• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
I’m not sure people think of creative fine dining when they think of Poland, so it’s not surprising that Warsaw’s Senses restaurant only has one Michelin star, even if that’s a crime. My boyfriend and his family are from the area originally, so he took me there last month to see where he grew up, and naturally, I checked the Michelin guide. There are only two Michelin-starred restaurants in the whole country, and one just received its star this year, so we decided to give the new kid a try.
I emailed the restaurant for a reservation two weeks before our trip and was able to get us in at 8pm, although we admittedly were trying for a probably-not-so-popular Monday night. They offer 7- and 9-course tastings, which my boyfriend’s family all laughed at the impossibility of. They were super skeptical about their ability to eat so many courses and for so many hours, especially when his dad doesn’t even like seafood. But I basically forced them to forge ahead, and it ended up being one of the very best meals and experiences I’ve had anywhere.
In NYC, this meal would’ve been on par with Eleven Madison Park or Brooklyn Fare. It would have easily had three Michelin stars, and it would have cost $300. In Warsaw, it cost $99 and included about 20 extra treats not listed on the menu. And even value aside, the service was phenomenal. The servers spoke in English to me and then repeated everything in Polish for my boyfriend’s family, and just like at our two-Michelin-starred dinner in Vienna, everyone was hilarious. Just always anticipating what would delight us and making us laugh through every course. Having just visited Eleven Madison Park last month, I noticed a huge difference between the polite professionalism of the servers there and the way the Polish servers made us feel like we were guests in their home. Which might make sense when you remember that Chef Andrea Camastra is Italian and French.
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Early last year, my friends and I were planning a trip to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Athens, so I pulled up the ol’ San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list to see if that part of the world had anything to offer. Lo and behold, #15 was smack-dab in the middle of Wien (that’s Vienna in German, see; I’m getting you ready for your future trip there), a modern Austrian restaurant perched on a canal of the Danube River in the middle of a 19th-Century park. Steirereck promised the white gloves and unnecessary decorative plates stacked beneath each dish that I love but also tons of fresh local ingredients that I would have never heard of. Adventure!
I was able to request a reservation through the English version of the Steirereck website and received a confirmation the next day with the exact date and time I’d hoped for (this was four months in advance of our travel date), but I had a question. Four of us were sure we wanted to try the tasting menu, but one friend didn’t think she was ready for five hours of eating and wanted to order a la carte. I replied to the confirmation email and basically told them, “Don’t worry, we’re going to be drinking enough alcohol that you won’t mind if one person isn’t eating.” They didn’t reply. A week before our dinner, though, they wrote to reconfirm my reservation, so I took the opportunity to ask again. The reservationist replied,
Thank you for your confirmation!
Don’t worry you can all order on stage.
We are looking forward to your visit.”
Thank you for your confirmation!
Don’t worry you can all order on stage.
We are looking forward to your visit.”
My friend imagined herself on a stage at the front of the restaurant, ordering samples from the cheese cart over a microphone. But we just let it go, because adventure!
Having crammed two weeks of vacation clothes into one carry-on bag, I was woefully underprepared for our fancy dinner and arrived in the 60-degree evening wearing sandals, no tights, a sleeveless dress, and a Gap hoodie. The hostess still totally took it from me like it was a real coat and gently folded it over her arm to hang for me without any hint of judgement, god bless her. Aside from the lingering fear of the stage-ordering, things were going great.
Steirereck seems to be set up like a clover, with each leaf representing a different room with rounded edges overlooking the park. It meant that even with the restaurant completely full, we were only sitting in a room with a handful of tables. Which was lucky, because while the other tables were full of austere Europeans, our table was doing wine pairings and having a really good time of it. It was the staff’s fault, though! They seemed to take great joy in seeing if they could entertain the Americans and kept making jokes about carrying us out to our cabs after the wine pairings and telling us to let them know if we found worms in the salad because it was so fresh. Their humor was so dry that we would all laugh, wait for them to leave the table, and then ask each other, “Wait, he was joking, right?” It was the perfect kind of service for us, a bunch of normal people faking like we were fancy in a different country.
We all ended up going for the tasting menu with wine pairings, so we never found out what ordering “on stage” was like, but we started off with cocktails in case nine glasses of wine wouldn’t be enough. Mine was this celery cocktail with housemade vermouth, an “Arabian mountain herb” grown on their roof, and rosemary.
The bread cart was overwhelming to a carb-lover such as myself, but there was a nice blood sausage loaf for the one person at our table who wanted to balance his carbs with protein. I chose the white bread with lavender and the double baked sourdough.
After our first wine pairing was served, a huge spread of tiny dishes arrived:
Apparently Austria has 40 different allergens that have to be displayed on a menu lest someone die from eating hidden mustard, so the restaurant cheekily decided to make dishes featuring all of them. We each received a card naming all of the dishes, the allergen they contained, and a description of who the allergy generally affects. (Eggs: It is possible to be allergic to just the yolk or the white. Most common in children under the age of five, most people grow out of it after a couple of years.) We had things like wheat cracker with pericon, crayfish tomalley with salsify and lovage, peanut with sweet corn, and the worst offender of all,
CELERY. Which we got a whole plant of. The little ribs dangling amidst the stalk were soaked in verjus & vermouth salt, but we were told to eat as much of the stalk as we wanted to. (We did not.) Other highlights were the duck egg with tons of chive, and the sour milk dip for the cucumber.
Glazed young carrots, carrot and fennel salad, marinated wild fish (reinanke, a kind of salmon, spicy carrot and fennel juice. Lots of fruity, sweet flavor in a savory course.
Grilled preserved yellow peppers, roasted muskmelon, braised Jerusalem artichoke, Taggiasca olives, Venus clams cooked with tamarind, ginger, and lemongrass.
Confit young celeriac with peas, pea shoots, and hazelnuts, sautéed salad hearts, celeriac-citrus sauce with pepperoncini, and wild celery herb. So much lime flavor!
Sauteed chanterelles, barbecued and steamed redondo courgette (zucchini), avocado and plum marinated in lemon, roasted cashews, spiced green tomato jam, and French sorrel. I loved the spiciness of this one.
Raw “branded” alpine salmon, Mexican pepperleaf inflorescence, verjus-infused radish, grilled porcini, cucumbers with mustard seed and dill, borretsch leaf, passion fruit cucumber juice with pepperleaf oil, fried pepperleaf pearls. We liked the layers of cucumber with dill and porcini with lemon, accented by those crunchy pepperleaf balls.
Pan-fried amur carp, kohlrabi marinated with balsam vinegar & panda oil, Job’s tears crisp, sourdough bread creme with crunchy Job’s tears seeds. Standouts included the crispy fish skin and the way the creme broke up the acidic dish.
I failed to record more detail about this, but it was quail with this wonderful sesame sauce.
Roast Hochschwab venison, butternut squash cooked in brown butter with orange blossom and rosemary, baby artichokes glazed with Madeira and thyme, red onion and radish chutney with horseradish. The chutney was the favorite element of everyone at the table, and isn’t this just about the prettiest plate you’ve ever seen?
For those who didn’t opt for the plated cheese course, a cheese cart came loaded with everything from the mildest hard cheeses to the stinkiest washed-rinds. My boyfriend had the restaurant choose a progression of four for him, but you can have the whole cart if you like.
Unpasteurised “fresh cheese”, preserved and dried “Little Buddha” physalis, frozen “fresh cheese” whey with toasted hemp seeds, black sesame, amaranth, and coconut. The server plated this in front of us at the table, cutting into the cheese so the whey would drip through the mesh. The physalis (or cape gooseberry or Peruvian cherry, depending on where you’re from) came in preserved and freeze-dried forms to provide different textures.
Drunk Katie can’t keep her camera still!
Peach poached with lemon agastache flowers and verjus, basil and sorrel creme, marinated peach, and basil beignets with basil sugar.
Raspberries marinated with rose-vinegar, set sesamy milk, fig leaf snow, rose petals preserved in apple vinegar, “weinviertler” water leaf, and baked raspberries with sesamy.
Crispy deep fried crepe with Japanese medlar (or loquat fruit) and violet jam and powdered candied violets, strawberry mint, lemon verbena, and violet petals marinated with violet syrup and medlar juice, medlar kernel and violet ice cream. This was an extra course the restaurant brought us just to try, in case our stomachs hadn’t exploded already.
Another gift from the restaurant, these were traditional poppy seed noodles that were too savory for me for dessert, but my Polish boyfriend with all of his poppy seed desserts at family holidays loved them.
We’d seen this cart at other tables in the restaurant, with a distinctive buzzing sound emanating from its core. BEES! I was so sure it was just a recording but wanted so badly for a restaurant to just be casually wheeling a live hive around the place. The lady at the table closest to us was so scared of being attacked, though, that her server had to show her the little speaker inside to get her to calm down.
Our server pulled out the honeycomb to scoop a bit off for each of us onto little wooden spoons and then offered us tastes from each of six jars of honey made from the nectar of different flowers from different regions of the city. There was also nougat, little jars of watermelon that tasted like cubes of honey, and honey covered in white chocolate.
At seven courses for $142 and $75 for the wine pairings, Steirereck felt like a steal. The food all tasted so fresh and so full of exotic things we’d never tried before (physalis! medlar! crunchy pepperleaf balls!), and the service was somehow exactly what we wanted all of the time. When I sneezed, I was handed a package of luxurious Relais & Chateaux tissues, and each dish was accompanied by a card with the title of the dish, a description of the ingredients in it, and then notes about elements like reinanke that we may not have seen before. But when we wanted to have a drunken good time with the staff, the white gloves came off. The allergen spread is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten, and I loved the way the restaurant had plenty of those novelty moments to delight our eyes but also made sure the food stood up to the experience. All in all, this was just what I would expect from a many-Michelin-starred restaurant in the U.S., only everyone had great accents and we were sitting on the Danube.
My NYC ladyfriends and I have been really into the idea of high tea at fancy hotels lately, so when my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Houston through the weekend earlier this month, I wondered if I could find some Texas-style high tea full of brassy ladies with hair as tall as the heavens. I never expected to see Indian high tea in my search results, but Kiran’s is as beloved around there as BBQ and Mexican food.
High tea is served on Saturday afternoons beginning at 2, and reservations are required for the four-course, $35 menu. For an extra $3, you can add on a glass of Champagne, lemonade, or spiced cider to start. We tried the lime-lemonade with tiny chopped fresh herbs floating throughout and the cider with hints of Indian spice. The cider was obviously more seasonal, but the lemonade really said brunch to me.
Then our first tea arrived, a boiled masala chai with cream and sugar, just the way Chef Kiran Verma likes to drink it. It turned out to be just the way I like to drink it, too. I tried to savor it, but our waiter generously refilled it for me when I failed.
I loved this take on the traditional samosa, with the bright flavors of the fresh vegetables and the rich flavors of the fig chutney and balsamic vinegar. It was incredible to me how well the slice of red pepper complimented the mushroom and feta filling, and I wondered how the idea of the pairing ever came about.
Instead of the usual tiered serving tower to share, we were each given a plate of Indian-inspired finger sandwiches and accoutrements:
Waldorf chicken salad
tandoor-smoked salmon with dill
paneer pakora with tomato and basil
vindaloo deviled egg
peanut butter with hazelnut ganache with passion fruit jelly
And then there was what I’d describe as an Indian hummus in the little bowl, with some of the fluffiest, chewiest naan. I loved all of the different flavors on the plate, from the traditional chicken salad perked up with some pomegranate seeds to the deviled egg made extra devilish with curry. My favorite thing was the strips of fritter with the bright, spicy tomato sauce. And the hint at the sweetness to come with the take on PB&J was a nice way to finish the course.
Our scones didn’t make it to the table somehow, so next was an assortment of little desserts in very seasonal flavors:
It was a nice combination of sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy, chewy and melty. Everything was fresh and delicious, but I missed the Indian flavors on the plate and would’ve loved to see how the restaurant could put their twist on these classics.
The scones, when they made it to us, were a delicious mix of apricot and cranberry, flaky and chewy and sweet and sour in all of the right ways, with that thick layer of crunchy sugar on top. Clotted cream and beautiful chunky preserves were served on the side. I love how the scone is such an unassuming thing, so dry and crumbly-looking, and yet I think about eating one at least once a day when I’m not.
Kiran’s is a dark wood and thick table linens type of place, and the tea-time harpist playing Christmas carols really added to the atmosphere of ladies who lunch. My boyfriend felt a little conspicuous when we arrived right at 2 p.m. and he was the only gentleman in sight, but there were at least four by the time we left. The service was friendly yet very professional, and the staff was more than happy to let us sit for three hours with our tea and our scones and our tiny sandwiches. And really, that’s what I love most about high tea: taking hours to eat what could take five minutes. It somehow feels fancy to be leisurely, and tea at Kiran’s made me feel all kinds of fancy.
I’m in Houston, Texas, with my boyfriend at the moment and am astounded by how much Mexican food these people have access to. I know we’re lucky in NYC to have a little bit of everything, but I’m suddenly feeling very deprived with only one taco joint on my block back in Brooklyn. Here, there are family-owned Mexican places next to huge Mexican chain restaurants next to slightly different versions of the huge Mexican chain restaurants. Driving across the Katy Freeway, my mouth waters right and left at all of the neon signs. So I was here for less than 24 hours when I started searching Yelp for the best Mexican food in Houston and found Chavez Mexican Cafe.
We started off with a big bowl of corn chips with two homemade salsas, one spicy and one sweet, and then ordered everything on the menu. j/k, the menu is gigantic, but we ordered enough food that our server told us there were plenty of take-home boxes in the back. And here I thought my appetite would be appropriate in Texas, where everything’s supposedly bigger.
This melted cheese with chorizo, mushrooms, onions, and poblano peppers was set on fire before our eyes and served with flour and corn tortillas. The cheese was super chewy and dripping with all of the oils and juices from the meat and vegetables. Wrapped up like a little gift in a tortilla, it was the kind of savory guilty pleasure bite that made me unable to stop eating more of it.
With sauteed shrimp, all of the creamy and crunchy toppings you can think of, and those floppy corn tortillas. The lemon cream sauce made these nice and bright, and our server brought us an extra bean soup because we were sharing them. The service here was very friendly and attentive in general, but I really noticed this one little extra.
Apparently whole deep-fried stuffed avocados exist elsewhere, but I’d never heard of them until I saw the menu for Chavez Mexican Cafe. I got mine stuffed with beef and cheese because one of the reviews I read said that it doesn’t even make sense how tender the beef is here. I expected the big chunks of meat inside to be chewy despite that review just based on their size, but they really were fork-tender and a nice contrast to the creamy avocado and its crispy coating. A chicken enchilada, rice, and refried beans rounded out the plate, and all of them were flavorful in ways that made them compete with the avocado to be the stand-out element of the dish. The rice and beans were so good I’d make a meal of them alone.
I persuaded Jack to order this grilled chicken breast covered with sauteed shrimp, Mexican crema, and chipotle just so I could try it. We usually eat low-carb, and I was excited that such a great unbreaded entree option existed, but I also really needed to try that deep-fried avocado. The chicken was pounded thin to make it sort of like a meaty flatbread, and the sauce that I expected to be overly rich was actually acidic and light.
Margaritas are $2.49 during happy hour, which happens to last all day Monday to Wednesday. And they’re only $4.99 regularly, so, you know, get them every day.
Chavez Mexican Cafe is a really, really unassuming place, as you can see from the decor. We loved the booths along the side walls that felt very private, but apparently the place gets crazy on weekend nights, and for good reason. Every bit of food we had here was fresh, clearly made with love, and bursting with unexpected flavor. Chef Chavez came out of the kitchen to tell us about leaving his well-paying former job behind to work hard doing what he’s passionate about, which is making Mexican food that just tastes great. He says he feels a little bad that the other Mexican restaurants around him sometimes sit empty when there’s a line out the door at his . . . but not that bad.
I visited Japan at the end of last month, and on our last night, my friends and I wanted to try a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars in Tokyo. Obviously the French restaurants like Joel Robuchon and Quintessence held particular appeal for me so I could compare them to the French-inspired restaurants I’ve been to here in NYC, but we really wanted some serious Japanese cooking. In the end, we chose Kanda in Minato, and I’ll admit that I was a little afraid of our decision. All of the reviews I read said that this was true Japanese cuisine with all of its subtleties and nuances and that American palates wouldn’t be able to appreciate its beautiful simplicity. I didn’t want us to spend ¥15,000 to ¥25,000 (~$150-$250 US) and walk away feeling like we’d had a couple of flavorless vegetables and three slices of fish, but we wanted to challenge ourselves. Plus, I’ve loved the very delicate dishes I’ve had at Japanese restaurants in NYC like Kajitsu, Brushstroke, Sushi Yasuda, and Kajitsu again.
Making the reservation at Kanda was my first reminder that we were traveling to the opposite side of the world. I waited until the middle of the afternoon to call . . . only to realize that the middle of the afternoon here is the middle of the night in Japan. Most foreigners ask their hotels to make dinner reservations for them, but we were renting out a private home, so when I called back later at 2 a.m. our time, I had to make the very kind and patient reservationist suffer through my English. In the end, she helped me decide on the private room and their ¥20,000 chef’s choice menu for Saturday night.
Addresses in Japan aren’t at all like addresses in the U.S., because they use a grid system that divides the city into districts instead of using actual street names. You’d say, for instance, that you were going to building 2 on block 5 of such-and-such city district instead of saying that you’re going to 138 Main Street. It’s very easy when you’re typing it into Google Maps, but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to direct your cab driver who doesn’t speak any English. So we ended up at a curry restaurant called Kando and had to call the restaurant via Skype to let them speak to him in Japanese, but a half an hour late, we finally made it to the deserted and sort of haunting street where you’ll find Kanda.
It was so nondescript that our friend Nik started to try to convey to the cab driver that he was wrong again, but then we spotted the sign for Kanda hidden next to a sliding wooden door completely devoid of any windows.
Inside, though, it was bright and beautiful, all clean white walls and simple light wood. The hostess recognized us immediately as the wild-eyed, lost Americans and led us to our private room, decorated with a wooden cricket in a cage for good luck.
We admired our simple place settings,
and then Chef Hiroyuki Kanda came in to introduce himself. I’d read that he speaks English and would ask us about our preferences for the meal, so we’d decided beforehand that I’d tell him we were “semi-adventurous eaters” who were up for being challenged “a little bit”. Instead, I got nervous and exclaimed, “We’ll eat anything!”
And then my friends gave me death stares until the chef left.
Kanda is known for their sake list, but it was entirely in Japanese, so we just told our server that we prefer sweet to dry, and she brought us this. I have no idea what it was, but even our non-sake-liker liked it.
Our amuse was this elegant egg custard with Japanese vegetables in contrasting textures and varying levels of sweet and salty. Shiso leaves are something I’ve had many times at Japanese restaurants, but I’d only ever had the tiny purple flowers from the plant for the first time earlier in the week at the foot of Mt. Fuji; in this preparation, they were much more balanced and less assertive than when we ate them off the stem.
We thought we were off the hook. Egg custard followed by eel! We could all handle this. The plum sauce on top added sweetness, and the eel itself was so tender it fell apart under the force of our chopsticks. And not just because we’re bad with chopsticks.
Then this dish arrived, forebodingly.
Followed by a basket of whole deep-fried fish, my nemesis!
Its beady little fried eyes stared up at me, its eager little tail still flicked up in the air. And its teeth!!
Luckily, I’d trained for this. The week before I left for Asia, I went to the Sun Noodle ramen dinner at Louro, where I was fed whole mackerel. I was squeamish and reluctant, but after flailing about for a minute, I went for it and became a fish-head-eater for life.
This ayu was served with a glass of beer and had a lot of delicious charred flavor. Its crispy tail was like eating a potato chip, and I didn’t even notice those teeth as I was crunching through them.
I ate a lot of wonderful things in Japan, but this was the single most memorable. The tuna belly was the fattiest, most tender piece of fish I can ever remember eating. The black truffles were pure earthy luxury. The salt scattered around the plate made sure every flavor was fully pronounced. But the best part was weirdly the rice. The rice! I think it had to have been made with butter, because it left a little oil slick behind when we picked it up. We were all going crazy over the salty, buttery rice and almost ignoring the giant piles of black truffles on our plates.
This looked like such a simple dish, but it left us with so many questions. What was the fish dumpling made of? Tofu? Egg? What was the round vegetable? Cucumber? Apple? We felt like our eyes were fooling our tastebuds. My palate was so confused by what I was seeing versus tasting that it wasn’t until I finished the soup that I realized it had been flavored with yuzu. (I later saw a yuzu in the grocery store near our rental apartment in Japan and died from how cool it was. Foreign produce!)
Flanked by a slice of sweet lotus root and what I think were ginkgo beans, the swordfish took a backseat to its accessories for a while as we tried to figure out what they were. Once we finally got to focus on the beautiful piece of fish, I realized that it seemed to be coated in roe. I don’t know how common this preparation is–I’ve only had grilled roe once before, at Tori Shin, but it’s a neat alternative to salt.
Tender and perfect with the sting of the shichimi spice mixture following the enticing smell of those little chive-like onions.
Apparently Miyazaki is on par with or better than Kobe beef, which explains why the three of us were falling over ourselves to out-compliment each other about this dish. It was so, so tender, which probably doesn’t need to be said. And then the crunch of the panko coating provided such a nice contrast. The mustard was flavored with matcha, which is used to make green tea, and even the seaweed salad somehow seemed new and necessary to balance the dish. My boyfriend wondered how much it’d take to convince Chef Kanda to bring us another round of this.
We ended where we began but this time with a sea eel. We were told to cut it in half with our chopsticks, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. It was so sweet, with a side of miso soup with taro
and green tea made with roasted rice water.
Our palate cleanser was a refreshing watermelon jelly dotted with balls of fresh watermelon.
Dessert was a simple scoop of barley tea ice cream, which tasted like coffee but with a hint of grain flavor. It seemed like a play on after-dinner coffee.
We lounged around in our private room for a little longer, my boyfriend picking things out of my teeth and wiping deodorant off of me with his hand towel without anyone out at the counter in the main part of the restaurant knowing, we used the Japanese toilet, because it’s not like you’re not going to use the Japanese toilet, and then we went back out to that deserted street, with some of the staff following us out to wish us a good night.
After five days of eating nothing but ramen, katsu, and double-decker Wagyu burgers, Kanda was the perfect way to end our trip to Japan. It was subtle, and it was nuanced, and I think we were able to appreciate every bit of it. But it was also wildly delicious food that I don’t think any American would have a hard time grasping. And it was definitely worth the money with that tuna, spread of truffles, and incredible A5 beef. Certainly I’d miss the opulence of the French-inspired 3 Michelin star restaurants in NYC if I didn’t have access to them ever again, but Kanda was so unpretentious in a noticeable way. There were no stacks of white plates under each dish, no little plush stools to put your purse on. The service was helpful and sweet, and everyone made us feel super welcome instead of super foreign. Such a memorable meal in a wonderful country.