Oriole — Chicago (3/2020)

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Oriole opened in Chicago in March 2016 and has become one of the top fine dining tasting menu restaurants (2 Michelin stars) that I had yet to try in Chicago.  It’s located in the West Loop area, and reservations are taken through OpenTable.  It has come up in a few food conversations, so I decided to visit during my recent relatively extended visit to the area. 

Upon arrival in the restaurant’s vestibule, we were offered a glass of either warm cider or Pommeau champagne. We were seated soon after arrival, so we took the beverages to our table.

The entire dining area is adjacent to a large open kitchen.  There was no Chef’s Counter as a seating option, however.  Most tables had a full view of the kitchen area.

I went ahead and ordered the spirit-free beverage pairing.  Since it was the same beverage director as the one who created the pairings at kikko the night before, I was looking forward to the offerings.  The first beverage was called Effervescent.  It was a cocktail of sparkling verjus blanc and a spiced chamomile tea.

The opening dish was Russian osetra caviar with saffron strands, dill,  and fluke tartare lightly dressed with a lemon dressing.  There was a crispy layer underneath.  The dish was finished at the table with a beurre blanc made with reduced Champagne.  There was a pronounced saffron flavor finish on the palate.

The next beverage was called Speckled.  It was made with an apricot tea, vanilla syrup, elderflower, freshly-ground black pepper, and a splash of soda water.

The next course was Fraises des Bois (Spanish wild strawberries) dressed with a pink peppercorn gastrique (caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar and then the desired flavor added).  They were dotted with a chicken liver and foie gras mousse, dusted with powdered crème fraîche and gold dust, and served on a toasted brioche.  This was very good, with nice flavor combinations and textures.

The next dish was Jamon Ibérico bellota wrapped with Marcona almond crisps.  On top were whipped  egg yolks, cheese, fermented honey, candied black walnuts, quince jam, and coriander blossoms.

After finishing the finger food snacks, we were asked to select from an assortment of silverware rests.

The next beverage was roasted barley tea (mugicha), California Cabernet Franc and Merlot verjus, and sparkling French Normandy cider.

The next course featured golden enoki mushrooms (fresh and fried) with a black truffle custard underneath.  Additionally, tarragon and black Périgord truffles were on top. This was finished at the table with a roasted chicken broth steeped with fresh ginger.  There was a spicy finish from the broth that lingered on the palate.

For the full write-up, click here.

momofuku ko 34th Visit — New York City (2/2020)

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I had stopped writing up every visit to momofuku ko, but there were enough notable changes on this visit to make it worthwhile.  Plus, given the pause in queued-up restaurant visits, I have the time.  For this visit, I chose to go for a Sunday luncheon instead of dinner.  The menu is generally the same, and it’s a little more relaxed since no seats are turned, and it’s the last service of their “work week”.

They always have a non-alcoholic shrub available now, so I started with a pineapple-pepper shrub.

The starting bite was the familiar pomme soufflé.  This time, the crispy potato puffs were filled with sour cream and topped with chives.

The next snack was a scallop doughnut lightly brushed with a slightly sweetened glaze and served warm.  IN the past, this has come later in the sequence, but it worked fine here as a change in flavors and textures for the palate.

The familiar lobster paloise was next.  It was a crispy roll  with lobster, mint sabayon and Thai basil.

For wine, I ordered the 2004 Corbineau Cabernet Franc.  However, they decided to let me try a Chenin Blanc they had open to go with the earlier part of my meal.

The next dish was cured mackerel, soy-pickled turnip, toasted nori, sushi rice, and a broth made from the bones and head of the mackerel.

Up next was the chickpea hozon (fermented chickpea purée – a momofuku specialty) with Maine uni and Spanish olive oil. Even though this is a regular menu item, it was not a part of my meal a couple of month ago.

The next course was also a menu regular:  Ko egg (soft-cooked and smoked) with Japanese plum vinegar, fingerling potato chips, onion soubise, golden Kaluga caviar sourdough bread, cave-aged butter (aged for six months in a Brooklyn cheese cave). I always enjoy having this.

At this point, they went ahead and poured my glass of the 2004 Corbineau Cabernet Franc.

The next dish was brand new to me.  It was American wagyu (from upstate New York) and foie gras, both very lightly grilled and served into a bowl with green peppercorn dashi.  This was very good. The spiciness lingered on a bit after finishing the dashi. The dish was a little reminiscent of the thin-sliced sirloin au poivre they used to serve (which I liked, but stopped because the food inspectors said they couldn’t use the yakitori grill  for lack of meeting requirements for its use).

The next course featured Dungeness crab with brown rice and bourbon.  This dish should have come across better, but my palate had not yet recovered from the spiciness of the prior dish. That’s not the fault of this specific dish, which I thought was nicely prepared.

For the full write-up, click here.

Florilège — Tokyo (1/2020)

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Florilège is a 2-star Michelin restaurant that showed up on my radar a few years ago. I saw that it was available for a booking with a pre-paid reservation on the Pocket Concierge service and made a reservation.  It’s located on a small street about a 10-minute walk from the nearest subway station.  It can be found on the basement level of a low-rise commercial building (it took me a few minutes to find it once I got to the address).  They offer a single tasting menu for the evening, and the seating is a U-shaped counter surrounding the kitchen area.  They have English-speaking staff.

Instead of showing me a wine list, they asked me what I liked to drink.  This isn’t me preferred way of selecting a wine, but I went ahead and said French Chardonnays like Meursault.  They selected a  2013 Chassagne-Montrachet for me.

The opening dish was an amuse-bouche of sweet potato that was smoked with and served on Hojicha tea. 

The next presentation was raw sweet shrimp with roasted tomato ice cream.  The sweetness of the tomato complimented the shrimp flavor.  This was a good dish to open up the palate.

The next course had two parts.  First, they brought out a milk skin and shiso butter steamed bun.  This was to be eaten with the plated mackerel, black truffle, and bleu cheese sauce.  I thought there were too many distinct flavors trying to blend together.

For the full write-up. click here.

Kanda — Tokyo (1/2020)

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Kanda is a 3-star Michelin restaurant that has earned this award for 11 consecutive years.  In a city with more Michelin stars than any other in the world (and the most 3-star restaurants), it was the first 3-star meal in Tokyo for me.   It is named for Hiroyuki Kanda and not for the district in Tokyo of the same name.  Kanda was not originally on my agenda when I planned my trip to Tokyo.  However, when I ran into difficulty attempting to book my intended restaurant, I started looking at alternatives.  It can be challenging to make reservations at many top Japanese restaurants, as they often do not book online or only accept reservations from a local resident or hotel.  I used an online service called Pocket Concierge which shows availability at restaurants and can book them for you (often pre-paid).  Kanda uses Pocket Concierge and had a time slot available on the evening I wanted.  Upon confirming the booking, Pocket Concierge charged me for the cost of the food menu plus service charge and tax.

Kanda is located on a side street in a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood.  There are eight seats at the counter in front of the prep area.  The chef/owner himself prepares many of the dishes with his staff.  There is only one menu offered, and there is no printed menu.

The meal started off with crispy fried Hiroshima oyster and fried fava bean.  While I am used to having oyster as a starter, it’s usually not in a cooked or fried dish.  This was good, but it wasn’t really a palate awakener.

The next dish was raw Japanese langoustine, served with red salt and plum sauce.  The langoustine had a delicate flavor.  The salt and plum sauce enhanced the flavor experience and did wake up my palate.

The next course was a salad made with fried shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, sesame sauce, and Japanese spinach.  This was composed with a pleasing combination of textures.

The next dish featured steamed turnip with red snapper inside, yuzu sauce, and fresh wasabi on top. This was served very hot, so it was a nice temperature contrast to have at this point.

The next course was fugu (blowfish/pufferfish) sashimi, served with fresh wasabi, salt and seaweed.  The slices of fish were a little tough and chewy, which surprised me.  To the side was fugu skin and milt, with warm bottarga (salted and cured fish roe) on top.  These were expertly prepared with no residual toxin at all (I wasn’t expecting any), as I didn’t feel even a little tingling after finishing the course.

For the full write-up, click here.

Kitchen Table 27th Visit for New Year’s Eve Dinner — London (12/2019)

For as many times as I’ve dined at Kitchen Table, I had never gone to their New Year’s Eve dinner event.  Normally, I don’t do these kinds of things anyway.  Also, most of the time, I have chosen to be somewhere warmer rather than colder if I’m going to travel anywhere during this time.   But I decided that if I’m ever going to attend a New Year’s Eve dinner event, the place I’m most likely to have a great time would be at Kitchen Table. 

They only have 20 seats, and there’s only one seating, so it can be difficult to secure a spot (I had a little help).  The dinner seating was for 8pm and would end just before midnight (glass of Champagne for the midnight toast included).  The menu required prepayment to secure the booking (excluded service).  Any beverages would be paid for at the conclusion of the evening.

The evening began with a Martinez cocktail for an apéritif upon being seated. It’s part Manhattan and part Martini, comprised of gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters.

The first food offering was presented soon after.  It was a chilled Windsor carrot soup (pure, with no seasoning), served with  force-grown rhubarb granita and purée, sour cream, and fresh carrot and leek oil.  Force-grown rhubarb is raised in a shed with candlelight in Yorkshire. This was a very nice fresh start for the palate.

I did not go for the wine pairings for this dinner,  I chose to start off with a 2015 1ier Cru Chablis.

The first course that we were all served simultaneously was a variation on the signature crispy chicken skin and mascarpone dish.  We were served a waffle, some crispy chicken skins, wild bird liver parfait (pheasant, red-wing partridge, mallard, wood pigeon) , bacon jam, and rosemary mascarpone with thyme.  We were instructed to combine everything together, although I was a bit of a traditionalist and did the waffle with the parfait and the chicken skin with the mascarpone and bacon jam.

The next course combined two elements.  First, Parker House rolls were served with white Alba truffle garlic butter.  We were also served a quail egg with crispy potato, black garlic, balsamic, onion, and chervil.

The next dish was Cornish squid (sliced into thin noodles) cooked gently in coconut oil.  On top was a coconut sauce (made with coconut, lime, and chicken fat) and a serving of English caviar.

The next course featured pan-roasted hand-dive Orkney scallop, Jerusalem artichoke purée, compressed apple, dashi, scallop roe, and juniper sprigs for garnish.

For the full write-up, click here.

Core by Clare Smyth — London (12/2019)

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I wanted to dine at Core by Clare Smyth ever since I saw it profiled on the Netflix show The Final Table where Chef Smyth was one of the first judges.  It has 2 stars from Michelin, and I was having difficulty booking, as solo diners only sit at the bar and have a different menu.  A chef friend offered to help get me in and I managed to secure a bar seat for a late dinner on a Saturday night (I took what I could get, even though it was not ideal).  However, when I arrived, they seated me at a very nice corner table with a view of the kitchen.  This meant that I could have the tasting menu experience.

The wine list was very nice, offering a wide selection of by-the-glass and half-bottle options. It is not often I see this many options, even at a Michelin-starred restaurant (particularly the half-bottles listings).

When dining at a table, there was a choice of either the Classic tasting menu, Seasonal tasting menu, or a prix fixe 3-course menu where the diner selects each course from a listing.  I went for the longest menu, which was the Seasonal one, along with the pasta option.

The small bites to start off were:  a gougère with roasted pumpkin in the middle, pumpkin tartlet, crispy glazed chicken wing with honey and thyme and topped with foie gras under smoke-filled bell cover, smoked eel with parsley jelly on a nori base.

I selected the Rioja reserve blanco 2006 for my beverage.

The bread was served with butter from Isle of Wythe. Refills of the bread were offered later.

The next course featured steamed Colchester crab.  In the bowl was the white meat served with fresh apple and celery.  On top was the dark meat covered with sabayon and caviar.  Next to it was a crab roll with crab jelly dressed with coastal herbs.  The last component was an intense crab broth with lemongrass, chervil and parsley. This provided three distinct flavors of crab.

The next dish was a Jerusalem artichoke tartlet with black truffle and artichoke truffle emulsion.  This had a very nice truffle aroma, but I didn’t seem to get the truffle flavor.  But it was a nicely prepared dish,

The next course featured Cornish turbot poached gently with mussels and with a smoked mussel consommé poured at table.  It was served with red apple, fennel, and cabbage.

For the full write-up, click here.

Californios 2nd Visit — San Francisco (12/2019)

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After my first visit to Californios, I decided I wanted to come back relatively soon to see what a second meal experience would be like.  Often, it’s the second visit that determines whether I like a restaurant or not because there is less novelty on a return, and I can get a sense of how consistent the experiences can be.  Since it’s local to me, I just had to fit it into a time where their availability matched my non-travel times.  This visit took place about a month after the first visit.

The experience started off again with a glass of a Spanish Pinot noir rosé cava made using the méthode champenoise.

The first presentation was again a small glass of pineapple juice with cinnamon and mint.

Additionally, I ordered a glass of sparkling non-alcoholic Riesling juice to go with dinner.

The food presentations started off with four small snacks:  puffed amaranth cracker with black lime and guajillo (dried mirasol chili)  powder, Toma cheese mousse, and beets; masa harina from Venezuela arepa with persimmon and calabaza squash, black bean; trout roe on top of butternut squash croquette with parsnip and jalapeño salsa, purple masa tostada with smoked trout, winter citrus, horseradish yogurt and fermented daikon.

Next was a chilapita made with squid ink and purple masa tart shell and filled with octopus ceviche and finished with a celery and mint espuma.

The next bite was a purple infladita (corn puff) topped with torched sweet Hokkaido sea urchin, cilantro blossom, white soy glaze, and filled with guajillo chileatole (corn pudding salsa)

This layered dish was a bacalao that starts at the bottom with potato confit. Additional layers were salted black cod, chives and Meyer lemon mousse, and avocado mousse topped with first press olive oil and pickled jalapeño.

For the upcoming taco bar, I was provided with escabeches of ley limes, pickled carrots, and lime-marinated onions. 

The first taco was representative of the Yucatán.  Berkshire pork was barbequed in the style of Cochinita Pibil with hoja santa crema, apple and pickled onions.  The pork was moist, tender and very tasty.

For the full write-up, click here.

momofuku ko 33rd Visit — New York City (12/2019)

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This visit to momofuku ko was in mid-December.  Given the frequency with which I visit, I don’t write-up every dining experience (although I have photos and notes for all visits).  However, there were some menu items which I especially liked, so I decided I would go ahead and write this one up since I hadn’t in a while.

The prior day, I had paid a visit to ko Bar and saw they added a Meursault to their regular wine list.  So, to start the meal, I ordered a glass.

To start off there was the pomme soufflé with a filling of crème fraîche and some chives.  There was also a cheese crisp with Mornay sauce (Gruyère and Parmesan).

This was followed soon by the lobster paloise:  a lobster roll with mint sabayon and Thai basil.

The next course was fluke tartare, served with a shishito pepper and dashi jelly.

The next dish was a salted mackerel sushi roll with pickled turnip greens, toasted nori, and a cup of bone broth served very warm.  It was nice to have a dish with a warm component this soon on a winter menu.

The next bite was a Dungeness crab doughnut, which had a touch of sweetness and  nice textures.

The next dish was the Ko egg:  soft-cooked and lightly smoked with golden beluga caviar, Japanese plum vinegar, onion soubise, chive and chervil salad and fingerling potato chips.  This was accompanied by sourdough bread with butter aged in a cheese cave in Brooklyn for 6 months.

This course featured broken rice with sea urchin and a scallop dashi.  This was served very warm.

The pan-seared striped bass in the next dish was accompanied by nori, confit sunchokes, trumpet mushrooms and a lobster sauce.

For the full write-up, click here.

Californios — San Francisco (11/2019)

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Californios is a relatively small tasting menu restaurant presenting Mexican-inspired cuisine, which makes it a bit unique.  I have not run across many tasting menus that present flavors from Mexico.  There are 6-8 tables (depending upon the configuration) as well as a six-seat counter. The restaurant has earned two Michelin stars and is booked via Tock.com, with reservations pre-paid upon booking that covers the food, service and taxes.

Soon after being seated, I was poured a glass of rosé cava courtesy of the house.

They have wines by the glass, as well as a full bottle list.  They also offer teas.

As part of the start of the menu, they presented a small glass of pineapple aguafresca made with a little mint. 

Next, some snacks were brought out to offer an introduction to the breadth and heritage of the cuisine prepared by the restaurant.  Starting from the bottom left:  Black barley chicharrons, whipped goat cheese and habanero pepper salsa; arepa (Venezuelan corncake made with harina) topped with whipped avocado and fresh and fermented radishes, rockfish with pickled fennel aioli and American white sturgeon caviar; taquito made with Peruvian purple masa, smoked trout mousse, fire-roasted carrot and dill.

To go with dinner, we chose a Dewey Cabernet Franc-Pinot Noir blend.

The next presentation was a chilapita – a squid ink and black Peruvian masa tart shell filled with an octopus ceviche, tomato, lemon juice and cucumber and finished with cucumber espuma.

We continued with a Peruvian heirloom masa tostada.  On top was sweet Hokkaido sea urchin (lightly torched), cilantro blossom and a filling of chile and Guajillo Chileatole (a thick corn mixture).  I wasn’t sure why the uni needed to be torched (as shown) except for the visuals – it tasted the same as if raw to me, which was fine.

Next was a sope made with sweet potato and heirloom masa with Xikil Pak (pumpkin seed dip), summer herb greens, candied pepitas, tomatillos, and preserved Meyer lemon.

Afterwards, we were presented with escabeches for two of the dishes to come:  fermented carrots, lime-pickled onions, and salsa verde (tomatillos, avocados and salsa).

For the full write-up, click here.

Vespertine — Los Angeles (11/2019)

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When Vespertine first opened, I was very interested in trying to dine there.  But, as I don’t get to Los Angeles that often, I put off making any arrangements for reservations.  As time went on, I had heard and read mixed things about the experience.  Recently, I decided to plan a trip to Southern California and found it easy enough to include a night in LA. This gave me the chance to try them out. They book through Tock with pre-paid reservations, and like many restaurants, do not make provisions for booking solo diners.  I’ve learned to ask, and I discovered that they were open to solo diners.  So, I selected a date and time and they sent me a link so that I could make the required pre-payment.  Ultimately, a friend decided to join me, so it was easy to add him to the reservation.

The restaurant occupies an entire 4-story building in an “artsy” area of Culver City.  As I knew that the experience including dining in various locations, including the roof, I selected an early-evening seating.  I hoped for a nice sunset view from the roof of what is sometimes called “The Waffle Building.”  When Michelin recently re-rated Los Angeles restaurants in their initial state-wide guide, they gave Vespertine two stars.

Upon arrival, we checked in with a staff person waiting outside in the parking lot/courtyard garden area.  We were checked in and shown to some stone-benches in a garden organized into several seating areas.  We were offered sparkling birch juice while we waited (we were early). 

We were taken inside through the first floor area (shown above) and directed into the elevetor destined for the 3rd floor.  We exited and were promptly greeted by the chef standing in front of the kitchen area.  He told us a little bit about the restaurant and the dining experience they attempt to create.  We were then led to some stairs that took us outside the building to go up to the semi-enclosed roof area.

This panorama shot was taken as we were seated.

We were offered birch juice when we were seated. 

We were then asked if we wanted either the alcoholic or non-alcoholic opening beverage.  We chose one of each.  The alcoholic one was an aromatized white wine that has been infused with the shoots of coastal redwood.  The other was similarly composed using a Gewürztraminer grape juice instead.

The first bite had already been sitting in front of us on the table.  We each had a tree branch on which Santa Barbara sea lettuce and Monterey giant kelp were hanging (in the form of crisps) and served with a chickpea dip (“chips and dip”).  The fermented chickpea was covered with the leaves of Silver Falls dichondra.

The next bite was a savory roasted yeast cookie brushed with black currant spread and garnished with wildflowers. This was inside this ceramic two-piece container.  We each took a half.

This bite started with caramelized milk bread wrapped in a “leather” of black garlic and brushed with smoked cheese.  On top were slices of king trumpet mushrooms.  There was a soft crunchiness and chewiness to the dish, with a savory and slightly sweet flavor.

After these snacks had been served, we were escorted down two floors to the main dining area.

For the full write-up, click here.