Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tatu (Nairobi)

Nairobi is pretty modern, but for the most part, it can be shady, dusty, crowded, and covered in vehicle exhaust.

The Fairmont Norfolk is an old-world oasis - maybe even a little too stuffy in this day and age - but its restaurant Tatu is hip and fresh. Despite their excellent food, the space was pretty empty. That probably had something to do with New York prices in freaking Kenya.

There's no hint of the madness outside here. It's the only hotel I've ever visited that had security guards check the insides of purses at the door.

Papadum and naan with 4 dips including some delicious chutneys, and a strange mint dip that was more mayo than mint. The naan was delicious and soft. The chutneys were so good that I forgot to take a photo until we completely finished the mango one and half the tomato one.

Salmon cream amuse bouche. This one was really strange. The salmon cream was pretty sweet, and then had a really strong salmon finish. Do they even have salmon in this part of the world?!

Lamb in more rich Indian spices. I didn't find out until much later that they recently hired an Indian executive chef for Fairmont's East Africa operations. I was not very surprised. The lamb was slightly tough, but the flavors more than made up for it.

Ostrich! It was incredibly tender and lean. It was the reddest bird I have ever seen... the salad on the bottom was very good and helped offset the rich flavor of the meat. I was a little worried that I asked for medium well (travel guides told me to eat everything scorched earth, including vegetables) and it came out medium rare. I didn't get sick though, thank goodness.

Fries! Because we won't be having this in the bush for the next 10 days... at least!

I didn't take any pictures of the bush food in the Masai Mara and Serengeti, because I'm sure that it would make someone nervous. It was more or less similar food to this but with cheaper ingredients, just as much spice, and... no frying! Everything was actually quite good, including some fancy desserts. The standout course though, was soup. Somehow every camp had delicious carrot, mushroom, pumpkin, cauliflower, squash, celeriac, and tomato soup!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Off to Africa

Dear Reader,

I will be traveling in Africa over the new few weeks, and internet will be spotty. I will have to post about all the wonderful bush breakfasts, English teas, and vineyards when I return.

Hope you won't miss me too much, and wish me luck on the lions, mosquitoes, and great white sharks.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Neta... watch out, Masa!

2 top chefs from Masa branched off to open a more accessible restaurant in a less stuffy neighborhood, less bound by the gravity of the name of their mentor, and less stringent rules about flying in the fish from Japan... and Neta was the result.

Watch out, Masa. with 1/3 of the cost, the quality comes dangerously close.

Dungeness crab with cucumber and dashi vinaigrette 9/10: Great delicate dish to start the meal. the crab was shredded such that it was just bigger than the cucumber. The acidity of the vinaigrette clung onto the meat without overpowering the mild taste of the crab.

Toro tartare with caviar and toasted bread 9/10: I only docked it a point because although the bread was soft and beautifully toasted, I wish it either had a little more richness, or the toro a little more acidity. Otherwise, this delicious dish was a little too mild especially for the surrounding courses.

Spanish mackerel 8/10: By far the least fishy mackerel I've ever had. It almost had the consistency of hamachi.

Scallop, uni, and foie gras 10/10: You should know by now that I'm a total sucker for uni. But wait... this dish isn't all about the uni. That's the brilliance of it. I enjoyed every single part of this rich tender composition. I was pleasantly shocked that the flavors did not fight for my attention. I used the lime in my left hand to help scoop up the goodies.

Spicy Stina 10/10: Please tell me if I spelled the name wrong. We got all these wonderful food and drinks that weren't on the menu thanks to our special VIP foodie. This drink was made with a charred lobster head, a layer of spicy red *heat* that enveloped your throat, and a soft aromatic foam produced from what I assume is the protein and calcium from the lobster shell.

One thing that intrigued me the entire time was that somehow when I sipped this, I was consuming the cocktail, chili oil, and foam proportionally! Almost always the top layers end up getting consumed first so that the drink you start off with isn't the one that you end with!

It tasted like a meal in a glass... and it arrived just in time for....

Fried prawns and asparagus 10/10: The timing could not have been better. The prawns were 100% edible from head to tail. It was softer than a soft shell crab, and the head packed the full flavor that one would expect. You didn't even have to suck it like a savage; and crispier is better. There was even a piece of wok-fried lobster at the bottom.

But my goodness.. this dish with the spicy lobster cocktail! The drink almost became a sauce for the dish.

Rice cake with salmon tartare and bonito flakes, pickled veggies, and salmon with spicy aioli 8/10: The rice was crispy but the crust was a little too hardened and made the block difficult to eat. I always eat the meat by the bones of the fish because it picks up a lot of the flavorful oils and collagen near the spine. I really enjoyed their presentation of this very special cut that many people just discard.

Salmon, hamachi, toro 10/10: I don't have much to say here... extremely high quality fish. This is one of the top reasons why I love Masa, and why I now also love Neta. Everything just melts in your mouth, and the portions of fish to rice were perfect. The temperature begged me to pick up the fish with my fingers. The sauces on the sushi heightened the flavors of each fish and with a perfect dollop of wasabi inside, you hardly needed soy sauce.

Clam, spanish mackerel, uni 10/10: Clam was tender and extremely fresh - for some reason most sushi restaurants' clams are a little slimy... but of course, I had high standards coming here. There goes the extremely mild and delicious spanish mackerel again! The uni really highlighted... the uni! It was even more buttery and flavorful than the one in the scallop course.

Suji, fried shrimp 6.5/10: I'm just personally not a big fan of cooked sushi (with possibly 2 exceptions both at Sushi of Gari)

Eel roll 8/10: One of the best eel rolls that I've ever had. It was mild yet flavorful. One thing that I always loved about Masa that transcribed well to Neta was the restrained usage of rice - it was treated as another ingredient and not a filler.

Neta roll with toro and scallion 9/10: Although very good, it didn't stand out the way that I expected a name-sake dish to.

Rice and cucumber wrapped in shiso leaf 10/10: Very fun palate cleanser! Not as intense as the one that I had last night, but just as effective. I believe that orange sauce was plum.

Peanut butter ice cream and matcha 10/10: Peanut butter is one of those things that I almost never eat, but I loved this ice cream. It was so creamy that I don't even want to know how it was made. The peanut butter had all of the great peanut flavor and none of the offensive overly sweet aftertaste or thick stickiness. The ice cream even accurately captured the smokey finish from well-roasted peanuts.

And because we were dining with a VIP, we *had* to get a serving of this outrageousness:

Summer truffle ice cream 10/10: Are you kidding??? Before the ice cream even hit my mouth, my senses were overwhelmed with the aroma of fresh truffle. By the time the cold creaminess of the ice cream hit my tongue, I was already passing out. The barely-there thinness of the truffle meant that by the time I was eating the ice cream, the truffle was gone! It was absolutely an incredible way to finish the meal.

This was easily one of the best Japanese meals I've had in a while. For me to have enjoyed this meal so much after dining at Per Se last night is a testament to the greatness of the chefs at this establishment. I am so happy that they chose to be in West Village and not Columbus Circle. I'll be coming back again soon!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Per Se Birthday Dinner

I knew that my boyfriend was up to no good, but every time I asked, I got some weird response about Guy Fieri's American Kitchen, which had Gigli-esque reviews.

Given how everyone was freaking out after he texted me that "he got off the wait list" in the middle of my mani-pedi, I knew it was something big.

As a token of my pre-appreciation, I squeezed in my Lanvin dress, put on my Giuseppe Zanottis and waited for him to come home and take me to the blue door of Per Se. How he got a reservation on a week's notice, I'll never know.

We were immediately greeted with warm greetings and a menu with birthday wishes addressed to me on the menu. We were offered a vegetarian tasting or the Chef's tasting. I made the obvious choice.

Excuse my very dark pictures. The pictures with flash destroyed the colors, and we were in a very dark room.

Cheese puff amuse bouche 9/10: very cheesy - somewhere between an asiago and an edam, it was pungent and just what one needed to wake up the taste buds.

Marinated salmon with creme fraiche 10/10: It was served on an adorable little cone like an ice cream!! I cannot point to anything that was wrong with it, and I enjoyed it very much. Therefore it was perfect.

Our white wine - a complex Riesling with a fruity finish. 10/10

The famous "Oysters and Pearls" 10/10: I can see why this is the signature dish. It was my favorite of the night. The buttery sauce went well with the mild gummy tapiocas on the bottom and the sharp saltiness of the caviar and bursting oysters. Somehow everything in this soup was round but had its own strong flavor and texture.

My only complaint was that it was a little hot and I had to blow on the soup. Why would I have to alter the temperature of anything at a 3 Michelin star restaurant? But the flavors were so good that I would have given it an 11 if it made sense, so it still got a 10.

Funny shapes for butter and bread. The first butter looked like a sorbet!

Acorn squash veloute with pears, walnuts, and sunchokes: 9.5/10. I much prefer this in lieu of a salad. I hate pureeing and straining soup, so I always appreciate a well-made complex soup, but what made this special was really the perfectly cooked pear on the bottom and the fact that this collision between a perfectly common soup and a perfectly common salad made so much sense.

Halibut 8/10: Sorry the picture is so dark but there wasn't much to see... the halibut was never one of my favorite fish, and it didn't completely yield to my fork. The brussels sprouts were under seasoned, but the truffle sauce pooled around the dish more than made up for it.

Butter poached lobster 8/10: It tasted a little overcooked to me! Although the butter sauce was great, I actually liked the lobster at Jungsik more (which only had 1 star) I feel like this dish fell back too much on the big fat lobster tail. It lacked innovation.

Our red for the rest of the courses 8/10. I love a good pinot noir, but the wine was a little one-dimensional.

Squab with matsutake mushrooms 8/10: The squad had a very liver-like taste. I was fine with it since I love liver, but it did throw me off. I couldn't place if it was something already infused in the meat, or the sauce. The mushrooms were extremely fresh and strong. The whole dish reminded me of foraging with woodland creatures... and eating them.

Lamb ribeye 10/10: We both thought the lamb was a miniature watermelon when it first came out. The green pattern of the swiss chard wrap was deceiving. The garnishes of this dish continued its playful theme. Everything went well together: polenta croutons, garlic confit, bacon, and various veggies could have been eaten in more combinations than I had lamb to try. In particular I loved the cubic polenta croutons that burst into individual grains.

Sequatchie cove creamery's "cumberland" cheese 5/10: Cheese was fine, figs were great. The pumpernickel black pudding on the lower left made me very upset, which was not helped by the random onions hidden behind the cheese.

Rainbow (raspberry) sherbet with mango sugar and orange cream 9.5/10. It was shockingly sweet and sour at the same time. It was an intense and vigorous, but it scrubbed my tongue clean of any lingering tastes of meat or cheese.

Pomegranate soda in a white chocolate shell, pine nut nougatine, lime cake, and peppermint ice cream 7/10: The pomegranate soda was the pink fizzy foam trapped in the white chocolate. I took it down like a shot. The delightful flavor of pomegranate and fizz immediately spread everywhere. The nougatine surprisingly did not stick to my teeth. The peppermint ice cream was too much - it tasted much too medicinal to me.

Butterscotch pudding with chocolate and earl grey & caramel ice cream 9/10: The dish was very rich like all of its ingredients, but because everything was either whipped in the form of mousse or ice cream, it tasted like butterscotch clouds.

Chocolate birthday cake with vanilla ice cream 10/10: it tasted more like 7/10. It was a solid cake and everything... but I got a candle and a wish!!

Assortment of chocolates. 10/10: We could pick as many as we wanted, but I was already breaking out of my dress, so I only picked 3: passionfruit, mojito, and marzipan. I couldn't even get to the passionfruit, but the other two perfectly captured the essence of their flavors. I'm pretty sure that the mojito chocolate had rum in it.

"Coffe and donuts" 7/10: I was honestly way too full at this point and only tasted a tiny bit of each. The coffee was actually coffee ice cream with froth on top, and the donuts were hard little buggers....

Bonbons and an assortment of nougats, macarons, and truffles 8/10: system overload!! The bonbons had ice cream in the middle and were an absolute delight to eat even when we were pretty much in pain. I couldn't even bring myself to try a nougat, but the macarons were great (although no Laduree or Pierre Hermes), and the truffles shells were a little too thick.

Cookies to go... just in case we got hungry during the cab ride ;)

Overall this was an amazing experience. Is Per Se the best restaurant in New York City? Now that I've tried all of the top restaurants, I can decidedly say YES (according to my ranking). It was more coherent than Brooklyn Fare, more varied than Le Bernardin (thought that's still the best *meal*), is more modern and had a better ambiance than Daniel, and is more innovative than Masa.

However, it is not the best restaurant in North America. Alinea reigns supreme.

Some of the dishes were... dare I say... not quite perfectly cooked. But it was a 3 hour extravaganza, and the dessert courses were a tour de force. For my birthday, I wanted great dessert, and I got 5 courses of it. I have never had so many great desserts all at once.

It was a little strange that they did not have a set wine pairing for the prix fixe, but the service was the best I've ever had. Absolutely impeccable.

Live pineapple trees outside the restaurant! Indoors!

Best. Birthday. Ever. (Except the day that I was born). Thank you darling!!