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  1. lxt


    Pan, I found that the quality is so consistent at Craftbar, that I am not afraid to say, “Enjoy,” whenever you decide to go. I would also call in advance to verify that the restaurant serves rabbit that day. It is certainly worth a special trip.
  2. lxt


    Schneier, considering that the specials are seasonal and change on a daily basis, there is no guarantee that the dishes I described will be still available by the time you have the opportunity to visit Craftbar. However, there are a couple of appetizers that are consistently good and are always on the menu. Roasted mussels served in their jus tinged with lemon are garnished with aioli, parsley and chives. The mussels are tender and sweet and deliver a very nice smoky flavor. The sharpness of the jus complements the mussels well. Also, Craftbar’s gnocchi of the day are generally excellent and echo the dish at Craft. We had chestnut gnocchi with a little gravy on the bottom and grated parmesan(?) cheese sprinkled on top. The two starches (chestnut and potato) complemented one another in texture and the sweet nuance of chestnut enriched the blandness of the potatoes with a delicate, almost undetectable syrupiness. If you order several appetizers along with gnocchi, I would suggest eating the gnocchi first as they have a tendency to melt quickly into their gravy. Today’s lunch was as good as usual. Grilled black sea bass stood out. It was served whole on the bone, with minimal intervention, and its delicate, tender flesh was endowed with the scent of herbs and butter.
  3. lxt


    Fat Guy, I hope we’ll hear more about Akhtar Nawab in the future. His imprint is quite distinctive and comes through strongly in his most creative dishes. Are there any rumors who will take Marco Conora’s place at Craft after Hearth is opened in November?
  4. lxt


    Craftbar -- preserving interior details of its parent, Craft next door, with its up-to-the-ceiling steel wine racks behind the long bar, funky industrial light bulbs attracting one’s attention with an elaborate zigzag pattern of thin sparkling threads captured in a transparent glass cocoon, wood tables and brick walls -- to most is just that, a bar, a place where one can chew on crisp breadsticks and slowly sip a glass of wine, letting the rest of the world go by while relaxing and watching through the window as strollers disappear over the horizon, or simply have a quick lunch snack before rushing back to endless hours of work, but there is a little more to this place. Four balls of heavily breaded, fried sage leaves stuffed with minced lamb strongly spiced with herbs, lending a sense of stylistic variation of Middle Eastern motifs to the traditional Italian interpretation, and a little overcooked squid, holding in its pockets finely chopped black olives, drizzled with black olive oil and a touch of lemon, didn’t seem to promise any gastronomic excitement during my lunch several weeks ago. Then, grilled striped bass served in tomato soup, which I ordered from the list of specials, was placed in front of me. Two rectangular pieces of slightly overcooked fish fillet were surrounded by “waters” of deep-orange tomato soup and crowned by tossed halved heirloom cherry(?) tomatoes. The sweetness of the broth was so pronounced that one could hardly doubt a little sugar was added for effect. To my surprise, however, the sweetness came exclusively from tomatoes. The broth was slightly thickened by almond flour, which along with black olive oil conveyed just a tiny bitterness as a wonderful counterpart to the natural sweetness of the soup. The last touch of sprinkled chives and diced cucumbers marinated in sherry vinegar added freshness and acidity and completed the composition. The dish was excellent, full of creative spontaneity, and stood out among the dishes on the menu. Several more visits proved the menu specials are little jewels, islands of chef’s imagination and creativity, a break through the constraints of mandatory sandwiches and an image of the restaurant as a mere bar. White bean soup, based on chicken broth and pesto, which added a vibrantly green color, had a very pronounced taste of basil rendering its meditative, sober fragrance and a scent of fallen leaves in woods still lingering overhead. The broth played a secondary role in the dish veiling and swathing the collage of diced carrots, squash, beans, zucchini and flat string beans that shone in all colors and flavors, delivering an acute taste of autumn bloom. It was an excellent rendition of the soup. A variation of classic lapin a la moutarde, rabbit braised for two hours in an intense chicken stock and glazed with mustard sauce, is probably one of my favorite dishes at Craftbar and was a much better version then the one served at Gramercy Tavern during my recent visit. It was not only the comfort and hearty solidity of excellent fare that the dish conveyed. It delivered a true joy of essential wholesomeness possible only when a dish is cooked with heart not hands. A very interesting dish of perfectly cooked cod and two codfish croquettes was served in a creamy though light almond milk with tiny bits of oysters. The fish was done very well: cooked lightly enough to bring out the sweetness but long enough to provide a brown, crispy buttery crust. The sauce lent a slightly sour taste enhanced by the notes of sea lingering from the oysters poached in it. Croquettes were tender despite their rough heavy-breaded “dress,” but added a little heaviness inconsistent with the concept of the dish, in my opinion. Carnival squash, ordered from the vegetable part of the menu, was a highlight of one of our meals. There could’ve been no plainer presentation of this vegetable: small, whole unpeeled squash cut in half and baked with a little bit of brown sugar and butter, but it was simply wonderful as if there were some trick involved to extract the extra flavor. The interior under the slightly caramelized top was not too mushy though soft, buttery and sweet. The skin had a somewhat smoky taste and was the best part of the vegetable. In a place where pretentious clientele must stop parading their label of superiority, where all are joined in one stream of plain, unassuming pleasure of comforting food and wine, where one might not be entertained in his every whim, I am especially grateful for the extra effort that the service made to accommodate my dietary restrictions preventing me from having desserts. An always-wonderful fruit plate was a perfect conclusion to my meals there. Among its bigger brothers promulgating the same cooking philosophy, Gramercy Tavern and more so Craft, Craftbar is my preferred place. Among the sandwiches and salami platters, one can always find a little bit of inspiration where the chef Akhtar Nawab spreads his wings and applies his craft.
  5. I may be a little late to this thread, but I found that it was not difficult to change a reservation in case one changes his mind. In terms of creativity, passion, excitement and value, I would strongly recommend the Sketch tasting menu (I have not visited Aikens, though he was recommended to us by the maître d’ at The Fat Duck, and my somewhat sad experience at Petrus is limited to one dinner only). I must agree with Paul de Gruchy that RHR provides a classical, steady, perfectly executed experience, with clear tastes and a well-thought-out progression of dishes that, as I mentioned it in my earlier notes, rather “calms your senses” than excites them. I disagree that the experience is not memorable, however. If you decide to stay with your current reservation and choose their seven-course Menu Prestige, which is also served for dinner, I would suggest examining their current desserts and consider a possible replacement as we did find the desserts included in the tasting quite uneventful. I’d be curious to try chef Ramsay’s signature dish of Crème Brûlée with Jus of Granny Smith or Caramelised Tarte Tatin instead of the Rum Pannacotta we were served. I would also strongly recommend a cheese platter – a simply unforgettable experience. Price comparison: Gordon Ramsay lunch: £35 for three course prix-fixe; lunch and dinner Menu Prestige £80 for seven courses plus one amuse. Sketch lunch: £48 for three-course prix-fixe. Actual dishes included: 5 amuses, 5 starters, 1 main course (a choice between two options), 4 desserts; two courses £42 Whichever your choice is, have a lovely lunch and please do report back on your experience.
  6. Vivre, thank you for the link. Your report was excellent indeed. I see now what prompted your original question. In the description of the meringue, you mentioned it being crunchy. The macaroon version sold at Wegmans, which claims a Herme’s association, had no crunchiness in the meringue at all. Also you seemed to be enamored of the passion-fruit macaroon, which I found less preferable than others at Wegmans. I wonder whether it is due to the difference in our personal tastes or a preparation technique. I’d be curious to hear from people who tried both versions. Did you have a chance to sample oil/vanila and caramel/fleur de sel macaroons since the time of your last report?
  7. Verbena, does it mean that each kitchen prepares its own set of desserts, and that the desserts prepared for the Sketch Parlour are not supplied upstairs to the Lecture room for instance? Also, would it be possible for you to give more details on why you found it "not that great a place to work," and whether you could attribute a certain level of disorganization to the fact that the place was just recently opened?
  8. Jonathan, my pleasure. The portions are much smaller than a stand-alone dessert usually served at Daniel, for instance. One appetizer plate possibly could fit three desserts easily. They are a little bigger than a tease, but not enough to be fully satisfying. In other words, the size of the desserts encourages one to order more than one. Though each dessert is sold individually, for the experience to be complete, I’d suggest sampling a variety, especially if you're making a meal of desserts. If one is to design his own tasting at Sketch, it can be compared to Jean George's approach (though I don't enjoy Jean George's desserts): a set of small desserts featuring one theme. The desserts at Sketch are designed and packaged, as Verbena noted, to be taken out easily. Aside from the size, this type of dessert is different in style and composition from a typical restaurant dessert, and I am not sure whether they are comparable. I’d be curious to know whether there are any other patisseries or restaurants in London, similar to New York’s ChikaLicious (which I have not visited yet), for instance, which deserve attention. As to the price, I agree with Verbena that it is quite expensive, and despite the level of thought, creativity and labor invested in each dessert, an average price of £12 did seem to be excessive. Garance - £12 K.J 32 - £11.50 Gariguette - £11.50 Victoria - £12 Baba - £12 Zanzibar - £13 Castanea - £13 Avelina - £12 Caraibe - £13
  9. Roz, along with pastries, Sketch Parlour also serves lunch from noon to 3 p.m. I would certainly be curious to give it a try the next time I am in London and up for a light lunch. Here are a couple of examples. All spelling (quite poor) and typography is that of the menu. Jakob’s (18) Smoked salmon rolled with fresh chesse, served with barley, green lentils, pak choy, seasoning olives oil and lemon juice. Crispy bread and fresh herbs. Mix salad (16.50) Organic babies salad and fresh shredded carrots, courgettes, tomatoes. French beans. On the side 3 sauces: mustard, stilton, tarragon vinaigrette. Euros sandwich (18) Italian bread, aubergine caviar, tuna-tomatoe-basil. English loaf toasted, cheddar, bacon, cream. Duck smoked salmon, chestnut bread. French baguette, cooked ham, butter. Etc… I am sure the menu has changed since then. Also, each dining room, be it patisserie, bar or the second floor dining room, has a separate kitchen. However, I am not sure whether pastry production is not centralized.
  10. Vivre, thank you. Unfortunately, my limited acquaintance with the Herme products doesn't extend beyond their chocolate line, which, when bought by weight and individually, is absolutely delightful and the delicious tiny macaroons called “Nicolettes” from Wegmans in the US. Since we passed on the two macaroon pastries suggested at Sketch, I can’t make a valid comparison. The nicolettes I tried at Wegmans included vanilla (my absolute favorite), chocolate (second favorite), raspberry and passion fruit. The tiny, round, plump macaroons were semi-soft with a luscious fruit or other padding sandwiched in between. I found the passion fruit stuffing too acidic with an artificial tang and raspberry filling seemed to be too sweet and rather reminded me of a cheap raspberry jam. However, vanilla filling was subtle, smooth and luscious and complemented the macaroon flavor wonderfully. My only disappointment with the Herme chocolate was with my buying a prepackaged box, which, despite the firm assurance of the sales lady, turned out to be a complete fiasco. The chocolate was stale and tough, demonstrating that the Herme name is no guarantee of quality, or at least freshness. Can you tell a little more about Pierre Herme’s pastries in Paris and what similarities with Sketch you find based on the description?
  11. Not at all, ahr. The desserts were made in such a fashion that sugar didn’t seem to be the main element to amplify the flavoring. It served as a background and wasn’t powerful enough to neutralize one’s taste buds from one dessert to another, let alone “hurt one’s teeth.” Each dessert had a theme, and if it was a fruit dessert, the fruit, presented in different textures, dominated the flavor. Even the non-fruit desserts seemed to balance the sugar and the theme of the dessert very well. I could've had another round of these little treasures with no problem at the time.
  12. While we gazed out in fascination through the window of our bus, our tour guide-- a cheerful, red-headed, tiny middle-aged woman, lacking several front teeth --counted us like chickens, shamelessly thrusting her finger in our faces, binding everyone on the bus with the invisible rope of absolute faith that defines a community embarking on cultural exploration. A quick mazurka through the harmony of the immortal spirit of man with God at St. Paul, a light polka amongst the tombs of triumphant Westminster Abbey, a rushed gallop through the magnificent history and art of Windsor Castle all ended with the words of our guide, “If you liked the tour, my name is Jane. If you didn’t, my name is Mary,” and the bus spit us out near Victoria Station at 2:00 p.m. “I want Thai,” said my consort in a voice barely above a whisper, but which was at once forceful and pleading. It seemed that a compromise was a better solution than a confrontation in that situation, and voila, after a mediocre lunch, my turn for a wish came, and we set off to sample little pleasures from The Sketch Parlour. The patisserie, located on the ground floor of the restaurant, had a certain charm. It reminded me of a dollhouse with miniature furnishings, accessories, and dainty pastries sparkling with all colors of the rainbow under the long glass counter right across from the wide-open entrance. The restrained exuberance of neoclassicism, encasing the Louis XVI–style within its contemporary shell -- where slenderness of proportion was emphasized in light wood furniture, and delicate blue-gray, pastel tones dominated the room and ornaments of carved flowers on the chairs’ velvet and wall mirrors; where crystal chandeliers were enclosed in clear plastic cylinders, and symmetrical, oval frames painted on the walls contained motifs of rough stones instead of puffy cherubs -- seemed not too kitschy, and we settle down at the back of the room at one of the tables surfaced with embossed grayish ladies and gentlemen having tea. We had nine little delights, and each of them had a character and a theme. - Garance (raspberry marmelade, diced litchees, white chocolat sheet, genoise and rose syrup, diplomate cream with rose water, quince jelly with rose water) Any bird or butterfly could be seduced by this dessert’s bursting, stunning colors that would complement most every garden color theme. The dessert was served in a small glass, and each element, indicated in the menu’s description, was presented as a separate layer of color, flavor and texture. A deep-red raspberry marmalade was a base of the dessert and resided on the bottom of the glass. Fragrantly sweet, but not syrupy, with a subtly tart overtone, the fluffy marmalade contained droplets of almost fresh raspberries. A profoundly light-purple jelly with big chunks of translucent blue-white litchee pulp, the sweetness of which contrasted with the tartness of the raspberries very well, rested on top and was covered by a thin disc of white chocolate serving as a base for a thin layer of delicate, buttery sponge cake saturated with rose scent. Custardy diplomat cream, made of very light pastry cream and whipped cream, continued to convey rose perfume bringing luscious smoothness to the dessert. Vibrantly orange quince jelly bound the taste of the apple with the rose wonderfully and was crowned by a deep-violet addable flower. When all elements were eaten together, the blend of earth, exotic bloom of passion and rose was enrapturing. This dessert was only slightly sweet, so as not to overpower the natural taste of fruit and flower, with rose scent dominating the theme, leaving an impression just short of divinity. Garance - K.J 32 (low calories, rhubarb and green apple pulp) This dessert was served in a glass. A bottom layer of brownish jelly, thickened with thin strings of rhubarb, was topped with tiny, white cubes of apple and dark-green, slightly gelatinized apple purée with tiny dots of green apple skin, and was crowned by a triangular piece of green melon. There was an interesting counterbalance of very light sweetness, salt and spice in the dessert. However, though we thought that the dessert had an interesting concept of mixing sweet and savory flavors, we didn’t find it special. K.J 32 - Gariguette (strawberries, blackcurrant, grapes, blueberries, pomegranat, lemon jelly. This jelly dessert was presented in a glass. My grandmother used to make a compote of whatever fruit were available from her garden. The trick was to cook the fruit just enough to extract their maximum flavor into the liquid without making them mushy and losing their individual flavors. I enjoyed stealing the fruit from her compotes. This dessert brought all these memories back. Ruby red, the dessert had layers, indistinguishable in color, of each fruit mentioned in the menu description and was topped with a bouquet of fresh fruit. This was a nice, but not an exceptional dessert. Gariguette - Victoria (spicy cooked pineapple, diced fresh pineapple, coconut dacquoise) This dessert, served in a glass, had a bottom layer of intense pineapple purée, lending a hint of curry, with shreds of fresh pineapple. A middle layer of passion fruit cream custard, with passion fruit seeds, topped with a thin sheet of transparent passion fruit jelly crowned with caramelized orange peel, rested on top of coconut cake. This was a very nice dessert indeed. Victoria - Baba (traditional French baba au rhum, refresh (sic) with mango and vanilla cream) This was a good dessert with the traditional baba au rhum notes and a mango twist. Smooth, deep, dark-orange, fresh mango purée was on the bottom of the glass in which the dessert was served. The next layer of snow-white vanilla cream was enriched with rum, leaking from the saturated thin cake above it. The cake was topped with another layer of mango and a thin glaze of rum jelly. A caramelized, though still plump, moist and deliciously fragrant vanilla pod completed the composition. The combination of a predominantly mango flavor and rum was very appealing. Baba - Zanzibar (shortbread pastry, passion cream, passion jelly and sweet angelica) A small, elegant basket, made of a thin, buttery, crumbly crust, so good that it could be enjoyed on its own, was filled with a base of passion fruit cream covered with passion fruit jelly and fruit seeds and topped by pomegranate jelly swathing fresh pomegranate seeds. A half of a pale-green, sweet angelica candy with a refreshing and minty taste was set in the center of the dessert. This dessert was very good, though I didn’t care much for the candy. Zanzibar - Castanea (chestnut shortbread, chestnut cream, caramel nougat and quince mousse) A rectangular, crunchy shortbread was covered with light-beige, slightly acidic, creamy quince mousse and light-brown, buttery and smooth chestnut cream separated from each other by a thin sheet of dark chocolate. Caramel nougat, set atop and shining with dark-orange-brown caramel glaze, was crunchy and lent a very distinct nutty taste. The combination of nut, chestnut and caramel flavors offset by the freshness of the quince fruit and enriched by a hint of chocolate worked out just wonderfully. This was one of the desserts we enjoyed greatly. Castanea - Avelina (pate a chou, praline cream, glazing praline and chopped nougat) An elongated, oblong pastry, that is an éclair, was filled with light-brown praline custard and iced with caramel/praline glaze sprinkled with tiny bits of chopped nougat. The pastry was quite delicate and gave just a slight crunch with each bite. The praline cream was so intense that it overwhelmed our senses with the taste of toasted nuts where sweetness played a secondary, offsetting role. The praline glaze added a tint of saltiness to the dessert and the crunchy bits of nougat gave a taste of real chopped nuts. Despite the similarity in main ingredients between this dessert and the Castanea, the Avelina delivered a completely different combination of flavors, which we enjoyed tremendously. Avelina We saved a rich chocolate Caraibe (shortbread cacao, creamy chocolate, chocolate biscuit and ganache chocolate) for the last. A relatively thin, long, rectangular, crispy shortbread cacao base served as a foundation for a dense but creamy and velvety chocolate ganache, topped by a layer of biscuit and light-brown, smooth and shiny chocolate mousse in between chocolate sheets. A slightly bitter aftertaste seemed to have neutralized the potential cloying sweetness of the dessert. For chocolate lovers, this dessert was a real diamond. Caraibe Conclusion: Only a person who was pampered by his mother, indulging her child’s every whim by making wonders with pastries and cakes daily, only a person whose mother’s unconditional love was expressed in nothing less than putting a jar of home-made jam by her child’s bed in case he or she should feel an inexplicable urge for something sweet at night without having to take a long walk to the kitchen, only this person would understand the intensity and passion with which one is drawn to a pastry shop window and which can be compared only to the fervor with which some women are drawn to windows displaying jewelry. My expectations of Sketch were high, and they were certainly met. A master with fruit, Gagnaire managed to present light yet intense, delicate yet vivid desserts. A procession of fruit desserts where each one was more seductive than the next wasn’t tiring but exuberating to our senses. The lavishness and extravagance of other desserts nourished our taste buds with luxury and sumptuousness. However, I feel that any verbal interpretation of the little delights we sampled may not be adequate and in the end his creations must have the last word.
  13. Several days ago, I said, “au revoir” to another year of my life. Unfortunately, circumstances did not allow the family to celebrate my “achievement” out, so I cooked dinner based on recipes from Gordon Ramsay’s “Gordon Ramsay. A chef for all seasons” at home. I am always curious to experiment in my own kitchen with recipes provided by chefs of the restaurants I have visited to see how close I can get to the real thing and how well my outcome will reflect the spirit of a restaurant. I must say that we certainly relived our Gordon Ramsay experience. We had: Spinach velouté soup with goat’s cheese quenelles. The vivaciously green, smooth soup thickened by potato and cream was full of subtle spinach sweetness, lacking the bitter notes the vegetable sometimes lends. A ball of goat cheese mixed with chives, positioned in the center of the plate, upon melting, left lusciously creamy lines on the warm liquid. Fresh and delicate, the soup needed to be seasoned carefully without overpowering the spinach flavor, while still relieving the blandness of the vegetable. The fresh goat cheese, when combined with mascarpone, lost its goaty aroma and lent a pleasantly sour and nutty flavor. What a simple and elegant dish! Pepper and tomato soup with crab cocktail. Since the broth seemed too strong, overpowering the delicate sweetness of the crab, I therefore rearranged the accent of this dish to stress the crab, using the pepper and tomato broth only as a sauce. A cylinder of seafood cocktail, the bottom layer of which calmed the eye with brightly green avocado serving as a podium for the tenderly pink shreds of crabmeat moistened and topped with pale-pink, mayo-based sauce, rested in the dazzlingly orange, thick, pepper/tomato sauce. It was a nice progression of flavors from the smooth, buttery avocado to the distinct flavor of the crab and finally to the mildly sharp, lime-sour, slightly bitter, thin layer of the mayo-based sauce. The crabmeat was mixed with apples and this combination, which seems to be favored by chef Ramsay and which reminded us of the lobster bisque we had at RHR, worked just wonderfully. It was sweetness that was in the center of the dish: the tender, oceanic sweetness of crab; the light and gentle, earthy sweetness of apple; and the strong, penetrating sweetness of fresh, ripe tomatoes and peppers. It was a symphony of colors and flavors; the dish was complex and simple at the same time and tasted just superb. Fricassée of scallops and girolles with lettuce sauce. I changed this dish slightly to reflect the ingredients that were available to me at the time. Girolles were replaced by a bouquet of wild mushrooms, and the lettuce sauce was enriched by bits of smoky bacon, which according to the recipe should’ve been discarded. Several plump scallops rested on a bed of sautéed mushrooms encircled by the lettuce/bacon sauce. The scallops were extremely sweet and curry powder gave them a slightly pungent hint. It was the sauce that really bound all components together. The smoky taste of bacon along with the freshness of the lettuce was powerful, but didn’t seem to overwhelm the scallops, rather stressing their sweetness. It melded with the mushrooms and the dish was best appreciated when all the elements were taken together. Does anyone know whether the above dishes were ever on Gordon Ramsay’s menu or were they designed to satisfy home cooks only?
  14. Mogsob, your comment reminded me of a thought I had at the Matisse/Picasso exhibition. It was then when I was struck by the contrast between the personalities of the artists and the temperaments of their creations. For a man with insatiable curiosity, boundless ambition and a notoriously difficult but fervent temperament; for a man whose passion was formed by landscapes of startling contrasts between breathtaking scenes of indescribable beauty of beaches and mountains of his home-town Málaga; for a man giving full rein to every impulse of his passionate temperament in his personal life and who once said that, “Every time I change wives, I should burn the last one. That way I’d be rid of them. They wouldn’t be around now to complicate my existence. Maybe that would bring back my youth, too. You kill the woman and you wipe out the past she represents,” Picasso's tendency of expressing his talent through perfectly calculated, restrained, mathematically arranged multidimensional images, through lines and shapes was always a mystery to me. On the other hand, slow and methodical Mattisse, with an analytical and measured temperament, enjoyed round forms and ardently bright colors. Perhaps every talented man expresses in his creations the subconscious, the other side of himself that was never revealed to the outside world, in his restless and repetitive efforts to re-create himself.
  15. Carlovski, I am glad you enjoyed my description.
  16. Samantha, I agree with you regarding the quail egg. It certainly made the dish look appealing, adding color to the mostly brown-reddish tone, but like you, I thought that the egg didn’t add anything else to the dish, unless it was intended to be eaten separately from the meat. Had it been beef tartare, then the quail egg would’ve been nice.
  17. The minute difference between the inexorable destiny of fate and the mercy of the great invisible combine of luck was promising enough for us to submit ourselves to the whim of that fuzzy notion of good fortune and call the restaurant only several days in advance in an attempt to secure a reservation. Perhaps it does rain on the just and the unjust alike or my consort's relentless charm overwhelmed the reasoning of the lady on the other end of the line, but we received a gracious offer to lunch at Gordon Ramsay at 2:15 p.m. one day the next week. Strolling slowly along the swept and slightly prim corners of Chelsea after a spring rain, with the pavement flashing steel, reflecting the pure sapphire of the parting clouds and charming, dark-red brick buildings, with well-manicured yards exploding with silent but sweetly fragrant fireworks of spring flowers, a thought ran through our minds that to a Londoner in exile this quaint site must just set off an almost unbearable nostalgia that is both of the senses and of the mind. The restaurant, with its discreet exterior camouflaged well among the rest of the buildings on its block, would not have stood out if not for an aubergine canopy, hailing bystanders to take a peek through the restaurant’s window. As we walked in, an unremarkable, narrow corridor, with a painted blue wall featuring playful male figures on one side and opaque overlapping glass panels separating the entrance from the main dining room on the other, seemed in retrospect to be incongruous with the artistic milieu of the restaurant. It led to a small foyer, with a bar at the back wall and three couches with a coffee table in the center, which rather reminded us of a waiting room in the dentist’s office. Our table was not yet ready, so we plunged into the cushiony comfort of one of the eggplant-dark-brown couches, perfect for a night by the fireplace with a cozy blanket and fuzzy slippers, but a little too deep and low for a knee-length dress and high heels. A tall, slender Maitre d', radiating an aura of dignified and distant though not stiff confidence, inquired into our comfort and presented us with the wine and lunch menus. Shortly, a little delight of garlicky cream cheese infused with bits of black truffles and toasted baguette rounds on the side appeared on the corner of our coffee table to help us while away our time. “Right this way madam,” we heard a soft and welcoming voice beckon behind our backs, and soon we were occupying a cozy, round corner table to the left of the dining room entrance and directly across from the service station. The table location provided a nice view of the small dining area (with no more than twelve-to-fourteen tables) that seemed to express a restrained contemporary genre with a relatively low pyramidal ceiling and recessed lights and four wall niches hosting beautiful, large art pieces of multicolored glass of a face, two perfume bottles and a round plate, combined with the classical touches of the wooden wall panels and striped beige wallpaper. It was a comforting but not inspiring interior design. Our choice was the Menu Prestige served for lunch and dinner, consisting of seven courses: two appetizers, two main dishes and three desserts. The amuse of Chilled lobster bisque, mango and Granny Smith apples was a nice way to start our lengthy feast. Even the strong lingering taste of garlic and truffles from the previous amuse couldn’t suppress the intensity of the slightly cold, bright yellow-orange broth, which delivered a wonderfully rich lobster flavor without the heaviness of most bisques. It was served in a small white soup cup, with cubes of green apples floating atop, roofed by a nicely toasted, thin piece of bread saturated with lobster oil. It was an interesting twist on a more traditional hearty bisque made with roux and laced with cream, turned into a light and refreshing, smooth summer soup where the enduring oceanic bitterness of fish oil was offset by the delicate sweetness of the earthy apples, adding a crunch to the soft and tender shreds of lobster and langoustine meat dwelling on the bottom of the soup cup. First Course: Mosaïque of foie gras with confit and smoked goose. This was a very nice appetizer. A long, rectangular piece of foie gras terrine, with a light-beige and rosy-pink color, was nicely marbled with alternating horizontal and wavy, dark-brown veins of fig confit and thin sheets of smoked goose. Several tubes of crunchy green beans, marinated golden girolles, a parsley flower and two shavings of white truffle, which were drizzled with oil, were spread alongside the terrine encircled by a thin line of bittersweet balsamic vinegar reduction. The creamy but compressed foie gras had a very mild flavor, coating the tongue with its butteriness and velvet, serving as a foil for the paper-thin, soft and tender goose prosciutto with its much stronger, salty and smoky taste. The slight sweetness of the fig confit, on the other hand, was complementary and added a nice sharpness to the smooth flavor of the foie gras. The white truffles were disappointingly bland, lacking that penetrating scent redolent of ground and wood, but the balance of salt and sweetness, smoothness and sharpness in the foie gras was just wonderful. Second Course: Ravioli of lobster and langoustine with a tomato chutney and lobster vinaigrette. One large, plump ravioli with a wrinkled and medium-thick perky skin, looking like a ballerina’s tutu or a cheerful sunflower, was positioned in the center of the plate surrounded by several dark-brown, thin circles of lobster vinaigrette and was topped with a blob of bloody-red tomato chutney with a proudly inserted sprig of parsley. A stuffing of very fine cubes of lobster, langoustines and salmon mixed with herbs (chervil, tarragon and basil), bound by salmon mousse, was sweet and moist with a distinctly dominant but very delicate taste of lobster, and was wrapped in dough that was surprisingly silky and tender, considering its relative thickness. The tomato chutney added acidity and counterbalanced the sweetness of the meat, and the thick vinaigrette reduction provided saltiness and an intense and concentrated lobster flavor. Each element of this wonderful appetizer was well measured (dough thickness vs. stuffing; the amount of each ingredient in the stuffing) and flavors were balanced to perfection to create an ideal equilibrium of clear taste. Third Course: Roasted baby turbot with asparagus and a smoked haddock velouté. A roasted fillet of nicely browned turbot with a blob of pale celery mousse was set atop sautéed lettuce and crowned with several fried parsley flowers. The fish rested in a puddle of creamy haddock sauce poured at the table and sprinkled with flakes of chopped fresh parsley. Several transparent, crispy celery cubes were tossed around the plate for completeness. The fish was slightly overdone, so that the firm, glistening, white flesh separated into distinct, large flakes; that same overcooking also seemed to allow the full flavor of the turbot to be developed and concentrated the sweetness of a generally delicate and subtle fish. The creamy haddock sauce with small oily pools was intense and complemented the fish well. The mousse echoed the creaminess of the sauce though it differed in texture, where the heaviness of the mousse was enriched by the freshness of celery and the lightness of the cream by the intensity of haddock fumé. It was a nice dish, but it left me a little cold. Fourth Course: Roasted cannon of Cornish lamb with confit shoulder, Provençal vegetables and thyme jus. A small piece of roasted red pepper rested on a hill of eight overlapping medallions of lamb shank gathered in a circle and set atop lamb shoulder confit. Three large black olives, two halves of cherry tomato, two whole roasted shallots and four green beans were carefully positioned around the lamb edifice. A dark-brown vegetable jus, upon being poured at the table, released a wonderful thyme aroma and permeated the senses rapturously. The lamb medallions were rare inside which was manifested in the beautiful dark-pink color in the center that changed to a lighter tone closer to the edge. The moist and tender meat had a very mild taste and was only lightly seasoned to let the vegetables express their flavor in full. Indeed, the brightly red and perfectly ripe mini-tomato, shaped like a teardrop, just burst with flavor filling my mouth with tangy sweetness and the whole bouquet of earth, garden and Spring perfume, which triggered the most pleasant childhood memories of my grandmother’s garden, and which I wasn’t able to recreate in the US. This dish was subtle, done perfectly, and I certainly enjoyed it. Fourth Course: Fillet of Scottish beef with onion Lyonnaise, fried quail egg and an Hermitage sauce This dish was the most memorable and enjoyable of the whole evening. The contrast in the intensity between the lamb and the beef dishes (the subtle motifs of the lamb and the exploding flavors of the beef) was dramatic. A bulky round cylinder of beef glistening with moisture, resting on a bed of off-white onion confit and surrounded by two halves of small roasted onion sat in a medium-thick wine reduction sauce with sautéed white(?) trumpets and was topped by the brightly yellow eye of the small quail egg cooked sunny side up. The meat was simply unsurpassed with its outstanding intense flavor, succulence and tenderness and had a perfect balance of fat and lean. It was cooked medium-rare and was almost rare inside so that the juices were released as the knife reached the center of the fillet. The sweetness of the onion confit nicely counterbalanced the slight bitterness of the wine sauce enriched by the peppery and nutty flavor of the trumpets. I didn’t care much for the quail egg. The dish was simple and simply perfect. We drank a bottle of 1998 Clos de Vougeot, Grand Cru Domaine Drouhin-Laroze. To refresh our palates, before our desserts, we ordered a cheese course consisting of five different kinds selected from the cheese cart rolled to our table. It was the most sublime experience. Most unfortunately, I couldn’t locate my notes and therefore can only generally rhapsodize on the exquisite and remarkable freshness, incredible richness and ripeness and taste and texture of all the cheeses we tried and would insist that one must not bypass the cheese course at Gordon Ramsay as it delivers merely the best. Besides, after all, “a dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye." (Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin) Dessert 1: Rum pannacotta with red fruits. This dessert was not very interesting. Off-white pannacotta in a bright-red berry soup was decorated with a caramelized, dry, thin slice of star fruit. The dry piece of star fruit still maintained its original flavor that was a cross between an apple and a grape, but mostly played an ornamental role. Though the pannacotta was creamy and airy, with a refreshing eggy taste, and the berry soup, with its dominant flavor of strawberry, provided a nice sweet and sour counterbalance, there was not enough flavor to offset the relative blandness of the pannacotta, in our opinion. Dessert 2: Caramelized pineapple with natural yoghurt. A tall, narrow glass was half filled with dark-yellow pineapple purée and the other half with snow-white yogurt and topped with pineapple chip crowned by caramelized parsley. A coriander tuille leaned against the glass. The pineapple chip was sweet and acidic and left an aftertaste of bitterness and spice. The yogurt had no sweetness at all and had to be eaten together with the other elements: Just take the coriander tuille and scoop the yogurt with the pineapple purée. It’ll taste just wonderful. This was a light, moderately sweet and rather refreshing dessert. Dessert 3: Chocolate partfait with milk ice cream and raspberry sauce. This was a nice dessert. A dark chocolate cylinder dusted with cocoa powder was topped with an oval scoop of unflavored ice cream and a thin dark chocolate straw balanced on top of the structure. Two perfect raspberries, a blob of raspberry sauce and a thin, artistically curled chocolate line drawn on a plate completed the composition. The surprise came when my fork plunged into the chocolate cylinder revealing that under the dark chocolate robe dwelled dense but airy, white chocolate mousse. The ice cream had a little salty counterbalance to its light sweetness and the raspberry sauce’s acidity complemented the chocolate very well. Petit fours of orange madeleine(?), two white chocolate balls filled with raspberry ice cream and chocolate truffles filled with salty caramel sauce brought our fête galante to an end. Aside from one more table of the cheerful young crowd, we were the last ones to leave the restaurant. A silent choreography of waiters in black and white, performing their well-rehearsed dances while cleaning and preparing tables for that night’s round of “carnival,” was light and elegant. Just outside this respectable establishment the casual took over. We saluted a couple of young waiters who, only five minutes ago, flew around the room on their tippy toes and now were casually sipping coke on a sidewalk. The weather outside tempted one with its caressing sunshine, promising a long, pleasant walk. Conclusion: After having been overwhelmed by the Modernism of Gagnaire’s cuisine with its new vocabulary of flavors resting solidly on the eternal and the immutable, and the Rayonism of Blumenthal’s approach with its premeditated use of the uncustomary in which the forms, ingredients and elements are the result of rigid intellectual application and selection, Ramsay’s clear and unpretentious approach, with its inherent qualities of harmony, symmetry and balance, where the dissonant always resolves into the consonant and dishes are never strident and bring out the flavors of each ingredient to its ultimate, lent calmness to our senses and steadiness to our minds.
  18. Michael, If we are making musical parallels here, Bach’s genius came not from bold original plunges but from producing what was properly expected. He, in fact, insisted that the composer was essentially a craftsman. As the French biologist Buffon observed “Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” Bach worked within the brackets of his own time and only with the forms and the ideas that that particular time offered. He felt no compulsion to open up new paths and possibilities. Do we regard him less for it? Blumenthal’s technique is creative enough to gain him acknowledgement among the current avant-garde chefs, but more importantly his “being a sublime technician” assures him the place among the chefs deserving attention. Whether you or I consider him progressive or static is another question. Self-promotion, whether one considers it undignified, is a valid means of assuring business, as long as the chef doesn't promote lies. I have not seen any misrepresentations by Chef Blumenthal. His openness in providing access to his technique and his collaboration with scientists is quite intriguing. Whether the praise is exaggerated or not is up to the future as time will sort it out, but as of today, and aside from arguing whether his cuisine is the best in the world or even in London, the food served by Chef Blumenthal is delicious, exciting and interesting and certainly deserves attention. Therefore back to the real question: Do you enjoy eating the man's food?
  19. The gazpacho at Arpege is tomato-based and puréed whereas at the Fat Duck the broth is thin and is based on cabbage and beetroot. The mustard ice cream is the only component that links the two versions of the gazpacho together. While I may in fact enjoy Arpege's rendition even more, I see nothing wrong in taking the idea and enhancing it with more inventiveness. In fact, if we follow the rationale of not borrowing ideas for further development, progress would come to a halt, and for instance you would have to prevent any restaurant from modifying chocolate mousse so that it could never be called a signature dish in more than one restaurants. The list goes on. Michael, other issues aside, what is your opinion of the dishes at the Fat Duck and the way they taste?
  20. Jon, my original point was that though the combination of flavors may not sound too traditional at the Fat Duck, the way they taste does. I must agree with Jonathan in this regard. That is what I found interesting in Chef Blumenthal’s approach. For instance, coffee seems to be an unusual ingredient when utilized as a spice nowadays. However, in the 16th century coffee was used by the Aztecs exactly as that: It was mixed with chili pepper. Cocoa is used by Chef Blumenthal as a spice and as a bitter counterpart to other spices. The marriage is quite acceptable and instead of creating new tastes, his approach seems to enhance existing, traditional ones. Other than little delights like a red pepper lollypop, I didn’t find the flavors too experimental. All of the dishes tasted good and not unusual at all. I agree that two years is a long time for the menu not to change even if the existing dishes are in the constant process of being improved and modified. However, is it so unusual for a restaurant not to renew its menu on a constant basis? What about Café Boulud’s menu or Gagnaire’s tasting menu?
  21. The same is said about Nice (a place favored by Russians for centuries as documented by our literary scholars). Considering that the bureaucracy is still flourishing in Russia and that in order to get things done one must employ a tremendous amount of energy directed toward bribery and cheating and at times requires an association with certain criminal elements, I would be reluctant in applying the term “Russian aristocracy” to the current wave of New Russians who managed to accumulate great wealth. However, their children may well be that foundation as many of them conquer Oxford and Sorbonne and are exposed to the world’s culture and best manners. The Russian aristocracy as we knew it (highly educated, well mannered and honorable) was almost fully eradicated after the insanity of the Revolution. The ones who survived became a foundation of Russian intelligentsia dwelling in poverty. I don’t think that the situation has changed much, though I may be wrong. I would be inclined to compare the current situation in Russia to the Prohibition times in America when the children of gangsters, secured by the money of their parents, moved up society's ladder afterwards.
  22. Jonathan, pelmeni traditionally are dumplings stuffed with minced meat and boiled in water or soup. The only variation pertains to a different stuffing. Pirogi, on the other hand, have a pastry wrapping and are usually stuffed with meat, cheese, seafood, sautéed sour cabbage or mushrooms and baked. I can only conclude that the menu had an error in its description as there is no other connotation for pelmeni, at least not one of which I am aware.
  23. Jonathan, thank you so much for your report. I’ve been curious about the gastronomic developments in my motherland for quite some time, but wasn’t convinced enough that it was time for a visit. In fact, Tony Bourdain’s miserable adventures in St. Petersburg convinced me that it wasn’t, though I had some suspicions that the food had to be better in Moscow. Oh that “Moscow smell,” with smoke so intense that the only antidote to its perfume was to drown into ones own cloud of cigarette smoke, or that “distinctly lavatorial aroma” (you did make me laugh) to which one (and I must respectfully disagree with you on this account) can never get accustomed. The architecture is beautiful indeed, but St. Petersburg is my favorite in that regard. I left Russia at a time when knowledge about turbot and its taste was accessible only through third-party experience, that is, primarily through the documentation of its taste in the classical literature. For instance, reading about Oblonsky’s turbot with sauce Beaumarchais and capons a l'estragon in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” was quite inspiring. One of the common expressions at my time was: “Let’s talk about shrimps with those who ate them” which sadly became colloquial and was applied in general terms. As private entrepreneurship became possible and the iron curtain separating Russia from the rest of the world was lifted, many people managed to accumulate great wealth and set foot outside of their own country‘s borders, bringing back more refined tastes and demands and forcing culinary revival on their old country. In fact, a friend of mine just came back from Japan and mentioned that to his surprise he saw many stores and even restaurants with Russian translations, indicating that Russian tourism in Japan has grown dramatically. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a culinary revival is currently developing and penetrating the Russian market. I don’t think there is anything to export just yet, but it is nice to hear that Russian cuisine has started taking the first next steps in its evolution.
  24. I certainly wouldn’t characterize the food at the Fat Duck as toy food. I think that the base dishes were as serious (though not necessarily at the identical level) as one would find at Jean George, as to complexity, or Sketch, as to creativity. For instance, the roast scallop at the Fat Duck could be compared to J-G’s signature scallop with caramelized cauliflower and caper-raisin emulsion. Both starters and both main dishes were elaborate, but quite strong on the basic level as well, and tasted very good. I found this cuisine not only innovative, but also well balanced, where all elements fit and worked together well. I think that if you are looking for clear flavors with a straightforward and simple preparation and minimalist approach, the Fat Duck is not for you, but I certainly considered this cuisine to be serious and look forward to trying other dishes on the menu. The toy dishes were, however, all intermezzos (or interludes as Duncan said) with the main purpose to clear one’s palate. They were playful and hardly serious, indeed. You had to switch your mind from serious to playful in between the courses. Despite the fact that these dishes performed their role, to clear one’s palate, perfectly, I can see how they could’ve detracted from the natural progression of the main courses. Nonetheless, behind this playfulness and the theatrical rituals, which I didn’t favor, stood a serious, innovative, interesting and tasty cuisine.
  25. No, we weren’t submitted to this torture, fortunately. Duncan, what course did require blindfolding?
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