), which my compatriots ordered, $16 and $17 respectively. These were well composed dishes but again, the portions were tiny. Where does Roberta’s get off serving food that, while relatively good in quality, is regularly overpriced? And I mean overpriced compared to any fine dining restaurant in the Manhattan with a similar creative aesthetic and quality.

Roberta’s gets away with it because of the novelty of being a good restaurant in an unlikely neighborhood, for being ‘hip’, and for being over-hyped by critics like Sam Sifton. People with money from Manhattan come and they think, wow I’m in some godforsaken area of Bushwick, it feels underground and undiscovered and unexpected and well, cool. This is despite the fact that these days the place is always crowded. I think people who are blown away by Roberta’s have merely lowered their standards, perhaps without consciously realizing it. Because it’s in Bushwick. Because the exterior looks abandoned.

Roberta’s has value to me for their brunch, for their pizza, as a place to hang out and have a drink, and as a neighborhood restaurant. But in the larger arena of fine dining, it simply isn’t a contender.

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