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Looking for a great "rustic and traditional" place along the 6h drive from Paris to Carcassone

Thanks everyone for your input. I didn't realise the Google Maps estimate was off by such a huge amount. As such, I think we'll just take the train to Carcassonne instead.

We'll keep Hôtel de la Poste & Auvergne for the next France trip.

Apr 13, 2014
singaporediner in France

Looking for a great "rustic and traditional" place along the 6h drive from Paris to Carcassone

Hi Chowhounders,

In June I'll be doing a 6.5h drive from Paris to Carcassone in a day. I have two questions.

(1) Are there any great "rustic and traditional" places along the way? (about midway,2h-4h in, would be nice)? (i.e. not fancy Michelin food, we're already doing Arpege and Ambroisie in Paris, and need some contrast).

(2) Are there any recommended activities along the way that can be done in 3-4h? (We can reach Carcassone by nightfall, so we have a fairly wide berth if there are some great activities to do in the middle of the journey)

Apr 12, 2014
singaporediner in France

Solo diner in Barcelona looking for any others looking to do 41 Degrees Experience

Any day on the week of Tuesday 10th June to Saturday 14th June! I'm currently hoping to do it, but they only accept parties of 2 or 4 :(

Apr 12, 2014
singaporediner in Spain/Portugal

Providence,RI - Lunch and Dinner recommendations for 'chowmeet' between two serious foodies from Toronto and Singapore

Try to rent a zipcar, or use UberX or Lyft (if you have a data plan) to get around. They are the cheapest car services available in Providence if you don't own one

Apr 08, 2014
singaporediner in Southern New England

Providence,RI - Lunch and Dinner recommendations for 'chowmeet' between two serious foodies from Toronto and Singapore

Hi Charles! Surprising to see you on this board! I'm a Singaporean chowhounder currently based in Providence (graduating this May).

My recommendations:

1. Dinner - Birch is a must do (for dinner). I have been there more than 10 times since they opened last July, they are simply head and shoulders the most innovative restaurant in RI, and the best I've tried in New England.

You can read some of my write-ups on my blog on birch: kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/birch-providence-sep-13-loca-vore-movement/

2. Breakfast - If you are in for Breakfast, try Kitchen - they have the best bacon I've tried in the Northeast (including NYC)

3. Dinner - Persimmon in Bristol (25 min drive) has a playful take on RI fare that is unique, it's probably the second best restaurant I've tried in RI after Birch.

4. Dinner - My experiences at North have been decent. Their best dishes are the ham biscuit and fried chicken. Thier food is similar to Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC. I would get their vegetable offerings and avoid their noodle offerings, which are much better done at Ssam Bar.

5. Lunch/Dinner - I'm going to say avoid La Laiterie and Gracie's. You will be disappointed.

6. Dinner - Get the polenta from Mike's Kitchen if you can. Canteen style dining, but very good polenta. It was once featured in NYTimes.

RECOMMENDATIONS I'VE HEARD FROM OTHERS I TRUST

7. Matunuck oyster bar in the summertime I've heard is great

8. Black Pearl in Newport for New England clam chowder (Lunch, maybe?)

Apr 08, 2014
singaporediner in Southern New England

Local 121, PVD

Thanks for the great write-up! Sounds like Local 121 is back on the radar.

Mar 27, 2014
singaporediner in Southern New England

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Tegui (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Address: Costa Rica 5852, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Phone: +54 11 5291-3333
Verdict: Save your money, and go to a parrilla.
Rating: 5/20
 
____________
My dinner at Tegui was a very disappointing experience. Tegui was lauded to high-heaven in Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurant List, ranking top in Argentina and #9 in Latin America overall. I was intrigued to take the measure of Argentine cooking. Here was the teaser text:
The playing with perceptions continues once again at the table, however, with Martitegui continually changing his style of cooking in order to create an air of mystery about his establishment. One week his menu could resemble that of a European restaurant, the next it could take on a more diner-like feel, depending on which ingredients the chef has been seduced by. It’s an approach that not only keeps the kitchen – and indeed the diner – on its toes but ensures the cooking is as fresh and inventive as the day the restaurant opened its doors.
Presuming you catch Martitegui in one of his more European frames of mind, diners can expect carefully created dishes that are just as concerned with texture and aroma as taste, such as burrata with strawberries, basil, balsamic vinegar and pistachios; king crab in coconut cream and mango and low-temperature cooked osso bucco and caramelized apples. Wine is an important part of the offer and each dish comes with a by-the-glass suggestion. – Hype Box
As mentioned in my post on La Cabrera, I wasn’t sure if Buenos Aires was a city geared more to high-end fine dining, or food with a more common touch. I tried Tegui on my first night in the city, but I had two major complaints with Tegui:
. Basic cooking mistakes. A roasted quail was overcooked to the point of greyness, with bland skin, A rabbit terrine was too dry and coarse.
. Truly bizarre combinations: cold sorbets juxtaposed with hot meats. A dessert course kills the appetite kindly by cloying you with sweetness and coldness at the end. The effect of having multiple hot courses with cold sorbets was that my appetite was killed many times over. This was weirdness for the sake of weirdness, a disease well-christened “twerking” by Ulterior Epicure Bonjwing Lee.
Here was avant-garde-ism for the sake for avant-garde-ism, reaching for sophisticated effects while neglecting simple things like making sure the quail is actually cooked properly.
Perhaps the kitchen was having a bad day, but towards the end of the meal, I wasn’t looking for revelation or inspiration any more, I was just praying that the kitchen would just give me something decent. Luckily, since dessert is hard to screw up, I got a couple of decent desserts, but those were unspectacular too. 
___
First snack: Cornet. Brie cheese and Tomato. (3.25/5
)A derivation of the famous per se/French Laundry cornets, right down to color key – but the differences was that the cone was not a crispy tuile, but had the texture of a digestive biscuit.

Bread service
Snack: Hot blinis with eggplant caviar and sour cream (3.5/5)
Eggplant caviar spicy.
Snack: Goat Cheese, Tomato, Strawberry Granita (4/5)

Main #1: Goat Cheese, Beet, Strawberries, Basil (3/5)
The goat’s cheese was shaved using a Microplane, a technique popularised by Momofuku Ko with their shaved foie gras, but ended up clumping together due to low temperature. The four ingredients had almost no synergy together, especially since the goat cheese was bland and unassertive. It did not help that I had a far superior version of a shaved cheese dish at ma peche (report to come) a few days before.

Main #2: Almond soup, toasted serrano ham chips, fresh figs. (3.5/5)
Another discordant dish. The almond soup was cold and cheesy, which did not go well with the ham and figs. The ham and figs made a good combination, but was overpowered by the almond soup. This reminded me of a similarly overpowering combination of salmon with pistachio emulsion I had two years ago at Le Bernardin in New York. The almond soup was pointless.

Main #3: Octopus, homemade salami, tapenade (dehydrated black olives), melon, avocado. (3.5/5)
Melon and octopus and salami were pleasant enough, but the avocado cream was a bit too much, if applied in the volumes suggested by the dab.

Main #4: Rabbit Terrine, Corn Ice Cream, Apricot, Cucumber Yoghurt, Dabs of Hot Pepper (1/5)
Terrible, absolutely terrible. What was corn ice cream doing alongside a rabbit terrine? Not only was the dish bizarrely conceived, but the rabbit terrine was coarse, of uneven meat sizes, and some parts were dry. Was the terrine meant to be cold? Very well. But the terrine wasn’t cold, instead it was in the uncanny lukewarm zone, where it is just hot enough to suggest it should be a hot dish, and yet not hot enough, suggesting it was cooling after cooking. The lukewarm temperature was a turn-off.

Furthermore, the cold corn ice cream made for a very uncomfortable mouth-feel when eaten with the lukewarm, coarse, dry terrine. Really, really bad dish. I did like the corn ice cream on its own, so it salvages one point. The appearance of ice cream so early on, also may have played havoc with my appetite.

Main #5: Ricotta Gnocchi, White Truffle Foam, Popcorn (3.5/5)
One of their specialties. Finally, a dish that was served on a plate that was actually hot. It was not bad, though not mind-blowing.

Main #6: Quail, Malbec Reduction, Dried Fruit Sorbet. (0/5)
This time the plate was at room temperature again, due to accommodating a hot and a cold element. The quail was overcooked, to a ashen grey colour that was reminiscent of a very dead thing. The skin was bland, as if it had no seasoning. Terrible. Perhaps the ice creams were the kitchen’s way of apologising for inflicting such mal-conceived ideas upon paying diners.

Main #7: 24 hour lamb, eggplant, thyme yoghurt, Mediterranean vegetables (2.5/5)
“herbs set on fire on top of lamb”
Again, plate and meat were lukewarm. The lamb was roasted in the oven slowly for 24 hours, and the meat picked to form a lukewarm and greasy terrine. The redeeming quality of this dish was the crust of lamb on top of the picked meats, which was crispy and quite okay.

Melon, White Chocolate Granita, Licorice and Balsamic Vinegar Reduction (4.25/5)
“Good.”

Strawberry sorbet, Blueberry Leather, Panna Cotta dabs (3.25/5)
Okay, if unexciting. Quality of fruits weren’t the absolute best I’ve had.

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Central (Lima, Peru)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/central-lima-jan-14-peruvian-terroir-art-on-a-plate/

Address: Ca. Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima – Perú
Telephone: [511]242-8515 / [511] 242-8575 | Email: reservas@centralrestaurante.com.pe
Website: http://centralrestaurante.com.pe/
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 1-330pm, Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 8-1130pm
Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $120
Courses: (8 main/13 total) 2 amuse / 1 bread / 6 savory / 2 dessert / 2 mignardises
Price/Main Course: $15
Rating: 19.5/20
Value: 5/5
Dining Time: 140 minutes
Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
Chef: Virgilio Martinez (also proprietor of Lima in London, and another upcoming in London. ex. Lutèce (NYC), Can Fabes, Astrid y Gastón), Pía Leon (ex. El Celler de Can Roca
) In Own Words: “My food is very visual, to me landscapes, feelings, romance, emotions are very important. I believe that my cuisine is very close to nature but in an artistic way.” [1]
Style: Avant-garde Peruvian/Amazonian
Notable: Rated by an influential local guidebook as best restaurant in Lima; platings are works of art.

Rating: 19.5/20

The Chef. Chef Virgilio Martinez’s fame precedes him. In the last year, he has opened a restaurant in London (called Lima), and he has another restaurant in Cuzco, gateway to Machu Picchu. An advocate of Peruvian cuisine worldwide, he is only 36 years old, and Central has been reviewed by Lima’s foremost dining guide (a little red book) as the best restaurant in Lima. Previous to opening Central, he worked at Lutèce (New York); Can Fabes (Sant Celoni, Spain), and served as executive chef at two restaurants of the Astrid y Gastón restaurant chain (prevalent in the Spanish world), in both Bogotá and Madrid.

You know what, I spent some time in Madrid and in Barcelona 10 years ago. After awhile, I went back to Peru and I saw more calm in the city. In the gastronomic sense, it was just okay, it was good. I had this epiphany when I went to Southeast Asia and I saw how people were very proud of street food. That really inspired me to go to the very unknown parts [of Peru]. So I got to know these parts, and I got to know all these ingredients. When I saw 200 ingredients that I’d never seen in my life, I was like, okay we have to do something with this because this is just amazing. And then we started to do the research on recipes with those ingredients. That was my personal motivation to go back to Peru and do my thing. – Virgilio Martinez

Two Visions of Peruvian Haute-Cuisine. Of the four high-end restaurants and menus I visited in three days in Lima, I could split them into two kinds – the first as Peruvian fusion (Astrid y Gaston’s [AyG] 20 years menu, Maido’s Nikkei menu); and the second highlighting Peruvian terroir (Central, Malabar, more casual: Amaz). I felt that the first type of Peruvian fusion haute-cuisine was not as enjoyable for me – it was almost as if I was being treated to a menu by committee, where disparate elements (Chinese shortrib and glutinous rice at Maido, Peking cuy and cannoli at AyG) were being put on my plate just to punch home the point that Peru was a cultural melting pot of Spanish, Italian, Incan, Chinese and Japanese immigrants. As if the presence of diversity on the menu was more important that the way tastes could unfold on the menu. In almost all of the cases, these “affirmative action” style dishes flopped. Fried rice with cod and oyster sauce does not a good dish make, AyG. The “affirmative action” trap is an all-too-common one that fusion restaurants fall into. The fusion restaurant gimmick: Ingredients from culture A are mixed with ingredients/preparations of culture B to produce a decent dish, but one in which the ingredients are replaceable, and there isn’t an essential reason to mix those two cultures. Very few fusion dishes follow an inner logic of the tastes themselves. A good rule of thumb seems to be: if fusion results in a dish that is merely interesting, don’t serve it. In the past year I could count on one hand the fusion dishes which were brilliant (sake-souffle at RyuGin, and Pejerrey Tiradito at Maido off the top of my head). Even at Maido (a restaurant I enjoyed very much), the only fusion dish which was essential was the tiradito; the other fusion dishes were well-executed but forgettable; and the chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) style dishes were consistently the weakest parts of the menu at both AyG and Maido.

I much preferred the Peruvian-terroir type restaurants. I learnt while researching Lima’s dining scene that there was a deviant strain of terroir-restaurants called “Amazonian cuisine”, attributed to Pedro Schiaffino of Malabar and Amaz. While I enjoyed both Malabar and Amaz, I felt that Peruvian-terroir took a big step up at Central. The flavors here were more precise and complex. It also has a larger canvas to play on – while a big part of Central’s ingredients comes from the Amazon, but it also encompasses all elevations and climes.

“Scientists have calculated that there are thirty-four types of climatic zones on the face of the earth. Peru has twenty of them. ‘In Inca Land one may pass from glaciers to tree ferns within a few hours,’ Bingham wrote, still astonished years after arriving.” - Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams.

The Food. The menu I had was called Mater Uno. It has been expanded to about 18 courses now, but remained at about 13 courses when I visited in early January. The most memorable tastes were (1) the cut chirimoya fruit with cocoa – the chirimoya had the texture of pineapple with the taste of soursop; remarkable; and (2) the cushuro cyanobacteria with mashed frozen potato. The chefs at Central plate with painters’ brushes. In their hands, elegant paintings appear on our plates, feasts for the eyes. Occasionally the dining experience crosses over into didactism, where native Peruvian ingredients are placed on our plate just because the average diner has zero familiarity with them, and Central is trying to educate us on their provenance. But I always found the tastes precise, calibrated, with no flavour overwhelming the dish. Even though the food was unfamiliar, the tastes were balanced.

____________

MATER UNO

SEA: Seaweed Calamari (4.5/5)
Ceviche style.
COAST: Native Corn (4.5/5)
Intense corn taste.
AMAZON: Spicy Root (4.5/5)
ANDES: Tuber Chamomile (5/5)
Camote (Andean sweet potato) that tasted like apple pie.
Special mention for the bread service goes to the “butter” (5/5), which is actually hardened butterscotch that is made solid. I ate a lot of it after taking this picture.

SNAPSHOT OF THE SEA (5/5)
Scallops, Kañihua, Tumbo, Borrage [10 mbmsi]
Raw scallops coated with kanihua (mountain grains); tropical fruit notes from the tumbo (banana-passionfruit sauce).

COASTAL INTERACTION (5/5)
Octopus, Purple Corn, Olive, Limo Chili [500 mamsi]
Perfectly roasted octopus, in a purple corn “corn-somme”.

WATERS OF THE LOWER ANDES (4.75/5)
River Shrimp, Sacha Inchi, Native Herbs, Chia [1200 mamsi]
The nutty and salty river shrimps were paired with raw, verdant native herbs and chia. It was a complex composition, no taste dominating.

EXTREME ALTITUDE (5/5)
Frozen Potato, Cushuro, Mullaca Root, Paico [4500 mamsi]
This may have been the best dish of the night. Sour and springy cushuro (a type of cyanobacteria, which I also had the previous day at Maido), paired well with the mild taste of mash potato. It was a joy to crunch through the springy cushuro (which had a touch of turmeric taste) . Paico is a herb that starts off anise-tasting, and ends up minty.

RED JUNGLE (3.75/5)
Arapaima, Airampo, Huito, Hearts of Palm [800 mamsi]
The Amazonian arapaima riverfish is considered a delicacy for producing boneless steaks; here it had a savory ham-like texture. airampo, a cactus fruit stained the fish. Huito, charred on top, had a nutty almond like taste.

ALTIPLANO AND LAKE (3.25/5)
Lamb, Kiwicha, Tarwi, Chamomile [3800 mamsi]
Okay. Taste from (chamomile?) cubes overpowering.

PURE AMAZON (4.25/5)
Bahuaja, Huampo Wood, Maca Root, Taperiba [500 mamsi]
Huampo root, boiled down (the green puree) had a menthol slightly limey flavor. Bahuaja nut, the central mass, was like a nutty semifreddo. Maca root crisps provides a taste of Froot Loops on the outside of the Bahuaja Nut; Taperiba formed the olive-colored gel.

MOUNTAIN RANGE AND FOREST (5/5)
Cacao, Coca, Chirimoya, Chaco Clay [2500 mamsi]
I loved this dish. I had chirimoya desserts at Borago, Gustu, Astrid y Gaston; but this took the cake. Chirimoya was served simply as the main dish; a fruit with the texture of pineapple and the taste of soursop. It was served simply with chocolate-coca soil. Simplicity.

SOLAR INFUSION
Cullen, Stevia, Macambo, Lemon Verbena [1200 mamsi]

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Malabar (Lima, Peru)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Address: Av Camino Real 110, San Isidro 15073, Peru
Phone: +51 1 4405200
Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $140
Courses: (10 main/ 13 total): 1 amuse/1 bread/8 savory/ 2 desserts/ 1 mignardise.
Price/Main Course:  $14
Rating: 13.5/20
Value: 1/5
Dining Time: 97 minutes
Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
Chef: Pedro Miguel Schiaffano
Style: Peruvian / Amazonian

Malabar is a bit different from 3 other renowned restaurants I visited in Lima (Astrid y Gastón, Maido, and Central). Strangely, none of the waitstaff speak English, so it was off to the races with my halting Spanish to comprehend the dish explanations. One can only imagine that this is a deliberate choice on the part of chef-owner Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, since during my lunch at Amaz (his more casual twist on the Amazonian concept, located in the upmarket Miraflores district) two days earlier, there were plenty of waitstaff who could speak English.

Another difference about Malabar was that it was the only one of the four in the San Isidro financial district, about 5km away from the Miraflores district.

While Malabar’s food was pleasant enough, I have to confess that reflecting on the meal 2 months later, no tastes really stick with me. It was nicely plated, but no one dish grabbed the stomach or made me remember the food besides that it was quite pleasant. Having had no immersion at all in this cuisine and its ingredients, I was running based purely on taste and smell. If one could eat with one’s eyes, this would be great cuisine. I have faith that the ingredients sourced here from the Amazon (which Chef Schiaffano leads a vanguard) are all very rare, but the concept of this restaurant seems to be first a showcase parade of unfamiliar ingredients brought into elegant visual forms, presented to the diner experimentally, to see which Amazonian ingredients are a hit with gourmands. I ended up appreciating Schiaffano’s gastronomic project to support conserving the Amazon ecosystem and culture, much more than the direct gastronomic results themselves.

For a better version of this type of Peruvian terroir cuisine, I would recommend Central over Malabar, which had at least 3 very memorable dishes.
____________
Menu

‘Mugaritz-style’ stone potatoes.

Pisco Sour
Malabar is known for its Pisco cocktails. This was a great afternoon drink. The most memorable part of the meal for me.

Bread

Queso de castaña: Flores de jengibre, tomates confitados y congonilla (4.25/5

)

Taidai de pescado con jugo de tumbo, mastuerzos y tobiko (4/5)

Yuca: Mojo de naranja agria, fariña, tapioca y masato (4.25/5)

Huatia de papa: Papa cocida en su tierra, charqui de alpaca y quinua negra (4/5)

Octopus, Pepper, Seaweed (4.5/5)

Paiche en aji negro: Habitas regionales guisadas y maduros (3.75/5)

Escolar en adobo: Cebollas de trenza y camotes crujientes (4.75/5)

The most remembered dish of that lunch – a spicy sambal-like covering around the escolar fish. I feel it is a bit facetious to serve the escolar in such meagre portions, but such is the tyranny of the tasting menu – would it have been better served in a large portion, family-style?

Puca picante de costillar de res (4.5/5)
Tasty and pliable to the knife.

Chirimoya, plátanos manzanos y yogurt orgánico (4/5)

Cacao: chocolates nacionales (4.5/5)

Dulcecitos
A spicy sweet.

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Maido (Lima, Peru)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/maido-lima-jan-14-nikkei-delight/

Address: calle San Martín 399 (esquina: calle Colón), Miraflores, Lima, Perú
Telephone: (511) 446 – 2512
Website: http://www.maido.pe/index.php
Hours: Lunch: Mon-Sun: 1230pm-4pm. Dinner: Mon-Sat: 730pm-11pm.
Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $135
Courses: (15 main/15 total) 13 savory / 2 dessert
Price/Main Course: $9
Rating: 18.5/20
Value: 4/5
Dining Time: 95 minutes
Time/Course (total): 6 minutes
Chef: Mitsuharu Tsumura
Style: Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese fusion
)
Of the four major restaurants I went to in Lima, Maido and Central were the ones that left the greatest impression. There are two menu options are Maido, the Japanese set menu, where the restaurant conjures up an authentic Japanese experience, and a Nikkei menu, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion menu. While I’m sure Maido would have served good Japanese, I wanted something a bit more unique to the city – so I took the Nikkei menu option.
“Nikkei” is a term that means the Japanese diaspora. Peru is of course one of the countries with the largest and most prominent Japanese diaspora – former President Alberto Fujimori was the first leader of Japanese descent of a non-Japanese country, and helped to crack down on the Shining Path, which only two decades ago terrorised the cosmopolitan playground of Miraflores with a truck bomb. Today Miraflores is an semi-autonomous district in Lima, with its own tourist police force, 5-star hotels, and an excess of casinos. Its self confidence finds its way into some of the best food in South America, with Astrid y Gaston, Central, Amaz, and Maido all located within a tight 2km area.
Something that was interesting to me was to hear Japanese being spoken at least half the time amongst the chefs. This gave me an foreshadowing of the authenticity, discipline and precision that chef Mitsuharu Tsumura instills in everyone at the restaurant. The chef, I’m excited to report as a Providence-resident, studied at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, and then apprenticed at an Osaka sushi restaurant. He returned to Lima, and worked at the Sheraton Lima – until he was 28, when he struck out to create Maido. – [biography]
There were many standout dishes. The best was a liquid nitrogen ceviche tiradito, which was unforgettably served in a petri-dish. In every dish, I felt precision in execution, as if the flavors summoned in the chef’s mind, was being transmitted directly to my tongue, through precise technical skills honed by repetition. I’m a fan. Maido’s a must-visit when I next return to Lima.
Rating: 18.5/20
Memory: Pulpo al Olivo, Pejerrey Tiradito, Bahuaja, Temaki Sushi

“Nikkei Experience – The Third Reality”

“Life is movement. Nothing is static or absolute. No one is. We are in a state of constant flux, just like the Earth, the tides, bacteria, light, the blood in our bodies, colors, seeds. Like family trees, cuisines are constantly being redefined, their identities enriched by an intense intercultural exchange which has formed the basis of all civilization ever since humans shared their first sounds, products, ideas, and customs. Fusion cuisine is just that: cooking, an inclusive word that perfectly encompasses it all. The fireplace is where bloodlines merge, where people come to sing, individual and group histories are forged, life gestates. The fireplace is where dialogue is fostered, the elements meet, opposites attract. Thus was born Peruvian Nikkei cuisine: from a complex history called Peru; and another, equally complex, far-off and foreign history called Japan that merged to live in harmony and create the third reality: Nikkei Cuisine.” – Mitsuharu Tsumura – Josefina Barron
The menu is made to look like an olde Japanese passport.
1. Pulpo al Olivo (5/5)
Grilled octopus, botija olives tofu and crispy black quinoa
Brilliant. Perfectly grilled octopus, crisp, warm, tender. Olive tofu. Cold. Textured by crispy quinoa. All three ingredients played their part. A single bite, very harmonious.
2. Hassun (4.25/5)
Whelks in soy sauce with kiuri and apple sorbet – Southern squid, wakame, Porcón mushroom in two textures
Southern squid, wakame, Porcón mushroom in two textures
This was very good. A visual pun on maki sushi, where instead of green seaweed wrapping white rice, we have a strip of white squid wrapping around wakame seaweed. Served amidst mushroom paste on a mushroom chip.
Whelks in soy sauce with kiuri and apple sorbet
The sweetness ice of apple sorbet made the whelk almost dessert-like.
3. Nikkei Ceviche (4.25/5)
Cabrilla, clam, camaron, tobiko, crispy yuyo
Especially enjoyable was hunting down those last bits of tobiko (flying fish roe) in the ceviche sauce.
4. Paracas Scallop with Maca (4.5/5)
Paracas Scallop, maca emulsion, fukujinzuke, kimpira gobou
A fukujinzuke (Japanese vegetable pickle medley) soil with succulent scallops.
5. Pejesapo Sandwich (3.75/5)
Steamed bun, pejesapo, tartar sauce, creole salad
A fairly ordinary sweet bun sandwich. Citrus notes.
6. Cuy-san (4.5/5)
Cuy confit with molle pepper, chilled harusame noodles with sanbaisu and rocoto.
Cuy, the infamous guinea pig, here is confit, packed into a spring roll, and served with a simple sweet dish of cold noodles. Appetising in its simplicity. Garnished with a single corn leaf.
7. Pejerrey Tiradito (5/5)
Ceviche sauce with nori, chalaca, shichimi, cancha
This was a dish that was all the good and great of Maido’s clash of cultures. From Peru, ceviche sauce was cooled with liquid nitrogen in a mixing bowl, and put with nutty toasted corn (cancha). Slivers of pejerrey fish were served tiradito style, thinly sliced – the tiradito style itself being an offshoot of sashimi. Finally, topped with a Japanese 7-spice powder. Brilliant. A knock-out dish.
8. Nigiris from the Sea (3.75/5)
Deep fried rock fish nambazuke – Smoked mackerel with yellow chilli, onions and masago
9. Rice Tamale (4/5)
Banana leaf, smoked nitsuke style bacon, cocona pepper
This was reminiscent of many Chinese dim-sum lunches I’ve had over the years, so much that I thought (and still suspect) it’s a chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) style dish. A single cross-section of savory tamale, crested with a bit of heart of palm.
10. Chupemushi (4.25/5)
The encounter of Chupe de Camarones and Chawanmushi
Sweet seafood surrounded by egg-custard chawanmushi. A pleasant seafood sweetness seeped into the chawanmushi.
11. Nigiris from the Earth (4.5/5)
Cylinder duck – Crispy panceta – Outside skirt Wagyu aged for thirty days A Lo Pobre
Well-executed.
12. Gindara Pancayaki (4.25/5)
Gindara marinated in miso, panca chilli and yellow chilli, camotillo potato cream, crispy leona potato, Pachacamac greens, purple corn powder
Sablefish (gindara), if I remember correctly, tastes like cod. A quieter protein. Roast corn was done perfectly, like the octopus in the first course.
13. Estofado Nikkei (4.25/5)
Nitsuke braised short rib, white fried rice with cecina and benishoga
Another quieter dish, here nitsuke – a sweet braise – performed on beef, with fried rice, reminded me of the Asian home cooking I grew up with.
14. Bahuaja (5/5)
Milk, ice cream and crispy “castaña”, mango, cranberry, cushuro, mochi
A sublime dish. A sweet milk ice-cream with an array of delicious ingredients. No ingredient outshined the other – but the most curious was “cushuro” -
Known by its scientific name, Nostoc commune is a type of cyanobacteria, more commonly known as “blue-green algae,” although it’s not exactly blue-green in color nor is it a true alga.
These bacteria form colonies of spheres which measure 1 – 2 centimeters (0.4 – 0.8 of an inch) in diameter. The spheres are soft and watery and glow in the presence of ultraviolet light. Their green pigmentation is due to the presence of chlorophyll; their blue pigmentation due to the presence of phycocyanin. Additionally, the presence of phycoerythrin, a reddish pigment, in combination with the other pigments, explains why some are more brownish in color.
Cyanobacteria can be found in diverse habitats around the world, aquatic or terrestrial, and are characterized by their tolerance of extremes in temperature and conditions. They are capable of remaining dormant for long periods of time and can abruptly restart their metabolic activity upon rehydration. They are capable of carrying out both photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation, nitrogen fixation meaning that they take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form that we can utilize, a precursor to amino acids and proteins.
Nostoc commune is only one of the world’s edible varieties of cyanobacteria. Another, for example, is the “facai,” consumed in China during the time of festivals. This is the Nostoc flagelliforme(Takenaka et al, 1988) which grows slowly in the desert regions of northern and north-western China. – source
Cushuro was one of the most wondrous discoveries of my gastronomic travels in South America. It’s textured like a tender bubble-tea pearl, and tastes like mild earl grey tea. Maido perfectly incorporated it in a “Treasures” themed dessert.
15. Temaki sushi (4.75/5)
Nothing is what it seems. The seaweed is chocolate. The rice, is strawberry cream. And those salmon roe… dessert pearls. Whimsical.

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Astrid y Gaston (Lima, Peru)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Old Address: Cantuarias 175, Miraflores District 15074, Peru
New Address: Av. Paz Soldán 290, San Isidro, Lima 27 – Perú
Phone: +51 1 2424422.
Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): > $100 (I forgot
) Courses: (20 main/22 total): 1 amuse, 1 bread, 16 savory, 4 dessert
Rating: 14/20
Value: 2/5
Dining Time: 240 minutes
Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
Chef: Diego Muñoz (Mugaritz, el Bulli, Royal Mail Hotel, Bilson’s in Sydney Australia)
Style: Peruvian
Notable: First fine-dining restaurant to focus all the way back in the 90′s on Peruvian food
I think this 20 year retrospective menu, which AyG only served in the last month of their operations in their old address, in January 2014, was one of the more memorable meals I had partaken. (They’ve since moved to the Financial District of Lima, in a new space called “Casa Moreyra”.) Was the food great? In all honesty, not really. There were no eye-opening combinations, nor any dish I thought was excellent (i.e. 5/5), though I remember the liquid nitrogen chirimoya dessert (like styrofoam pillows), and the peking cuy (guinea pig). Puzzling was the chifa dish that was just a fried piece of fish and puffed rice in oyster sauce. “Sole meuniere” was just a slab of plain fish. Chicken “foie”, an ingredient pinched in taste compared to its fowl-ier brother, may have invited us to reminisce about a time when AyG had French pretensions. Purely gastronomically, I had better experiences at Central andMaido.
But it seemed almost beside the point. The food was clearly secondary to the story-telling. The special menu was a celebration of the history of the restaurant. The constraints were clear: the kitchen was going to select a dish from each year, and feature it as a 20 course menu. From there, they wove a story about how a French restaurant in an unstable Lima, eventually found its voice championing the native dishes of Peru, and set up branches all over Latin America and Spain. How they became more experimental over the years, especially the dessert courses. It was interesting to see the evolution of restaurant before our eyes, told through 20 courses.
It seemed purely experiential, the evolution of a restaurant told in 20 dishes. While I didn’t fully enjoy the gastronomic side of it, it appealed to the sentimental side of me. Since it seems churlish to criticise a special menu working under a stringent set of constraints, [on my blog] I present the menu and photos without further explanation, so you can take my place tableside.

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Gustu (La Paz, Bolivia)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/gustu-la-paz-jan-14-food-as-world-changer/

Address: Calle 10, No. 300, La Paz, Bolivia
Number: 591 (2) 2117491
Website: http://restaurantgustu.com/eng/welcome/
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12pm – 3pm, 7pm – 11pm
Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $80
Courses: (10 main/14 total) 2 amuse / 1 bread / 7 savory / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises
Price/Main Course: $8
Rating: 16/20
Value: 5/5
Dining Time: 170 minutes
Time/Course (total): 12 minutes
Chef: Kamilla Seidler (ex. Geist), Michelangelo Cestari
Style: New Andean
In recent months I have heard of the “gentrification effect”, where a hip new restaurant (placed in the wrong part of town), or a social coffeehouse (in Melbourne’s backstreets) changes a sketchy area for the better. Heavy foot traffic makes viable an ecosystem of other restaurants (perhaps to handle the spillover effect), bars, coffee houses. It is reminiscent of the big-push theory of creating a top-notch research university – “hire at least two superstars to your university department, and watch as other bright postdocs trip over themselves to work with them”.
I think the establishment of Gustu in Bolivia (one of the poorer countries in Latin America) – an international opening covered by the NYTimes, the FT, and Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton - accomplishes three things. The first, geographic, is it may make a gastronomic hub of the well-to-do Calacoto suburb in La Paz. The second, economic, is that it establishes a type of opportunity, to work in the cutting edge of gastronomy, that was not there before. The third, gastronomic, is that it showcases Bolivian ingredients as not seen before. The social mission of Gustu is highly admirable – no other gastronomic project on the planet is taking as much risk as opening in Bolivia. But since locals are not the primary target of Gustu, whether the restaurant thrives will depend on its ability to turn out great food in order to attract foodie tourists. And that was what I spent one night in La Paz to find out.
12-course menu
Tumbo y Ciruela Club
“Tumbo – the banana passionfruit“
1. Zonzo, Salteña and Masaco
Zonzo (4.5/5
)A delicious grilled yucca snack, with crispy cheese and burnt garlic sprinkled on top.
Salteña (3.75/5)
Salteñas are a baked Bolivian empanada. A traditional breakfast dish, this salteña was filled with oxcheek, potato, and carrot. Coca in the dough.
2. Peanut Macaron with Palmito (Heart of Palm) Paste (4.75/5)
A good combination. Strong taste of peanut, akin to the filling from Asian peanut butter crackers.
3. Grilled Avocado Puree with Fresh Plums (3/5)
I did not much like this dish – the grilled avocado puree was quite bitter, though the plums from the La Paz valley were pleasant in themselves. As a dish though the bitterness overwhelmed the momentary sweetness of thin plum slices.
Bread with Coca Infused Butter (distinct and bitter, enjoyable and memorable)
4. Tender Beets and Papalisa, Perfumed with Hibiscus (3.75/5)
Beets broiled, dehydrated and rehydrated (hibiscus vinegar?). I had seen this trick before at birch (with lavender vinegar) and Aska the previous year. This produces a chewy beet candy with satisfying resistance to the tooth. Papalisa or Ulluco, an Andean staple crop second only to potato, are very small tubers, distinguished primarily by their texture, a firm little tuber ball. A dish of textural contrast. Hibiscus paper.
5. Poached Rabbit and Choclo with Lime (3/5)
Choclo, a robust large corn, is harder and starchier than the North American corn I’m used to. Here the choclo was charred and paired with poached rabbit and lime. The poached rabbit with lime was a simpler preparation. The choclo however remained hard, and for me detracted from the rabbit. The choclo demands attention, by virtue of its hard texture. The rabbit and choclo remained separate dishes on the plate.
6. Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk (5/5)
My favorite dish of the night. Charque, jerky made from alpaca, was charred into bits, like bacon, and set with a poached quail egg and strips of heart of palm. This was a great texture play – the soft, ethereal tissue that had the surface texture of a plastic strips had and the crisp bits of charque were bound wonderfully by a creamy yolk.
7. Grilled Cauliflower with Drops of Mandarine (3.25/5)
A dish I have seen in other reports of Gustu. This was a triple play of cauliflower – puree, roasted, and a shaved slice of raw cauliflower, given contrast by slices of oranges. The meaty taste of cauliflower was in the puree and roast, but the shaved slice of cauliflower was not great fun to eat.
8. Llama Filet with Chuños Glazed in Apple-Banana Syrup (4.5/5)
Chuñ0 – is a freeze-dried potato product from the Andes.
After harvest, potatoes are selected for the production of chuño, typically small ones for ease of processing. These small potatoes are spread closely on flat ground, and allowed to freeze with low night temperatures, for approximately three nights.
Between the freezing nights, they are exposed to the sun, and they are trampled by foot. This eliminates what little water is still retained by the potatoes, and removes the skins, enabling subsequent freezing.
After this, they are exposed to the cold for two additional nights.
White chuño is obtained by “washing” the frozen potatoes. The “washing” may take various forms. In Bolivia, the potatoes are spread on blankets or straw and constantly sprayed with water to moisten them. In Peru, the frozen potatoes are transported to a river, and deposited in pools.
The final step is drying in the sun. The result is now called chuño, also known as papas secas. In Bolivia, white chuño is also called tunta. – Wikipedia
The chuño potatoes tasted remarkably like dried banana crisps, which I suppose owes a great deal to the Apple-Banana Syrup! The llama had the texture of veal, and the taste was also similar to veal, with a more gamey taste. Perfectly executed dish.
The Potosina Malta (5/5) may be one of the most unique pairings I have ever tasted. In GM Jonas’s words – “sweet, no acidity, no smoke, burnt bread”. It is pure sweetness, and reminded me of Pedro Ximenez sherry, if PX sherry was a stout.
Bolivia doesn’t have a culture of aging and culturing things – and therefore Gustu is pioneering the practice. The carrots had been fermenting since the 7th of July (I was there on the 3rd of January, so that makes very nearly 6 months), and it was paired with the ruda (or common rue) – which tasted of anise+cinnamon. The carrots had the bite similar to the beets earlier served, and had great depth of flavor. The 4.5 month aged beef, dry-ish, had the taste of blue cheese, well-offset by the carrots. The last of the mains.
10. Creamy Chancaca, Tumbo and Singani (5/5)
Chancaca, or piloncillo, is “unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Central and Latin America, which is basically a solid piece of sucrose obtained from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice.” – Wikipedia. Here, it was made into the beige meringue base, topped with the tumbo (banana-passionfruit sorbet). Good.
11. Iced Chirimoya on Aji Fudge with Flakes of Tomatillo (3.25/5)
Chirimoya ice-cream with aji (dill family) fudge and tomatillo paper. A spicy puree was at the base of the dish. The sourness of the dish reminded me of haw candy. I didn’t quite like the dominant spicy, haw-sourness of the aji fudge – but I can see this as a matter of personal taste.
Don Tomas’s 200 bottles of El Poblador. (5/5)
Wow. This wine is made from Misionea(sic?) grape, a grape brought to the New World by Spanish missionaries in the 15th(?) century. It tastes exactly, and I do mean exactly, 100%, on-the-mark, like black forest chocolate cake. Intensely cherry. Brilliant.
12. Soft Chocolate Bar with Cacao Sorbet, Passionfruit and Ground Wild Cacao Beans (4.25/5)
A elegant end to a memorable meal.
Coffee and Postprandial Snacks
_As a result of confining much of their food to geographical limits, locavore restaurants like Boragò and Gustu become destinations worth visiting in themselves, cultural heralds. They are certainly serving up some of the most interesting food in the Americas. My visit to Gustu was highly memorable, characterised by interesting ingredients, well-executed cooking and great service. I wish the team all the best in accomplishing their noble social mission. There’s a buzz about La Paz, and it’s from Gustu.
Rating: 16/20
Memory: Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk; Llama Filet with Chuños Glazed in Apple-Banana Syrup ; Potosina Malta; Peanut Macaron with Palmito; Don Tomas’s El Poblador

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

Boragó (Santiago, Chile)

For photos, please go to: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Address: Av. Nueva Costanera 3467, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
Telephone: +56 2 2953 8893
Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $130
Courses: (15 main/17 total) 1 amuse / 11 savory / 4 dessert / 1 mignardises
Price/Main Course: $9
Rating: 19/20
Value: 5/5
Dining Time: 270 minutes
Time/Course (total): 16 minutes
Chef: Rodolfo Guzman (ex. Mugaritz
) Style: Avant garde Chilean / foraging
Notable: forages all ingredients within 140 miles of Santiago.
____________
Amazing. The New Year had barely passed, and I was already having one of the best meals I could imagine anywhere. I first heard of Borago, when it was blogged by John Sconzo. Reflecting the New Naturalism philosophy of Mugaritz, noma, and In de Wulf – it was a delight to see it applied to a different set of ingredients, one I was completely unfamiliar with. I’ve heard a catchphrase used to describe these restaurants – Borago (Santiago), Gustu (La Paz), Astrid y Gaston (Lima), Central (Lima), among others – “New Andean“. [reports to come, later]. All ingredients from the restaurant are foraged within a 140km radius around it.
Borago is best enjoyed after traversing the length of Chile. I imagine travellers, fresh from 10 days in the Patagonian rainforest, or driving down the coast of Chile, or just flown in from San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama desert, would find delightful reprises of their journeys in each of the dishes conjured up by Borago. For example, a soup made of Patagonian rainwater was served in a bed of moss. A macaron made with plants from the Atacama desert was made to look like that dry, desolate landscape. The plating was inventive, and absolutely delightful. The tastes were precise, and towards the end there was a sustained sequence of excellent and memorable dishes which rivalled anything I have experienced.
I ordered the 16 course extended Raqko tasting menu. Borago offers an 8 course option (Endemica) and 16 course option (Raqko). Rodolfo Guzman helmed the kitchen that night of 2nd January, ably assisted by Peruvian sous Tommy de Olarte and Mexican sous Sergio Meza, who has had experience at In de Wulf and noma. He:
has spent time working at noma and In de Wulf  amongst other noteworthy restaurants before coming to work at Boragó. Cooking since he was just 14 years old and now still only 22, his is a name to watch. – Docsconz.
A beautiful meal, there is no better send-off to Chile than dining at Borago. Indulge on your last night before you fly back home.
Rating: 19/20
___
1st. Nalca y Frutilla Blanca de Purén (2.75/5)
Nalca, a stemmed herb of the rhubarb family, and occasional pest plant, was presented here sliced two ways.
First in a disc, and lengthways. I did not like the lengthways slicing, which preserved the toughness of the fibres in such a way that was almost inedible.
A more pleasant thing was the “white strawberry”, in season for only 2 weeks a year (lucky me!). It tasted exactly like strawberry.
Wild dill, and a dill sauce.
2nd. Locos Cítricos (3.75/5)
Locos, a false abalone (actually a sea snail), is usually served with olive oil and mayonnaise (how I had it earlier that day at Aquí Esta Coco)
Here the idea, explained to me by Meza, was to avoid masking the taste by adding a lot of mayonnaise, but to pair it with citrus. Lemon balm leaves, bits of lime peel, blitzed 12 times and reduced to paste dabs, sprinkled with parsley and a sweet hunk of citrusy paste in the middle made of an endemic herb.
Pleasant, though I felt the locos here had a bit less sweetness than the ones at lunch .
Jugo de Pepino-Aceite de Oliva (3,4)
Delicious. Cucumber and olive oil.
3rd. Verdolagas al Rescoldo y Yogur de Pajarito (3.5/5)
Purslane, cooked like a meat straight on the grill. Yoghurt with kefir.
While I enjoy the direct grilling technique applied to beets and carrots, I didn’t think that this purslane had enough sugar or chemicals to react deliciously with the heat. It was still a bit tasteless when it came out.
4th. Cremoso de Isla Negra (4.5/5)
The beginning of a sustained sequence of courses I really enjoyed all the way until the end. The first three courses were duds to me, but from here all the way to the end the quality was unflagging.
Roasted samphire (a type of seagrass) was served with creamed spinach. Beautiful, crunchy texture contrasting with paste.
Domaine Raab-Ramsay, Blanc de Blancs, D.O. Marga-Marga (5)
5th. Ajo Chilote y Huevo de Gallina Mapuche (5/5)
An egg yolk from the Mapuche hen was cured in sugar, taking all the water out until it became a sweet gummy, was plated deceivingly with what looked like cooked egg white but was actually elephant-garlic-and-potato puree. Plating masterpiece.
Afterwards I had to spend a good minute getting the gummy egg yolk bits out of my teeth.
Jugo de Damasco (6)
6th. Chupe de Setas de Pino (5/5)
A cooked down stew (“chupe”) of pine mushrooms and bolete mushrooms foraged 120km away in Quintay was garnished with mushroom crisps and crispy mushroom strands. Next to it was pine powder. Evocative of a forest floor. Tasted marvellously of pine-woodiness.
Agua de Lluvia de la Patagonia (7)
7th. Curanto y Agua de Lluvia de la Patagonia (5/5)
Curanto is essentially, a mud-wall underground barbecuing technique. Concentrated with intense flavors of the component parts, this was a dish I will remember for a long time.
At Boragó, the flavors of the curanto were distilled into a broth, rich with the flavor of clams and pork, which was served in a cup surrounded by moss and twigs among which was tucked a nugget of fried potato. It was delicious. – Ulterior Epicure
Curanto is a traditional preparation from the south of Chile and involves burying layers of food including shellfish, meat, chorizo, potatoes, vegetables and other ingredients cooked under ground on a layer of hot rocks and covered with nalca leaves to keep the smoke inside. This is usually done during a minga, a traditional party held when houses are literally moved from one location to another. At Boragó they used Patagonian rain water to create a stock incorporating all the flavors of the curanto serving a traditional potato bread or milcao on the side nestled amongst the branches. – Docsconz
Calcu, Rosé, Ensamblaje, 2012, D.O. Colchagua (8)
8th. Corvina y herbias de Playa (3.75/5)
Sea bass in ash, with beach herbs. Slightly overcooked fish, but the rock (for foraging smells) was evocative.
9th. Congrio Frito… (4.75/5)
He coated conger eel in ash and perched it on the banks of a lake of machas broth, blushing with the peachy-pink color that the machas clam (mistakenly called “razor clam” by locals; it’s triangular in shape) secretes when cooked. This dish, like many other dishes, including an inky dashi made out of ulte seaweed, was rich with the xian of the ocean. It was one of my favorite dishes at Boragó. – Ulterior Epicure
An ashen tempura of conger eel, in bullwhip kelp root dashi. Conger eel had a soft, cod-like texture. Very good.
Jugo de Pimentón Rojo (9)
Tipaume, Ensamblaje, 2011, D.O. Alto Cachapoal (10)
10th. Temera y su Leche (5/5)
Brilliant dish. 40-hour beef cooked in milk (to evoke the smell of what it produces), served with alfalfa leaves (to evoke the scent of what it eats), a burnt branch (to evoke the smell of the meadow). Milk crisps further enhanced the milk scents. The entire lifecycle of a cow.
11th. Pieza de Vaca y Espino (4.75/5)
Guzman used wood or products from four different trees in this dish. The seeds in the photo above were edible as they were and also used for the complex, mole-like glaze on the beef. These were from the Espino tree (Acacia Caven), which according to Wikipediais just an ornamental tree. According to Rodolfo Guzman, however, the Mapuche have been toasting and eating Espino seeds for over 2000 years. The toasting gives the seeds an aroma like coffee. The Mapuche call these tannin-laden seed pods Quirinca. The beef was cooked over both Espino wood as well as wood from the Tepu tree of southern Chile. Additional elements in this dish came from the Quillay tree and the Ulmo tree. This dish made no sense intuitively, but somehow Guzman pulled it off and made the wood enhanced beef work. Sure, wood has been a flavor enhancer via smoke for as long as humans have used fire, but I had never before actually eaten woody elements as I had here. The only thing on the plate that wasn’t actually edible was the branch itself. I’m still not sure that I understand this dish or how Chef Guzman did it, but I’m glad I had it! It was a very complex dish that really grew on me as I ate it. It will likely continue to haunt me for some time. – Docsconz
A good dish, reminiscent of the coffee spareribs ubiquitous in Singapore czechar places (the difference being that Singaporean ribs are fried, and here the shortrib was, I believe, sous-vide-d). Sweetly and slightly bitter glaze on shortribs. Good.
Quirinca seed pod.
Jugo de Murra (11)
Blackberry juice. A note here on the philosophy of the sommelier at Borago. Most of the drinks I had were orthogonal to the dish, adding a completely new dimension to the dish, without competing or diminishing the flavors. It was very enjoyable to drink the pairings.
Ramping up to dessert.
Licor de Rica-Rica (12)
A mothball smelling, mild tasting sap.
12th. Rica Rica de Atacama (5/5)
Ice cream from the rica rica plant, and a macaron layer made of rica rica. The filling was made from the Chañar wildflower. Evoked the Atacama desert.
I had just spent 4 days in the Atacama desert, so this dish immediately hit home in visual associations.
Chicha Premium, D.O. Cachapoal (13)
13th. Oveja Chilota “Chilota Sheep” (5/5)
A cake covered with fermeneted maqui berry juice, an endemic berry tasting similar to black berry, was covered with a blonde sugar floss and a sheephead-shaped marshmallow. Taste and visual presentation, superb.
Infusión de Cedrón (14)
14th. Chirimoya contenta y zanahoria (4.75/5)
I could not guess the identity of the leathery, sweet thing on the branch. Persimmon? It turned out to be carrot, cooked for a very long time. Carrots have been a revelation in recent years – so many cooks have taken the humble carrot. There are so many possibilities within this humble vegetable.
A haute-version of Chirimoya Alegre. Chirimoya is custard apple, and here was paired beautifully with citrus and carrot, in puree, sorbet and crisp form.
Cerveza Barrio, Barley Wine (15)
15th. Coulant de Espino (4.5/5)
A tribute to Michel Bras’s coulant. Warm inside, cold and quite hard outside. I had to take five strong taps to crack my coulant.
16th. Frio glacial
Memory: Egg (Huevo de Galina Mapuche), Mushroom (Chupe de Setas de Pino), Rainwater Curanto, Conger Eel Tempura, Milk (Temera y su Leche), Atacama Desert (Rica Rica de Atacama), Sheep (Oveja Chilota)

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

3 week trip report (Boragó, Gustu, Astrid y Gastón, Maido, Malabar, Central, Tegui)

With the release of the Top 50 Latin American restaurant list (http://www.theworlds50best.com/latina...) and with limited local intelligence, I decided to try a good chunk of those in the top 50 in 4 countries (Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru) while taking a 3 week trip through them. The following replies contain my reports from each of those restaurants

Mar 21, 2014
singaporediner in Latin America & Caribbean

Where is it possible to get a very good 'truffe sous la cendre'?

Based on a CH and Google search, it seems the only place is l'Auberge de l'Ill near Strasbourg. Are there any others?

Mar 17, 2014
singaporediner in France

SIngapore for one day - what are the best restaurants or food to try?

If budget is no issue, the Joel Robuchon Restaurant seems to be a good option for the best restaurant in Singapore. See a recent experience here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/857152

Mar 15, 2014
singaporediner in China & Southeast Asia

Amanda Freitag's Empire Diner

Of interest perhaps: Amanda Freitag discusses her dessert kitchen in this article. http://www.grubstreet.com/2014/03/che...

Mar 15, 2014
singaporediner in Manhattan

Per Se: Wonderful, but no longer magical

Hmm I had a very different experience when I did the extended tasting lunch (for two) in December last year. I only had 15 courses. Only two dishes I would say were really great - their interpretation of "Mac and Cheese" with scallop and orzo; and the cut of "Calotte de Boeuf". Very poor value for what it was, the mains were well-prepared but somewhat lacking imagination; the desserts especially could put down an insomniac.

Perhaps that was because we weren't regulars there... but for $600 per pax I expected much more.

Pictures here: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Mar 11, 2014
singaporediner in Manhattan

3-day Trip Report (Schwa, Alinea, Grace)

Congrats pepsican! I hope you will have a great meal there like I did. The chefs will also appreciate off-beat beers and scotches there if you bring some for them :P

Look forward to hearing about how it goes.

Mar 08, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

Prague- recommendations

When I was in Prague, the best thing was the vegan cheesecake at Maitrea/Lehka Hlava - in 6 days there I went to have it thrice.

A tart raw strawberry sauce drizzled on top of a raw “cheesecake” – made with cashew nuts, walnuts, raisins, coconut butter, and honey.

Mar 07, 2014
singaporediner in Europe

Les Amis, Singapore

Bu Pun Su, what would you say are the best restaurants in Singapore?

Mar 06, 2014
singaporediner in China & Southeast Asia

Asia's Top 50 Restaurants (2014)

I don't put much store by the Top 50 list. I can chip a bit with my experience eating many of the Latin America Top 50 List in 2013 (6-8 restaurants, most in top 15).

The Lima, Peru restaurants were very solid, as was Borago in Chile. But due to an unjustified preponderance of Argentine reviewers - a truly awful restaurant called Tegui made it to #9 in Latin America, and best in Argentina. I think there is always risk of geographical bias, possibly from Thailand.

My non-foodie friends who have been to Nahm were also unimpressed by the mains, though they liked the desserts.

Mar 06, 2014
singaporediner in China & Southeast Asia

3-day Trip Report (Schwa, Alinea, Grace)

Thanks for sharing nsxtasy! I admit, my expectations going into Alinea were sky-high due to my two-year wait to eat there, and so I was more easily disappointed. We were also in and out of there in 2h20 mins (on a Friday night), and the courses came pretty fast.

Can I ask if you had the last seating? Because that sounds to me like that's the best seating to go time-wise.

Mar 05, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

3-day Trip Report (Schwa, Alinea, Grace)

Grace

For full photos, please go to my blog: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/grace-chicago-mar-14-herbal-baroque/

Rating: 18.5/20

I knew almost nothing about Grace when I stepped in. I only knew that in the year that they were open since December 2011, Grace has had a meteoric rise, garnering two Michelin stars immediately. This is the restaurant that Chicago expects to be its newest 3-star Michelin restaurant.

Some people have called it “Chicago’s per se”. I think that is a mistake. The dissimilarities with per se are much more striking than the similarities. Firstly, the plating of food. The plating at per se is a style one might call classical, putting the main ingredients front and centre. The plating style at Grace eschews that to put the ingredients by the side; in two piles; even three dimensionally (see the Alaskan king crab). The plating has more in common with the chaos on view at Schwa. Secondly and more substantially on the flavours, make no mistake – Grace is exciting. Licorice, in particular, played a part in 4-5 dishes across the 18 we tried across both Flora and Fauna menus. It was not uncommon to have up to 15 different ingredients in one dish, as the kitchen strived for a very precise effect. Some touches, with the onion in the perigord truffle custard, were sensational and subtle. This paradox – baroque of taste and minimalist of plate – is what drives Grace forward.

As a diner, you have a choice between two menus. The Flora and the Fauna menu. The Fauna has the better mains. The Flora has (slightly) better desserts. Beware though: if you’re accustomed to having meat in some measure on your menus, you will likely be dissatisfied with Flora mains, which are much more intellectual-exercise than delicious-plate (a problem I had with vegetarian Kajitsu in New York as well). Strangely, the Flora menu isn’t vegetarian by default, I guess some animal products still find its way into the sauces. Most people, faced with this conundrum, order different menus across the table, so that everyone can try a bit. All kinds of herbs find their way onto both menus, and many of them hail from Asia. A Indian tamarind named kokum, Vietnamese herbs, bold use of licorice: at times it almost seems as if each dish was constructed around a single herb (USUALLY EMPHASISED WITH ALL CAPS). My overall verdict on the menus: each menu features very strong dishes, but they tend to alternate (the 2nd dish on Fauna, the 5th dish on Flora). There is already a 3-star Michelin menu on the table, if we take the strongest dishes of both Flora and Fauna. The Fauna menu was the one served to me, and so apologies if my descriptions or recollections of the Flora menu are patchy.

Grace’s dining room is a classy muted bronze in colour. No natural light seeps in, except a brightly-lit kitchen sealed it by glass at the very head of the room. It is the open-kitchen concept that is all the rage today. Both of us were seated facing the kitchen, the metaphor of dining as theatre made explicit. Grace certainly has all the trappings and food to merit a 3-star rating (if the best of both menus are combined). I would be surprised if it doesn’t make it within a couple of years.

Notable Links:

The Tribune’s special feature on the story behind Chef Curtis Duffy and Grace – http://graphics.chicagotribune.com/gr...

____________

What we had:

Amuse: “Log of Delights”
Fauna #1: Chawanmushi: osetra caviar, yuzu, PURPLE SHISO
Flora #1: Salsify: golden char roe, apple, OXALIS
Fauna #2: Alaskan King Crab: kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON BALM
Flora #2: Winter Vegetables: huckleberry, amaranth, TARRAGON
Bread #1
Fauna #3: Scallop: tamarind, smoke, FLAVORS OF LICORICE
Flora #3: Beet: black garlic, apple, RED RIBBON SORREL
Bread #2
Fauna #4: Duck: sunflower, cranberry, MARJORAM
Flora #4: Sweet Potato: picholine, grapefruit, YARROW
Bread #3
Fauna #5: Sweetbreads: ten grains, caperberry, SAGE
Flora #5: Perigord Truffle: crème caramel, sherry, CHIVE
Bread #4
Fauna #6: Miyazaki Beef: romaine, peanut, VIETNAMESE HERBS
Flora #6: Swiss Chard: red wine, elephant garlic, CHERVIL
Fauna #7: Raspberry: lychee, kokum, NASTURTIUM
Flora #7: Buddha’s Hand: passionfruit, brown butter, LEMON BALM
Fauna #8: Pear: black sugar, licorice, LEMON VERBENA
Flora #8: Medjool Date: chartreuse, honey, CELERY
Fauna #9: Chocolate: pineapple, hazelnut, BANANA MINT
Flora #9: Young Coconut: fennel, pistachio, BRONZE FENNEL
Birthday Cake
Mignardises
____________

Amuse: “Log of Delights”

Quinoa chips, a lemon cup of intensely-lemon-scented(incl. zest and all) cold risotto, candied pineapple, ham with the slight taste of ginseng.

Fauna #1: Chawanmushi: osetra caviar, yuzu, PURPLE SHISO (4/5

)

Chewy “bubble tea” balls in a ham-flavored chawanmushi, with puffed rice, a sprig of seagrapes. Osetra caviar at the center.

Flora #1: Salsify: golden char roe, apple, OXALIS (4.25/5)

Fauna #2: Alaskan King Crab: kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON BALM (5/5)

A tremendous dish. This dish alone was worth the entrance fee. King crab and small cubes of cucumber sit at the bottom of the bowl, with calamansi (a particularly tangy and acidic Southeast Asian lime) juice surrounding. A neutral sugar glass holds up the upper deck of ingredients, the including trout roe. To begin the dish, I smashed the upper deck into the lower deck with a spoon. It was all you could have asked from a dish, in both taste and effect. In the effects department: it had 3-dimensionality, interactivity (diner plays the chef), and time-sensitivity. In the taste department, the meaty flavor of king crab was contrasted the small neutral refreshing taste of cucumber, and the sourness of the lime, transformed by the dissolving sugar glass into a dessert-like thin calamansi sauce. The sugar glass was just the right thickness, not too sharp and easily dissolved in the mouth. This dish will haunt my dreams for a long time.

Flora #2: Winter Vegetables: huckleberry, amaranth, TARRAGON (3.25/5)

Bread #1: Whole Wheat Croissant, Herbed Butter and Butter

Fauna #3: Scallop: tamarind, smoke, FLAVORS OF LICORICE (4.5/5)

A whole Maine scallop from Desert Island, with licorice and anise hyssop purees. A coconut custard by the side.

Flora #3: Beet: black garlic, apple, RED RIBBON SORREL (3.75/5)

Bread #2: Red Onion and Black Olive Waffle

Fauna #4: Duck: sunflower, cranberry, MARJORAM (4.75/5)

A duck confit tortellini, with cranberry and an intensely flavored duck-consomme. This was a very complex dish, and everywhere I scooped with my spoon there was new bit of sweet solid stuff which I could not place. Tastes of lemongrass permeated the dish.

Flora #4: Sweet Potato: picholine, grapefruit, YARROW (3.5/5)

Bread #3: Rye baguette with sprinkled rye berries

Fauna #5: Sweetbreads: ten grains, caperberry, SAGE (4.5/5)

Perfectly fried sweetbreads, resting in a pile of multigrain, in a rich jus.

Flora #5: Perigord Truffle: crème caramel, sherry, CHIVE (5/5)

Another amazing dish of the night. Shaved truffle – still retaining all its crunch unlike some that can taste like cardboard – is put on top of a custard that has the taste of sherry, with caramelised chipolini onions. Little slices of brik (Turkish dough) scattered on top provide textural contrast. Superb. Decadent. Sherry, custard, and the texture of fresh truffle. Divine.

Bread #4: Pretzel with black lava salt from Hawaii

Fauna #6: Miyazaki Beef: romaine, peanut, VIETNAMESE HERBS (5/5)

“The discovery of Miyazaki” is how this dish was described to me. Miyazaki is perhaps the best beef in Japan, outranking wagyu. A slice of raw dreamy Miyazaki beef on top of a rice cracker, perfectly rare-cooked Miyazaki beef. Tender and full of fat. With something like fermented turnip undearneath, and various fresh, taut, Vietnamese herbs that evoked some of the street food I had in Saigon. It was paired with a cup of tom yum broth. This had some of the best elements of Southeast Asian cooking: the Indochinese rice cracker, the Vietnamese herbs, the peanuts and tom yum evoking Thailand. Tremendous.

I ate my Miyazaki beef using my rice cracker as a taco. Possibly the most expensive taco I’ve had to date.

Flora #6: Swiss Chard: red wine, elephant garlic, CHERVIL (3.75/5)

Fauna #7: Raspberry: lychee, kokum, NASTURTIUM (4.5/5)

A dessert building on the Ispahan base (also see, Restaurant Andre’s version) – strawberry, raspberry, lychee. Strawberry sorbet, dehydrated raspberries, dehydrated lychee. The 4th and 5th wheels were a cylinder of earl grey (one of the trendy tastes in Chicago – I had it all three nights in a row at Schwa + Alinea + Grace) and kokum puree, from an Indian tamarind.

Flora #7: Buddha’s Hand: passionfruit, brown butter, LEMON BALM (4.5/5)

Fauna #8: Pear: black sugar, licorice, LEMON VERBENA (4.5/5)

Another good dessert. A dome of (white chocolate?) covers licorice-tinged financiers, and Asian pear ice-cream. The licorice here was a star player, cutting through just pear and butter, and elevating the financiers.

Flora #8: Medjool Date: chartreuse, honey, CELERY (3.75/5)

I found this a bit one-dimensional, with the starchy sweetness of medjool date overpowering the other ingredients.

Fauna #9: Chocolate: pineapple, hazelnut, BANANA MINT (4.25/5)

A rooibos-infused goats-milk, strong tasting, into a traditional preparation of chocolate-hazelnut and pineapple.

Flora #9: Young Coconut: fennel, pistachio, BRONZE FENNEL (5/5)

Amazing, I remember – a cylinder of young coconut pairing with a tart cherry. A cylinder of coconut meringue and pistachio gelato were good, but all it needed was that sensational squiggle of coconut with a tart cherry.

Mignardises
Bonbons and apple “tartlets”.

____________

Memory: Alaskan King Crab; Perigord Truffle Creme Caramel; Miyazaki Beef; Young Coconut

Mar 04, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

3-day Trip Report (Schwa, Alinea, Grace)

Alinea

For full photos, please see: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/alinea-chicago-feb-14-pack-in-the-plebs/

Rating: 16.5/20

I had waited for two years to dine at Alinea. In 2012 I was denied the opportunity when Alinea suspended taking reservations for two months while they got their new ticketing system set up. In 2013, I had set-up a virtual assistant to watch over Alinea cancellations for the one Wednesday I was back in Chicago (I did my math, about 75% of the time, a Wednesday 2-top or 4-top would be released), but it didn’t happen.

But for my birthday, I managed to snag a 2-top for Friday way in advance. But perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered. What a disappointment. Firstly, the legendary meals lasting 4 hours, with 23 course extravaganzas are long over. Alinea’s hey-day, it seems from browsing food posts on Chowhound and blogs, was 2005-2011. Alinea has streamlined down to 13 courses. (14 if you count the birthday surprise). But a by-product is that meals last about 2 hours, maybe 2.5 hours tops. Considering that I had been royally entertained at Schwa for 3.5 hours the night before at half the cost of Alinea’s top-of-the-line price ($340 per pax), I felt I was just one more diner in a conveyor belt fine-dining experience. You come, and for two hours, are mildly entertained by a parade of Harry Potter dishes. Then you leave and another couple comes take your place. Encapsulating what I felt was the scene before me. A couple from Pittsburgh (Alinea neophytes, like me) had flown in, and taken the wine pairing (probably at 530pm). They were out by 730pm making gushing noises, and at 8pm another identical couple (Alinea neophytes, once again), had flown in, and taken their place at the same table. Quelle horreur! The thought occurred to me: what if this table was turned over three times a night, with 3 identikit mid-30s couples taking their seats again and again? Was this the theatre of the absurd, the Myth of Sisyphus incarnate? Certainly our servers, in serving the same tricks to the four occupied tables on the first floor, seemed to be afflicted by a peculiar type of whimsy without fun.

Secondly, the tables are too close together, strengthening the nagging suspicion that Alinea is now in the pack-in-the-plebs stage of its existence. It doesn’t matter when there’s loud music like Schwa, but in a hushed gastronomic temple vibe like Alinea, the tables can be too uncomfortably close for conversation. (It reminded me of another bad offender, Restaurant Andre in Singapore.) It didn’t afflict our table, but that’s because we were fairly experienced diners – but Alinea has a duty to its neophyte diners too. The two tables to my left were clearly special occasion tables, and they were uncomfortable with the table distance for their whole two hours, and spoke in hushed whispers. I felt for them – more personal space should have been given.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the flavours were too safe. Peruvian food is fine, but if I wanted to eat straight up Peruvian I would go to a Peruvian restaurant. Duck with 60 pairings? I once made the terrible mistake in Prague of seasoning my own steak tartare, which came out a tasteless mingy meat-mash, instead of being a delicious glob of myoglobin. From that fiasco, I learnt that the genius of the chef is in his proportioning the dish just right. So proportioning the seasonings to my own duck came across to me as a gimmick. A orange-sweetbread in the style of Panda Express was simply awful. Deconstructed Indian food remained deconstructed and never came together. The highs were a rambutan and finger-lime (what is it with finger-limes and Chicago? I’ve had them twice in a row, and nowhere else) jelly dish, and the signature hot potato cold potato. But they were few and far between. I came to Alinea because I heard that Grant Achatz was that rarest of chefs, someone who combined the molecular wizardry of Harry Potter food, with a sensitive understanding of flavor combinations. But rare glimpses aside (the rambutan dish), the tastes were big and one-dimensional, rarely emphasising interplay of two or god-forbid, three ingredients. In short, it felt like I was served merely Harry Potter food.

If Alinea continues turning out meals of this quality, it is hard to see how it can maintain three Michelin stars on merit for much longer.

____________

CHAR ROE: banana, ginger, passion fruit (3.5/5

)

Banana cream and passionfruit foam, with roe of char (similar to “ikura”, except ikura is roe of salmon). This was okay, primarily distinguished for the rocking bowl it was served in that thwarted a good picture of it for about 15 seconds.

SCALLOP: citrus aroma, thirteen textures (3.5/5)

Yuzu, lemon grass and lemon verbena formed the hazy citrus aroma. A very pretty pot and clam shell hid a carbonated ceviche sauce, with Maine diver scallop, and some onions. It was all told, simply Peruvian ceviche with Maine scallop. Not unpleasant, but unspectacular in substance. Maine scallop was more to be applauded for its bare fact of existence on our plates (this year’s Maine scallop catch has been low and some areas have prematurely ended their season by imposing moratoriums) than its taste, which lacked the sweetness of scallops I had recently in Momofuku Ko and Peru’s Maido and tasted more meaty than anything.

LOBSTER: curry, earl grey, grapefruit (3.5/5)

From Peru to India. A cumin and puffed rice ball; dehydrated yoghurt; curry and carrot puree sauces; grapefruit “caviar”. I, who sang the praises of Schwa the night before in tripling-up lobster, citrus and earl grey, am puzzled by the appearance of earl grey on the menu. I did not taste any earl grey anywhere. Anyway, the deconstructed Indian food dish never came together. I dislike deconstructed dishes which do not in some way proportion the food. Was I meant to mix it all up? But it was too big and there were so many ingredients. Was I to bite each ingredient individually? But where is the harmony?…

A precursor to a future dish was also set down in front of us.

EBI: celtuce, caramelized miso, yuzu (3.75/5)

Most memorable for the clean taste of celtuce cubes (something like braised kai-lan, for Southeast Asian readers). Again, pleasant without being mindblowing. The precursor to the next dish was set on fire.

WAGYU: parsnip, black trumpet, kombu (4.25/5)

A5 wagyu is the highest grade of wagyu obtainable in the United States, it was precooked and for visual efffect roasted in a fire, along with roasted parsnip (tastes like carrot with the texture of ginseng) and a black trumpet puree, with a strip of (mushroom?) leather and (parsnip?) cream. This was not bad. The beef was a bit lukewarm, but I can’t complain given the long period where it was sitting in the fire, pretending to cook while actually cooling down.

LILY BULB: rambutan, distillation of caviar lime (4.75/5)

The first dish which I enjoyed for its sake alone, this was a palate cleansing dish after the rich wagyu. Slivers of lily bulb (bai he, an occasional ingredient in Cantonese cooking usually used for shrimp or vegetables), with shaved rambutan, and squeezed-out sacs (vesicles) of finger lime, and finger lime jelly, with a distilled syrup of finger lime and ginger. One advantage of using finger-lime, as I understand it, is that its vesicles or “citrus caviar” is easily squeezed out. This dish was vaguely Southeast Asian in provenance, combining the rambutan and lily bulb with the Australian finger lime. Very refreshing.

SWEETBREADS: orange, ginko nut, mustard (2/5)

“Done in the style of Panda Express” said my server. I would not consider that a compliment. Sweetbreads, fried in the style of Sino-American “orange chicken” (cornstarch, flour, egg), is sat in an orange sauce, with a gingko nut and carrot sauce around the plate. This was uncannily similar to Chinese take-out food. Perhaps this was the intention, but I came to Alinea specifically to eat something unique, not take-out Chinese, and I couldn’t help feeling that a course had been wasted on providing verisimilitude to something I normally take pains to avoid eating. I mean, sure, Alinea can probably make the greatest donner kebab in the world, complete with day-old spit grease, but that doesn’t mean I want to eat a donner kebab at Alinea…

WOOD EAR: pig ear, allium, black garlic (4/5)

Wood ear, or “mu er” in Chinese is a black fungus that has the texture of jellyfish – very similar to the European fungus jew’s ear. Here it was set with a deep fried pig’s ear (delicious, but can we have more than a single sliver?), and black garlic and onion sauces made savory with parmesan. What was interesting to this Chinese palate was the pig’s ear, which was really expertly fried. At this point of the meal, I sensed a disconnect – perhaps this sort of “world cuisine” could have been mindblowing to someone who had not been eating wood ear and pig’s ear since childhood. Perhaps the novelty of the rambutan dish would have been starker if I wasn’t intimately familiar with all ingredients. The ceviche dish I might have considered top class, if I hadn’t been to Peru the month before, and tried ceviche ten different ways. To this Southeast Asian Chinese diner, Alinea’s Chinese-inspired dishes were solid but not mindblowing. Similarly to a Peruvian traveller, that Peruvian dish would be merely solid.

HOT POTATO: cold potato, black truffle, butter (4.75/5)

This Alinea signature was luxuriantly rich, a hot sphere of Yukon potato topped with a slice of black truffle and butter and Parmesan cheese, into a cold truffle soup. A pin preserves the temperature of the individual ingredients, before being dropped into the soup. Time-sensitive, and every bit as good as people claim it to be.

DUCK: ……..?????…………!!!!!!!!!!!!! (4/5)

60 different garnishes for 5 different preparations of duck. I think there was roast, confit, foie gras with a graham cracker base. “Choose your own adventure” with the toppings, the servers advised. As I said above, the genius of the chef is in his proportioning the dish just right. So proportioning the seasonings to my own duck came across to me as a gimmick. All parts were well prepared, but this dish was clearly an effect dish, rather than a tribute to the vision and taste of a single chef.

PISTACHIO: marscapone, strawberry, black walnut (4.25/5)

A pleasant dish of pistachio gelato, marscapone, lemon gel sphere, Missouri-black-walnut chocolate cake, and dehydrated strawberry marshmallow. Good, solid.

BALLOON: helium, green apple (5/5)

Hehehe. Finally, an effect dish that is so one-of-a-kind it makes the experience of dining at Alinea worth it! Another Alinea signature – the green apple balloon is filled with Helium and brought to diners anchored to a pin. Diners bring their mouths to the balloon, and gently… kiss it, sucking out the helium and making funny noises. It’s a riot. Also very messy.

Making of Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGMCmbLq2qs

MILK CHOCOLATE: pâte sucrée, violet, hazelnut (3.25/5

)

Another Alinea signature technique: a dessert is plated on a whole table, covered with a silicon mat. A chef plates it in two minutes. The milk chocolate and frozen milk had a bit of a sour tinge that didn’t appeal to me, though the pate sucrees (very similar to kueh bangkit or Bengawan Solo’s nut pastries, for Southeast Asian readers) was the best part of the dish. Notes on visual effects: The squares come from micro-protrusions in the silicon tablecloth, which the violet syrup would settle into a square if it’s the right viscosity. The colour change of certain squares to blue uses a natural pH indicator, the squares of which are added citric acid, I think.

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After I returned, I logged onto Chowhound, and through the mass of reviews, I noticed a trend among the sentiments of repeat Alinea diners in the last year: they too concurred that Alinea had been losing a bit of its sparkle:

"Sadly you might have noticed a trend there. My first four Alinea dinners remain among my several meals ever but recently I had a fairly disappointing experience. My meal lasted barely over two hours (prior meals were nearly four), service not as attentive or friendly as with prior visits. Also some amateur mistakes were made, such as we were twice asked if we needed a cab, both times said “no” and as we were leaving were informed our cab was waiting (not something you expect from a three Michelin star venue regarded as one of the world’s best). While some of the courses were memorable and phenomenal (loved the scallop course and the corn dessert) and a couple other quite good, a majority of the menu was no different (or only tweaked) from my last visit nearly a year back (and a few unchanged from my first meal there – including a rather boring, uninspired ginger course that is fine once but weak as a repeat and ridiculous the fifth time).

Chef Achatz has been spending less time in house (turning a lot of the creative and executive duties to Chef Bagale), they lost some wonderful front of house staff and Achatz/Kokonas seem as though they have placed expansion of their brand and maximizing profits ahead of customer satisfaction and trying to continue having Alinea evolve and improve. To an extent they seem to be coasting on their reputation and past success (which can only carry you for so long). While I hope this is just a hiccup in Alinea’s lifespan and Achatz and company rise to the challenge and opt to make another push towards Alinea becoming the world’s best restaurant (they certainly have the talent), unfortunately Alinea may be past her prime and Grace very well could become widely regarded as Chicago’s top venue in the not too distant future.

I found my last dining experience at Alinea to be a very poor value – especially if you have dined there within eighteen months and are expecting a significantly different menu rather than a watered down version of what you previously consumed with a handful of new courses interspersed. Several fine dining venues just in Chicago now have better service (Grace and Boka really shine in this area), most undergo significant menu changes seasonally (Grace, Moto, Boka, El Ideas, Sixteen, Elizabeth for example) and Grace and Goosefoot have IMHO better tasting food (with others such as Moto, El Ideas, Schwa, L2O, Boka and Elizabeth serving nearly as good cuisine). All of these venues are less money (some considerably so) and aside from Elizabeth do not require the hassle of non-refundable tickets (and Elizabeth does have some flexibility with regards to tickets sales if a conflict arises).

Alinea is certainly no longer the United States’ best restaurant and unless improvements are made it is no longer head and shoulders above other top tier venues in Chicago." – user Gonzo70 at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9283...

I hope that this ultimately disappointing visit to Alinea is a hiccup, and the Alinea that stood head-over-shoulders over all other restaurants in Chicago will return. Until then, it is doubtful I will revisit any time soon.

Memory: Lily Bulb with Rambutan, Hot Potato Cold Potato, Green Apple Balloon

Mar 04, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

3-day Trip Report (Schwa, Alinea, Grace)

Schwa

For full-photos, please see: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Rating: 18.5/20

Memory: The buzz of really loud hip-hop, doing shots with the chef, butter poached lobster, marinated cuttlefish, antelope loin, Chimay Brulee, Root beer float, honeycomb brittle

A restaurant I remember with great fondness. Here is fine dining with all the pretense stripped out. The front of house is the back of house, with chefs serving you – and they’re always knowledgeable about every dish that they serve. Chefs Joshua and Michael were really friendly, and made me feel at home. The pulsating rap made each table anonymous, in their own drunken revels – this place is BYOB. I enjoyed the casual fine-dining vibe here, carpeted floors and clawed chairs always make me feel a bit uncomfortable and stiff.

Set in a corner of Ashland Avenue that’s almost industrial wasteland, it’s easy to walk past Schwa. The “dining room”, if you want to call it that, is an orange-lit space that’s maybe 80 square meters in area. I knew all of this before I came to Schwa – the only criterion I would use to call my meal a success would be the food they would serve. From the packed dining room (and Schwa is notoriously difficult to get a reservation at), I would say a lot of diners agree – creature comforts are secondary to the food. And what a meal I had.

A tip for getting a reservation: I called around 1pm. Most people claim they have success from 12-4pm. The key is, if the dial-tone goes straight to the message that “the mailbox hasn’t been set-up” instead of ringing about 5 times first, that means someone is on the line. Spam your calls then.

____________

1. A Night at the Movies (4.25/5

)

Sour Cherry Dot (Sourpatch Kid); Pizza Cotton Candy; Inside-Out Nacho; Popcorn Soda

Recreation of a typical movie experience in America – nachos, pizza, gummies, and popcorn, except deconstructed – and remade. Tells of their playful nature. Flavors were remarkably accurate. Gummy was indistinguishable from the real thing, candy floss (another movie food) was well-seasoned with pizza flavor, soda tasted of that buttery popcorn taste, and the nachos were good.

2. Butternut squash + cantaloupe jelly; Peanut Leaf; Curry Puree + Chocolate Nibs; Gooseberry as Palate Cleanser (4/5)

This was a more experimental dish. I remember the jelly having great flavour, which I originally thought was due to curry, but Josh said it was squash and cantaloupe. I have on my tasting notes “fruity taste of christmas pudding” somewhere on this dish.

3. (Extra Course) Quail egg ravioli with parmesan shaved black truffle (4.75/5)

A schwa signature, this was served with no spoons. Picking it up with my fingers and downing it in one bite, a rich and luxuriant cream sauce was really delicious. I can see why this is an ever-green on the menu. It says as much about Schwa as it does about me, that I had no qualms greedily tipping the small bowl over my lips to get every lick of that sauce.

4. Chestnut agnolotti with 3 types of consomme (sweet potato; iberico ham; persimmon) gelatinized into cubes; crispy prosciutto; shaved chestnut (3.5/5)

Agnolotti means little purses in Italian – and they held sweet chestnut puree. I was not the greatest fan of this dish, since I felt this was one of the rare times the flavor combinations were slightly off – the sweetness of chestnut + other two types of sweet gelatin cubes marginally overpowered the ham preparation.

5. Carbonated pears with Ossetra caviar, white chocolate foam, basil chips in the style of kale chips (4.25/5)

Carbonated pear balls? Why not indeed! It was an odd combination, caviar and carbonated pear, but the white chocolate harmonised the dish with its fat content; and the textural contrast of basil crisps balanced it. But the combination wasn’t as enlightening as the following two dishes.

6. Butter poached lobster; lavender bubbles; soy skin “yuba” tuile, oyster mushrooms, orange segments, with earl grey foam; and our best approximation of crumpets – which is actually olive oil cake (5/5)

The conventional pairing of lobster would be with a citrus/mango sauce to provide fruity contrast. But I believe Schwa has provided a playbook to elevating those flavors. The secret is earl grey tea gel, which has the herbal taste that really triangulates between the rich chewiness of lobster and a baseline sweet fruit flavor. A dish of genius.

7. Marinated cuttlefish, finger lime, a slab of apple ice, sunchoke + lemongrass panna cotta, herbal broth with many herbs (incl. cucumber and fennel) (5/5)

This dish worked on at least two different ways. At the centerpiece is the thumb-sized hard slab of apple-ice. First, it brought out the smooth cucumber and fennel taste from the salty, pungent and oily herbal broth. Second, the cut, marinated cuttlefish and finger lime was seasoned in a way to remind me of Thai papaya salad, Here apple ice was a sucking lozenge, its cool hard sweet apple flavor cutting through the Thai-papaya-style seasoning. Another great dish.

8. Thanksgiving Dinner (4.5/5)

Sweetbreads crusted and fried, with stuffing puree, mustard grains, foie gras + sweetbread gravy, and mock cranberry sauce (actually pomegranate)

Pleasant, the sweetbreads were expertly (diced and) fried. The foie gras +sweetbread sauce had a nutty taste like peanut. I may have had a greater reaction to this dish if I had had more experience eating Thanksgiving dinners.

9. Antelope loin, shot down by a sniper, with trail mix crust, pickled pistachio, dried cherry leather and sauce (4.5/5)

The first time I’ve had antelope ever, I think. Michael explained that it was shot from a helicopter by a sniper in Broken Arrow Reserve in Texas 2 days ago. Due to the vigor of the antelope, if it is shot from any closer, the stressed out antelope would presumably attempt to flee, and in its stressed death would go into rigor immediately, making the meat completely unpalatable, hard and dry. This meat was served rare, and what a cut of meat – it was so soft, that it was pliable to the butterknife I was cutting it with (the kitchen gave us a butterknife for that reason presumably). The rest of the accompaniments were secondary – besides being a passable trail mix. I guess I had my first taste of ultra-high-density fast-twitch-reaction-fibre meat!

10. (Cheese Course) Yeast ice cream, fermented huckleberry watermelon jelly, with Chimay cheese “brulee” (5/5)

Amazing. Chimay cheese below was treated with a creme brulee crust above (how did they do it?), and the funky taste of good bread came from the yeast ice cream. Ostensibly a cheese course, this was a great tribute to beer. Rounded. Completely unique. I miss it already.

11. Root Beer Float (5/5)

Parsnip icecream with butterscotch shavings, to be dumped in a root beer float

Another amazingly balanced dish. The clean taste of parsnip was an inspired choice to be dumped into root beer – and a whole spoon of butterscotch. I wish I had had a whole mug of this!

12. Honey Sorbet, yuzu gelee, bee pollen, honeycomb brittle (4.75/5)

I am haunted by the taste of that honeycomb brittle. Salty, sweet, with a lightly burnt taste. The thought occurs to me that if I came to Schwa every month for dessert, I would be a very happy man. The desserts have been absolutely outstanding, zany and off-the-wall, while remaining perfectly balanced and very pleasant.

13. (Extra Course) A crystal of cold air, then “lemongrass + ginger + ?” snow, and a bit of pee (yellow sauce incl. rutabaga) (4/5)

A common sight in the winter months everywhere is yellow snow (I.e. dog piss) I am glad to report this tasted considerably better than that! This was more of an effect dish – the crystal once popped in the mouth became menthol, and a rush of cold air killed my taste buds, and then shoving saucy snow into my mouth heightened the menthol taste. One of the oldest effects known to me (menthol + cold == more cold), this was evocative of the harsh Chicago winter I was about to step out into shortly.

Mar 04, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

3-day Trip Report (Schwa, Alinea, Grace)

See replies for individual write-ups (all quite long)

Mar 04, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

Looking for a dinner dining partner for Schwa

Hi Chowhounders!

Know this is a bit of short notice, but I'll currently have reservations this Thursday night (27th Feb) for a table for two at Schwa, and my planned dining partner can't make it. If anyone has been wanting to try Schwa and is interested, please drop me a line at kennethtiong89@gmail.com!

Cheers all

Feb 24, 2014
singaporediner in Chicago Area

PVD/RI 2013 - Your Favorites?

Love your description! I think Warm Apples and Lemon run it a close second and third too, all the desserts are well-worth trying. I think 2014 will be exciting, with all the guest chef stints coming up.

"birch’s tribute to breakfast consists of whipped grain milk, on top of apple sauce and a cornmeal johnnycake, mixed with the kitchen sink: honeycomb, puffed rice, oat snaps, and a few other things that are delicious. Eating this is like eating the best bowl of breakfast cereal ever. The mix of textures is complex, with at least four different kinds of crunchiness: thin, oaty crunchiness from the oat snaps, hollow crunchiness from the rice, and sweet dense crunchiness from the honeycomb, and what I think are airy cylinders of dried apple. One of the best desserts I have ever tried anywhere." - What I wrote in October and in my 2013 round-up: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

Feb 11, 2014
singaporediner in Southern New England

RI Fine Dining NOT in PVD or Newport

Persimmon in Bristol, RI is one that I have heard about quite often. Haven't personally been there though.

Feb 05, 2014
singaporediner in Southern New England