Archive for September, 2008

Urasawa

Hiro described this meal as an end of summer, beginning of fall. As I have mentioned many times, seasonality is the key to a meal at Urasawa from the flower arrangements to the ingredients and the type of dishes served. The wood of the sushi bar is absolutely pristine and Hiro explained that it is sanded everyday.

I apologize in advance if I have messed up the Japanese terms for each fish – just consider that I do my best.

1. Sweet Shrimp, grated daikon radish, yuzu zest, shiso flower, yuzu skin, miso flower

 

2. Hamo fish (King Eel) that had been deep fried with a sweet and sour sauce served cold 

 

3. Water Eggplant (miso nasu) from Osaka. We were presented with a small towel to be used after eating the eggplant. Stupid me used it before, until Hiro explained that the eggplant was to be eaten with your hands and dipped skin side down into the sauce. It was extremely juicy and yes the towel was needed.

 

4. Tofu custard studded with baby shrimp and uni, topped with ikura (salmon eggs) and a dusting of gold leaf – there is no way to describe the difference between Hiro’s salmon eggs and those you get at other sushi bars. He marinates them himself and they literally pop in your mouth.

custard revealed

 

 

5. Sashimi served in Hiro’s signature ice-carved “sculpture” – Toro from Boston, Kanpachi (yellowtail) from Toyama Prefecture, and Tai (red snapper) from Kyushuu, freshly grated wasabi, shiso flower

 

6. Dobin mushi – In Japan, dobin mushi is usually served as a medicinal soup made with Matsutake mushrooms – dobin means teapot and mushi means steamed. Included in the dobin mushi were shrimp, uni, red snapper, matsutake mushroom, and gingko nut.

 

7. Deep fried abalone (awabi) from Northern California. Hiro explained that he boils the abalone in water with konbu for over 6 hours. This is the “trick” to making abalone tender. It was served with a touch of lime.

 

Hiro had a full sushi bar. To make it even more difficult, we were all on different courses. As most of you know, I ask endless questions; not once did Hiro become impatient. He answered all my dumb questions with a gracious wide smile.

 

8. Shabu-shabu of shrimp, hamo, saga beef, foie gras, and seaweed – Yoshi did the cooking for us – the shrimp took only a second with the foie taking the longest. We were given a soup spoon after the foie had been consumed and then had the broth as a soup course.

 

The beautiful Yoshi – Hiro’s sister

 

An orgy of the Saga beef

9. Grilled Saga Kobe Beef from Southern Japan – A5, Grade 8

 

When I asked Hiro about the grade, his comment was: “Good people make good beef.” My comment to him was the same thing could be said about everything – good people make good food, good people make good friends – you get the idea.

Now sushi. Hiro is now using 180 grains of rice per sushi piece. I did say that one of these days, I am going to count them. (As a side note, you can see, we were having a lot of fun.)

10. Toro

 

11. Grilled toro

 

12. Kanpachi

 

13. Wild Hawaiian Red Snapper

 

14. Spanish mackerel from the southern Japan

 

15. Maguro from Boston

 

16. Ika (squid)

 

17. Grilled Shitake mushroom

 

18. Skipjack

 

19. East Coast Giant Clam

 

20, Uni ( a long discussion followed about how FL is now sourcing their uni from Hokkaido thanks to Hiro)

 

21. Sweet shrimp

 

Hiro’s brother-in-law  preparing the live shrimp

 

22. Abalone

 

23. Pike mackerel formed into a sort of deconstructed roll with rice and sansho leaf “cooked” with hot metal rods.

24. Toro roll

 

24. Kobe beef

 

25. Tamago

 

26. Asian pear gelee, umeboshi sauce and goji berries

 

27. Black sesame ice cream with red bean

 

28. Green Tea

 

BYO Wines – My husband’s comments

’95 Billecart Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth- smooth, sharp flavor and superb finish.

’97 Corton Charlemagne, Delarche–one of my favorite Cortons.  Clean, straightforward superb chardonnay.  Great finish.
’90 Gevery Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques, Rene Leclerc.  Superb.  Great example of how red burgundy goes with great Japanese food.  Hiro paired with meat and other strong dishes.  Solid, well aged plenty of fruit, well rounded and that great velvet burgundy finish.
Urasawa is just a superb restaurant and Hiro is a wonderful chef and person.

Marinus

We have known Cal Stamenov for years, since his days with Michel Richard at Citrus. We hadn’t been back to Marinus for quite some time so decided that a trip to Bernardus Lodge was long over-due. Our last stay at the Lodge was tremendous; I wish I could say that this was the case this time.

We arrived early for check-in, were given a glass of wine and informed that our room was being readied ASAP. After 45 minutes of sitting in the lobby area, John checked with the front desk person who had said our room was almost ready. He looked at John with a blank stare and asked him his name and what did he want. John was told that it would be another 45 minutes. Long story short, a talk with the GM produced a room right away.

Other problems with Bernardus included:

1. The room was stifling, even with the AC supposedly going full blast. We called for a maintenance man and he insisted that the AC was fine. He put his instrument up to the vent and it showed 59 degrees. I asked him to measure the temperature on the bed that was below the vent. It showed 85 degrees. He shrugged his shoulders and left.

2. After dinner at Marinus, our key didn’t work and we had to get a manager to open the door.

3. John confirmed our next day massages for 10 am with the spa when we first checked in. We got a call from the spa at 9 am asking why were we late for our 9 am massages.

On the other hand, Cal is terrific. Just after we checked in, he sent over a huge tray of cheese and salumi to our room – class act.

Meal at Marinus

We didn’t look at a menu as Cal had organized a chef’s tasting menu for us.

 

Chive and lardon biscuit

 

Garden Spring Roll, Ponzu Sauce – the spring roll was filled with carrot, cucumber. red pepper and cilantro. The “sauce” in the bottom of the glass was citrus, soy and miso.

 

Foie Blonde and Pata Negra Iberico Ham – Cal had received the ham whole, including the hooves. The foie was served on brioche with a sprig of thyme. Great course and the pata negra was in a word delicious.

 

 

House Cured Salmon Caviar, New Potato, Creme Fraiche – The eggs were harvested from a fresh steelhead salmon and then cured. This had absolutely no connection with the salmon eggs you get in jars. The balance was perfect on these eggs – just the right touch of salinity – and they actually popped in your mouth.

 

Big Eye Tuna and Hamachi Sashimi, Small Cubes of Japanese Cucumber, Watermelon and Mango with Meyer Lemon Reduction, Olive Oil and White Soy – also all the herbs are from their garden. I really liked the citrus component of this dish – a perfect end of summer course.

 

Butter poached Maine Lobster, Fresh Corn Polenta with Tarragon, Hand-cut Pappardelle Pasta – The fresh corn polenta with the lobster is a match made in heaven and the pasta was cooked to perfection.

Close-ups of Lobster – Notice this was a very generous portion – both the lobster claw and the tail was included

 

Opakapaka (Hawaiian Pink Snapper), Garden beans, Celery Root Puree – this was a huge piece of fish – almost too much. I fell in love with the beans from their garden.

 

Monterey Bay Sardine, New Mexican Pimento des Arbol, Sunburst Squash from the Garden, Olive Oil – the Pimento was very, very hot and I basically deconstructed the dish and ignored it. The sardine was faultless.

 

Sonoma Duck Breast, Alder-smoked Cranberry Beans, Cippolini Onions, “Buerre Rouge” Duck Reduction – the duck was excellent, but I fell in love with the cranberry beans.

 

Colorado Lamb, Eggplant Agnolotti, Garden Parsley, Truffle Vinaigrette- again I loved the accompaniment – the agnolotti with the truffle vinaigrette was a meal in itself.

 

Bosc Pear, Poached Pear, Quince, Diced Mint, Fig Caramel, Pear Puree, Huckleberry Sorbet, Pock Rocks, Olive Oil Powder

Wines

Brut Reserve – Champagne Pol Roger–the wine list tends to be expensive. This was one of the lesser cost champagnes.  It was nice as Pol Roger usually is, but nothing special.

2006 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets – Domaine Paul Pillot–Mark suggested this and it turned out to be quite nice, clean, fresh and well matched to the early fish courses.

2006 Chambollee Musigny – Domaine Georges Roumier 350 ml–a good choice by Mark. Full bodied with a very clean finish.  Not a value, but a good wine.

An excellent meal, well-orchestrated with excellent service.  Unfortunately, unless we can find a place to stay near by, we won’t be coming back…the lodge has gone down hill.  John wrote the GM over a week ago and has yet to hear back.

Bouchon – Yountville

It is always with ultimate restraint that we don’t order a lot of food at Bouchon – our lunch must be light as we dine at French laundry in the evening. 

The bar area is gorgeous.

 

Oysters on the half shell – they had 5 different kinds of oysters to choose from and we choose one of each with an extra of one to make an even dozen. Cape Breton, Myakka, Saltaires, Kumamoto and Bagaduce.

 

John – Gigot D’Agneau – roasted leg of lamb with merquez sausage, couscous, sweet peppers, English cucumbers and mint lamb jus

 

Me- Boudin Noir with poached apples, potato puree and brown butter – the potato puree was absolutely decadent. I can only guess that it contained a pound of butter in each bite. The boudin noir was excellent, although nothing can compare to Christian Parra’s boudin that we first tasted at Auberge de Galupe in Urt and then at Auberge iParla in Bidarray.

 

 

Wine

Bouchon is always a pleasure. Yes, the tables are close together – much like many Parisian bistros. But, it is fun with good food. Just don’t expect haute cuisine and you will be more than satisfied.

Bistro Jeanty – Yountville

We have been going to Bistro Jeanty ever since it opened. Now that Phillipe has closed both his inn and his other restaurant in Yountville, we have noticed a much more extended menu – i.e. a lot more blackboard specials plus an increased care with execution.

Roger is our favorite waiter.

The room hasn’t changed much in all the years that Jeanty has been opened. The room hadn’t filled up yet as we got there just as they opened. Also, a lot of the early birds tend to prefer the patio.

 

Now a blackboard is brought to each table listing the specials for the day. If we didn’t have a big dinner planned  for that night, I was very tempted to order the roasted bone marrow, the grilled sardines and the pasta with braised rabbit and feta cheese.

 

All dishes were ordered as splits – one for two.

House smoked salmon, carpaccio style with parmesan and capers – delicious

 

Fried Smelts with spicy aoli – these smelts tasted as if they had just been plucked from the water.

aoli

Lamb Merquez sausage served on a baguette with frites – The lamb sausage is from Richard Caggiano in Petaluma.

Photo taken to show the sausage – hope the photo does this dish justice.

We usually go to Jeanty for lunch and try to keep it light before a big deal dinner. But the food quality and new extensive menu definitely deserves to be tried at dinner.

French Laundry – September 2008

Corey Lee orchestrated a perfect meal for us on Thursday night – each dish was exquisite with a subtle and flawless flavor profile. As I have stated many times before, this is not the usual French laundry meal. We love the fish canapes so our meals are definitely front loaded. One of my favorite ingredients is uni and Corey always has at least one dish with sea urchin. We usually have one meat course and rarely have more than one dessert.

As always we started with gougeres and salmon cornets (not pictured) and a half bottle of Krug.

Uni from Japan that was “packed” in natural sea water and then served with the natural sea water. This uni was from the south end of Japan and has a slightly less pronounced taste than those harvested in the north. It was served with crunchy ice lettuce and gold leaf.

 

Oysters and Pearls – the oysters were Island Creek from Mass and the caviar was Californian white sturgeon – this is just a perfect dish and as usual Corey executed it sublimely.

 

Inada – lightly grilled wild, baby amberjack served with compressed English cucumber, espellette, cilantro shoots, 1/4 inch dice of cucumber

Just look at how perfectly the cucumber has been diced – talk about perfect knife skills!

 

We decided to splurge and honor Didier Dagueneau who had just died in a plane crash at the very young age of 52. The 2005 Silex was superb.

 

Japanese Pike Conger, Japanese mountain yams (yamo imo), white miso, yuzu, perilla leaves – this was just a wonderful, subtle blend of textures and taste

 

Uni from Hokkaido, Japan. The water is much colder as Hokkaido is in the north and as a result the uni had a fatter “taste” feel. It was served with peeled sweet 100 tomatoes, avocado panna cotta and borrage (blue flowers). My first thought was for the poor person who had to delicately and precisely peel those tiny tomatoes. What an absolutely perfect combination – the lusciousness of the avocado with the northern uni was inspired.

Close-up of avocado panna cotta

 

Fresh water eel was wrapped in feuille de brik pastry and served with persian lime creme fraiche (in the bowl). We were shameless and used our fingers to lick up every drop of the creme fraiche.

 

On the right is the Animal farm butter. There are now six cows and the last is named Keller.

 

Japanese Big Fin Squid Confit (it had been packed in salt for 30 minutes and then poached in olive oil), Summer squash done 3 ways – ribbons, puree, blossoms, garlic aigre-doux, champagne vinegar and on top crispy Iberico ham, brunoise. I never receive a menu at French Laundry and every single description was recited to me tableside by the lovely new wife of Nick, Sandra. Obviously service was attentive and extraordinary from Jimmy, the sommelier, to Dennis our main waiter, Larry as always and every single person of the French laundry team, who stopped at our table to say hi. 

 

Crispy Frogs legs from the Florida Everglades, breaded in panko, Cauliflower puree, tomato raisins, parsley shoots, Meyer lemon – just 3 quick bites – boy, I could have eaten a dozen.

 

Japanese Black Abalone  roasted whole was then presented.

 

Our red for the evening.

 

The roasted abalone was paired with sauteed moulard foie gras, haricot vert from the French laundry garden, baby corn, light as air gnocchi, corn foam and emulsion – I was one very happy camper!

 

Anago (sea Eel) tempura, Hobb’s bacon, beech mushrooms, Romaine lettuce ribs, red radish, cippolini onions, bacon emulsion – another absolute winner.

 

Signature Truffle Custard

 

Japanese Wagyu, sweet Nantes carrots, turnips, snap peas, pea tendrils, bordelaise sauce – how many ways can you say perfect.

 

We decided to have a cheese course and this was one of the best we have ever had at French laundry – Heirloom tomato tart on puff pastry with burrata, topped with a splash of olive oil and a bit of 100 year old balsamic vinegar

 

Tart plated

Balsamic Vinegar

 

As usual, we just had one dessert. Me – Grilled pine nut gateau (soaked in honey), Jacobson’s Farms figs, Fig marmalade, Pine nut mascarpone ice cream, mint syrup and toasted pine nuts

 

John – Coffee and Doughnuts

 

There is just no way to convey how sensational this meal was. There was just not one wrong note and what made it so incredibly perfect is that from beginning to end, this was a symphony. Sometimes tasting menus can just be a string of dishes – this was anything but and that is why I call it a symphony. To make the evening even more special, Thomas was there and we chatted for a bit.

Thank you Corey and thank you to the French laundry team for a very, special and incredible evening.

Comme Ca

Comme Ca is loud, noisy and very busy. There are two ways to handle the problem on a Saturday night – go early or go late. We have chosen to go early. The staff has the time to really talk to you, the room is beautiful with the sun just beginning to set, the vibe is fun without being frenetic and the entire experience is just pleasurable.

If we lived closer, we would definitely go on a weekday, but traffic has become unbearable in Los Angeles and a 30 minute drive can become 2 hours so Saturday night early has become our way of handling the situation.

Comme Ca excels at service. Each and every member of the service team is extraordinary; from Max, the hostess to Ashley our waitress to Jason, the sommelier, to Ako, the new GM and finally Dominic, ex-GM, who is about to follow other pursuits.

The kitchen was spot on last night. Each dish was done perfectly – not one miss.

Amuse presented by Patrick, the wonderful cheese person.

On one baguette slice, Brillat Savarin Cheese with piquillo and on the other Abbaye de Bellocq Cheese with figs served with a cherry “paste” with coriander

 

Tarte Flambee, fromage blanc, caramelized onions, lardons – We have had this each time at Comme Ca, but last night’s version was absolutely fantastic – the caramelized onions were melt in your mouth perfect and the lardons just crispy and wonderful.  Only half of the tart is pictured.

 

 A Dozen Oysters – Malpeque and Virginica – perfect slurping oysters

 

Salmon tartar, lemon, crisp potato – this has replaced the smoked salmon galette and is an excellent version of tartar – lightly dressed and not drowning in oil.

 

Brandade de Morue Gratinee – salt cod, piquillo pepper puree – again we have had this every time at Comme Ca, but last night’s version was the best yet.

Brandade plated

 

 

Glazed Sweetbreads, sautéed romaine, peas, lardons, glazed onions – I hope the photo conveys how perfectly the sweetbreads were cooked.

BYO Wines

N/V  Roger Coalon Rose–delightful, light rose color, great flavor, nice drink.

2004 Chassagne-Montrachet Moregot, Henri Clerc, major wine, great deep flavor, superb finish, meyer lemon/grapefruit flavors.
1995 Morey St. Denis, Les Rochots, Arlaud, nice, mature Burgundy, left a little to be desired on the finish.  
Comme Ca is just such a satisfying meal – no pretension, the execution level of cuisine is consistently excellent, the service is exemplary and if not for the noise level around 9 pm, this would be a perfect restaurant experience.

Spring

Shawn McClain is the executive chef and partner of Spring. The restaurant opened in 2001 and was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best New Restaurant” award. Spring is essentially a seafood restaurant “juxtaposing Eastern influence with Western foundations.” 

Chef McClain was not in the kitchen the night we were there as his wife had just had a baby.

Amuse – Spiced White bean espuma, beet chip, micro-basil – delicate, but well-seasoned.

 

Wine with beginning dishes

 

Cortes Island Oysters, coriander spiced ginger, tabasco and citrus caviar – excellent

 

Nori-cured Hamachi sashimi, spiced watermelon, cucumber-sake gelee, citrus and cilantro – first rate quality fish and I really enjoyed the pairing with the watermelon.

 

Tuna tartare, banana miso, toasted cashews, poached shallots, soy-lime dressing – the key ingredient in this dish was the banana – again a surprise element but excellent.

Tuna up-close

 

Charred Tuna sashimi, in the style of Nicoise, soft quail egg, black olive-lemon vinaigrette – In retrospect, we should not have ordered two tuna dishes, but as we were doing splits one for two, we thought it would work. 

 

Hoisin Glazed Baby octopus, Thai Pancetta, caramelized onion and Japanese eggplant – this was so tough and chewy that 2 bites was all we could manage. Compare the above dish to the tender, flavorable squid at Mercat.

 

Mercat octopus

 

Barramundi, Chinese mustard and yukon gold potato gnocchi, shiitake mushroom, edamame – The gnocchi were excellent, but I was underwhelmed by the fish. To be honest, I am not sure why. Perhaps, it was under seasoning, but I don’t have a clear taste-memory of this dish.

 

For me, the chilled appetizer dishes at Spring were far superior to the warm appetizer and main that we ordered. It could be that we ordered badly and didn’t pick the best dishes to showcase Spring’s cuisine. This post is based on a one-time dining experience so it must be viewed in that context.  As for service, it was absolutely stellar.  Ann, our server, was superb as was Fletcher, the GM.


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