November 28, 2013

Le Bernardin, New York

If you've come to find out whether Le Bernardin is worth the trip and money, the answer is absolutely YES! This was hands down the best meal I've had all year and quite possibly my entire existence. 

Le Bernardin offers three tasting menus during lunch. A $75 three-course option, $150 seven-course option, and $195 eight-course option. There is also a wine tasting that can be added to the meal or you can order wines by the glass. It's worth noting that the restaurant does have a strict dress code for gentleman guests. A jacket is required and I got the sense suits were preferred. So feel free to dress to the nines when you dine here. If you happen to stumble upon this gem without a jacket, there is a lounge area for more "casual" dinning. 

My first impression of the restaurant was that of snootiness and stuffiness, but that quickly changed once we placed our order and started a conversation with the staff about the food. I imagine a lot of people roll through here on an expense account and the exceptional food is just a bonus to them. The maitre d put it well when he said "it's easy to share when people enjoy the food as much as we do." The service here was on par with what one would expect at a restaurant of this calibre. The changing of the silverware was seamless, water glasses were always full, each staff member was well versed in the menu and everyone went out of their way to make our meal perfect. 

Bread basket
The wait staff stopped by shortly after we ordered with an impressive bread basket filled with eight types of bread. All the bread was made at the restaurant. The types and flavors change depending on the season. I can't even begin to remember all the options offered during our visit, but the most memorable was the raisin and walnut bread. At one point, I had to kindly ask that they stop coming by with the bread basket because I could have easily eaten a loaf the bread.

Salmon rillette
Amuse bouche
Some restaurants offer an amuse bouche simply as a way to offer a "free" item to make the diners feel like they are getting a little more "bang" for their buck. Not at Le Bernardin. The restaurant defines what an amuse bouche should be, a compliment from the kitchen that offers the diner a glimpse of the chef's approach to cooking and the meal to come. The salmon rillette comprises of three salmon preparations: smoked, fresh and poached. This combination added layers of flavors and textures unlike any salmon rillette I've had before. Luckily, Chef Ripert has shared the recipe at Avec Eric and I can't wait to test it out.

Le Bernardin Tasting

With two sweets on the tasting menu, we asked to swap out one of the desserts with a salad, which they were happy to oblige. The salad of the day was made with fresh herbs and vegetables from the market that day and dressed with a balsamic-shallot vinaigrette. A very basic salad with good ingredients.

Now, this is what put Le Bernardin on the map and is the restaurant's most well known dish. It's a thinly pounded layer of yellowfin tuna on top of even thinner toasted baguette and foie gras drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with chives. It was hard to imagine how these ingredients could work together and who would even think to combine them, but it worked brilliantly. This dish was the ultimate foodgasm: a mind blowing culinary experience that redefines what food is. You might be asking yourself "how can this football shaped tuna be so special?" It is truly hard to describe without tasting it for yourself. This dish alone was worth the price of admission.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, the barely cooked scallop arrived in the most fragrant brown butter dashi broth. The combination of brown butter and dashi released such a tantalizing smell that I nearly buried my nose in the dish. The scallop was indeed barely cooked: translucent on the inside and slightly cooked on top. Sweet, tender and meaty, just the way I like my scallop. Surprisingly, the intense broth didn't over power the scallop and instead was the perfect compliment. 

As each dish arrived, it solidified why Le Bernardin was ranked a three star Michelin restaurant. This lobster "lasagna" with celeriac and truffle butter was no exception. It took the concept of lobster and butter to another level. The rich and velvety truffle butter worked harmoniously with the thin layer of pasta draped over the delicately cooked lobster. 

Spanish Merluza
Merluza, also known as Hake, is a member of the cod and haddock family. The fish was flaky yet firm with a beautiful golden crush sitting on top of a vibrant sauce made with Experanza peppers for a little heat. It was also served with a tender piece of calamari cooked on the grill adding a wonderful charred flavor. 

Stripped bass
Stripped bass is known to be a meatier dish and a great way to end the savory courses. The juicy fish was served on top of red rice and toped with a refreshing green papaya salad and a rich ginger red wine sauce. The crisp and clean flavors of the salad balanced the fattiness of the fish and cut through the rich wine sauce.

Mango-black sesame
The sesame meringue was covered with macerated mango and topped with black sesame ice cream and sesame brittle. It was a well balanced dessert with the tanginess of fresh mangos and the sweetness from the ice cream. We enjoyed this dessert so much, the kitchen sent out two complimentary desserts on top of the complimentary birthday dessert.

Admittedly, my husband is not a big dessert person, so we usually opt out of desserts when possible, but this dish and the three that followed made him fall in love with dessert. 

We also received a complimentary birthday dessert consisting of a dark chocolate parfait, milk ice cream on cocoa nibs and caramel. The chocolate parfait was rich in chocolate flavor but light in texture. The ice cream was sweet but well balanced by the slightly bitter cocoa nibs.  

The second complimentary dessert featured chestnuts, which were in season during our visit. The light cinnamon flavored wafer was filled with a light chocolate mousse topped with chestnuts and served with a chestnut cream on the side. Being lovers of chestnut, we over indulged on this dessert.

Just when we thought we were done, our waiter brought over a pistachio dessert made with pistachio cake topped with fluffy pistachio mousse, Meyer lemon, toasted pistachios and served with a side of pistachio ice cream on top of more pistachios and drizzles of passion fruit gelee. We were in pistachio heaven! This dessert was able to highlight the versatility of pistachio and its flavor. 

By the end of this incredible seven-course meal and added dessert tasting, I could say without a doubt, this was the best meal I have ever experienced. Even better than the incredible meal that we just had at Del Posto. Our meal really showcased Chef Ripert's worldly culinary influence. If you're in New York, go experience Le Bernardin, it's worth every penny. 

Thank you to the staff at Le Bernardin for making my birthday one to remember and to my wonderful husband for over looking the price tag and sharing this unforgettable culinary experience with me. 

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st Steet
New York, NY 10019

If you like Le Bernardin, check out this quick guide on Where to Eat In New York City.

November 25, 2013

Del Posto, New York

When I asked my husband were he wanted to eat in New York, he immediately responded "Del Posto!" He's not one to get overly excited about restaurants, but this was one restaurant he couldn't wait to experience after reading about it in Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich. Since Joe describes lunch at Del Posto as "the best deal in town" there was no way we were going to pass on that. We made reservations for lunch and planned on taking advantage of the $39 ($49 as of November 2014) fixed-price three-course lunch. Of course, the minute we glance over the menu and looked up at each other, we both knew we had to go for the five-course tasting menu. Hey Joe, "not everyone is a cheap fuck". Our meal paid for the piano man that day and then some.

Peach bellini
Being in this stunning Italian restaurant I couldn't resist ordering a traditional bellini, made with fresh white peach puree and Flor prosecco. The bellini was mixed in a pitcher before it was poured into the champagne glass. It was a perfect ratio of peach and prosecco, not too sweet and very smooth. A wonderful drink to sip on as we enjoyed the beautiful melodies from the piano.

Old fashioned - cubed
Del Posto serves two kinds of old fashioned: traditional and cubed. The cubed old fashioned changed my life and changed the way I think about cocktails. This drink is made with a hand picked whiskey from Colorado poured over ice cubes made out of simple syrup, Luxardo cherry and Angostura bitters. What makes this drink worth the price tag is the progression of flavor from the initial sip to the last drop. The journey starts with the straight flavors of the small batch whiskey and moves onto the more traditional flavors of an old fashioned and ends on a sweet note. I couldn't believe how much the flavor of this drink developed as those cubes melted. This is one cocktail I'd gladly fly across to country to have again.

Compliments from the kitchen
This pretty plate of amuse-bouche were a wonderful start to the meal. The fried corn pasta was light yet crunchy filled with lobster and coated in an addicting mix of sweet paprika, chili and lime. The cucumber sandwich was fresh and bright. The tomato gazpacho shot made with sweet tomatoes from Naples packed an intense punch balanced by the basil rim.

Bread basket
The bread basket arrived with French baguette, focaccia and kalamata olive bread. Not pictured is the lard and butter that arrived with the bread. The bread was the perfect vessel to enjoy the intense thick pork lard that apparently takes two years to make and is flavored with garlic and rosemary. The staff brought new butter and lardo halfway through our meal to make sure it was fresh. Not to discredit the bread but I could have eaten the lard on its was that good

5 course tasting menu

Beef carpaccio
This 28 day old dry aged ribeye was topped with a slice of parmigiano reggiano, micro greens, fried shallots and a light drizzle of truffle dressing. The beef was melt your mouth tender, the intense red cow milk cheese was rich and creamy, the fried shallots added a wonderful smokiness to every bite and the truffle dressing tied all the components together. I would have been happy with eating this dish over and over again.

Named after a bishop's hat because of the shape, this sweet potato, ginger and marscapone filled pasta in brown butter sauce was divine. The pasta was cooked al dente, thin enough to hold the filling without falling apart and sprinkled with cinnamon for a little heat. The ginger really made this dish stand out and the hazelnut crumble added a nice texture. Taking a bite of this pasta, the butter seemed to bring all of the flavors to a head and it was just a wonderful symphony. This dish truly showcased how a simple dish with very basic ingredients when executed well deserves to be put on the menu at a one star Michelin restaurant.

This dish made me fall in love with toasted rye. The lamb neck ragu was so rich and didn't have a hint of "gaminess" that turn a lot of people off from the protein. The carrot puree drizzled over the pasta added sweetness and brightness to each bite. As good as everything else tasted on the plate, the best part was the toasted rye. Until I asked our waiter, I was convinced it was crispy lamb bacon. Not that I've had lamb bacon before, but I imagined that's what lamb bacon would taste like. The toasted rye soaked up the beautiful rich flavors of the lamb ragu that it transformed it into something so crunchy and delicious. 

Pork loin
When this dish first arrived, I was a little perplexed. It was a giant white plate with a piece of pork loin topped with a braised pork rib wrapped in pancetta. It all made sense once our waiter showed up with a small copper pot of ribollita, a baked pork bean and vegetable stew, and spooned it onto our plates. The pork was extremely tender and cooked perfectly. The elements of the stew looked basic at a glance but were packed with flavor that made you want to savor each bean

Aged Ricotta served with Passita eucalyptus honey, both from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It wasn't until they served it here that I knew aged ricotta existed. The honey was drizzled carefully table side and we were given wet napkins with lemons and thyme, encouraging us to use our hands. The honey was thick and very sweet, which helped cut the sharp flavor of the ricotta. Again, the chef found a way to make a very simple dish, complex.

Chocolate ricotta tort
I happen to love olive oil so I was very excited when this dessert arrived. The ricotta tort was lighter in texture than I expected, yet still rich and intense in flavor. The roasted pistachios add crunch and nuttiness to each bite. Of course, the best thing on this plate was the extra virgin olive oil gelato. It tasted just like it sounds: creamy gelato flavored with high quality extra virgin olive oil. A small piece of tort with the gelato was simply divine.

Dessert box
This was presented at the table after our last course and contained an assortment of various candies. Each one had it's own unique flavor unlike anything I'd had before. We decided the best course of action was to start at the top and work our way down. Considering the courses we had just completed, we were happy these treats were so small because they were so good we could have eaten more, but we just didn't have the room!

From start to finish, dining at Del Posto was an exceptional experience. The staff was impeccable. Not only did they do an amazing job at serving, but they were very personable and went out of their way to make sure we had everything. We did order some wines (by the glass) during our meal and the Sommelier did a wonderful job at matching wines to the courses we were having. The experience was so wonderful that we made a dinner reservation before we left so we could try the Captain's Tasting menu with wine pairing. 

Del Posto is fine dining with Italian hospitality. A place were you can go to eat refined Italian cuisine in a beautiful setting and feel like you're at grandma's house. If you go, ask to sit in Thomas Russo or Dennis Rossi's section. I'm sure everyone is terrific, but they are truly exceptional at what they do. 

Del Posto
85 10th Ave
Chelsea, NY 10011

If you like Del Posto, check out this quick guide on Where to Eat In New York City.

November 15, 2013

Republic of Pie, North Hollywood

Republic of Pie is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the NoHo Arts District. From the outside, this cafe and bakery may seem like an ordinary shop nestled along Magnolia Boulevard, but walk through those doors and you will be transported into an inviting and relaxing art space filled with the aroma of coffee and freshly baked goods. The concept is simple, serve quality coffees, teas and bake really good pies: savory and sweet.
The space is very unique. The high ceiling and sky lights open up the space, there is a stage for open mic, a television mounted on the wall to play old movies, local art works on the wall and a mix n' match of furniture throughout. There are couches for those who want to hang out and read a book and long communal tables to meet new friends or for large parties. I imagine this would be a great place to catch up with old friends or even community gatherings. If I had a book or knitting club, I would definitely meet here and take over those comfortable couches in the back.
If you're into coffee, you will truly appreciate Republic of Pie. They only serve Stumptown coffee and you can choose between regular brew, clover, chemex, french press, v60 or siphon. The espresso is made with Stumptown's Hair Bender blend, it's rich in flavor with notes of chocolate and will certainly give you a nice jolt. Of course, if you're into lattes and latte art, you won't be disappointed. The latte was rich and smooth. The milk was steamed just long enough to incorporate enough air to lighten the latte and bring out the sweetness. Now, the matcha latte was the best that I have ever tasted. It was light with a subtle sweetness so as not to over power the clean flavor of the tea. As I sipped on my lattes, I enjoyed a flaky buttery spinach and cheese croissant made with whole spinach leave and wished I could just hang out for the next few hours.

Republic of Pie had more to offer than just coffees and pies, it offers a warm and relaxing hideaway. Thanks to Republic of Pie for hosting me. I'll be back to try some of those pies.

Republic of Pie
11118 Magnolia Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601

November 8, 2013

Takatis Peruvian Chicken, Van Nuys

Is there good Peruvian food in the San Fernando Valley? I was hoping to answer this question last week with a few friends when we met for lunch at Takatis. There are a handful of Peruvian restaurants in Van Nuys right around the intersection of Victory and Van Nuys Blvd. Among them are Puro Sabor, Nazca, Machu-Picchu and Takatis. Takatis is known for their Sanguchon, a sandwich made with chicken, yam, egg, and cheese. We were looking forward to this unique sandwich, but to our disappointment the restaurant ran out during our visit. 

Takatis is small, but the large windows and vibrant colors give it a bright ambiance. After we ordered, our waitress brought over ketchup and three types of Peruvian sauces made with different chili peppers. The green sauce was made with jalapeƱos,  the yellow and orange were made with Peruvian chilies of the same color. The sauces all tasted very fresh and on the milder side in terms of heat.

Ceviche mixto
We ordered the ceviche to share and it arrived on a large plate with a generous mix of fish, squid and shrimp marinaded in lime and red onions served with boiled potatoes, fried yam and Peruvian corn. The seafood was very tender, but not mushy with the perfect amount of acidity from the lime. It tasted so fresh and vibrant, we all wished we had ordered our own. This was one of the best ceviches I have had in a while.

Pollo Saltado
My friends opted for the chicken burrito and I went for the saltado. Having heard great things about their chicken, I choose the pollo saltado thinking the rotisserie chicken would be used in the dish. This was not the case. The chicken in the saltado is marinaded in vinegar and stir fried with large chunks of tender red onion, tomatoes and french fries. The dish on its own lacked acidity to cut the heaviness from the sauce and french fries. The pepper sauces helped cut the grease and brightened the dish. It was good, but not something I would order again. The ceviche on the other hand, will be a welcomed staple in my lunch rotation. 

We'll be back to try other items on the menu, but in the mean time, the hunt continues for an all around good Peruvian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.

6470 Van Nuys Blvd 
Van Nuys, CA 91405

November 1, 2013

Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle, Chinatown New York

The two most talked about Chinatowns in the United States are in San Francisco and New York. So when we planned our trip to New York, it was inevitable that we ended up in Chinatown. New York's Chinatown really embraces the energy of the city and at the heart is deep rooted Chinese culture pumping through its veins. We ended up at Lam Zhou as a result of a serious craving for noodles and dumplings. As we walked into the little hole in the wall, all we could see were people packed into a very tight space slurping on noodles and devouring dumplings. It's worth noting that most of the customers appeared to be locals on their lunch break and Mandarin was spoken throughout. 

There's no doubt that the place is legit. Above the slurping and chewing was the sound of noodles being slammed against a giant stone table. The chef was pulling and making noodles to order by the kitchen and we were seated right beside him. If chef's tables existed in places like these, that's where we were, right in the action.

Beef noodle soup
For five dollars, I was expecting a pretty small portion with barely any meat, but it was quite a generous bowl of beef and broth with just the right amount of noodles. All the noodles were pulled to order and dropped quickly in boiling water. The long, smooth, uniform and soft noodles had a little bite to them. The noodles got softer as it sat in the broth, which tasted like it had been cooked for days. Although I prefer hand pulled noodles to be slightly firmer, these are the best I've tasted outside of China. The counters were lined with chili sauce, black vinegar and soy sauce so you could tweak the soup to suit you (and make your own dumpling sauce). 

Boiled pork and chive dumplings - 12
These dumplings were huge considering it was only three dollars for twelve uniform dumplings filled to the max with ground pork and chive. Soy sauce was used in the mix which gave it a dark color. The filling was not too firm and not too loose, it was just right. The wrapper to filling ratio was perfect, just like how my grandmother used to make it. Remember that scene in Ratatouille when Anton Ego takes a bite of the ratatouille and flashes back to his childhood? I had a similar experience after eating the first dumpling. On top of the terrific dumplings, they also had all the condiments that I enjoy with boiled dumplings: chili sauce, black vinegar and soy sauce. It felt great to finally have found a place that makes boiled dumplings that reminds of my grandmother's. Just wish it wasn't on the other side of the country.

Lam Zhou Homemade Noodle
144 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002

Another great spot we stumbled upon was Joe's Shanghai. They had the most amazing xialongbao I have tasted outside of Shanghai, China. They were large, filled with an intense pork broth and the wrappers were the perfect consistency to ensure they didn't break. The wait was 45 minutes to an hour and small parties had to share tables. We opted to get an order of xialongbao to go just so we could taste them. Considering how incredible they were to go, I can only imagine how amazing they are fresh. These soup dumplings were one of the culinary highlights of our trip to New York trip. I can still taste that thick gelatinous pork broth. 

I can't get over how cheap and delicious the food was. If I lived in New York, I would take the subway to Chinatown at least once a week for lunch. I definitely have to say that the Chinatown in New York has the upper hand over San Gabriel Valley or San Francisco.