Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sushi of Gari: classic unconventional

Sushi of Gari is a quirky place. Look at the stone with the little face on it that the chopsticks are resting on! All the dishware are exquisitely designed. We ordered sake, so someone came by with a display of 16 sake cups, and we each got to choose one. I got black and gold.

We got a half-portion of soup that was somewhere between a dashi and a chicken broth with some cilantro. It was quite delicious.

From left to right:

Kanpachi with jalapeño: 9/10 Really clean, great fish, very balanced kick from jalapeño. It's great to have a more toned down sushi every once in a while at a place like Sushi of Gari. I ate it second to last as a palate cleanser of sorts.

Salmon with sauteed tomato and onion sauce: 7.5/10 I thought this was an atrocity when I first saw it, but it's quite good. The sushi arrives literally smoking hot, and you're supposed to eat it last so you don't burn yourself. It's less amazing than I remember. I also remember it having a garlic sauce instead of an onion sauce for some reason.

Red snapper with greens, pine nuts, and fried lotus: 10/10 I love that there are greens on here, and it works! I also love lotus and pine nuts. It's practically the only time I like crunchy things on top of my sashimi.

Seared toro with garlic and ginger sauce: 10/10 This is one of the top creations here. I'm amazed that I wasn't outraged by the fact that they seared some beautiful toro, but it was just as melty as if it were raw, and the taste was fuller (more rounded? I can't figure out how to describe it) because the fish was slightly cooked. The online menu says "hint of ... sauce". There's no such thing as a "hint" of anything in this restaurant.

Halibut with quail egg and truffle oil 8/10: I love quail eggs, and this could be a 10/10 if the egg were warm. Especially since it followed the hot tomato sushi, it was strange to eat an egg so *cold*. Not room temperature... cold.

The dish also tries too hard. It arrives on its own special plate, and the truffle oil seems out of place. If we must use an expensive ingredient... why not caviar? I think it would go better against the mild taste of the halibut and egg, and the combination of poached egg and caviar is more tried and true.

Left to right again

Some kind of fish with mushrooms: 3/10 I don't even remember what fish this was, but the weird creamy mushroom tasted kind of like a cheap casserole. It was also bland on bland.

Eel with avocado: 4/10 I don't know why they creamed that eel. It's all chopped up and fried, but chopped up again and mixed with sauce? I didn't understand what was happening, but it was a little ABC in texture. The flavor was good though.

Chu-toro with radish ponzu: 5/10-8/10 When the server told me that the topping was radish, I tasted a tiny bit (really strong on the ponzu... and it was more acidic than usual), and I removed 90% of my topping. It was great. I have to assume that if I left the entire dollop on, I would have choked.

Left to right:

Seared sea bass 6/10: Too fishy. Sea bass isn't even a fishy fish. It could have been a flavor that was brought out by the smoke. The flavor from the smoke was quite strong.

Seared toro again! our only repeat.

Tuna tartare with pine nuts and fried seaweed: 9.5/10 This one was really fun. The really hard crunchiness of the fried seaweed went very well with the tartare. It broke like a cracker, so you have to make sure that you eat it whole. I took off the 0.5, because it was really difficult to eat whole. It was too vertically stacked for my abilities.

Spicy scallop hand roll: 6.5/10. I guess it was okay. there was too much mayo, and I really don't get the hand roll thing... did someone lose their sushi mat?

Overall Sushi of Gari was fun! If you're a traditionalist, then don't waste your time. But if you like things like Sushi Samba and crazy rolls, this is the place to be. The sashimi are elaborate, but they don't change very often, so in a way the dishes have become classics. A lot of the dishes are very heavy handed with the sauce/toppings, so my biggest complaint is that I only had ginger and sake as palate cleansers. Even some shaved ice in the middle or some shiso leaves would have helped immensely.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Milos: Greek food, Greek service

When I walked into Milos, I was transported by the hustle and bustle of people chatting and the clinking of glasses; the smell of Mediterranean herbs, olives, and capers; and the curvy plates, some white and some in a wavy clear pattern against blocks of white tablecloths.... perhaps an abstract interpretation of the white walls of Santorini?

And then I reached the hostess. After providing the details of our reservation, we were led to a private party upstairs where I recognized no one. By the time I turned around, the hostess had already abandoned us.

A team of 3 leisurely flipped through some books, asked if there were other possible names for the reservation, and finally concluded that there was incidentally a table for 8 under the original name that I gave them where there were 2 empty chairs. Thank goodness their bookkeeping had little social impact.

We started off with delicious bread and all sorts of hummus and yogurt spreads.

I insisted that we get the octopus that the restaurant's known for. It was okay. The octopus was too gummy.

One jumbo shrimp! It was very fresh.

Zucchini chips. They were about the same as Avra, but were more artfully stacked as a cylinder with the dipping cream in the middle.

Calamari was incredibly fresh, but not very well seasoned. The server distributed the calamari but not the sauce! I think this is around when someone showed up and dumped red wine into my friend's white wine. He was very apologetic and replaced it with a fresh bottle of white.

Grilled veggies and fish. By no fault of Milos, the fish were dry. I don't think most fish are meant to be cooked on the grill. The flavors, however, were well infused and delightful.

Salad. I felt less health conscious after the eggplant. Skip!

Lobster salad. Best entree we had here. the salad was light, citrusy, and fresh. The lobster was possibly over the regulation size.

Fried dough balls were amazing! It tastes as if they were fried and then dipped/coated in a hot syrup, so that when they arrived at the table, the sugar coating had hardened into a slightly hard shell. They didn't stick to each other though.

Baklava, walnut cake, and custard in phyllo dough. They were all pretty good, but none of them stood out as much as the dough balls.

Overall the food is pretty good. It's what you would expect from a good Mediterranean restaurant. The lobster and dough balls were a head above the rest.

The ambiance was as fun as our mid-dinner show (courtesy of another table)

This is what I think of the service:

But why worry! When in a Greek restaurant...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why doesn't Finagle Bagel move to NYC?

I'm sick, so it's time to post about random gripes.

Finagle Bagel is the best. It belongs in more cities!!

You canNOT get a breakfast bagel like this anywhere else... under $4.

This was a sausage, egg, and cheese on a jalapeno bagel. A few things are a little unfamiliar here to other bagel joints: real egg that they just cracked, 2 sausage patties instead of one, real melty cheese, and the best bagel ever.

We also had one on chocolate chip, which was also delicious.

Icing on the cake:

See the metal belt in front of the bagels? When you order a bagel, they throw it on there, and then it goes through this really fast slicer, and .... *tssss*.......*fugn*! It flies to the person preparing your bagel. It's awesome. I can watch it slice bagels all day.

I hear that if it messes one up, you get it for free! But I haven't been so luckily. The contraption is designed pretty well and tends to right the bagel before it gets to the slicer.

You want some Finagle Bagel? Visit Boston!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Shiny shells adorn the back wall of this sleek establishment on the first floor of a Relais et Chateaux property across from Central Park. Try saying the first part of that 5 times fast.

After riding through freezing traffic of hell to get here, I was happy to find the space open and warm.

Marea is known as one of the top seafood places, and somehow after all the oysters and lobster this weekend, I'm ready for more seafood!

Amuse bouche: scallops with white polenta foam 7/10: It was good, but didn't make much of a splash. It got me really hungry though... and I must say that it was a little overshadowed by the delicious and obviously oily olive bread.

Razor clam and geoduck crudos: 7/10:

Starting with the razor clam at the top. It didn't really strike me as anything special. I liked it because I've been craving razor clam all weekend, but it didn't come off as recently alive as I wanted... I also didn't understand the thin layer of cucumber on the bottom that caused more confusion than anything.

I love geoduck. It's one of the most nasty looking creatures ever, but it's so delicious and sweet and crisp. I have a sweet tooth even with seafood. My fellow foodie mentioned that she would have liked it more with a chili pepper instead of a bell pepper. I hadn't thought about that, and I must say that I agree. Some kick would have gone well with the sweetness.

Chestnut soup with mushrooms: 8/10: I think we got this just because it was so cold. The very words "chestnut" and "soup" warmed us up inside. The soup was delicious... the chestnut soup itself was almost bush-soup-delicious. the mushrooms were cooked in bacon fat and smoke and were a great surprise. It was a little heavy compared to the seafood, but... soup!

Octopus and bone marrow fusilli: 10/10 What a brilliant combination. I really loved this dish and can absolutely understand why it's a staple of the restaurant.

The bone marrow and red wine red sauce was just to die for. I could dip bread in this sauce all day long. It was rich and creamy and coated the perfectly al dente fusilli and tender octopus. I think I drooled a little just writing about it.

Lobster ravioli: 9/10: I'm going to go ahead and say that this is the best lobster ravioli I've had. This might be because somehow I keep either missing the lobster ravioli at Ciano or going with people who don't eat shellfish, but I can't think of any other place that might have a better lobster ravioli. My only complaint was that the ravioli skin was a little too hard around the edges.

They plated this with the fusilli, and I was just alternating, jamming, and having a great time. By the time I was done with the 2 pastas, I was so full that I could barely talk.

Turbot: 6/10: I was so full by the time this arrived that it tasted like a 5/10. I adjusted it up 1 because I figure that my stomach was biased to the pasta course before it. In any case, the skin was really crisp, loved the cabbage, the sour fruits on top were interesting and made the whole thing taste like haute-Thanksgiving, the grated something or the other was too grainy for me, but my fellow foodie liked it.... the fish was tender... but it came off as *so* fishy. I don't remember turbot ever being this fishy, so I finished less than I would have on a full stomach.

Overall, I think Marea is worth going to just for the pasta, and in particular the fusilli. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to plan a trip there now. Perhaps I can find an excuse to go to Columbus Circle!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Boston, MA - Island Creek Oyster Bar

Boston has some really good restaurants that we often revisit, but for some reason we've never been to a raw bar. We were originally going to go to Neptune Oyster, which is supposedly the best, but they did not take reservations and stopped taking names at least 2 hours before they closed. So what did we do? We went to a competing oyster bar: Island Creek Oyster.

Operationally, this place was a disaster. (Perhaps less of a disaster than the place the stopped taking customers well before they closed) There were two separate waiting lists for the restaurant and the huge bar area. The bar tenders kept the lists in their heads. Oh and there's something that the servers keep having to get to, but in order to get there, they have to pass by the doorway and the mosh pit of people waiting to be seated.

We decided to wait with a delicious half bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse, which arrived in an inappropriately bulbous glass.

After about an hour, we were finally seated.

There were at least 12 different types of oysters to choose from, and we were only 2 people hoping to have a balanced meal, so we picked 6 and ordered 2 of each.

They kindly left us a list with our order, as they said, "clockwise from the lemon..."

Island creek: Restaurant namesake. They were really large and rather meaty for an east coast oyster, and had a mild sweet finish.

Thatch island: My favorite. It had a much sweeter finish, and was less meaty than the island creek. It also had a little clam-like "crunch" at the end.

Wellfleet: Very mild, tasted the least "fishy", and did not come off as sweet or salty. It carried the condiments well.

Rocky nook: a little salty and seafoody

Ichabod flat: My bf's favorite. It started off a little salty, but had a sweet finish like the island creek and thatch island oysters. It was kind of a blend of the previous oysters. It also carried the sauce well.

Kumamoto: The only west coast oyster that we picked. It was very salty and fishy.

Deeelightful! Those shells were a little deeper than I'm used to, and I was starting to get quite full!

Fries and fish head croquettes. They called the croquettes beignets. I should have been suspicious. They had much too much potato and were too fishy. I guess I was hoping that they were going to make beignets. The fries were very good and well salted.

Lobster and short rib pasta. The pasta itself was quite salty, but that would have been okay with more alcohol. Unfortunately we had already finished the wine. The short ribs were very well cooked, but the lobsters were a little gummy. Overall, it's a pretty good pasta. I just have really high pasta standards.

I'd come back for a good drink and another round of the other 6 oysters! I would make a reservation next time though. Also I was hoping to try their razor clams but they were out!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Not your average take-out with Liberty View

Liberty View makes a very average duck, but you can turn that into something much more interesting.

I don't normally eat like this, but my body is exhausted from fighting off the virulent cocktail of the flu and sudden stomach illnesses. I'm pretty sure that I ate an unnatural amount of Purell today.

My point is, even takeout can be made interesting with a little tweaking.

Here's the very average duck. It comes with your usual sliced cucumbers and green onions, wrappers, and sauce. When a Peking duck is cooked correctly, air is pumped into the space between the skin and the meat so that the skin is all crispy, and the meat soft and moist. I have no idea what the process is here, but Liberty View gets the gist of it.

They also have a spicy tendon appetizer, which is just nice soft cartilage in spicy oil. If you've never had this and think it's disgusting... well that's too sad, but you can be creative and find something else that serves the same purpose.

Chinese Take-out Assemble! Notice the last step. As Iron Man or the green Power Ranger makes a show worth watching, the spicy tendon makes this a dinner worth eating.

We also got some chow fun on the side for no particular reason.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brushstroke... of genius

Although Neta's my favorite new sushi restaurant and the best overall meal, Brushstroke has the most memorable new dishes. The reason Brushstroke wasn't my absolute favorite is that the sushi's not that good (even though Ichimura, its hidden child-restaurant is supposedly one of the best).

The space is small and warmly lit. Everything's covered in wood, and wood-like colors. I loved the fact that I was able to see my food. The presentation of the food itself was nice, but the dishes that the food are served in are absolutely exquisite.

Apple cider sake: 8/10. Delicious, but the presentation was kind of plain. It came with the towels, and I was tempted to dip my towel in the sake because it didn't look like something that I was supposed to injest.

We got the Mid-Winter Kaiseki Menu of course, and it did not disappoint.

Winter bamboo shoots with monkfish liver in tosazu gelee: 9/10: Waiters kept passing by with these giant leaves. They were eye-catching, but I'm not sure if they did anything in terms of flavor. The variety of flavors, textures, and fun combinations hidden underneath were almost overwhelming. I had so much fun munching on the tender bamboo shoots and watercress that I almost forgot about the hidden monk liver. There was also a random giant bean.

Everything was a little difficult to eat though. I could not get to the rest of the gelee and miso mustard at the bottom of the bowl!

Guinea hen broth with winter vegetables: 6.5/10: The daikon and taro were great, the guinea hen meatball was good, but nothing was really that interesting. Fellow diners liked the pieces of lemongrass, but I found it overpowering. The broth was simply a good chicken soup, which seems trite.

Sashimi: 4/10: Oh boy... They came out with fatty tuna, Spanish mackerel, and fluke. The fluke wasn't even that good. Everything was way too cold and somewhat unpleasant to eat. They should have known better... do they not order the same fish as Ichimura?!

Lobster with uni cream sauce and somen noodles with uni flakes: 8/10: Thank goodness the sashimi fiasco was over. The lobster in uni sauce was absolutely decadent. They even cut the lobster into 3 little pieces, so that we could enjoy a bite and then have some noodles. I must admit that the uni flakes were good but a little strange and dry. Perhaps I would have given this 10/10 if there were actual uni.

Rockfish with sun-dried tomatoes and lotus chips: 6.75/10 The rockfish was extremely buttery. I really dislike sun-dried tomatoes in general, but I wasn't too upset by it. I really only ordered it because my boyfriend ordered the other fish, and I wanted to try both. The lotus chips didn't add much to the dish.

Sea bass with black sesame smoke: 7.25/10 It tasted like miso cod with basil pesto. Good but the basil pesto was a little overpowering. It was fun to watch the chef grill it behind the sushi bar though.

Egg custard with crab and black truffle: 10/10 Brushstroke gave us the black truffle complements of the chef, which was really sweet, since it was $32 per person. I do love black truffle, but this dish really does not need it. Having this dish again reminded me of how much work my egg custard recipe needs.

The egg was only about 1000 times smoother, and the broth was, as I guessed, dashi based, but the rest of the flavors created a symphony that made my broth taste like "chopsticks" (on the piano). There were bits of chive, truffle oil, and what else! And how do they make the broth so gelatinous but smooth?!

Pork belly with huckleberries, cauliflower puree, and pickled vegetables: 8/10

Tea-infused duck with sweet potato sauce: 8/10

The two meat dishes were equally good, and both perfectly cooked. But perhaps I had nothing new to say because I was still recovering from my egg custard-induced daze.

Mushrooms in ankake sauce over rice: 7.5/10: The photo cannot capture the distracting beauty of the bowl. The shine from the gold rim on the black bowl actually got in the way of my scooping into the food. The food was also very good! But it was a little too soupy for my liking.

Crab and lobster zousui rice: 7/10 The presentation was very fun with the egg on top and the broth still bubbling when it arrived at the table, but it stayed way too hot for way too long. When it was finally edible, and the egg was properly scrambled into the rice, it was good but nothing too special.

Mirin and soy sauce ice cream duo: 9/10: I saw it on the menu and I had to try it! Both were good, but the soy sauce ice cream was surprisingly good. I could taste just the hint of soy sauce at the beginning of each bite, as if someone just touched a barely discernible amount to my tongue... then it gives way to the sweet creaminess of the ice cream.

I was also glad that it was paired with the mirin ice cream which was a little more normal and sweet, because the soy sauce ice cream alone would have been overwhelming. I'm not a fan of savory desserts.

Japanese roasted tea pudding with kuromame beans: 9/10: It was another custard, but completely different from the previous one. Even though it was a tea pudding, we agreed that it was reminiscent of something toasted.

Lychee sorbet with roasted persimmon soup 9/10: The soup was served slightly warm, which made for a fun hot and cold combination. Persimmons can have an overwhelming flavor, but it surprisingly did not fight with the light sweetness of the lychee.

As usual, the meal ended with some rice crackers. Brushstroke has come a long way with these rice crackers... now all of them have shiso powder instead of shiso and the other powder... whatever it was, it did not have any taste. They have also learned that more powdered sugar makes people happier.

My three meals here have been very different, and I'm happy to see that the most memorable dish (the egg custard) stayed, and the only other staple, the rice crackers, have been improved. It is possibly the best value for $135 in the neighborhood.

However, Brushstroke is a restaurant for relatively mild palates, and the dishes tend to be a little soupy.

Well done, Mr. Bouley. Next time, please bring back the spiny lobster!