Charming Charleston – One Fabulous Dinner at Husk

It’s been a long time since an American focused fancy restaurant has really wowed me. Maybe that’s because I generally prefer the assertive tastes and spices of Southeast Asian cuisine. Maybe it’s because if I have a special occasion meal, I want the pomp and circumstance that French restaurants offer. Maybe it’s because I have been known to eat a slow cooker full of meat and cheese dip on Superbowl Sunday.

Whatever the reason, I just don’t usually get fine dining American restaurants.

But then, I don’t usually get to eat at Husk.

Sean Brock’s restaurants have earned him cookbook deals, James Beard Awards, and the respect of the entire country – it’s easy to see why. Husk prides itself on being an entirely Southern restaurant. As in, everything that you eat has originated in the South and will be prepared in traditional Southern ways, with a few fusion and high end touches thrown in for good measure.

20141115_203652The board that shows where the products come from each day. Pork, beef, fish, kale, sesame seeds…every damn thing comes from the South. It takes locavorism to a whole new level.
20141115_211738 Though this restaurant is widely regarded as one of Charleston’s best, but it isn’t at all stuffy. You want to wear a collared shirt or a cocktail dress, but you are greeted warmly and practically expected to pick up chicken bones with your fingers to be sure to get every succulent morsel. This place is perfect for a night out with real foodie friends. 20141115_214302 Benne seed rolls and pork butter

Sesame seeds are widely used in Charleston’s cuisine and are called benne seeds, from the African word for sesame seeds. The rolls are warm and fluffy – a little sweet and cottony for my tastes, but he butter absolves these of any evils. Pork butter. Sweet, savory, and a little salty. It compliments the slight nuttiness of the seed-topped bread and as it melts in yellow rivulets onto the rolls, it brings bread to a new level. Great way to start the night.

20141115_214753 Kentuckyaki Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Napa Cabbage and Shiitake “Slaw” with Toasted Peanuts, Cucumber-Lime Dressing

The best pig’s ears I have ever had – and I love pig ears. These were highly recommended by our gregarious server, and he was dead on. These put bacon to SHAME – they are so crispy, so crunchy, but not too hard or stiff to easily bite. They are infused with barnyard, porky flavor that is intense and complex – to me, it tastes almost like boar in its flavor. Not gamy, just deep. They are tossed in a sweet and salty Asian bbq style sauce. The ears are topped with a crunchy, tart slaw and wrapped in sweet butter lettuce leaves. This is an excellent balance of flavors and textures, using an ingredient that we don’t see too much up here in NYC. It’s also the restaurant’s philosophy in a single bite. Local ingredients, traditional techniques, fusion and high end flavors. Fantastic. I almost ordered another one of these for dessert. 20141115_214806 Wood Fired Clams, Sweet Corn “Chowder,” Hot Sauce with Herbed Chicken Fat, Mustard Greens and Crispy Chicken Skins

Finally, Jewish comfort food and Southern comfort food united in all of their savory glories. This is talk stoppingly delicious. Corn chowder is sweet and rich, but not at all greasy – it’s just rich with the corn milk and probably some butter. The clams are juicy and soft, offering some briny, salty flavor to the earthy soup. The chicken skins are…unreal. Almost like fried clams themselves, with a feather-light textures and crispy, potato-chip crunchiness. And get a load of that beautiful wooden serving bowl!
20141115_221719 Amberjack from Mark Marhefka, Roasted Cauliflower and Butternut Squash, Tuscan Lacinato Kale, Brown Butter

Amberjack is one of my favorite fish and I was incredibly pleased with this preparation. I liken this fish to a slightly firmer Chilean sea basS (Which I haven’T had in years, since it’s in danger of becoming extinct). It’s mild, soft, and extremely delicious. The brown butter is so..buttery. Nutty, rich, sweet. It really anchors the fish and is perfect with the tender kale. The squash is a little underdone, but the cauliflower is crispy, brown, and addictive. 20141115_224715Espresso and Doughnuts

Espresso cake and doughnut ice cream. Super caffeinated and super sweet. I especially love the extra smooth ice cream with crumbles of doughnuts beneath.

Husk is a must visit when in Charleston. It’s so wonderful that it’s almost worth a trip just to eat there. I never really GOT Southern food before  I visited Charleston. This meal was delicious, the portions are great, and the prices are beyond fair. I can’t wait to go back for more pig ears.

I’ll see ya soon, Charleston.

California Dreamin: The Whimsical World of The Bazaar

When I love something, I love it all the way.

I watch all of The Real Housewives franchises.

I know every dance step to “Oops, I Did it Again” and perform it each and every time I hear it.

And I will eat at every Jose Andres restaurant until I have dined at them all.

This is where The Bazaar comes into play.

This Jose Andres restaurant kinda put him on the map for the West Coast. In the swanky SLS hotel in Beverly Hills, it bills itself as a molecular gastronomic palace that delivers both traditional tapas and nouveau ones. I knew that I had to check it out.

20140927_185223 The vibe is so cool. It’s irreverent and eclectic, like somewhere that your super cool sister might live if she came into a ton of money and went on a trip to Morocco to find herself. Think tribal masks, hologram maitre d’hotels, plush divans on which to dine, and a beautiful outdoor space that seems relaxed yet provides excellent people watching. 20140927_190539 Magic Mojito20140927_190553 Because when your mojito comes sweetened with cotton candy, it’s magical and you get it. It is sweet and tasty, but really…also so cool.

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Even cooler is the capirinha, which comes tableside and frozen with liquid nitrogen. It’s like bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble…but with booze.

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I  found it a little too bitter, but it is still very fun to order.20140927_191005Modern caprese

A little disappointing, to be honest. The flavors are all there – juicy, earthy tomatoes that have the thinnest skin ever…they are totally undetectable, which is great in my book! The pesto is garlicky and fragrant and the little fried croutons are delish. The mozzarella tastes great but the whole “liquid mozzarella” thing falls flat. It just seems like burratta, but less creamy. It delivers on taste but not the molecular gastronomy selling point.
20140927_191339Steak tartare on kimchi crackers

One of the winners of the night. Less molecular gastronomy, more fusion of great flavors. The crisps are made in house and have just the faintest memory of kimchi – some heat and a little fish funkiness that plays off of the steak tartare in a classic Worcestershire sauce way. The tartare is way above par. It’s so rich and hand chopped, so it has a good chew and a really minerally, deep flavor. It isn’t overly spiced or salted – the kimchi rice crisp does most of the flavoring work. Excellent. 
20140927_192617 Caesar Salad

Great idea, okay execution. The lettuce rolls are filled with cheese and caesar dressing, then topped with more cheese or a raw quail egg yolk. It needs some more acid, salt, and garlic to really come through.20140927_193241 Chicken croquettes

Just as delicious as I remembered them. Wow, I love these. 20140927_193319 Yellowtail ceviche with grapes, rice crisps, and yogurt

Good, not great – wouldn’t get it again. It just fell flat. The grapes are a surprising punch of juice and sweetness, but the yellowtail needs some more acid to keep it from tasting flat and/or fishy. 20140927_193748 Philly Cheesesteak20140927_193807I wish that I had a photo of the inside of these sandwiches because they were filled with homemade cheese whiz….yes, you heard that right…CHEEZ WHIZ…BUT HOMEMADE AND CREAMY AND SHARP AND CHEDDAR AND DELICIOUS! The bread is a very crisp, hollow cracker that is filled with that cheese mixture and the top is layered with thin slices of buttery, delicate Wagyu beef. I could eat another 4 of these, easily.

So, what did I think of Bazaar? Well, I liked it…a lot! It wasn’t insanely pricey (for a special occasion meal), the service was some of the best hat we had in LA, and the food was for the most part quite good. However..it should be billed as modern tapas. Not molecular astronomy. It doesn’t deliver on that front.

Where it does deliver is on the meat front.

Get that steak tartare and magic mojito, then sit back and watch people pull up with their Audis and their nose jobs. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Turning 30 at Daniel

My 30th birthday was pretty much the biggest birthday celebration that I have had since my bat mitzvah. It was multiple days, surprise after surprise, tons of friends, and a meal I have looked forward to since I first read Garlic and Sapphires.

That’s right…I finally had dinner at Daniel.

Some people might call Daniel Boulud’s eponymous flagship restaurant over the top or antiquated. I find it neither. Rather, it fires on all cylinders, all the time – from the moment that you walk into the grandiose yet sleek space, with cavernous ceilings and stools for ladies’ handbags, to the moment that you leave, the taste of warm, vanilla scented madeleines on your tongue as the hostess walks into the street to get you a cab – you are treated as you should be.

As a dear friend who just so happens to be used to the finest things in life.

Even if this is a massive, once in a VERY long while treat.

Please note – because photography is frowned upon, there are no photos of this epic meal. So, for those who are not reading inclined, I do apologize, but who wants to incur the wrath of the chef making you one of the great meals of your life?

Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes with Chilled Soup, Salad with Coomersdale Cheese Octopus Terrine, Chorizo Oil, Arugula Salad

The terrine was a miss (muddy tasting and dense), but everything else was a resounding hit. The gazpacho is rich and earthy and sweet and savory. Truly complex, highlighting every facet of the tomato’s flavor. The salad was light and acidic, with curls of sharp, salty cheese to round out the vegetable’s flavor. It’s tomato season, and the chef knows how to remind you of that in the most delicious way possible. It’s better than my gazpacho and better than any gazpacho I have ever had. It’s just the essence of tomatoes in the best way possible. 

Crispy Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with Artichoke Purée, Pine Nut-Raisin Chutney, Pickled Jalapeño

Delicious. Shrimp at its best is sweet and tender, with a slight snap and a very barely salty hit. This is all that and more, with a crispy coating and rich sauce. The sauce is so very…artichoke-y…that it truly can’t be compared to any other taste. It’s smooth and vibrant with flavor that stands in startling juxtaposition to the shrimp. The pickled jalapenos add just a touch of vinegary heat and the chutney is sweet and chewy. Once again, this dish highlights the chef’s ability to play with textures and flavors on all facets – it’s masterful.

Seared foie gras

The best I have had since Paris. No exaggeration and no other reason for me to expand upon it. Melting, meaty, rich, and a tad sweet. Perfection.

Alaskan Red King Salmon Baked in Clay with Melilot, Roasted Fennel, Huckleberry Coulis
Marcona Almond Pommes Duchesse, Sauce Genevoise

This salmon is almost otherworldly. It’s brought the table in a thick, gray slab of clay. Then, tableside, the head server deftly removes the top layer of clay by tapping it with his spoon until it breaks off cleanly. The salmon is served medium are all the way through, as though it were cooked sous vide. It’s almost creamy in texture and the taste is just the cleanest, butteriest salmon you have ever had. The melilot is a sweet, grassy herb that adds some unexpected lightness to the  fatty fish and the huckleberry coulis is just groundbreaking. Berries and fish…who would have thought? It’s such an unexpected, delicious take on fish. This dish is sublime – King salmon is only in season a short time and  I can’t recommend this enough.

Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant Liquid Caramel, Fleur de Sel, Milk Sorbet

A down home, rich, moist chocoaltey cake with a liquidy caramel center. It’s such a familiar set of tastes after a meal of nouveau and unique tastes – sweet and soft with creamy milk sorbet.

Of course, some mignardises finished the meal.

This meal is perfect from start to finish. Not too much, not too little. The service is helpful but not overbearing – for example, when we ordered a glass of sauternes to share with the foie gras, our server graciously put it in 2 glasses without us asking. And the cocktail and wine list…extraordinary. Of particular notice is that sauternes – the most expensive glass of wine that I have ever ordered, but also the most delicious. It’s thick and tastes like raisins and heaven – it enhances the foie to no end. You can do a tasting menu or a prix fixe, which is what we chose to do, and then each added a course. This allowed us to try dishes like the spot prawns and my husbands delicious beet cured hamachi. 3 hours for 4 courses and it felt like I was in a dream the whole time.

This meal is a major splurge and a worthwhile one.

Here’s to turning 30 at least 5 more times.

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_194244Raw 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_211107Goat 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. 

Sushi Dojo – The Best Sushi Deal in NYC

Here’s the short version – if you want high end, expertly prepared, traditional sushi at a superb price, run, don’t walk, to Sushi Dojo. It isn’t the best in town, but it’s absolutely the best for your money.

Here’s the long version:

Sushi Dojo is somewhat of a renegade on the high-end sushi scene. It’s run by David Bouhadana, a young, Caucasian sushi chef who works behind the counter the whole night with his staff, kibbitzing with regulars and blasting current rock music that seems like it would be more at home at a hip Tribeca coffee shop than a hallowed temple of sushi and sashimi. The restaurant is quite small, with only a few tables and a long sushi bar, and the sushi bar’s seats are…wait for it…comfortable and wide, with tall leather backs. Now, this is something that I could get used to – how often have you emerged from an othewise delicious and luxurious sushi experience only to have a backache from the miserable, hard stools that the establishment provides?

The vibe was actually perfect for our girls night out – less so for a romantic date or quiet meeting. I’m telling you, the chefs were chatty  and jovial and we never once felt out of place with our boisterous laughter.

20140812_185944 Fried shisito peppers

Totally unnecessary but expertly made – the lightest, crispest batter I could imagine with very spicy, zingy peppers – these are only for lovers of spicy food. Some aren’t too spicy, but some are – so let’s not play Russian Roulette if you aren’t up for the game, okay?

And then the sushi begins – 10 pieces for $45. That’s right, 10 pieces of this glimmering, beautiful, sushi for $45. That is a fantastic price. Just look at this stuff:20140812_190435 Snapper

Light, clean, with a melting texture. This is the ideal appetizing bite to start a meal, and the vinegar-y, barely warm rice highlights the fish’s individual tastes. 20140812_190614Mackerel

Thick, richer than the fish before, buttery.
20140812_191127 Tuna

Lean, tender, mild. 
20140812_191710 Tasmanian trout

So much milder than salmon, with an almost sweet finish and buttery texture. 20140812_191848 Toro

Soft, lush, just rich enough without being too fatty. Beautifully cut.
20140812_192012Uni

Santa Barbara Uni, the best in the world to my palate. Soft and airy, with the vaguest briny, sea-water aftertaste that leaves a clean, fresh finish on the tongue.
20140812_192431Eel

Steak like and rich. I could have used a little more eel sauce, but then – I love that sweet stuff. This is an excellent, meaty cut of eel. 20140812_192802 Aji

Always one of my favorite fish. Very clean and pleasantly salty, in super thin slices that fairly melt into the rice.

20140812_193233 Fried shrimp head

The hit of the night! We got this after an (unpictured) excellent raw shrimp nigiri, and were instructed to eat the whole thing. So, we did. The best fish and chips meets crispy potato chip tentacles. Yes, that’s exactly what it tasted like. Tender, crunchy, buttery, and salty. I could snack on these each and every day!20140812_193449 Anchovy

A little strong for my taste, but that’s just personal preference – the fish is presented beautifully and the wasabi is fresh and nasal clearing. 20140812_193851O-Toro

As rich as they come. Almost white with fat and so incredibly rich that we just sat in shock for a few moments after eating it. The perfect way to end any sushi meal.

We went for the 15 course sushi menu, which is $80 per person, and not quite the steal as the $45 omakase. On another night, I would absolutely get the $45 menu. That’s where we got the uni, the eel, and the toro – they don’t give you cheap or ill cut fish on the less expensive menu. It’s a tremendous value for sushi that might not be the best in the city, but is heads and tails above most places that charge at least as much, if not more.  It lacks the innovation of Gari or the “je ne sais quoi”  quality of the holy grail of fish that is Nakazawa, but it is really right behind them. I would call this a wonderful place to take someone who is already a sushi enthusiast – the atmosphere is so atypical and the chefs are so talkative and friendly that anyone who has spent a kajillion dollars on high end sushi in the past will appreciate this unique and ultra delicious experience.

So, long story short: Sushi Dojo could easily become a somewhat affordable obsession.

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!