Photographs from my meal in New York, USA at Per Se on October 3, 2014.
All tagged michelin 3*
Photographs from my meal in New York, USA at Per Se on October 3, 2014.
If there's one thing Thomas Keller taught us during his 10-day pop up in at Harrod's London, it's that The French Laundry brand is fundamentally not connected to time and place. Whether the restaurant be in Napa, New York, or the basement of a department store in London, the dishes are the same. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it means that Chef Keller is a good teacher, one who is able to teach his staff how to reproduce his dishes with enough accuracy that they can be prepared anywhere. But it also means that the dishes will never feel spontaneous and whimsical, and it's difficult for them to convey chef Keller's inspiration. It was four years since my last visit to the French Laundry. Since then, Chef de Cuisine Corey Lee left and opened San Francisco's Benu, with Timothy Hollingsworth taking his place. It's an interesting situation being the chef de cuisine at a restaurant of this caliber where the executive chef no longer cooks. On the one hand it's an incredible opportunity for a chef to propel his career, but unfortunately, the dishes still have to further the concepts and passions set forth by someone else: Thomas Keller.
My journey at The French Laundry began with a trip through the garden. With an hour to spare before our reservation, we explored the autumn-colored late-season tomatoes practically falling off their vines in ripeness. I turned to my left and noticed, in shock, a farmer pruning the vines and discarding these perfect tomatoes. "We're clearing the vines out today, want some tomatoes?" he asked. That may have been the fasted I'd ever ran looking for a bag; as I knew, The French Laundry grows and has access to some of the finest ingredients in the world. During the first decade of the restaurant's operation, Chef Thomas Keller melded California's impeccable ingredient quality with innovative fine dining. The restaurant has won numerous awards and accolades, arguably making it the most famous restaurant in the country. We hoped to find the same inspiration that made the restaurant famous now that chef Keller is no longer in the kitchen. Our meal overall tasted very good, but it felt uninspired.
Our meal at L2O was a back-and-forth mix of traditional Japanese kaiseki with modern French cuisine. The restaurant really shined when it stuck to the simple and authentic Japanese dishes, as chef Gras has a remarkably precise cooking style that highlighted the very subtle flavors found in fish and vegetables. Had I not known about chef Gras, I might have thought he grew up in Japan. L2O also served some dishes that were a fusion of the two cuisines. This was the restaurant’s most interesting aspect. The richness of butter can really intensify mild flavors, particularly the subdued flavors of mushroom and cooked fish. But at times it seemed like two different chefs were cooking the meal, taking turns between French and Japanese styles. Sometimes their was synergy in the sequence of courses, other times dissonance.
My first meal at Alinea was in 2009. At that time there were two menus: a smaller, more focused 12-course tasting and a 24-course "grand tour" of the restaurant's cuisine. I overall really enjoyed my first meal quite a bit, though I thought it lacked focus and the kitchen was heavy-handed with the sugar. Since that time the two menus have been combined into a single 18-course tasting which I think is intended to bring focus and tell more of a story. While the dining room still felt icy, the service warmed up, a little. Our waiter seemed genuinely friendly, cracking jokes and making us smile throughout the meal. Once in a while, however, someone else from the kitchen brought our food and seemed a bit more distant and, well, self-satisfied. I think we got really lucky, our waiter was great.
Molecular gastronomy, or avant-garde cuisine, challenges the way diners interact with food. The meal becomes as much about the experience as it does about the flavor. The challenge is to create a unique and exciting experience without sacrificing the taste. Alinea was my first domestic experience with molecular gastronomy where the dishes were not only fun and exciting, but they tasted great, too. Our menu, titled the "grand tour," consisted of 24-courses each overlaid with grey orbs of varying opacity to indicate intensity, portion size and sweetness. The color of the orb indicated the dish's intensity: darker meant more intense. The position of the orb indicated the dish's sweetness: to the left meant savory, to the right meant sweet. The size of the orb represented the size of the plate: bigger orb, more food. We were given not a menu for the evening's food, but a guide to help us with pace.
A short drive North of Barcelona lies one of Spain's best kept secrets. Sant Pau, restaurant of chef Carme Ruscalleda in Sant Pol de Mar, serves incredibly creative French and Japanese-influenced Spanish cuisine. My most recent meal sits right alongside El Bulli and Quique Dacosta. It's one of the best experiences in a restaurant I've had. Chef Ruscalleda has a unique ability to isolate and enhance an ingredient's natural flavors and present them in a very imaginative way. We sat in the smaller of two dining rooms overlooking the Mediterranean. Subtle crashes of waves mixed with the whispers of waiters sliding about setting the remaining tables and bringing apéritifs for other early diners. The tone was calm and collected, and felt in many ways as if we were eating in a restaurant in Japan. What broke through the quiet was a sound I will never forget, the crisp crackling of our waitress slicing through our table's loaf of bread.
My recent meal at El Bulli was the most fun I have ever had at a restaurant. I said the same thing last year because it was also true. My two meals at El Bullí have kept the table laughing, analyzing, discussing, and chatting in a way I haven’t seen elsewhere. Our experience was both intellectually stimulating and novel. There were flavor combinations I had never tasted before. We were kept on our toes throughout the entire lunch. It started as a lazy morning. Waves crashed and fizzled on the sun-drenched shore as we drank tea and coffee at our seaside hotel in Roses. Lunch at El Bullí was the only activity on the day's agenda. Unlike last year where we (embarrassingly) overestimated the Costa Brava's formality, this time, we left our suits and ties at home. At one o'clock we would casually drive no more than ten minutes to our lunch. We were ready, but in no hurry.
Kyoto's busy Shijo street -- now bordered with arcades, single-item shops, and fast-food -- was something quite different a hundred years ago. Shijo street is located in the center of Gion, the Geisha district of Japan's old capital city, Kyoto. The ancient Shijo-dori, originally constructed as a means for travellers to get directly to Yasaka shrine, is now one of Kyoto's businest streets, full of cars and tourists. Remnants of the street's rich cultural past remain, including hundreds of narrow alleyways leading to quiet courtyards where one can still catch a glimpse of an ancient way of life. Chihana, which translates to "flower patch," was at first difficult to find. It didn't help that the name was written in little kanji: チ花. The restaurant is located at the end of a long and dark alley no wider than an arm's width sandwiched between two modern shops off this busy street. With each step into the courtyard the sound of traffic dissipated into the darkness. At the end was an unlabeled sliding door -- common in this area of Kyoto where private Geisha dinners are held.
My first visit to Sukiyabashi two years ago was one of the best sushi meals of my life. The meal's beauty lies in its apparent simplicity: just rice and fish. Of course this is deceiving. The exquisite sushi is the amalgam of impeccable ingredients and skill, from the hand-selected blend of rice and its meticulous steaming, to the exacting ratio of fish to rice and the timing with which it's served. Even the luke-warm temperature of the rice and its precise grain count per piece, as well as the sushi's position on the plate, is no accident. Chef Jiro Ono, Japanese living legend, is perhaps the world's greatest sushi chef. The atmosphere of Sukiyabashi Jiro seemed more relaxed and comfortable than the last time. While both the chef and his son were friendly and engaging in 2008 food photography -- no matter how subtle -- seemed to make them a bit uncomfortable. Two years later and chef Ono was smiling and welcoming photos. The sushi bar also seemed to have more foreigners. During my last meal I was the only foreigner at the table. Considering my meal in 2010 was on the exact same day as in 2008, it's unlikely a seasonal difference. This is probably due to its Michelin 3* rating permeating out, as well as the increase in internet publicity.
Why eat French food in Tokyo? Because it's usually better than in France! Located on the second floor of its own two-story building in Ginza, L'Osier perches over the surrounding street lined with designer stores and Tokyo's fashion-savvy shoppers. L'Osier is both style and substance, however; its plates both visually stunning and delicious. I had a meal here in 2006 and never got around to posting it. But I have such strong and positive memories about my experience here that it would be an injustice not to share it. I'm going to post what I remember based on my notes. I ate here before Michelin came to Tokyo and rated this restaurant three stars. It's interesting to see how this restaurant seems to have only gotten better since then.
It's easy to walk down the quiet residential streets of Jingu-mae and miss this restaurant: it's in the basement of an apartment building with no signage. But what Esaki lacks in street-level visibility it makes up for in flavor. It's modern take on traditional kaiseki -- with all locally sourced organic ingredients -- highlights the best of Japanese cuisine yet incorporates a number of modern twists that make for a more interesting, fresh experience. The menu, full of kanji beyond my understanding, proved challenging -- the waitress patiently helped me to decipher the words I didn't know, and even brought paper and pen to take notes. At this 3-starred Michelin restaurant, things suddenly felt a lot more relaxed and comfortable.
It seems to be a common theme with Parisian Michelin 3-star restaurants: due to pricing and the general difficulty in obtaining reservations, most are geared towards consistency at the expense of risk-taking. This means that most dishes will be excellent but few will be mind-shatteringly delicious. Lifetime memorable dishes take experimentation, precariousness and uncertainty, three elements embodied by a capricious and whimsical chef. Pierre Gagnaire is one of these colorful chefs. Sure, the restaurant has a menu. But ordering from the menu here is a bit like asking Monet to draw a stick figure: it's restrictive and doesn't take full advantage of the chef's creativity. The best way to experience Chef Gaganaire's cuisine is to ask the kitchen to cook for the table without restriction. At least that's what I'd heard from regulars ... but maybe their last visit was quite some time ago as this is becoming less and less possible since Chef Gagnaire spends less time behind the stove. Apparently this can make the difference between an extraordinary experience and a disappointing one.
I'd always considered French cuisine to be stagnant and unchanging: thick mother sauces blanketing filets of meat and fish with fancy adornments. It was when I actually lived here for a few years that I discovered the new wave of French cuisine led by garden fresh vegetables and lighter preparations. Mother sauces were on vacation. L'Arpège quickly became the restaurant spearheading Paris's back-to-the-garden movement. L'Astrance peaked my interest when I heard of the restaurant's compulsiveness for fresh vegetables combined with its ability to integrate elements of molecular gastronomy: spherification, foams, and non-traditional flavor extractions made this menu really exciting. Here was a young and extremely talented chef, Pascal Barbot, who went from one Michelin star to three in just under seven years.
I wrote about L'Ambroisie a few years ago here. At that time I wasn't sure what to make of the restaurant. On the one hand, I experienced tremendous difficulty making a reservation. And when I actually showed up the night of my reservation: I was turned away. The staff didn't seem that friendly. On the other hand, once I actually experienced the cuisine, the black truffle feuillantine haunted me for years after. I've since lived in Paris for nearly three years. While the restaurant may have evolved a bit since my first meal three years ago, it was I who changed the most. My expectations of a Parisian restaurant are different now. In the US, a meal at a three star Michelin restaurant is often reserved for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, congratulatory dinners and the like. The restaurants cater to the food as much as they do to customer enjoyment: they make guests feel special. Things are different here. Aside from say Guy Savoy, the impromptu gifts and unexpected culinary surprises such as tours of the kitchen, chef handshakes, and take-home goodie bags are severely limited. Ego-stroking is almost non-existent. Here, the fine dining ecosystem is designed for regulars.