momofuku ko – It is what it is

momofuku ko
163 First Avenue
(between 10th & 11th Streets)
New York, NY 10003
Website
Map
Online Reservations (online only…be forewarned!)

  • Tasting menu only for both lunch and dinner: lunch is served Fri-Sun, is currently $175, takes about 3 hours and is larger than the dinner meal (which is served 7 days a week, takes about 2 hours and is currently $125)
  • For both meals, the kitchen decides what it is cooking and there is no choice (although you can inform them of any allergies ahead of time and they will try to accommodate you)
  • The alcohol pairing for dinner was $95, and was both generous and diverse

Exciting, well conceived and executed food served to you by the chefs at your bar stool. To them, it’s just food; to you, it’s possibly one of the best meals you’ve had this year. It’s a pain to book, but if you get a golden ticket it is certainly worth the angst. ko...go.

That elusive peach

Just like so many others, I had tried to reserve one of the 12 fabled bar stools available at David Chang’s double Michelin-starred restaurant momofuku ko quite a few times.

When still living in London, I had attempted to reserve a spot for upcoming trips to Manhattan, but to no avail. As is well-known, reservations at ko are only available on the restaurant’s website, and you can reserve six days in advance. At 10.00am every morning (on their server’s time, not yours), hundreds or thousands of people presumably click away at the same time, hoping that the black-colored weekly calendar grid won’t be full of white x’s but instead littered with green checkmarks, meaning that there are actually seats (well, stools) available.

Seemingly like all things David Chang, this reservation policy has proven controversial – on the one hand it is democratic (albeit in the extreme) and on the other hand it is exceedingly frustrating for everyone trying to get a table, whether they be a celebrity, their PA or normal folks like you and me.

Anyhow, my blogger friend @catty was in town for a few weeks and we wanted to go out for dinner one night. I had booked somewhere (Minetta Tavern if you care to know), but thought I’d give the old reservation slot machine another whirl. And, ko and behold, when I clicked away at 10.00am on the dot (and I mean on the dot), the upcoming column of Monday dining times appeared and all the table times had a green checkmark next to them. I hastily selected one of the earlier slots and then on the next page a countdown began from 120 seconds, during which time you have to frantically enter all of your details and credit card number, etc. – otherwise, you will lose the temporarily held reservation. Luckily, I had my credit card to hand and all was good. I was finally going to take a bite out of that hopefully juicy peach.

Most bloggers will also aware of the fact that there is strictly no photography allowed in the restaurant, and in a sense I was actually looking forward to this. I could leave the camera in my bag and just focus on enjoying the food, not having to get that perfect shot of each dish. This is ostensibly the aim of the policy – but more on that later.

However, I knew I needed to provide at least some visual entertainment for my eventual post, so I took a snap of the luxurious gift I was bringing to @catty – two big boxes of an all-American treat that she just can’t get enough of. No, not me, Junior Mints.

I thought this might be the only photo I'd be allowed to take that evening

So there you go. Stunning, ain’t it?

Cold night, warm environs

I arrived a bit early – okay, an hour early – so I decided to brave the below-freezing weather and wander around the neighborhood as I hadn’t been down this way in a while. I wandered into the nearby Milk Bar and thought about getting some of the justifiably legendary Crack Pie (apparently, there is a trademark pending on that item plus a few others at Milk Bar); however, they informed me that the pie needed to stay refrigerated…so I decided to pick a few up on the way back, even though it was below freezing outside.

As I walked back to ko, I noticed David Chang was having a bite to eat before dinner service. He was noticeably enjoying his chat with the chefs. Still about 30 minutes early, I didn’t feel like crashing the party, so I took a quick snap of him in his signature skullcap behind the cage-like doors and kept walking, trying to keep warm.

David Chang filling up before heading out

Soon enough, I saw that @catty had checked in on Foursquare, so I headed back.

After having read a number of accounts regarding how the narrow dining room with L-shaped bar seating was cold, harsh and awkward, I was quite pleasantly surprised upon entering. There was a certain warmth about the place, with soft orange lighting and warm wood tones being the dominant features. The three chefs seemed totally at ease, and went about their work very quietly. One of the few people who was not behind the counter came over to enquire about drinks, and I decided to go for the suggested alcohol pairing. This cost $95 while the tasting menu itself was $125, so it was not particularly cheap given the cost of the meal. Still, I was looking forward to it as I’d heard that they do some interesting combinations, and not solely wine.

We were lucky enough to get the two seats located on the short side of the bar, which afforded us a good view of the goings on in the totally open kitchen.

So, without further adieu…

Son of a…this is good[1]

We attempted to scribble down notes about what we were eating on our blackberries (@catty doing an admirably better job than myself, maybe in part due to the alcohol setting in during the later courses for me). So, some things may be slightly inaccurate, but you should get the picture…so to speak ;-).

Amuse Bouches: things kicked off with a trio of pristinely presented little teasers. These included:

  1. Pork rinds seasoned with tōgarashi: these were impossibly delicate, light as O2, and just a tad seasoned with the chilli salt. If blind-folded, I for one wouldn’t have thought it was pork straight away. 8/10.
  2. Sweet Maine shrimp with mustard sauce: the little shrimp itself was of excellent quality and full of lovely sweetness, as advertised. This was married with a deep mustard sauce which complemented the sweetness perfectly. 8/10.
  3. Duck liver mousse with chopped nuts: this was ridiculously luscious – out of this world for such a small bite. The nuts worked well texturally too. We wanted fifteen more bites of this. 10/10.

These amuse bouches were paired with a brut Champagne (Christian Etienne, Cuvée Tradition Brut, NV) which went pretty well with all three nibbles.

Course 1 – Long Island fluke, fermented black bean paste, myoga: the fluke was nice and fresh (albeit nowhere as good on its own as the fluke I had at Le Bernardin last year), but the thing I loved about this dish was the delayed heat delivered via thin slices of deep red peppers. These peppers also lent a welcome rich and round flavor to the dish. 8/10.

This course was paired with a remarkable sweet sake – I wish I had gotten the name. 😦

Course 2 – Spanish red mackerel tataki, rice cereal, pickled onions, mustard sauce: as @catty kept reminding me, this dish was phenomenal in no small part due to the unbelievable texture of the mackerel – it was a very high sashimi grade based on my own experience of raw fish. I loved the way the pickled onions and mustard worked here, bringing sharpness and some more of that perfectly tuned heat. This was paired with the same sweet sake as the first course. 9/10.

The alcohol was beginning to kick in, which meant the first of many visits to the bathroom. I decided to take a picture of the more interesting elements of the room (well, no, not those ones) and had a good time looking at which books Mr. Chang was presumably reading at the moment. I only realized afterwards through the wonders of twitter that a food blog I often follow in the US has actually done a review about the books in ko’s bathroom. What can I say…

momofuku ko bathroom library

Anyway, I was pleased to see that Mr. Chang and I share many of the same books – notably the new noma cookbook (review on the restaurant soon to come, by the way) – and told myself I better not start leafing through them, otherwise I would start delaying the kitchen…and I didn’t want to piss those guys off, believe me.

As I was about to leave, I caught this guy staring at my posterior – how rude!

Crazy dude in the bathroom

Course 3 – Toasted brioche, caramelized onions, bone marrow, Gruyère cheese broth: back at my stool after loosening my own, a dainty rectangular slice of soft brioche was presented in the middle of a shallow bowl, after which the chef poured the translucent cheese broth around it. The aroma was immediate and totally off the chart. It was like you had just entered a sauna, but instead of normal steam, the air was infused with the intense smell of a massive cauldron of fondue. In a word: yum. The extreme scent belied a rather delicate but pointed broth, which worked seamlessly with the marrow and onions (which were particular amazing). I didn’t like the brioche itself though – it somehow reminded me of stale bread, but Catty couldn’t get enough of it…so one of us is crazy. I’ll leave you to guess who :). 7/10.

Course 4 – Smoked egg, American sturgeon, onions, greens, fingerling potato chips: this was visually one of the more arresting dishes – we’re talking stunning, stop-in-your tracks gorgeous. The egg, which I presumed to be cooked sous vide, was presented as a perfectly round white disc, with a single pie slice missing, where from the creamy yellow yolk oozed out. While you could smell the smoke quite clearly, it was much more subtle when eaten. The sturgeon, which I believe was Pacific white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) was good. It was slightly creamy and provided a nice texture and rich saltiness – but it wasn’t amazing. It was a very good course – mostly due to the amazingly cooked egg – but for me it wasn’t a standout dish from the evening. 7/10.

For any pedants reading this post, I have forgotten the drinks served with both courses three and four, but I know that one of them came with a golden American beer that was light, creamy and had a hint of heat – it was pretty good.

Course 5 – Grilled beef tongue, horseradish, mustard, sauerkraut, homemade pasta: I really enjoyed this more ‘normal’ dish (‘normal’ in the sense that it was a little bowl of pasta which you could conceivably find in a good restaurant in Italy…minus the horseradish, mustard and sauerkraut, that is!). It was a comforting bowl of food, with the pillowy-soft ovular pasta (I thought they said it was tagliatelle but didn’t look like it to me) playing well with the richness of the tongue. The spicy and sour elements worked well to balance the richness of the meat. As I said, I really enjoyed this…although @catty thought it was a bit ‘meh’ and was maybe her least favorite dish of the meal. 7/10.

This was served with a German or Austrian white wine which I believe was made from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Traminer grapes. It cut nicely through the dish and complemented the sourness and spice quite well.

Course 6 – New Jersey scallop, razor clams, clam chowder, celery juice, dried pineapple: this was easily one of my favourite dishes of the meal. The few slices of scallops were simply to die for – and they were from New Jersey! 🙂 The clam chowder was served on top of the dish almost as a sauce and possessed a pronounced peppery heat – and no delay this time. The genius of the dish, though, lay in the two sweeter elements. First, the celery juice which we saw squeezed in front of us earlier on (through some type of archaic looking metal contraption), lay at the bottom of dish: a sort of translucent green pond. The natural sweetness of the celery – which you don’t always think of as being (only) sweet – worked amazingly well with the other flavors, bringing a new dimension to the dish. And there were three or four bits of dried fruit, which I guessed to be pineapple (the chef confirmed I was right – a dual affirmation that I am not a douche for getting it right, and that I am one, because I asked him). Anyhow, this was unexpected and brilliant. 9/10.

The dish was paired with a purposefully and profusely oxidized wine from the Jura appellation in France, which to me tasted distinctly like wet rope. I wasn’t feeling this one.

Course 7 – Shaved foie gras, lychees, pine nut brittle, Riesling gélee: this was certainly another one of the top dishes of the evening, and I guess it is one of the classic dishes at ko. When I got up the gumption to ask how they made the cool shavings, the chef matter-of-factly said: “We freeze a terrine and the grate it.” Basically, you should have known that, it’s so obvious. Well, I didn’t know 100%, but was glad for the confirmation. Anyway, the foie was shaved like grated cheese over the other components. The sweetness of the lychees and the sweet and tart Riesling Jell-O worked miraculously well with the foie shavings, which melted when they were placed in your mouth and became a deliciously gooey texture. It was rich yet light at the same time (therein lay the brilliance) and to me it tasted more like seared foie gras than a terrine once it had melted in the mouth…maybe due to the texture. The pine nut brittle was OTT too, and everything was complementary. I noted that they had also salted the dish well, which is important to bring out the flavour of foie gras properly. This was a really fun and great dish to eat. 9/10.

It was matched with a different and fairly sweet sake, which coincidentally I had been served with another foie gras dish not all that long ago at George Mendes’ Aldea.

Course 8 – Honey-glazed duck, turnip in pumpernickel crumbs, Chinese greens: this was the largest of the courses, which seemed to worry @catty when she first espied it, and was excellent. The duck breast looked more like a piece of red game, served in a roughly rectangular slab that displayed the purple-red hue of the flesh, with a very thin and very crispy skin on top. When we enquired, “Where’s the fat?”,  the chef replied, “Oh, we just rendered that all off.” Of course they had. Hailing from Napa Valley, the flavour of the bird was fantastic, as was the subtle sauce, which transported me to China although I couldn’t make out all the components of it. The single turnip that was breaded with pumpernickel crumbs was pretty to look at but didn’t quite provide the counterpunch I think the duck could have used. That said, the paste of green vegetables on the side was flavorsome. 8/10.

This was paired with a lovely little Grenache wine from the south of France, which I thought was just right.

Course 9 – Earl grey crème brûlée, honeyed buckwheat, calamansi sorbet: what a fantastic petite pre-dessert. The sorbet was one of the best things of the evening (I know, I keep saying that). The earl grey brûlée was good too, but was both literally and figuratively buried beneath the bright orange sorbet. I also liked the buckwheat with it; it sort of reminded me of Scandinavian desserts I’ve had. 9/10.

This was paired with a special ko cocktail of ginger beer and amaretto which I didn’t like at first (it seemed quite watery), but grew to enjoy more as the spiciness of the ginger revealed itself.

Course 10 – Caramelized apple cake, oatmeal ice cream, burned apple sauce: the main dessert was unfortunately a slight let-down for the finale of the dinner. The little cube of apple cake was very tasty, and it went really well with the creamy oatmeal ice cream, but neither of us felt that it was an ‘amazing’ dessert, despite the efforts of the dark ‘burnt’ apple sauce to make it different. It was pleasant but not much more than that. 6/10.

Petit Four – Buttermilk, corn & mint mallow: the last bite that we had, however, was fantastic. Sweet corn flavour in a marshmallow form, with a delayed strong kick of mint which lingered on your palate. I joked that they had brushed our teeth for us. It was a fun and delightful ending to a generally great meal. 8/10.

Goodbye my sweet little metal cage

Worth a bit of clicking

A meal at ko is pretty extremely prescriptive. I’ve discussed the reservation system already, so you know they control you through that. They say on their website that dinner will take two hours and, lo and behold, when I gazed at my watch as we were finishing my meal, it had been almost exactly two hours. They decide what they will cook for you that night, and you will eat it. With such authoritarian posturing, you would think that you were their prisoners the moment you step through the metal cage facade.

But this was hardly the case on our visit. I immediately felt relaxed and loved being able to watch the chefs work in near silence in their exacting way. It reminded me of the ground floor of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in London, but without the pomp and circumstance (and not so many green leaves on the wall). It was a relaxed and enjoyable ambience.

At ko, one of the chefs serves you your dish and then matter-of-factly states what it is. There is no pretence – or at least that’s the idea. They will not tell you proudly how complicated it was to both conceive the dish and execute all of the processes to make it. When you ask them a question (which they don’t openly welcome by their posturing), they will answer you with simple facts and probably in one sentence. They will not look annoyed, but they will make you ask yourself why you are asking in the first place.

This is all well and fine, and I suppose it is just their schtick. But I do think it is in some ways hypocritical. Why? Well, if you read about David Chang or have seen him interviewed, you will know that one of his passions is cookbooks and the top chefs who’s food they are abut (just look at his/ko’s bathroom). He respects some of the top chefs around the world immensely and is very interested in what they are doing in all aspects of their food. Therefore, when diners at his own restaurants – and particularly at ko, which seems to be the jewel in the momofuku crown – demonstrate the same interest in passion about his (or his team’s) food, I think it is only fair that the people who present the dishes don’t just brush off the questioner (and may I note, paying diner) with a nonchalant response that only a pretty highly trained chef or knowledgeable foodie might understand without having to think about it. They shouldn’t rebuff their diners’ culinary passion as being foolish and naive, but should embrace it…at least a little more than they seem to do. That’s my two cents anyway.

But the main point about ko is that the food being served is extremely interesting, pretty flawlessly prepared, surprisingly diverse (Chang would call this ‘American’, I suppose) and engaging. And, because of the way a meal transpires at ko, I really didn’t really see it coming, but it was a brilliantly orchestrated culinary progression that left me wanting more.

All in all, it’s worth a bit of clicking…just hope Lady Luck smiles on you sooner rather than later.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 8/10

Wine: apologies…I didn’t really get a chance to peruse the wine list, but it looked pretty interesting from the little gander I did have.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at momofuku ko once, and it was for dinner*


[1] ‘Ko’ means ‘son of’ in Japanese

Momofuku Ko on Urbanspoon

New York Restaurants

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Best Bites & Superior Sips of 2010

Quite unintentionally iconoclastic in its timing, I am publishing a list of some of the best things I ingested during 2010, now that it’s already 2011. I know, I know…forever behind the times. (The ‘unintentionally’ part – if you happen to care – is because I was stuck in Florida due to the storms in the Northeast of the US and didn’t have access to my laptop with all of my photos and notes).

I have decided against posting favorite meals in favor of the most enjoyable dishes of food and glasses (or bottles) of wine, which gives the added benefit of highlighting some excellent establishments and vintners about which, for some reason or other – call it laziness or busyness – I have yet to post a fuller review.

I have made no distinction between the type of place in which the food was served and have included a few oddballs for the fun of it. I thought maybe it might be easier to digest (pardon the pun) by dividing the list into different parts of the day. I didn’t necessarily have all of the dishes at the specified time of the day (though I mostly did), but assigned them to the mealtime that people would be most likely to consume them.

But without further adieu, Maestro, drum-roll please…

BREAKFAST

Best Eggs Benedict:
The Heathman, Portland, Oregon

Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at The Heathman

Well, to come clean, I didn’t actually order this, it was Mrs. LF’s dish. But she swore at the time that “this is the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had” – no small praise indeed. I tasted it and had to concur – it was pretty darn good, as many things are at The Heathman. Not particularly exciting, but very, very good. I think even Monica, Michel Roux’s sous-chef would have been happy with the perfect hollandaise sauce. 🙂

Heathman on Urbanspoon

Best Waffle:
Original Pancake House, Boca Raton, Florida

Belgian Waffle with Blueberries at The Original Pancake House

Exceedingly light and perfectly crispy, these were the surprise hit of our recent pilgrimage to one of the bastions of my childhood memories. Their famous apple pancake (which is about the size of a small horse) was still largely as I remember it, but I think my taste buds have moved on a bit since I was 10 years old – it’s pictured below so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

Childhood Memories (But No Award): Apple Pancake at The Original Pancake House

It is delicious, but just a little too sweet for me nowadays. It is still a unique and memorable dish, though.

Best Non-traditional Brunch Dish:
wd~50, NYC

Everything Bagel, Smoked Salmon Threads, Crispy Cream Cheese at wd~50

Out of all of the immensely whimsical and delicious dishes on wd~50’s tasting menu when I visited with Brother LF, this was quite possibly my favorite, in no small part due to the presentation. I mean, it does look like an ‘everything’ bagel, right?…but it’s ice cream, not bread! It tasted like one of the quintessential New York breakfasts of nova, cream cheese and bagel, but in a very grown up and refined way. It was a painstakingly and lovingly created reinterpretation of a piece of Americana – in a word: wonderful. I savored each dainty bite that I took. If I would have had Heston’s Nitro-Scrambled Egg & Bacon Ice Cream from The Fat Duck in 2010, this may have beat out wd~50.

wd-50 on Urbanspoon

Best Macchiato:
Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Portland, Oregon

Macchiato at Stumptown

My favorite place for my daily coffee (when I am near one, that is). I also like Joe the Art of Coffee too, and frequent the one in Grand Central Terminal when I commute into NYC…though the West Village one is much more cozy and you can sit down.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Joe The Art of Coffee on Urbanspoon

Best Cappuccino:
Café Umbria, Portland, Oregon

Cappuccino at Café Umbria

Father LF swore by it, and I swore it couldn’t be good, but in the end elderly wisdom one out. The foam was perfect and the espresso excellent.

Caffe Umbria on Urbanspoon

Best Mocha:
Kaffeine, London

Sorry, no photo for this one, but Mrs. LF swore it was the best mocha she ever had, and from my wee taste, I thought the balance between sweet and bitter was pretty amazing. I love this London coffee-house too – definitely one of my favorites, and the lunch fare is good too.

Kaffeine on Urbanspoon

ELEVENSES

Best Brownie:
Paul A. Young, London

Classic Brownie from Paul A. Young

I’ve tasted a lot of brownies in my time, but this blows them all out of the water. It is at once indulgent and addictive, and it became an expensive yet highly worthwhile habit of mine (at Mrs. LF’s begging, of course) to buy copious amounts of these rich brownies whenever we (she) had a hankering for them in the few months after we discovered them and before we were leaving London behind  us. If you are in London, or if you visit, try one at Paul’s charming shop in Camden Passage in Islington. If you like brownies, there is a very comprehensive review of some of the better ones on offer in the London area on @mathildecusine‘s blog here.

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Best Cream Puff:
Beard Papa’s, NYC

Classic Cream Puff from Beard Papas

I had read about these oddball cream puff shops somewhere or other and before realizing that they had a location in London (which closed a few months ago), I found one on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They do what it says on the tin, so to speak – effortlessly light puff pastry gives way to a lovely cream filling – they are also very addictive, so be careful.

Beard Papa Sweets Cafe on Urbanspoon

LUNCH

Best Sandwich:
Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, Oregon

Pork Belly Cubano at Bunk Sandwiches

This cubano sandwich consisted of pork belly, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. Let me just say this: it was not only my best sandwich of 2010, it was the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Mrs. LF concurred. Now, maybe I don’t know all that much about sandwiches, but I know what I know. If you ever go to Portland, go to Bunk and try this if it’s on the menu (which changes daily).

Bunk Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Best Burger (Two-Way Tie):
Shake Shack, NYC
Café of Love, Mt. Kisco, New York

Cheeseburger at Shake Shack

Now I like a good burger just as much as the next guy, but I don’t eat them all that often…or at least I didn’t until I moved back to the New York area. In any case, I tend to like the more fast-food style burgers, and I prefer my patties smashed, thank you very much. Out of the ones I had this year, my favorite had to be Shake Shack, despite how unoriginal this may be and how many moans I may get from the New York and/or East Coast burgerati. But hey, it was just really good. In fact, I couldn’t fault it in any way. Oh, and by the way, my malted peanut butter shake was off the hook too, using the parlance of our times.

Shake Shack (UWS) on Urbanspoon

Grass-fed Beef Burger with Brie, Apple Butter & Smoked Bacon at Café of Love

Having said all that, every now and again, I get the hankering for one of the constantly-evolving offerings within the ‘gourmet’ burger category at more hoity-toity restaurants. In the not-so hoity-toity but horrendously named restaurant called Café of Love near where I live in Mt. Kisco, New York, they had a burger that I just had to try based on the description. Well, it tasted even better than it sounded on this occasion. The beef itself was excellent and had been perfectly charred on the outside and was nice and pink in the middle. The combination of creamy cheese, apple butter and smoked bacon was genius and the brioche bun was the perfect vessel for this mini heart-attack sandwich. It came with its own flowerpot on the side, which contained really good thin-cut frites that were perfectly salted. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but this was probably the best burger I had in 2010. Now, maybe they can work on their name?!

Honorable Mention: Cheeseburger at Five Guys

In this category, I would like to make an honorable mention for Five Guys. I had two burgers of theirs before the end of the year and thought they were excellent. Although you can’t specify how you would like it cooked, it comes medium, which seems to work for their burgers. They are very, very good burgers from what I could tell from the two Manhattan outposts I visited. And their fries actually taste like potatoes – no, I mean that. It took me a second to get used to them, because they were clearly from very fresh Midwestern potatoes and prepared with fresh oil: delicious. Just be careful, all you can get there are burgers, hot dogs and fries. Seriously.

This year I hope to try the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern, The Breslin‘s lamb burger, and also visit Corner Bistro…all in NYC.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Best Hot Dog:
Gray’s Papaya, NYC

Hot Dog Duo at Grays Papaya

Okay, so I didn’t eat too many hot dogs, but I was resolutely shocked when these turned out to be so good. A New York institution, and in my humble opinion deservedly so, these are exceptionally good hot dogs…

Recession Special is Still On!

…especially with the ‘Recession Special’ that’s currently on – you can save $1! 🙂

Gray's Papaya (UWS) on Urbanspoon

Best Pizza:
Dove Vivi, Portland, Oregon

Sausage Classico Pizza from Dove Vivi

After having my first-ever cornmeal-crusted pizza from Otto in London (see review here), I was eager to try the pizzas at their alleged source of inspiration in Portland, Oregon – Oregon being my home state. We actually ordered the pizza to pick-up, although there is a nice little dining room at the restaurant too. We had two varieties, but my favorite by miles was the ‘Sausage Classico’, which was made up of mozzarella, house-made fennel sausage and tomato sauce. These are actually more like pies than pizzas, but the crust is really unique given the cornmeal content. It is light, golden and crispy, and makes for the perfect base to the hearty toppings. I am now getting a taste for this stuff – when will NYC get a similar joint?

Dove Vivi on Urbanspoon

Best Meatball:
Polpetto, London

Duck & Porcini Meatball at Polpetto

When Russell Norman opened up Polpo in London’s Soho a while back, I was a fan from my first visit. The restaurant’s first offspring, though not originally planned to be by its parent, is the tiny and charming box of a dining room called Polpetto…or as I affectionately call it, Mini-P. Anyway, it was the venue for my last fun lunch in London – and my dining companion @BigSpud wrote about it (sort of) here. We mostly had cicchetti and my favorite of the bunch was this stunning meatball, in all its unadorned glory. Deep, rich duck and punchy porcinis mushroom with a robust sauce made this stand out as much in my mind as it did against its little stark white plate.

Polpetto on Urbanspoon

Best Risotto:
Gauthier Soho, London

Wild Garlic Risotto, Chicken Jus Reduction, Mousseron Mushrooms, Parmesan Tuille at Gauthier Soho

Okay, so it’s a French restaurant, but it’s risotto, so hey.

As I said in my preview of Alexis Gauthier’s new restaurant: “Alexis’ risottos were always a big strength at Roussillon, and this was no exception as his new Soho townhouse. The petite mousseron mushrooms worked well; they had quite a fleshy texture and were sort of like a really juicy piece of meat. The risotto itself was textbook – perfectly creamy, with the rice having just the right amount of bite left in it. The reduced chicken jus had a deep and rich flavor, which held the interest on the palate, and the razor-thin parmesan tuille added a nice contrast of sharpness and crunchiness. A really lovely dish.”

Honorable mention must go to an excellent seafood risotto I had at Fifteen Trattoria. You can read more about that here and there is a photo below.

Honorable Mention: Risotto Ai Frutti di Mare’ with Samphire, Chilli, White Wine, Garlic & Bottarga di Muggine at Fifteen Trattoria

Best Terrine:
The Bar Room at The Modern, NYC

Warm Lamb & Goats Cheese Terrine at The Modern

This dish wasn’t mine, but I got a few bites anyway. Besides its rather arresting beauty on the plate, it also tasted d*mn good. The richness of the lamb was cut through by the tangy goats cheese and the toasted pistachios added not only a note of sweetness and a pinch of saltiness, but also a chewy texture which rounded out the dish. The watercress provided a fresh and peppery contrast. It was original – to my mind – and superb.

The Modern on Urbanspoon

Best Steak Tartare:
Terroirs, London

Steak Tartare at Terroirs

Despite some odd sightings of fresh produce by @DouglasBlyde (see here), Terroirs is a haunt of mine, simply because they have consistently delivered me good and unfussy food that is well executed, plus they have a fantastic array of natural wines, many of which have proven to be very good. Anyway, on my last London meal of 2010 with my good Welsh friend, we ordered the steak tartare. The waiter said to order it spicy, so we complied. Thank god we did. It was one of the best versions of this bistrot classic I’ve had. We were both mesmerized. If it’s on the menu, order it.

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AFTERNOON TEA

Best Afternoon Tea:
Hidden Tea Room, London

Ambience & Cupcakes at The Hidden Tea Room

If you live in London and haven’t been to the Hidden Tea Room, do yourself a favor and book it. Aside from having the best and freshest baked goods you are likely to get at an afternoon tea in London, it is also a lovely underground restaurant experience. There is a rectangular table with jovial strangers who obviously share at least one interest with you (food…or tea, I guess); or if you are particularly delicate in nature, you can go with your friends. In any case, Lady Gray’s scones and cupcakes are excellent and Mrs. LF and I popped our underground restaurant cherry here – so it will always hold a fond memory for us. Oh yeah, and there is an excellent assortment of fresh, diverse and exotic teas.

Other excellent afternoon teas we had in 2010 were had at The Wolseley (somewhat surprisingly), Browns Hotel and Bob Bob Ricard.

DINNER

Best Amuse Bouche:
Aldea, NYC

Kusshi Oysters & Lobster Gazpacho at Aldea

The kick-off to my first meal at George Mendes’ Aldea was as beautiful as it was flavorful. I savoured that rich bisque for as long as I could and soaked up even more of the sea with my oyster. It was an extraordinary beginning to a very good meal. You can see and read more photos of our meal here. I was also happy to see that the team picked up its first Michelin star this year.

Aldea on Urbanspoon

Best Tart:
The Sportsman, Seasalter, UK

New Season Asparagus Tart at The Sportsman

Pretty much everything we had at The Sportsman was excellent, but this was the bite that stood out in my memory as the best of 2010. Full stop.

As I said in my review earlier in the year: “This was basically spring arriving on a plate. It was one of the best and most memorable bites of food I’ve had in the last year. The pastry was spot-on, and the texture, temperature and combination of flavors was exemplary. Asparagus, spring onion, red onion cheese, shredded lettuce – it all came together in the best way possible.” It received a very rare 10 out of 10, and deservedly so.

Best Soup:
Arbutus, London

Curly Kale & Potato Soup at Arbutus

After this enjoyable meal with the London Food Detective, I remarked: “I was quite impressed when my soup was brought out: it was a good portion size and it looked very hearty and appetizing. The soup possessed a lovely soft texture, and the flavor of the fine olive oil that had been used in the broth came through subtly. It also surprisingly had a pleasant, gentle heat which sat in the background of my mouth as I ate it. The dollop of yogurt worked nicely, both subduing the slight spiciness and also serving a textural and temperature purpose that added a slight creaminess and also a touch of coolness to the dish. It was a very memorable soup and I really enjoyed every spoonful.”

Most Creative Use of a Bean in Supporting Role:
Viajante, London

Roasted Broad Bean at Viajante

This was one of the more interesting presentations of a plate (or in fact, slate) of food this year. In my review of the meal, I wrote:

“A roasted broad bean was presented on a small square black slab of slate. Inside the beautifully presented specimen lurked a cream of the peeled beans themselves, which was pierced by three square shards of São Jorge cheese with a thin snake-like link of pea shoots residing on top. On the side, there was a dusting of toasted brioche crumbs. It was a beautiful and dainty looking dish and it tasted very good. The peas themselves were just slightly seasoned, allowing their delicate natural flavor to shine, and they had a lovely soft texture. The cheese brought a nice sharpness to the dish, and I ate it with some of the crumbs which added a pleasant crunchiness. This was a very good second amuse, and further illustrated the inventiveness of the kitchen.”

Best Dish Incorporating Goose Eggs & Soldiers (of Toast):
Launceston Place, London

Poached Goose Egg, Somerset Truffle Risotto at Launceston Place

Firstly, apologies for the especially poor photo, but this was taken with my old, archaic and generally not so useful camera. Right at the beginning of 2010, this was nonetheless one of the best dishes I had for sure. My thoughts at the time, which haven’t changed, were: “It was cleverly conceived in terms of the flavors and stylish presentation. Hidden beneath a topping of black Somerset truffles (English truffles…I am learning something new every day) was an unctuous, rich and delicious risotto that was perfect in pretty much every way. I was surprised at how pungent the truffles were and the strong depth of flavor they possessed (I thought English truffles would have been much lighter than their Continental counterparts), and the addition of little toast soldiers was a cute nod to a British breakfast tradition of soft-boiled eggs (the French call it oeuf à la coque).” This was a 10 out of 10 all the way.

Best Vegetarian Dish:
Mathias Dahlgren (Matbaren), Stockholm

Baked Farm Egg from Sanda Farm, Forest Mushrooms, Garlic, Parsley, New Potatoes at Matbaren

I loved my meal at Mathias Dahlgren’s Matbaren and this was the stand-out dish for me of the evening.

As I wrote in my post about the meal: “…for me, it was really all about the mushrooms. They had such a deep, rich flavor and were some of the better ones I can remember tasting. Again, I felt the dish was perfectly balanced, with the soft and creamy new potatoes lending a fairly mellow base (with their crispy counterparts in ‘chip’ format providing both saltiness and crunch), and the garlic and parsley both coming through just enough. I detected the presence of a rich, buttery and unique oil, which I enquired about, and proved to be a bit of a revelation…but more on that later. Oh yes, the egg! You can see below a diagram of why it’s called a 63° egg as illustrated on the menu, and yes, it was very good, yielding a creamy yellow yolk, which added the final textural component to this superb dish. It didn’t look or sound like much, but it sure made up for that in taste!”

Best Scallop Dish:
Morgan M., London

Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Poêlée of Cèpes, Glazed Pumpkin & Nut Biscuit, Butternut Coullis at Morgan M.

You may recall me saying something along the lines of…“This strikingly presented pair of trios was a wonderful beginning to the meal proper, no? Each scallop had been delicately handled and perfectly seared, revealing a fragrant sweetness that was enhanced by the succulent carrots and the crunchy biscuit below, which provided a good crunch in contrast to the fleshy feel of scallop and carrot. The cèpes themselves were excellent – intense, meaty, not at all overcooked – and might just have been the best thing on the plate. I personally didn’t think the butternut squash coulis added that much to the mushrooms (or the scallops for that matter), but it did create certain visual flair in the plating of the dish and represented autumn strikingly well on the plate.”

Best Raw Seafood Dish:
Sushi of Shiori, London

Raw Scallops with Secret Truffle Paste at Sushi of Shiori

Another memorable London meal took place at Sushi of Shiori, a sushi restaurant that accumulated a scale of press disproportionate to its own modest size (it seats about 12 at most). I dined with @LondonEater (see his reviews here and here), and thoroughly enjoyed the food and the company – my mini-review and photos are here. Aside from having the pre-ordered omakase, we ordered an extra course of truffled scallops. I remember exclaiming that this was an actual explosion of flavor in the mouth (so many times, people just use that term half-heartedly). I don’t know what the chef does to his secret paste, but the tiny amount dotting surface of the raw scallops really does explode in your mouth and somehow complements the sweetness of the scallops perfectly. I loved this, and it is quite affordable at about £2 a pop.

Sushi of Shiori on Urbanspoon

Best Chicken Dish:
wd~50, NY

Cold Fried Chicken, Buttermilk-ricotta, Tabasco, Caviar at wd~50

Okay, so nearly everything I had on the wd~50 tasting menu was pleasurably challenging for my senses – both visually and in terms of taste, texture and temperature – but this dish stood out in particular. This dish brought back so many memories of good fried chicken. It was served slightly cool and was absolutely delicious. My favorite part of it was the heat – those little dollops of orange sauce packed some serious power, and this enlivened the whole dish. Playing off against this was the creaminess of the buttermilk-ricotta cloud, which helped manage the spiciness. But the touch of genius here was the caviar, which added an extra element of saltiness on top of the chicken, cream and Tabasco. It was superb.

Best Duck Dish:
Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Lavender Glazed Duck at Eleven Madison Park

I don’t think anyone would be able to question Chef Humm’s ability to cook a whole bird. The even browning of the skin, its crispiness and the juiciness of the duck were outstanding. The lavender glaze gave it an intriguing and subtle flavor, with peaches and other hidden joys dancing around on my palate. While not quite as exceptional as the Canard de Challans a l’Hibiscus I had at l’Arpège last year – which is to date the best duck dish I’ve ever tasted – this was still pretty fantastic. It was an interesting and not unwelcomed contrast to some of the more modern elements during my first meal at the excellent Eleven Madison Park.

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Best Dish Incorporating Frozen Foie Gras:
momofuku ko, NYC

But of course there is no photo due to the restaurant’s no-snapping policy – sorry, but don’t snap at me. The following description will be in my forthcoming review of ko, where I dined with @catty.

Shaved Foie Gras, Lychees, Pine Nut Brittle, Riesling Gélee

This was certainly one of the top dishes of the evening, and I guess it is one of the classic dishes at ko. When I got up the gumption to ask how they made the cool shavings, the chef matter-of-factly said: “We freeze a terrine and the grate it.” Basically, you should have known that, it’s so obvious. Well, I didn’t know 100%, but was glad for the confirmation. Anyway, the foie was shaved like grated cheese over the other components. The sweetness of the lychees and the sweet-yet-tart Riesling Jell-O worked miraculously well with the foie shavings, which melted when they ware placed in your mouth and became a deliciously gooey texture. It was rich yet light at the same time (therein lay the brilliance) and, to me, it tasted more like seared foie gras than a terrine once it had melted in the mouth…maybe due to the texture. The pine nut brittle was OTT too, and everything was complementary. I noted that they had also salted the dish well, which is important to bring out the flavor of foie gras properly. This was a really fun and great dish to eat.

I also immensely enjoyed one of our two foie gras dishes at wd~50, but I couldn’t give Chef Dufresne another award, so he gets an honorable mention. There is, however, a half-decent photo below and a full description here. (And yes, I know it’s not frozen in the process, but hey…).

Honorable Mention: Aerated Foie, Pickled Beet, Mashad Plum, Brioche at wd~50

Best Desserts (Three-Way Tie):
The Loft Project with Samuel Miller from noma, London
Fifteen Trattoria, London
Eastside Inn, London

Malt Parfait, Seabuckthorn & Freeze-dried Strawberry at The Loft Project

This was the most memorable dessert for me of the year. Although not particularly complicated in conception, the fresh combination of flavors was nonetheless dazzling.

Here’s what I said in my review of the amazing evening: “A dark brown rectangular log of malt parfait was dressed with freeze-dried strawberry crystals and micro herbs, with a side smear of havtorn purée (yellow-orange Scandinavian berries, which I believe are also called Seabuckthorn). The parfait itself was so intensely malty it almost had a charred or burnt flavor about it – much different from the sickly sweet ‘malt’ flavors to which most people from the UK or US would be accustomed. But there was a slight underlying sweetness that kept it balanced.  The sweet, acidic and sharp notes of the English mustard colored purée perfectly offset the rich and slightly bitter intensity of the malt, with the dry strawberry granules adding crunch and further bittersweet fruit to the mix. It all worked together perfectly and it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory.”

Vanilla Pannacotta, Raspberries & Homemade Biscotto at Fifteen Trattoria

Not too long ago I had a simple dessert that the kitchen knocked out of the park, as we say in America. It was the best pannacotta I can remember having and got the fabled 10 out of 10.

In case you didn’t read it, and care to, here’s what I said: “The quality of the pannacotta itself was just mental. It was so creamy, so full of delicate vanilla flavor, and so delightfully wobbly while at the same time retaining its form when shaken or portioned up on our plates. It was the best example of the dessert I can recall. I would have been perfectly happy having that by itself on a drip for a few hours, but it was very well paired with some surprisingly sweet raspberries (not the ‘raspberry compote’ that the menu advertised, by the way) – my hunch is that they were from Secretts, but I didn’t ask – and a really wonderful homemade pistachio-laced biscotto (not the biscotti that were promised on menu). In short, Italian food heaven on a plate.”

Araguani Chocolate & Tonka Bean Ice Cream at Eastside Inn

Unfortunately, I never got to properly review the ‘bistrot’ side of Bjorn Van der Horst’s Eastside Inn before it sadly closed towards the end of 2010. However, I vividly remember the intensity of chocolate that was perfectly paired with a memorable tonka bean ice cream. As always with Bjorn’s food, it was also stunning to look at.

Weirdest Dessert:
(Note: that doesn’t mean it was bad!)
Il Baretto, London

Fried Aubergine, White & Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, Red Berries at Il Baretto

When I had some time to digest the experience (and the dessert), I reflected: “It sounded so strange, we just had to try it. Yes, if you read the caption for the above photo, than you heard it correctly folks, it was an aubergine (eggplant) based dessert! It was certainly very pretty, at least in my estimation. Three discs of fried aubergine had been layered with white chocolate cream between them, and on the very bottom lay a hidden dark chocolate base. Leaning against this delicately balanced brown and white striped trunk was a branch of tart red berries. The whole thing was dusted with pistachio crumbs finished off with a dash of powdered sugar.

At first bite, the taste of aubergine was too prominent for my liking; however, when portioned up with an adequate amount of the white (and darker) chocolate and a berry or two, I could understand the rationale of its creator…it was actually strangely very good. In fact, I found myself liking it more and more and then suddenly, as fast as it had appeared (okay, it didn’t appear *that* fast), it ‘twas gone. I ended up really liking it, and bonus points for using an ingredient I would NEVER associate with dessert.”

LUSCIOUS LIBATIONS

Favorite Gin:
Sacred Spirits, UK

Favorite Vodka:
Chase Distillery, UK

Favorite Martini:
Dukes Bar, London

Martini at Dukes Bar

If you follow this blog, you will know my hands-down favorite martini is at Dukes Bar in London (see here and here), when it is served by the ever-affable and supremely knowledgeable Alessandro Palazzi.

Favorite Restaurant to Order Wine:
Bob Bob Ricard, London

A Glass of Pol Roger Brut Reserve at Bob Bob Ricard

Not only do Leonid and Richard have the now ‘soooo 2010’ Champagne buttons at the booth-seating-only tables at this fabulously individual creation, which could have only resulted from the marriage of Russian and English (business) partners, they also have the lowest mark-ups I’ve come across of some really excellent fine wine. This means you can (better) afford to indulge yourself in a special bottle or glass of wine when going out on the town. And the food is generally very good across the board too. For a peek at their current wine list, click here.

FYI, @gourmetraveller also has an excellent BYO guide for London restaurants here.

Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon

Favorite and/or Most Memorable Wines:

This list is from across the board…glasses and bottles I remember that I particularly enjoyed and/or found memorable. I have probably missed some out, but I hope not. They are listed chronologically and then alphabetically within each vintage.

Sparkling

  • 1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc
  • 2004 Duval-Leroy Champagne Blanc de Chardonnay, Brut
  • NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne, Brut Réserve
  • NV Henriot, Brut Souverain
  • NV Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noir
  • NV Thiénot, Brut
  • NV Vincent Laroppe, Cuvée Alfred Laropp

White

  • 1992 Haut-Brion Blanc
  • 2001 & 2009 Soula Blanc, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
  • 2004 Lafon Meursault
  • 2005 Huët Vouvray Sec, Le Mont
  • 2005 Les Plantiers de Haut-Brion
  • 2006 Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc
  • 2006 Domaine Sylvain Loichet, Ladoix
  • 2006 McHenry Hohnen, 3 Amigos
  • 2007 Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay, Cuvée Alexandre
  • 2007 d’Arenberg, The Hermit Crab
  • 2007 Domaine Gauby Blanc
  • 2007 E. Guigal Condrieu
  • 2007 Felton Road Chardonnay, Block 2
  • 2007 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc, Les Sétilles
  • 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Quarz, Terlano
  • 2008 Benmarl Riesling
  • 2008 Beringer Chardonnay, Private Reserve
  • 2008 Domaine William Fevre Chablis, Champs Royaux
  • 2008 Trimbach Riesling, Reserve
  • 2009 Adair Cayuga White
  • 2009 Arietta “On the White Keys” (Semillon)

Red

  • 1964 Haut-Brion
  • 1985 Haut-Brion
  • 1990 La Mission Haut-Brion
  • 1998 Bahans Haut-Brion
  • 1998 Château Haut-Bailly
  • 1998 Château Pichon-Longuevile Baron
  • 1998 Château Lafite-Rothschild
  • 1998 Poliziano Le Stanze
  • 2000 Château Vieux Chevrol
  • 2001 Château Musar
  • 2001 Château Palmer
  • 2001 Château Pavie
  • 2001 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion
  • 2005 Montes Carménère, Purple Angel
  • 2006 Domaine La Tourmente, Syrah, Chamoson
  • 2006 Herdade do Arrepiado Velho, Arrepiado
  • 2006 Neyen Syrah, Limited Edition
  • 2007 Ridge Lytton Springs
  • 2007 The Sum, Seventy Five Wine Company, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Domaine Gramenon, Côtes du Rhône, Sierra du Sud
  • 2008 Monty Waldin Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
  • 2008 Mullineux Syrah, Swartland
  • 2008 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir, Tavola

Sweet

  • 1999 Château Coutet
  • 2003 Château Rieussec
  • 2006 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine, Gold Reserve
  • 2006 Leduc-Piedimonte, Ice Cider
  • 2007 Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, Donnafugata

In the coming year, I am aiming to develop a better understand of grower-producer Champagnes (i.e. ones that are terroir driven by the people who grow the grapes), deepen my cursory knowledge of some major European wine countries – namely Italy, Spain and Germany – and, of course, get a better handle on the domestic North American wine scene…as well as becoming more familiar with countries such as Chile and Argentina in South America.

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So that is the end to a wonderful year of food, wine and friendship shared over the two. Here’s hoping 2011 will be even more exciting and enjoyable. I look forward to sharing with you what I can from the shores of America – or wherever else I may be lucky enough to travel – with an exciting review coming up very soon.

Thanks for putting up with me, and a very Happy New Year.

All the best for 2011!