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Everything posted by ajgnet

  1. Thank you. By chance any interesting espresso in Little Italy?
  2. Hi -- I'm spending a week in San Diego, and would like to explore some of the coffee options this city has to offer. Are there any places for a great espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, etc ..? Thanks in advance.
  3. I'm passing through Mexico City this weekend on my way to Puebla and wanted to explore some of the city's cafés. I'm looking for traditional Italian-style espresso that perhaps contains Mexican beans. Are there any espresso houses in the city that warrant a visit? Thanks so much!
  4. It used to be that Monday was his out-of-town day, but on recent visits, I'd say his schedule is getting a little less predictable. In total he's been there about 40-50% of the time that I've dined not including Mondays. The only way to be sure is to call and ask if he'll be in the kitchen the day that you're eating. The reservationist has that information.
  5. Post some pictures, please . I'm dying in anticipation.
  6. Your photos are really nice. It's not an easy space to photograph. Thanks for sharing. As for not having a menu, I would shoot them an e-mail or call. I've been able to retroactively request menus in the past for extended tastings. I believe they keep them on file. Sooner is better than later.
  7. Nice review, foodsnob! Makes me want to go back this weekend.
  8. ajgnet


    I had a meal at Ledoyen a few months ago, and was really impressed with Le Squer's ability to meld French tradition with more modern preparations, particularly with his turbot and ris de veau. For me the best part of the turbot were the chewy potatoes that lie hidden underneath. You can check out the pictures here if you're interested. Some of the dishes were really creative, like the scallop medallions with ossetra caviar ... the frozen sea water shell melted into what seemed like sea foam !
  9. ajgnet

    Le Bristol

    And I walked by the summer room, it was full of light and overlooked the beautiful courtyard of the hotel. That could have made the ambiance much more enjoyable as it was such a beautiful day.
  10. ajgnet

    Le Bristol

    Hi Seth -- Thanks! That's a good point actually. I don't think classical and exciting are mutually exclusive. I would not call some of the dishes at L'Arpège, for example, new (onion gratinée, vegetable garden salad, etc ...) but the simplicity and quality of ingredients makes them exciting. Each dish has a very clear focus and concept. At Le Bristol the vision wasn't as clear; 2 of our consecutive dishes were sauced nearly identically, and the dominant flavors of the meal were nothing I hadn't tasted before: vinegar and salt. It seems like Le Bristol is awkwardly placed between trying to keep to Frechon's classic style and and trying maintain its 3rd Michelin star by making dishes unnaturally "innovative" (lots of gelées, plays on textures, etc ...).
  11. I had a wonderful spring lunch at La Bigarrade a few days ago. I took pictures and videos of my meal, in case you want a visual, and my full writeup is here. This was a light meal taken straight from northern Italy exemplifying what it means to cook with seasonal ingredients. Our tasting menu of 12-courses was full of peas, wild onions, and asparagus in different forms, with very airy and fresh flavors. There was no meat, only white fish. The total came to 45€ (!!). Here's what the menu looked like during my visit: 1. Oyster in bonito bouillon gelée with lime and wild pepper. Lightly poached clam in wild sorrel with grapefruit bouillon and olive oil. 2. Soup of petits pois, sepia, and black garlic. 3. Yellowtail belly with jamón ibérico de bellota, small wild onions garnished with lemon zest 4. Line caught mackerel, caramelized and acidulated onion, garden herbs, fresh watercress 5. Pollock with wild red sorrel, small shrimp, wild onion leaves 6. Cheese course of Reblochon and Crottin with prune reduction. 7. Fava bean soup with nèfle broth 8. Lemon pot de crème, saffron gelée, rosemary flowers 9. Pistachio crème anglaise, mango reduction, pimpinelle leaves 10. Tobacco-infused oatmeal mousse garnished with cocoa powder 11. Chocolate mousse with coffee reduction and melted chocolate from Domori, Genova. 12. Petits Bavarois with thyme and candied almond. I went ahead and made a second reservation to return essentially as soon as I could get a table. Really fabulous meal that truly makes use of cooking with market fresh ingredients.
  12. ajgnet

    Le Bristol

    Just had lunch at Le Bristol yesterday, and was disappointed. My full thoughts with photos and videos are available here. I left the restaurant confident that Le Bristrol had rightfully earned its three stars for its refinement of dishes, service, and ambiance. I just felt like they just lacked the inspirational spark that some of the other Parisian 3* restaurants, like L'Arpège and L'Astrance, have ... most of the flavors were boring. In a way I wish I had gone last year before the third star was awarded. Some of the dishes seemed to have unnecessary plays on texture making them really gelatinous, which make me question if this was artificially done to make some of Frechon’s more classical cooking seem more modern and innovative. Perhaps this is his way of keeping things “new” to hold on to his third star. Leaving out this play on textures could have made the first three courses even more appealing and seem more natural. The other thing I noticed was what seemed to be a tremendous discrepancy between the main courses ordered from the lunch menu, and from the à la carte menu. It was like two different restaurants, and made me wonder if there was a separate lunch menu chef who was preparing those items. The majority of the courses for which I had qualms came from the lunch menu. Could be a coincidence,and maybe I’m just too idealistic, but I feel like a three star restaurant should have consistency between the two menus. At least that’s been my experience.
  13. Good question. I don't think it's Adria envy. I was wondering what Lopriore would say had I asked him if these dishes tasted good. I'm not sure. My guess is he would say they're to invoke a strong emotional response rather than to simply please the palate. But then again, he may think they actually taste good in which case he has a very different palate from mine.
  14. Well said. What kills me is that chef Lopriore is so skilled and creative. In addition, he came across as very kind and genuinely interested in our experience. (We caught him peeking in through the window, or from the doorway, a few times.) Aside from the service problems and hefty price markups, my hope is that with some significant menu revisions and a more channeled vision, he'll be able to create truly innovative, and delicious, dishes. Hopefully sooner than later.
  15. Funny you should ask that. The bill came to 666€. Coincidence? I understand trying to shock the diner; but you have a good point ... at what cost ?? Shock is good, if the dish still tastes good. You're absolutely right. I mean, if the dish doesn't taste good, there at least has to be some kind of consistency or flavor railing so it's clear what the chef is trying to do. Otherwise I'm lost, the flavor isn't appealing, and I'm unhappy.
  16. ajgnet

    DiFara Pizza

    Haha ! Clearly ... thank you !
  17. Had dinner at Il Canto in Siena last week ... it was quite an experience, to say the least. I noticed a thread for this Michelin starred restaurant had not yet been created so I'm making one now. I wrote some notes about my experience there and I'm sharing them below. Hope they're helpful. Il Canto For the full pictures, you can go here. Strada di Certosa, 82, Siena, Italy There is an Italian proverb — chi non risica non rosica — meaning he who doesn’t take risks won’t nibble anything. And I welcome taking risks in the kitchen when it leads to exciting and innovative dishes, so long as flavor remains paramount. But when taking risks for its own sake is the priority, the experience suffers. Chef Paolo Lopriore is such a risk taker. He intentionally uses flavors that other chefs shy away from, and with reason: to about 99.9% of the human population, they don’t taste good. But taste is in the mind of the beholder, I had to keep telling myself throughout this roller coaster dinner at his restaurant, Il Canto. Il Canto is located in the Certosa di Maggiano hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property in Siena. The hotel is beautiful, both intimate and rustic. It’s non-descript entrance gives way to a medieval courtyard whose focal point is a well dating back to the 13th century. Bordering this open space, on the first floor, are salons for the hotel’s seventeen guest rooms and outdoor seating for taking an evening apéritif. The second floor is where the hotel rooms are located, each with a view overlooking the courtyard. When we arrived, we were the only people around so our footsteps clicked on the cobblestone and resounded through the cloisters. If it were just a little warmer, we would have stayed outside in this calming atmosphere for a bit, a silent and surreal pause before dinner. Instead we were led inside where our Genovese friend suggested we start things off with a drink. We were taken into a smaller emerald green room with pre-Renaissance battle paintings and, more importantly, big comfortable couches. Our sitting and talking turned to walking around and exploring the different chambers of the mansion-like restaurant. Their vaulted ceilings and grandiose decor suggested this place might have formerly been the home of a king. Or the home of Mike Tyson. Perhaps both. When we returned to the green room, we were handed a small plate of amuse bouche-like snacks to entertain. The best of the group was a slice of foie gras sandwiched by green apple and licorice sugar glass. The licorice paired with the creamy foie gras tasted cool and crispy; the apple made it sweet and tart. Another interesting bite was a sardine in gelatin with fennel. Lopriore gets wild fennel from near the restaurant, and Aaron claimed he caught a tinge of its anise-like sweetness here. But to me, it was rather bland. A dehydrated onion chip was crispy and just mildly piquant. We had a Shanghai throwback with a piece of steamed bread with lardo, very reminiscent of a Chinese pork bun. Lastly, spoons dusted with a powder of pumpkin and Grand Marnier, which I found too boozy to be enjoyable and Aaron found merely too powdery, like trying to swallow dirt. Each of these amuses hit different parts of the tongue and flavor spectrum: salt, bitter, sweet, sour, and spicy. If the intent was to awaken the palate, it certainly did. We were led to a niche next to the main dining room, which was quaint and beautiful. There were two other tables in our room, which remained empty the entire night. The space felt very light and open, as three walls had large doorways and the fourth, a large window overlooking the courtyard. Temperature was, unfortunately, a bit of an issue. Since there were so many open doors and windows, the chilly night air from the courtyard poured in. Aaron put on his scarf, and our Genovese friend continued to eat with his jacket on. Perhaps that’s par for the course when eating in a monastery built in the 14th century on a very early spring evening, but it was bothersome nonetheless. (When we mentioned the problem to the staff a couple of times, things did improve, but if you ask Aaron, not nearly enough.) We were then brought menus, which we glanced for about 1 second before asking if an extended tasting menu might be possible. Chef Lopriore came out of the kitchen to say hello, a very kind and jovial man, and explained that he would gladly provide a tasting menu that highlights his cooking. Any allergies or aversions?, he asked. Nope. He explained that he would keep bringing out courses until we said “stop,” a word that wasn’t exactly in our vocabulary. But perhaps we should have learned it beforehand. First we were given a snack called mangiare/bere cocco/curry, or eat/drink coconut/curry. A curried cube of potato walked the tightwire on top of a rum-laden coconut drink. I started by eating the curried potato first, whose flavor which quickly reminded me of the Indian vegetarian dish Batata nu Shaak, part of India’s western Gujarati cuisine. The potato was good enough, but the drink below tasted like the final sips of a piña colada where all that is left is the bitter alcohol flavor of rum. If the point of this was a slap in the face, much like throwing a bucket of ice cold water over someone while asleep, I was awake. The first official course was the insalata di alghe, erbe aromatiche e radici, a minimalist salad of seaweed, aromatic herbs and roots. This included nori strips, radish, coarse salt, hot mustard, ginger, wasabi and mint. After the first bite it became immediately apparent to me that chef Lopriore had spent time in Japan, not because of the conspicuous presence of Japanese seaweed or wasabi, but because of the flavor profile activated in this incredibly balanced savory dish. With just raw vegetables, Lopriore touched every part of my tongue except sweet. This is the gastronomic equivalent of a triathlon, an exercise in the flavors of bitterness, brine, and heat. Aaron likened it brushing one’s teeth, which is to say it doesn’t taste particularly pleasant, but it leaves your mouth feeling fresh and clean. It would be unfair to judge this particular dish solely on flavor since I do not believe that was its intention — it reset my palate without sugar to properly prepare for the courses to come. At least, that’s what I told myself. The next course brought pino, asparagi, midollo e tartufo, medallions of bone marrow covered with truffle slices and flanked by batons of asparagus and foamy mounds of a disastrous parsley-garnished pine mousse. The first thing that put me off was the pink tinge of the bone marrow, which was essentially raw. I’m not against eating things raw, and in many cases I prefer it; but not for the marrow center of cow bones. I’m not sure that I can justify that sentiment any further, other than mentioning that the color frankly made me a bit nauseous. I didn’t understand the addition of truffle. The thick crumbly slices of it were shaved in the kitchen so they had essentially no perfume by the time they arrived at the table. But the absolute worst component of this dish was the incredibly bitter pine mousse. Bitter like the white part of a grapefruit between the skin and the fruit. Bitter like your mother-in-law when you decided to spend Christmas with your folks instead last year. I sometimes enjoy vegetal bitterness; but when combined with the subtly-flavored ingredients here, it completely overpowered them. After having studied closely flipped casually through Chef Lopriore’s dishes in Sei, his multicolored risotto was high on my wish list. I was ecstatic when I saw shallow plates of rice being brought to the table, particularly with the rich and earthy smell of saffron teasing my nose. The dish, riso giallo or yellow rice, was not much for presentation as the borders of the plate were “decorated” with runoff of the broth in which the rice was cooked. The first bite was delicious, a dance of Sichuan peppercorn and saffron on my tongue. “Hey, I wonder what those medallions are in the center,” I thought to myself. Perhaps hearts of palm or more bone marrow? No, no. I tried a piece, and if my tongue had fists, my entire face would be black and blue. Concentrated bitter lemon and grapefruit. Bitter as in tongue-clenching, “where is the water?” bitter. Terrible, an absolute assault on the palate. I glanced across the table at Aaron to see if I was the only one who found this course — to put it mildly — unbalanced. But he was shaking his head, saying “If this guy does this one more time, I’m leaving.” Meanwhile our Genovese friend chimed in as well: “brilliant,” he exclaimed. Um, what? We spent the next thirty minutes discussing and dissecting what the bloody hell was going on. “When you get to my age,” our friend explained,”you want strong flavors … you no longer eat for the routine pleasures of the palate, but rather for new experiences that shake you and shock you, making you think about flavors in new ways.” Although perhaps a little patronizing as in “you’re too young to understand why this is good,” there is certainly some merit to his statement. But if eating is only for the shock, why not drink lighter fluid, stick your finger in a light socket, or eat marmite by the spoonful?? Is it worth sacrificing flavor solely for the purpose of a new experience? Not in my book. I took a deep breath when our waiter explained that the next course would be tepid ravioli. Cold pasta, particularly ravioli, never attracted me. Ravioli di moscato, capperi e origano di Serraggia followed, ravioli of moscato wine, capers, and oregano from Serraggia. Each raviolo was plump and inflated with moscato, not an easy task, clearly demonstrating the masterful technical skill of chef Lopriore. Then came the first bite. And it was the last. The flavor that burst forth from the little pillow of pasta was like rubbing alcohol, a surprising and overpowering bitterness. Maybe chef Lopriore’s goal was to utilize a flavor profile not frequently used in Italian cooking. But Aaron began to collect his belongings question how much more of this gastronomic assault he could take, and I could see him assembling a mental list of other restaurants that remained open if he headed back to the city center. I did not enjoy that dish to say the least, nor did Aaron; however our Italian friend, once again, had a huge smile on his face and a sparkling white plate. “Genius,” he exclaimed. I nearly choked in confusion. Were we talking about our meal the day before? For the record, our friend is 61 years of age and has a very experienced palate; this was the only restaurant throughout our hedonistic gastronomic adventure where we were in such disagreement. I sought desperately to understand what was making this meal so enjoyable for him, yet so miserable for us. Could it be that things taste different at certain ages? Could it be that people just taste differently? I’m not sure, really. But fortunately things finally improved with the next course, frutta secca and salicornia, a light salad of dried fruit and sea asparagus containing almonds, almond butter, pistachio powder, pistachio butter, frozen almond milk foam, and seawater granita. The pendulum swung from bitter to boozy with the prior two courses, and stuck in neutral for this salad. As a very delicate mix of flavors, this was well-balanced allowing each ingredient to be tasted completely. The textures here varied from water-bursting sea asparagus to thick nut butters and crunchy almonds and pistachios. The flavor was very controlled and unsweet, much like Japanese kaiseki courses whose ingredients often sing unique notes alone but sum to create a more neutral flavor profile. While I enjoyed this dish for the gentle salty taste of the sea asparagus, the frozen almond milk foam was flavorless. Nonetheless this was a soothing break from the last two courses, and hopefully a sign that things would pick up from here. And it did. The next course was the best of the evening, monocromo di scampi, a monochrome of raw shrimp. The plate had thinly sliced raw shrimp served in a sauce made from the shrimp head. The texture was both chewy and slighty crunchy, the sweet flavor of the shrimp accentuated by the citrus in the sauce made from its head and carcass. “I taste shiso,” I said as I glanced around the table looking for approval. “No, mine tastes like tangerine or lemon,” Aaron replied. We started to debate the flavors in this dish when the chef Lopriore came over and explained. Each plate actually had different spices underneath the scampi, so all of our dishes were different. He used lemon in four different forms – salted and preserved (as found in Moroccan lamb tangines), green (i.e. unripe), juice, and zest — and a touch of cumin. This was a clever and intellectual twist to show the different sides of an ingredient that at first glance is quite simple. Furthermore, each part of the plate had a different flavor, as he hid the spices underneath the shrimp so it was impossible to see. This was a dynamic and changing dish, where no two bites were the same. Very interesting, not to mention tasty. But just as things were getting good, I again found flavors and textures in my mouth that just did not belong. The next course was inspired from the Tuscan wedding soup ribollita, or re-boiled black cabbage. Named zolla di certosa, or clod of Certosa, this sponge-like heap of cavolo nero was cold, wet, mushy, and flavorless. It tasted like crustless white bread dipped in water and eaten immediately. Aaron, meanwhile, winced at the bitterness of his. Yes, that’s what cavolo nero tastes like — when raw or undercooked — but this was just too much, he thought. In other words, we both agreed it was horrible. It did nothing for my palate other than aggravate me. There was nothing intellectual about this dish, other than me thinking about how many seconds away the nearest waste bin was if I ran to spit it out in disgust. I truly wish I had not eaten this. Petti di piccione in “civet,” or pigeon breast in a sauce made from its own blood came next, and it sure looked and smelled delicious. The breast was impeccably cooked, both juicy and tender. It was rosy pink and very lean, with the meat had a slighty rough texture that looked perfect for soaking up the blood sauce below. The pigeon was served with broccoletti, blueberries, and orange clam. Looked delicious; tasted not delicious. The sauce did not taste of blood; rather, it tasted of black pepper and alcohol that had not completely burned off. My tongue was tingling from the black pepper which made it very difficult to taste anything else. What a shame, I thought, this dish not only had so much potential but the cut of pigeon was nearly flawless. Why was the sauce so strong? By this point in the meal, I had given up trying to rationalize chef Lopriore’s decisions. There was no longer consistency, nor a clear vision or direction of what he was trying to accomplish with the use of such strong flavors that obscure the taste of the other ingredients. My patience had worn thin and my palate, exhausted. The only dishes I had enjoyed up to this point were the sea asparagus salad and the monochrome of scampi. I just wanted to cut my losses and return home. The last main course was animelle di vitello, trippe di baccalà e cavolo nero or veal sweetbreads, cod tripe and black cabbage served with peas, fava beans, and lime zest. The sweetbreads, like the pigeon before it, were just beautifully cooked, tender and juicy with a creamy semi-solid texture that melted in my mouth. The flavor was rich and nutty, and when eaten with the barely blanched peas and fava beans the texture become much more interesting and diverse. I did not like, however, the salty and fishy cod tripe which took over the sweetness of the sweetbreads. Yet another course that had so much potential lost to an ingredient that completely dominated any other flavors on the plate. The cheese cart came next with a moderate selection of Italian artisan cheeses. I was happy knowing that Lopriore did not make these I would get a chance to try cheese not readily available in France. The most interesting of the bunch was the seirass del fen, an aged Piedmont cow milk cheese rolled in hay. The cheese had a very full flavor and a semi-soft, creamy texture with hints of citrus. Aaron enjoyed a more aged provolone, but didn’t find the pecorino di Pienza to be particularly special. The cheeses came with various citrus chips — lemon, lime, and orange — and, oddly, fresh fava beans. Interesting accompaniments that were okay on their own, but I can’t say any of them made much sense eaten with any of the cheeses. Our pre-dessert came in a test tube, filled with two layers of some kind almond drink. The beverage held two different flavors of almond — bitter and sweet — and the combination was quite nice, if fleeting. Kind of like a mini-shot of Amaretto di Saronno. We hoped the bitter part of the meal was behind us, and that the sweet part remained. Aaron had seen a soufflé in passing and, being the optimistic guy he is, figured a soufflé would be a safe choice for dessert. It was a soufflé al pan pepato, schiuma di latte e rhum and would presumably mimic the flavors of the panpepato we had eaten that very afternoon at Nannini in Siena. . The soufflé was served out of the ramekin which meant we had better dive right in or it would cool down. The first flavor was redolent only of black pepper, as was the second and third. The strong, boozy hit of the rum gelatin decimated any sweetness that might have been present inthe milk foam. This taste unfortunately took over any split second that the pepper could not be detected. Another let down. Aaron looked like he just wanted to cry. There was no hope left. The petits-fours came were a very welcome sight, as we were now starving looking for something sweet We were given a small lime tart, an almond tuile, chocolate truffles, a liquid-filled white chocolate truffle, and a cough drop spiced dark chocolate truffle. Aaron had the latter first, and was unable to taste anything afterwards. Thankfully he warned me and I started from the other side. The meal had ended and our friend explained that he found it exceptionally interesting and delicious, and said he is now certain about his prior inkling that Lopriore is the best chef in Italy right now. Aaron and I sat there angry and confused. Chef Lopriore came out of the kitchen, a jovial and enthusiastic man, to ask what we thought. I was diplomatic in my response. I explained that I certainly tasted new flavor combinations, some of which were startling, and chef Lopriore smiled, “that’s the idea.” Aaron stuck more with the “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” school of thought, merely nodding occasionally. Lopriore is certainly bold and audacious to serve these flavors, that’s for sure. Perhaps he tastes things that we do not. The chef was a very friendly and overall likeable guy; I just didn’t like his food. At all. Aaron and I continued to discuss this meal for the days to come. This experience was unlike other bad restaurant experiences we’d had; something was different. When chef Lopriore served flavors that I disagreed with, it was controlled and intentional, even if the flavors were horrible to my palate. It’s not like I could dislike Il Canto for his poor skills or technique — he’s certainly very talented and his cooking reflects that. But a new experience or new flavor should always be secondary to whether or not the dish’s taste is actually appealing. This is a restaurant, not a taste labratory. Aaron swore never to return, saying he’s not interested in being a lab rat to experimented on by developing chefs. I think I would give him another shot, however. Too many of Lopriore’s dishes had tremendous potential for me not to return, and I think it’s possible to work them out. But it’s going to take some time, and meanwhile, there are other places to visit.
  18. ajgnet

    DiFara Pizza

    I understand the craving. I've done some pretty crazy things to get there, including once walking from times square. It'll be worth it ! Enjoy your lunch.
  19. DiFara is absolutely worth the trip, just don't go on Monday when it's closed. You can get slices of the square or round pies, just make sure you sample them when they come right out of the oven ... and be careful not to burn your tongue !
  20. Good call, I second this. La Bergamote has a really laid back atmosphere to take a coffee and pastry, let alone the best croissants aux amandes in the city. I'd also consider Pâtisserie Claude for his butter croissant. Not so nice an atmosphere as La Bergamote; but very memorable pastries.
  21. ajgnet

    DiFara Pizza

    I wrote something this past weekend on Di Fara and thought I would post it here, since it remains my favorite pizza in New York. For the review with pictures, you can go here. Di Fara Pizza 1424 Avenue J,Brooklyn, NY New Yorkers take their pizza seriously. Perhaps that’s because of New York’s Italian roots, considering 30% of Italy immigrated to New York at the turn of the 20th century. The majority of these immigrants emigrated from the south, from areas such as Naples and Sicily, carrying with them recipes, traditions, and skill to turn mere flour and water into one of the most delicious foods ever created. It is no coincidence, then, that New York has been labeled by many as the pizza capital of the world. But is it really? Truth be told, a visitor to America’s pizza home may not feel the same way. While great pizza in this city can be found, the majority of pizzerias serve mass-produced pies lacking any sort of character or flavor. With the viral growth of chains like Sbarro, Famiglia, and “CPK,” most of the city’s great pizza has moved from an Italian artisan craft to the product of a big city assembly line. A relatively mundane mix of ingredients, in theory, pizza should be simple. But simple ingredients lend to complex preparation intricacies that, if left to the wrong hands, can result in a pizza that tastes terrible. Let alone soulless. A lack of skill, care and quality ingredients can lead to soggy crust, excessively salty cheese, oily residue, and a frown. Great pizza is no easy task. There is one place, though, in a far-away land called Brooklyn, that is a Neapolitan oasis in a desert of dry, dense, tasteless slices. Some might consider it a little out of the way, as it’s closest metro stop is Avenue J off the Q subway line, about 45 minutes from Times Square. The pizzaiolo Domenico DeMarco has owned Di Fara for forty years. For forty years he’s been the only one with his hands on the dough and those same hands, often bare, reaching into the hot pizza ovens. The place has been shut down on numerous occasions for health code violations. Zagat gives Di Fara the lowest rating in New York, an abysmal 4, for atmosphere and ambiance. Yet despite this, lines for pizza can wrap around the corner and into the night. If looking for “toppings” like pineapple and ham, or low-fat tofu with sustainable organic oregano and French comté, Di Fara is not the place. Here, there are no gimmicks. Mr. DeMarco is not bothered by the number of hungry people waiting in line for lunch. He stops to talk to locals, takes walks into the store room leaving the front counter unattended, and takes his time cutting fresh basil and pouring olive oil on every pie as he removes it from the oven. He absolutely loves what he does, and it shows. Di Fara’s signature pizza is the square pie, often known around NYC as the “Sicilian” or the “grandma slice”. This pizza is heavy; not only from the crust, but from the cheese and sauce layered on top. It’s also New York-sized, meaning Italian onlookers might question why it’s double the size of what they’re used to. The crust is fairly spongy like a crisp, airy focaccia of about 3/4 of an inch thick. Thanks to the deep, heavy pan in which it is baked, the underside is always on the fine border of crispy brown and burnt black, with just a hint of charred flavor adding complexity to the flavor. Holding below the crust makes the excess flour sand off in a fine powder, conveniently absorbing excess oil that may have spilled overboard. His sauce tastes slightly of pork fat and ground bits of pancetta, a blend that contributes to a meaty tomato sauce with surprisingly little hint of smokiness. Molten islands pools of fresh mozzarella bubble on the smoking red sauce when the pie emerges from the oven. A bit of basil gets snipped on top, and the challenge begins — do you have the patience to wait to dig in, or will that first delicious mouthful be consolation for a newly-scorched tongue? Health conscious onlookers might notice in horror that his pizzas are dribbled with olive oil not one, nor two, but three times. Once before the dough is set in. This causes the dough to act as a sponge in the oven, absorbing flavor while not sticking to the pan. The second time is just before placing the pizza in the oven. And the third time is just before service. This is not forgetfulness, but a relic from many years ago when pizza was created for flavor and not for California. Between the cheese and olive oil, this pizza packs just as much flavor as calories. And my, is it worth it. The second pie is what you and I might know as the traditional pizza margarita, but here it’s known simply by it’s shape: the “round”. Otherwise known as the pizza barometer from which other pizzas can be compared, this pie has a much thinner crust and no pork in its sauce, but is just as delicious as it’s sibling, the square. The crust remains crispy and never gets soggy. It’s a lighter pizza by Di Fara standards, meaning a slice can be picked up with one hand without risk of collapse. The quality of the cheeses used becomes immediately apparent, because there is no orange oil leaked from baking any of them, as seen with cheese of low quality. The only visible oil on this pie is that of the Colavita and Philippo Berio oil chef DeMarco uses. For this pie, DeMarco uses three types of mozzarella of different moisture contents. The first is called “La Bonita,” and comes from Caserta, Italy, near where the chef is from. The second is Fior di Latte, a bufala mozzarella submerged in water tubs. The last is regular mozzarella from the Grand Cheese Company. This mix of three cheeses of different salt contents adds to the complexity of the slice, mixing different varieties of salt and sweet. What continues to amaze me is the way Chef DeMarco is able to crisp the crust — even blackening certain parts — without burning. Despite his jovial conversation with the line out the door, or his long, delayed trips into the back to bring forward more cheese or flour, those pizzas are always taken out of the ovens at precisely the right time. Sometimes he even uses his bare hands! Scattered about on top of the sauce and cheese is freshly cut basil that Chef DeMarco cuts with plastic scissors seconds before serving. But even though Di Fara offers New York’s finest slices, there is a more impressive, lesser-known option on the menu. My most memorable experience at Di Fara involves not the pizza for which it is so (rightfully) well-known, but for a crescent shaped stuffed pillow of cheesy goodness, thoughts of which make me contemplate the quickest return possible. Di Fara’s calzone is what I believe to be the best item served there. It starts with pizza dough folded in half around an overflowing heap of fresh ricotta cheese. Overflowing in the sense that no matter how tightly he seems to seal this giant Italian dumpling, fresh ricotta always seems to find its way out. After folded he compacts the edges so as to form a tentative seal, locking in the moisture and flavor of the fresh cheese. Delicious. Now comes the magic: he takes scissors and clips small half-inch dimples in the sealed region around the crust, which result into this perfect texture when combined with the moisture from the ricotta. This saw-tooth patterns creates a texture very similar to that small sweet spot of a pizza in-between the crispy crust and moist slice, and it’s everywhere. Lightly seasoned with fresh basil and olive oil, the dominant flavor here is fresh ricotta and perfectly baked dough. It is absolutely delicious, and well worth the hour wait, as each calzone is baked to order. While waiting in line amongst Brooklyn locals and tourists trekking an outer-borough culinary adventure, diners’ certainly get hungry and may even briefly question the merits of waiting two hours for pizza. The crowd waiting on line can at times be pushy and direct; after all, this is New York. But the scent of fresh pizza can be pretty convincing, and somehow makes waiting not so bad. Di Fara is edible proof that fine dining needs no minimum budget or Michelin stars, since the cost of a pie or Calzone is a steal for $15. This is the freshest and best tasting pizza outside of Napoli, and anyone in New York for more than a few days would be missing out on something truly special if they didn’t make make a lunch-time trip to Brooklyn and say hello to Domenico DeMarco.
  22. also my friend aaron (tupac) is coming to visit in 2 weeks, when we're going to finish the rest of the michelin 3-star restaurants. i'm looking forward to some serious eating.
  23. hi there -- the site was down for some upgrades this morning; but should be up now. i love country epicure ... glad you like it too. le cinq review is coming this week ... stay tuned.
  24. Thanks for the feedback! Tokyo and Paris are surprisingly cheaper than New York, I'd say on average 20-30% including tax, gratuity, and conversion from USD. Not really sure why.
  25. As the second person who dined with tupac17616 more than fifteen times at this culinary mecca, here is the second part of our collaborative review of L'Atelier New York, our favorite restaurant in Manhattan. Photographs from all our experiences at L'Atelier can be found HERE. Getting into the main fish courses, part of our very first meal included Le Bar, a sea bass filet with crispy baby leeks, tomato, and a lemongrass foam. Adam did not much care for this dish. He found the lemongrass foam to be a bit too strong. Also, the fried baby leeks on top were a bit dry, adding too stark a textural contrast to the warm and moist fish. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the portioning of the fish was significant enough that it actually caused palate fatigue for him after about the third bite. I should point out, though, that I disagreed with him on this one. I found the natural sweetness of both the tomato and the leek to work well with the aroma from the lemongrass, and I was not as overwhelmed by the foam as Adam was. Not my favorite dish, I admit, but far from a failure. On a more recent trip to L’Atelier, Adam sampled L’Amadai cuit en écailles et servi sur une nage bulbe de lys, a tender filet of amadai (sea bream), served skin-side up, whose flesh gently parted with just the slightest press of the fork. The crevices within the filet, combined with its absorbent texture, drew in the lily bulb broth making the texture of the fish moist, juicy, and redolent of lily bulb. This dish’s Japanese-inspired simplicity and lightness made it a refreshing break after other richer courses. But that being said, this dish didn’t particularly move him; and while the quality of ingredients was high and the technique exemplary, he’d probably hold off on ordering this to save room for other things. I’ve long believed that smoked salmon has no place at the dinner table. It’s one and only companion should be a New York bagel (and maybe a schmear of cream cheese). But one night, having either run out of other options on the menu, or seeking to expose the unfortunate circumstances of my birth outside the Tri-State Area, I opted to order Le Saumon Mi-Fume, the lightly smoked salmon. Laid on top of a buttery potato cake, the fish was tender and moist, if surprisingly a bit muted in flavor. The watercress brightened it up nicely, though, as did the minuscule condiments that came alongside — a sweet onion jam, black olive paste, and a single sun-dried tomato. The fried ribbons of potato were a nice idea, but ultimately ineffective in adding a crunchy textural element to the dish. I’ve tried on a few occasions to imprint the leaf of an herb on a piece of pasta, each time without much success. It’s certainly not easy; at least, that was the first thought that ran through my head when I was presented with La Morue - fraiche en imprime d’herbes dans une nage aux aromates, a thin sheet of parsley leaf-imprinted pasta laid across the top of generous piece of cod. All of this was placed in the center of an aromatic broth. Since the fish was skinless, the sheet of pasta acted as a chewy component both making the dish more texturally interesting, and keeping the tender fish intact. It also locked in much of the moisture and heat, as the fish kept its temperature for a while. Soup, pasta, and fish course all in one, this was a pretty enjoyable dish. Another tasty presentation reminiscent of both ocean and land was Le Calamar, a salad of squid cooked a la plancha with violet artichokes, chorizo, and tomato water. Adding a nice top note was a generous distribution of piment d’Espelette, the spicy Basque pepper. With all the graceful knife strokes of a veteran sushi chef, the chef carefully scored the calamari with his knife prior to cooking, so that it puffed up and fanned out as it cooked. The effect on the texture was wonderful, with the firm, almost crunchy (but not tough) calamari cooked to just the right point. The slight smoky and spicy chorizo added richness, and the lightly dressed arugula salad on top of it all provided a bit of additional acid in addition to the naturally peppery flavor of the greens. While I quite enjoyed this dish, Adam found the arugula in particular to be superfluous. Probably not something he would order again (though I disagree). After a while, it seemed like we’d run out of new options on the dinner menu. When that happened, we simply asked to take a look at the lunch menu! One dish that caught me eye there was La Pintade, or guinea fowl. This dish certainly seemed more on the Spanish side rather than the French side of Basque cuisine. The bird was very moist, with the breast resting underneath the confit leg. Pimientos padrones were placed on top, the sometimes-spicy-sometimes-mild peppers that are damn good when just fried in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. On the very top were crisp slivers of jamon serrano, and there were also bits of roasted tomato throughout. And definitely plenty of piment d’espelette — a favorite seasoning of L’Atelier. The overall combination of ingredients was quite tasty. My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough sauce to go around for the cous cous, leaving much of it dry. Other than that, this was a nice dish. A solid choice that never seemed to leave the menu was La Caille, caramelized quail stuffed with foie gras mousse, served with potato purée covered with shaved black truffle, and a small green salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette. Though this is a dish whose richness may first strike the diner as one-dimensional, it is actually quite indicative of Joël Robuchon’s attention to balance on the plate. It has the complex sweet and salty, with the caramelized quail meat playing against the rich foie gras stuffed inside it. The hot and the cool, with the quail and the buttery puréed potatoes brightened up the tart green salad. Likewise, both texture and aroma are given equal attention, with the buttery smooth puréed potatoes elevated by the unmistakable earthy aroma of truffles. No single element threatens to dominate over another, and the resulting harmony is the stuff dreams are made of. Le Ris de Veau was a nothing more than a simple preparation of sweetbreads, but a good one. The fresh laurel leaf didn’t really accomplish much; but, the sweetbreads were cooked very well: crisp on the outside and buttery smooth on the inside. It’s easy to tell when one has started with a good product and it has been cooked correctly, when there’s none of the fatty or oily mouthfeel that poorly prepared sweetbread dishes often have. This is still very rich and meaty, but maintains a clean finish. But the dish was certainly not perfect. I mean… stuffed lettuce leaf? C’mon now. As much as chefs try to turn lettuce leaves into something special, it is rarely successful. That said, with the main ingredient being cooked impeccably well, it is hard to find much fault with this dish. After viewing the very cool Annotated Dish write up in New York Magazine, and running out of new things to try, I decided to give Le Foie Gras fumée, the layered combination of smoked foie gras and eel terrine, a try. Once was enough. The dish reads very well and sounds like a combination that would work; but it didn’t. In fact, this was one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had at L’Atelier. The glazed eel is so sweet that it completely overwhelms the foie gras. The creamy texture of the foie gras is prevented from coming through by the drastically different, almost stringy texture of the eel. The white on the plate is actually whipped cream — what was that doing there? There was also a bit of sansyo pepper to perk things up a bit, and some chives mainly for color variation; but the real problem was the conflict between the eel and smoked foie. One time that I stopped by without Adam, I enjoyed a few items he has still yet to see on the menu himself. Figures… the one time he couldn’t go. The first dish was Le Foie Gras de canard une symphonie soyeuse sous une fine gelée à la feuille d’or, a thin layer of veal stock gelée on top of a very creamy foie gras mousse. This combination was covered with shaved white truffle and edible gold leaf. The truffles gave a rich and interesting aroma to this dish that otherwise would have had essentially none. The gold leaf was, obviously, superfluous, but that minor quibble this dish as a whole was wonderful. It is always a nice to see something as rich and creamy as foie gras prepared in a way that highlights, without distracting, the ingredient’s natural flavors. When Adam first saw Le Foie Gras chaud de canard au gratin de pamplemousse, he hesitated at the thought of mixing grapefruit, or any other kind of citrus for that matter, with something so delicate as foie gras. But since we had already had everything else on the menu out of curiosity, he went for it. He was pleasantly shocked. Somehow, the bitter acidity was muted — but not completely — in a way that actually cut through the fatty mouthfeel leaving behind a crisp, lean, but still creamy flavor. The sauce was left thin which allowed for maximum absorption in the liver, despite making the plating a bit runny — a sign that flavor, in this dish, was not to be sacrificed at the expense of presentation. The saltiness of the foie gras engagingly complemented the fruitiness of the grapefruit, a beautiful twist of different flavors that mixed together in harmony. Among the meat options, Le Chevreuil, a filet of venison with caramelized quince, was perhaps the heartiest. What a nice combination. It’s annoying how venison is always paired with the same old black/blue/huckleberry sauce. Frankly, it’s trite. Pairing it instead with caramelized quince was refreshingly original, and added just the right level of sweetness. The venison was cooked rare as venison should be. I am a sucker for a well-executed aigre-doux (fancy French words for sweet-and-sour) preparation (don’t get me started on the Italian cipollini in agrodolce), and so I thought the mignonette worked very nicely in this case. Overall, quite a solid dish. It’s pretty rare to hear someone mention a foie gras and beef burger without bringing up Daniel’s db burger. See, I just did it, too. But L’Atelier has a foie gras and beef burger on their menu as well, and it is pretty unique. Le Burger is arguably more about the foie gras than the beef. It’s incredibly juicy, making one wonder whether it’s the foie gras or the ground chuck that is more responsible for the stream of juices that will inevitably run down your hand. Adam and I both dislike bell peppers very much, and frankly their addition in this dish seemed out of place. But the small brioche buns are very nice, soft and slightly sweet. The dish also comes with a small cup of crinkle cut french fries and house-made ketchup with a very sweet and distinct flavor which comes from the addition of ginseng. Adam and I didn’t particularly like the sweet ketchup; but our friend did proclaim it the best thing since kosher Coke. Sometimes, though, the bun, the peppers, and the other condiments just get in the way. Sometimes I just want Le Boeuf. Basically about eight ounces of pure raw meat, L’Atelier’s exquisite beef tartare is the best I’ve ever had (… in the US, I should add, lest we forget the buttuta al coltello I had in Italy). In an effort to minimize palate fatigue, I’ve found L’Atelier to be generally consistent with the portioning; but this dish is nearly two to three times the size of any other dish on the menu. It is definitely intense, and definitely not for vegetarians. The dish comes with just the right amount of condiments — mustard, cornichons, red onion, and parsley — which highlight the natural flavor of the beef without distracting. The texture of the meat was very nice, too, neither too coarse nor too finely ground. Yes, there were crinkle-cut french fries, and yes, they were tasty; but really. who cares about stupid french fries when the meat is that good? It should probably be noted that this dish’s $39 price is a little steep for what it is; but certainly justifiable given the generous portion. For those who actually like their meet cooked, one surprisingly fantastic option was L’Onglet, the humble cut of hanger steak presented with shallot confit, grilled piquillo peppers and roasted fingerling potatoes. The meat was juicy and tender, and when topped with the sweet caramelized shallots and surrounded by an intensely meaty jus, the more complex salty-sweet flavor was quite enjoyable. The roasted potatoes and grilled peppers added a Basque flair to the dish, and topped with a few coarse grains of fleur de sel, they were quite flavorful. A fully satisfying main course, and a nice change of pace from the smaller tapas-style portions that permeate the majority of the menu. While perhaps leaner than a slab of foie gras, kobe beef is nonetheless renowned for its intensely marbelized texture. We’ve sampled two variations of this Japanese-style beef at L’Atelier, one served with grilled piquillo peppers and the other with wild lettuce. Adam found the latter less appealing, as the raw lettuce served more as a useless garnish than something to complement the steak. The contrast between raw and cooked was just too stark for the lettuce to work with this dish. That being said, he was asked how I wanted the meat cooked, without any haughty mentions of how “chef recommends” that he get it — a small sign that the restaurant was thankfully willing to cater to the preferences of its clients. His request for rare was fulfilled, the marbelization shining through with each slice. (Truth be told, for something this fatty, I swear by medium-rare, allowing a bit of the intramuscular fat to be rendered.) Unless shared among two people, this course became a bit tiresome, since it was, after all, simply a steak. While the quality of meat was indeed high, this seemed more applicable for a steak house and a little out of context with the creativity of some of the restaurant’s other dishes. It would seem based on what we’ve shown so far that vegetables may be lacking in a meal at L’Atelier. Quite the contrary — there are a few vegetable dishes that might act either as an early course or perhaps a side dish with the more substantial main courses. One such dish that seemed like a refreshing start to a meal was L’Avocat en velouté sur un fondant acidulé de légumes, a vegetarian dish not unlike gazpacho. As you can see in the photo, its presentation that is perhaps more interesting from the side. The dominant flavor in the thick, slightly gelatinous translucent base is undoubtedly tomato, though other vegetables round it out. The avocado crème layer lends some depth to the initial acidity of the vegetable base, a result that works. Texturally, we found this dish rather dull and would have liked to see perhaps some crisp vegetables to add for greater contrast. It was certainly pretty, though. A lovely vegetable dish was called, fittingly, Les Legumes, small sautéed mushrooms atop a crumbly tart crust with feta cheese, drizzled with maple syrup, and covered with crisp slivers of zucchini and yellow summer squash. Though Adam didn’t have a chance to try this particular dish, I recall it being a lovely combination of sweet, salty, and savory. The feta and maple, in particular, was a brilliant combination of salty and sweet, and along with the mushrooms, added lovely depth and complexity to the bright taste of the barely-cooked zucchini and squash. All this talk about how wonderful L’Atelier is, and we haven’t even mentioned Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes yet. Fortunately, many of the more substantial main courses often come with these as a small side dish, so you’re bound to encounter them sooner or later. One small bite of these intensely buttery, unbelievably smooth potatoes, and there will be little need for anything else. In my experience, these addictive spuds have even been known to cause cases of culinary beer goggles, rendering the rest of the meal irrelevant, so enjoy at your own risk. But a meal at L’Atelier is simply not complete without a little cast-iron ramekin of these potatoes.
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