Fabulous Haute Korean Fare at Jungsik

Settle in for a good long read.

Because I had the pleasure of a truly phenomenal meal at Jungsik.

By phenomenal I mean unexpected. Playful. Luxurious. Long. and…of course…delicious.

Jungsik is a high end Korean restaurant in Tribeca that took over the Chanterelle space.

This ain’t your standard 24 hour bulgogi place in Koreatown.

20140705_195915 This is all sleek lines and light wood, with orchids on the table and formal waitstaff anticipating your every desire. Unless you tell them that you are in a rush, you will be treated to at least 2.5 hours of an elaborate, attentive, and ever exciting meal. 20140705_203329 Amuse bouche

Shot glass of seaweed and cucumber gazpacho – chilling. Refreshing. Clean tasting with just an after-note of salty, briny seaweed. Not at all fishy or overwhelming as some seaweed dishes are.

Smoked eel cream cigar – Oh you mean the bacon mousse inside the crispy wafer? It tastes exactly like bacon – and that’s a good thing. Creamy, crispy, and utterly appetizing.

Marinated mussels – Fresh, piquant, and mild. An excellent cold seafood starter

Fried chicken with spicy mayonnaise – I mean, you know this is great, right? Juicy, crispy, spicy – the absolute PERFECT morsel to get those appetites revved up. I could eat 100 of these.

20140705_201716Cocktail with vodka, tomato water, and a spicy seaweed salt rim

Um, yeah. Like a dirty martini with an added sweet note of tomato (just a little from the very light tomato water). The seaweed rim is salty and spicy – this is excellent. So is the thyme-inflected yuzu cocktail that tastes for all the world like a grown up version of lemonade.
20140705_204037Sweet potato and green peppercorn bread

The green peppercorn baguette is exemplary – a thick, crunchy, floury crust conceals an airy, peppercorn studded interior. However, the sweet potato roll is what really surprised me. It looks like an average supermarket bun but the texture is moist and dense with an almost sticky texture. It is very soft and has a buttery, sweet taste…this is just unreal. I could eat 3 of them.

In fact, I did.

20140705_204537Squid ink fried oyster with anchovy aioli

Very tasty. A thick, crunchy crust with no discernible squid taste but a pleasantly stiff texture. Inside, the oyster is piping hot and nearly melts away without chewing. It has th wonderful, elusive salty-sweet taste that only oysters have. I didn’t really taste too much anchovy in the sauce, but I didn’t crave it – the oyster is perfect and of itself.
20140705_205740Foie gras, truffle, and kimchi bibimpbap

Stop the presses. I mean just stop them.

This is what I consider to be the restaurant’s signature dish. It’s simply perfect.

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It’s al dente barley that is incredibly nutty and pleasantly chewy. It’s truffles on top that are thickly layered and release an otherworldly scent that makes me almost dizzy with their deep, savory aroma. It’s a small nugget of garlicky, fiery kimchi that laces the entire bowl with its salty, punchy flavor. And, especially, it’s the omnipresent taste of the foie gras that must be melted into the dish – it seems to coat each and every grain of rice. It’s buttery and meaty and delicate. This dish really has it all –  I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s the apex of our excellent meal.

20140705_205756 Pork belly bibimbap

The haute Korean version of a BLT. Fatty, crispy pork belly, tender greens, and sticky, soft rice underneath. Though I miss the layer of crispy rice that comes in a traditional stone bowl bibimbap, the pork is so juicy-meaty-salty that I am wiling to forgo it. 20140705_211644 Char with smoked eel broth and lime yogurt

More of that smoked eel that –  again - tastes just like bacon. Here, it’s paired with delicately cooked char that has a burnished top but a light, soft interior. The char is such a  naturally mild fish that it really takes on the flavors of the smoked eel and the tart lime yogurt sauce. Sticky-salty pops of salmon roe complete the dish. I would order this again and would tell anyone who likes trout or salmon to give char a try. 20140705_213155 Wagyu galbi

Did I mention that this isn’t like any Korean restaurant you have ever been to? Because if I forgot to say that…this dish will say it loud and clear. I have never had galbi like this before and unless I come back here, I doubt that I ever will again. These boneless shortribs are insanely tender and still wonderfully beefy and savory – how does it have the tenderness of filet with the beefy, rich taste of skirt steak? This is truly the best of all worlds. It’s in a complex marinade that is spicy, nutty, and salty – really galbi for the ages. It’s served with mushrooms and other assorted vegetables, but let’s be honest…this is all about the meat. It started me on a week-long beef bender.

That’s what she said. 20140705_221027 Green apple sorbet

Complete with a little something-or-other to look like the stem. Tart, sweet, cooling, and delicious. 20140705_223138Truffles and mignardises.

In a flower pot. Because, of course.

This is a very special restaurant. It serves food that takes its inspiration and ideals from Korean cooking and then branches out. It isn’t brash and overt like Momofuku restaurants, but it isn’t too tame either. You really feel like you are dining at the home of a Korean dignitary - this is certainly the way that I would like to eat if I could afford to do so every night. It’s high-end but approachable because the servers are so kind and so interested in your dining experience. The foie and trufle bibimbap and the galbi are highlights, but there wasn’t one clunker, from drinks to an unmentioned dark chocolate and hazelnut dessert. We ordered a la carte, but you can do tasting menus as well. We had one kosher member of our party and that person was so well taken care of that you wouldn’t even know that there were any changes in the menu. He was simply swiftly offered different courses when we chose ones that would not be appropriate for him and I have no doubt that any other eating restrictions would be taken care of with as much grace and attention. This post was long, this meal is expensive, and both of those facts speak to the point that this restaurant is fabulous.

I hope I can return sooner than later.

Puttin’ on The Ritz – Afternoon Tea Edition

So, you want to know what my number one favorite thing about Great Britain is?

It isn’t the royalty. It isn’t the respect for tradition. It isn’t the avant garde fashion.

It’s afternoon tea.

And nowhere…NOWHERE…have I had an afternoon tea experience like the one at The Ritz.

First, let’s get the cons out of the way.

1) You need to make reservations many months in advance. Think, as many as 8 months in advance. It books up that quickly

2) You only have 2 hours in which to enjoy your meal.

3) It’s expensive. Anniversary-40th birthday-once a year special treat expensive.

Now, the pros:

It’s the most beautiful, luxurious, over the top dining experience I have ever enjoyed. It makes Tocqueville look minimalist.

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Tea is served in this Palm Court, the original one that so puts the one at The Plaza to shame that it seems embarrassing that they should share a title. It’s all elegance and huge angel statues and live piano music and light and palm trees. Violet Crawley would be extremely at home here.

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It seems incredible that you will use each and every one of these pots and cups and creamers, but oh…you will.

20140508_132511 Not without a glass of champers first. Because what improves tiny tea sandwiches more than a crisp, icy glass of champagne? And don’t worry…it, like everything here, is bottomless.

That’s right…eat and drink until your pants burst open.

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Choose from any number of the exceptional teas on the menu. I recommend the passion fruit, which is one of the few teas that I can drink without totally gagging. It has a full, fruity taste with only a SLIGHT hint of hibiscus in the background. It’s also ostentatiously pink.

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Then it arrives…the glorious tea platter.

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Start with the sandwiches. Sharp cheddar and tangy chutney. Creamy egg salad with just a hint of bitter watercress. Freshly roasted turkey with rich mayonnaise and crunchy salt. Smoked salmon so mild and smooth at it fairly melts into the bread and long, thin slices of cucumber with dilled cream cheese.

I DARE you to order fewer than two more plates of these.

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Cakes and sweets

Peanut butter and chocolate macarons, a rich chocolate fudge cake, a rhubarb and cream sophisticated type of snowball, and a Napoleon to END all Napoleons. I mean Naploeon would have traded empress Josephine to taste half of this slice. The pastry is buttery and crisp but not too hard. It retains its texture between the layers of fluffy, airy vanilla custard. Some Napoleons are heavy and sodden with loose, lackluster cream, but this really does it right. The crowning touch is a thick, crackly layer of white icing – a sugary touch to an elegant dish.

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Oh yeah, you could make a meal out of these alone.

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But then, you would miss these. These lovely, buttery, flaky, soft, and creamy scones.

20140508_134601 Oh, you KNOW that I split those babies open and slathered them with fragrant strawberry jam and clotted cream so rich that it might actually BE Prince Harry.

20140508_141149 Don’t forget the sweet, moist marmalade cake or the sticky toffee pudding from the cake trolley. 
20140508_143548And don’t forget, this stuff is all unlimited.  They keep bringing it until you cry uncle. They keep pouring and refreshing tea with white gloves and lovely British accents. They keep bringing warm scones and pots of clotted cream. And they don’t judge. no they don’t.

Trade in your car if you have to, to go to this tea. It – and the love handles it puts on you – will stay with you forever.

 Disclaimer: This tea was compliments of the Press team. I was not required to write about it, and my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Puttin’ on the Ritz – Breakfast Edition

British breakfast is my second favorite part about England. These people really know how to eat. This is not a fruit salad and protein shake kind of country.

This is a country that eats breakfast, then conquers the world with cult rock music, okay?

And you can’t get a finer breakfast than at The Ritz Hotel.

This isn’t the Ritz-Carlton – don’t get it twisted. This is the sister of The Ritz in Paris, opened by Caesar Ritz himself. It has been around since the early 1900s and DRIPS Parisian opulence and beauty.

20140509_100207The room is as plush and over the top as you might hope it is. It really is…pardon my corniness…ritzy. You see where there adjective  came from. Everything is covered in velvet and plated in gold.

DSC_1162There is a rotunda painted with angels circling chandeliers held up with wreathes of roses.
20140509_100213 The butter is stamped with the regal R insignia.

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There are 2 kinds of SALT, for Pete’s sake! Finely ground if you are a ninny, and those large, flaky pyramids for those of us who know how to live.

Don’t wear jeans here, gentlemen. Brush that hair, ladies. You are served by an impeccable wait staff in morning coats who assure you that it is their pleasure to pick the pulp out of your freshly squeezed orange juice by hand so you don’t choke.

They are so convincing that I almost believe them.

The food is, thankfully, just as enjoyable as the atmosphere.

20140509_101028What, you don’t like duck, quail, and hen eggs at your morning breakfast buffet?
20140509_101228 Oh, don’t worry, every entree comes with the buffet. WITH the buffet. That means that you can load up on genuine Scottish smoked salmon, figs from Jordan, and…20140510_090726 yogurt so sweet and creamy that it might as well be called melted ice cream. You know, before your main course. 20140510_090900And what a main course it is. Skip the pancakes and the bony and very fishy kippers, and go straight for the gold – The English Breakfast. Get it with black pudding that is so creamy and minerally-rich that you may stave off iron deficiency for life even if you become a vegan by lunch. The bacon is the fatty stuff that the Brits love, and the Cumberland sausage is fragrant with cloves and black pepper. The egg is poached beautifully, with a runny yolk and firm whites, or get it them scrambled to pale yellow, buttery bliss. Don’t forget that oven roasted tomato, sweet and juicy atop a meaty portobello mushroom.

Um, yeah…these people know breakfast. How to serve it, how to present it, and most of all - how to cook it.

This is an insanely expensive treat and though I couldn’t’ do it every day, it is a gift to myself that I will cherish forever.

Or at least until my heart explodes from eating all of that saturated fat before 10 AM.

Amaya – Tandoori Foie Gras is Just the Beginning

I think that you probably remember my love affair with London. If you don’t, then go check out those posts. I am now, and always, an Anglophile.

And I still LOVE Indian food in London. The stuff here – with the exception, perhaps, of Junoon - can’t even compare. Which is why I was so excited that, almost 4 years after my first visit there, I was finally able to get pictures of my meal at the Michelin starred, very fabulous, usually photography barring restaurant, Amaya.

20140508_202510Amaya is still as bustling and busy as ever. It’s chic but not too precious – you can tell from the incredible aroma that people might come here to be seen but they stay to eat. This is a great date place or a spot for a night out with friends. 
20140508_203152 If you have to wait at the small bar for a few minutes, don’t think of it as the restaurant running late. Think of it as your opportunity to try one of the excellent cocktails from the wine and cocktail list. Go for the orange juice, prosecco, and gin concoction for something a little sweet and very refreshing.
20140508_203201-001 Or, order the absinthe lassi for a more savory, tangy drink that not only calms the stomach but actually increases your appetite. If you don’t like the faintly licorice-y taste of absinthe, ask for it to be made with gin. 
20140508_204614-001 The restaurant specializes in food cooked over an open grill – the kitchen is enormous and open air, and you can see tandoori ovens cooking chewy naan bread, sautee pans filled with fragrant sauces, and the grill cooking giant, sweet shrimp from Madagascar, lamb from Scotland, and any number of vegetables. It’s dinner theater with a twist – you get to taste the final product instead of being treated to a stirring rendition of “The Music Man” while dining on dry prime rib. 
20140508_205459-001 Chutney sampler

Oh, please get this. Smoky tomato chutney, traditional tangy mango chutney, diced peanuts, and a thin, hot tamarind chutney improve most things in life, but especially this intricately spiced food. The peanuts are a truly inspired touch – nutty, a little sweet, and pleasantly grainy for a textural contrast. 20140508_210625 Charbroiled oyster with coconut cream sauce

Be still my heart. One of my favorite oyster preparations on the face of the planet. Small, plump, and sweet. Covered in tasted panko with a touch of bright citrus zest. Served in a pool of rich coconut cream with a slight hit of curry. It’s unexpected and totally addictive – Thai coconut mussels gone upscale and even more mild. I could eat 1,000 of these
20140508_211218-001 Coconut crusted sea bass

Also tasty, but not the best dish of the night. It’s mild and flaky, infused with the light flavor of coconut and covered in crunchy coconut shreds with a hint of red pepper, but it doesn’t stand out. It’s hard to stand out in a crowd of this caliber.

20140508_211332-001 Pomegranate and rose raita

Delicious – and this is coming from someone who usually avoids rose flavored things like the plague. To me, rose is a keyword for “tastes like swallowing a bottle of perfume,” but these roses are purely ornamental – I couldn’t detect any rose taste at all. The pomegranate adds bursts of tart, juicy flavor to the thick, cooling yogurt. A must get, especially for the abundance of spicy dishes to follow.
20140508_211440-001 Tandoori foie gras

The most sensational dish of the night. One of the most sensational foie gras dishes ever. (Do I say that every time?) This is really something else. It’s foie covered in aromatic spices like coriander and ginger, and then flash seared until the outside is sticky and caramelized and the inside absolutely melts. It actually has to be eaten with a spoon, that is how fatty and lush it is. 20140508_212126Tandoori broccoli

This ain’t yo mama’s broccoli. This broccoli is seared in a blazing tandoori until it is BARELY tender at the stalk and incinerated to a crunchy, salty golden brown at the top of the floret. It’s served with a creamy yogurt sauce that has a vaguely tahini-esque nuttiness. It’s so good that it’s barely vegetarian.

Oh yes, I went there. Don’t miss this. 
20140508_212342Grilled quail

Perfect. The meat is JUST medium, with a hint of pinkness that leaves it juicy and savory without being too gamy. It’s almost sweet, like lamb, and tastes much more like meat than poultry. It’s split for you, so you can pick up the tiny pieces with your hand and eat the crunchy, burnished skin that is laquered with a sweet glaze. Don’t forget to drag it through the accompanying dots of fragrant cilantro and spicy chile sauces. This is awesome. 

This restaurant is just dreamy. The food focuses on fresh ingredients and careful spicing – don’t expect over seasoned, greasy food at this joint. The food couldn’t be better in any way and neither could the service. It’s prompt and informed but still friendly, and the manager himself came over to every single table to ask what diners enjoyed and what could be improved upon. Wow…now THAT is attention to detail. This meal is absolutely expensive, but you don’t feel fleeced. Really, you get what you pay for at Amaya.

It’s my favorite Indian food in one of my favorite cities. 

Ambrosia is…Ambrosia

We had a couple of splurge dinners on this vacation. One of them was in London and one of them was in Santorini.

The one in Santorini is a meal that I don’t think that I will ever forget.

20140504_202657 Ambrosia is one of the best restaurants in Oia. There are only a few tables, and the terrace faces out into the volcano and the sea. In fact, it’s entirely outside except for 6 seats, which guarantees for an uber romantic view, unless the winds are too high to enjoy the weather. That’s very rare, though.

So, obviously, it happened the night that we had reservations.

No matter, as we were able to get one of the seats inside, though others who arrived later for their allotted times had to be tuned away or left out – literally! – in the cold.  The restaurant itself is humble inside, with a jumble of old fashioned paintings and curiosities, a bar, and a few tables. That’s it – nothing that screams “watch out tastebuds, you are in for a treat!”20140504_203127 Ouzo

Because when the proprietor of the restaurant beams and offers you a glass of his favorite ouzo, how can you say “Dude, I have been drinking all day? I’m HUNGOVER?” So, you drink it, and as its licoricy warmth spreads through your body, your headache lessens and you decide that a hair of the dog was just what you needed. So, you decide to loosen up a little more and order a dry white wine from Santorini’s famed Sigalas winery. It’s dry but not too much so, almost like a chenin blanc. It goes well with everything. So a bottle isn’t too much. 20140504_205247 Roasted garlic dip, tomatoes and capers, kalamata olive dip

This is one of those times when all of the dips are equally delicious. The roasted garlic is sweet with an earthy depth and the kalamata olive one is briny and pleasantly fruity. The feta in both is airy and mild. The tomatoes and capers are other worldly – sweet, juicy, salty, and bursting with flavor. I can’t say enough about the capers and tomatoes on this island…they are unreal.
20140504_211106 Ambrosia tartlets with caramelized mushrooms, tomatoes, and brie

Yes, feta, we cheated on you with this brie. And it felt so right. The brie is warm and melty, atop juicy tomatoes and flaky puff pastry. 20140504_211252 Inside are sweet caramelized onions, the ideal counterpart to the rich cheese and a dab of garlicky pesto. It’s a rich starter, but if you split it with someone it’s ideal. 20140504_212526 Blackberry and wild mushroom risotto

Heart-stoppingly outrageous. Unbelievable. Who would put blackberries in risotto? Ambrosia, apparently, and to wonderful effect. This is a must get, and a must recreate. The mushrooms are so savory and meaty, and the blackberries are juicy and tart-sweet, but with that same earthy backnote that connects their taste to that of the mushrooms. The risotto is creamy and soft, but not mushy. It almost melts in the mouth. Don’t forget to drag your fork through the tangy balsamic drizzle on the side - it adds some unexpected acid to the risotto. This is unexpected and fantastic.
20140504_212532 Pan fried sea bass with lemon sauce

Excellent, though not as incredible as the risotto. Fresh, flaky fish with a light, lemony sauce and some sweet baby vegetables. I would eat this again but I wouldn’t order it again because that risotto was such a standout.20140504_220531 Moroccan sweets with pastry cream and nuts

This was also delicious. I wish I could remember more, but I was several glasses of wine deep, remember? It’s nutty, it’s dripping with honey, and it’s filled with vanilla-scented pastry cream. Basically…YES.20140504_221040Even drunk off of wine and risotto, the vin santo is still not my cup of…digestif.

Look, this restaurant is delicious. It’s fairly priced (to say expensive), with excellent, enthusiastic service. We didn’t get that famous view, but we did get some eye-opening risotto, fantastic wine bottled right on the island, and a night to remember.

Next up, beach day!

The Surprisingly Delicious Il Mulino

I try never to listen to reviews. I don’t trust them because one man’s Dos Caminos is another man’s Taco Bell – and who is to say which one that man prefers.

Sometimes this gets me into trouble. Sometimes, it’s a draw. And sometimes, it lads me into a wonderful meal for which my expectations were really low.

Such was my delightful experience at the uptown Il Mulino.

Il Mulino is a veritable institution in the west village. It’s slightly easier to get a reservation there than its inspiration, Rao’s. It’s a club to which everyone belongs, as long as you come in with a reservation, which will likely be on the very early or somewhat late side.

Hey, I could be down with some prosecco at 6pm.

The vibe and atmosphere is old school elegance - break out your Birkin bags, and no ripped jeans, gents. The lighting is so low that even we, four young and healthy people, had to break out our iPhone flashlights. But you won’t read your menu for the first few minutes that you are there anyway.

First, you will order a bottle of wine from the rather small and overpriced list – how can you not? It’s such a celebratory feeling being ushered to your tiny, lamp lit table by a tuxedoed Italian man who spouts nothing but compliments, bella this and prego that….you need to drink to keep that buzz going!

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Then, you will receive a chunk of parmesan from a large wheel. It’s nutty, salty, and a little sweet.

Then, there is the spicy hard salami.

Then there is the zucchini, oily and addictive.

Don’t forget the mussels bruschetta, where the mussels are a little blah but the crostini is downright fabulous. Tart, juicy, sweet, and a little earthy. Just a hint of garlic. Sorry for the lack of photos – toldja that the restaurant was insanely dark!

I wish I got a photo of the overflowing bread baskets. Yes, multiple. Spicy, crispy foccacia, fresh doughy tomato foccacia, wheat country bread, and garlic bread so cheesy, savory, and delicious that it must be baked with pure crack cocaine.

Yeah, it’s that tasty.

Only then do you get to look at the impossible-to-decipher-in-this-darkness menu.

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Porcini ravioli

Keep your oysters and other aphrodisiacs. This is the sexiest dish that I ave ever eaten. It’s swimming in a creamy, truffle inflected sauce. It’s firm but pillowy and light on the inside, with cheesy, woodsy, meaty porcini mushrooms. The pasta is tender and the serving is gigantic – easily enough for 2 light eaters. It’s rich and heavy in the most wonderful way. It’s almost heady with all of those mushrooms and cream. It’s intoxicating. 

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Chicken alla Romana

The most shocking of the night, because it tastes so home cooked. If you told me that your nonna was back there cooking it, I would believe you in a heartbeat. The most tender chicken in a lemony, almost velvety sauce with capers, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. The chicken reaches that magical point of fall apart tender but not yet mushy. It’s so bright and comforting – it’s really tasty in every way. It doesn’t come with a side dish, but get some more of the garlic bread to sop up that wonderful sauce. Trust me, you will want it all.

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Veal Milanese

A lighter option to veal Parmigiano. Thin, wonderfully tender veal that is so soft and sweet that my fiance announced that it must have been smuggled into the country, because he had never tasted veal like this. It has a crunchy, thin breading that isn’t at all soggy and is well seasoned with salt and dried oregano. It’s covered with fresh tomatoes that are so sweet and juicy that it reminds me that the crap I have been eating all winter is finally giving way to spring and summer fruit. I would order this again, but would also like to try the much more sinful Parmigiano version.

Il Mulino gets an unfair rap as overly pricey and subpar. It was absolutely fair for the amount and quality of food that we got. The servers asked us if we wanted appetizers or dessert but did NOT push us. We were not rushed, pressured to upgrade our wine selection. or made to feel in any way that we were less than because we only ordered entrees. We were even gifted some fig grappa at the end to entice us to return. The service was efficient, warm, and genuine. It was an excellent meal, and though not a cheap one, a fairly priced one.

So even though I don’t  follow reviews, you should follow mine. For that time when you don’t  have to pinch pennies, Il Mulino is too delish to miss!

Tocqueville – A Second Look at a Long Ago Post

When you write a blog for almost 4 years, stuff gets lost in the mix. So, I occasionally republish posts that are especially meaningful to me. This one is about a restaurant that, time and again, has proven itself to be consistent, elegant, and truly delicious. In the three years since this post was written, the head chef has changed and the menu changes with the seasons, but the dedication to service, wine, and food, is exactly the same. 
That is, to say, exemplary. 
So, enjoy the heartfelt review, questionable photography, overly flowery prose, and liberal use of caps lock. Because though the wonderful Tocqueville restaurant hasn’t changed, my blogging skills have…thankfully. 
Although I (clearly) love everything about food, I get bogged down like everyone else does. Between work, play, blogging, sleeping and occasionally fitting in time to go to the bathroom, I use food as fuel. I don’t have the time to enjoy and respect it as I should.  I forget what it is like to sit and enjoy a meal for hours. To comment on and discuss the food. To learn about the chefs and farmers who created the  dishes. To revel in the romance that a wonderful meal is about.
When I feel a need to really “be about’ food” again, I will head straight to  Tocqueville, for the $68 chef’s tasting menu, inspired totally from seasonal ingredients, many from the Union Square Greenmarket next door.
This photo does not do justice to the elegant, quiet and refined space. The music playing is low and relaxing, the decor is classic but not stuffy and the high ceiling-ed room infused me with both relaxation and giddy anticipation. I knew something special was in store.

The house baked breads
Baked fresh, every day. If the sourdough’s hole structure was not perfect, I did not care. It was so sour, with such a crisp, nicely charred crust that went perfectly with the house churned butter. The focaccia was still warmed from the oven, with a gentle slick of olive oil on top that accented the woodsy rosemary and briny olives within. The brioche (unpictured), was butter, butter and…more butter. I simply love a good bread program!
The chef’s tasting menu (which changes every day and can be altered to include/exclude specific requests) started off with a warm apple cider. My dad said it was “apple pie in a glass.” I would say that just about says it. Tart, sweet, spicy, rounded out with a strong vanilla taste, this was simultaneously satisfying and appetite inducing. Really, it was just perfection.
 Beet Tuile filled with Goat Cheese
The server told us that the beets were pureed, then sprinkled with powdered sugar before being baked, rolled and filled. These were so extremely beet-y: that sweet, earthy taste that was just all the more vegetal tasting with the grassy goat cheese. The powdered sugar worked with the beet’s natural flavor and brought out its sweet, lighter flavor profiles.
 
Celery Root and Potato Croquette topped with a Black Truffle
Warm. Crunch. Creamy. Hearty. Heady. Umami. Could have eaten these for my main dish. Every day.
Any other questions?
 Butternut Squash Confit with Creamless Sunchoke Soup with Black Truffles
The squash confit was good but not amazing – sweet, smooth…just nothing totally memorable. The soup? My favorite dish of the day.
So incredibly rich without being heavy, it had the most wonderful taste. I have not had sunchokes too many times, but this was a celery root-potato-ey flavor that was both familiar and totally new. The truffles were generously added, giving the soup an intoxicating layer, and some tangy balsamic vinegar made everything seem lighter and sweeter. The soup was served lukewarm – which I tend to hate – but, it actually made the truffles taste different. More substantial, less ethereal, somehow. It was interesting and wholly successful.
 Cato Farm Cheddar Salad with Frisee, Roasted Bosc Pears and Hazelnut dressing
My dad requested that this be part of the tasting menu, and though I doubted his choice at first, I was totally mistaken. This was a wonderfully constructed salad. The cheese was sharp yet with a creamy finish, the frisee was soft and lightly bitter, the nuts were meaty and toasted well, and the pears were nothing short of perfection; nothing but creamy sweetness within and shattering caramelization without. The balsamic reduction on top added a tangy taste to the otherwise subtle dish, elevating it further. The ingredients were excellent and the flavor combination could not have been improved in any way.
 Parmesan Poached Lobster Sauteed in Butter with Espelette Chili, Sea Beans, Celery Root and Dill
This was the best lobster I have ever had. That is a bold statement, and also true. The lobster was positively silky, and cut with the merest touch of a fork. The chili was spicy but not hot, it just melded perfectly with the luxurious butter and salty Parmesan cheese. The celery root was toothsome but tender, the sea beans did not have the iodine-y taste they sometimes have and the dill was fresh and fragrant with the otherwise rich dish. The ingredients did not seem like they would pair well with each other, but really worked in total harmony. Inventive and totally delicious.
 Roasted Venison Loin with Black Pepper and Blackberry Glaze, served with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Chanterelles
I had never had venison loin before and this was outstanding. Satisfying as beef, light as pork tenderloin. It was very rare, but had no blood, like beef would have. It was tender like filet mignon, but with a lightly gamy, very pleasant flavor that was far more pronounced than that of filet. The peppercorns made the meat spicy and the glaze was sweet, tart and delightfully sticky. The mushrooms were soft and flavorful – mushrooms and meat are always the most wonderful combination, aren’t they? The buttery potato and herb purees on the dish completed this version of “meat and potatoes.’

 

 A cheese plate with a Vermont Blue Cheese, a Spanish cheese similar to Mangchego, served with quince paste, honey, a candied walnut, and a citrus-y, sweet, soft kumquat. Literally, in LOVE with that kumquat – it was like a soft candied orange rind or maybe a slightly less sweet gumdrop. The blue cheese was slightly smokey and extremely pungent, and the Spanish cheese was nutty and salty. The house-baked raisin crostini were perfect foils for these dairy delights. A well thought out and complimentary cheese plate.

 The selection of house made sorbets: Chocolate, passion fruit, blood orange, litchi and green apple
All well balanced flavors with  creamy textures, unlike the icy way many sorbets feel in the mouth. The passion fruit was my favorite – it was tart, not too sweet, and seemed insanely bright and summery for the middle of January. My dad preferred the rich and deep chocolate sorbet.
 Coconut flavored Tofu with those same amazing candied kumquats and a Citrus Broth
Tofu for dessert? Simply put, it rocked my world. It tasted exactly like a tofu panna cotta-just that rich and indulgent. The creaminess paired well with the light and acidic citrus broth and those heavenly candied kumquats.
 The Chocolate Tasting Plate, with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch Mousse Cake, Bittersweet Chocolate Molleux, Molten Chocolate Cake, and that wonderful Chocolate Sorbet
What can I say except that it was all complex and wonderfully chocolatey. The bittersweet chocolate Moelleux was especially exceptional – bitter in the way perfectly roasted coffee beans take bitter, and just sweet enough to make the cake more sweet than savory.
After the meal’s conclusion, we were invited down to tour the kitchen by our extremely sweet, attentive, and food-loving server. We met the world’s kindest and most passionate chef, Chef Gregory Vernick. He gave us a complete tour of the entire kitchen, introduced us to everyone, talked about his philosophy of cooking each item daily with as few preserved goods as possible, and told us that we ‘made his day’ by ordering the tasting menu. We saw the ducks that they butcher and hang themselves, the extensive spice cabinet, the foccacia being baked as we spoke, and only one tiny closet filled with the barest necessities of canned and dried goods. Everything else is always fresh, all the time. Chef Vernick reveled in the fact that the owners, Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, let him cook whatever was fresh, versus being confined to a written menu, as long as the price was not exorbitant. He knew everyone in the kitchen and clearly had the utmost respect for them, and vice versa.  His passion and excitement for food was both thrilling and inspiring. I am so lucky to have dined here, and for only $68, it was a steal. I suggest you dine here soon, for not just a meal, but a deeply personal and communal experience.

Sushi Nakazawa – A Transportive Experience

I talk a big game, but a lot of times – dinner is just dinner. My family is hungry and so we go out for Korean or order in pizza or I make a quick quesadilla with some fresh guacamole. We eat, we chat and laugh, and then the meal is over – we really don’t think about it beyond that.

However, every now and then, when all the stars align perfectly, I eat a dinner that is more than a meal. It’s a total experience. It’s transportive, it’s intoxicating, and it’s something that I think about for days and months to come. Occasionally, it even changes my life.

Such was my dinner at Sushi Nakazawa.

This restaurant, given four stars by Pete Wells, is the hottest restaurant to hit New York in ages. It makes NoMad look like a positive sleeper hit, that’s how hard it is to get a seat. I logged onto the website for days at exactly 12:01 am, trying to get a seat at the sushi bar, only to fail again and again. It’s easier to get a seat in the dining room, but that’s not where you want to be. You really want to be at one of those 10 seats at the sushi bar, where you get your fish mere moments after the chefs prepare it. I happened to get the seat from the kindness of a stranger on an internet forum who wanted to make my fiance’s birthday a special one. That’s right – I posted for help on an internet forum and someone actually gave me his reservation. I can’t imagine anything more kind and unselfish. HM, you are a gentleman and a scholar. I hope that I can one day repay your kindness.

Now, onto the main event.

You might recognize the head chef, Nakazawa-san from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. He is the apprentice who worked for years to make the perfect omelette,a dn when he finally made one fit to his master’s approval, he cried from frustration, joy, and gratitude. It is one of the film’s most moving parts. He is just as sweet and focused in person – not overly chatty, but if you speak a little of your rudimentary Japanese with him, he is so gracious and overjoyed at your efforts that you may feel like you just served him dinner instead of vice versa.

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Much is made of the $40 sake pairing, but take my advice and go up a level for the $80 version. It is filled with so many delicious sakes that are both tasty on their own and paired ideally with the flights of fish. One is effervescent and bubbly, the next tastes oddly medicinal until it is eaten with the aged mackerel – then it becomes woodsy and cinnamon-y. It’s truly an excellent parings with a sommelier who is helpful and knowledgeable without being a know-it-all or overly chatty. In fact, when I mentioned that I liked nigori sake, he changed the entire sushi bar’s pairing to make sure that everyone could try this creamy, coconut-y type of unfiltered sake.

Once you are seated at the sushi bar, take in the serene black and white surroundings and relax into the  comfortable padded chair.

It’s going to be a long and luxurious night.



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Salmon from Hokkaido

The first bite of the evening – the bite that made my fiance look like he had never before used his taste buds. As his lips closed around the soft salmon and the chewy, slightly warm rice, his eyelids fluttered and he had a strange look on his face.

Oh great, I have created a giant sushi snob.

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Hay smoked salmon from Hokkaido 

The same soft texture with a slightly earthier, smoky taste.

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Scallop with yuzu and sake sauce

Buttery but clean. The yuzu is slightly spicy, with a heat that keeps deceloping long afte the bite is gone.

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Giant clam seared with soy

The only misstep of the night, and not because it isn’t repreared ideally  -it is! But I do not like the crunchy texture of these large, slightly tough clams.

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Black fin sea bas from Nakasaki with daikon

Mild and clean with a light snap from the daikon

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Golden Eye snapper from Japan

One of my favorites of the night – like a less fishy albacore with the buttery texture of maguro and the light taste of white fish.

photo 3 (11)Spotted knife jaw

Sorry for the lack of notes here…I’m blaming those generous pours of sake.

photo 4 (12)Horse Mackerel

photo 1 (15)Kohara (Shad)

A strong tasting fish – ideal for someone who loves briny, deep, metallic flavors. Notice how it is scored so it is the ideal texture.

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Mackerel, aged 7 days with Japanese mustard

One of the best pieces of this fish that I have ever had. It’s scored so that it is tender, and though it has an oceanic taste it isn’t at all fishy. The Japanese mustard clears your nasal passages and wipes away any muddy residue. Beyond sensational. Worth the ticket price for this piece of fish alone.

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Florida shrimp

Seconds before I ate this, it scampered across the counter in front of me. Then, deftly and without gore, Nagasawa-san and his sous -chefs deftly killed and cleaned the shrimp, ensuring that the taste was soft and sweet.

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Madagascar Prawns

The best tasting shrimp in the world is Madagascar shrimp. The sweetest, the lightest, the most tender. This is the way that all shrimp should taste.

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Yellowtail, aged 10 days

The ageing process is what is most interesting at Nagasawa. I always thought that the best fish was the freshest fish – that isn’t necessarily so! The best fish is sometimes the fish that has been cured, that has had time to develop its flavors and become tender. That’s certainly the case with this yellowtail, which taste deeper and fuller than its unaged counterparts.

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Bonito

Tuna. Good.

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Medium fatty tuna with spicy mustard

Slightly fattier tuna, with some of that spicy mustard to cut through its rich taste. Very good.

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Toro

Exquisite. My fiance’s favorite taste of the night. Simple – fish so fatty that it literally melts upon the heat of your tongue. Served on slightly vinegared rice. No marinades, no garnishes. Just the perfect fatty, clean, singular bite.

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Santa Barbara Uni

The queen of uni. Creamy, soft, with the mineral-y taste of foie gras. Balanced between toasty nori and the bite of the rice.

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Ikura from Japan

Briny little jewels that pop in your mouth and release the taste of the ocean. Not too fishy, with the signature tense, hard bubble that means it’s fresh.

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Anago from Japan

Not quite up to the level of Yasuda, but wonderful all the same. Meaty and rich, with just enough sweet sauce to emphasize its buttery texture and taste.

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Tamago

Perhaps the world’s most famous omelette. Fluffy and very sweet. I have heard that here are yams in here, along with shrimp…who knows? This is the best dessert on the planet – bread putting or egg custard in a fluffy slab. Ask for seconds and you will get it served on some of the expertly made rice. You can taste Nakazawa-san’s blood, sweat, and tears in this omelette. It is a revelation.

This meal is so expensive. It is hard to get a reservation and the dessert is just a sorbet. But its the best meal I have had in oh so long. It made me thing of focus, of passion, of how hard my parents worked to give me the life that I now enjoy. It made me think of my dreams and of how to achieve them. It made me think of how food is not just for filling the belly, it’s for filling the soul.

Oh, and how did it change my life?

Well, the old ball-and-chain and I are currently talking about our first trip to Japan together.

A totally life altering meal. 

A Less Than Perfect Valentine’s Day Meal at Public

I have been incredibly lucky in my Valentine’s Day dining experiences. I have dined high on the hog. I have slummed it and enjoyed it. And I have always, somehow, gotten my money’s worth in both food and special atmosphere.

Well, don’t worry if you are feeling jealous. It seems as if the lucky streak has ended. I had a seriously disappointing Valentine’s Day meal at Public.

I have wanted to come here for a long time. It’s well-regarded as an Australian inspired Michelin starred restaurant with a chef who excels at cooking game meat. It’s also supposed to have a great bunch, and its website promises a super romantic atmosphere.

I could get down with some romance.

However…this isn’t what I would call romantic. Dark and candlelit, yes. Also  jammed in like sardines with a deafening din and such narrow aisles that I was nervous about servers bumping into my chair all night. It is very hip and totally fun – but not what I would call romantic. Sorry, not at all.

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The bread sounds great but it is standard. The Aleppo pepper is literally undetectable in the cottony roll, but the orange foccacia comes out better with a strong citrus aroma and tangy flavor.

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Pear and lavender gazpacho with smoked tofu and truffle oil

Better than I thought it would taste. The lavender is very mild just adding a hint of floral scent to uplift the smoky, meaty taste of the tofu. The truffle oil adds another savory level to the sweet, fruity aroma of the soup. However,this lacked flavoring for – there were no spicy notes, too much smoke in the tofu, and it was generally boring.

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Roasted carrots with cilantro, avocado, and Meyer lemon confit

Enjoyable. The carrots are sweet and covered in nutty sesame seeds. the avocado is buttery, a nice texture juxtaposition to the tender-crisp carrots. The lemon really perks up the dish, adding zest and brightness to such a grounded, earthy dish. The cilantro is a very good addition, keeping the dish from being to one note. This is good, but not destination worthy.

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Wagyu carpaccio with fried polenta and truffle aioli

By far the best dish of the night. Mm, mm good the beef is thinner than tissue paper, so well marbled that it is pale pink, not red at all. The fat actually melts on the tongue, with the meat following up with a gently mineral taste. The fried polenta is a hot, crunchy counterpart and the truffle aioli releases its heady scent thanks to the polenta’s heat. This is what I want all the dishes to taste like – it’s well seasoned and varied in texture. It lets the raw ingredients shine while still providing interesting cooking techniques. It is a definite high point.

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Lamb with Bone Marrow Toast, White Beans  and Romanesco Sauce

This is forgettable. The lamb is tender but not grassy or deep the way that lamb can be. The beans are buttery but where is the creamy, warming, hearty nature of them? The romanesco has some salt and garlic, but mostly parsley…who wants a mouthful of that?

I really can’t remember a whole lot about it, and no I wasn’t drunk. I just ate so much awesome food this last weekend and I can’t distinguish this dish.

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Sticky chocolate cake with milk foam

A very strong finish to an up and down night. The cake is indeed sticky and dense, taking more like milk chocolate than the bitter, dark stuff. It’s like a mixture between a brownie and sticky toffee pudding, with soft innards and delightfully crunchy, caramelized edges. Teh milk foam is a creamy, light component that is a fun play on vanilla ice cream.

If this restaurant didn’t get so much hype, I would have liked it more. If it hadn’t advertised itself as a cozy, romantic spot instead of a buzzy hip one, I would have liked it more. If i hadn’t had other wonderful Valentine’s Day meals out, I would have enjoyed it more. But it did. And I have. I can’t excuse a restaurant for a merely okay meal and okay service when they are charging  a premium, no matter how busy the night. Because I have had exemplary food and service on Valentin’s Day. And I hope that Public is capable of more – I feel that with the Wagyu and the dessert, there may be hope – it will just be awhile before I get up the nerve to go back and see.

NoMad – Is the Emperor Wearing Any Clothes?

If you want to read about the greatest meal I have had in awhile…go back and read the Mas (la grillade) report from yesterday.

Because this review isn’t really a love letter.

Even though I could have sworn that it would be…I ate at a restaurant I have wanted to experience for a year. I was expecting culinary fireworks, and what I got were a few sparks but mostly a dull flame.

NoMad is Daniel Humm’s and Will Guidara’s whimsical restaurant. The Eleven Madison Park alum created the hit of the 2012 restaurant season with decadent takes on classic foods like chicken, bread, and even radishes.  It has a downtown meets uptown gothic vibe – dark velvets paired with a soaring atrium and modern music paired with excellent, formal service. It was – and still is – such a hot reservation that you either have to know someone, make a reservation 30 days out, or eat incredibly early.

Hey, when it gets dark at 4:00 PM, I can eat by 5:45 at night!

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Start with one of the excellent cocktails. The Sippy Cup with vermouth, Averna, ginger, and lime, is like a tomato-less Bloody Mary. The ginger kick is strong and spicy, with a fragrant, herbal backbone from the Averna and the bright note of lime. It’s the ideal aperitif – it sparks the appetite, whets the palate, and prepares tour stomach for the meal to come.

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Radishes and butter

The restaurant’s signature appetizer and a truly delicious one. The radish is dipped in a super rich, thick butter flavored ganache and there is a small pile of coarse salt crystals in which to dip the butter. It’s different from just plain butter - it really is thicker, more intense, more buttery than…butter itself.

It’s expensive, but worth it not just for the taste but for the novelty.

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Fruits de Mer

Here’s where I stop drinking the Kool Aid. This plateau is phenomenal in variety and quality. The oysters are briny but still creamy, with an icy champagne gratine. The uni panna cotta with salty nuggets of caviar is so mild that it has just the faintest suggestion of the sea – soothing and rich. The scallops with lime and pistachio are tender and fresh as can be and the king crab is totally genius – a citrus-y poached crab with creamy foam stuffed back into the claw to resemble its appearance when whole. But…wow. This is an expensive dish. I get that this stuff is expensive and that the chefs do careful and excellent work on it. However..it’s tiny. So tiny. It wouldn’t even make a dent in my blood sugar let alone curb my appetite.

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King crab tagliatelle

My favorite dish of the night, and the one worth going back for. So simple – fresh, eggy tagliatelle, mild, sweet king crab, and a plethora of butter. Enough to stop my heart. Enough to make my heart sing. This is the buttered noodles of your youth upped a notch. The crab is so tender, so mild, so wonderfully rich and tasty. I can’t imagine a more delicious pasta dish. It’s comforting and interesting with just enough salt and the most soothing, lush texture. If you go, please get this.

And, once again, get the big portion. Because even that is JUST about enough to share as an appetizer.

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Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, apple, and bacon

Very good but nothing that I haven’t made at home. Crispy sprouts, sweet apples, smoky bacon, and crunchy hazelnuts. A great balance of flavors and textures, to be sure – it just paled in comparison to other courses.

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Broccoli roasted with lardo, lemon, and Parmesan

Some fabulous broccoli – the finest I have had since Amaya in London many years ago. It’s roasted at such a high temperature that it gets incredibly crispy without burning. It’s tender at the core but so crunchy outside that it’s almost like a high fiber potato chip. Served atop a verdant broccoli puree, it is broccoli in stereo, coming at you from all angles. The lemon and Parmesan are generously applied, adding bright, salty, and nutty flavors. The lardo is used more sparingly, but its sweet, porcine flavor literally melts onto the brocoli and really infuses the veggies with a meaty, deep flavor.

HOWEVER…

The portion is so lilliputian that my sister actually turned to me and said “you have GOT to be kidding me.” It was a size that is appropriate for a hungry 6 year old. NOT a remotely peckish adolescent, let alone an adult. I totally get small portions in a tasting menu or reasonable portions so you don’t feel sick when you leave a restaurant. I understand high prices for big ticket items like foie gras or labor intensive preparations. But this. is. insane. It’s just too much money for too little food.

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Roasted chicken with foie gras, brioche, and truffles, served 2 ways

The dark meat is served with crispy chicken skin and a poached egg – it’s wonderful.

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Juicy, tender, and succulent with a supremely poached egg and addictive salty bits of chicken skin. It’s familiar yet totally elevated – you ain’t never had no chicken and dumplings like these.

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The breast is good, if a little dry. It’s a wee bit salty and the foie gras flavor is mostly lost in the stuffing. The truffles are a wonderful counterpart to the very fresh white meat, but it isn’t the ethereal chicken of Olympus that it has been purported to be. 

And it isn’t worth the money. I’m so sorry, but it just isn’t.

The desserts are so unmemorable that I can’t even spend time on reporting on them.

Especially since we weren’t gifted the neat macarons that tables on both sides of us got to try.

Maybe we didn’t order enough wine to warrant them? (There is an amazing wine by the glass selection, including the chance to try incredible wines that you would normally never get to drink by the glass).

For whatever reason, it left a bad taste in my mouth even after a very tasty meal.

But tasty doesn’t cut it for the price tag. Or the wait to get a reservation. Or the hype. It just doesn’t cut it for something that I have waited for for a year. I would have enjoyed it a lot more without the hype and with the caveat “get a drink and some appetizers – and bring your gold card. I can’t say that I would recommend this place for anything other than a cocktail, the radishes, and a bowl of that insanely delicious pasta. Nothing  else really stands out.

NoMad is just a case of the Emperor new clothes. And – spoiler alert – he isn’t wearing any. And they still cost him a ton of money.

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