Tag: Top Restaurants

New Orleans Food Tour: Brennan’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

A disappointing breakfast at a beautiful restaurant.

Brennan’s is one of New Orleans famed historical restaurants. It opened on Bourbon Street in 1946 as Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carre Restaurant, and moved to its present location after the death of its founder. The restaurant, located in an 18th century building, underwent major restorations last decade, and it’s now famous for its several outrageously beautiful dining rooms, which so toe the line between elegant and kitschy. The front dining room, where we had breakfast, was wonderfully fun and Disneyesque. We could have been in a set from Beauty and the Beast.

Despite its age, Brennan is still a very popular restaurant in New Orleans, and its particularly noted for its breakfasts. Indeed, I read so much about them that I made reservations to eat there out last morning in New Orleans, despite the fact that I usually don’t eat breakfast. Alas, it proved a mistake. As lovely as the surroundings were, the food was underwhelming and overpriced.

As I wasn’t very hungry, and was planning to have after-breakfast dessert, I ordered the Shallot Tarte Tatin (caramelized shallots, sherry caramel, puff pastry, taleggio – $15.00). I expected the portion to be small, given that it was a (breakfast) appetizer, though perhaps not so small – still, it was delicious. I’d been afraid that the puff pastry would overwhelm the shallots, as is often the case, including when I’ve made similar tarts. Here, however, the puff pastry was barely there. There was just enough of it to hold the shallots together, and the chef must be recognized for this achievement. I will definitely try to copy this sometime. The shallots were perfectly caramelized and just beautiful, and they went wonderfully with the warmed cheese – which maybe needed to be a tad warmer so it wouldn’t cool down before I finished eating it. Still, this was a very successful dish, and for that reason, worth its rather steep price.

Brennan’s offers both New Orleans style chicory mixed coffee, and regular coffee from a local roaster. I had a pot of the latter ($9), and it was fine, though nothing to write home about. It did feel overpriced.

Mike had the Crawfish Omelette Cardinal (Vital Farms eggs, Louisiana crawfish tails, lemon scented Mascarpone, sauce Cardinal  – $28.00) and he was very disappointed in it. The biggest sin was that the crawfish were served separately from the omelette, instead of being incorporated into the omelette itself. The omelette, on its own, was pedestrian. He liked the dish, but was not awed by it and found it overpriced for what it was.

Mike had a French Quarter Fest (honeydew purée, Chareau aloe liqueur, sparkling wine – $15), which was basically a honeydew melon mimosa. He enjoyed quite a bit, and it has inspired me to try mixing champagne with a variety of fruit juices and purees to see which ones might work.

One of Brennan’s main claims to fame is that its antecedent restaurant was the originator of Bananas Foster. As the story goes, Ella Brennan created the dish based on a dessert her mother used to make and named it after Richard Foster, the chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission and a friend of her husband’s. That meant that we had to have the dish. You can only order it for at least 2 people, at $14 per person.

At Brennan’s, the waiter will come and flambee the dish table side. This means that you can see everything that goes into it: an enormous amount of butter and sugar and a banana, split in two. The banana is then served with the resulting toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’m sorry to say that as much as we loved the show – and enjoyed seeing kids seating nearby be fascinated by the flambeeing -, the results were underwhelming. The toffee sauce was unbelievably sweet – or rather, quite believable – and the banana didn’t really have the time to absorb much of it, it just slid off it. The ice cream was quite bland, and didn’t really work with the caramel. It was just not worth the sugar content.

Service was fine though uneven. The floor manager in our dining room – I don’t recall what title he used when he introduced himself – was an incredible salesman, welcoming everyone into the restaurant and convincing patrons that yes, in New Orleans, breakfast cocktails were a thing. It was a pleasure just to see him work the room. The waiters themselves were less impressive.

In all, I felt this was our most disappointing meal in New Orleans, as well as our most overpriced one, and it’s the one place I would not return to, at least for breakfast.

417 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA
M-F: 9 am - 2 pm, 6 - 10 pm
Sa-Su: 8 am - 2 pm, 6 - 10 pm

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: GW Fins

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

My first venture into a seafood restaurant was phenomenal

I don’t think I’d ever been to a seafood restaurant. I like white fish well enough, but I’m not a fun of any of crustaceans, red fish or any other sea creatures. Mike, as most people, loves seafood, but as most regular restaurants also serve seafood, he doesn’t usually feel deprived. So it was somewhat surprising, even to myself, that I decided to make a reservation at GW Fins for one of our only three dinners in New Orleans. My thought was that New Orleans is such a seafood city, that I couldn’t go to the city and not have fish at least once. And if I was going to have fish, I might as well have it in a restaurant that specializes in it.

GW Finn was highly recommended as one of the best restaurants in New Orleans in a number of publications and reddit posts, plus it was located only a few blocks from our hotel. I did read a comment that there was nothing particularly New Orleans about this restaurant – seafood restaurants of this sort exist in many major American cities -, but I figured not all of our meals in New Orleans needed to feature Creole food. In all, I’m very glad we went, as we (or really, I) had an amazing meal.

We had celebrated our thirty-first anniversary early during our February trip to New York City, but we had skipped going out to dinner on the actual date in favor of celebrating it once more in New Orleans. GW Fins welcomed us with a table decorated with sparkles and a ribbon-wrapped menu to take home. I thought it was a beautiful detail.

GW’s menu changes somewhat depending on what is available at the fish market that day, though not all of the seafood is local. Our waiter was very helpful in indicating what was. In addition to seafood, the menu includes entrees with chicken, pork and beef. Vegetarians, however, are out of luck unless they want to eat salad and sides.

I started my meal with a Poached Pear Salad (baby arugula, Danish blue cheese, candied walnuts, red grapes, balsamic reduction – $13). Seldom have I had a more perfectly balanced and well dressed salad. It was just delicious. The only minus were the poached pears themselves, which had been poached with cinnamon and other apple pie spices. This gave them a discordant note with the rest of the salad, though they were good in themselves. I think this salad would be much better with pears poached in plain water. But still, minus the pears, it was perfect.

Mike had the Lobster Bisque (Maine lobster, cognac crème fraîche – $14). They bring you a soup plate with large chunks of lobster and then they pour the bisque on top of it. Mike was wild about just how good it was – both the lobster itself and the creamy bisque. It might have been the best lobster bisque he’s had. I think I’ll try to recreate it for him when I go back to cooking.

I had a very hard time deciding on what actual fish dish I was going to get. The menu had a number of interesting, and even scary choices. Finally, I went with the wood grilled Golden Tilefish (sweet potato hash, chipotle butter, crisp plantains, pineapple basil glaze – $38) and it was phenomenal. Much to Mike’s chagrin, I couldn’t stop raving about it as I was eating it. First, the wood grilling of the fish was genius. It gave it a smoky flavor that contrasted very well with the sweetness of the sauce. And then, the combination of flavors and textures was just on point. Whoever is in the kitchen devising dishes like this deserves a raise. Flavors were both novel and balanced.

The tilefish itself had a mild flavor, so it was perfect to go along with all the other ones. The portion was substantial – so much so, that I was too full for dessert afterwards.

Mike, unfortunately, was much less lucky with his choice. He had loved the redfish we’d had at Brigtsen’s the night before, so he decided on the cast iron blackened Wild Redfish (fried shrimp, mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, chili hollandaise, corn butter – $37). The main problem was the rub on the fish. It was a generic Creole rub, that made the fish taste just of that. It wasn’t as much bad, as lazy and unimaginative. If you are going to use a Creole rub, it should be better than what I can put together in my home kitchen. That said, Mike really liked the fish. He felt it was perfectly cooked, and liked how the redfish was meatier and less flaky than other white fish such as cod. He also liked the shrimp – though he generally dislikes having to remove heads and tails himself, and loved the shrimpy sauce. I liked it too, it had plenty of umami flavor.

GW Finn also needs to be noted for their biscuits and butter. The warm biscuits were incredible, they came apart by just looking at them, but they were very tasty.

Service was very good as well – out waiter went patiently over the menu, told us what fish were local and was very attentive. He made us feel quite special and welcomed. We did notice that most of the customers were white, while most of the service staff were people of color. This did make us feel mildly uncomfortable, though I’m not sure what the restaurant could do about it.

GW Fins
808 Bienville St.
New Orleans, LA
(504) 581-3467
Su-Th: 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm
F-Sa: 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Broussard’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Delicious Creole food in a historical restaurant

Creole cuisine was developed in the kitchens of innumerable Creoles during the French and Spanish period, who combined European techniques with native and African ingredients, but it was popularized and brought to its zenith in the kitchens of a handful of now classic restaurants in New Orleans. Several of them still exist today, both in and out of the French Quarter, and no visit to the City is complete without dining at least one of them.

That said, I had not intended to go to Broussard’s for lunch the second and last day of our New Orleans trip. I had previously made and then cancelled reservations to Galatoire’s, another of these classic restaurants, whose Friday lunch is legendary, thinking that we’d want lighter fare for lunch. But it was a beautiful day, and after eating beignets in the courtyard of our hotel, I thought lunch in the courtyard of a nearby restaurant would be just lovely. Broussard not only fit the bill, but it had reservations available. And reservations are a must if you want to sit in the courtyard – walk ins are seated indoors, which is also lovely, but not what I wanted that day.

Broussard’s traces its history back to 1920 when Joseph Broussard, a Creole with French culinary training, opened the restaurant in the childhood home of his wife, Rosalie. After the couple died in the 1960’s, the restaurant was sold and has changed hands a number of times, but still occupies the same lovely building with a comfortable, casual and very sunny patio.

A jazz band plays during brunch, Fridays to Sundays, though that day they were mostly visiting individual tables and playing “Happy Birthday” – the trumpet player was amazing. Given how warm it was that early April day, I feel for them during New Orleans summers.

Broussard’s brunch menu offers Creole, Southern and French classics and I really wish I had been hungrier to try more of them – the baked Camembert, in particular, sounded wonderful. Mike, who hadn’t eaten as many beignets as I had, ordered the Duck And Alligator Sausage Gumbo, with Louisiana popcorn rice ($12) as an appetizer. This was our second gumbo of the trip, and we both agreed that it was the superior one. The soup was very flavorful, only slightly spicy and achieved that umami quality that is essential for any soup. The shredded duck, in particular, was delicious, while the alligator sausage was interesting but not as flavorful as Andouille. We’d definitely order this dish again.

I ordered the Short Ribs & Eggs ($34) which came with brabant potatoes and hollandaise sauce (I asked fo it to be on the side). The short rib was delicious, perfectly cooked, with the absolutely right texture and devoid of extra fat. The kitchen knows how to prepare a short rib. The potatoes were good as well, particularly with the hollandaise. While the dish didn’t appear huge, I was stuffed.

Mike had the Bbq Gulf Shrimp & Grits ($29) and he was in heaven. The “New Orleans style” barbecue sauce didn’t taste like any barbecue sauce I’m acquainted with, but was absolutely delicious. He usually hates grits, but he enjoyed these mascarpone grits swimming in them. If you are going to eat shrimp and grits in New Orleans – and if you like shrimp, you sort of have to -, this is where you should get them.

Neither of us had any room for dessert, but I did have bottomless mimosas ($18) with brunch. I liked that they make them for you at the table, bringing you a small carafe with orange juice to add to the flutes they keep filling with champagne. This way I was able to get the perfect mimosa for my taste – about 2/3rds champagne, 1/3 orange juice. These weren’t the best mimosas in the world, the orange juice wasn’t freshly squeezed, but they were definitely a fun drink to have in a warm day like that one.

Service was great. Our waiter was genial and efficient, even when he had to also take over the mimosa duty when the drink waiter became unavailable.

In all, this was one of the best meals we had in New Orleans, and it very much overshadowed the breakfast we had the next day at Brennan’s. If you are going to one restaurant for brunch, this is the place.

819 Conti Street
New Orleans, LA
M & Th: 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
F & Sa: 10:00 am - 4:00 pm & 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Su: 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Tu-W: closed

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Brigtsen’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Classic Creole food by a disciple of the great Paul Prudhomme

Brigtsen’s is one of those Chef owned restaurants that you just want to love because you know they are a labor of love themselves. Chef Frank Brigtsen started his culinary career as a pantry apprentice at New Orleans famed restaurant Commander’s Palace back in 1978. There, legendary chef Paul Prudhomme took him under his wing, teaching him how to cook traditional Creole cuisine. In 1986, Prudhomme helped Brigtsen open his own restaurant, and he has been cooking and serving sophisticated Creole cuisine ever since. In these almost forty years he has won numerous awards, including a James Beard, and has become an ambassador for Creole cuisine nationwide. He is also mentoring the next generation of Creole cuisine chefs.

The restaurant itself is located in a cottage in the Riverbend neighborhood of New Orleans. It’s only a couple of blocks away from a cable car stop, and the ride from the French Quarter takes you through the Garden District and by Tulane university. The ride in the airy wooden carriage was long but romantic in that balmy spring New Orleans evening, and a perfect preface to a Creole meal.

I’ve eaten at a handful of restaurants located in old homes, and I like the intimacy of the small dining rooms. This was the case at Brigtsen’s, where we were seated in what once might have been a small dining room itself. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration, but it wasn’t needed.

Brigtsen’s is a smart casual sort of place, like most of the nicer restaurants we went to in New Orleans. What this means in practicality is that collared shirts are a must for men.

Brigtsen’s menu is centered in Creole cuisine, though it travels beyond it by incorporating dishes and ingredients that show international influences – what you would expect from a lower-case, ever evolving creole cuisine.

The menu was heavy on seafood and not particularly friendly to vegetarians – fortunately, we didn’t have one along. It’s relatively short, fitting a small kitchen.

I wasn’t extremely hungry so I decided to forgo an appetizer and get dessert instead, though Mike went for the full three courses.

We started dinner with bread. Now, this is true at most American restaurants, but at Brigtsen’s they actually charge you for the bread ($3.50). This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – when I grew up in Argentina, most restaurants charged for bread -, if the bread was particularly good. This one wasn’t. It was just a typical French loaf, distinct only by how extraordinarily airy it was inside. Basically, it was all crust and the crust wasn’t particularly tasty. The salted butter was not particularly noteworthy either.

Mike had a cup of their Filé Gumbo with Chicken and Andouille Sausage ($9). It was my first experience with gumbo and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I’d always been reluctant to try gumbo because I thought all gumbos included okra. That turns out not to be true – they can also be thickened with filé, as was the case here, or even with a dark roux. It’s a pity I hadn’t tried them before, because the gumbo here was very good. Now, it wasn’t out of this world good – the filé, I think, gave it an awkward undertone – but it was tasty and satisfying. This being our first gumbo, we couldn’t really compare it to others when we ate it, but we liked the one we had at Broussard’s the following day more.

Mike had the Seafood Platter ($48), which came which consisted of seafood prepared in five different ways. He was very happy with it. He felt that the grilled redfish with crawfish and pistachio lime sauce sauce was perfectly cooked and delicious. The sauce was “yummy” and the crawfish added a nice texture. He liked both scallop preparations just as much. The baked scallop with Herbsaint creamed spinach and Gruyere was scrumptious and the cheese was mild enough to not overwhelm the scallop. He liked the sauce in the seared sea scallop with Fontina cream cheese grits and mojo sauce that he didn’t mind the grits, though the Fontina cream cheese helped. Mike doesn’t like oysters in general, but here the baked oyster with shrimp and crabmeat was chopped and mixed with the other seafood and he liked the overall dish as well as its presentation on an oyster shell. Finally, he loved the crawfish cornbread with jalapeño smoked corn butter. The cornbread had a kick without being too spicy and the crawfish gave it a subtle flavor. The bread has a nice, standard texture. In all, he was very happy.

Not being a seafood lover, I was more limited on my choices and decided to go with the Grilled Beef Filet with Marchand du Vin sauce ($45), despite it sounding more French than Creole. The filet was described as grilled, but I could have sworn it was sous vide given how incredibly tender it was and how consistent it was its texture. I don’t think I’ve had a more tender steak in my life, though I also don’t think I’ve had sous vide steak before, so I’m only speculating as to what its texture might be. It was also impressively free of any grit. The sauce was as delicious as expected. The mashed potatoes had good flavor, and this was overall a good, solid dish.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist the Tres Leches Cake with Ponchatoula Strawberries and Chocolate whipped Cream ($14) despite its less than Creole origin. It was a big mistake. The cake was crumbly and lacked both moisture and flavor. A shortcake or biscuit would at least have been able to absorb the sauce and gain it from it, but this one didn’t have the necessary consistency. The chocolate cream provided a discordant flavor that overwhelmed both the cake and the strawberries, and had a heavy consistency, closer to buttercream. Finally, the strawberries were just not sweet. In all, this dessert was a complete failure and should not have been served. Someone should have tasted the strawberries, determined they weren’t ready and taken it off the menu.

Mike had the Lemon Ice Box Creme Brulée ($10) and that was much better. There was nothing remarkable to it, but it had a nice flavor and consistency. It was, at least, what you expected it to be.

I had sparkling water with dinner ($3), but Mike had a Bayou Bonfire cocktail ($13). Unfortunately, he can’t remember it at all – and all I remember is that it was way too alcoholic for me to try more than a sip, but that is true with most cocktails.

Service was competent thought not extremely attentive – for example, no one inquired about how we felt about dessert.

In all, given everything I’d read about the restaurant before we went, I expected more – of the three full fledged meals we had at New Orleans restaurants, this was my least favorite – though that may just speak about the quality of the others. Still, we did have a lovely dinner in a lovely restaurant after a lovely cable car ride, and enjoyed the experience very much. I’d return.

723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA
T-Sa: 5:00 pm - 8:30 pm

New Orleans Food Tour

NYC Food Adventures: Kochi

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

Is the future of high end cuisine in New York, Korean?

Our last night in New York City we decided to have a meal that looks at the City’s culinary future – and what a meal it was!

New York City is the culinary Mecca of the world. Its vibrant immigrant population comes from every country in the world, and its high density forces both people and cuisines to be a in a constant dialogue with each other. Fierce competition means that there isn’t much room for being less than perfect (though apparently some Asian restaurants are the exception to this). It’s thus no wonder that NYC has the most Michelin starred restaurants than other city outside Japan, other than Paris. While I’m not one of those who think that Michelin stars are the be-all end-all (for some decades now, Michelin reviewers have been obsessed with Japanese cuisine and methods, greatly biasing their results in favor of such restaurants), they are as good a way as any to judge to culinary richness of a city.

For years, the high-end culinary scene has been dominated by restaurants serving French or French-inspired, pan-Asian influenced “contemporary” cuisine (and, of course, Japanese fare). Finally, though, we are seeing restaurants that focus on other cuisines break into the high-end scene, and I expect that this will become a growing trend. Already Indian, Mexican and Israeli restaurants have received Michelin stars in New York City, while a Mexican and two Thai restaurants have obtained them in San Francisco. But no cuisine has broken into the high-end restaurant scene as stridently, as Korean food. New York City now features ten Michelin starred Korean restaurants, while the Bay Area has two. The future of high-end cuisine may be global, but the present seems to be Korean.

We were not, of course, necessarily surprised to learn this. Korean food is delicious – my husband could live on bulgogi alone -, and not as challenging to American tastes as other Asian flavors. Indeed, its flavor profiles can be quite flexible, as shown by the rise of Korean fusion cuisines, such as K-Mex. That said, we had never had high-end Korean cuisine before and were excited to try it.

Kochi was the logical choice for this exploration, as it was conveniently located near our hotel. While I couldn’t get reservations the first time I tried, I got on the waiting list and was able to procure them for a Friday at 7 PM without too much trouble, albeit the only seating available was in the enclosed patio.

Kochi’s patio was, indeed, our first indication that the future of fine dining is not in fine surroundings. While the restaurant itself is pleasant enough – a contemporary, clean, non-distinctive, crowded space -, the patio itself was a sad afterthought. I imagine that it was put into place during the pandemic, but little to no effort has been added to make it a pleasant environment. The tenting and heating, while welcomed in such a cold, rainy night, were distinctively unattractive. More problematically, the smell from the fuel burnt by the heaters they used was overwhelming – I’m not sure if they had a leak or they use some particularly smelly fuel such as kerosene, but it smelled toxic. Given how important smell is to a culinary experience, this was an atrocious choice. At the prices they charge, they should be able to afford electric heaters.

On the plus side, Kochi is a rather casual restaurant, particularly in the patio, so you don’t have to worry about bringing a jacket for anything but warmth.

Kochi serves a 9-course menu for $145 plus supplements. The food is upgraded Korean street food, in particular, skewers – though a lot of the items they serve would be better off without one (do remove it before you try to eat each dish). While you don’t get to choose your courses, Kochi will text you before the evening and ask you about any food restrictions, and work around them. Everyone gets the same dishes. The amounts are perfect so that you don’t end up hungry, but are not overstuffed either. They offer a sool paring for $105, which consists of various Korean liquors. We decided against it, as we are not big alcohol drinkers. I had bubbly water while Mike had a single glass of sool, but he doesn’t remember which one. He found it interesting, but not something he’d have again.

Dinner at Kochi started with Sweet Potato Soup (chapsal beignet, caramelized apple, toasted yulmu, caviar). The plate comes with the beignet and accoutrements, and the soup is poured on top of it (the photo was taken before that happened). The soup itself was absolutely delicious, and my favorite dish of the evening, and something I will try to make myself in the future. While the beignet and other ingredients added texture and contrasted well with the sweetness of the soup, the soup was really the star of this dish and didn’t need anything else.

Our second dish was Hwe (red snapper, bergamot doenjang, fennel salad, satsuma). I’m not a huge fan of crudo, though I did like the fruitiness in this dish, but Mike absolutely loved this.

Next, we had the Eggplant Twigim (rice cake, pine nut hummus, turnip, fermented chili). Neither my husband nor I are fans of eggplant, but these skewers were surprisingly tasty. I did like the pine nuts hummus. In all, the combination of flavors and textures was quite good.

Our next skewer was of Halibut in a Jiri Consommé (bean sprout and mustard green namul, tofu). This bite was cooked to the precise right level of doneness, was wonderful flaky and nicely seasoned in the broth. Mike, who loves fish, enjoyed it greatly.

Next we had the 28 Days Dry-Aged Pork Collar (pistachio ssamjang, Perilla kimchi, Savoy cabbage). I’m sure it was good, but it was probably the least remarkable dish of the evening, as we can’t remember it at all.

For the next dish, you could have the Duck (Long Island duck breast , barley risotto, duck jus, potato jeon) or substitute it with Wagyu beef for an extra charge. I decided on the duck, while my husband got the beef. It was perfectly cooked, the skin was nice and crispy, and the whole bite was delicious. I did like the combination of flavors, and the barley risotto underneath it.

Mike loved his A5 Wagyu beef ($59 supplement), which came with the same accoutrements as the duck. While he opted against ordering the Perigord black truffle supplement ($20), it was served with it anyway, compliments of the Chef. A5 is the highest classification for Wagyu beef and you definitely could tell the difference. I’ve only had Wagyu beef twice (I’m not counting Wagyu beef patties), the first from a supermarket and the second at Bix in San Francisco, and neither could compare in any way whatsoever. Then again, a whole Wagyu steak at Bix was $50, while here you got a three-bite strip of beef for a $59 supplement. We did love it, but I don’t think it was worth the money – other than for the experience of having tasted such quality of meat. I wouldn’t order it again, unless I was swimming in money.

The last savory dish in the tasting menu is Shrimp Bibimbap (soy-cured shrimp, sous-vide quail egg yolk, seasonal sprouts, candied anchovy, seaweed rice). You can substitute the shrimp for sea urchin for $16. As I don’t eat shrimp, they offered to substitute the shrimp in this dish with salmon – which I dislike just as much. Fortunately, they were able to do substitute it with beef instead. Ultimately, I don’t think the meat made much of a difference, as it was only a small part of this dish – which really amounts to an after dinner salad. The flavors were quite nice, when everything is mixed together, and I think the crispiness of the fresh greens worked as a great counter for the fattiness of our previous course. This was quite well thought out.

We had ordered one serving of the Abalone ($24 supplement), given that Mike wanted to try it and I didn’t (I did take a bite, I hated it as much as I thought I was going to). Unfortunately, they’d forgotten about it, and they only brought it when I reminded them. Fortunately this was before we had started our desserts. Mike was pleased though not overwhelmed by the abalone – which he’d never had before. He felt it tasted like he expects mollusks to taste, and he liked it but wasn’t overly impressed by it. He was happy to have tried it, but doesn’t think it was worth adding it, given the price.

Finally, we had time for dessert – and this tasting menu includes two of them. The first was Froyo (daechu frozen yogurt, dehydrated korean dates, cranberry compote) and it was absolutely delicious. Mike liked it better than the plethora of desserts we’d had the previous night at Daniel, though I still preferred the vacherin there. But it was really, very good. I was dismayed when writing this review that daechu refers to jujube dates, which means that I will not be trying to make this frozen yogurt myself – but I really enjoyed the bright, tart flavor.

This was followed by Chestnut Ice Cream (honey crisp compote, chestnut cream). It was nice, but completely overshadowed by the froyo, which we liked fare more.

Finally, they brought us a complimentary dessert, as we were – once again – celebrating our anniversary (early). Unfortunately, I can’t remember it at all. If there is one thing I’ve learned from our two high-end dining experiences is that one dessert is enough. I understand that if you hire a pastry chef, you want to take full advantage of their talents – but at least at our age, we really don’t need that many sweets at the end of a meal.

Service was good and pleasant, but not particularly remarkable. It was definitely not as obsequious as at Daniel’s. In all, I’d say that dinner at Kochi was an excellent culinary experience – Mike actually liked the food better here than at Daniel’s -, the experience was limited to the menu. Beyond it, it was like dining at any other average restaurant. For the price – and we ended up spending roughly the same amount as at Daniels -, I felt dinner at Daniel was much more of a treat. Of course, if you can afford dinners like these as something other than once-in-a-decade experience, the lack of “specialness” about dinner at Kochi would probably matter far less.

652 10th Ave.
New York City
Mon-Thur: 5:00pm – 9:30pm
Fri, Sat: 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Sun: 5:00pm – 9:30pm

NYC Food Adventure: Daniel

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

A Wonderful Night at a Two Michelin Star Restaurant

I wanted to crown our once-in-our-lifetime trip to New York City with a visit to both the future and the past of fine dining in the City – going to one of the best classic restaurants, and one of the best and most innovative newest ones. For the former, we chose Daniel.

The beautiful main dining room. Our reservations were early, as we were hoping to catch a show after dinner, and the restaurant filled up by the time we left.

I can’t say, really, that it was much of a choice as one of the other contenders, Le Cirque, had closed years prior, and two more, Le Bernardin and Per Se, did not have reservations available during our week in New York, but Daniel was perfect for what I wanted: a restaurant that for decades had been at the very top of the NYC restaurant pyramid. The eponymous flagship restaurant of famed chef Daniel Boulud, Daniel turned thirty years old last year. It’s located on Park Avenue, near Central Park, and features a grand, if somewhat understated, dining room that screams “special occasion.” It also has a lounge for more casual occasions. While I don’t know what Daniel’s menu looked like thirty years ago, I can’t imagine it was significantly different. The dishes are all classic French-inspired concoctions, which mostly delighted and sometimes even surprised. Presentation was impecable, flavors and compositions magnificent, and the whole experience exactly what you expect from a two or three Michelin star restaurant (Daniel lost its third star a decade ago).

Daniel offers a four course prix-fixe menu ($188) and a seven course tasting menu ($275) in the dining room, and the former plus an a la carte menu in their lounge. The prix-fixe menu gives you a choice of dishes for each course, while the tasting menu is set by the Chef and must be ordered for the whole table. I had gone in thinking we’d do the tasting menu, but quickly changed my mind when I realized that foie gras was only available as part of the prix-fixe one. Plus, I figured, by sharing dishes, my husband and I would be able to taste eight different ones, rather than just seven. In addition to the for courses of the pre fix menu, there is a pre-appetizer dish and three extra dessert courses – so that four-course menu is really an 8-course one. You most definitely do not leave hungry. Both menus come with wine pairings ($125 to $195) but we no longer can drink that much alcohol and stay awake, so we decided against it.

leek amuse bouches

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of leeks prepared three ways, served on a somewhat disconcerting half plate (literally a plate cut in half). Mike and I absolutely love leeks and this dish was not only beautiful but delicious – probably my second favorite of the night. I particularly loved the creamy leek soup, which reminded me of the leek cream I make for my flamishe.

Mike’s first course consisted of the Long Island fluke (sea buckthorn cured, crème fraîche, crispy daikon
shaved radishes, orange balm). These were basically thin layers of fluke, served cold, with the listed accoutrements. I wasn’t a fan, which is not surprising as I’m not a big raw fish fan. Mike, on the other hand, loved it. He thought the combination of flavors and textures was amazing.

Far more successful for me, and I’d say even beautiful, was the Upstate New York foie gras terrine (Lehigh Valley squab, cacao, Fukushu kumquat, heart of palm, “brioche feuilletée”). The terrine was delicious and worked very well with the acidity of the kumquat and the bitterness of the chocolate. Moreover, it was s generous slice.

Mike’s first second dish was Montabauk Black Sea Bass (Ossetra caviar, beluga lentils, vodka-watercress emulsion). We were at first thrown by the presentation (round fish?) but had fun with it. The fish was flaky and perfectly cooked, and the combination of flavors worked very well – I liked how fresh the watercress emulsion was. The lentils were very comforting.

My second course dish, the Upstate New York Foie Gras (Cointreau flambéed, Cara cara orange, licorice, braised black radishes, an $18 supplement) was cooked tableside and it was a spectacle. The show was fun, but the foie gras was truly delicious. I’ve had various combinations of foie gras and fruit before, but this very well may be my favorite. The portion was generous, and it went perfectly with the tiny pieces of brioche. As much as we enjoyed the black sea bass, I wished we had ordered two of the foie gras instead, so I could have had a full portion just for myself. It was that good and our favorite dish of the evening.

For his entree, Mike had the Manchester Farms quail “Onyx” (black truffle, Horn of Plenty mushroom “subric”, celery, “sauce Albufera”). This was perhaps the hardest dish to understand – I’m still trying to. As best as I can understand, the dish consisted of a croquette stuffed with quail and quail eggs. I do not like eggs, so this was not the dish for me, but once again Mike liked it, and he liked the presentation and combination of flavors.

My entrée was the Highland Farm venison (chestnut crusted, parsley, spaetzle, myoga,
mustard greens salad, sauce “Grand Veneur”) and I thought it worked very well. The meat was tender and perfectly cooked – but it’s venison, not the most flavorful meat out there. I did like the spaetzle in the sauce and I absolutely loved the chestnut purée. I will have to attempt to make something like that for some holiday meal. It’s sweet, but the sauce gave it a savory element. It was simply good.

It was then time for dessert, and these kept coming and coming…


I ordered the Sudachi Vacherin (sudachi sherbet, green apple-herbs sorbet, nori scented meringue) and it was excellent. I loved the combination of the sour sorbets (sudachi is a Japanese citrus) and the sweet meringue. It has inspired me to try to experiment making sorbets from different citruses, as well as green apples (if I can figure out a way to juice them or buy green apple juice). It was my favorite dessert of the evening.

Mike chose the Hukambi (Brazilian chocolate custard, toasted riz au lait, banana ganache) and it was good, but pretty unmemorable. I was pretty fully by then and I have began to like chocolate less and less in my older years so I wasn’t terribly into it. Mike, who wanted it, can’t remember what he thought of it. He didn’t dislike anything that night, so he must have liked it.

We were having an early anniversary celebration that night, so the next dish that came – several chocolate truffles – was served in a dish with a candle and Happy Anniversary written on it. I thought it was very nice. Truffles were good, though, as mentioned, I was really full by then.

mini madelines

If I had been able to eat anything else, I would have gone for these mini-Madelines. They were served warm and they were fluffy, soft and delicious. I had only a couple, but they were very much worth it.


Apparently, three dessert courses weren’t enough – as we then got these three petit fours. I can’t even tell you about them. I’m sure they were great, but there is such a thing as too much dessert, so they blended into everything else that evening.

And indeed, we weren’t done. Because we had a fifth dessert course to come – though by this point, we didn’t bother with pictures. This involved chocolate sticks (thin cookie sticks covered on chocolate). I tried one – because I had to – and it was very good, but really, it was almost cruel to be given all this amazing food with just one stomach.

Finally, we got a little canelé to take home with us. I wanted to make these myself when I cooked Bordelaise food, but they require a special pan I didn’t want to have to buy. I’d gotten them boxed, and had been disappointed with them, but commercial products are often poor imitation of the real thing. Unfortunately, in this case they weren’t. Daniel’s canelés, which I tried the next day, were also dense, not very sweet and not very flavorful. I think we must blame Burgundy and not Daniel, however.

Daniel has an impressive wine list and large variety of cocktails, but I stuck with sparkling water all night (Evian, $10 for a bottle) while Mike mostly drank tap water. He did have a cocktail, a Liaison Lisbonne ($24). He liked it, but can’t remember what was in it.

Service throughout the night was splendid. The staff was obsequious and really made us feel pampered and special. I’ll say that, in general, we got great service in New York, so that might be part of the NYC hospitality culture.

Daniel no longer has a dress code, though jackets are encouraged for gentlemen. All but a couple of men wore them, and most women were nicely dressed – I didn’t see anyone wearing “nice jeans”.

In all, we had a lovely evening, and we’d highly recommend Daniel for anyone who wants to have a special, classical meal, in beautiful surroundings.

60 E 65th Street,
New York, NY 10065
(212) 288-0033
Tuesday-Sunday, from 5pm-10pm

NYC Food Adventures: Russian Samovar

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

A Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner

Our trip to New York City happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day, so I had the pleasure of getting to pick a restaurant for us to have a special date at. We practically never go out for Valentine’s Day, so this was a special treat.

There were many choices, as you can imagine. At first I made reservations at Orso, an Italian restaurant. It’s sibling restaurant, Joe Allen, is iconic in the Theater District, but they were all booked up for V-Day. I soon changed my mind and decided on Marseille, a French restaurant with a traditional menu. Mike loves French food and what’s better for Valentine’s Day? But we didn’t have that many nights in the city, and I did want to try a traditional red sauce restaurant, so I decided to make reservations at Bamonte’s instead. The centenarian restaurant, with tuxedoed waiters, did sound like an ideal place to have Valentine’s dinner, but getting there from our hotel was a pain. It would require an expensive taxi ride, and I rather spend money on food rather than transportation.


I finally decided on Russian Samovar because the pictures of the restaurant made it look very romantic – it’s a dark space, decorated with rich reds and has piano player -, and we pretty much never have Russian food here in the Bay Area. There are several Russian restaurants in San Francisco, but we seldom make the trek to the other side of the Bay.

Samovar had another allure, it was co-owned by Mikhail Baryshnikov once upon a time – the restaurant appeared in some scenes in Sex and the City, where Baryshnikov played Carrie’s boyfriend -, and the piano had been owned by him. My college roommate was a huge Baryshnikov fan, and I remember Baryshnikov fondly from White Nights. Thinking of him brought me back to the time when Mike and I first met each other. There is no better romance than young love remembered.

The choice of Russian Samovar proved fortuitous, as it ended up being half way between The Daily Show studio, where we had spent the afternoon watching a taping, and our hotel. Indeed, I had overestimated how long the taping would last so we were about an hour early for our reservation. Fortunately, they were able to sit us. Our small table near the piano might not have been the best in the house – at least judged by how apologetic the hostess was -, but it was perfectly fine for us. The ambiance was, indeed, dark and romantic and the piano music, while loud, wasn’t constant and still allowed us to carry on a conversation.

The restaurant itself is pretty small, but they have another room upstairs – a lounge, I think.

The food is described as Russian/Ukrainian. I haven’t gotten to either country in my international food project, but I did recognize some of the dishes from neighboring countries.


We started by sharing the veal pelmeni (handmade dumplings served in a light chicken broth, $19). I’m not usually a huge fan of dumplings, much less in broth, but these were absolutely delicious. The dough was soft and chewy and the filling was bursting with flavor. I was really impressed. Mike loved them as well.


I had the Duck A la Russe (crispy pan-seared duck in a plum reduction – $36) as my main dish, and I liked it very much. Duck is always a tricky dish to cook, but they did a very good job. The sauce went very well with the duck flavor, without overwhelming it.


Mike had the Karski (grilled, marinated double cuts of lamb in Georgian spices, ~$60). It was also delicious, I’d even say I liked it more than the duck. It was perfectly cooked and the spices gave it a bright flavor. The French fries were good too, though obviously the lamb was the star.

Mike had a White Russian ($18) with dinner, and I felt it was a pretty standard one – though I’m not sure if there is a way to make an actually special White Russian.

We were so full by the end of the meal, that we didn’t even think about dessert.

Mike is not a huge fun of lounge music, but I enjoyed it. At some point, a young, Russian-looking couple sitting near us – who were having Valentine’s dinner with their three kids! – stood up and danced, and it was so extremely cute.

In all, it was a perfect Valentine’s Day dinner. I chose right.

Russian Samovar
256 West 52nd Street
New York City
Monday 4pm-12:00am
Tuesday-Friday 12:00 pm -12:00am
Saturday-Sunday 12pm -1am


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