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Everything posted by Culinista

  1. As long as you are going to Bray, you may want to stop by the Hind's Head. Insist on having the triple-cooked chips, although the kitchen may claim to be out. The quaking pudding is also a very interesting revival of a historic recipe. Waterside Inn is not worth a stop. Le Gavroche was awful, although some people seem to like it. Hibiscus is the one of the best fine dining in London ATM, although I have yet to try the new Helene Darroze at the Connaught. Gordon Ramsey RHR is solid. Had wonderful crisped confit pig's cheeks at St. John last week, but some dishes can be hit or miss (like the braised chitterlings with beets). It is certainly one of the more interesting London restaurants, but not if you are coming from France or Spain. These countries do offal better. Umu is one of my favorite restaurants in town, but it is not of the quality of the American top Japanese places like Masa or Urasawa in terms of sushi, let alone the good places in Japan. However, the Kyoto-style kaiseki dishes can be very interesting, and it is the top Japanese in Europe IMO.
  2. The garden produce at Don Alfonso is outstanding and meals can be very good if the kitchen is "on," but unfortunately Don A is in semi-retirement and his sons are taking over. The food has taken some unfortunate turns in the effort to modernize, while the frumpy dining room is in far more need of it. We were particularly disappointed in the fish casserole. Far better were anything involving tomatoes or veggies, like the veggie tempura, the nettle ricotta gnocchi, or the vesuvius rigatoni. The family, however, is outstandingly hospitable, and it would be great to see the kitchen back on form. One place I love is Nonna Rosa near Sorrento, particularly the eggplant 4 ways and the homemade filled pastas, and my favorite Neapolitan pizza is Pizzaiolo del Presidente in Napoli.
  3. I would hesitate to bring wine because of the airline prohibitions on liquids in checked baggage, plus the weight and fragility in checked luggage. I would also not bring meats or fresh fruits and vegetables. A young student will not be able to buy alcohol in the airport duty free. What about chocolate chip cookies, preserves, or beautiful linen tea towels? Kids may enjoy typical American snacks and candies. T-shirts should be small or medium. I remember my Japanese host family was seriously into luxury brands, so the label was important.
  4. My BCN friend tells me there is a deal in the works for Sánchez Romera to open restaurants in Dubai and Vegas as well. Just a rumor, but that is what the Internet is for.
  5. Have you seen the cookbook "Manifest Destiny"? It shows you how to cook on your car engine--with mileage instead of cooking times I have a Japanese butane grill burner for tabletop and mobile cooking. Comes in handy when there is no stove.
  6. No, it wasn't a hostess bar. It was in a big luxury hotel--well known international chain-- where the meeting is being held. No name tags. I figured it was con artists, but I was wondering if it was possible they were in cahoots with the restaurant. JohhnyH, you can keep the strange women and their big bar tabs!
  7. In countries like Japan or Italy or Spain, you can eat extremely well for $5 or $500. I've also eaten miserably for $300 without wine. Price is not always an indication of gastronomic return. Replying to your question, price is not an issue with us, and we are willing to pay a lot for good food. Paying the big bucks (the record so far is £2,000 per person with astonishing wines for a fantastic lunch and only so-so dinner at a private gastronomic event) does not guarantee bliss. You pays your money and takes your chances. In a restaurant, Arpege is the most expensive meal we've had in Europe (280 euros per person without wine), Masa in NY the most expensive in the US ($350 per person, food only), and we have paid $700 per person without drinks in several places in Japan. The bummer there is that you often have to pay in cash. The good thing is that we ate very well in these instances. However, we have paid slightly less for much lesser meals in other places. Let the buyer beware. None of this takes into account travel costs, which ups the price of a meal enormously. It is worth it to us, as eating is a great joy in life. However, others may not feel it is worth it.
  8. My non-Japanese husband is in Tokyo at a business conference this week, and he told me of a strange incident that happened a few nights ago. He took a group of people from the conference out for drinks when they were joined by two Japanese women. These women ordered several drinks and food, and afterwards went off to the restrooms and disappeared without paying their bill. It came out that everyone in the group thought someone else knew them from the conference, but in the end my husband had to pick up the tab. Any idea what happened?
  9. This was from Sept. 5, 2006: I do not have photos, so this could not be fully accurate. Shokuzen: fried sayori, gingko nuts, and chestut chips with fall leaves Martini glass filled with charcoal grilled and then fried baby ayu (no flour), togan grilled egplant, two vegetable stocks, daikon foam. I seem to recall a vegetable stuffed with uni, but I am not sure. a shredded zuihiki salad with fine nori threads, dressed with sudachi and wasabi foie gras, sesame spuma, threads of myoga, and fig in a double-walled glass bowl from Moriyama. Ginger did not belong in this dish, IMO. "Cold shabu-shabu" Fatty Sendai beef cooked in a low-temp shabu-shabu for a few minutes and then shocked in sake and salt water. Came with a ponzu jelly. Excellent hamo-matsutake wanmori clear soup with green yuzu. The bones were still in the hamo, but it was great. Tsukuri: Tokushima karei, lobster-stuffed daikon, very showy waffle-cut otoro (major knife skills) served with flaked sea salt, bainiku, rather overpowering ebi and yuzu powders. Rather awfully paired with a Sancerre. Edamame infusion on flowered baby green salad--about 30 different components-- inspired by the Mugaritz emmenthal salad. The thick dressing was almost meaty tasting, with a very strong kobu dashi base. Shiro amadai e like a pine cone with false charcoal (another Mugaritz inspiration). Sudachi air I noted tasted like dish detergent, but the amadai was so perfectly grilled you could eat the scales. Yamamoto apparently introduced Andoni to binchotan charcoal which inspired the original Mugaritz dish, so the cycle is complete. Shark's fin with steamed abalone and myoga Absolutely awesome unadon with miso, tofu, and eggplant salad. The highlight of the meal. A "carbonated grape" a la Fat Duck. Watermelon juice we sipped through a sugar straw, then ate the straw. Very fast-melting warabi-mochi with kinako, coconut, and genmaicha powders. Very spectacular, with a mousse-like interior. Chocolate fantasy dessert on a chocolate silkscreened plate. There was a bar code that can be scanned on a cell phone, which directs the diner to an online virtual greeting from Yamamoto. Stevia mint tea The candy apple Grapefruit tea My husband reports less gimmicky food this time, with more balanced flavors.
  10. Hi Robyn, I have never had problems taking pictures of food in restaurants, the with the exception of Sukiyabashi Jiro. In fact, the popular "Lumix" camera line has a food photo setting. Street stalls and market vendors, on the other hand, often object to photos, as Hiroyuki says.
  11. What a coincidence. My husband is in Japan this week and went to Ryugin on Monday--without me He went to Kanetanaka last night, am breathlessly awaiting the report. He is going to Mizutani tonight, so I may not be speaking to him when he gets back. My meal there two years ago was very different--the unagi dish was the outstanding one, and to this day one of the best unagi preparations I have ever had. Yamamoto's knife skills are really superb. I don't think the hamo's bones are removed--they are chopped into tiny edible bits in the flesh. I also don't see the silkscreened patterns he was doing back then, or the dummy wine corks. Also, I believe the baby ayu look that way because they were tossed into the frying oil alive, which explains their shocked expression. I wish I could post a picture of some baby ayu faces I had in December in Matsumoto, but I am a Luddite. Mugaritz and Ryugin share bits of decor as well. Yamamoto-san presented Andoni with the same painted wooden inscription in calligraphy that is hanging over the bar (Andoni's is displayed in the "confessional"), while Andoni gave Yamamoto-san one of Mugaritz's table sculptures. And finally, I'm a she
  12. I'M shocked Etxebarri is one of only 2 restaurants I know in Spain that buy live baby eels (getting ever more scarce in the wild) and keep them in a tank until service--hence the texture and the price. They prepare them with so much respect that they don't even cover the flavor with garlic. The price is exorbitant because the Japanese will pay huge prices for them to grow them into unagi. Many baby eels end up in cans or other forms that completely distort their true quality. Last time I was there, Victor was saving the very last angulas of the season for a special event and REFUSED to let us have any, for any price. I am very good at begging, but no good. Now he is giving them away to people who don't even like them and who begrudge the cost! Angulas must be cooked live, and most are processed/frozen before being recooked in restaurants, making them easier to handle but ruining their texture. Just from an environmental, let alone gastronomic, point of view, this is awful. However, some would prefer to spend £6 in Brompton Road. Etxebarri is one of the rare places where you can have the real thing--but only in season. By the way, since they are kept alive or ready processed, there is hardly ever any rush to move them--in Spain at least. Kensington seems to be a different story
  13. In that case, please delete the rest of my posts on this thread, not just the Japan ones, as many of the three stars I discuss in my list are not in France. Come to think of it, why is a thread on worldwide 3-stars doing in this forum anyway? ← Don't complain about the thread... It had an original intent on what people thought were the "great" and "not so great" three stars and has ended up as something else. Also there is no general Europe forum and since most 3 stars are in France it made sense to put it here. I mean we could say about the World's 50 best thread in the UK & Ireland forum and I'm sure there are plenty of others. ← I was not complaining about the thread. I was talking about the moderator's decision, which he has since rescinded, to remove some posts and place them elsewhere. As we both point out, it is a topic that covers the world and happened to be posted in the France forum. I posted several quite long responses to your question about the relative merits of three stars--many of which are outside of France. For some reason, the Japanese ones were singled out as off topic and moved. Discussions of UK, Spanish, and Italian three-stars were allowed to remain. (As I said, this decision has been reversed.) As you say, the thread changed into something else besides comparing three-stars, and I apologize for my part in that. I will point out in my defense that I was merely responding to other posters' specific questions. I am sorry if I bothered anyone, and I'm also sorry I bothered. I have asked the mod to delete all of my posts here since I can no longer do it myself.
  14. I saw a Japanese female pastry chef from the Lanesborough whose name escapes me now presenting at Madrid Fusion. (I believe she had trained in France previously.) Her creations looked worth checking out. William Curley's wife is Japanese also, and so is the pastry chef at Gordon Ramsey HR. A trend?
  15. In that case, please delete the rest of my posts on this thread, not just the Japan ones, as many of the three stars I discuss in my list are not in France. Come to think of it, why is a thread on worldwide 3-stars doing in this forum anyway?
  16. I've never tried Kururi, but I agree with this point wholeheartedly. There is staggering quality at all ends of the price/snob scale, particularly among places that specialize in one thing only. It is a waste of time and effort to try to break in to the most difficult places if you are a complete novice in the basics of Japanese cuisine anyway. Most first-timers don't even know where they are, let alone what they are eating. Tokyo has so many great soba shops alone that they would require a 50 Best list of their own. However, the most unforgettable soba I've ever had cost ¥4000 (ok, very expensive for noodles but worth every yen) in an odd restaurant in the Japan Alps that serves only 20 customers a day (the only exclusive thing about it is its remote location). They are served with wild mountain vegetables so intense that I felt my bloodstream and brain had been purified by magic. I've never had sansho twigs in tempura before, but what a sensation... The water was so good that they didn't want to ruin it with tea.
  17. My brother-in-law who married a Japanese lady and living there for good few years now, claims that the vast majority of Japanese could and would never sample a true Japanese Kaiseki or ‘high-class’ meal. Him and his Japanese family incuded. I'd always thought he was exaggerating but from your experience it looks like this level of exclusivity is actually a reality. This is real exclusivity not the artificial sort generated by commercial branding or by inflated prices (though I’m sure they are not cheap). So you think even if The List did try to start involve Japan more like Michelin has. Gastro-tourists start to flock there in greater numbers it would actually become more difficult for them to get to the top tables. In fact what you are saying is that panel members of The List (or Michelin inspectors for that matter) would not even know where to start to look to find these places let alone knock on the door. Fascinating! Are you able to us more of this elusive world? You say that you are on the verge; if you give the game away will you snapped back to reality?! Forbidden to gaze upon it’s face ever again…. ← In the words of Robert Hanssen, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you Actually, it's really a question of paying your dues, getting to know people, and making connections. Like any other endeavor, really. Food in Japan is actually cheaper than in Europe for the most part. The breakthrough is that now my husband is opening a luxury business there, so those connections will hopefully multiply. I am astonished how hard it is to find out what the top places really are. They are closely guarded secrets, and they want to stay that way. High-end guides don't really exist in Japan simply because the restaurants don't want to be listed in them, and most people can't get in anyway. The head of another top European guide once tried to get me to reveal my list, but I know better than to talk to strangers. I remember that in the 80s, there were rumors of similarly exclusive secret Japanese restaurants in NY. There are other reasons for maintaining inaccessibility, which is of course the foundation of exclusivity. Most of these places are used for political insiders or "executive business entertaining," which is not necessarily very reputable. My Japanese friends and family are shocked about the places I have been--just with my husband. Husbands and wives don't often eat out together in places like this. I am often taken for a high-class prostitute, maybe even a yakuza moll, but I see that as part of the dues I am willing to pay. Actually, Japan is all about commercial branding in the mass market. Your average Joe may not be able to get into the exclusive kaiseki restaurant, but he can get into one of the far inferior "branch" restaurants under the same name in practically every major city in Japan. (some of them get stars in Michelin!) He can also buy their ready-made branded foods, some of which may not use the high-end ingredients advertised. Last year, there were a ton of food scandals shaking out the industry.
  18. Sukiyabashi Jiro is not a typical place, and we were actually fearing even worse. I was born in Japan and speak Japanese, but since I was raised in the West and married a foreigner, that would put us on the "no go" list at the Ginza branch. (Almost all gaijin are sent to the Roppongi branch unless they are introduced by a regular.) Jiro is notorious for its hostile attitude in general and toward foreigners in particular. Our hotel concierge, astounded that we had gotten a reservation in the first place, begged us to arrive at least 10 minutes early and be sure we had enough cash since there was no telling how big the bill would be. Most foreigners report super-fast service, in and out in less than an hour. You will be kicked out, as the customer sitting next to us was, if you don't eat fast enough, or if a more favored customer is expected. Given that we knew what we were in for, I can't say Jiro was worse than expected. We went because he is one of the original masters, one of the old guard who has been working really since the creation of modern sushi. We went before Michelin came out, so that was irrelevant. Honestly, you can have sushi just as good for far less and with much better service/atmosphere elsewhere. Actually, I like blue better than stone crabs Any three-star except the worst offenders should be able to produce the quality level that John Talbott is calling "the standard." This goes without saying. Many non-three-stars serve excellent Bresse chicken, so when I go to Gordon Ramsey, I expect him to outdo them. If he serves me something I could have gotten with more personality and much less money at a neighborhood bistro, I am disappointed. However, the original post was about comparing the relative levels of 3-star restaurants, not comparing apples and oranges. Given the high standard to get into this category, there is still a great variation in quality from restaurant to restaurant, and sometimes even at the same restaurant on two different nights. I speak 5 languages and find foreign words easy, so maybe I don't appreciate how difficult the name challenge can be for some. It sounds like you are making all the right efforts. I wish I could. But let us know how it was -- after our great experience at la Véranda, we are open to Gordon, though the quality of the brasserie food indeed makes me wonder how the gastronomic experience, if it is in the same style, can be better. ← Friday night was better than my previous experiences--maybe the kitchen was tipped off. They also invited us unto the kitchen to meet the chefs. However, I still don't think it is "worth a journey" unless you happen to be in town, let alone the aggravation of landing a reservation. It's may be the best restaurant in London, but the tasting menu is pretty dull and overly standardized. However, this time the service was much more personal and attentive. They allowed us to change the entire tasting menu to degustation portions of the more interesting-sounding a la carte dishes, with both of us ordering completely different things! Pretty impressive accommodation. The young woman in charge of the pass looked very impressive indeed--we may hear more from her in the future. I didn't like all the concepts behind the dishes, but the execution and ingredient quality were very good. I assume you are talking about the new GR Trianon restaurant? I was in the new Ramsay place in NY and felt it was worth checking out. GR restaurants have a similar feel to Ducasse places--a certain predictable quality, but hard to fault the quality itself. (This is not a criticism if consistency is the big point.) I tend to prefer places where I am more likely to see flashes of genius, not just workmanlike competence. This is why I love L'Arpege on a great night.
  19. Consistency is a tall order, and this is what separates the good from the champions. But even Michael Schumacher lost races, and Pavarotti had off nights. I suppose that is what makes theater or restaurants so interesting, as opposed to a pre-recorded movie or CD. You can't always predict exactly what will happen, but with luck you may catch a glimpse of the divine. Actually, a good simple place that does one thing really well often has an edge over a haute cuisine place that really pushes the envelope. At the beginning, I used to expect that a three star meal must be absolutely perfect every time. Now I have come to realize that my least favorite 3-stars are the ones that seem to stay clinically in their safety zones (Fat Duck, Gordon Ramsey HR) and produce predictably but soullessly perfect results. I don't think you can be really great unless you take some risks, but then you have to accept the possibility of occasional failures. I hear Pierre Gagnaire is brilliant only one time in ten, which is too low of a percentage for me. Because any restaurant that is not a factory is inherently inconsistent, there are several barriers to objectivity. One problem is when you have only a single experience on which to base your judgment. Given my experience at Pont de Brent, I can't imagine going back. However, if Julot manages to convince me, I will. Of the 6 or so times I have been to L'Ambroisie, only the first was bad. However, I feel sorry for those who flew across the Atlantic and spent their nest egg on a single meal. Novelty can also skew judgment. I've been to the Fat Duck 4 times and El Bulli 5, so my opinions on them are more settled. The other is the fact that restaurants can, as Julot observed, have "two speeds." Almost all Chinese restaurants treat Chinese and non-Chinese guests differently, to the point where there are two separate menus in the same building. Some chefs turn themselves "on" only for regulars and VIPS, which I think is understandable but too bad. This would make both his and my experiences of Rochat consistent. Knowing this makes me conflicted. I know that I have only one chance to go to a restaurant anonymously, but I risk having a worse meal. I am not a restaurant reviewer, so I wonder sometimes why I am so reluctant to try to get the best treatment possible. Come to think of it, that's silly. Anyone want to tip Gordon that we'll be at Hospital Road tomorrow?
  20. Now that is very impressive. Can we guess which ones you haven't been to? I reckon Rockpool Fish, Chateaubriand, Dom, Tetsuya's, Le Bernadin, Hof Van Cleve, Philippe Rochat, Vendome, Die Schwarzwaldstube and Tantris. Are you tempted to "get the set" as it were? ← oooh, good job, you get 7 out of 10! Am I tempted to get the set? Lol, I am not a restaurant collector, notching my belt with trophies. I happen to travel a lot and make an effort to try the best places out there. Next time I'm in Brazil I may check out D.O.M. However, I am not going to make a special trip out there just so I can say I've been to all 50 on Restaurant Magazine's latest list. I have to say that of the 40 I can talk about, only a dozen or so would make it to my personal best restaurant list. I also find the order of the list very arbitrary and strange, but that is a function of the voting system. For example, my top 5 restaurants according to the voting rules would be different from what I consider to be the top 5 restaurants currently in the world. ← I have a question for you - have you been to Japan, if so have you visited some of the top restaurants there and how do they compare to some of the places mentioned on this list? ← I'm Japanese, so yeah I was last in Japan over Christmas and New Year. If I were voting on the panel, most of my votes would be in Japan. I suspect there will be a boom of Japanese restaurants on the list soon, thanks to Michelin. Everyone I know is now suddenly hotfooting it to Tokyo, even though they have been ignoring me for years when I said that Japan is by far the best eating country in the world. Even though I go to Japan a lot and have been to more restaurants than most of the people who live there, there is no way I can say I have been to all the top restaurants. There are just too many outstanding ones, and I have only been to one Tokyo 3-star (Jiro Ginza). The best food may not even be in Tokyo, and some of my favorite restaurants are in Osaka and Kyoto and in the countryside. The problem with Japan is that the "best" restaurants are usually for members only, and even top Western gourmets often miss the point of Japanese food. It is a whole other language, and it is a long apprenticeship to learn properly. I feel like I am just on the verge of breaking in to the top places, and even as a Japanese speaker it has taken me 10 years. I think a deluge of Michelin-stoked restaurant tourists will make it even harder to for a foreigner to get a seat at the top tables. Good thing Michelin seems to have missed most of the good spots, but they did a better job than the 50 Best list. Speaking of The List, am I the only one who feels that some regions are over-represented given their populations and gastronomic achievements? I'm a fan of Nordic cuisine, but why are there separate regions for Finland/Greenland/Iceland and the rest of the Nordic region when all of North America gets just one? The whole combined Nordic population is probably less than the size of the NY metropolitan area. The Carribean and the Bahamas are one region, but all of South America is another? Methinks there is more than a little gerrymandering going on.
  21. This brings to mind another point, which is how different a restaurant experience can be if the chef is making an effort for a special client. My first visits to Pacaud and Rabaey were both anonymous. In the case of L'Ambroisie, the food could not be faulted but was not brilliant enough to make up for the truly atrocious treatment we received. My second and several of my subsequent visits to L'Ambroisie have been with a friend who has been there dozens of times. I don't think the house really remembers me when I am not with my friend, but I have still eaten brilliantly there nonetheless. My first visit to Rochat was also in company with a friend who has been there over 100 times. (This same friend also torments me with tales of his over 100 meals with Giradet.) Rochat made a spectacular menu, and only one dish wobbled. Fair enough, he took a big risk. My Rochat-obsessed friend does admit that Phillippe had one bad period, right after he lost his wife in a tragic accident. Could this coincide with your poor reports? I'm looking at my notes from my 2006 meal at Pont de Brent. Of 10 dishes, I marked only 2 as "very good," and even those had faults. I note that the agneau du lait and the scallops were "criminally overcooked," the fried monkfish tail had been left to go soggy under a heat lamp, and while there was an outstanding Gruyère, there were other cheeses in appalling condition. They kept the sad remnants of a dried-out Epoisse on the cart, and only when it was finished did they bring out a new one. My overall impression was of great ingredients, particularly sauces, classic dishes, but sloppy execution and a general feeling of stinginess. I am assuming your experience with Pont de Brent is more extensive and more recent than mine, so it is possible that it was a bad night. However, only Grand Vefour and Enotecca P were worse experiences, so I am naturally having a hard time imagining how it manages to be so different. I had the impression that Rabaey looked embarrassed as we left, and although we did not speak to him, I wondered at the time if he CAN cook and somehow decided to take the night off. I may be convinced to give him the benefit of the doubt, but my husband is convinced he is a shameless charlatan.
  22. Really? I seem to remember being able to get them in Poncelet, but that was a couple of years ago already.
  23. Very curious indeed. I suppose it is precisely this difference of opinion among informed diners that makes the debate so interesting. To qualify, I have been to Pont de Brent only once, and given what we saw, would be hard pressed to go back. However, my first experience at L'Ambroisie was also a disaster, and it was not until a trusted friend forced me to go back did I change my mind. As you can see, it is now at the top of the list. My list is purely personal, as I said, and could simply reflect a very poor night or unfortunate collision of spirits.
  24. Now that is very impressive. Can we guess which ones you haven't been to? I reckon Rockpool Fish, Chateaubriand, Dom, Tetsuya's, Le Bernadin, Hof Van Cleve, Philippe Rochat, Vendome, Die Schwarzwaldstube and Tantris. Are you tempted to "get the set" as it were? ← oooh, good job, you get 7 out of 10! Am I tempted to get the set? Lol, I am not a restaurant collector, notching my belt with trophies. I happen to travel a lot and make an effort to try the best places out there. Next time I'm in Brazil I may check out D.O.M. However, I am not going to make a special trip out there just so I can say I've been to all 50 on Restaurant Magazine's latest list. I have to say that of the 40 I can talk about, only a dozen or so would make it to my personal best restaurant list. I also find the order of the list very arbitrary and strange, but that is a function of the voting system. For example, my top 5 restaurants according to the voting rules would be different from what I consider to be the top 5 restaurants currently in the world.
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