dStage (Madrid, Spain)

It has been a long 8 months since I have eaten a proper Michelin starred meal (cry me a river), in part because I am stateside, traveling frequently, working hard and living the business owner life. But, as I found myself on my way to Madrid for a trip, I just had to visit the recently-opened dStage (Days to Smell Taste Amaze Grow and Enjoy) restaurant in Madrid, which is a restaurant from Chef Diego Guerrero, formerly of two Michelin-star El Club Allard.

I am always concerned about new restaurants, but, well, my concerns were unfounded. 

The decor: Industrial chic.

The food: The two amuse-bouche courses, served at the bar by Diego himself, were outstanding. Perhaps, dare I say it, two of the best dishes in the meal.  That and our final savory course, which was the best pigeon I have ever tasted. 

There was only one “miss” which was the “Estructuras blandas y crujientes de la ternera,” which roughly translates to “Soft and crispy veal structures.”  It was about a 2 inch piece of veal tendon that had the texture of gee asy fat, and certainly was not edible on its own.  It was clever use of the meat, but not properly executed on the plate.

My predictions: 1 Michelin Star in 2015, 2 Michelin stars in 2016.  The place has the makings of one of Madrid’s best restaurants.

DiverXO (Madrid, Spain)

Perhaps the strangest, most interesting dining experience I have ever had.  DiverXO is a three-star restaurant, but very different from any restaurant I have ever visited.  But, let me set the stage first.

I arrived at DiverXO the evening of my last night in Madrid.  I had made a reservation a couple weeks before, which in retrospect was strange, as the place has a 4 month waiting list.  Well, I used American Express to make the reservation, which was a mistake.  Their concierge is awful, but if I don’t want to do something I leave it to them.  If you have an assistant, a bad assistant is better than American Express’ concierge.  Anyways, my dining companion and I show up to the restaurant around 9:15, a little late of our 9:00 PM reservation.  

They have someone who’s name is similar-ish to mine, but no reservation for me.  Not a good sign, as this is my last night in Madrid.  After some confused looking, we figure out that my reservation was never in existence, in fact it was canceled.  The system did not accept it.  Great.  But since American Express made it, they did not tell me.  So…here we are in a 3-star Michelin restaurant without a reservation.  

This has never happened to me. So I am thoroughly confused.  And even weirder, a table of 4 had not showed up to their reservation, almost 30 minute late at this point.  They tried calling the group several times to no avail.  So guess what, we somehow have a table.

And after all that, we sit at a nice table for 4, even though we are just two people.  We start with our drinks, but something about the whole situation is terribly unsettling to me.  Right as we are about to start our meal, guess who shows up.

And then, we get up.  They promise us we will be able to eat.  But we have to walk back out of the dining room to the nonexistent bar area and awkwardly stand…unsure if we are going to be able to dine.    They serve us the first course, as we awkwardly stand around.  At this point, I thought they were going to serve us the first course, then kick us out. The dining room simple did not have space. 

A few terribly uncomfortable minutes later, they seat us.  We’re actually going to eat.  I’m scared they are going to poison our food or something - this really was a debacle.  We are seated basically 45 minutes after arriving.  Somehow…somehow they made it work.

What’s even better, a few minutes after taking our order…I BROKE MY CHAIR.  As if things couldn’t get awkward enough.  I was so embarrassed by the whole thing.  But…but it worked.

Now, onto the food.  

I can’t describe it.  DiverXO is, without a doubt, the most interesting meal I have ever consumed.  I had the pleasure of visiting a 2 - Michelin star restaurant earlier in the week; DiverXO was an entirely different level.  The food was so unique, so delicious it was incomprehensible.  If it continues on that trajectory, I have no doubt it can take over the top 10 restaurants in the world - it was simply that good. I have posted the “menu” in Spanish and English - it reads much better in Spanish, but the English version for the 3 people that read this on occasion. 

Best meal in my life (outside of Chick-Fil-A, of course).

Click below to scroll.

El Club Allard (Madrid, Spain)

El Club Allard is perhaps one of the finest bargains in Michelin Star dining.  To speak of a dining experience as a bargain, for me, is a very rare consideration.  In fact, to even consider price is, in general, irrelevant. But, for a two star dining experience, El Club Allard was worth every penny.  

A group of six of us ate what was a nearly perfect meal.  It was so good, we even ate the menu, literally. 

The Meal

Aperitif: Pascal Doquet Blanc de Blancs

Scones & Garlic Butter
Short shell “txangurro”
Game truffle with Foie and Mushrooms

Wine: Marones Picarana 2012 (Albillo Real)

Chantilly from “Cantagrulla” with Seaweed
Oinion Soup

Wine: Terra Remota: Caminante 2012

Egg with Bread and Pancetta served over a light Potato Cream Sauce
Tuna from the north of Spain with Tomato and tender almonds
Sea Bass with Korean Marinade

Wine: Finca la Emperatriz Viura 2010

Sucking Lamb Shoulder with Tandoori crumble

Wine: Jimenez Landi Pielago 2010

Nordes’s Gin Tonic with Strawberry
The Fishbowl
Poched Egg
“Face of Buddha”

There were numerous “standout” dishes during the meal.

Onion Soup - Perhaps the finest I have ever tried.

Suckling Lamb Shoulder - Tender, flavorful, simply perfect.  Could be eaten every day of the week.

Gin Tonic with Strawberry - The flavor packed into this pre-dessert was unbelievable.  Simply fantastic. 

Poached Egg. An indescribably delicious…non egg. It was chocolate.

All unforgettable.

Punto MX (Madrid, Spain)

Perhaps the hardest reservation I have ever tried securing is at Punto MX, a Mexican restaurant in Madrid.  The standard dinner wait list is 2-3 months in advance, which is unheard of a country in the midst of a financial crisis.  In fact, I’m pretty sure no other restaurant in the country has such demand.  So, knowing I would have to go for my birthday, I made a reservation several months in advance for 6 people.  

The food? Delicious.  Punto MX is quite simple, traditional Mexican food.  There was little culinary technique that “wowed” me.  But the quality of ingredients was extraordinary.  There was no bad or disappointing dish.  And while I will not have the opportunity to return anytime soon, I could definitely eat there once a week.  It was reasonably priced and not too fancy.


Our Feast

Guacamole Punto MX.

Ceviche de callos de lubina. Salsa de chile de árbol.

Panuchos de cochinita pibil. X’nipek de cebollita morada y chile habanero.

Tacos de Wagyu. Aguacate, cebolla asada y salsa de miltomate. 

Tacos de cochito ibérico ahumado. Salsa de aguacate y chile serrano.

Tacos de buey gallego madurado por 90 días estilo norteño. Salsa ranchera.

Galvin La Chappelle (London, United Kingdom)

I was in London with my family and had the opportunity to visit Galvin La Chappelle, a 1-star restaurant in the city. I chose the place because it had a sizable a la carte menu, in addition to a tasting menu.  Quite the opposite of me, my parents are extraordinarily picky eaters and would not enjoy the tasting menu format.

Overall, the restaurant was very good but a bit rough around the edges, as we say, when it came to service.  Mostly small things bugged me - the servers were a bit too informal in conversation, at times it took a while to get a drink refill, the coffee/digestifs came way too late in the dessert course, and they did not offer to call a taxi for us as we left (we were in a very quiet part of town on a holiday, where taxis were very hard to come by).  There were several other little things that were a bit sub-par when it came to service, but as I enjoy my moment's too much I try not to take notes of everything.

The interior of the restaurant was gorgeous - an industrial-chic decor, with very high ceilings.  It looks like an old warehouse or even an old church converted into a restaurant.  My only complaint was a lack of music or any sort of ambiance in the background - it was eerily quiet and felt as if the restaurant lacked a certain energy.  Also important, returning to the service issues, they did a poor job of table placement.  On a quiet night with ample tables available, tables of 3 were seated awkwardly at 4-person rectangular tables, when something more circular was available.  That should not have been the case.

My meal was as follows:

Lasagne of dorset crab, beurre nantais & pea shoots

This was a very tasty dish, rich, buttery but not heavy.  It was a bit of an overly aggressive way to start a meal in my opinion, and lacked a bit of "wow" factor - while it was very good, perhaps a kick of spice and/or color could have helped this dish a bit.  Nonetheless, very few complaints from me, it was very, very good.

Roast Yorkshire grouse, celeriac purée & blackberries  

It was my first time eating grouse, and from a purely intellectual interesting perspective, it was fascinating.  For the uninitiated, grouse is a bird, a very gamey one at that.  It has a similar-ish texture to chicken, but much, much more flavor.  The dish tasted as if I had been deep in the woods until all day, and grouse was my catch. A wealth of wonderful, woody flavors, deep, dark meat, and simply fantastic.  The only two changes I would make would be eating it in the cold of winter instead of summer at my hunting lodge, and pairing it with a very bold red wine.

The two desserts I consumed were both very good, but I have little to say - good or bad - about them.

Apple tarte tatin, crème fraîche

Valrhona chocolate ganache, honeycomb & coconut sorbet

Santceloni (Madrid, Spain)

I recently had the opportunity to visit the two Michelin star restaurant Santceloni, in the X hotel. I had walked by it many times, and had always been curious about the restaurant.  In fact, my very first (albeit brief) living apartment in Madrid was next to it.  So, naturally, when I needed a Michelin-starred meal on short notice, I turned to Santceloni, with high expectations.

And disappoint it was.  We dined with a group of 6, all opting for the seven-course Gastronomic Menu with accompanying wine pairings.  The cost per person was €250, which is a quite a hefty price tag.  Except, if the meal were exceptional, I would not think twice about the price.

Unfortunately, not only was it one of the more disappointing Michelin starred meals I have had in Europe, easily the worst two-star restaurant thus far, I left starving.  

There is little to remark on the menu.  The wine pairings were disappointing, with the exception of the beginning sherry.  Otherwise, a waste of money.  Also, the portions were bite sized, and the best dish was ironically the one not prepared in the restaurant — the cheese plate.   And given the expense, certainly not worth it.  Unfortunately.

So, having spent almost $350 on sub-par food, especially for a two Michelin star restaurant,  pass.

Ristorante Soro Rosa (Roma, Italy)

At times the simplest of meals, those constructed with the freshest of ingredients cooked to perfection, are the most memorable.  The types of meals that are just cooking, no fanfare, no artistry or wizardry in the kitchen. The type of meal my mother could make if she were from Rome and owned a garden. The kind of meal that not only could I eat everyday, but would possibly be the happiest person on earth if I did.

The three components of my meal were simple.  

Bruschetta, with perhaps the finest tomatoes know to humans

Chicken under a brick

Chocolate cake

But my…I would eat this meal over any Michelin-starred meal any day.

It has risen to #4 on my last meals of my life, if I could have said choice. (#1 Chick Fil A Chicken Sandwich, #2 Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich, #3 Mom's cooking)

Artesian Bar at The Langham London (London, United Kingdom)

It has been a long time since I have written about a bar, perhaps almost two year, and for good reason - most simply are not that impressive. Haute cocktails paired with pleasant surroundings are very hard to find.

Things changed in London.  I had the pleasure of enjoying some of the finest cocktails since visiting Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Paris.  Perhaps in the top 3 bars in my life, purely from a cocktail standpoint (Bar Hemingway and Death & Co filling out #1 and #2). 

The bar was a bit too chic for serious drinking, and has been around too short a period to call it an institution.  Nonetheless, it was damn good.  In addition to sampling several dishes of food - sashimi, dumplings and potstickers - I had the pleasure of consuming two cocktails, and tasting a third.

The first, perhaps one of the finest martinis I have consumed in years.  Interestingly enough, a fine martini for me is actually definite by one that is not poor.  This one was simply delicious. 

Langham Martini

I am going to borrow the words, by borrow I mean steal, straight from the Artesian menu:

"Prepared with Tanqueray No. TEN…poured over crystal clear ice and stirred with a choose of five dry vermouths created exclusively for Artesian by Martini Master Botanist Ivano Tonutti…Each Langham Martini is perfumed with aromatic citrus oils and served with a side of Nocellara Del Belice DOC olives macerated with Taqueray No. TEN botanicals."

And it was good.

Unfinished Business

Again, from the menu: "Woodford Reserve, Martini Rosso, Martini Bitter, galangal essence. Leather-aged in a large sack for up to a year and garnished with large Spanish capers, chorizo and lemon zest." 

I see why barrel-aged cocktails are becoming popular.  They add another level depth to cocktails that is almost magical.  For a bourbon-based cocktail, the combination of flavors was otherworldly.  In the 1500s, the creator of this cocktail would be burned at the stake.  Simply wonderful.

If the Artesian bar continues its progression over the next 10-20 years, it has the potential to be the finest drinking institution in the world.  At the moment, it is straddling that ever-fine border between a drinking club and a night club with damn good drinks.  I hope it continues down the path of the former, at which point Artesian Bar may become the new Bar Hemingway of Europe.

Sergi Arola (Madrid, Spain)

I had the opportunity to have an exquisite meal at Sergi Arola. The Sergi Arola menu, complete with wine pairings.  With my dining companion, we had over 20 courses and almost as many wines.  It is a two-Michelin star restaurant for a reason: innovative, expertly prepared, delicious.

I hate to let one course overshadow a whole meal, but they overcooked the Frigate Tuna. It was tough and dry, killing the flavor. My dining companion asked me to try it after he took a bite, and I immediately noticed the same thing. 

Nevertheless, highly recommended dining experience.

While on the subject, I would like to make a comment about Spanish food in general.  I believe that the Spaniards occupy an odd place, culinarily speaking.  The everyday food I have had in Spain, in general, is not particularly good.  That said, the Spanish are among the world's best when it comes to haute cuisine.  The cooking technique, the flavors, the history, are unparalleled.  There is a small core of elite chefs in Spain who's imagination leads to the creation of some of the most unique experiences conceivable.  Sadly time and money will prevent me from enjoying every one of these experiences, but I hope to one day.

Onyx (Budapest, Hungary)

In Budapest, next to Vörösmarty Square, I was fortunate enough to try one of two Michelin starred restaurants in the  country.  Unfortunately, I had a terrible stomachache before dining (too much goulash), so I could not enjoy the food as much as I would have liked.  Everything, though, was excellent.  Not blow-your-mind crazy, but very delicious. My meal was as follows:

Marinated tuna, pineapple and avocado

Spring roasted carrot, veal sauce

Wild-caught sea bass, lobster, smoked potato puree, sabayon

Roasted duck liver, beetroot, green apple

Potato gnocchi, sturgeon caviar, mangalitza pork bacon

Venison, mushroom toast, onion variation

Strawberry gazpacho

Caramel, chocolate, yoghurt

 

I also had the primarily-Hungarian wine pairing, which was fine.  Not amazing, but not bad by any means.  And stylistically, I found the restaurant to have a very peculiarly odd layout.  Perhaps the list open and comfortable of any Michelin-starred restaurant I have visited.  Certainly not a bad experience, but I will try Costes next time.

Ciel Bleu (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

On the 23rd floor of the Okura hotel in Amsterdam lies Ciel Bleu, a two Michelin starred seafood restaurant. Perhaps the tallest point in Amsterdam, my solo Tuesday night experience overlooked the sparkling lights of the city.

The food, exquisite. The service, excellent. My only complaints were the price of the food was a bit extreme for six courses + drink pairings (in total the meal was over €300 for just me), and there was at times an overly long delay between courses. Otherwise, certainly a step above the average 1-star restaurant.  The food was nearly perfect, and small service touches - offering me a wide selection of reading material, and concluding with an autographed copy of the menu – were greatly appreciated. 

The meal, as follows

Scallop

Red grapefruit | Oyster ‘royal cabanon’ | Vanilla sea salt | Gin Tonic

King crab

Salted lemon | ‘beurre blanc’ Ice cream | Onno’s Taste caviar

Yellowfin tuna

Softshell crab | Sweetcorn | Chorizo oil

Turbot

Winter truffle | ‘Ratte’ potato | Truffle butter sauce

Pigeon ‘Anjou’

Salt crust | North African spices | Pomegranate | Pistachio | Shallot

Chocolate 68%

Virunga Cacao 68% | Black sesame | Banana | Yuzu | Gomasio

 

I suppose, though, there is a subject that is worth a surface exploration at this juncture.  These are initial comments, so feel free to end your reading here, as I have not fully thought out my comments. I want to discuss the nature of restaurant ambiance.  I have eaten at 3 starred restaurants and 1 starred restaurants, though the vast majority of my meals are at normal, non-starred places or at home.  One often under appreciated element of hospitality (hotels are notorious for this, but restaurants too) is making a venue comfortable.  I think the ideal atmosphere is a place that replicates a home.  Casual, unfussy, warm and respectful.  A place that is extraordinarily serious about their product but does not take itself seriously.  

I have many more comments as to how this atmosphere is executed, but the point is this.  I enjoyed the "dining experience" at Arzak more than Per Se or Le Bernadin.  At its most basic level, Arzak had no dress code.  The people were professional, but friendly.  The Arzak family walked around the room and Sr. Arzak cursed at my friend.  They treated the place like their home, and it was nice.  Most 2 and 3 star restaurants tend to feel "sterile;" like visiting the Dr.'s office but in restaurant form.  Warmth is under appreciated.

La Dégustation Bohème Bourgeoise (Prague, Czech Republic)

"I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It's very persnickety and old-maidish really, but then when I'm working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble." – James Bond from the novel Casino Royale

A quiet Sunday night in Prague, alone I walked its dark, cobblestone streets, curious about what adventure lied ahead. My culinary journey in my first few days in the city consisted mostly of heavy brown foods - sausages, potatoes, rabbit, beer and the like. I wondered to myself, how would Czech haute cuisine taste?  A small country with so much natural beauty; what treasures may lay in the country?

Leaving the main old town square, I navigated a series of poorly lit, cobblestone streets. Eventually I made to my destination - a simple, modern black awning with the words La Dégustation. One of only two Michelin starred restaurants in Prague. 

Given it was a slow, Sunday evening for the restaurant, manager came and offered me the Chef's Table just outside the finishing area of the kitchen. Of course, I obliged. A good evening and nod from the chef, the journey would begin. 

I started with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Rose, a lovely aperitif in advance of what I decided would be an 11 course Degustation du Chef, completed with 11 wine pairings. 

The full menu is below, but I would like to take done time to discuss some particular standouts. 

Course 2. The Russian sturgeon caviar with egg and parsley root was without question the best egg dish I have ever eaten. It was expertly prepared in front of me. An egg yolk was placed in the center of a plate, and then cooked using a blowtorch.  This led to a slightly burnt, yolk, with a creamy interior, almost like a toasted marshmallow.  Little parsley root chips dabbled the plate, and were topped with caviar. The dish was finished with a parsley and crème friache sauce. Expertly paired with a wonderful glass of Marsannay 2009 by Domaine Hugenot. Simply. Perfect. 

Course 5. Catfish. A fish, which, for a variety of reasons, receives very little respect in the United States. I used to understand why - it is inexpensive and at least in the south, usually served fried. 

But magical things can happen to a fish when put into the right hands. Another standout dish. The delicate fish was served with a frothy Moravian sparkling white wine sauce and impossibly fresh raw cabbage. Together.  Heavenly. 

Course 6. The course that immediately followed alone was worthy of a second Michelin star. I was presented with perhaps the most delicious wine of the evening - Gewurztraminer 2009 by Leon Beyer. And then, pork belly, topped with toasted mustard seeds, and accompanied by an apple "jam" and red cabbage "jam". The combination of flavors was so explosive yet delicate it was otherworldly. It was the kind of dish reserved for chefs like Thomas Keller, Elena Arzak, and other 3-starred chefs. One of my favorite food adjectives is "transcendent."  This was beyond transcendent. It was indescribably delicious. It may have been one of the best 5 dishes I have had in my life, just behind a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich, a Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich, strawberry or red velvet cake from mom, and the purple cow at Per Se.

As I think about it, courses five, six, seven and eight combined are worth visiting Prague. 

Course 7. The chicken was a very simple, but unique dish. A chicken leg was cooked sous vide, then quickly smoked with thyme, rosemary and juniper. I was instructed to eat it with my hands, as I did. It was juicy and delicious. I had never had chicken with a similar consistency. 

Course 8.  And the foie. It was shaved!  It looked like a pile of sawdust on a plate. A bit odd, and I actually didn't know what it was at first. Underneath yielded a treat, a very fresh grape jelly. It was a nice balance to what is often always the same foie gras. 

There was more. Much more. I almost passed out of exhaustion and an overly full stomach. Having 13 different types of alcohol (including my champagne aperitif and cognac nightcap) didn't help.  But it did add an additional layer of depth to the experience.  

The full menu is below:

FIRST

lužické hory snails, leek, garlic

Sauvignon blanc barrique 2009 - Mádl

SECOND

russian sturgeon caviar, egg, parsley root

Marsannay 2009 - Domaine Hugenot

THIRD

straw soup, onion, lokus wine

Rosé Pinot Noir 2011 - Jiří Hort

FOURTH

jerusalem artichoke, truffle

Saint Peray 2008 - François Villard

FIFTH

třeboň catfish, moravian sparkling wine sauce, cabbage

Müller Thurgau 2011 - Mikrosvín

SIXTH

piglet, red cabbage, apple

Gewurztraminer 2009 - Léon Beyer

SEVENTH

štěpánovsko chicken, rosemary, thyme, juniper

Veltlínské zelené Terroir 2011 - Volařík

EIGHTH

foie gras, grape juice jelly

Château Closiot Sauternes 2005

NINTH

beef tongue, yellow pea purée, horseradish

Merlot“Le Livre Rouge” 2007 - Vinohrad

TENTH

wagyu kobe style beef, royal oyster mushroom, ginger

Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - Casa Lapostolle

ELEVENTH

potatoes, plum jam, poppy seeds

Grape juice Malverina - Vinselekt Vinselekt Michlovský

Arzak (San Sebastián-Donostia, Spain)

Three Michelin Stars.  #8 restaurant in the world.

In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to eat at restaurants with a combined Michelin total of 28 stars. It is an expensive hobby, or passion, if you will.  But as I have said many times before, I cherish every meal, from the deli chicken and cheese sandwich with potato chips I had while writing this to the wonderful dinner at Arzak.

The Michelin guide defines three starred restaurants as follows: "Three stars reward exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Worth a special journey."  Le Bernadin, Per Se and Arzak clearly meet that qualification.  And in a way, ranking the upper echelons of restaurants is meaningless.  I loathe to compare fine dining to art, but is a Rothko better than Picasso better than Warhol better than Pollock?  They are all great, in their own unique way.  Similarly, Per Se or Le Bernadin or Arzak?  While one may have certain preferences, it is simply not possible to rank them.

Nonetheless.  I am biased against Le Bernadin because I am not a big fan of fish.  Even if it is damn good fish.  Per Se, the food was a bit better overall than Arzak.  Though the ambiance at Arzak was easily my favorite.

The Menu

To drink: Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blanc

Appetizers

Kabrarroka pudding with kataifi

Red codfish

Chorizo with tonic

Beans, bacon and chestnut

Sunflower seeds with arriatxiki

Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche

Crispy manioc hydrated with huitlacoche stuffed with a preparation of onion, green tea and foie gras

Hemp, mustard and lobster

Sautéed lobster served with crispy hemp bread and mustard vinaigrette

Ovo-lacto

Egg with semi-crunchy shell and baobab accompanied by "lactic leaves" and curds

Monkfish with green witch

Monkfish served wit crispy green balloon

Duck with soy

Roasted mallard duck serviced with several varieties of soy

The cocoa forest

Chocolate log with fruits and licorice

Playing marbles with chocolate

Marbles of chocolate served with amaranth and oregano sauce

Black apple

Sautéed apple finalized with the aspect of a truffle and apricot

The food, clearly exquisite.  Even more impressive - the tasting menu had choices.  We could change any dish we did not like, and if we had any taste preferences they would adjust for them.  One of my dining companions had some dietary limitations due to religion, and they remade dishes for him to adjust. In a way, they were overly accommodating on food preferences.   And it was very refreshing.

Lastly, both Elena & Juan Mari Arzak greeted us at the table.  They were wonderful.  Genuine, funny, gracious.  I would go back just to speak with them again.  They reminded me of Texans. No overly arrogant chefs.  Just, great.

Le Chat Botté (Genève, Suisse)

Evolving from Memories to Critiques of Michelin Restaurants

I went to Geneva for a day for a meeting and wanted to have a nice lunch.  I stumbled upon the Michelin one-star Le Chat Botté in the lovely Hotel Beau Rivage. 

First, though, I would like to discuss a bit of context regarding my restaurant and food reviews. 

1.  I won't even spend time contemplating or writing about restaurants I do not like.  

2.  To date, most of my reviews have been shallow, in the sense that they are more a recollection of favorite meals than a critical analysis of them.  This has been intentional.  I enjoy eating too much to take notes, pictures and impressions of every dish.  I would much rather enjoy and appreciate the moment than try to be a critic.  (That is also one of the reasons I generally do not take a lot of pictures while traveling.) Equally important, I generally don't know if I will like a restaurant until after I the meal is completed.  To me, each meal is a culinary journey, sometimes quick, other times longer and drawn out.  In any case, I try to appreciate my meals, and every single time I have the opportunity to eat.  Some meals are better than others; the best I want to record forever.

3.   I am going to slowly venture into critiques only to keep myself interested.  Copy and paste-ing menus is not only boring as a reader, but has gotten boring to me as well.  

4.   I am beginning to feel more confident in my palate such that I can fairly critique dishes.  Forcing myself to think critically about my meals, what can be improved, what flavors exist and do not, help me enjoy and refine my enjoyment even more. Hopefully I can look back 3, 10 or 40 years from now and reflect on how things have changed.

And with that, we dig in to Le Chat Botté.

The dining room reflected old-world French-inspired elegance, though as a consequence was a bit boring.  The pastel and muted colors on the walls and the overly generic cheap-hotel-esque carpeting detracted from the ambiance.  The waitresses’ uniforms, light brown blazers with black dresses, made them look more like stewardesses than wait staff.

Immediately after sitting, but before we had received our menus, a waiter asked what we would like to drink.  This question is always vexing to me, for two reasons. First, it is not like I am dying of thirst.  The only thing they should be asking within 10 seconds of me sitting down is what type of water I would like to accompany my meal.  Second, with the exception of a steakhouse or sushi restaurant, I have no idea what I will be eating, and I want my drink to compliment my meal.  That may be champagne, a dry white, a full-bodied red, beer, a whisky…I don't know.  It just depends on the food.  I would much prefer if the waiters brought food and drink menus, gave me some time to think, and allowed me to at least consider my options before coming asking if I had made a decision.

My dining companion and I had a particular dilemma this meal: he wanted a 3-course business lunch while I preferred a 4-course, more expensive tasting menu.  I know this can be a problem for many kitchens, but fortunately the restaurant was able to accommodate us both.

There were two amuse bouches that were nice.  The meal, and tasting notes to the best of my memory, were as follows:

Winter vegetable cannelloni flavored with truffle spinach & hazelnut oil from « Severy mill »

The cannelloni was nice, but not perfectly executed.  For such a delicate dish, it was very hard to eat.  I had a fork, knife and spoon, and could never find an optimal eating strategy without being very messy.  Furthermore, the flavor was good, but needed a few more drops of salt.  I had one, and only one bite where I could clearly taste the salt crystal in conjunction with the rest of the dish. It was exquisite.  The rest was under-salted, and while the flavor was very good, it lacked a bit of that "wow" factor.  Simply from under-salting.

Brittany skate wings golden and crispy, coconut milk with red curry, Pack Choi cabbage and lemongrass

The skate wing was overcooked. Such a shame, given a nice piece of fish.  Simply grilled with little seasoning, which was mostly certainly the way to serve it.  The lemongrass flavor was very nice, as it added just a subtle bit of lemon to the dish.

Bavarian suckling pig chop roasted with spices, sweet potato, mushroom and confit breast

The pig chop was the reason I chose this particular menu.  Pork chops are a tricky dish to pull off, as just a minute or two of overcooking can make the meat very tough.  At the same time, undercooked pork is just gross.  The pork itself was cooked close to perfectly, perhaps just a bit too long.  More importantly, the waitstaff should have provided a steak knife instead of a standard one.  It was much too difficult to elegantly cut using the provided cutlery. 

The sweet potatoes, on the other hand, were bursting with overwhelming delicious flavor.  Perhaps some of the best I have ever tasted.  Simply delicious.

The confit breast was an interesting use of the remaining pork.  It was a breast "meatball."  Very good, though the outside of the "ball" was a bit hard to cut.  Overall just the right portion.

There was a quick pre-dessert; I believe a light coconut gelato with cream. 

Poached Victoria bananas and crispy meringue “fleur de sel” caramel ice cream

As I was already stuffed, this was a nice, light way to end the meal. Imagine a poached egg, except made of pineapple. A very cleaver, and visually appealing dessert on its black plate accentuated with a tiny purple flower.

The check came, along with some Genevois chocolate.  Un plaisir.

 

Cafe Clock (Fes, Morocco)

Amidst endless tagines, pastilles, and other quintessentially Moroccan food, there are a few restaurants serving innovative twists on Moroccan cuisine.  After two weeks of travel through Lisbon, Barcelona, and countless Moroccan cities, my best - and favorite - meal was located in Fes.  Cafe Clock, a restaurant owned by British chef Mike Richardson, is located “200m down from Bab Boujloud gate. Immediately after the display of dissections in the butchers’ guzzar on Talaa Kabira where on the right the 14th century Bouanania Medersa stands proud, up on the left are the restored remains of the clypsydra, Morocco’s only water clock.” (Cafe Clock Website)

The menu feels like it was taken straight from a restaurant in the East Village in NYC.  A sampling of our dishes were as follows:

Maakouda with Warm Tomato Salad

Herbed Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Preserved Lemon Mayo

Cafe Clock’s Camel Burger with Taza Ketchup, Salad & Fries

Lamb Beldi Burger, Mint/Cucumber Salsa, Salad & Fries

Almond, Date and Bananna Milkshakes

Spiced Coffee

Delicious, and highly recommended if you are ever in Fes.

Morocco: la nourriture et les boissons

The Moroccans, a vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic people.  Their cuisine, dominated by olives, tagines and some truly amazing items below:

Jus d'orange

I love my Floridian OJ, but the Moroccans may have some of the finest orange juice that has ever passed my lips.  The juice, usually costing no more than 5 dirhams ($0.60), is simply delicious.  The shop owners will take the oranges one by one and squeeze them by hand, and will pour you a nice sized glass for immediate consumption.  

The juice is lovely - medium bodied, ever-so-slightly sweet, slightly pulpy, easily drinkable but vibrantly flavorful.  The fresh, unprocessed oranges retain a richness of flavor unrivaled by anything I have tried in the United States or Europe.

If you ever happen to be in Marrakech, in the medina, #44 at night serves the finest, freshest OJ in Morocco, perhaps the world.

Eucalyptus

While Morocco is home to many unique spices and minerals, Eucalyptus is easily one of the most intriguing.  The medicinal powers of eucalyptus are well known.  However, I had never tried it in its pure crystal forms until having a long tour through a spice market in Marrakech. The little eucalyptus crystals are, on their surface, unremarkable.  However, adding just a small amount, perhaps half a pinch of salt worth to a hot beverage, unleashes its magical powers.  The aroma is overwhelming, instantly opening up even the stuffiest of nasal passages. As you swallow it, it instantly soothes your throat and energizes your body. It truly is magical.  Most impressive, though, is that one tiny crystal has such a strong effect.  Easily one of the most amazing consumption experiences I have ever had.  Nature's finest.

Tea

In the countryside of Morocco, far from the major cities, you find people who spend their days collecting fresh mint. This mint, in turn, is used to produce some fresh, flavorful mint tea.  (And if people drank here it would a damn good mojito.)  Such a simple drink, but as with the orange juice, exquisite.

La Cesta de Recoletos (Madrid, Spain)

Although I am in Madrid, mediocre and bad food is abundant, just as it is an any city.  The “smaller bites” here, like a quick bit of jamon iberico or a lovely pastry, are actually quite delicious.  But finding the right tapas or recoletos has been a very difficult feat.  A friend of mine from Madrid decided we go out to a place in Salamanca called La Cesta de Recoletos.  Ah, finally an (almost) Michelin-worthy meal.

A few minor complaints.  First, the service sucked. 45 minutes from the time we were seated to when a beverage crossed my lips. Just one of many other issues that bugged me.  Second, there was no music in the place.  Fortunately I had 15 friends dining with me.  Third, the floating lamps were just annoying.  Finally, some of the dishes were not executed quite up to the level that I would expect, but it was still pretty damn good.  

Ciervo carpaccio | Deer carpaggio

Huevos rotos con jamon | Scrambled eggs with ham

Tartar de salmon | Salmon tartare

Jamón ibérico de bellota arturo sánchez y pan con tomate | Cured ham served with tomato brushed bread

Cecina de León con aceite arbequina y pan con tomate | Cured Ox meat with olive oil and tomato brushed bread

Terrina de foie-gras con chutney de pera y jengibre | Exquisite foie micuit with pear and ginger chutney

Tosta de burrata con tomate, aceitunas de Kalamata y rúcula | Burrata Crostini: cheese on toast with tomato, rocket and Kalamata olives

Tortilla de patata y cebolla hechas con huevos de corral | Traditional omelette of free-range eggs and onion

Lomo de merluza con compota de berenjena ahumada | Hake fillet with finely mashed potato and smoked oil

And my personal favorite, one of the best dishes I have tried all year:

Arroz de cochas de bacalao - Cheeks of cod rice mixed fresh vegetables 

Yes, yes. That last dish was simply perfect. Fresh, flavorful, perfect.

Clinton Street Bakery (New York City, United States)

Finally, reviewing one of the great breakfasts in New York City: Clinton Street Bakery

As a full-time entrepreneur, and soon to be student, I now have some time to try restaurants that I normally would not have the opportunity.  I revisited Clinton Street Bakery, a part of the upper-echelon’s of breakfast dining in NYC.  Only accepting cash aside, it is unquestionably one of the best breakfasts in the city.  It is a simple, upscale diner, though by no means expensive.

I had the following:

Banana walnut pancakes with maple butter

Scrambled eggs

Ham

Hash browns

A biscuit

Coffee

The pancakes, of course, were delicious. The maple butter was an excellent substitute for syrup , and the eggs were absolutely perfectly done. Light, fluffy and well scrambled.  Excluding the scrambling, I could describe the buscit the same way.  Nothing fancy, just superior ingredients, perfectly cooked.  A treat.  Unquestionably one of the best breakfasts in the City.

I do not like broccoli: A Gluttonous Gout-Inducing Michelin-Starred Iconic Evening

“I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.” – Former President George Bush

It is always a pleasure to dine with someone else who not only appreciates food, but has a refined palate and is up for a little culinary adventure.  In fact, my list of friends whose palates I trust are few, at this time only three people.  They are all well dined, and perhaps more importantly, observant and appreciative eaters. Most importantly, though, they are all willing to put up with me.  That is a lot to ask of anyone.

Like an addict seeking an ever-greater high, my culinary adventures are becoming increasingly….unhealthy.  In less than two weeks I leave New York, in fear there are so many restaurants unvisited, streets unwalked and cocktails untried.  And so, in my last ditch efforts of trying to dance with every girl at the ball, I am learning the art of gluttony. Thankfully, my operational eating tempo is unsustainable, for both my wallet and my stomach.  In the meantime, I will practice one of the seven deadliest.

This brings me to my latest adventure, a meaty, boozy feast. The evening commenced at Gotham Bar & Grill, where I shared their famous Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, complete with Japanese cucumber, shiso leaf and sweet miso Asian ginger vinaigrette.  Accompanied by a classic Bombay Sapphire martini, it was a nice, but ultimately unremarkable beginning to our meal.  I am not sure what to say about Gotham’s tuna, other than how my dining companion said, “Watery.”  My martini was also poorly constructed, and the room as a whole very corporate.  I cannot judge the place on a raw-tuna dish alone, but awkward bartenders, uninteresting tuna, drab décor – little desire to go back, and glad we went only for an appetizer.

After a quick drizzly walk across Union Square, we arrived at dorm room sized Casa Mono. Accompanied by a lovely bottle of Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva 1999 (excellent choice sommelier Alex Alan, despite your calling it “lower end”), we ordered four unique dishes:

Sepia with Salsa Verde

Foie Gras with Cinco Ceballos (in the words of Eater.com, “Gently seared, fatty foie gras over two crostini that soak in fat, balsamic vinegar, and a slightly sweet sauce. The clincher, as the name suggests, is the array of onions that provides bite and offsets the richness”)

Beef Tongue with Marrow Broth and Barely

Duck Hearts

To finish, we ate the Seasonal Sorbetto y Moscatel, which in this case was cantaloupe flavored.

Casa Mono was very, very good food.  Mind blowing? Or as like to say, transcendent?  No.  But damn tasty.

Time for a nightcap (or two), our journey continued to Booker and Dax at Momofuku Saam. While pondering the meaning of life, my overstuffed stomach received some steamed pork buns and an excellent Manhattan as the evening dwindled away. 

After escorting my dining companion home, one singular thought dominated my mind: Is this how rich men got gout?

I do not like broccoli.