Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bayona (New Orleans) 01/10

Dauphine St, in the French Quarter, was Calle de Bayona which is where this restaurant gets its name. It is in a 200 year old cottage which one enters from a former carriage way. It has several rooms. We were seated at a large white clothed table in a very pleasant area made more attractive by a large flower arrangement. When we arrived Susan Spicer, one of America's most renowned chefs, was greeting guests and after chatting with her we arranged that, rather than eating off the menu, she would organize a degustation meal for us. At the same time J.P. (Jennifer Pleasant I think) organized a wine flight appropriate to the dishes. Susan Spicer is involved with partners in several New Orleans restaurants and has a wall full of certificates and laudatory articles from reviewers and organizations across America. We had eaten here some years ago but were less interested in food at that time and had a fairly ordinary dinner. Not so last night. A tray of bread,
made especially for Bayona and including a house made brioche and a plate of pickled vegetables
preceded the first course. We both love bread, on more one occasion, when service was slow, we ate so much we could hardly finish the meal. This was artisan bread and excellent. Fortunately the courses came with good timing so we were not jaded by it. First we received a seafood combination.
Lobster, scallop and tempura prawn, with a small salad, in a light slightly sweet sauce were prepared with a light hand and perfectly matched the sauce and the wine. This was followed with a foie gras pate with pear, a finger of toast and a delicate nutty salad.
The contrasting textures of these ingredients enhanced the flavour of the pate which filled our mouths with a phenomenal sensation. The next dish was red fish, a hugely popular local fish. It has a softish texture so that it almost dissolves in the mouth and no fishy taste at all. Next was a boned quail in a light batter. This was a series of exquisite dishes, beyond all expectation until the last main course. This lightly cooked meat dish
was excessively salty as was the sauce with which it came.
Sandra had some very nice house made sorbets

for dessert whilst I had pithihiviers with ice cream.

Susan Spicer is a person who understands how to make dishes relatively simply with clear well matched tastes. The plates are attractively set out, not too fussy, not dominated by any individual component. This might sound easy but it takes talent to turn simple ingredients into divine dinners.
Finally we got the bill and it was exceptional too - exceptionally reasonable.
Score:17.25 /20

Coquette Bistro and Bar (New Orleans) 01/10

Magazine Street runs about five miles from the French Quarter to the zoo. Apart from residences it has every imaginable sort of shop and dozens of bars, pizza shops, cafes, bistros and restaurants. Only the coffee culture seems to be missing. Coquette is a fairly recent addition in the street and serves a better quality meal than most. That is partly because most of them are awful
Service is friendly as is the warm atmosphere. It is a simply furnished long room with a bar along one side, bare brick walls featuring an attractive impressionistic, almost three dimensional painting of the restaurant. They have a menu that changes daily. Appetizers were tiny

this tasty serve of mini ravioli was about two mouths full. They did make the main courses as requested, a good size lightly cooked snapper
and a hanger steak
were both good courses. A dessert of beignets,
small spherical donuts, served on half a banana, was as expected but a strawberry cake turned up as two large sweet biscuits sandwiching whipped cream and strawberries.
Score: 13.5/20

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Milo's (Midtown Manhattan) 01/10

Most distinguished by rave reviews from largely enthusiastic patrons this midtown Greek restaurant was brought to our attention by friends. They concentrate heavily on fish which are caught in the Mediteranean and flown in on ice to be served on the day they were caught. They do have other fish including snapper, tuna and turbot and there is a steak on the menu. The place is split level, large and fairly noisy. At the far end of the room is a hill of ice chips in which the fish are half buried. They are sold by weight and you can choose and weigh whatever takes your fancy. As soon as we were seated we were offered an explanation of ow the system worked. Bread and oil were brought to the table as were menus. A very small amount of oil was poured into a bowl and the bottle moved to an adjacent table. I took the bottle back to pour some more and the waiter immediately returned and said that is how we do it, added some oil and removed the bottle. He then began rearranging how every thing was on the table, moving the candle an inch to one side and the oil dish an inch to the other side and so on. We asked him to leave it to us which he did but a moment later was back asking what wine we might like. I said I needed a few minutes to decide; two minutes later he was back again. Eventually he did get the message and things settled down. We started with grilled octopus cooked with capers lemon and olive oil

which had received high praise from several internet reviewers. It was very nice, tender and tasty but not exquisite. A second appetizer of crab cakes, cake really, was served with a bean paste and a mayonnaise dressing on a red lettuce leaf. After a super crab cake at Francoise, a restaurant in a small Pennsylvanian town, I found this pretty presentation pretty ordinary. Good but not as sweet or as moist and succulent as I had hoped. Turbot, a fish a bit like a large almost round flounder is rarely seen in Australia so we were happy to have it fresh here. It, as with almost everything else here, is grilled with olive oil, capers and lemon. Our two and a half pound fish arrived at the table greatly reduced having been boned and skinned. The fish has a tender firm flesh with a a gentle non fishy flavour. We could have liked to have had a lot more. Their interpretation of a custard cake in a philo pastry was another delight. (Much better than the photo). Their Greek yogurt, available in supermarkets everywhere, was excellent served with honey and mandarin syrup.

This was the dressiest restaurant we went to in New York almost all the patrons were wearing suits and ties. For once they were better dressed than the waiters!

The food was extremely good, the venue noisy but bearable, the wait staff 'in your face' and the prices high.

Score: 15/20

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nobu (Midtown Manhattan) 01/10

We've been twice to Nobu in the last few days. Architecturally and food-wise it is one of the most interesting restaurants in New York. Effectively in three sections, a ground level bar with cafe style

seating and up a large staircase, lined with Saki casks,
a huge noisy, stone floored room with an open kitchen along one side
and a smaller, much quieter, carpeted area incompletely separated by attractive dividers. These are mimicked below an attractive silver grey patterned material covered ceiling. Tables are large, plain wood, furnished with chop sticks, small stone rests and white cloth napkins.
The wall decor is simple with candles set on, probably fake, driftwood.
The menu is similar to Nobu in Melbourne but the food was different. We tried several appetizers which were all both attractive and tasty. A miso soup with tofu and mushrooms was really good
as was a raw tuna dishy. This blue fin tuna, from the belly,
had a finer texture and a more delicate flesh than the yellow fin we get in Australia. A bean dish, one only eats the bean and not the pod, was very moorish.
Black cod fish is served either with a reduced very rich black sauce, and green chilis or marinated in a sweet miso sauce, both about $24. both are served with nothing but a recommendation - The fish itself was a good sized almost boneless, fillet. The texture was delicate but it held together so that it could be readily flaked, a delectable main course. A shrimp salad,
I think they called it prawn salad, was pleasant enough in a light pink creamy mayonnaise sauce but nothing special. They also offer a sushi meal, a sushimi meal
or a tempura meal. This comes with a serve of lettuce salad, call it arugula if you like, with a nice light vinaigrette dressing and a miso soup.
Sandra had the tempura. The batter was far to heavy seriously deteriorating from the dish.

We drank hot Saki, which I am growing to like more each time I have it.

Service was very attentive after we clarified what information we expected. In all definitely a fine dining experience.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Felidia (Manhattan) 01/10

Lidia Bastanich, of TV and cookbook fame, has several Manhattan restaurants of which I think Felida, on East 58th Street, was the first. We like her cooking and chose Felidia because it was close to us. It's a cosy restaurant, on two floors 'though only the ground floor was needed the day we were there. The place is flooded with a soft pinkish light
which gives everything a slightly warm hue that looks strange on some of the pictures. Service was impeccable with prompt attention to requests but not in your face. A basket of very fresh baguettes was brought to the table with a creamy bean paste in place of butter.
Apart from the a la carte menu there is a great value pris fixe $29.50 menu with coffee. There is a good selection of dishes available and I had that while Sandra chose from the regular menu. We started with two appetizers. Ricotta filled rigatoni were an outstanding house made pasta with grated peccorino. It could not have been better. Sandra's chicken liver was equally but negatively outstanding it was inedible, the thin sliced liver was completely overcooked and burnt on the outside. The captain returned to the kitchen with it and came back to say that the chef was obliged by the law not to under cook chicken products and offered us a replacement dish. I am always struck by oddities, for example the fellow at the next table displaying his sock less foot.
I've no doubt he does own socks so what is his message, in the middle of New York winter? Linguini with duck and mushroom looked appealing. There were two prices on the menu $20 and$22. What was the difference? $20 is for a half serve!! We took the full serve
and shared another great tasting appetizer. Plenty of shredded duck and mushroom which seem to have a lot more flavour than at home. The chef, who I think must have been embarrassed also sent us a complimentary and very pleasing risotto.
I then had a mildly spiced plate of tripe, something I love, served with a small pot of creamy polenta. An offal lovers treat, the tripe a little chewy but very tender, the spices well balanced and the polenta worth imitating. Sandra had a tenderloin of veal served with an extremely tasty and tender cheek in a fine wine sauce. Palachinca, a pancake, filled with chestnut cream and topped with candied chestnut and cream ended the meal on a sweet note.
Coffee is served with cute little porcelain pots of brown and white sugar.

Champagne by the glass is one of the cheapest drinks here and we had a glass of quite reasonable Prosecofor $10.
Score: 14/20

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cafe Boulud (Manhattan) 01/10

Crowded, cramped and on the noisy side, this restaurant is much more casual than Daniels fine dining establishment that we wrote about last. Prices are in the good restaurant category and the food and service match that. The venue is simply furnished
and could not match the beautiful people.
Our table was so crowded
with a centre piece, candle, wine and water glasses, cutlery and crockery so there was hardly room for food. Undaunted we ordered a handsome meal starting with an appetizer of foie gras (2.5 oz) seared and barely cooked ($28).We are becoming addicted to this stuff, despite its history and origins. Served with bosc pears, tonka beans, toasted walnuts and sherry sauce it floods your mouth with a rich sensation beyond taste with its light and almost fluffy texture. Mushroom and barley soup ($16)was an excellent winter soup, full of goodies including parsley and garlic herb croutons. Braised Moroccan lamb shank with chickpeas,mint, preserved lemon and eggplant ($38) was cooked to super tenderness but was a bit boring, the flavours being extremely mild. They have half a dozen "Market Specials" each day and Sandra chose the roasted Monkfish with winter squash, dandelion greens, wild mushrooms and sauce meurette ($34)
which had her almost drooling. The meat had a very fine texture and tasted sweet, close to lobster. We completed the meal with a cheese platter
and a deconstructed tart tatin.
This is an excellent restaurant, somewhat misrepresented as a cafe, which, in a better appointed venue would compete comfortably with many of New York's fine dining establishments. I was not able to move my chair back far enough to prevent the flash washing out the subject matter which made the photo's worse than usual.
Zagat recently scored it 27 for food, 28 for service and only 22 for decor scores with which we agree.
Comments: To convert the menu prices to the real cost of the meal, which includes an almost mandatory gratuity of 18% to 20%, to A$'s add one third thus a US $100 meal translates to about A$133.
Score:15.25 /20

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gibraltor (Lancaster) 01/10

Released from bondage to the local area by our GPS we ventured to Lancaster to this highly regarded Mediterranean influenced modern American restaurant. They have a wall of awards,
dozens of rave reviews from the public and Zagat gave them a whopping 28/30 in 2008. Situated in College Square opposite a small university it is expensive in this area populated largely by students and the thrifty Amish who would be unlikely to eat in any restaurant.
The restaurant occupies a large space separated into three sections. There is a smaller area with bar seating on one side and the remaining space is partially divided in two. This shows a small section of the divider.

Tables are set with cloths and attractive coloured glasses.
with a row of booths down one side,
and an open kitchen at one end of the room.
The first waiter who approached us proved to be almost totally ignorant about their very extensive cellar and we were surprised when there was no sommelier. He sent another server, Abby, who was somewhat better informed and we enjoyed a bottle of Napa Valley pinot gris.
We started with two outstanding appetizers. King Edward Island mussels in a rich cream sauce
were lightly steamed. The mussels shells looked small but the mussels proved to be exceptionally meaty with excellent flavour. We then had caramelized foie gras and black truffle torchon with toasted brioche, dried fruit chutney and candied walnut with field greens and a sherry vinagrette which was out of this world. We were rather ambitious at this point. There was a whole lobster on their flyer but not on the menu. We negotiated to get a lobster mornay which was not the classical presentation. It was served in a rich buttery and creamy sauce but the cheese element seemed to be well as their massive sea food platter called a Gibraltar ($99). You can get one, two or three tiers. This illusrates the lower two tiers
Not only is the three tier platter larger but also it has more of the finer products - lobster, oysters of various kinds, crab meat an so on, as well as mussels (green lip from New Zealand), prawns, craw fish, calamari, baby octopus and baby clams It's a cold platter with all the seafood on a bed of crushed ice. Two plates with four little pots of sauce, vinaigrette, salad, ketchup and remolade with some rusks were provided to add flavour.
Whilst the ingredients were as fresh as possible everything was soggy, especially the mussels and the crab legs, which had been frozen, were soggy. Perhaps this was a result of them being washed before they were served. As good as it was this extravaganza was less satisfying than expected. It suffered from a lack of personality. It was a bit boring. It needed something to give it a lift, a serve of French fries or an accompanying salad.
The decision on dessert was difficult but we settled for a self saucing chocolate pudding with vanilla ice cream,
beautifully presented, slightly overbaked but rich and satisfying.
This meal raised a question we pondered about. Does a fine dining meal need to have not only fine ingredients but must it also have a structure. I grew up with a concept of dinner. A soup, a main course and a dessert. Generally the main would be meat with two or three different coloured vegetables or fish with one or two vegetables. Occasionally a salad was served before the main course. The meal had form. Fine dining establishments have menus with several choices of appetizer and anything from about six to 30 odd mains. Desserts are mostly on a separate menu. Do these collections of fine food make a fine dinner?
Score:15 /20