Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American Cut, NYC

American Cut, NYC, 9/26/2016 (canapés, cocktail & 4-course dinner, $115.86 including taxes & gratuity)

American Cut, a steakhouse, is a fairly young restaurant within LDV Hospitality, owned by chef Marc Forgione. It has two locations in NYC, one in mid-town and one in Tribeca a few blocks away from his Michelin 1-star restaurant Mark Forgione. This special event was co-sponsored by the Lincoln Motor Company. The menu included four canapés during the cocktail hours with limited choices of but unlimited quantity of drinks, followed by a 4-course dinners with white wine and red wine.

Canapés – 4 items

1). Hiramasa, avocado, miso dashi

Hiramasa (farmed yellowtail) provides a bright, buttery flavor with a rich, firm texture and desirable fat content. Hiramasa tartare with avocado and miso dashi made of seaweed, bonito flake, miso paste, mirin, ginger, onion, white soy sauce and yuzu. It resembles one of the best dishes in Chef Forgione’s Michelin 1-star restaurant “Marc Forgione.”

2). Oyster, black truffle

Oyster was served in béchamel and broiled. It is like Oyster Rockefeller style, except it was tastier than Oyster Rockefeller because of the black truffle flavor. Béchamel, made of roux, shallot, parsley, chives, garlic and crucola cheese, was at the proper consistency and truffle was not too overwhelming either. It was my favorite item in this evening.

3). Postrami bites, fermented kraut, whole grain mustard

Whole grain mustard was spreaded on a small piece of crunchy toast. A piece of pastrami was placed on mustard and topped by sliced fermented sour kraut.

4). Steak tartare, potato chip, eggs mimosa

Each guest had to stand on the line before his/her turn to grind 1 or 2 pieces of beef loin into ground meat. Then, it was up to each guest’s preference to choose the condiments and other ingredients such as olive oil, coarse salt, pepper, Forgione sauce, and chopped chive, chopped onion, chopped parsley and chopped anchovy. There was a bowl of cured chicken egg yolks (mimosa) for mixing in tartare. Once all ingredients were mixed in the bowl, tartare was served in a small bowl and served with a thinly sliced potato chip. The whole process gave each guest a sense of a fully customized dish. Mimosa and anchovy did give the dish an extra kick.

1st Course – Duo of rice 

             a). American Kobe Carpaccio, truffle arancini

Arancini are rice balls which are coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. In this course, rice were mixed with black truffle, and covered with Kobe carpaccio after the rice balls were fried. In addition, thinly sliced black truffle was place on top of each rice ball. Without of doubt, anything dish with black truffle taste yummy.

b). “Laotian sushi” of local fluke, jalapeno bang bang

Loatian sushi was made of gluttonous rice (sticky rice) which is starchier than the conventional rice. Cooked rice were then shaped into various shape you desired. In this dish, square-shaped rice were fried before serving with sweet-sour sauce. On top of each Loatian sushi, there were some fresh raw fluke and pickled jalapeno chili in Forgione’s own pickled sauce (nicknamed bang bang sauce). Bang bang is made of Thai chili, sugar, lime and fish sauce. This bang bang sauce greatly enhanced the overall taste.

2nd Course – Duo of marrow

a). Forge cut bone marrow, escargot, James Beard salad (fennel and arugula)

At the bottom, there was a piece of toasted bread topped by a piece of bone with a hole in the center. Cooked bone marrow (usually shrink in size) and a piece of escargot were placed in the middle of the hole. The texture of bone marrow and escargot is slightly different, but both had rich and succulent taste.

b). King crab marrow, Long Island corn succotash, maître butter

In this dish, the best part of King crab leg was used. Emulsified non-salted butter was whipped and crab was cooked with ultra-tenderness. Crab was served with fresh Long Island corn succotash. This dish was offered as a slight contrast to the accompanied bone marrow dish.

3rd Course - Surf & Turf

 a). Boneless porterhouse, NYC cut steak

28-day dry aged porterhouse steak was served medium. I requested for black and blue, and was informed by the waiter it was not feasible due to the large number of guests at the special event. In addition to surf and turf, there are 3 side-dishes:

1). Carrot glazed carrot, mint, maldon – Carrots were poached in water, butter, mint and maldon salt. Cooked carrots were then stirred in sauce of orange juice, carrot juice, mint and honey. The end product of glazed carrot is the best cooked carrot that I have ever had.

2). Dry-aged potatoes, bacon, mushroom – Layered potatoes were baked with Parmesan cheese, cream, salt and pepper. When it is cool, cut into brick pieces and seared in dry aged beef fat. It is loaded with calories, but it is also loaded with taste.

3). Sunchoked spinach, fontina, smoked salt – Sautéed spinach mixed in white creamed sauce made of roux, garlic, parsley and fontina cheese. By using smoked salt, it gave extra bump to the taste.

b). Chili lobster

Lobster tails and shelled claws were served in this dish. It almost like lobster bisque with chili. It was peppery hot. The soup was made of sriracha pepper, butter, flour, aromatics (parsley, chive, garlic, onion) and mint. Sriracha is named after a coastal city, Si Racha, in Thailand. It is mainly used in seafood. In the middle of bowl, there were quite a few pieces of toasted garlic bread for dipping the sauce.

4th Course – Orange honey cake, Champagne whipped cream, honeycomb

Orange honey cake had pound cake like texture, but not too sweet. Champagne whipped cream did have the taste of champagne and honeycomb was the right texture of crunchiness.

It was a full house this evening at American Cut. During the cocktail hour, guests gathered around the bar area and it was standing room only. Actually it was strategically better to stand in the middle of room to grab canapés when waiters passing by during the cocktail hour. At dinner time, we were all seated around a long communal table, pretty much elbow to elbow. American Cut probably hosted 150 guests which most likely is more than its normal maximum capacity. As a result of this capacity issue, we had to wait 25-30 minutes in between courses. However, waiters were helpful when we requested for more side-dishes and lobster. It was a great deal and it was an evening of fun and pleasure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Amber at Asiate, Mandarin Oriental, NYC

Amber at Asiate, Mandarin Oriental, NYC, 6/10/2016 (4-Course, $125 excl. taxes & gratuity)

 Amber, a Michelin two-starred restaurant, is the main restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong. Asiate, the main restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in NYC has invited Amber’s culinary director Richard Ekkebus to host a 4-day event of special 4-course lunches and 6-course dinners from 6/8/16 to 6/11/16. I chose to have lunch.

It started with two courses of Amuse Bouche:

I. Cleanser – Ratatouille bouillon infused with oolong tea. The first process was making ratatouille using bell pepper, zucchini, egg plants, onion, tomato, and add basil at the end. Approximately, the preparation started with 10 kg of ingredients and water and reduced to half of the volume. Then the whole pot of ratatouille was frozen before it was defrosted. To collect the soup, let the frozen sauce drip while it was being defrosted. This is similar to ice-wine making. Sauce collected using the defrosting process is more concentrated and condensed, therefore, more flavorful. On the side, oolong (highly fermented tea) was brewed by boiled hot water. When the course was ready to be served at the customer’s table, pour some virgin olive oil at the bottom of cup, then soup and infused oolong tea. It was a very finely balanced soup even though oolong was a strong-flavored tea. The making of this dish is also very time-consuming.

II. Mise en Bouches – two items

a).Buckwheat toast with fennel, avocado and wild flowers

Avocado salsa was spread on toast, topped with fennel and a lot of cute tiny wild flowers for decoration as well as for eating.

 b).Virgin “Bloody Mary” tartlet with fennel pollen

Circle of Blood Mary shaped like an egg yolk created by dipping sodium alginate into calcium lactate. In many ways sodium alginate has become the poster child for modernist cooking (molecular gastronomy) due to its use in spherification. Inside this egg yolk looking ball, there was “Bloody Mary”. Ideally, you should eat it with one bite. This item reminded me of another creative work, Bloody Mary sorbet in soup, that I had a few years ago at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. 


1st Course: Sea Urchin – in a lobster jello-O with cauliflower. Caviar & crispy seaweed waffles

Cauliflower panna cotta was at the bottom of bowl. Sea urchin was placed on top of panna cotta and covered by lobster jello-O. Because lobster consommé was reduced during the cooking process, it yielded brown color. I read chef Ekkebus liked to use the sea urchin from Hakaido when he prepared this dish in Amber, Hong Kong. I later found out that chef Ekkebus ordered sea urchin for this lunch from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. Certainly, what he used was the supreme quality, very fresh and flavorful. On the very top of the bowl, there was Osetra caviar.  It was juicy, sweet and fresh. Reasonably, I could not expect any better caviar because Beluga is still banned in US. To make the appearance appealing, chef Ekkibus placed a piece of gold leaf on top of caviar.The crispy waffle , sittinf on the side of the bowl, was made of rice flour and coated with powdery seaweed to be consistent with the seafood themed sea urchin and lobster. This thin waffle was very light and crispy, not greasy at all. This was a real sumptuous dish.

2nd Course: Abalone –Black pepper & vinegar seasoned tomato compote, braised then crisped oxtail & its juice

Chef Ekkebus liked to use abalone from Australia because its quality. What served in this course was green abalone from Jade Tiger farm for its minerality, nuttiness, tenderness and flavor. Tomato compote in devil sauce was served at the bottom of the bowl. It was made of tomato, onion, bell pepper, hint of sugar, fresh pepper and salt; reduced and added with a little French white vinegar at the end. Abalone was sliced and placed on top of tomato compote and topped with crisped oxtail and its jus, garlic and parsley. A few baby spinach leaves (with red veins) were on top for decoration. Abalone was delicious and virtually melted in your mouth. Abalone was traditionally considered a classic delicacy in Asia, especially in Hong Kong which is famous for its foodies’ fondness for seafood. It was a “must have” dish in the high end of gourmet meal. Chef Ekkebus probably has tried his best to refine his signature dish to entertain his loyal followers in Amber, claimed being the best French restaurant in Hong Kong.

3rd Course: Wagyu Beef – Strip loin; barbecued with dulse seaweed and red cabbage slaw, oxalis, horseradish and pepper berry emulsion

I requested my steak French blue (rare). Steak was wrapped around by nori which reminded me of the signature dish of “Baby Lamb with Nori Crust” at L’Epicure. The purpose of using seaweed was to enhance the flavor by utilizing the salt content and the extra taste in seaweed instead of salt alone. On the side, red cabbage was served in three styles – cole slaw, braised and chip. Tiny oxalis flower was place on top of cole slaw for the visual presentation. Sauce was made of Béarnaise sauce with grounded Australian pink pepper berry. The Assistant Manager of Amber was so kind to bring a little dish of grounded Australian berry so that I can have a taste as well as the look of it. It is brought to NYC from Hong Kong, in burgundy color, taste milder and sweeter than paprika. When the grounded Australian berry was mixed with Bérnaise sauce, it yield a pleasant and slightly spicy kick in the flavor. I enjoyed it very much.

4th Course: Dulcey chocolate – spheres coated in Manjari 64% chocolate, with salted & caramelized macadamia nuts & cocoa sorbet

The first thing that I noticed in the plate was the dark brown color of cocoa sorbet, I have never seen such a dark color of cocoa sorbet. It was full of flavor. I later found out that all chocolate used in this course was Manjari brand which is not available in NYC. There were two chocolate spheres coated in dark chocolate, adorned with gold leaf, with white chocolate dulcey inside. The texture of white chocolate dulcey was so delicate and smooth, it was almost like a creamy version of Crème brûlée. I can’t help to ask Amber’s manager what kind of processes required. It required some very demanding processes, started with taking approximately 50 minutes to make white chocolate caramel. It was one of chef Ekkebus’s special creation. In between chocolate spheres and sorbet, there were some milk chocolate ganache. It was a very gratifying chocolate-themed desert. I would not mind to have two more of these exquisite chocolate bonbons.

5th Course: Amber petite fours

Cannelé - A cannelé is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. It takes the shape of small, striated cylinder approximately five centimeters in height and is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. It tasted especially good when fresh while outside is crusty and inside is 80% done. It is more sophisticated than madeleine.

Raspberry Tart – A bite-size tart filled with mascarpone cheese. The special feature about this tart was the aged balsamic vinegar filled raspberry. It had a very refreshing taste.

Coconut Eskimo – Coconut lollipop with milk chocolate and nut coating.

I had a wonderful meal at Amber/Asiate. The Dutch born Chef Ekkebus brought his team, special ingredients, equipment as well as his signature dishes to ensure all guests had a memorable and gratified experience. Chef Ekkebus incorporated his Dutch refined techniques with skills honed from three French masters Alain Passard, Guy Savoy, and Pierre Gagnaire. Staying in Hong Kong, a place where East meet West, Chef Ekkebus has been custom to fully utilizing all the resources and created his own fine contemporary French cuisine with fusion style.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Le Bernardin, NYC

Le Bernardin, NYC, 1/2/16, $215/8 courses (excluding taxes & gratuity)

Ever since Le Bernardin had its latest renovation, I have not been there yet. Recently, I have read and heard quite a few controversial opinion on its food. Out of my curiosity, I decided to have a meal there around the holiday time.

There are 3 types of tasting menus – 4 courses for $147/person, 7 courses of Le Bernardin Tasting Menu for $180/person and 8 courses of Chef’s Tasting Menu for $215/person. I chose Chef’s Tasting Menu with a few substitutes.

It was crowded being the weekend of New Year. I found out from the server that Tom Cat is still the primary bread supplier. Tom Cat makes one of the best breads in town. Many years ago, I happened to pass by the restaurant while Tom Cat was making a delivery. I told the driver how much I liked their bread and was rewarded with a baguette. There are currently a few varieties of bread served. They are focaccia, raisin walnut, sesame basil, flaxseed and baguette. While some fine dining posts serve a variety of butter, Le Bernardin serves only one type of butter.
The meal started with Amuse Bouche. There were 3 items, from left to right:

1).Fluke sashimi served with ponzu vinaigrette and akinori seaweed. It was fresh but a bit too weak to open your palette.

2). Circle of bouillabais, shaped like an egg yolk created by dipping sodium alginate into calcium lactate. In many ways sodium alginate has become the poster child for modernist cooking (molecular gastronomy) due to its use in spherification. Sodium alginate is a natural gelling agent taken from the cell walls of brown algae. It only gels when it comes in contact with calcium. This product of spherification was a popular item in Europe when I visited Italy two months ago. I prefer Bouillabais with intense shell-fish flavor. This item had a mild taste of shell-fish, I wondered if it was probably made more for visual pleasure.

3). Celery root soup with truffle foam and black pepper and corn tuile. I happened to like this item most among the 3 amuse bouche served.

1st Course, Tuna – Yellow Tuna Carpaccio; Iberico Ham “Chutney,” Sea Beans, Lemon-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Yellow Fin tuna was fresh and was served at the right temperature. I used fork to cut it into smaller pieces and came across some sinew. On top of the Yellow Fin, there were some sea beans, croutons and Iberico ham.  The small bits of Iberico ham did help to make a more balanced taste.

 2nd Course, King Fish – Caviar – Warm King Fish “Sashimi,” Osetra Caviar, Light Marinière Broth.
My server told me that King Fish is in the family of Mackerel. The King Fish was served warm with chives for decoration, it was warmer than room temperature. The highlight of this course was the Osetra Caviar imported from Israel. It was good quality and not too salty. I inquired the brand, my server brought over an empty jar to show me its brand “Paramount”. This course was served with mussels Marinière sauce. The sauce was excellent, not too thick and not too light, in between sauce and broth.

3rd Course, Langoustine – Pan Roasted Langoustine; Truffled Foie Gras, Aged Sherry-Verjus Vinaigrette

The onion purée was at the bottom. Then, the roasted langoustine was topped with cold foie gras and a few slices of truffles. It was served with sherry and un-ripened grape juice (the round shaped dots around the plate). On top of the truffles, there were some micro-green and fennel leaves for decoration. The langoustine was tender and tasty. The foie gras seemed to be a bit too cold to be in sync with the rest of the dishes.

4th Course, Lobster – Lacquered Lobster Tail; Herb Spring Roll, Lemongrass Consommè

The lobster itself was very well prepared, slight cooked outside and raw inside. It was sliced slightly diagonally to make the lacquered appearance.  On the side, there was one Vietnamese spring roll with Romano lettuce, basil and rice vermicelli wrapped in rice sheet. It was served with lemongrass and shrimp shell consommé. The consommé did not seem to be robust enough to bring out lobster’s full flavor. I asked the server why lobster shell was not used. I also called to inquire Le Bernardin’s office and was informed it was the chef’s preferred profile. This dish reminded me of Caccia al caciucco (soup with raw fish) that I had at Da Vittorio near Milano, Italy. Da Vittoria made a pot of famous Caciucco-Livorno fish soup, discarded cooked shell fish and reserved the condensed soup to serve with raw fish. I really miss Da Vittorio’s made to perfection cuisine.

5th Course, Halibut – Poached Halibut; Manila Clams, Wild Mushroom Casserole

I usually like to remind the server to inform kitchen not to overcook my fish. My server did not want to hear it. He said Le Bernardin is the best seafood restaurant in NYC, they always cook to perfection. When he brought over the plate, I found out it was not as perfect as what the server said. It was a bit overcooked. The fish was fresh, served along with baby carrot, Chinese black wood fungus, varieties of mushroom, and Brussels sprouts in cockerel sauce. I liked both the mussel Marinière sauce served earlier and cockerel sauce. They both were with the right consistency and flavor.

6th Course, White Tuna-Kobe Beef – Grilled Escolar and Seared Wagyu Beef; Fresh Kimchi, Asian Pear, Soy-Citrus Emulsion

To replace Black Bass “Surf& Turf” – Crispy Black Bass and Braised Veal Cheek, Parsnip Emulsion, Ginger-Five Spice Reduction

Since I don’t like braised veal cheek on Chef’s Tasting Menu, I requested for a substitute. Since this was the last savory course, so I preferred eating something that I was in a mood for. 

escolar is found in deep (200–885 m) tropical and temperate waters around the world. It has firm white flesh with incredibly rich flavor often described as “succulent. It is like a fattier version of swordfish. Sometimes, it is under the name of “butterfish”, “oilfish”, “waloo/walu”, “super-white tuna” or “king tuna”.  It was tender because escolar has a lot of wax esters which are like indigestible triglycerides. Julienned Asian pear were placed on top of fish along with soy-citrus emulsion made of butter, lemon juice, lime juice and soy sauce.

The Wagyu beef was tender although slightly overcooked. Beef was served with Korean barbecue sauce made of garlic, ginger, onion, miso and Korean hot pepper paste. The sauce was delicious but not spicy.


In the middle of the plate, a chunk of braised cabbage (considered Le Bernardin’s in house kimchi) was covered by a piece of bah-choy. On the flavor side, my taste buds were confused. I was expecting authentic kimchi and the course served non-spicy cabbage (called kimchi on the menu). I would prefer at least a half-spicy real kimchi to enhance the taste.

7th Course, Exotic Fruit “Pavlova,” Roasted Pineapple, Guava Jam, Yuzu Coconut Sorbet
To replace Matcha – Green Tea Custard, Preserved Lychee, Jasmine Ice Cream

Roasted pineapple and guava were place at the bottom and covered by a thin layer of yuzu coconut ice cream. The top part was meringue covered by roasted almond slices and flanked by egg-white candy waffles. It was a good palette cleanser.

8th Course, Dark Milk Chocolate – Milk Chocolate Mousse, Dark Caramel, Candies Peanuts, Warm Malted Caramel

To replace the Apple – Ginger-Scented Apple “Bomb,” Warm Riccotta Financier

It was disappointing that Le Bernardin has stopped making its signature dessert “Hazelnut Praline Cake”. Years ago, when I first had it, my message probably was so loud that the server actually offered me a 2nd serving. Since it is no longer available on the menu, I chose a chocolate dessert instead. It was good, but I still think my favorite hazelnut praline cake was better. My server also brought me a scoop of passion fruit sorbet. I wished its flavor was a bit more intense and fuller. Years ago, Picholine used to make wonderful passion fruit dessert. Its dessert chef actually gave me the recipe, it required a lot of other ingredients besides the passion fruit purée.
After the dessert, there were 4 petit four items: green tea bon-bon, pistachio macaroon, apple cider jelly candy, and cherry financier.

At the end of 2nd course, I requested for my customized menu as I usually did at other fine dining restaurant. My server brought me a full set of menu including tasting menus and a la carte menu for the holidays and with a slight different price. I made a 2nd attempt to get my customized menu at the end of 5th course from a different server and got a full set of menu again. This 2nd set of menu, however, was for 1/2/16. After this 2nd attempt, I decided not to make another attempt to get my customized menu. I just could not believe that the server could not produce my customized menu.

At the end of meal, I would still consider it was a good meal, although nothing deserved a “wow” worthy a journey like the one I made to Da Vittoria recently. It seemed that Le Bernardin’s chef’s preferred profile has leaned toward light flavor instead of full and robust flavor. My latest dining experience at Le Bernadin reminded me of what I had at Daniel’s three years ago. Personally, by spending similar amount of money for the next fine dining occasion, I would consider going to other restaurants offering more flavor and creativity.