Search Results for: iberico

The Great Noodle Tour: The World’s Best Tonkatsu at Butagumi

When we wanted to get tonkatsu, I imagined that we would enjoy it at Maisen.

I was so, so wrong.

We ended up at Butagumi…and I have been praising the culinary G-ds ever since.

20150423_050723 Butagumi is a small, quirky restaurant located in a residential neighborhood near the now-chic Roppongi Hills complex. It’s actually an old house that was converted to a restaurant. And it’s pork-a-licious.  20150423_050730 That entire menu is chock full of pork that you can get tonkatsu style – lightly fried in panko breadcrumbs. All that they serve is pork. Many, many breeds of pork. Imported Iberico and Mangalitsa pork. Specially fatty Japanese pork. Especially lean pork. Sirloin which is fattier and tenderloin which tastes more purely porky. It’s pork heaven.  20150423_052023 Pickles

Not my favorite start to the meal the way that I thought it would be. A little bitter and a little too funky, even for me.  20150423_053435 Minced pork tonkatsu
20150423_053606 Now THIS is an appetizer. The chicken nugget of my dreams. An impossibly, thick, shaggy crust concealing the juiciest, porkiest patty I have ever enjoyed. It’s so sweet and juicy that I could eat this with honey and be totally satisfied. However, if you dip it in some of the accompanying thick and sweet tonkatsu sauce, you won’t be disappointed. Amazingly delicious.  20150423_060618 Cabbage

The classic tonkatsu accompaniment. Douse it with the addictive tangy vinegar at your table to cleanse your palate and allow for maximum pork consumption. This, plus rice and miso soup, are all unlimited during the course of your meal. I defy you to eat more than one bowl.  20150423_060623 Pickles for tonkatsu

Unlike their predecessors, very good. 
20150423_060742 The pork…the pork! We got several different cuts and each was a gem.  20150423_060816 The golden boar pork was my favorite since it is so fatty and rich. The fat melts like the fat at the bottom of a pan of meatloaf. Just golden, buttery, rich. Not at all bouncy or weird tasting.  20150423_061006 The tenderloin is no slouch either and was cooked until it as just barely rosy so it was still juicy. 

The biggest shock here is the taste of the meat. It isn’t at all robust or barnyard-y. It’s gentle and elegant – sweet, even. It would be perfectly at home at an elegant dinner party. How can this be peasant food?! 20150423_061313 The miso soup is just he best I’ve ever had. Chock full of flavor and these tiny, adorable, sweet clams.

Butagumi is a MUST VISIT in Tokyo. It’s up there for my favorite meal of the trip. The service is delighful, the surroundings are unique, and the food is fabulous.

You could really make a pig of yourself here. 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Burgers

As Fraulein Maria might sing: “These are a few of my favorite burgers”:

DB Bistro Moderne Burger

The first thing I said when I tasted this was “I felt like I have never eaten beef before.” This was SO beefy, with its double hit of medium rare ground sirloin, rosy and robust in taste with the tender shortribs. The short ribs were not stringy or gamy, but cooked until the flavor was mellow and deep against the vibrant ground beef. The bun was soft and squishy, but did not deteriorate from the copious meaty juices. The taste of truffle was delicate but ever-present, savory and heady next to the sweet madeira in the short ribs. The piece de resistance was, of course, the sizable disc of foie gras, melting and rich. It swam in my mouth, almost dancing, the sweet, buttery component of the dish. I still don’t know how these ingredients all worked so well together – even describing it seems like overload – but the taste is one that I will never forget. One half was perfect – more than that and I would have gone into cardiac arrest. Happy cardiac arrest.

Louis Lunch

This is all about the beef. It’s as close as you will get to eating a steak on bread. Louis Lunch uses a custom blend of 5 different cuts of fresh meat, hand rolls the patties daily, then cooks them in those old-fashioned grills. The patty is coarse and lightly salted – it is really just the taste of meat. Buttery, iron-y, almost funky in its meaty heft. This is a power-filled burger that is all about the meat.  Ignore the soft white bread, the strong white onion, and the somewhat mealy tomato – these are just there for show. The cheese, velvety smooth in texture, is also delightfully melty and provides a wonderful counterpart to the bite of the burger.

Shake Shack

Come to mama. I am so sorry In-n-Out, but I am leaving you for Shake Shack. THIS is what a classic “fast food” burger should taste like. I mean, this is just insanely good. The potato bun is soft and stretchy; pleasantly saturated by meaty juices. The patty itself is thin but not flimsy, with enough heft to have a bit of pink inside, contrasting with the salty, charred exterior. The vegetables are crisp and vibrant, and the only thing I can say about the cheese is: what have I been missing all my life?! It is, of course, some unholy fatty and carb-laden cheese flavored sauce, and it is OUTRAGEOUSLY tasty – melty, tangy, all things cheese should be. The shack sauce is almost unnoticeable between the meat, the bread,and the cheese, but it adds a slightly sharp/sweet taste towards the end of the bite. The only way that I would change this is to add some of the excellent chopped cherry peppers found on the SmokeShack burger. They have a particularly piquant heat that would be welcome here. This went down way too fast…next time, I’m getting a double.


Lamb Burger at Greenhouse Tavern

This lamb was so strong, so amazingly lamb-y that it almost electrified me.It was juicy and cooked a perfect medium, with a funky cheese and acidic shallot topping that re-emphasized the strong lamb-y flavor. Served on a soft bun with a side of tangy spiced mayonnaise, this was the most incredible burger I have had in ages.

David Burke Burger

This burger is unreal.  It is humongous, yet it is ideally cooked. A thick, craggy crust surrounds a rosy interior. Well, two rosy interiors. Each stuffed with sharp, tangy cheddar cheese and sweetly caramalized onions. The patties are coarsely ground and so chock full of flavor that any ketchup or mayonnaise is merely gilding the lily. This burger is possibly the best I have eaten since Louis Lunch. It is really all about the meat – it eats like a steak. The patty is juicy but does not spill all over the plate – rather, it holds its moisture as you eat it. The toppings are delicious, but the meat is absolutely the star. The bun is standard, but holds up well. This burger feeds 2 easily, though if you eat it alone in 25 minutes, you get a free T-shirt. Antacid not included.

Jaleo Iberico Pork Burger

That’s right. The same Iberico pork I worship in slices. Here, it is coarsely ground and loosely packed into a juicy burger. Served on a brioche bun with sweet peppers and more of that creamy alioli, it is a very meaty and almost woodsy slider.

Dinner at Juni is a Journey

Juni is not for everyone.

Which is not normally how I start the review of a Michelin starred chef’s (Shaun Hergatt’s) restaurant.

But it isn’t. You have to like fish. You have to like strange textures. You have to like being out of your element, and you even have to like sometimes not liking the food.

You have to love the journey.

And then you will love Juni.

The restaurant is located in a hotel – it has a modern, low key decor that could be any mid-upscale restaurant in any city. It’s nothing special.

And then the food starts to come.

20140809_192911 Baguette with green olive tapenade and saffron aioli

The saffron aioli is fragrant and reminiscent of paella – it’s heady and rich, to much for some people but just perfect for me. The tapenade is a wholly different experience. There is no taste of olives at all – it is salty, but not briny or slightly bitter like olives sometimes are. The tapenade is incredibly garlicky, salty, and is almost like a very smooth pesto. The warm baguette absorbs the savory flavors and the emulsion just sinks into the crevices of the bread, making it a flavor bomb before the meal even officially starts.  20140809_193851 Goat cheese and carrot chip

Yep. The cheese is dense and a little tangy, and the chip is extremely brittle, almost melting into a sugary sweet, carrot-y taste. It’s fun and unexpected – I have rarely had anything so simple yet so well-balanced to start a long meal.

20140809_194244 Raw zucchini with tomatoes and cucumber gelee

This man loves vegetables and it shows. Here, a pristine zucchini, no longer than my forefinger, is hollowed and filled with earthy, ripe tomatoes confit and jiggly cubes of light, almost sweet cucumber gelee. It’s all about the pure taste of the vegetables, which are at their peaks this time of year. It couldn’t be more delightful.
20140809_194703 Beets

A gelatin bonbon that is for all the world like beet jello. Earthy, tangy, extremely beet-y. Loved it.  20140809_195036 Chicken skin

But it’s vegetarian, made with oats. Tastes JUST like chicken skin. The best part of fried chicken. I could chomp this like popcorn.  20140809_195233 Ham and cheese sandwich

With crispy Iberico  ham and very sharp cheese spread. Cheese Whiz this ain’t!

For the tasting, I got the tomato tasting menu. It’s served though September and all that I can say is: GET IT!

20140809_195837 Tomato carpaccio with freeze-dried goat cheese

Soft, lush segments of tomatoes with the richness of sundried tomatoes but none of the salty flavor or leathery texture. The flavors of the earth and the powder texture of the freeze dried goat cheese work well together.
20140809_201603 Tomato gazpacho with toybox tomaotes

Well balanced – none of the abrasive, acidic punch of lesser versions. Smooth and thick, with tons of super sweet toybox tomatoes and a verdant, basil laden panna cotta in the middle.  20140809_202914 Halibut with tomato concasse

The best piece of halibut I have had in I don’t know how long. The flavors are simple and straightforward – fresh fish, sweet tomatoes, and a little hit of something spicy, but not overly hot. It’s light, it’s fresh, and it’s classic technique at its finest – no molecular gastronomy here, no smoke and mirrors. Just perfectly butchered and cooked fish that is mild and flaky, in a light tomato sauce.  20140809_204646 Braised lamb belly and tomatoes with pommes puree

Dish of the night. Shaun Hergatt himself came around to every single table and chatted with us about the dish. He was charming, jovial, and told us that we like it because it’s so much like American bbq. He started playing around with braising lamb belly until it is soft and melting in his 20s, and now finally got to put it on his menu. Layering it with bright and sweet tomatoes really gives it a bbq-sauce type of taste, and the cloud of potatoes is buttery and light – ideal with the fatty, tender lamb. This is dynamite.  20140809_211107 Goat cheese and caramel ice cream with tomato marmalade and candied pecans

Sweet and creamy. Like dulce de leche with a slightly piquant taste from the goat milk. Crunchy candied nuts and jammy, wonderfully sweet tomato marmalade. This tomato menu really fit the bill.

The whole meal was fascinating – I didn’t even show you the foie gras and cherry bon bon, the squid ink and truffle bites, or the burrata ice cream. Not everything was the best I’ve ever had, but it was all so interesting. I would totally recommend that a major foodie come here, because you have to want to try new and different things. Hyssop, lamb’s tongue, and oyster leaves (yep, they TOTALLY taste like oysters) were also on the table. The format has several different price points and the kitchen is super flexible. The staff is lovely, the chef himself is always in the kitchen (now, THAT’S a rarity, these days), and the food…I mean, we had bbq lamb in a fancy restaurant.

It really was one hell of a ride. 

Fernandez and Wells – A Lunchtime Bummer

Before I get to the wonderful parts about London, let me cover the only ho-hum part:

Lunch at Fernandez and Wells.

I had heard so much about this mini Spanish chain. I wanted to love it. I even wanted to like it.

But, in this brand new branch, open only a day before we went, the service was so abysmal that I would avoid this entire enterprise like the plague.

I know, I know. They just opened, they are working out kinks. I know that. But in a chain this highly renowned, they should know to stock the bar before opening. They should know to employ people who can chill a beer glass before serving.

And two hungry people should be able to eat a sandwich in under 90 minutes.  20140509_145726 I mean, the space was so new that we could eat off the floor. Trust me, after sitting there for 70 minutes with warm beers (our third choice since the bar was so poorly stocked), we would have been thrilled to have found a crust of bread on the floor and eaten it. 20140509_152601 Cheese and meat platter

Good, if uninspired. The Iberico ham is sliced thickly so the meat has somehow, unlike the paper-thin slices to which I am accustomed. I like this thicker cut – it had a chew like a steak and the fat melted delicately on the tongue. The cheeses are sharp and salty, and the salami has a welcome, peppery bite.
20140509_152708 Little tartines on the toasted, olive oiled bread are the kind of teatime sandwich I can get into.
20140509_152856 Black pudding with egg mayonnaise on a baguette

Fatty and creamy and sinful and delicious. When the Brits say egg mayonnaise, they don’t mean hardboiled eggs with some mayo – they mean egg salad. And this egg salad is legit. It’s so creamy, with just a touch of piquant mustard and salt to bring out the rich flavor.
20140509_153038 The black pudding is crispy and light, with a slight minerality. It reminds me of scrapple, and echos the crunchy crust of the baguette. This is a sandwich that I could eat again and again.

If only I had that much time. Look, for the prices and the amount of food, the service was just horrible. Nice, but absentminded and SO SLOW. No glass of wine to apologize for the wait. No side salad with the sandwich. No nuthin! So, I shan’t be returning to this Denmark Street address. 20140509_155828 Just something I saw in a music store that’s too good to keep to myself.

Despana – a Lunchtime Trip to Spain

In the heart of Soho, amidst trendy shops and people who treat yoga studios like church, is Despana.

This shop is decidedly Spanish, meaning that it is devoted to all things ham, wine, and bread.

Not exactly yoga-riffic, but it’s so delightful that the neighborhood has kept it around.

The shelves are filled with imported olives, tomatoes, pickles, and even whole pheasants roasted with truffles.

The deli cases are loaded with every kind of pork product known to man, including the remarkably fatty, incredibly expensive, and totally sublime Iberico ham.


They also have lots of samples out,  and if you have even half a brain…you will try them.
Like this chorizo, which is peppery, robustly flavored with paprika, and soft without being greasy. I may have eaten more than my fair share of this.

These canned olives are so juicy and fruity that it’s hard to believe that they aren’t home cured.

These baby eels…may have been tasty. I don’t know because I wimped out and didn’t try them.

I know I should have but…they look kinda like snot strings, right?

The real treat to this shop is in the back, where you can order form a long menu of tasty sandwiches, hot food, and Spanish snacks.

Eat them at long communal tables, where the flatware is plastic, but the sherry vinegar is thick and syrupy and the olive oil is spicy and fragrant.

 Though the dishes in the display case change daily, here are some favorites:

Beans with Iberco ham and onions.

Absolutely fresh, tasting grassy and of the earth. The ham is salty and meaty, providing depth and punch. The onions are caramelized and sweet, and the dish cries out only for olive oil to echo the ham’s fattiness and bring out the lusher side of the rather spare beans. This gets better as you eat it.

That’s what she said.

Sauteed Summer Vegetables

So simple and so tasty. Peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, olive oil…how does this  taste so much like summer when the temperature outside is in the 20s? The only answer can be that they have an incredible source that makes the peppers taste sweet and the zucchini tender and juicy even through the depth of winter. There are no overt spices, no big zip of flavor. It is just a dish that comes together beautifully. Mop up the dish with some of the excellent, never ending supply of freshly baked bread that you receive with your order.

Blood sausage with tomatoes

Don’t let the name deter you. This is now one of my favorite sausage dishes in NYC. The sausage is tender and porky and tastes really rich and iron-y (thanks, blood!) It is soft but not mushy, rich but not greasy, and an ideal counterpart to the sweet and tart tomatoes cooked with it. If you like spaghetti with pork ragu, you will love this.

 And if you don’t like spaghetti with pork ragu…what do you do to feel joy?

Despana is a true find. The wine shop attached to the food store has a wonderful selection of Spanish wines and all the goods are fairly priced in both shops. The food is also delicious and well priced, and – best of all – it’s a vacation to Spain with the yoga studio across the street still in sight.

You go do some downward facing dog. As for me, I’ll take another slice of that chorizo, please

Despana Specialty Foods & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Jaleo, Las Vegas

Last year, eating at e was a highlight of my trip to Las Vegas, if not my year. As I waited to get seated, I noticed the restaurant around me – Jaleo was loud, thumping, and filled with energy and delicious smells. I saw plates of delicious looking food all over the place and swore that I would come back to eat at this tapas restaurant.

It took me a year, but finally I got there.

Jaleo was just as I remembered it; pulsating with energy and filled with the scents of garlic, roasting meat,

and huge pans of paella.

The atmosphere is hip but not snobby, filled with touches of whimsy. It would be a perfect place for a quick snack or a loud, long dinner with a group of partying friends. There is even a private room that looks perfect for a special night.

Tomatina Negroni with Campari, gin, sweet vermouth, tomato water

Anyone who likes negronis will love this. The tomato water sweetens the gin and rounds out the harsh edges of campari. The grapefruit comes through as tart rather than bitter, and the drink is refreshing and extremely food friendly. It doesn’t taste of tomato, just of sweet and fresh citrus. Highly recommended.

Patatas bravas with  spicy tomato sauce  and alioli

These aren’t the thick, traditional patatas bravas. These are thin potato chips, freshly fried and dusted with a generous helping of smoky paprika. The alioli is creamy and extremely garlicky  in a mouth-watering way. The tomato sauce provides a light, slightly spicy counterpart to the rich alioli. It tastes as if it has been infused with hot peppers, not in a fiery way but definitely in a spicy, zesty way. These are totally addictive and a must order.

Pan con tomate and Manchego

This simple dish is one of my favorites of the night. Jaleo hits the nail on the head with this totally authentic rendition of the iconic Spanish dish. Crusty bread rubbed with a clove of garlic and a cut tomato became moist but not soggy. It is soft enough to bite without shattering, but hearty enough to stand up to the tomato juice. Combined with the semi-hard cheese, it is nutty, salty, savory, and surprisingly refreshing.

Iberico Pork Burgers with piquillo peppers and alioli

That’s right. The same Iberico pork I worship in slices. Here, it is coarsely ground and loosely packed into a juicy burger. Served on a brioche bun with sweet peppers and more of that creamy alioli, it is a very meaty and almost woodsy slider.

“Bikini” Sandwiches with Ibérico ham, manchego cheese, and truffles

Heaven alone knows why this is called the bikini sandwich, because after just one of these, you can’t get into a mummu, let alone a bikini. Buttery toast cradles salty Iberico ham, gooey Manchego cheese, and aromatic truffle oil. This is one decadent grilled cheese sandwich – don’t miss it. And don’t plan to eat it all yourself – it is a bit salty and fatty, so share it to save room for more food.

Chicken Croquettes

Served in a sneaker. I have no idea why Andres does this, but I love it – it reinforces the fact that eating isn’t just refueling, it is a communal experience that should foster conversation and joy. And if these little nuggets of crispy, creamy, unmistakably chicken-y taste offer anything, it is indeed joy.

These croquettes are lighter and more complex than the garlicky, heavy ones at Porto’s. These are almost airy inside, creamy but not dense. There is the slightest hint of onion in there, perhaps some nutmeg, but most of all…its just tastes like really creamy chicken soup.

Golden fried quail eggs with ‘pisto manchego’ vegetable stew

One of our few vegetarian dishes of the night, this managed to stand out amongst all the indulgent meat and cheese courses. Perfectly brunoised vegetables like carrots, onions, and zucchini are cooked with rosemary and other aromatics until they form a tender but not mushy stew. The crowning touch is a sextet of gooey egg yolks and crispy whites

It was also served with a swipe of genuine gold dust, which no girl can ignore.

Vegetable Paella

This paella was the lone disappointment of the evening for me. A bit salty and mushy, it has none of the wonderful soccarat that I so crave. Though it is served with some more of that addictive alioli, I really can’t recommend this as a “must order” dish.

Pork and foie gras canelones with bechamel sauce

I don’t know how or why this was conceived, but I actually don’t care. This is an almost inconceivably delicious pasta dish. Thin sheets of canelloni are stuffed with sweet ground veal and earthy pate de foie gras before being blanketed in bechemel and broiled until crisp without and gooey within. It should be too rich. It should be too meaty.  It shouldn’t work…but it does. It is not too much this or too little that. It is an example of how Andres wants to do something – like, for example, deliver the world’s richest pasta dish without causing anything more than a very delayed coronary – and does it. He has an impeccable palate and has clearly trained his staff to know exactly how to execute his recipes.

His perfect, beyond compare, meaty and creamy recipes…

That’s what she said

Jaleo was delicious for all the senses. Delicious to see the pastry chefs working in the small open air dessert kitchen. Delicious to smell the dozens of small plates carried by servers that walked by our table. Delicious to feel welcomed by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff. Delicious to hear chatter and laughter from everyone enjoying the night. And delicious to taste.

Jaleo was, in every way, worth the wait. I won’t be able to wait so long before I return.

Jaleo by José Andres (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

Creole Lady Fritos and Foie

The post today isn’t my usual rambling diatribe on steak tartare or Asian Hanukkah food. That’s because I have been otherwise occupied…

eating boudin doughnuts (a sausage made with rice and stuffed inside a savory yeast roll),

sampling homemade charcutrie from James Beard Award nominated chef Alon Shaya, of Domenica (the mangalitsa pig speck is as delicate and delightfully fatty as iberico ham),

and sucking the heads of crawfish (that’s where all the good stuff is).

Tomorrow, the chronicles of Fritos and Foie Gras in Avery Island, Louisiana, home of Tabasco!

Boulud Sud – A Triumph from Daniel Boulud

 Daniel Boulud is known for his classical French fare, his trendy downtown eatery, and being the man who first put haute burgers on the map. Now, with his latest venture, Boulud Sud, he brings his classical techniques and innovative tastes to the Upper West Side.

Boulud Sud is a Mediterranean restaurant that is upscale without being stuffy. The dining room is small, but with high ceilings, large windows, and a spacious layout that keeps it from feeling cramped.

There is also an open kitchen, where diners can see flatbreads being fired, vegetables being turned, and plates being finished before they eat a bite.

Bread and Olive Oil

The bakery is the sleeper hit at this restaurant. The breads, both an olive sourdough and a tomato foccacia, are some of the best I have had in NYC. Excellent hole structure, well salted, with juicy olives and sweet tomatoes. This is bread that really eats like a meal. The olive oil, served with rosemary and a sliver of garlic, is fruity and sweet. The sliver of raw garlic is ingenious – it adds a spice to the oil without being overly pungent.

Jamon Iberico with olives and grilled ciabatta

Iberico ham has always been one of my favorite foods, and the version served here is as fine as any I have ever had. Served in thin, but not wafer-thin slices, it retains the natural heartiness of pork combined with the sweetness of the fat – you can really taste the nutty, sweet acorns that the pigs ate. The opaque fat starts to melt on the warm, charred ciabatta, the perfect union of crunchy wheat and lush fat. The olives, meaty and briny, add another layer to this decadent appetizer.

Chickpea and Eggplant – Herb Falafel, Spring Pea Hummus, Babaganoush, Lavash

Crispy, greaseless falafel is fragrant with herbs, served steaming and fluffy on the inside. Even so, that is not the star of this dish. The star are the dips – the babaganoush is so creamy that it seems to be whipped with egg yolks, but it lacks any heaviness or greasiness. It is just rich and creamy, with a strong punch of garlic and the citrusy taste of sumac in there. The hummus is also outstanding – smooth, very grassy, and tasting intensely of sweet, fresh peas. The cumin around the edge ups the earthiness of the dish. The lavash is a winner – very thin and crisp, with a heavy dusting of za’atar, that zesty, full flavored middle eastern spice.

Harira Soup with Lamb Merguez meatballs, Lentils, Vermicelli, and Chickpeas

A Moroccan version of  minestrone soup – hearty, warming, chock full of goodies. Toothsome chickpeas, al dente vermicelli, tender lentils, and soft lamb meatballs swim in a spicy, harissa scented broth. The carrots, onions, and other vegetables in the sop are all brunoised, resulting in an elegant texture in the otherwise rustic soup. This is not lip-searing, just gently zesty – unmissable for anyone who loves a good soup or tagine.

Za’atar Baked Cod with Mussels, Greek Yogurt, Radishes

Who would mix yogurt with fish? Boulud, that’s who, and the result is astonishing. The cod, often a rather slimy, soft fish, becomes substantial and flaky beneath its assertive za’atar crust. Sitting atop a pool of thick Greek yogurt, it tastes firm and moist without being mushy. Paired with sweet mussels and spicy braised radishes, the cod’s natural salinity comes through, and the result is the best cod dish I have had to date – fish and chips and miso glaze be damned. This is multi layered, tasting sweet and creamy one minute, peppery and bright the next. This is Boulud’s genius – he takes classic ingredients, like cod and white wine, and turns it on its ear with classical technique and a few unexpected ingredients. I can’t wait to try to make this dish at home, though I doubt I can do it so well.

Grapefruit Givre with Sesame Halva, Rose Loukoum, Grapefruit Sorbet

This dessert is a showstopper before you even take a bite. Just look at it – it looks like some psychedelic muppet gone all top chef! The flavor isn’t as good as the presentation – it’s actually better. The halvah has the texture of cotton candy and the sweet, peanutty taste of Butterfinger candy bars. The sorbet inside is smooth and refreshingly tart,  interspersed with diced grapefruit supreme, crunchy bits of traditional halvah, and jellied Turkish delight that tastes more like citrus than rose (thankfully). Topped with a caramel crisp, this really couldn’t be more refreshing or delicious.

*Note: the service can either make or break a meal. In this case, though the food was excellent, the service was outstanding. The first dessert I ordered came in a glass that must have had a tiny hairline fracture, because it shattered the moment my spoon clinked gently against it. No sooner had the glass broken than 2 servers and a manager swooped over to my table with apologies, a fresh tablecloth and table setting, and not one, but 2 replacement desserts. Though I assured them that this was not necessary they insisted. The manager stopped over twice more before I finished eating to ensure that I was enjoying my new deser (s). Let it be known that people al over the restaurant were taking photos with their phones – there was not way for them to tell that I was reviewing the place. They just wanted to make sure that I had the most relaxing, high end experience possible. No matter that it was lunch and that I didn’t order wine. No matter that I was taking forever to eat. No matter that most women in the restaurant had handbags that cost more than my college education. There is no snobbishness here, no special treatment to those who seem like they deserve better treatment. The whole idea here is that anyone dining at a Daniel Boulud restaurant deserves the Daniel Boulud experience.*

The Daniel Boulud experience isn’t just elegance. It isn’t just excitement. It isn’t just delicious food prepared in ways that you could never imagine. It is about relaxing into a lovely space and enjoying not just a meal, but an experience, served and prepared by people who want you to have a memorable experience.

And this experience is memorable indeed.

Boulud Sud on Urbanspoon

Maitre Pierre – A Piece of Italy in Paris

After a few days of eating foie and escargot…and then some more foie…I needed a little break. 
Not from fat, just from fat alone. I needed some carbs and a few raw vegetables in the mix. 
And maybe some tomatoes. 
That’s when we hit up Ristorante Maitre Pierre. Never heard of it, just walked in off the street because the menu looked great. 
 When we arrived right before noon, we were the only people in the room. By 12:20, they were turning people away, due to reservations and a flood of walk ins. We had unknowingly stumbled upon a goldmine!
 I love these plain breadsticks in the wrapper. Crunchy, floury and not much more, but I love the texture. 
If we didn’t know where we were, I would have sworn I was in a French restaurant. This baguette, with excellent hole structure and a stiff crust, was French through and through. No complaints, as the French have the bread market cornered.
Tomatoes, Arugula and Mozzarella
A new take on a caprese salad, with peppery, tender rocket replacing herbal basil. This was a strong choice, because the tomatoes, firm and juicy, supplied the brightness needed for the dish. And the mozzarella…oh the mozzarella. 
The mozzarella provided sweetness. It provided the fresh and clean taste of milk, the richness of cream and a slight tang reminiscent of sourdough bread. It was more like burrata than mozzarella, with bits of creamy cheese fairly melting on to the plate as its skin broke with the tines of my fork. It was outstanding. 
A bit of balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil were ll necessary to make this a world class appetizer.
You might wonder what this is. It is a full leg of Pata Negra, othewise known as Iberico Ham. The most fatty, soft, delicate tasting ham in the world. It makes prosciutto look like bologna.
Sliced uber thin, these slices of ham are so fatty that they actually start to melt on the plate before you put it in your mouth. The taste is gently salty, deep and even a little funky. These do come from wild pigs, after all – it tastes similar to wild boar, but more delicate and less hearty, and that fat…
well the fat is just sublime. 
You could order the pasta sampler for lunch, with a sweet marinara sauce over penne, a creamy Alfredo sauce over rich ricotta-filled ravioli and al dente fettuccine served with beef and veal bolognese sauce. It is tasty. 
But if you want a truly breathtaking meal, you will order…
A thick layer of mozzarella cheese, stretchy in some parts and crispy at the edges, covered noodles cooked just al dente – still with a bit of bite. There was a slow cooked bolognese sauce – robust with beef, grassy with veal, a little sweet with pork, and deep with wine, sauteed vegetables and bright tomatoes. The bechamel was a thing of beauty – subtle, delicate and complimentary to the bolognese sauce instead of overpowering with richness. This lasagna was complex and layered. There were so many different components that somehow combined into a cohesive, almost ethereal taste. You might think it was heavy, but it wasn’t. It was positively light, which had to be a tribute to the chef.
Foie is great. Foie is AWESOME. But, sometimes, you want a little break. You know, for some fatty pork. And Chez Maitre Pierre is the place to take it. A bit pricey, but the food is excellent and so is the service. For Italian food in Paris, you just can’t get any better.
And now…back to the foie!

E by Jose Andres, Las Vegas

I saved the best of Vegas for last. The best was the night that I ate at James Beard Foundation Award winning chef Jose Andres’ molecular gastronomy focused restaurant e
 Here’s the thing…e isn’t in plain sight. And there isn’t a phone number. You have to be really sure that you want to eat there, because you have to make a reservation by email a month in advance. And I mean a month in advance to the MINUTE – only 16 people a night can eat there, 8 at each seating. 
 And…oh yeah…the restaurant isn’t in plain sight. You walk through Andres’ casual Spanish restaurant Jaleo, go behind the bar through a secret door, and dine in total privacy from the diners outside.
Basically, you are James Bond, tapas-style.
The special treatment starts immediately – the moment I approached Jaleo, Anthony, an exuberant and affable man, greeted me and asked if I was Sarah. Don’t ask me how he knew, but he did. He led my party to the bar and insisted we order a cocktail before dinner, since we weren’t doing the wine pairing.
Well, okay…if you twist my arm.  
This was the Sangra y Fuego, made with Mezcal, house-made sangrita, cherry liqueur
and sweet vermouth. This sounds like it might be sweet, but it wasn’t really – just in the way that BBQ sauce might be sweet. It was mostly smoky and a little meaty from that rich Mezcal, with the cherry coming through right at the end. This was almost like a beefy Bloody Mary – it was really interesting and totally delicious for those of you who love, as I do, savory drinks. It was unexpected and like nothing else I had ever tasted – a harbinger of things to come that night. 
Picture via ThinkFoodGroup
After our (AWESOME!) tablemates arrived, we all shimmied behind the bar, and escaped from the raucous, casual atmosphere of Jaleo to the subdued, whimsical atmosphere of e. A tiny room with one curved bar set in the middle, we all sat down and met our chef, Edwin. Edwin, who was at once serious about his work and a total ham on the stage that was this restaurant, told us that the meal would be cooked directly in front of us and explained to us at each course. And with that…the odyssey began. 
 Gin and Tonic sorbet and foam. The top of the dish was a tonic foam and the bottom was a gin sorbet, frozen with liquid nitrogen. There was also some Meyer lemon puree at the bottom, adding some sweetness to the natural acidity and bitterness of the dish. It was, at first, just like a mild Slurpee, but as the sorbet melted in my mouth, I tasted the alcoholic kick of gin and the faint sharpness of the tonic water. It was foreign yet totally familiar.
 Spanish “Clavel.” This raspberry candy, crunchy and tasting both tart and sweet, just like the fresh raspberry, were served on a whimsical dish shaped like a hand. Shaped, specifically, like Jose Andres’ hand.
Seemed like a big hand. 
And you know what they say about big hands…
That’s what she said.
 Caramelized Pork Rinds. Crunchy, slightly sweet crackers with an insanely meaty taste. Like honey glazed ham in cracker form. 
 Beet Jewelry. 
 Sugary, earthy, slightly greasy in a pleasing way – like a potato chip. Dusted with gold. Somewhere between salty and sweet. 
 Apple “Brazo di Gitano.” Tart green apple meringue surrounded a light but surprisingly rich blue cheese espuma. The espuma was like a mousse, but more “melty” and even lighter. The cheese was pungent and contrasted so well with the crunchy mousse that almost disappeared in the mouth. The walnut paste on top added a fatty and meaty component that really completed the apple, cheese and nut “salad.” Once again…familiar but foreign. 
 Crispy Chicken Skin in Escabeche. The chicken oyster is the part of the thigh that is the most tender, the sweetest and the meatiest part of the chicken. If I ever make you chicken, chances are that I have already eaten the oyster. It is just the essence of chicken. This oyster was served caramelized on the outside but juicy within, served on a crispy crackling and topped with woodsy thyme foam. I could have easily eaten about 12 of these. 
 Jose Taco – Iberico Ham topped with Caviar, and Fried Artichoke topped with a raw quail egg and caviar. The “taco” was, no question, the BEST taco I have ever eaten. The smooth and delicate ham melted upon my tongue, leaving behind fat and salt that echoed the briny taste and tiny “pop” of the caviar. My tablemate Patty said that the artichoke was one of her favorite bites of the night: a single bite of earthy artichoke, unctuous quail egg and that slightly fishy and salty caviar. 
It hit all major food groups – fatty, salty, fried. What’s not to like?
 Bocata de Calamares- Brioche, scallions, aioli, cucumber and…
 UNI! That seafood of the Gods, custardy sweet, salty with brine and umami-rich as pate de foie gras. Combined with fresh cucumber, biting scallion and the rich aioli complimenting the uni’s creamy texture, the buttery brioche was sturdy enough to contain this completely but soft enough to eat almost without chewing. 
I could eat a foot-long one of these. 
 Sandria. Watermelon soaked in sangria. The watermelon’s light flavor made the sangria taste richer and more alcoholic – as if it was brandy based, or some rich and buttery liquor like that. This was certainly delicious, but not the most inventive dish of the night. 
 Ajo Blanco. Ajo Blanco is a traditional Spanish soup that is made with bread, almonds and garlic. Of course, Jose had to spark it up a little. This was a deconstructed version, with the mild soup surrounded by raw almonds, toasted marcona almonds, PX Jiminez Gelee, Green Grapes, Tomato and Manzanilla Sherry Ice and Mircorgreens. This was a revelation. To take the soup with each of the accompaniments was a new mouthful each time – sweet with the gelee, pungent with the ice, savory with the grapes, hearty with the microgreens.
 Maine Lobster with Citrus and Jasmine. The lobster was tender enough to cut with a fork, buttery and totally devoid of any sense of fishiness. The citrus cut through the richness, and the jasmine brought a floral, ethereal taste to such a rich dish. 
 Chickpea Stew with Iberico Ham and Parsley Oil. This blew my mind. IT was solely made of chickpeas and Iberico ham, and when I put one of the “chickpeas” in my mouth, it exploded and let loose an intensely chickpea-tasting liquid. These speherical chickpeas were another one of Andres’ playful takes on food that I thought I knew. He managed to show me that there are still flavors and textures I don’t know. The chickpea flavor was so rich and earthy that it made the ham seem light by comparison. Salty, hearty, with the herby kick of the parsley – this was my favorite dish of the night. 
 Catch of the Day – Turbot with Black Garlic. One of my dining companions, a fish hater, proclaimed this “the most steak like fish in the world,” and scarfed it down before I could snag a bite. The Turbot was thick, moist, and heartier than most fish, along with tangy black garlic that had no bite at all. It was all tang and sweetness, melding with the fish’s savory flavors. Tiny citrus pearls on top brightened the fish and added another dimension of flavor. I could not imagine a more satisfying fish dish. 
 Morels in cream. 
 with rosemary foam. Woodsy, deep, meaty, creamy, umami. There was nothing new or inventive about the dish, and that alone was a shock in this meal full of unexpected turns. 
 Secreto of Iberico Pork. This was served with porcini mushrooms, both raw and cooked. The pork comes from the shoulder blade of the Iberico Pig, and is cooked to medium wellness – still pink but not at all dripping juices or red. This is a perfect degree of doneness for this cut of meat – rare enough to stay tender and retain the taste of the pork, bu done enough to have some caramelizing on the outside of the beef. The mushrooms were hearty and toothsome, and the raw mushrooms were particularly fragrant – almost truffle – like in their aroma.
*Before I talk about dessert, I really must give kudos to the amazing staff of this tiny restaurant. From vivacious and trivia spouting Anthony to the charming and dedicated Edwin to everyone who filled my glass before I realized it had emptied, the entire staff exuded joy and passion. It was a well-choreographed dance, with nary a step out of place nor a spilled drink, nor a lag in the meal. It was well paced and expertly served, and more than that – everyone was happy to be there. They clearly love food and wine as much as their diners do, and that added so much to the night. Scratch that…it MADE the night. This is the best service I have ever had. In my life.*
 Scraping the cheese for our first dessert…
 Orange Pith Puree with La Serena Cheese and a crostini. 
 This had sheep’s milk cheese had the funkiness of goat’s cheese with the rich texture of brie with the salty, nutty tang of Gruyere. Mixed with the tart and slightly biter puree, it was an exemplary cheese course, served in a beautiful and unexpected way. 
 Our next course, set aflame!
 Apples and Red Wine “Fredy Giradet.” Ironically named after a famous Swiss Chef who dislikes Molecular Gastronomy, this featured glazed apples and red wine spheres that, like the chickpeas, looked like small red cherries and burst in the mouth with sweet and spicy red wine. The ice cream was sweet, fragrant with vanilla, and what can be said about stewed apples other than…they are as good now as they ever were.
Edwin teaching Patty how to make the red wine spheres!
 Frozen Apricot Coulant – this was what was being flambeed earlier. A crisp outside gave way to a liquidy interior, entirely apricot. This was far too sweet for me, and the only misstep of the night.
 Fizzy paper. Literally, just what it sounds like. Paper-like candy that fizzed and popped in your mouth like soda. Citrus flavored, it reminded me of a grown up seven up! So delish!
 25 Second Bizcocho. A cake made in the microwave…the MICROWAVE!!! It was fluffy and filled with vanilla yogurt and tasted like a less sweet version of a Twinkie. Don’t worry, it was still sweet…I just didn’t go into diabetic shock after I tried it!
 Aerated Dark Chocolate Air that was like spongy honeycomb in my mouth, and saffron scented chocolate that had an ethereal, exotic, savory taste with the creamy, sweet milk chocolate.
This was a truly incredible meal. Not that it was perfect, but that it was full of food I have never experienced before. Tastes, textures and combinations that I could never imagine. The whimsical plating and intimate setting lent a magical air to the night – that is the only word for it. Magical. Like Chef Edwin was the magician, the servers were all his assistants, and Anthony was the glamorous showgirl, ready to charm us all with smoke and mirrors. The thing is…underneath the smoke and mirrors, this food was really fantastic. Not just in the first rate ingredients, but in the innovative cooking techniques. Andres makes eating fun. He makes dining an adventure. This was the most expensive meal I had in Las Vegas, and it was also the best value. I would dine here again in a heartbeat, and suggest that anyone who wants to be challenged, entertained or amused do the same. 
Oh yeah…and you will be well fed, too.
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