Degustation 3rd Visit — New York City (12/2013)

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A mid-December work trip to New York gave me a chance to go back to Degustation.  I had experienced some really good food over the summer, and I wanted to see what they would serve in a very different season of the year.  I had made a reservation for a Monday night.  When I arrived, there were not very many people, and it was only much later that the counter filled out more.  I was glad they were open on Monday. I also liked the lower noise level as well.

The menu had some items I had seen from the summer.  But there were also some different items.  But, as before, I ordered the 7-course tasting menu, and you don’t really know what is going to come with that.  I suppose I could ask, as they do inquire about allergies and dietary restrictions, but I like to be surprised.

For the full write-up, click here.

Umu — London (11/2013)

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I have had virtually no experience with the traditional Japanese Kaiseki dinner.  In many ways, it is conceptually similar to the modern cuisine that I have been seeking out.  It is as much an art form as a type of meal, where special attention is given to balancing taste, textures, appearance and colors. Some friends had told me about a chef who had been in New York who had relocated to London.  So, while planning my food itinerary for a trip to London, I used OpenTable.com to book a slot at Umu.  Two days prior to my visit, I received an email asking to confirm my reservation and to notify them of any allergy or dietary restrictions, to which I did respond.  The day before my reservation, I received a phone call again asking me to confirm my dinner reservation at the sushi counter.  I had not specifically asked for a seat at the counter, but as long as I could order from the full menu, I would be fine.

Upon arrival, they seated me in a very nice spot at the sushi counter with a full view of the food preparation.  Almost immediately, a cart approached and I was asked if I wanted a cocktail or some champagne.  I was then presented with the menu options.  These included the Kyoto-style kaiseki menu, a sushi kaiseki menu, and a full a la carte menu.  The kaiseki menu is a tasting menu with defined types of dishes at each course. The basic kaiseki set menu has five courses, with additional types of courses added at the chef’s discretion.

For the full write-up, click here.

Kitchen Table 3rd Visit — London (11/2013)

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I was eager to return yet again to Kitchen Table.  I have always liked the experiences and this would be a very different season.  So I imagined the menu would be very different than prior visits.  I was not disappointed.  It was a little bit on an unusual evening though.  Due to a kitchen problem, they had to move everyone from the first seating to the second seating.  We all still fit around the counter, but with the one seating, we all were served at the same time, so kitchen procedures and activities were a little different than I had seen before.  There were less staff working in the kitchen, and timing was different as more plates had to be prepared for simultaneous serving.

For the full write-up, click here.

Dinner Lab Event — Los Angeles (11/2013)

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A few months ago, a friend sent me a link to an announcement that a dinner membership program called Dinner Lab was offering memberships in San Francisco and if I was already a member.  I had not heard of it before, so I checked out the website for more information.  It’s an outfit that is setting up in different cities where people can join and then be eligible to sign up for pop-up dinner events.  The annual membership fee seem reasonable, at least to try it out for one year.  And the cost of the meals, which included tax, gratuity and alcoholic beverages, seemed fair enough.  They also say that if you join, you can attend events in your home city or in any other city.  Moreover, the counter on the membership doesn’t start until you attend your first local event. After a couple of weeks, I decided to go ahead and join (the initial batch of memberships have since been all sold). 

I had forgotten that they post new events on Wednesdays.  I just happen to look early one Wednesday and an event was going to go on sale later that day that had a menu that looked interesting.  I asked a friend who lives in LA if he had any interest, and he agreed.  So when the time came to buy tickets (you can buy one or two), I was able to get tickets to my choice of seating (I chose the 2nd seating at 7:30).  The event sold out within an hour.

For the full write-up, click here.

Sous Rising 3rd Visit — Chicago (11/2013)

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I made one last trek to Sous Rising to attend their 2nd to last dinner as a guestaurant.  They hope to open a brick-and-mortar dining room in a few months.  Originally, they had announced their final dinners to be in October.  Unfortunately, my schedule did not work to get me out to Chicago during that time.  But they eventually posted an additional dining slot the first Friday in November, which I could attend, so I made plans for a quick trip.

There were to be 10 of us for dinner.  A few were rescheduled from prior attempts, and no one was a repeat diner except for me.  My first time was in early spring and the second visit was in late spring.  I was eagerly anticipating what might be in store for a fall menu, especially if it was to be one of the final meals offered in this format.

For the full write-up, click here.

Coi 2nd Visit — San Francisco (10/2013)

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I decided I wanted to go back to Coi.  It had been about two years since my first visit.  They are still on OpenTable.com, and I managed to book a 5:30 pm reservation on a Saturday night.  They have maintained their 2-star Michelin rating, and I wanted to see whether anything had changed.  Upon my arrival, I was promptly taken to my table.  I was the first guest of the evening to arrive.  After I was asked whether I wanted sparkling or still water, a champagne flute soon arrived and they offered to pour a glass of what I took to be the house champagne (French, mostly Chablis, premier cru), which I accepted.  The General Manager came by soon after to welcome me to the restaurant.  Subsequently, after other guests arrived a little while later, I noticed that none of the other tables received the same treatment.  I thought that perhaps they were trying to make me feel as comfortable as possible as a solo diner.  I know that it wasn’t because this was a return visit, as I was asked a couple of times later in the evening if this was my first visit (which surprised me, as I would have thought such information would have been conveyed in the reservation by OpenTable.com).

I was presented with the menus (wine, cocktails, and the tasting menu) was asked to let them know if I had any allergies, dietary restrictions or aversions.  I told them that I really wasn’t much of a lamb eater, and they said they would check with the chef for alternatives.                        

 I had thought about ordering a glass of the offered Riesling, but I decided to wait and see how long the champagne would last through the courses.

For the full write-up, click here.

Elbon The Table — Seoul (10/2013)

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A search for a molecular cuisine on the Internet yielded this restaurant.  It also was featured on some recent travel articles on Seoul.  There was no on-line way to make a reservation, so I had a credit card company concierge set it up for me.  It was on the other side of the river from where my hotel was located, so I had to figure out a public-transit way to get there (just my preferred method of transport).  While not exactly next to a subway stop, it was an easy walk from the Apgujeong station.                 

I decided to go with a glass of the Riesling from Germany.  It was a very dry one.

For the full write-up, click here.

Sant Pau — Tokyo (10/2013)

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I heard about this restaurant while doing some casual reading about Tokyo food. Sant Pau is a one-star (I think it used to have two) Michelin restaurant in a city with the most stars total of any city.  I checked advanced availability and it looked to be easier to book than many other places (via OpenTable.com).  So, when the opportunity came up to try and fit a dinner in, I was able to do so.  I planned for a late dinner (by my standards) at around 8pm, in case my incoming flight to Tokyo was delayed.  I arrived at the restaurant about 25 minutes early (it’s conveniently located in Central Tokyo) and they were able to take me to my table directly.

The restaurant is an offshoot of Carme Ruscalleda’s place of the same name in Sant Pol de Mar near Barcelona.  The seasonal menus are coordinated, with the exception that the Tokyo branch uses local Japanese ingredients to create the dishes, which are categorized as modern Spanish/Catalonian.

 I went ahead and decided to do the full degustation menu.  After I decided, they brought this smaller version for me to use to follow along with the courses.

 The tables were grouped into small sections.  The mood was subdued, but with spot lighting at the tables.  There was instrumental music playing at a very low volume in the background.

For the full write-up, click here.

Juni — New York City (9/2013)

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This restaurant was brought to my attention by a friend.  The restaurant had only opened a few weeks before my visit.  It was listed on OpenTable.com and was easy to book.  From the initial description, it looked like a restaurant with the appropriate cuisine for me.

The restaurant was divided into two rooms. I had an early reservation because of a show I was attending later, so it was pretty empty for the first part of my meal.  The atmosphere was quiet ambience, although it might have been too quiet, as when other patrons arrived, their conversations from across the room carried pretty well.

There were three options for ordering.  One could order the 10-course tasting menu. Or, one could order a 4- or 6-course menu where you select from a list of items (different than what was listed on the 10-course menu) to construct your own meal.  The menu photos aren’t very clear, unfortunately.  But the listings are not very descriptive.  They just list the main components to each of the offered dishes.

The wine list by-the-glass list was of average length.  They offered a Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, so I went with that to start off the meal.

For the full write-up, click here.

Atera 2nd Visit — New York City (9/2013)

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I first visited Atera about 14 months prior to this visit.  Then, it was relatively new and you could book via OpenTable.com.  Now, it is a 2-star Michelin restaurant, you have to pay in advance (food+tax+gratuity), and it is often difficult to get a seat on the weekend.  The only things you pay for at the end are your beverages.  I decided that since I was going to be working in New York for a week, I could book a dinner during the week.  I ended up booking a late dinner (the 9:30pm seating) on a Thursday night.  I wanted to go back and see how the place had evolved.

I arrived a little early but it was not a problem.  They led me down to the “new” lunge located on a lower level.  It’s a nice cozy area with a bar and lounge seating.  They have a cocktail and short wine list that you can choose from.  I stuck with the water (still or sparkling) that they offered.

The restaurant looked the same as before, with seats arranged around a U-shaped counter with a view of the kitchen area.  They were not fully occupied this evening, with a couple of seats empty.  They sat me in the exact same spot – center with a straight on view of the kitchen.  The vibe seemed different now, as there was 80’s music playing at medium volume.  The overall ambience seemed a little less formal than my prior visit.

For the full write-up, click here.