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Hedone April 2014

We just did a dry run on the tube via Chiswick Park and noted a sign warning of station closures for repairs at night starting Thursday, the day we visit. So we rode back from Gunnersbury station.

So maybe check availability on Sat night to be sure.

2 days ago
willyum in U.K./Ireland

Hedone April 2014

We are going Thursday ... I was under the impression he changes the menu almost daily, sometimes even during a single service as he runs out of limited-quantity items, so perhaps hard to make suggestions?

Apr 14, 2014
willyum in U.K./Ireland

Top 100 restaurants

Our food server at Manresa was OK but the wine lady was very impressive, an attractive young Scandinavian woman who had recently dined at Noma, Mugaritz and Azurmendi (a place you and I like a lot).

After chatting with her a bit about various restaurants and cuisines she predicted I would be disappointed at Mugaritz, which I thought was interesting. She is the third person to tell me that.

Manresa was I think # 48 and # 52 in the last two Pellegrino rankings so it surely could have been on this list, which seems really top-heavy with NYC restaurants in the top 20, but otherwise pretty solid.

Apr 07, 2014
willyum in General Topics

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal recommendations [London]

Wanted to bump this up because we're visiting this restaurant next week. Any other suggestions are welcomed.

Also, any dessert recommendations for someone allergic to gluten (my wife is celiac)? For her the Tipsy Cake, Brown Bread Ice Cream, British Cheese (has oat cakes) and Apple Tart are probably off limits, so any suggestions for the best of the rest?

Thanks! Should be a great week of gluttony for the willyums ... Dinner by HB on Monday, Ledbury on Tuesday, Fat Duck on Wednesday, Hedone on Thursday.

Apr 07, 2014
willyum in U.K./Ireland

Top 100 restaurants

Another way of asking the same thing is "Which restaurant that you've dined at would you put on the list (or at least 101 :)."

My vote goes to Manresa in Los Gatos, CA (Bay area). I'm certain the meal we had there earlier this year was better than at least four restaurants that are on the list which I've dined at.

But the chef relies heavily on seasonal products, so perhaps we just hit him at the right season?

Apr 07, 2014
willyum in General Topics

Azurmendi starts to get recognition

Spanish restaurants on the list:

# 6 Can Roca
# 7 Azurmendi

# 22 Mugaritz
# 31 Quique Dacosta

# 53 Martin Berasategui
# 63 Arzak
# 78 Sant Pau

Apr 05, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Top 100 restaurants

@ "... but how can 2 parts of a chain be in different spots on the list?"

Different chefs, different line cooks, different sources of ingredients? I wouldn't expect them to be the same.

Best example I can think of from the Top 100 list is Per Se vs. French Laundry. They are similar in many ways, down to the blue door entryway and the menu length, and both owned by Thomas Keller, but FL is in Napa valley and Per Se is in New York city across from Central Park.

We've dined at both places twice, in some cases with the same course, and we think French Laundry is a very good restaurant, but no longer a great one (think how great it was with Grant Achatz and Keller side-by-side in the kitchen!), while Per Se is clearly serving more consistent, flavorful food and deserving of a higher rating. Is it the chef? The staff? Dunno, but that's the way we saw it.

Apr 05, 2014
willyum in General Topics

Top 100 restaurants

@ "Has anyone dined at any of these?"

I've been to 8 of the top 11, some of them several times (Alinea 4x, Le Bernardin, EMP, Per Se 2x). Would have gone to Can Roca but there's an 11 month wait list and we got shut out on our Spain trip last fall. Also missing the Italian pair, but maybe in 2015 ...

There are two in the top 11 that I would disagree with but generally they got it right.

I had heard about Azurmendi last summer, before it blew up, and am glad I went there last October. Another trip scheduled this May. Pretty soon it will be a tough ticket as well.

Apr 05, 2014
willyum in General Topics

Azurmendi starts to get recognition

Azurmendi really took off last year, earning a third Michelin star and a series of rave reviews. I remember PhilD last September writing here on Chowhound "Go here as soon as you can – it is a real winner and will be impossible to get into when the word gets out."

We dined there shortly after Phil and also had an excellent meal and overall dining experience, and will be returning this May.

I was curious how well the restaurant would do on those "Top 100" lists for 2014, whether enough people had dined there yet to vote it onto the lists.

Well, the "Elite Traveler" list came out this week and I see Azurmendi debuts at # 7 in the world, which is pretty impressive.

I'm aware that these lists are somewhat controversial and in some cases not trustworthy (when a Michelin 3* Spanish chef calls the Pellegrino/Restaurant Magazine list a 'fraud' it gets your attention). I've dined at seven of the top nine on this year's list and I feel two of them are grossly overrated, based on our experiences there.

But if a restaurant you want to visit is high on one of these lists it's often a warning that you need to get an early reservation. I learned this the hard way when I missed out on Can Roca, which has been fully booked for the next eleven months for some time now.

Here's a link to the list: http://www.elitetraveler.com/category...

Apr 05, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Seeking Monday birthday dinner recs in Barcelona

LOL ... similar tastes. My first post here was something like "Which 2 of Akelarre, Arzak, Mugaritz, MB", and I was also keen for Can Roca but waited too late. Now I have two copies of their "all full for 11 months" kiss-off form letter.

Anyway, we'll be at Mugaritz on this trip, I think May 15. We went to MB's Barcelona restaurant Lasarte last October, and I would like to go to Akelarre but my wife has rebelled and said "NO" to a constant stream of long tasting menus.

So this trip we are mixing in some simpler places with a la carte or shorter tasting menus ... the current schedule is Mina, Etxanobe and Azurmendi in Bilbao, then the day we move to SS we'll have lunch at Asador Etxebarri on the way up, where the chef is famous for grilling everything.

Then Mugaritz in SS, then the anti-Mugaritz in Ibai (see Andy Hayler's review), then one final day that's still up for debate in the Willyum household (Elkano or Akelarre or Berastegui or a tapas crawl). So a mix of styles and cuisines.

@ ... "so feel free to share any other recommendations."

You've done the research and have a good list ... I would just add that Azurmendi was our favorite last October and it's at the top of our list this year too. You might read the articles on it and see if it sounds like your style. Unfortunately it's just outside Bilbao so about an hour's drive from SS.

If you're going to be in SS the same week as us let me know, maybe we can meet for a tapa. There's already one Chowhounder who will be at Ibai the day we're there.

Mar 25, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Seeking Monday birthday dinner recs in Barcelona

Happy birthday! We'll be there about a week after your trip (Barcelona, Bilbao, San Sebastian).

Mar 25, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Seeking Monday birthday dinner recs in Barcelona

Here's an article that mentions about a dozen restaurants open Monday. Scroll down about half way, past the Sunday openings.

http://www.cellartours.com/blog/spain...

There are also some Chowhound 'Sunday/Monday' threads here as well.

For our 'Monday' meal in BCN we debated between Hisop vs Alkimia and choose Alkimia. Not sure it fits your 'memorable setting' criteria though :)

Mar 25, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Bilbao Sunday lunch - Mina, Porrue, ?

Looking for a memorable Sunday lunch in Bilbao. Maybe one of the two listed in the title, but we are open to other suggestions. Prefer a place within walking distance of the Guggenheim (close to our hotel).

Mina is about as far as we'd want to walk, but if there's something really good outside town we could take a cab. I know Azurmendi is open Sunday but we are already going there on Tuesday.

I couldn't find much on either Mina or Porrue here on CH. Anyone familiar with either of these, or something similar you might recommend?

Mar 24, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Molecular Gastronomy Restaurants deserving of Time and Money?

Pretty much the same experiences at Alinea (four times and counting) and at Crenn, djquinnc. We seem to have similar tastes :)

We went to Manresa a couple months ago (winter, same trip as AC) and the meal was lifted by the scallops (in the 'Tidal Pool' dish) and a wonderful Japanese A5 wagyu dish, but for the vegetables I couldn't help but think it would likely be better later on, like you experienced. Trying to schedule another visit in maybe September or early October in search of more 'amazing'.

Mar 14, 2014
willyum in San Francisco Bay Area

Molecular Gastronomy Restaurants deserving of Time and Money?

If you're still keen on Atelier Crenn here's a write-up from a British food critic who has been to every Michelin 3* in the world. He rated his meal there a solid 2*, which is pretty good from him.

Looking at the photos I noticed we dined there at the same season a year apart yet only a couple of the dishes were repeated, which is generally a good sign to me that the chef keeps on innovating.

http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/...

Mar 14, 2014
willyum in San Francisco Bay Area

Molecular Gastronomy Restaurants deserving of Time and Money?

@ "Are you saying that before "these days" that the MG additions "were" at the expense of the food?"

Talking about Alinea, right? In 2010 (first trip) there were 23 courses in the long menu and while there were some great dishes (best wagyu ever, best lobster dish ever) there were several 'courses' that were small MG gimmicks. I still loved the place, but the gimmicks didn't add anything for us.

More recently (we last went to Alinea in April and November in 2013) the menu has tighter focus it seems (13 courses, more multi-item courses but fewer gimmicks). Here's a great example of how he uses MG to add on to a base dish of classic ingredients, this duck dish with duck-five-ways on the plate. It's similar to a dish we had a Per Se (I think 3 or 4 items at PS), with excellent classic veal stock sauce. So far you would rate these two dishes pretty much even, at the top of their game for both.

But Achatz ratchets it up with a plate of 60 garnishes served with the duck, many with MG twists. This just blew my mind, that a) he would even try to plate 60 garnishes and b) that pretty much all of them actually went with the duck. (photos). Chestnut flavor, yam flavor, essence of Eucalyptus (!), on and on.

So anyway, that's all I meant about Alinea today. Crenn seems similar to me in that she's trying to use top-notch ingredients but with some nice molecular twists that add to the dish without being too distracting. We really enjoyed eating there.

Mar 14, 2014
willyum in San Francisco Bay Area

Molecular Gastronomy Restaurants deserving of Time and Money?

I've been to Alinea four times, I think it's worth the drive :) Three hour flight for me to get there, but worth it.

I'm not too familiar with the Bay area dining scene but recently we did dine at French Laundry, Atelier Crenn and Manresa on a short trip, and since Crenn has been mentioned as the Alinea substitute I'll chime in, keeping in mind my relative ignorance about other possible MG options.

First, I think you'll enjoy the whimsy of the dishes. It's not particularly molecular in the El Bulli way, but it's not that far off from Alinea, where these days there seems to be more of an emphasis on fresh ingredients with some molecular additions that add to the experience, but not at the expense of the food.

I would definitely return to Crenn, though our next trip will likely be for Manresa and two new ones, probably Saison and something else. But the food was good and the dining experience was interesting and fun at Crenn.

Second, just be aware that while they offer both a longer and shorter menu during the week, on the weekends only the longer menu is available so maybe nudging the high end of your budget unless you go during the week.

Mar 14, 2014
willyum in San Francisco Bay Area

Barcelona/Madrid Honeymoon in May

I know last year they closed for about 2 weeks in May, so perhaps you hit their vacation period?

Mar 11, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Hedone [London]

Now I'm considering cancelling my reservation under my name and re-booking us as the unlikely couple of "Frank Bruni and Ruth Reichl".

And hoping they recognize the names but not the faces so we'll get Andy Hayler quality service :)

Mar 06, 2014
willyum in U.K./Ireland
1

Gluten-Free in Loop or Mag Mile?

'pairings' would typically refer to wine pairings, where they pour maybe 2-3 oz of a different wine with each course, sometimes with every other course. In theory the wines are picked to match well with the different dishes.

Mar 02, 2014
willyum in Chicago Area

What are your thoughts of this restaurant corkage fee policy?

The corkage fee at both French Laundry and Per Se is now $150, with a limit of one bottle per 2 guests.

Mar 01, 2014
willyum in Wine

Was I lucky or what? (reservations at Dinner by HB)

LOL ... I will pass on the oysters!

Feb 26, 2014
willyum in U.K./Ireland

Was I lucky or what? (reservations at Dinner by HB)

So we had the flu bug last week after a rainy foodie trip to San Francisco (French Laundry, Atelier Crenn, Manresa ... nice lot). Woke up at 2:30 soaking wet with chills and couldn't get to sleep, so at 3 A.M. logged on to the Fat Duck site (we're on USA west coast time) and actually got a Fat Duck reservation for April. Yeah!

Then added Hedone the day after and tried to get air tix but needed to stay a week for cheaper tix, so added Ledbury (last table open that day, I think). Finally, though I heard it was a tough ticket, tried for Dinner by HB on the one possible day we had open ... and got that as well.

Couldn't believe my luck ... until today when I read that Dinner shut down last week after a norovirus outbreak. Ah well, that explains why they had a lot of openings a few weeks out I guess.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/artic...

We are still very eager to go though. Should be an epic foodie trip.

Feb 25, 2014
willyum in U.K./Ireland

Moving back to Evanston.. just heard fox and obel closed.. now what?

Welcome back bro! You've been gone too long.

Some of us really missed your insights :)

Feb 24, 2014
willyum in Chicago Area

41° Experience - A slightly different take from a french guy

>> "Oh mama what an umami !"

Great line, I may need to borrow it sometime!

Feb 19, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Bilbao / San Sebastian: best restaurants apart from the "usual suspects"?

Hey Phil, we scored Fat Duck reservations for April, our first trip to England for fine dining. Had to get up at 3 AM here to log on and be first in line.

We wanted to add another restaurant and I remembered you posting earlier about liking Hedone so we booked it as well for the next day.

So one meal highly molecular, one meal oriented more towards quality products with mostly simpler cooking techniques. Should be interesting, with the contrasts.

I'll tip a glass to you at Hedone for the suggestion if we like it as much as you and Hayler. Which I think we will.

Feb 18, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Bilbao / San Sebastian: best restaurants apart from the "usual suspects"?

estufarian, you're right that Hayler is not going to list many "experimental/avantgarde cuisine" options but the thread seemed to be languishing so I thought I'd give them some ideas.

Also, while Hayler keeps saying he prefers classic cuisine I think the old boy really enjoys a bit of the molecular funk when it's done right.

Looking at his actual reviews I think if a modernist restaurant is sourcing highest quality products and doesn't overwhelm them with molecular tricks then Andy seems to really like them.

Example # 1 is Alinea -- it's the most molecular Michelin 2 or 3 star in the USA yet Hayler rated it 20/20, the best rating for any USA restaurant. In his blog he said he dreaded going there and was pretty sure he wouldn't like it, but the base was there (good taste combinations, top notch products) and the molecular simply added to it. Now he raves about it in videos for Elite Traveler.

Example # 2 is Fat Duck -- he rates it the only 19/20 restaurant in England yet it's the most molecular of the big name Michelin places in that country.

Example # 3 is Spain -- Azurmendi and Can Roca are two of his top three restaurants, both with molecular elements.

Similar deal in Germany and Italy.

It's hard to make a convincing argument that he doesn't appreciate molecular done well when Fat Duck, Alinea and Azurmendi are his top rated restaurants in England, USA and Spain.

Then there are the restaurants where he thinks molecular is either done poorly or detracts from the food or -- heaven forbid -- is used to cover up poor sourcing.

Lots of examples here -- he thinks Noma is a solid Michelin 2* and that it's silly it was ranked # 1 by Pellegrino. He thinks Quique Dacosta is over rated (a one star) and didn't quite 'get' El Bulli as much as he gets Fat Duck and Alinea and Azurmendi.

But the one he really killed was Mugaritz, a top five fixture in the Pellegrino rankings ... Hayler got a rubbery squid there, which is pretty hard to find in a good restaurant in Spain, and reamed them pretty well, ranking them as deserving no Michelin stars.

This is the review people seem to refer to when they say he is anti-molecular, but given the way he rates other molecular restaurants I think he just felt Mugaritz was relying too much on molecular tricks rather than on top notch products.

Feb 18, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Bilbao / San Sebastian: best restaurants apart from the "usual suspects"?

Here are some under the radar places from Andy Hayler, a famous British food blogger -- most famous for dining at every Michelin 3* worldwide.

He isn't as high on the SS restaurants as most, rating the three stars as 2's and Mugaritz as no stars at all, but thus far I've found his tastes roughly match mine on the 20 or so restaurants we've both dined at. You might search to see if he has ratings for restaurants you've dined at and see how well they match your experiences at those places.

http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/casa-urola Casa Urola

http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/zuberoa Zuberoa

http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/... Ibai (he rates this place very high, higher than the 3*'s ... note no credit cards, no written menus, no English spoken ... I'm trying it in May)

Feb 17, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal

Need your suggestions re Napa wine and food!

On our second trip to Napa, after sorta running around tasting seemingly at random the first trip and not getting much out of it, we decided to target specific wines in our price range that were actually available at a local wine store where we shop. This worked much better for us.

So if you shop at local wine shops perhaps ask them for specific Napa recommendations of the types of wine you drink.

On our recent trip I mainly wanted to try Cabs in the $40 - $80 range that were available at a local store. I think we started with 24 brands the store carried from Napa (it's a big chain), culling this to five with help from the wine manager, who had been to many of these on corporate sponsored trips to Napa.

This was a mix, from hill tops, to hill sides to the valley floor. Big guys and little guys. There were 2 to 4 wines at each of these we wanted to taste.

So I emailed each place and said I mainly wanted to taste these specific wines, skipping tours of the cellars or fields and wines we either weren't likely to be interested in or couldn't afford.

This worked great, with three places coming through in spades (one was unavailable, another had the wrong wines so we left), and we actually found three cabs/blends we liked well enough to join the 'rotation', plus a Zin and a Chard we liked well enough to buy locally. Also found a special reserve (they insist on pouring you the special reserves :) that was priced out of our target range but so heavenly we bought two bottles for 'special occasions'. Haha.

Because we mentioned the wine store and had such a targeted list we were treated better than on our first foray into Napa, and even though three of the places had listed the costs for tastings we were not charged at all by any of them.

Just a suggestion ... it worked great for us. Wines in your targeted price range that you can buy at a local shop.

Feb 17, 2014
willyum in San Francisco Bay Area

Critique my list & need some help for Barcelona, San Sebastian, Rioja, Madrid

@Misochi, Great news on Azurmendi! I think you'll enjoy it. We're there a day before you.

We'll surely see you at Ibai, I think there are only 8 tables. I'm tall, slender, old, wearing glasses, with a blonde wife.

We are now undecided about Elkano since the cuisine is so similar to Ibai, and since we will likely return to SS another time. Maybe we'll just wait and decide once we are there, or maybe we'll go to MB since my wife loved the chocolate souffle we had at Lasarte.

Feb 17, 2014
willyum in Spain/Portugal