Thursday, November 2, 2017

Next

Well made documentaries have a way of getting into your head. After watching a few episodes of Chef's Table (a series that profiles a single world-renowned chef in each episode), when we heard that the restaurant Next (by Grant Achatz) was running a "50 World's Best" menu it was merely a matter of when we were going to go, rather than if.

The allure of a short-appearance menu, featuring recreations of brilliant dishes from world-renowned chefs, was too much to pass up. 

We ended up booking the last seating on a cool Friday night, and settled in for a 17 dish extravaganza, getting ever-more sillier as the dinner and wine-match progressed. But my, what a feast and delightful time we had. 

After entering the dark but bustling restaurant, we were given orders not to touch the centerpieces. It soon became apparent why - they had edible components. 

Rose - Quique Dacosta
Our first dish was presented as part of the roses decorating our table. The rose, apple, and pomegranate bite was tart and refreshing, and just a touch sweet. 

This was followed by what seemed like a simple cracker, but really, should be the cracker-style amuse bouche by which all others are judged. 
Jerusalem Artichoke - Geranium
More complex than a potato crisp, this was salty, and crunchy, and the only disappointing thing was that there was only one per person. 

A cold, initially confusing dish was up next.


An Oyster's Frozen Kiss - Mugaritz
The idea here was to bring the ice-ball up to your lips, so that you effectively kissed the ice in order to eat the oyster. Having not made it out to Mugaritz when we were in San Sebastian, we were looking forward to trying this. We were not disappointed. The oysters had a rich taste, and were just a little briny. The radish flower was delicate and pretty to look at, although didn't add anything perceptible to the taste and so didn't take away from the purity of the oysters. Delightful! 

Eggs Benedict - Eleven Madison Park

Eggs Benedict - Eleven Madison Park
This next dish was fun. Quirky presentation in a little tin can, with bits of ham and asparagus, offset with indulgent caviar, made this the fanciest Eggs Benedict I've ever had. And with the cutest little English muffins too. Perhaps one day we'll make it out to Eleven Madison Park - after all, NYC is only a short plane flight away.

Marine Soil - Central
The next dish was beautifully presented and had me dreaming of pottery classes again. The sea urchin was creamy and custard-like, the razor clams were super sweet, and the jicama was a nice crunchy contrast. Celebrating all things ocean, this was one of my favourite dishes of the night.

King Crab - Noma
That said, this was my favourite dish. Succulent and sweet king crab, with beef garum and rose miso lending a good dose of umami, and hens egg yolk to amp up the creaminess. The smell alone was heady and intoxicating. I never wanted this dish to end (and am considering making a trip to Noma as soon as it reopens). But as always, as showstopping as this was, the show must go on. 

Tartare - Estela

Tartare - Estela
After the headiness of the king crab, this bison tartare didn't quite shine as brightly as it should have. The most filling dish of the night, it was well constructed, and full of flavour, but didn't really pack a punch. 

Badger Flame Beet - Blue Hill at Stone Farms
I'm also all for celebrating the essence of an ingredient, but as heirloom and special as a beetroot can be, and as sweet and earthy as it was, I'm not sure it should have warranted a spot on this menu. Each to their own though I suppose. 

Riso Cacio e Pepe - Osteria Francescana
I was on much happier ground with the risotto dish from Massimo Bottura. Rich with Parmesan, and touched with pepper and not much else, it really was a masterclass in perfectly cooked risotto. Soft grains, with bite, and really just a super-perfected comfort meal. Lovely.

Langoustine - Restaurant Tim Raue
With wasabi, mango, and Thai vinaigrette, this lobster-esque dish was delicate and refreshing. Not what I would have imagined German food to be, but that's half the beauty of this menu - breaking perceptions and spreading globalism, all while sitting at the same table. 

Monkfish - Aubergine
Another masterclass in presentation was this Monkfish dish. Or maybe I just have a thing for blue plates. The fermented peppers were a touch spicy, and offset the sweetness of the white fish. Which are also a hideously ugly species if you're ever inclined to look them up. 

I should mention at this point, the wine pairing was really hitting me, so while I tried to keep critical of the dishes, in honesty, I was having too much fun at this point to do more than just enjoy the experience. 

Vuelve a la Vida - Quintonil
Sweet scallops, rich tender beef tongue, and a slightly tangy salsa to tie it all together. This is what my limited experience would call elevated Mexican food. Which reminds me I do need to travel to Mexico at some point and try real Mexican food, not just tacos and Chipotle.  

All Parts of the Pumpkin - Attica
I really, really, wanted to like this dish. But I didn't. Too acidic and too jarring compared to the preceding dishes, I was hoping for a better representation of Australian fine dining. I hadn't had the chance to visit Attica back when I was living in Melbourne, and this dish hasn't compelled me to try. Which is a shame.  

Squab - Next
What I did enjoy was Next's own dish. Perhaps as a cheeky nod to the fact they're not yet in the 50 World's Best list but thoroughly deserve to be. The meat (pigeon) is tender, with a beautiful delicate herbal flavour from the lavender sauce. I can't wait to see what Next does, well, next. 

Memory - Restaurant Andre
This dish was rich. Foie gras and black truffle - what a combination. Looking like a dessert and tasting like a savoury flavour bomb, it was delicious but undoubtedly heavy. Go hard or go home I guess.

Apples - Relæ
And was immediately followed by something refreshing and light. Some crunchy chanterelles accompanied the classy apple granita, and served as a nice palate cleanser. 

Then came the bold dessert celebration, where all was swept off the dining table, and a sheet laid down turning it all into a giant canvas.

Chocolate - Alinea
An Alinea signature, dessert is a show to cap the end of a long entertaining food journey. Yogurt is treated like paint, with milk chocolate and blueberries adding substance, this is a super fun dish to see being created, and to consume. You are literally eating off the table. 

What a way to end the night.  

Next - The World's 50 Best Restaurants Menu
All in all we had a great night out. Expensive but worth every penny, the menu really did showcase the insane amount of skill possessed by the team of chefs. Served in dark-cool surroundings by super-professional yet friendly waiters, it's an experience I'm keen to return to, time and time again. Which, luckily for me, I can given the regularly changing menu. What a joy of a restaurant!

Next
953 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL
Wed - Sun 500am - 1130pm

Next Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar

This was my first trip out to Washington, and what else can I say but that I am in love with this gorgeous state and its friendly people. 

I mean, how can you not fall in love with gorgeous weather and views like this? 

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
And the fresh, fresh food. The Pacific Northwest sure has a lot going for it. Perhaps that's why the people I encountered all seemed to be in such great spirits.

Perhaps I can say something else: I wish I had stayed longer. I was in the state only overnight, and so much too short of a visit there. And just one dinner. But what a dinner it was.

Given my body clock was still on Central Time when I arrived in Olympia in search of dinner, I needed to find some place that was open relatively early. Google/Yelp pointed me in the direction of Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar and I was not disappointed. 

Situated in a building shared with a few other food providers and a distillery, the restaurant is modern, bright and inviting, and somewhat dominated by a large bar. Given I was dining alone, of course I settled myself there.

The range of lush-sounding cocktails looked amazing, but I settled on a mocktail and was pretty happy with my choice. 

Marionberry Soda
Homemade Marionberry soda. Refreshing, tart, and the perfect kick to liven up the taste buds. Which were soon more than happy to delve into a few oysters.

Oysters
I'm in the Pacific Northwest. How could I not have oysters? I was lucky enough to catch the happy hour menu, and these fresh, plump, neighborhood oysters set me back only $2 a gulp. Not bad at all. 

The other items on the happy hour menu were a more complex, but equally inviting. 

Pig Ear Tacos
I can't say no to pig ear. Never. Especially after spending what felt like all night tracking down a bar that served oreja de cerdo in Barcelona, I wasn't going to turn down pig ear tacos when I wasn't expecting them. They were meaty, and chewy, and gelatinous, and offset beautifully by the cabbage slaw and salsa. Certainly not your traditional tacos, but I'm not complaining. 

I ended up having 3 tacos. A girl's got to eat!
 
Clam Chowder
Continuing the seafood theme, I tried the clam chowder, for which the restaurant is famous for. There is a more than generous number of clams, all tied together with potatoes and a rich pork belly broth.  No heavy masking from loads of cream in this dish. Not much else you could ask for out of a clam chowder. 

While I lamented the limited time I had to explore Olympia, Washington, I'm pretty pleased with where I ended up. Comfortable modern atmosphere, with great waitstaff and most importantly, brilliant seafood on offer, I couldn't be happier with my meal. And will make plans to return to Washington in the not too distant future. 

Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar
222 Capitol Way N, Olympia, WA 98501
Tue - Thu 11am - 10pm ; Fri - Sat 10am - 11pm; Sun 10am - 9pm

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (Brunch)

Continuing this year's Parisian-based birthday celebrations, I was treated to what was the fanciest and most indulgent brunch I've ever had the pleasure of eating. The brunch at the Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée shares a glittering space with the famed restaurant, and with an impressive succession of dishes, washed down with a glass of champagne (or if you're feeling health-minded, cold-pressed juices). 

Is it written in law somewhere that every brunch in Paris must start with a basket of pastries? If not, then it really should be. 

Basket of Pastries
 These were fine examples of pastries - buttery, flaky, and not too sweet. We had to be careful not to eat too many though, as there were a good few courses of dishes still to come. 

To start the string of dishes, amuse bouche. 

Amuse Bouche
Perhaps the bread was a bit crunchier than what I would have liked, but I can be fussy sometimes I suppose. My choice of started was light and refreshing.

Sea Bass Ceviche, Tomatillo, Fresh Heart of Palm, Lime, Coriander 
There was a nice balance of flavors in this dish, with a not-too-overpowering acidity, and I appreciated the delicate construction of this. M chose something a little heavier.

Entree of the Day
M ordered the special entree of the day which if I recall correctly was a rich mushroom tart. The earthiness of the mushrooms counterpointed by the tart pickled onions and caper-berries. This was a M-choice dish rather than my, and he seemed to enjoy it.  
  
Onto the mains:
Dish of the Day
 My choice was the dish of the day - a turbot I believe with broccoli/Romanesco broccoli. I found the greens a touch overwhelming but the fish was very well prepared, tender and delicate.

M, somewhat unsurprisingly, chose the luxurious dish.   

/
Soft-Boiled Eggs with Artichoke Base, Truffle, and Lobsters
Somewhat amusing in presentation, the dish of course lived up to the expectation. The artichoke I found to be bland, but the eggs were exactly as soft-boiled eggs should be, with the truffle and lobster taking this to the next (expensive) level.

No meal would be complete without a cheese plate. With plenty of variety to choose from, I took a particular liking to the 18-month aged Comte, and of course the Camembert.

Cheese Plate
And a some berries for variety (although I dislike cranberries).


Desserts were impressive - crispy chocolate, light mousse, coffee mousse, light cream, berry tart. What an ending to a great meal. My favourite was the berry tart - not sugar-laden and with plenty of berries is my idea of a good dessert. 

Desserts Galore

Desserts Galore

Overall we had a great meal, and was definitely an experience to celebrate a birthday in Paris. If nothing else, the room is so beautifully decorated with a thousand or so crystals that it's worth a visit. 

Plaza Athénée

Hotel Plaza Athénée
25 Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, France
Mon - Sun 11am - 1pm

Monday, July 31, 2017

20 Eiffel

I was lucky enough to spend my birthday in Paris (!) and we decided to spend my birthday dinner in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Bib Gourmand rated 20 Eiffel did not disappoint. While it was filled with tourists, it was far from a tourist trap, with delicious, well-thought out food, at reasonable prices, served with efficiency and a smile. What else could you ask for.

We went for the three course menu (32€) available for lunch and dinner. There's also a two course menu (24€) available for lunch only that also seemed like great value.

Of course, whatever money we might have saved was cheekily spent on wine: two glasses of celebratory champagne, and this bottle of gorgeous, rich Bordeaux.

Chateau Malescasse Haut Medoc
We were seriously impressed by this bottle. It was fruity, fresh, and rich, full of sweetness but with depth.

But onto the food.

Being in France, I chose the escargot (sea snail) with chorizo mousse dish as my starter.

Poêlée d'escargots décoquillés, mousse de chorizo
The snails had a meaty texture and were accompanied by a silky broth full of sweetness and umami. Definitely a great way to start a meal.

M chose something lighter:

Saumon mariné, granité de concombre
Salmon with cucumber granita I believe. I tasted a small bit of the salmon and it was delicate and oh so slightly cured so that the flavor really shone through. Fresh and luxurious.

Tender duck with cherries was on the menu for my main.

Filet de canette aux cerises
The duck was medium-rare and moderately game-y, nicely fatty and juicy, and oh-so-tender. The skin wasn't quite as crispy as I hoped, but really now I'm just being picky. The cherries were ripe and syrupy, cutting through the richness of the duck with ease.

M chose the fillet of veal with mashed peas.

Filet mignon de veau, purée de petit pois à la sarriette
Simple, elegant, and cooked to medium-rare perfection. Somewhat humble but impressive at the same time.

Dessert was an amusing affair - our reservation had not mentioned who's birthday it was, so both birthdays came out with candles. More wishes for me then right?

Fraises, crème légère à la violette et meringue
I had a elegant little strawberry pot and violet tinged cream and meringue. Elegant and a satisfyingly sweet note to end the stellar.

While I've never tried making a souffle, I don't think I have the courage to try. I've heard such horror stories, but then again, that never stopped me from attempting to make macarons (and failing multiple times).

Soufflé au parfum du jour
No such drama with M's apricot flavored souffle. Light and fluffy, it wasn't too fruity, and once again was an elegant end.

Which is about how I'd sum up the entire experience: simple, elegant, and well-crafted. Reasonably priced, great service, and in a desirable location. What's not to love? Take me back to Paris please.

Eiffel Tower
20 Eiffel
20 Rue de Monttessuy, 75007 Paris, France
Mon - Sat 12:00pm - 2:00pm, 7:00pm - 10:00pm

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Barcelona and San Sebastian

We recently took a week-long holiday in Spain, spending 3 days in Barcelona and a day in San Sebastian, eating and drinking our way around the cities. 

All I can really say that it's hard to go wrong with the food. Some places we went were more tourist-y than others, but all in all, the food was spectacular. As it stands, this will mainly be a photo only post because 1) as I said, there are so many places that serve great food and 2) I was somewhat tipsy for most of the trip so actually remembering where we went and what we ordered (especially in San Sebastian) proved a little difficult. 

Bormuth

Bormuth

Bormuth 

Bormuth

El Vaso de Oro

El Vaso de Oro

El Vaso de Oro

El Vaso de Oro

Betty Ford's

Bar Celta Pulperia

Bar Celta Pulperia

Bar Celta Pulperia

Bar Celta Pulperia

Bar Celta Pulperia 

L'amfora


La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia 

Barceloneta


La Vina

La Vina

La Vina

La Cuchara de San Telmo

La Cuchara de San Telmo

La Cuchara de San Telmo

San Sebastian

La Guinda Deli & Coffe

La Guinda Deli & Coffe

Bar Ipotx

Bar Txalota

Bar Txalota

Bar Txalota (?)