Archive for July, 2009
I’m not one to flock to see-and-be-seen haute Japanese; I usually prefer sake and street food at a clamourous izakaya. However, this hip creation of sushi guru Katuya Uechi and renowned designer Philippe Starck is definitely worth a visit. Even sitting at the bar, the décor is infectiously chic. High-gloss white tables with lounge seating and expansive, grainy, back-lit photos of geisha lips, dripping with shimmering lip glass. The ambiance is more “VIP club” than “fine dining” and that’s exactly what’s intended. The food is also stellar and much of that is due to the seafood purveyor. The flawless Special Katsuya roll features tuna, yellow tail and salmon, artfully wrapped in marinated cucumber. Their signature starter, Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice, pales in comparison to the buttery Baked Crab Handroll. The text in the menu that elaborates on the dishes contains cheesy tags more suited for a used car dealership, but this dish lives up to the claim that “one taste will leave you wanting more!” Adorned with the chef’s secret sauce, topped with rice, and rolled in soy paper, it practically melts when it hits your tongue. I was curious to see how the chef would fair with ingredients harvested on land, so I ordered the pricey but meagre Kobe Beef with Foie Gras. The beef was overcooked, which is a sin when using such a fine ingredient, but the overall dish was fair. Oddly enough, the real star here was the plum wine reduction that was drizzled over it, and two blistered shishinto peppers used to garnish. We order more of these, a la carte – they were quite amazing! All in all, your check will reflect the ambiance, but if you keep your sights set on the sea, you won’t be disappointed!
Katsuya Hollywood. 6300 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles. ph (323) 871-8777
Located in the heart of the artsy Los Feliz district, this conspicuous corner diner is the creation of two Freds, both born in 1962. At once nostalgia-triggering and foreign, Fred 62’s interior combines kitschy artwork with Googie signage and that classic Brady Bunch burnt orange and puke green. This might be off-putting if it weren’t so deliberately designed to take ya back! The kitchen here puts out dishes that are just as creative as some of the sculpted hair hanging from the tattood and pierced clientele… and that’s saying something. The menu consists largely of modern takes on American classics, such as the Cobb Salad — presented here with a Thai twist. Shredded chicken, bacon and chopped egg are now paired with stringy papaya, peanuts, and fried wontons, handsomely plated in a square form on the round plate. Some classics aren’t manipulated a bit, only presented in tip-top form. Take the Jucy Lucy Burger. No, it’s not topped with blue cheese or grilled portabella; the simple throwback burger is topped with chopped red onion and iceberg and house Thousand Island. But it’s on a superb bun, specifically commissioned by the Freds, so it won’t fall apart when you sink your cuspids into their juicy chuck. Breads for their sandwich “towers” are also custom-made at a local bakery. Rounded edges eliminate the testy negative space that comes with square corners… so your sliced turkey aligns perfectly with the golden crust. For dessert, indulge in their take on the pop-tart: “Punk Tarts” filled with apple, and served a la mode.
Fred 62. 1850 N. Vermont Avenue, LA, CA. ph. 323.667.0062
Until last Tuesday night, if asked where I had enjoyed my greatest meal in New York, I would have replied: ‘Hmm… Prune. Either sitting at the bar with my brother, sucking down bone marrow, and indecisively sharing a slew of starters and entrees under the attentive eye of the lesbian bartender… or picking apart a whole roasted Branzini with my boyfriend at the same place. Or perhaps, luxuriating for hours at the Michelin-starred Public with my boyfriend, brother, and best friend Bree. I still remember the scallops!’ Now, without question, it’s Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s chic new digs at the Bank of America Building off Bryant Park.
In a gorgeous private dining room reserved for diners trying the reasonable $84 dollar three-course pre-fix, exquisite food made up for the piped-in elevator music that I hope will be replaced. This is American cuisine at it’s best… and we paired it, shamelessly, with a White Burgundy.
If an amuse bouche is intended to, literally, amuse your mouth, the White Asparagus Soup with Watercress “Caviar” and Tapioca did exactly that. Not an overpowering start to a meal, but texturally playful, and beautiful. My boyfriend started with the Diver Sea Scallop “Sandwich” with Pan Seared Foie Gras, Sugar Snap Peas, Passion Fruit, and Chives. This starter, pictured in the Time Out New York article announcing Aureole’s chic new location, was one of the stars of the evening. A perfect scallop, cooked between paper thin Pullman toasts, giving a lot of texture to every bite. The savory foie gras was beautiful with the sweet passion fruit reduction. Charmed by the smoked corn bread, and the mix of sweet and spicy, I chose the Sauteed Foie Gras with Maine Blueberries, Smoked Corn Bread, Pickled Jalapenos and Macadamia nuts. The corn bread was a bit overpowering, but the foie gras practically disintegrated on the tongue!
It’s hard to prepare veal and sweetbreads without having them feel unseasonably heavy, but my Veal Tenderloin with Sweetbreads, Haricot Verts (an unannounced substitute for wild asparagus), Charred Onion, Georgia Peaches, Pickled Ramps, and Lovage Veal Jus arrived and felt like a gift of summer. The dish had underlying Asian and Southern notes, and David noted that the veal was so tender, you could slice it with a credit card!
His entrée, Canadian Lobster Tail Vs. Berkshire Pork Belly with Squash, Porcini Mushrooms, Cape Goosberries, Jura Wine and Almond Emulsion was lovely! However, placed on two opposite sides of the rectangular plate, the win was apparent: putting this poor pork belly against the most masterfully cooked piece of lobster I’ve ever tasted was like throwing a little league team into Yankee stadium. The pork was the only forgettable dish of the night.
After dinner, a rhubarb sorbet, with Tapioca pudding, was intended to serve as a palate cleanser, but was so oppressively sweet, I had one bite and pushed it aside so I might still have some feeling in my tongue. Good thing; the desserts were extraordinary! Sweet Corn Souffle with Blueberry Chutney, and Brown Butter was served with a tart frozen yogurt. David didn’t care for the Chilled Strawberry Soup with Queso Fresco, Cilantro, and Ancho Meringue but that’s due to his dislike of cilantro in general. I thought it was a revelation! To have a dessert with this much bite provided a much-needed detour from the severe sweet that had preceded it. A cone of petite, Chinese style donuts were brought out, along with a sampling of treats from the house chocolatier.
All in all, it was some of most artfully prepared food I’ve tasted… Mr. Palmer has earned his own personal halo for this! And, with 15% off all checks until September 15th, you will never get such bang for your buck. GO! (everyone’s doing it… well, ok, not everyone… but we did see Gael Greene licking her fork in the a la carte dining room!)
Aureole. One Bryant Park/135 West 42nd Street. ph: 212.319.1660
Follow up, July 22nd: I have taken to reading Gael Greene’s blog, Insatiable Critic, and after our spotting at Aureole, I checked to see if she wrote of her experience in the Bar Lounge that night. She toted her “Road Food Warrior,” Steve Richter along, and he documented the evening with photos. Lo and behold! Who do I spy in the seventh photo down? My boyfriend David, fork in hand! I’m eclipsed by another diner, but you can see my white burgandy. I’m so tickled by this… apparently more tickled than she was by any of her dishes, with the exception of the papas fritas. Head to the dining room, Gael!!
I’ve just completed a much-needed two-week layoff from the Fiddler tour. I’m en route to San Diego now, mildly satisfied with the Au Bon Pain salad that sits in front of me… dreaming of some of the irresistible eats that I’ve noshed on while in the city. In no particular order:
- Canadian Lobster with Porcini Mushrooms and Almond Emulsion; at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. One of the most perfectly cooked pieces of protein I’ve ever placed on my tongue. After years of overcooked Maine lobster dipped in clarified butter, this felt like a revelation.
- Homemade Vanilla Chai Ice Cream; prepared by my boyfriend, David. Every super hero has their secret weapon and my boyfriend’s is his kitchen aid. Pasta, cookies, ice cream… the joys that have come from this clunky piece of hardware make up for the counter space it devours. He steeped six tea bags in the milk and cream, and followed a standard Vanilla recipe (from Joy of Cooking?) from there.
- Maryland Crab Cakes with Tomato and Sweet Fresh Corn over Arugula; at Square Meal by Yura. The best crab cake I’ve had outside of Maryland, hands down. I can see why her UES clientele refuse to let her take it off the ever-changing seasonal menu.
- Diver Sea Scallop “Sandwich” with Pan Seared Foie Gras, Sugar Snap Peas, Passion Fruit, and Chives; at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. This signature starter is texturally satisfying, and as delicious as it is beautiful.
- Spiced Berkshire Pork Loin, Warm Guindilla Chili-spaetzle salad, Nashi Pear Compote, and Salsify Crisps; at Public in Nolita. This entrée satisfies your sweet and savory teeth in one bite.
- Sour Cherry Soup with Sour Cream; prepared by David’s mother, Harriette. My boyfriend isn’t the only member of his family blessed with culinary know-how. His mother introduced me to this Hungarian classic during dinner on their terrace.
- Salad Nicoise at Fig and Olive in the Meatpacking. My family and I ducked in to Fig and Olive before watching the 4th of July fireworks. I felt like a bore for ordering such a classic, but I wanted something light. I was not disappointed when it arrived – it was, perhaps, the most divine Salad Nicoise I’ve ever had! Paper-thin marinated raw tuna, crisp haricot vert, tomato, roasted potatoes, hard boiled egg, black olives, meaty white anchovies, red bell pepper, red onion, citrus & Picholine olive oil dressing… quite beautiful, with all of the elements deconstructed on the plate.
- Bone Marrow with Parsley and Fleur de Sel, served with Grilled Bread; at Café d’Alsace on the Upper East Side. Nothing trumps the massive marrow bones at Prune on the Lower East, but these came very close!
- Truffled Fettuccine; prepared by my David. Using the pasta attachments that I gave him for his birthday, David and I rolled out our own fresh pasta… with little secret folded into the dough: truffle oil. We served it with sautéed oyster, porcini, and shitake mushrooms. Earthy, divine!
- Goat Cheese, Beet, and Endive Salad at Artisinal in Murray Hill. It wasn’t life-changing, but my parents and I had a lovely meal at Artisinal, by Picholine’s Terrance Brennan. It’s easy to see why cheese lovers flock to his fromage-centric bistro! This healthy spoonful of goat cheese transformed a now cliché salad into a masterpiece… milk heaven!
I’m introducing a new category… offering you a little bite of a food find from my travels.
At Eno Wine Bar, located on N. Michigan, feast on a lengthy list of wine, cheese, and chocolate flights – How bad could that be? Over 300 hundred wines are served, 35 artisan cheeses, and an ever changing array of treats from local choclatiers. Don’t leave without trying Memoire Truffled Gouda from Noord, Holland. Browned butter, hazelnuts and truffle on the tongue – could be worse!