Archive Page 3

Aubergine, Carmel, CA

Last month the restaurant I work at closed for the week around Labor Day to give the staff a break. That seemed to me like the perfect time to make my yearly trek out to California. So I put together a nice little dining itinerary and headed west.

My first destination, after retrieving Rocky from a family visit in Hollister, was a night in Carmel-by-the-Sea to see what Chef Justin Cogley was cooking up by the shore. I had read up on him and what he’s working with on the Monterey Peninsula and was excited to check it out. Really excited.  We drove into town, stopped by our hotel for a moment, spent a gloriously warm and sunny few hours on the beach, then prettied up and made our way to dinner at Aubergine, the Restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel.

aubergine carmel place setting

We said a few hellos, settled at our table, ordered some bubbles and the tasting, and got the party started.

aubergine carmel shiso green tea shots

Shot. First up, a fresh, effervescent shot of green tea, shiso, and pomegranate.

aubergine carmel kelp chips and dip

Chips and Dip. Kelp chips that I think he said were dried on rocks for a year. Along with sea spinach aioli.

aubergine carmel crispy potato

Crispy Potato. Light and crisp fried strings of potato with shellfish sauce.

aubergine carmel oysters

Oyster. Shigoku oysters with lychee and ginger snow. A nice balance of brine, sweet, and spice.

aubergine carmel quail egg

Quail Egg. I kind of missed the details, but the eggs were either cooked or cured with some lapsang souchong, which gave them a nice bitter tea leaf flavor.

aubergine carmel flax cracker

Flax Cracker. Flax seed crisps topped with apricot and white cheddar.

aubergine carmel kobe wagyu tartare

Wagyu Tartlet. A beautiful tartare of A5 Kagoshima beef with roe and amaranth leaf. A fantastic bite.

aubergine carmel sea urchin caviar

aubergine carmel caviar milk gelee

aubergine carmel uni

Uni, caviar. Canadian sturgeon caviar laying with sea grapes on a bed of raw milk and kombu gelees with some sea urchin alongside to mix in. The pop of the sea grapes and the salinity of the caviar and kombu were great with the creamy, sweet uni.

aubergine carmel foie gras

aubergine carmel foie gras gift

Foie Gras. Super smooth rich foie wrapped in grape gel with ash roasted leeks, hibiscus jelly, and a slice of brioche. Rocky said it was her new favorite ‘PB&J’.

aubergine carmel diver scallop

Scallop. A Massachusetts diver scallop cooked in its shell served with its steamed roe, lemon water, lemon balm, and meyer lemon.

aubergine carmel abalone

aubergine carmel monterey abalone

Abalone. Monterey Bay abalone and seaweed with oyster leaf and mushroom in a chicken and umeboshi consomme. Killer.

aubergine carmel king salmon

aubergine carmel salmon

King Salmon. Local king salmon topped with spinach puree, coastal herbs, and pineapple weed. Finished with chamomile broth.

aubergine carmel chicken

aubergine carmel spring chicken

aubergine carmel young chicken

Chicken. Young spring chicken with grapes, chanterelles, charred fermented leeks, and puffed rice. The rice was a nice texture against the juicy bird.

aubergine carmel lamb

aubergine carmel lamb

Lamb. Shoulder, loin, and pickled tongue of lamb. An awesome spread of sprouted legumes. Milk skin with lamb heart seasoning. Lovage and whey sauce.

aubergine carmel wagyu

aubergine carmel kagoshima wagyu beef

aubergine carmel wagyu beef

Beef. An amazing offering of A5 Wagyu from Kagoshima grilled and rested in sake and rock salt and wrapped in nori. Accompanied with sake lees and meyer lemon, plum puree, pickled baby ginger, soy salt, and an incredible porcini. Truly decadent.

aubergine carmel cheese

Cheese. Ossau-Iraty, a Basque sheep’s milk cheese served warm with a crumble of Thai Long pepper, Japanese barley, and a rich, earthy chicken and black truffle sauce.

So I follow Aubergine Pastry Chef Ron Mendoza on Instagram. His desserts always look effing stunning. I was amped to try them for myself.

aubergine carmel cucumber sorbet

Cucumber Sorbet. With Thai basil meringue, white chocolate powder, finished with melon comsomme. Terrific. Clean, light and fresh.

aubergine carmel pine lemon yogurt

Pine, Lemon, Yogurt. Superb little bowl. Great texture between the yogurt and the meringue. Super f*cking delicious, with a lingering developing complexity.

aubergine carmel bavarois

aubergine carmel peach bavarois

aubergine carmel peach nerds

Bavarois. Sheep’s milk bavarois with compressed peaches, sable, and nerds. Delightful. An incredible composed dessert.

aubergine carmel smoked milk

aubergine carmel smoked milk chocolate

Chocolate. Smoked milk chocolate mousse with corn ice cream, corn silk, crispy quinoa, and raspberry sauce. A beautiful balance of tastes and textures.

aubergine carmel madelines


aubergine carmel petit fours

aubergine carmel tapioca coconut lime

aubergine carmel chocolate mint rock

Mignardises. Coconut lime tapioca pudding cracker with nasturtium. Tangy and crunchy. Chocolate mint rock. Coolly minty.

A fantastic dinner and a great taste of the coast. Certainly worth a trip to the shore to see what’s going on at Aubergine.

Date of visit:  September 2, 2013

Aubergine. Monte Verde at Seventh. Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA  831.624.8578


Yusho, Chicago

As I was piecing together my most recent trip to Chicago, I was faced with the same dilemma as try new places or revisit spots I already know and love. Rocky and I didn’t have a lot of time in town and naturally wanted to make the most of our stay. One of the best moves I made while filling in the blanks was booking a dinner at the chef’s counter at Yusho. That place is effing awesome. Matthias Merges really has his shit together.

yusho chicago chefs counter

We arrived for a fairly early dinner(though we somehow ended up closing the place down anyways) and posted up by the kitchen on what may be the tallest barstools we’ve ever sat on. After a little chatting with the staff, they proposed a few different ways to go about Yusho’s somewhat spontaneous tasting menu. After I established that there was no scared business and we were here to go for the gusto, we got the party started.

yusho chicago market oysters

Market Oysters. Two different oysters to start out. The first, from Deer Creek, Washington, was served raw and had firm body and full flavor. The second, from Prince Edward Island, was served warm with tapioca pearls.

yusho chicago tuna rice yuzu soy

Tuna. A tartare marinated with ponzu, yuzu, and soy served with nori, rice cracker, radish, and pine nut. The bonito-heavy tuna was a beautiful feature gracefully supported by the various accents and paired wonderfully with a smooth yamada nishiki by Kenbishi Kuromatsu.

yusho chicago octopus

yusho chicago octopus

Octopus. Tenderized baby octopus dressed with yuzu and served with enoki mushrooms, green beans, and garlic chives. Nice textures between the barely al dente tentacles, the fibrous bite of the enoki, and the crisp snap of the beans.

yusho chicago chicken wing

Chicken wing. A meaty hunk of wing flavored with bonito, lime, and thai chile. Nicely sweet, with light acid and spice.

yusho chicago skin chips

Skin Tasting. The puffed pork skin was dusted with togarashi. The monkfish skin had a tasty underlying Atlantic brininess. The denser chicken skin was dressed with garlic, mustard, and honey. Overall these were light and crunchy in weight but had a very filling richness.

yusho chicago osaka pancakes

Takoyaki & Okonomiyaki (Osaka pancakes). Two savory batter treats. The first, a dumpling with peas and onions topped with roe and katsuobushi. The other, a pancake with blue prawn, caramelized eggplant, and sprouts. I think this was Rocky’s favorite savory plate. I would ask her to confirm if she wasn’t sleeping right now. Paired with a pretty cool Sauvignon Blanc from Brda.

yusho chicago maitake mushroom

Maitake mushroom. With frisee, dashi gelee, pickled jalapeño, and a one hour egg. This dish was almost overwhelmingly wonderful with its savoriness. The richness of the yolk and dashi melted into the warm broth alongside the sour spice of the pepper and the earthy, meaty mushrooms was an over the top great combo. Tied for my favorite course of the meal.

yusho chicago seared foie gras strawberry

Seared foie gras. With strawberry coulis, mochi, and a vinaigrette made from foie fat. The sweet, gummy mochi was a fun compliment to the seared lobe. The acidic berry did well to balance the richness. Boldly and successfully paired with cocktail of White Dog Whisky, strawberry, lemon, Cocchi Americano, and creme de cassis.

yusho chicago pho

Pho. Noodle soup with sprouts, a nice pork meatball, and the tear inducing ‘angry red ball’. Rocky did better with the angry ball than I did. My Midwest white boy spice tolerance couldn’t handle the heat so I ate around the red. A Krombacher Pilsner pairing helped cool off the spice.

yusho chicago soy silky black chicken

Soy Silkie. Silkie black chicken sous vide, steamed, and fried(a shared plate; we didn’t each get a whole bird). Served with rice, orange teriyaki, caramelized kimchi, shishito pepper, and herb salad. Holy smokes. This bird was effing delicious. I went straight to work on the head, neck and toes then moved on to the meatier pieces. Sadly, I tried and died. The richness shut me down. It broke my heart to see the left over meat and skin go away.

yusho chicago beef spare ribs

Beef spare ribs. Cuts of beef dressed in sesame hoisin with a little thai chile served with dduk, steamed Korean rice cakes. The dduk had a superb doughy, chewy texture and was fun with the tender ribs.

yusho chicago cosmo blood sausage

yusho chicago cosmo

Cosmo. Blood sausage and pickled cauliflower over a steamed bun with red pepper sauce. The bun, lightly sweet and doughy, with the strong iron taste of the rich sausage and the persistent but not overpowering spice and acid of the cauliflower was delightful. Really good stuff. My other favorite course of the meal. Rodenbach Flemish Sour was a neat pair for the varied contrast of the dish.

yusho chicago hibiscus soft serve

Soft serve. Hibiscus soft serve with tamarind syrup, thai basil, and sansho pepper. The ice cream had a great density. I remember asking if it was thickened with anything but have no idea what the answer was. Our bev man brought a fresh, off-sweet cocktail to match dessert: London gin, thai basil, lime, and palm sugar.

yusho chicago tofu doughnut

Doughnut. A silken tofu doughnut rolled in cinnamon and sugar and topped with chocolate ganache, genmaicha, and candied ginger. Nice few bites to finish up.

yusho chicago chef counter

A great meal. The menu was creative and satisfying. The beverages our guy paired for me were spot-on, covering multiple wines, beers, sakes, and cocktails, and his enthusiasm was remarkable(I can’t remember his name but I remember him looking like a young Val Kilmer with crazy cool hair and birth control glasses). A really fun night at the kitchen counter with Chef Merges and his team.

Date of visit:  June 17, 2013

Yusho. 2853 N Kedzie Avenue. Chicago, IL  773.904.8558

Next: Vegan

As I’ve said many times, I tend to prefer beautiful, well-executed vegetables to most proteins. So when Rocky and I were last in Chicago we were excited to see what magic Chefs Dave Beran and Grant Achatz would work for their vegan themed menu at Next. Really excited. Amped even to the point that Rocky wrote and choreographed a full-on vegan cheer(complete with hip rolls and mock pom pom movements) which she performed throughout the day before our meal. Come dinner time, we were ready.

next vegan table setting

next vegan table setting

At our table, which was set with a few adornments that would be put to use through the early courses of the meal, we were greeted by a letter in some branches and our starting beverages.

next vegan starter cracker

next vegan burnt avocado

next vegan started avocado kale bouquet

Starter and burnt avocado. A dense, crunchy cracker made from sourdough starter, to be eaten with burnt and fresh avocado puree. Tangy and acidic, accented with oxalis and togarashi.

Kale bouquet. Small ‘bouquets’ of crispy kale sitting in the avocado.

next vegan frozen baked potato

Frozen baked potato. Frozen skin of Purple Majesty potato loaded with a smooth sorbet of the potato. Blah.

next vegan nori dumpling

next vegan sprouted tempeh

Sprouted tempeh. A tempeh tart with sprouted basil and chia. Nice basil taste.

Nori dumpling. Good vegetal seaweed flavor. Soft and spongy with a salty crunch on top.

next vegan earl grey rambutan

Earl grey rambutan. Rambutan(a lychee relative) flavored with earl grey and made into a pleasantly fruity jello shot.

next vegan baby artichokes

Baby artichokes. These were delightful. Charred and filled with artichoke puree. A wonderful balance between the rich puree, the toasty and caramelized leaves, and a little astringency. This was Rocky’s favorite savory course.

next vegan apples and lichen

next vegan aged apple cider vinegarnext vegan fermented apples

Fermented apples and lichen. Fresh apple ice and lacto-fermented apple. Cashew: roasted, raw, powdered, and oil. Rose candies and petals. Fried lichen. Seven month oak-aged apple cider vinegar made with an eight year old starter. An awesome back and forth between some really fun flavors.

next vegan herb pool

next vegan lily pond

Lily pond. Lily bulbs, sauteed and raw. Lychee. Red veined sorrel, burgundy and rainbow oxalis, celery leaf, and micro chard fished out of the table decoration. It was a nice contrast between the starchy sauteed bulbs and the crisps raw ones.

next vegan rice yogurt white asparagus

next vegan white asparagus

Rice yogurt and white asparagus. French white asparagus prepared three ways: confit stalk, blanched tips, and julienned then salt-cured with pear. With rice yogurt, rice crackers, purslane, and dried herbs. The asparagus was superb. The crackers lent a little salt and acid. A small amount of the yogurt was nice, but it was cloyingly sweet.

next vegan salsifies dandelion

next vegan salsify

Salsifies with oyster and dandelion. Pickled salsify with oyster leaf. Pureed salsify stuffed in bad-ass crunchy roasted skin with dandelion greens. I loved the super bitterness of the leaves with the light sweetness of the root.

next vegan swiss chard douchi

Swiss chard and douchi. A beer battered leaf of chard over a carrot and beet sauce. Next to a pretty solid black bean and chocolate douchi with some smoked orange. A fairly rich plate with the excess of fried batter.

next vegan kombu atoll

next vegan kombu atoll

Kombu atoll. Kombu seaweed, yuba, ponzu, pumpkin seed, shiso. Visually inspired by an atoll coral reef. Damn…this dish was incredible. Great depth of restrained savory layers of flavors. Easily my favorite dish of the meal.

next vegan mushroom cart

next vegan mushroom cart

Mushroom cart. Farro risotto in mushroom stock with a mix of wild mushrooms. Sunflower seeds, petals, and leaves. Sunchoke chips and milked sunchoke. The varieties of fungus were killer, though overall the dish was super rich and really salty.

next vegan red onion

next vegan red onion stupak inspired

Red onion | inspired by Stupak. A take on Larb, the national dish of Laos. Instead of minced meat, the focus was a pile of heavily caramelized onion. Accompanied with brussels sprouts puree, fresno chiles, coriander, lime, mint, and quinoa wire(circa Alex Stupak).

next vegan spice tubenext vegan cauliflowernext vegan cauliflower naan

next vegan curry cauliflower

Curry roasted cauliflower. Curried cauliflower in a nice harisa with chickpea, turmeric, cumin, golden raisin, pine nuts, and sprouted chickpea.

next vegan szechuan buttons

next vegan olive oil chocolate strawberry

Olive oil jam and bitter chocolate. Olive oil, szechuan buttons, chocolate cake, freeze dried strawberries, and black truffle. Before the dessert arrived, we were offered some szechuan buttons so we could experience their tickling/numbing sensation. The dessert was fantastic. Great textures and tastes, not too sweet, and the tingle from the buttons was a lot of fun. This was Rocky’s favorite plate of the night.

next vegan hibiscus pistachio

Hibiscus and pistachio. Hibiscus cake dusted with pistachio. Pistachio shortbread. Thai long pepper sorbet with hibiscus. Fennel marmalade. Iranian pistachios. Vanilla syrup cased in pistachio. Quite an amazing dessert. A delightfully themed variety of preparations. My second favorite course, next to the kombu atoll.

next vegan steamed crepes

Steamed crepes. Burnt sugar. Passionfruit. Chocolate.

Overall a fun meal with some very creative and clever highlights. Initially on leaving dinner I was a little let down by the lack of pristine fresh vegetables I had expected from an all-vegan menu in summertime, but I got over it, looked back, and was pretty impressed with the offerings. Did it ‘challenge my perceptions of what vegan cuisine can be’ as the cheesy welcoming letter-mission statement suggested? Not really. But would I eat this menu again? Certainly.

Some wines I was served:

next vegan winenext vegan winenext vegan winenext vegan sakenext vegan winenext vegan winenext vegan wine

Date of visit: June 16, 2013

Next. 953 W Fulton Market. Chicago, IL

EL Ideas, Chicago

A few weeks ago Rocky and I flew to Chicago again to see what’s cooking(our third trip to the Second City in six months). I had been wanting to visit Chef Phillip Foss and his restaurant EL Ideas for awhile, but until this trip hadn’t been able to work it out. So after a late night closing up shop in Tribeca, two hours of sleep, and an early flight from LGA to ORD, Rocky and I stopped by our hotel a few minutes, then pounded some tortas and churros, stocked up on BYO options and headed off to dinner. Half an hour later as our cab was rolling into a scene from Training Day and our driver was telling us we had the wrong address, we arrived at the restaurant on a dead end of 14th St.

el ideas chicago table setting

We made our way inside, said hi to Bill the FOH guy, made some offerings to Chef Foss and his kitchen crew, then settled down at our table and started popping our bottles. Before long, Foss addressed the crowd and got the party started.

el ideas chicago ossetra popcorn avocado

Ossetra – popcorn / heart of palm / avocado. Belgian ossetra caviar with popcorn flavored Dippin’ Dots, avocado mousse, Hawaiian heart of palm, and sprouting chives. Holy sh*t. The smooth rich avocado with the cold buttery popcorn against the caviar salinity was brilliant. The fibrous crunch of the palm heart was a nice textural contrast. A great start to the meal and a beautiful match with our Champagne(Pierre Gimonnet Special Club 2005).

el ideas chicago radish

el ideas chicago radish salmon

Radish – salmon / kombu / black garlic. Radish slices with cured salmon, black garlic, cucumber, compressed watermelon, salicornia, and suds from kombu stock. The sweet watermelon, salty fish, fresh cucumber, and oceanic suds were nice compliments to the spicy radish.

el ideas chicago lamb

el ideas chicago lamb hummus tahini

Lamb – hummus / tahini / pine nuts. Seared za’atar lamb, hummus, fresh garbanzo, smoked & pickled green garlic, tahini, pine nut, bean leaf, and za’atar toast. Cool stuff. Like a refined, deconstructed gyro.

el ideas pork cauliflower

Pork – cauliflower / cilantro / gooseberry. Marinated pork belly sous vide for 72 hours served with roasted cauliflower with fish sauce, fresh gooseberry, cilantro puree, Cuban oregano, Vietnamese coriander, and crystal lettuce. Ultra dynamic flavor range. I was worried the belly would be too rich but degrees of acid and varying herbaceous notes balanced out exceptionally.

el ideas chicago bread

el ideas chicago bread uni morels

Bread – uni / morels / nasturtium. I think I have this right…bread made with a mix of three starters: morel, gooseberry, and pumpernickel, with sour brown ale and a little whole wheat flour. Accompanied with delightful small morels, decadent uni butter, peppery nasturtium, and pickled wild spring onion. A lot of love on a piece of slate.

el ideas chicago skate

el ideas chicago skate calf heart

Skate – calf heart / turnip / onion. Six years ago in Overland Park, KS I had a skate dish I really liked. Two years later on the UWS I had another skate plate that was superb. Aside from those two events, ray consumption in my life has been a downward spiral of bland, mushy mediocrity. This course however was very nice. The wing was prepared into a roulade with an almost crisp, caramelized skin and served with calf heart, 24 hour sous vide turnip, red mustard greens, mustard seeds, and onion jus. The skate was really nice with 2011 Ostertag Riesling, while the heart combined with the sweet duo of mustard and onion was beautiful with 1996 d’Yquem(a multiple beverage blessing).

el ideas chicago cotton candy

el ideas chicago cotton candy foie

Cotton Candy – foie / bergamot / bachelor button. A good acid/sweetness balance with a finish of rich shaved foie. There’s not much more to say about this one. I ate it really, really fast.

el ideas grouse

el ideas grouse rapini summer truffle

Grouse – rapini / angelica / summer truffle. Scotland Grouse roulade with confit leg, angelica, lamb’s quarter puree, rapini, and summer truffle. That was a gamey bird, in the best way. Put together with some great vegetal astringency, leafy bitterness, and dirty earth tones. This plate was covered with raw, masculine, sex appeal.

el ideas chicago beef

el ideas chicago beef beets sumac

Beef – beets / verjus / sumac. Shlagel Farms sirloin aged 60 days and sous vide 8 hours served with beet variations, verjus, sumac, and wood sorrel. A really nice piece of beef. Remarkable. The beets teetered on being too sweet but the acidic oxalis brought them back around. A great plate to finish out the savory menu.

el ideas chicago strawberry

el ideas strawberry rhubarb pistachio

Strawberry – rhubarb / lychee / pistachio. Strawberry sorbet and powder, lychee and rhubarb gelee, lemon verbena financier, brown butter pistachio crumble. A nice few bites with a good variety of textures.

el ideas chicago fennel chocolate honey bussel

Fennel – chocolate / lemon / honey bussel. This dessert was quite a compilation. A mixed plate of fun ideas. Super light and cooly herbaceous fennel ice cream, dark chocolate ganache, dehydrated dark chocolate, compressed blueberries, peanut something, tangy meyer lemon pudding, and a gingerbread honey bussel cookie. I don’t know that it made a lot of sense, but it was kick-ass and we had a lot of fun eating it.

el ideas chicago final bites

Final Bites – guava / macaroon / sudachi. Guava pate de fruit, maple macaron, sudachi chocolate.

Here’s some wine we brought along for dinner:

el ideas chicago pierre gimonnetel ideas chicago domaine ostertag

el ideas chicago d'yquemel ideas chicago wine byob

And here’s some of the kitchen crew hard at work:

el ideas chicago platingel ideas chicago kitchen plating

el ideas chicago kitchen platingel ideas chicago kitchen plating

As I mentioned at the top of this post, we had slept very little, and by this point had drank quite a lot(including sharing a post-dinner bottle of Yamazaki single malt with the kitchen). That leads me to this…

Here’s Rocky posing in the kitchen in a banana suit:

el ideas chicago kitchen banana suitel ideas chicago banana costume

el ideas chicago kitchen banana costume

Date of visit: June 15, 2013

El Ideas. 2419 West 14th Street. Chicago, IL  312.226.8144

Betony, NYC

A few weeks ago Rocky and I were out in Bushwick eating some bad ass pizza on our big day off together when we ran into our friend Eamon Rockey(no relation to my Rocky, don’t be confused). We chatted a bit and I asked how his new gig was going and made a promise to pay him a visit sometime soon. So a trip to Betony, Eamon’s new project with Chef Bryce Shuman, got put on my NYC shortlist.

Last Sunday while pounding sipping bourbon cocktails on the EMP patio during USHG’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party, Rocky and I ran into Rockey again. Though a lot of the details for the day ended up fairly fuzzy for me, I’m moderately sure I promised I would dine the next day at Betony. Either way, I made good on my possible promise. And I’m delighted I did. Our dinner was superb.

betony nyc orange julepbetony nyc bar snacks bread

Rocky and I met at the bar when she got off work and we started with a couple drinks and some bar snacks.

After chatting with some of the staff, and drying off from the pouring rain, we made our way to our corner table in the dining room. We were told the menu is intended in three sections: snacks, appetizers, and main courses. We picked out a few of each and got the party started.

betony nyc potato chips

Potato Chips, Creme Fraiche, Chive. Delicate potato crisps, with some nice allium flavor, cooled out by the tangy creme fraiche. Like refined sour cream and onion chips.

betony nyc crushed zucchini

Crushed Zucchini, Mint, Gruyere. Fork-smashed zucchini, sandwiched between gruyere chips. Livened up by a bit of mint.

betony nyc trout roe rice cracker

Marinated Trout Roe, Puffed Rice, Cucumber. Rice crackers topped with trout roe, fennel, and cucumber. An exciting combination of flavors. Nice texture contrasts between the light cracker, the pop of the roe, and the crisp vegetable.

betony nyc tuna melt

“Tuna Melt”, Fontina, Brioche. Open-faced melts built on small round brioche slices with mayo, bigeye tuna, fontina, tomato, and sorrel. These tasty little snacks made Rocky want to start making tuna melts for lunch.

betony nyc tomato snow gooseberry

Tomato Snow. With gooseberry compote, olive oil, and tarragon tips. A fun few bites. Super light, but packed with restrained flavor. Clean, savory, tart, and fresh.

betony nyc corn gnocchi

Gnocchi, Corn, Sea Cress. As I’ve said before, I’m a corn fanatic. And being that my mother grew up on a pig and corn farm in central Nebraska, I have an instilled sense of corn snobbery. I loved this dish. Soft, lightly starchy gnocchi served with baby corn and freeze dried corn kernels in a superb sweet corn pudding that had a light touch of heat. Amazing. I hope to have it again soon.

betony nyc grain salad

Grain Salad, Labne, Sprouts. A variety of grains prepared in a fun variety of textures, set in strained yogurt and topped with sprouts.

betony nyc chicken liver

betony nyc chicken liver

Chicken Liver, Apple, Celery, Caraway. This liver was effing bad ass. Rich and smooth. I was a big fan of it on its own, though it was accented really nicely with the sweet, tart, earthy, tangy accompaniments.

betony nyc brook trout

betony nyc brook trout

Brook Trout, Artichokes, Lovage. Big thanks to Rocky for the sweet photo above, and for having this to say about the fish:

‘The mild trout served skin on took me back to long days fly fishing along the Current River in southern Missouri. However, enjoying the trout without fish guts under my nails or river gunk in my undies allowed for a much more elegant experience. Also, the brook trout of the Northeast doesn’t have the skunky flavor of the rainbow trout I grew up on. The lean fish was complemented by buttery artichoke leaves with crispy artichoke heart chips adding texture. A ballin outta control broth topped the dish, making it a plate worth licking. Yummy fish, fun accompaniments, and awesome broth left me satisfied and excited for dessert.’

betony nyc lobster

betony nyc lobster peas radish

Lobster, Peas, Easter Egg Radish. Damn. This lobster was awesome. With sugar snap peas and English peas, a little mint, and some delicious sabayon. A flawless plate of food. Better executed and three times the size of the lobster and pea dish I had on the fourth floor crosstown a few weeks ago.

betony nyc goat milk ice cream honey

Goat Milk Ice Cream. A couple quenelles of tangy ice cream served over crunchy toasted buckwheat and drizzled with honey. A pleasant pre-dessert.

betony nyc blueberry

Blueberry, Poppyseed, Osmanthus. The ice cream, flavored with osmanthus tea, was fantastic, especially paired with the sweet berry.

betony nyc apricot almond

Apricot, Almond, Watercress. The sweet, mildly tart apricot matched up well with the almond ice cream.

betony nyc coconut white chocolate rum

Coconut, White Chocolate, Aged Rum. My favorite of the desserts. I’m not sure what to call the white chocolate part(maybe a semifreddo?), but it was filled with rum, which made magic happen when it spilled out and combined with the ice cream and toasted almonds.

betony nyc dark chocolate cardamom coffee

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom, Coffee. Another dynamic range of tastes and textures. Light, airy foam. Dense, decadent chocolate. And a base of crunchy granola.

betony nyc petit fours

Frozen Chocolate Stout Macaron. Pink Peppercorn Caramel Chew. Dried Cherry & Pistachio Divinity. A few more little bites to finish up an extraordinary dinner.

Some wines we were served, paired up by sommelier Luke Wohlers and my buddy Big Will(service director):

betony nyc winebetony nyc winebetony nyc winebetony nyc winebetony nyc winebetony nyc winebetony nyc wine

Date of visit:  June 11, 2013

Betony. 41 West 57th Street, NYC  212.465.2400

Pearl & Ash, NYC

A couple weeks ago, Rocky flew out to the west coast to visit family and left me alone in the city, which really isn’t significant to this post at all, except maybe that that’s why I went as a solo diner to visit Pearl & Ash, a super cool restaurant on Bowery headed up by Richard Kuo, who was one half of last summer’s pop-up Scandinavian sensation Frej(along with Chef Fredrik Berselius, currently of Aska).

pearl and ash champagne

I arrived just a few minutes after opening and was given the option to sit at the bar or a communal. The bar it was. I started with a glass of Gatinois Champagne while I thought about dinner, fresh apple with citrus-y acidity, light minerals and yeast, and a tart finish. The menu is broken down into six sections: raw, small, fish, meat, vegetables, and sugar. I wanted to get a good taste of what Kuo was cooking up, so I started out with all the raw and small dishes, one fish, and one meat(the latter two are offered in full or half portions). I ended up with one plate from the vegetables and both from the sugar as well.

pearl and ash ama ebi shrimp

Ama-ebi, smoked lime yogurt, radish, bee pollen. True to the name, pleasantly sweet shrimp, accompanied by some good acid from the lime yogurt, radish spice, and a little salty crunch.

pearl and ash tea cured salmon

Tea cured salmon, goat cheese, tamarind, seaweed. Nice strips of salmon with a little tang and pleasant light bitterness from the tea cure. The seaweed beneath was simply wonderful, well dressed, with a great snap. A small amount of goat cheese for a little fun.

pearl and ash diver scallop

Diver scallop, fennel, lily bulb, berbere. The toasted(torched) berbere spice was really neat against the sweetness of the scallop. The pickled lily bulbs added nice florality(not yet a real word).

pearl and ash hanger tartare

Hanger, egg, cocoa, melba. Tasty tartare of impressively tender hanger steak accented with juniper and a little harisa paste that warms up nicely on the finish.

pearl and ash octopus

Octopus, sunflower seed, shiso. This plate was delicious. Like a spicy BBQ octopus. Braised and flashed, served in a reduction of mirin and sriracha that carried some pretty decent heat, along with a little mellow shiso.

pearl and ash duck confit

Duck confit, red cabbage, celery. Confit duck in panko breadcrumb and slice of confit leg draped atop. Kickin acidity from pickled red cabbage puree and tart earthy astringency from celery ribbons and leaves made a cool dynamic with the rich duck.

pearl and ash quail

Quail, almond, pomegranate, chicken skin. The bird was deboned and rewrapped in its skin, sausage style. The pomegranate, while fairly sweet, was a good enough companion to the quail. The chicken skin, made into a type of salty crumble, was awesome.

pearl and ash

Skate, chermoula, cauliflower, leek. This was the only plate I disliked. While the smooth whipped cauliflower was tasty, and the leeks were decent, the skate had a weak density. The salt, rather than helping, was a striking contrast to the bland, almost mushy fish.

pearl and ash potatoes

Potatoes, porcini mayo, chorizo. An extra from the kitchen. Damn. These were some kick-ass spuds. Super soft inside with crispy crunchy outside. Topped with some killer sauce and chorizo. Solid.

pearl and ash pork meatballs

Pork meatballs, shiitake, bonito. When this bowl hit the bar, I was mesmerized by the hypnotic contracting of the bonito a living dish! Simple pleasures.. Superb meatballs with soppressata, mushrooms, and a sweet sauce.

pearl and ash ice cream sandwichpearl and ash ice cream sandwich

pearl and ash fernet branca ice cream sandwich

Fernet-branca ice cream sandwich. Lightly herbaceous ice cream with a very mild touch of bitterness in delightfully fun packaging.

pearl and ash coffee parfait lemon cake

Coffee parfait & cake. A mildly tangy parfait with bright flavored lemon poundcake, preserved lemon, and creme fraiche. I don’t often like lemon in desserts, but this plate, a take on the coffee and donuts that Kuo & crew used to consume pre-opening, was surprisingly nice.

pearl and ash rieslingpearl and ash chinon

In addition to Chef Richard’s fantastic food, I was impressed by wine guy Patrick Cappiello’s superb accomplishment of a list. I had a fantastic bottle of 1990 Schloss Schonborn riesling for a very fair $52 and a glass of cab franc by Bernard Baudry, currently my favorite Chinon producer. Given its location just blocks from my gym, and the great value for tasty food, I anticipate I’ll be returning to Pearl & Ash soon. Plus once I post this Rocky is going to be pissed off that she hasn’t been yet.

Date of visit: April 1, 2013

Pearl & Ash. 220 Bowery, NYC  212.837.2370

Aska, Brooklyn

Last summer, when I caught word of a pop-up restaurant in Williamsburg called Frej, I jumped right on securing a table to see for myself what Chefs Fredrik Berselius and Richard Kuo were up to…or at least I intended to. I slept on it a little too long and by the time I made a legit attempt to schedule a dinner I was met with a message of the restaurant’s mysterious closing and their ambiguous time frame of reopening. So I missed out on that one. Though when I heard of the space within Kinfolk Studios being reborn as Aska, I made sure that I was among the first in line to take a bite of Berselius’s food…or at least I intended to.

aska table setting

It wasn’t until about two months after Aska’s opening that I ran into Eamon Rockey(the ex-GM, who recently left the company) and promised that I would be in to dine soon. A week later, there I was with camera in hand and Rocky(my Rocky, not Eamon) by my side ready for dinner. We ordered a couple cocktails and a bottle of Champagne, then we were ready to rock.

A few snacks to start:

aska molasses shortbread

Molasses shortbread with smoked cheese. Warm flavors with a touch of sweetness.

aska scallop dill

Scallop and dill. A savory crispy chip with an unmistakable scallop taste.

aska pig blood chip

Pig blood chip with sea buckthorn berry. How very Nordic. Tart berries with dry, bitter bloodiness.

aska bread service

Bread service. Crisps and caraway rolls with salted local butter.

The menu:

aska oyster cucumber rapeseed

Oyster, cucumber, rapeseed. A nice opener, Rhode Island oysters. The cucumber was great for a fresh balance to the brine of the oyster.

aska herring potato jumiper

aska juniper herring

Herring, potato, juniper. A delicious fish. Delightfully crispy head and tail. Served with a shot of aquavit, onion juice, and whey. I thought the pairing was bad ass. Distinctively Scandinavian.

aska sunchoke trotter apple

Sunchoke, trotter, apple. Crispy trotter with apple puree, raw sunchoke, and woodruff powder. The dynamic was nice between the pork richness, the sweet acidic apple, and the raw root earthiness.

aska roots egg yolk lamb

aska salsify

Roots, egg yolk, lamb. Salsify, sunchoke, slow cooked yolk, and lamb heart and tongue in a broth of winter leaves and lichen. I loved the savoriness of the broth with the meat. A very nice plate of food.

aska monkfish cabbage bay leaf

aska monkfish

Monkfish, cabbage, bay leaf. What at first looks like a plate of cabbage leaves, punches, and puree, reveals a cut of monkfish and its liver. A pretty strong contrast melded together with a sauce of pork & monkfish stock with bay leaf and rose hip.

aska beef shortrib rutabaga hay

Beef, rutabaga, hay. A good size piece of beef short rib with rutabaga, some fermented, some not, with reduced cream and beef stock. From Rocky: ‘Damn. [dramatic pause] This is delicious! Holy balls. This is unhealthy.’ And a little later: ‘This is a fantastic dish. Super-hella-rich, but this is awesome!’ Well said.

aska lingonberry oat chip

A little pre-dessert of frozen whey, lingonberry, oat chip. These little guys were amazing.

aska cardamom brown butter hazelnut

Cardamom, brown butter, hazelnut. A delicious, nutty serving of cardamom ice cream with brown butter mousse, hazelnuts, and hazelnut powder.

Following dessert we moved from the more formal part of the space out to the casual bar area to finish up our bottle of bubbles and glasses of Sherry.

aska dreams cookies

Eamon gave us a little plate of cookies. He called them ‘Dreams’ and said he hoped they made our dreams come true.

Date of visit: January 28, 2013

Aska. 90 Wythe Avenue. Brooklyn, NY  718.388.2969

Kajitsu, NYC

Even before I moved to NYC, I had wanted to visit Kajitsu. Though the restaurant switched chefs and somewhat changed cuisines since it first popped up on my radar, it maintained a high spot on my eating list. So late last January on our big night off together, Rocky and I headed to the East Village(Kajitsu has since relocated) to try out Ryota Ueshima’s Shojin fare.

kajitsu table setting

We were offered a choice of two Kaiseki menus: Kaze, the shorter, or Hana, which includes the whole Kaze menu plus a few additions. Naturally, we chose the Hana tasting. I ordered the sake pairings, Rocky opted for grapes by the glass.

kajitsu camellia flower plate

kajitsu flower

Camellia Flower Plate. Red cabbage, turnip, arrowhead root, watercress, vinegared jelly, malva nut. Presented as a scene of a flower growing from the ground with ‘pollen’ of arrowhead root chips. The ‘petals’ were thick, tasty cuts of cabbage. The jelly had a yummy savory/acid balance. While it wasn’t at all bad, this was a super underwhelming opener.

kajitsu ozouni soup

kajitsu ozouni soup

Ozouni Soup. White miso, mochi, broccolini, daikon, carrot, sakekasu-fu, cumquat chips, mustard. I loved this. The soup was of an amazing savory density. The fried mochi had a little spice and with the fu gave the dish some fun chewiness.

kajitsu new year osechi box

kajitsu osechi box

New Year Osechi Box. Yuba, snow pea, burdock root, shiitake mushroom, golden beet, temari-fu, potato, chayote, sweet potato, cucumber, date, yam, beet, daikon, radish, parsnip, myoga, crosnes. Quite the assortment of items and preparations. A delightful compilation of tastes and textures. I particularly enjoyed the black soy beans, the sliced golden beet, and the thin shaved turnip wrapped around a cube of red beet.

kajitsu house made soba noodles

kajitsu soba noodles

House Made Soba Noodles. Wasabi, horseradish, scallion. With a kelp, seaweed, and soy broth. Little pieces of wasabi tempura were fun. The pairing of a bold, dry Junmai from Gunma was fantastic with the root spice.

kajitsu fried taro with shungiku sauce

Fried Taro with Shungiku Sauce. Rikyu-fu, variety of seasonal mushrooms, ginger. Another winner. The fried taro was incredible. The varieties of mushrooms had great textures and earthiness that added extra depth to the Shungiku broth.

kajitsu bi color sushi miso soup

Bi-Color Sushi with Miso Soup. Shiitake, lotus root, bamboo shoot, bok choy, wasabi, carrot, ginger. The rolled ‘sushi’ was merely decent on its own, though warmed in the red miso & tofu soup it was spectacular. The pickled vegetables were a nice condiment.

kajitsu snow mochi cake

kajitsu mochi

Snow Mochi Cake. A mochi rice ball filled with sweet white bean paste and topped with what seemed like spun sugar.

kajitsu matcha candies kyoto suetomi

Matcha with Candies by Kyoto Suetomi. A sugar candy representing the year of the snake and a light rice and sesame cookie. Along with a small serving of warm matcha.

Some sake I was served:

kajitsu sakekajitsu sakekajitsu sakekajitsu sakekajitsu sake

Date of visit: January 27, 2013

Kajitsu. 125 E 39th Street. NYC  212.228.4873

Next: The Hunt

To finish up our trip to Chicago last week, Rocky and I had our first visit to Next for The Hunt menu. We arrived for dinner remarkably early and were told we could stand and wait in the small, somewhat crowded entrance way(where a small older lady on her way out almost threw up on Rocky but thankfully made it out the door before letting go) or we could head somewhere else for a drink(they suggested a hip place across the street). So we skipped across the street and enjoyed some bubbles and lively music until dinner time.

next the hunt table settingnext the hunt note letter

Arriving back at the restaurant we waited another few minutes then were escorted to a table adorned with a deer hide and a note to get us amped up for The Hunt. We got our first pairings(we ordered the reserve wine and the non-alcoholic) and let the game begin( it?)

next the hunt hen of the woodsnext the hunt maitake broth

Hen of the Woods. A little mushroom two-ways to begin. We were told to first ‘forage’ through the terrarium then sip the broth. A fantastic meaty little maitake followed by an amazingly savory and lightly earthy broth.

next the hunt catch of the great lakes

Catch of the Great Lakes. Some Lake Superior fish. The n/a pairing of grapefruit juice with smoked spruce and pepperberry was fantastic with the smoked cold trout. I thought the pickled kohlrabi was great for a crispy palate cleanser. The toast sticks for the lake fish rillettes had a perfect crunch without being hard.

next the hunt calvados flask

And then..a flask of Pere Magloire VSOP, Calvados Pays d’Auge for the next pairing. That’s pretty bad ass.

next the hunt charcu-tree

Charcu-Tree. A piece of tree with a meat flight. Rabbit terrine with ‘purple condiment’ grape must. A superb smoky elk jerky with subtle sweet and spice. A cut of wild boar salumi, soft textured with good heat. Deer heart tartare. And blood sausage with jasmine and mustard.

next the hunt cellar aged carrots onions

Cellar Aged Carrots & Onions. A carrot grown by Peter Klein in Michigan, preserved and dried in sawdust. With dehydrated carrot, fried carrot tops, fried onion, and carrot & veal jus. The featured carrot was soft and sweet, set off by the richness of the sauce and the crispy textures of the tops and onions.

next the hunt duck tongue cider vinegar

Duck Tongue, Cider Vinegar. Pitched as ‘Bacon & Eggs’. Soft scrambled duck eggs, crispy puffed duck tongue, apples, radicchio, rainbow sorrel, pink tip parsley. A nice peppery breakfast of eggs balanced with the racy acidity of the sorrel and the super bitter radicchio.

next the hunt sturgeon & caviar

next the hunt sturgeon caviar

Sturgeon & Caviar. Damn. Butter poached sturgeon, smashed and fried sunchokes, spruce oil, and caviar beurre blanc. Tender, buttery fish. Ultra-decadent sauce. Rich, opulent, old world perfection.

next the hunt woodcock jolie

Woodcock Jolie. A roulade of wild woodcock and napa cabbage with shaved 99% bitter chocolate, berry, black truffle, hazelnut, and gold leaf. The bird was bangingly gamey. Some nice earth from the chocolate and truffle.

next the hunt pressed squab skeletonnext the hunt pressed squab oatsnext the hunt pressed squab claw

next the hunt pressed squab

Pressed Squab. Squab breast, leg, brain with breadcrumb served in a split head, an offal filled wonton, and squab presse with cognac. On the side, steel cut oats with squab jus and bacon fat, and roasted back & wing. This was damn delicious. I’m not sure how long it took me, but I cleaned up both our plates pretty solidly, including all the toes and beaks in their entirety, and everything I could get off the skeleton. Again..this was damn delicious.

next the hunt fallen leaves & kidney

next the hunt fallen leaves kidney

Fallen Leaves & Kidney. A nature scene inspired by charcuterie flavors served on birch bark. Some nice salsify, fried parsnip, brussels sprouts, dehydrated purple cauliflower, seaweed, with a veal kidney mustard sauce.

next the hunt bison béarnaise next the hunt bison béarnaise next the hunt bison béarnaise

next the hunt bison & béarnaise

Bison & Béarnaise. In the center of the table, a big hot rock. Arriving on a piece of slate, thin slices of bison to be cooked on the big hot rock. And a ‘béarnaise’ condiment: leek and burnt leek liqueur. A sublime little snack.

next the hunt marrow brûlée

Marrow Brûlée. Bone marrow and sassafras bruleed with sugar, sprinkled with sea salt, and served in a split bone. Really rich, but dynamite. The sweet/savory balance was great.

next the hunt maris otternext the hunt maris otter

next the hunt maris otter

Maris Otter. First, a small tray of condiments: English toffee, basil and mint, pecan, tart cherry jam, and brown sugar butter with cinnamon. Then a cast iron pan of Maris Otter barley risotto pudding. Mixed all together, it was a tasty little pan of porridge.

next the hunt stick

next the hunt syrup taffeenext the hunt tire d'erable

Tire D’erable. First some sticks showed up. Followed by a trough of crushed ice. Then a pitcher of warm maple syrup mixed with bourbon was poured over the ice. We used the sticks to roll up the syrup, resulting in a bourbon maple taffy on a stick. Sugary, slightly toasty, and a lot of fun(as evidenced by Rocky’s enthusiasm, shown above).

next the hunt passion house las brisas

And to finish out the meal, Passion House Nicaragua Las Brisas. A pretty decent cup of delicate single origin coffee roasted by Passion House in Chicago.

After dinner we were taken on a brief tour of the kitchen, after which we saw Chef Beran sitting alone at the kitchen table with some paperwork. As we walked by I said ‘Thank you Chef’ and he seemed pretty upset and bothered because of it. Our tour guide told us he was stressing because he had to do a tasting for the upcoming ‘vegan’ menu with Chef Achatz the next morning. If I make it back for that menu, I’ll make sure to reserve my gratitude.

There are certainly some clever minds at work at Next. Our dinner was very creative and a lot of fun. The non-alcoholic drinks were remarkable at times. Two standouts(in addition to the one I mentioned with the Great Lakes fish)were: beet, prune, blood orange, cola nut, and pomegranate, made to look like a blood drink; and quince, satsuma, black walnut, black pepper, and bay leaf, which was a super rockin beverage.

Some wines we were served:

next the hunt winenext the hunt winenext the hunt cidernext the hunt winenext the hunt winenext the hunt wine

Date of visit: April 10, 2013

Next. 953 W Fulton Market. Chicago, IL

Gwynnett St, Brooklyn

I’ve said before that I’m often fairly slow to put up posts about meals.’s one from about three months ago that I’ve had queued up on my wordpress page for quite awhile with pictures attached and just waiting for a few words. A late January dinner at Gwynnett St with Rocky. I’m not sure how relevant this will be since just days ago the restaurant announced that Chef Justin Hilbert has left the team and former sous chef Owen Clark will be taking his place. For what it’s worth, here’s what was for dinner:

gwynnett st whiskey bread

Whiskey Bread with cultured butter. I really liked the crust. It was nice of Rocky to give me both end pieces.

gwynnett st sunchoke

Sunchoke. The sunchokes were served crispy, sliced, and roasted with cheese. Along with hazelnuts, purple watercress and a kick ass alpine cheese broth. The roasted and sliced chokes were both great, but the crispy ones got soggy with the broth.

gwynnett st kohlrabi

Kohlrabi and Turnip. The kohlrabi was compressed with yuzu and soy. The turnip compressed with a dashi. Served with Iberian ham both shredded and in a mousse. Very impactful flavors in the vegetables. The turnip was awesome with its pairing, a Mosel Riesling Spatlese. Great work with roots.

gwynnett st snails farro crosnes

Snails roasted with meyer lemon. With farro in an onion soubise, pickled onion, and crosnes. Super solid dish. Great flavor balance between acid and richness. The texture variety was a lot of fun. The crispness of the crosnes was superb, and Rocky had fun putting them atop the snails acting like they were shells.

gwynnett st blood dumpling

Blood Dumplings. With parsnip noodles, roasted apple, and trevisio. A fantastic balance all together: the iron flavor of the blood, the bitter radicchio, the more vegetal than sweet parsnip, the soft texture of the dumplings, and the crisp and crunch of the vegetables. A vegetal local rose from Bedell Winery on Long Island was a fun pairing.

gwynnett st white bean tofu

gwynnett st white bean tofu carrot

White Bean Tofu. With smoked white beans, carrots, and a few other roots. A few alliums in the dish had a wonderful char. The caramelized onion broth was spot on with a great fragrance.

gwynnett st ocean trout salsify beet

Ocean Trout. A well-prepared piece of fish. Some sweet earthiness from salsify and golden beets. Some ocean accents from nori, wakame, and roe. A little bitter acidity from red veined sorrel. Superbly matched with the slightly sour dark berry earthiness of a cru Beaujolais from Julienas.

gwynnetts duck

gwynnett st duck prune

Duck. With brussels sprouts and prune. Super rich. Hard-hitting. With a huge wine to match; from Cadillac, Bordeaux.

gwynnett st fennel grapefruit

Fennel & Grapefruit. Cool dessert with good bitter to sweet ratio and a resounding, cool herbaceousness.

gwynnett st dessert

gwynnett st mystery dessert

I can’t recall anything really specific here. Something in the vein of a take on a strawberry shortcake. I remember it being awesome with the Pineau Des Charentes.

gwynnett st chocolate rosehip bulls blood

Chocolate. Rosehip. Bull’s blood. Textures of chocolate and rosehip with a handful of bull’s blood leaves. Tasty. Nice with the 20 year Tawny.

The wines we were paired:

gwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st winegwynnett st wine

Certainly a fun dinner and I think a fantastic value. I’ll have to head back soon to see how things cook up with Chef Clark leading the team.

Date of visit: January 20, 2013

Gwynnett St. 312 Graham Ave. Brooklyn, NY  347.889.7002

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