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 :)
'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.
The corkage fee at both French Laundry and Per Se is now $150, with a limit of one bottle per 2 guests.
LOL ... I will pass on the oysters!
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.
We are still very eager to go though. Should be an epic foodie trip.
Welcome back bro! You've been gone too long.
Some of us really missed your insights :)
>> "Oh mama what an umami !"
Great line, I may need to borrow it sometime!
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.
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.
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/... 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)
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.
@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.
>> Don't recognize "SS".
She probably means Martin's flagship restaurant outside of San Sebastian (actually in the town of Lasarte), as opposed to his satellite restaurant 'Lasarte' in Barcelona.
She's wondering if the cuisine is similar or if it's different enough that she could dine at both without feeling a sense of repetition.
What species of salmon did you have?
Misochi, we are in SS at the same time!
We are in Bilbao earlier in the week, with meals at Etxanobe and Azurmendi, then Wednesday (14th) we will rent a car and go to Etxebarri for lunch, return the car to Bilbao and take a bus or train to SS.
In SS we are going to Mugaritz Thursday, then Ibai Friday. All of these are already reserved for lunch. Then Elkano for Saturday (not set up yet). Cool that you are there the same time :)
>> "I would love to go to Azurmendi and Exterrbarri but I don't have a car and I am not very confident driving."
If you really wanted to go to Azurmendi you could take the bus from SS to the Bilbao airport. Maybe the info is not current, but it looks like there's a bus every 45 minutes for < 17 euros, then from Bilbao airport it's probably only 5-8 euros to Azurmendi, just a short distance up the highway. So you could pull this off for lunch in one day, with a bit of planning.
Many people would not agree with "anywhere".
This chap has been to every Michelin 3* worldwide and rates Le Petit Nice as one star food at three star prices. http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/...
>> "I am going in May as well and it seems from the Elkano website that it would be closed in May?"
Hi Misochi, where did you see that Elkano is closed in May?
On their site it lists the following vacation closures:
March 24 - April 11
("Cerrado por vacaciones del 24 de marzo al 11 de abril, ambos includios. Tambien del 4 al 22 de noviembre, ambos includios.")
So I think May is OK, unless it's listed as closed elsewhere. Or did you read 'marzo' as "May"?
I have a Friday lunch reservation for Ibai. I literally had to convince someone I knew enough Spanish to handle it since they speak no English and there is no written menu, they just describe the dishes in Spanish. I wouldn't go unless I felt comfortable with my Spanish though.
I don't have a rez for Elkano yet. I didn't know it was going to be closed in May, I'll have to check that. It was the least important place for us this trip since we're going to Ibai (similar cuisine), but I'd still like to go there for the grilled turbot.
>> "Have you been to Martin, Arzak, Mugaritz and/or Akelare?"
What's funny is that 2 years ago when I first began planning a Spain trip I wanted to go to all five (at the time) Michelin 3*'s ... but after a simpler meal at a 'producto' place in Bilbao, with simpler cooking technique and an emphasis on highest quality ingredients, suddenly those molecular 3*'s didn't look as enticing :) That's why we were keen to try Ibai, Elkano and Etxebarri this trip, skipping the SS three stars entirely.
Like you I've read mixed reviews of the ones you mention. It feels like maybe Arzak is coasting a bit, and the same for Akelare, though you still read the occasional glowing reviews too ... it just seems there are more disappointments than you would expect in a 3*.
Anyway, this trip we do have Mugaritz reservations, more out of curiosity than high expectations. That place seems like a Rorschach test, almost. I like molecular with a light touch (Alinea, Azurmendi) but I think Mugartiz may take it too far. But I'm willing to try it with an open mind. Gingerly.
As for MB, we dined at his Barcelona restaurant Lasarte in October and it was good but not outstanding, except for the chocolate souffle. I would guess the flagship restaurant is a bit better, but it's pretty expensive.
If we can't get into Elkano we'll probably look in depth at the other SS restaurants and if nothing catches our fancy we'll perhaps go to Akelare or MB, but à la carte instead of tasting menu at MB.
I will check out Rekondo since, yes, the Willyums do like good wines!
I see you don't have Azurmendi on your list in your other post, a newer 3* outside of Bilbao ... I thought this place did an excellent job of concentrating on highest quality ingredients, with bold, strong tastes, and just enough molecular wizardry to lift a couple of dishes even higher. We are returning there (and also to Etxanobe in Bilbao) and really looking forward to it.
Anyway, I'm sure you'll find some exciting places to eat over there.
Hi Carrie, congratulations on the upcoming honeymoon. We'll be there in May as well, a couple days in Barcelona and a week in Bilbao and SS.
On the Spanish board the poster PBSF is the go-to guy. It seems he has dined at several hundred restaurants in and around Barcelona and he gives very good advice.
As for me, we only dined at two places in BCN so I don't really know much but one M-3*, Sant Pau, might be a good fit for you since you liked Crenn so much. There are several similarities -- female chef, delicate food. The chef is very friendly (like Dominique) and the service was excellent. We actually heard about Crenn from other dinners at Sant Pau.
For a honeymoon I think it's also a fun dining experience for lunch since you take a commuter train an hour north of BCN by the beach and the restaurant looks out over the Mediterranean, with a nice garden where you finish the meal with petite-fours and coffee.
You can get an idea of it from Andy Hayler's write-up: http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/sant-pau ...
We will probably try Abac in BCN this trip if we do a 'big' meal: http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/...
Some brief impressions of the restaurants we dined at on a foodie trip to the Bay Area last weekend.
BISTRO JEANTY in Yountville - enjoyed the excellent creamy tomato soup and the pork shoulder off the menu, plus rack of lamb off the daily specials list. My first time trying pig's feet, which was a bit too gelatinous for my tastes. I ate one but couldn't finish off the other two.
Very large portions (three lamb chops, enough pork for four tasting menu sized plates, three big cubes of pig's feet, huge salad). Fair wine prices and a decent selection. We had a half-bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir that paired nicely with the pork and lamb.
Even on a rainy Wednesday in February the place was lively, maybe more than half full. This was our first visit and we enjoyed the food and atmosphere. We'll no doubt return here. Just beware of the portion size.
FRENCH LAUNDRY - two friends, a doctor-doctor couple, made the reservation for a four top (much easier to get than a two top) and they flew out Thursday to join us. This was everyone's second visit to FL.
My wife had the vegetarian menu since she was recovering from all the food at BJ the night prior and she liked that menu very much, perhas a bit more than the rest of us liked the standard menu.
We all agreed the best plate was the beef dish, a fine slice of beef grilled very well, with a rich sauce. The rest of the savories were all OK but generally the tastes were a bit bland for our jaded palates, with a couple of vegetable exceptions. There were no 'bad' dishes, just not enough exceptional ones.
We upgraded a couple of dishes and this didn't work out as well as hoped. Two of us paid $75 for Royal Ossetra Caviar with sea urchin, but the roe was small and the doctors (who had both versions) said they actually preferred the white sturgeon caviar that came with the standard 'Oysters and Pearls' dish.
Mr. Doc also had a black truffle risotto dish for an extra $100. The truffles were really good, I think the best blacks I've ever had, but the risotto was just mediocre. In November we had a fantastic risotto with white truffles at Alinea that has redefined 'risotto' for us and this was simply not nearly as good.
Overall we enjoyed the meal and the dining experience but not as much as we had hoped. I've been to Per Se twice and it seems the flavors are a bit more aggressive there even with very similar menus, and there are several other restaurants that are easier to book which have food more to our liking. This was probably our last trip to French Laundry for a while.
ATELIER CRENN - the original plan was to stay in Napa and also dine at Meadowood but after getting the Laundry reservation we found out that MW was closed that week. So my wife and I decided to try two other restaurants to the south.
On a trip to Barcelona last October we met a foodie couple from SF who said "If you like this restaurant (Sant Pau) you'll probably like Crenn", so off of that (and some diligent parsing of various reviews, from Andy Hayler to OpenTable) we booked Crenn Friday night. Our doctor friends decided to stay in Napa but drive down for the meal, while we booked a really poor hotel about a block from Crenn so we could walk (probably a dumb idea ... next time I'll stay in a better hotel and take a cab).
Anyway, despite heavy rains our friends made the drive and the four of us dined at Crenn. And had a great time.
Of the 17 menu items there were only a couple that didn't quite rock, like a soup of grains (one doc felt there was too much of it) or a reconstituted carrot covered with candied orange, which I actually liked but the others felt was a bit too sweet. A lot of the dishes were very clever, with high quality products but with slight molecular twists.
Our consensus was that the food was certainly more interesting than at FL and perhaps a bit more savory. This restaurant is very different from FL in style and ambiance (there is no dress code and the interior is a bit modest) and I can see how many would prefer the formality of FL for 'fine-dining', but we would probably return here before going to FL again.
I had the wine pairing and I thought it was well done, with plenty of good matches on hard-to-match dishes, and even a bit of whimsy in a beer pairing. The wine list is short but had relatively small markups on some pretty good wines. And the corkage fee is just $45 if you bring your own, versus a cool $150 at French Laundry.
MANRESA - the missus and I uprooted Saturday and drove to Los Gatos, upgraded to a suite in a luxury hotel (which cost the same as our tiny room at the 1950's motor inn in SF :). This was less than a mile from the restaurant. We walked over just to loosen up and on the way passed two car dealerships - Bentley and Lamborghini ... uh, OK, we are not on Filmore Street anymore. Our friends decided not to drive again and stayed in Napa, where I think they had 5" of rain.
We had a great time at Manresa. The restaurant is pretty classy inside and the staff was very polished. The food is a bit less experimental than at Crenn, but very well executed, with subtle tastes for the most part.
My wife insists that I mention the bread ... she is celiac so can't eat wheat but they served her several kinds of rice and/or potato flour bread that she says was superb, surely the best she had on this trip. My standard bread included a brioche, an onion bread and a 'levain' or sourdough ... also the best bread served this trip. And I passed on at least three other types.
The highlight of the meal -- of the entire trip -- was an extremely well-executed A5 wagyu beef from Japan (the boycott is over ... no more Snake River farms 'American wagyu' ... yeah!). I think I've had maybe 15 wagyu dishes the past 3 years and this was one of the two best, by a wide margin over whatever is # 3. I asked for seconds but the server just smiled.
A second highlight was the 'tidal pool' dish, with sea bream and a broth but starring the sweetest scallop I've ever tasted. Basically the least interesting dish was very good and the best ones were exceptional.
I think I would give the food here an edge over the other two fine-dining restaurants and to be honest I think Manresa deserves that elusive Michelin third star, based on this meal (I think I'd need to dine there a couple more times to be sure, but this was better than about half the 13 Michelin 3*'s we've visited).
I should also mention the wines ... I had the enhanced pairing, which was a bit more expensive than the Crenn pairing, with fewer wines. I didn't quite 'get' one pairing, a Brut Rosé with roe deer -- I expected a more earthy wine for the earthy meat -- but the others were really good matches, highlighted by four French wines and ending with a 30 year Tawny Port. The red Burgundy paired with the wagyu was especially noteworthy.
Overall we enjoyed this trip very much. The Bay Area is lucky to have so many good restaurants with such varying styles. We are already plotting a return in the fall, perhaps for Meadowood, Saison or Crenn, and Manresa.
Martha, what a coincidence that the chef of Azurmendi, Eneko Axta, will be cooking at Manresa with chef Kinch in May. I just learned of this last weekend while at Manresa.
Probably you're thinking "who the hell is Eneko Atxa?"
He's an up-and-coming young chef who jumped from zero to three Michelin stars in only five years at his restaurant Azurmendi, located a few miles outside of Bilbao in Basque country. For perspective, chef Kinch at Manresa has been stuck at 2 stars for those same five years.
As luck would have it we dined at Azurmendi last October and it was by far the best meal we had on our trip to Spain, which included meals at five Michelin-starred restaurants.
Eneko's cooking style is to focus on prime local ingredients, with a bit of the funk tossed in. He served us some spectacular dishes: an egg yolk with part of the yolk drawn out with a hypodermic needle and replaced by injecting hot truffle juice, which cooked the remaining yolk. Then topped with black truffle shavings ... if you've had Alinea's "Black Truffle Explosion" then this is similar, but even better. Another winner was "Ashes of Foie Gras", featuring baked foie wrapped in fuzzy volcanic sea salt shavings. Yet another a squab dish served with what looked like hazelnuts, but which were actually a combo of chocolate and a foie gras made from the livers of the squab.
Compared to our one meal at Manresa, which we enjoyed very much, Eneko is similar in his use of prime ingredients, but he pushes stronger flavors than chef Kinch, and he uses a bit of molecular techniques. We liked both styles of cooking very much and it would be interesting to see what comes out of the kitchen with both of them working together.
Anyway, as soon as I heard he was cooking in the Manresa kitchen for two days in May I figured we would have to visit SF again to catch this. Then I noticed the actual dates and ... ah, the irony ... we will be in Spain THAT WEEK, dining at the real Azurmendi while he's here in the USA. Oh well ... non-refundable Vueling airline tickets inside Spain or we would change the trip.
Here are some links ... first to an Inside Scoop SF article with details on the hosting, then some gushing articles on Azurmendi.
Next is Andy Hayler's review from last May. Hayler is the only person to have dined at every Michelin 3* in the world and is a bit tough on most molecular places, plus he feels only two of the USA restaurants actually rate at 3* (Alinea and Per Se). But he gave Azurmendi a rare 20/20, higher than any other restaurant in Spain or in England. (He also gave a good rating to his meal at Manresa, which you can find on his site).
Here's a real gusher that starts "How do you begin to describe the greatest meal of your life?" ... it wasn't the greatest meal of my year, much less my life, but the photos are really good, especially of the truffled egg.
One more gushing Brit article ... I didn't quite get "The views across the valley and on to the mountains are stunning" given there's a four lane highway to San Sebastian just outside, but at least this guy had our waiter John as his waiter :) And like us he clearly enjoys his wine.
Very professional photos in this one: http://www.gastroenophile.com/2012/12/eneko-axta-and-azurmendi-basque.html
And one final link, with a Spanish persective and more great photos: http://www.spanishhipster.com/2014/01...
Just to close the circle on this, since I started the thread ... at FL I asked the somm why they didn't offer a wine pairing (I didn't want to spoil the mood by asking why their corkage fee went up to $150).
He said the menu changes every day, so it wouldn't make sense to offer a pairing. Also he said they felt they could pair the food quite well with their extensive listing of half-bottles and their by-the-glass options.
This didn't make a lot of sense to me since if you can pair via half-bottles (a couple would likely just get two half-bottles, I think) surely you can pair by the glass. But I didn't press it. Most of the other high-end restaurants also change parts of their menu often and still manage to concoct well-designed by-the-glass pairings.
My wife and I just had a glass of Chardonnay (one from Burgundy, the other from Napa) and a glass of Pinot (again, Burgundy vs CA ... interesting to see the differences in style with the same grape).
It's worth pointing out that we had very good wine parings at Atelier Crenn and Manresa the next two nights, spending quite a bit more on wine at each place than we spent at French Laundry.
>> "Off topic, but what tasting menu (Chef or Le Bernardin) did you have at Le Bernardin with the wine pairing?"
You asked this of bbulkow but we had a similar experience with the Chef's Tasting menu a few years ago ... most of the pairings were really good, with mostly French wines, but there was one somewhat earthy red wine paired with a fish dish that I found puzzling.
When I asked about why they paired that wine with that dish I was told something like the goal was to pair to some element in the sauce ... which I thought was rather subtle, since the fish was the main focus.
Anyway, other than that (sometimes they probably get bored pairing seafood and try something out of left field just because ...) I thought it was well done. The somm, Aldo Sohm, has been voted "Best Sommelier in America" and then "Best Sommelier in the World" by his peers in the past few years.
And I still remember the final dessert pairing ... a shot of 23 year old Ron Zapaca rum from Guatemala. Wow, that cleared the sinuses.
Anyway, I would say go for the pairings at Le Bernardin.
Second the French Market rec ... some low cost options and a lot of variety in the food court so each family member can do something different if they want.
But they are also listing openings for four tops via OpenTable on March 18, 24 and 26, as examples of how it's becoming easier to book there.
We were there over the weekend ... I think Napa got almost 5" of rain one day and our original SFO flight out Sunday was cancelled, then our replacement flight was delayed twice. So a lot of people probably missed out due to weather.
I did notice earlier (2 months ago) when we were booking that you can often find 4 tops on the FL on OpenTable, something that was extremely hard to do in the past. Maybe the buzz is off FL a bit by now, or maybe it's just because it's winter.
Martha, Azurmendi is the 3* near Bilbao. Here's a review from Andy Hayler, a British foodie who is the only person to have dined at every Michelin 3* in the world. This is the only restaurant in Spain that he gave a 20/20 rating to. We really enjoyed dining there.
Here's the other 3*, Sant Pau -- a pleasant hour's train ride north of Barcelona, right on the beach. Actually a couple we met at this restaurant were the ones who suggested we try Atelier Crenn, which we'll visit this weekend. We didn't like it quite as much as Azurmendi because the tastes weren't as strong and bold, but it was a very pleasant meal.
The one star in Bilbao where the chef took us under his wing is Etxanobe, with Chef Fernando Canales, who has a popular Spanish cooking show on TV. http://en.etxanobe.com/
We are returning in May to dine at four new (to us) restaurants near San Sebastian but are making a detour to Azurmendi and Etxanobe as well. We really enjoyed dining in Spain.
The tip is included in the wine prices :)