La Table du Chef

5 Rue Jean Daumas 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 93 68 27 40

 

An acquaintance of mine who used to live in Cannes turned me on to this place, and if you are sick of the Cannes scene, Table du Chef is pretty perfect for you, because not many people know about it and there are only about 8 tables in the entire joint, so the odds of you running into anyone you’ll have to schmooze are slimmer than Christian Bale in The Machinist.

The concept is French Omakase. Four courses of whatever the chef wants to make you. Or in other words, whatever looked good at the market that day.

Our meal began with a yummy, garlicky gazpacho that cancelled out any chance for kissing later that evening. On the heels, we had surprisingly thin tuna steak served over white beans that was decent, but because the fish was so thin it was a bit overpowered by the totality of the dish.

Three is a magic number, and not just at School House Rock, because third in the line up was a killer duck entrée that somehow tasted like foie gras. I have no idea how he pulled it off. Perhaps he cooked is sous vide in foie gras juice? As I said, I have no idea and I have never tasted duck like this before, but I would definitely like to sign up for more!

For dessert, they served an artful tower of apple, cream and crisp and while it was certainly very good, it somehow didn’t wow. Similar to 3 out of the 4 courses, making Table a solid 3 knives, but just shy of greatness.

Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

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Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 teeth

Mas Farmhouse

39 Downing St. New York, NY 10014(212) 255-1790masfarmhouse.com

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Mas is the new Blue Hill. Granted it’s not so new anymore, but by comparison it’s new-ish. But what I mean by the comparison is that it is farm to table done flawlessly. The decor is cozy, yet stylish and contemporary. The two dining areas are both small and quaint – in a way that makes you feel special. As does the service, which can only be compared to the likes of a Thomas Keller restaurant, yet warmer and more human.  Plus, they are incredibly accommodating without even a whiff of pretense.

As for the food, well, I gave it five knives didn’t I? It’s fantastic. I can tell you all about it, but unfortunately all that would do is make you jealous since the Chef’s tasting menu is in constant flux on a day to day basis, depending on what looked good at the market that morning.

I highly recommend it though. Just put yourself in the hands of the chef and let him work his magic. Naturally they will ask if you have any allergies or things you flat out don’t like – or love, as the case may be- and they will do the rest.

Also, a shout out to the sommelier. I got the wine pairing along with the tasting, and it was truly a work of art. Every sip in perfect harmony with the dish – like culinary soul mates.

Verdict: Top 10 in the city.

5 teeth

Nobu

105 Hudson St. New York, NY 10013 • (212) 219-0500 • www.noburestaurants.com

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Now I know many people think this place doesn’t live up to the hype, and you’d be right if all you got were the normal pieces of sushi or sashimi that you would get at any other sushi joint. And therein lies your mistake. You can’t go to a place like this and just get sushi/sashimi- that stuff is only as good as what comes off of the boat. It’s not like they have some magical way of cutting the fish that makes it taste better or something.

That said, what you should be getting is their tasting menu. Quite possibly one of the best out there, primarily because it’s not the same for everyone. It all depends on how many times you’ve had it. When you go for your first time, the tasting will be completely different from when you return for your second, or third and so on. And it is here that you will see why the hype is indeed warranted. Things you would normally never even think of ordering will become you favorite Japanese dish you’ve ever tasted.

As for decor and service, I personally think the decor is better than most. Maybe with the exception of Koi and Megu- however I find the food better at Nobu. And as for service it’s always been excellent.

Also, one final word of advice, from having done this a couple of times with great success. The art of the walk-in. Most couples head to Nobu Next Door thinking that it will be easier to get a table, but I assure you that your wait will be double or even triple what you would wait if you were willing to sit at the bar in Nobu instead. I much prefer it. You get the food handed to you right from the chef himself and you’re eating at the real deal, not the Plan B.

5 teeth

The Musket Room

265 Elizabeth St. New York, NY 10012(212) 219-0764 musketroom.com

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On our way to dinner at Pearl & Ash, we stumbled upon this seemingly new place and made a mental note for the future. We were immediately impressed by the décor as well as the menu. But looks can be deceiving, right?

Wrong! Well, sometimes right, but in this case wrong. Musket Room lives up to its looks and might even exceed them. Although that’s quite a statement, because every detail in this place is thoughtfully considered. The water glasses are sleek and unusually beautiful. As is the silverware and the table they all rest on. The exposed brick and natural, old world elements almost make you feel as if you have stepped back into time, that or into a contemporary Nordic haunt, for a bite to eat.

The service was also excellent. Solid recommendations, attentive, knowledgeable and best of all, friendly. Not a snooty bone in the place. Even though they have every right to be, because this isn’t a casual nibble. This is fine dining in every sense of the word. From the chef’s tastings to the platings to the choreographed delivery of courses.

But let’s get to the food since that’s all you really care about. To start with, the bread is marvelous. Fresh baked rolls with a hard, buttery, golden brown exterior and soft fluffy insides that spring to life with their REAL homemade, green salted butter. Such a rare treat in the States to have real butter. Most everything else outside of France tastes like nothing.

For appetizers the salmon with mandarin oranges was very good, but the real gem was the waiter’s recommendation, the cold-smoked scallops. Brought to the table under a metal dome, it is revealed in a magical puff of frost. A beautiful crescent of scallops, pickled cucumbers, black garlic, sea beans and pear. Such a wonderful mix of flavors between the smokiness of the scallops and the refreshing sweetness of the pear and cukes. Best thing of the night.

For entrees, here was the only misstep. Both were just okay. The cod being the weaker of the two. A touch bland and not particularly memorable.

The steak entrée, on the other hand, while good, was nothing compared to the apps the preceded it. Nowhere near as inventive and the “cheese pie” just didn’t translate from ear to mouth very well.

But redemption soon followed with two winners for dessert. The chocolate torte was rich and dreamy and while I could go on more about it, I actually thought it was quite handily upstaged by the strawberry and Camembert mousse with pineapple sorbet, rhubarb and granola. Friggin’ yum!

So, welcome Musket Room. You’ve done New Zealand proud. Not to mention Soho.

4 teeth

Arun’s Thai Restaurant

4156 N. Kedzie Ave. Chicago, IL 60618(773) 539-1909arunsthai.com

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5 knives for presentation. However, the service suffers because of it. Somewhat understandable when you see the presentations, after all, it must take some 30 minutes each to put together, carving carrots into butterflies and fowl, but it really ruins the flow of a tasting menu when you have to wait 30 to 40 minutes between each course. I ate there years ago and if they had a few more courses in the tasting I’d probably still be there! I also have to say that while the food was very good, it didn’t necessarily live up to the hype. For significantly less money I could have just as satisfying a Thai meal at Star of Siam (also in Chicago) in a fraction of the time. Hell, I could have 6 meals at Star, back to back, in a fraction of the time.

3 teeth

 

Momofuku Ko

163 1st Ave. New York, NY 10003 (212) 500-0831momofuku.com

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If I could give it 6 knives I would (which I suppose I can, it’s my blog after all, but that would require I go back into photoshop, add more categories- it’s a process). And I would give it this rating mostly because the level of difficulty was so high, having to live up to such massive hype and ballooned expectations. So, for it to not disappoint is a feat in itself.

This is not to say that Ko is flawless by any stretch, but it’s faults are simply overshadowed by its screaming successes. For example one nit would be the décor, or the lack thereof. It is as basic as basic gets. A lot like Pearl Oyster bar back in the day, before they expanded. Primarily a wood bar with twelve uncomfortable stools. But to be fair, it’s also part of its theme, and charm. It’s the lack of expensive real estate and lavish decor that allows them to offer a world-class meal at $100 per person.

The other nit, was the service. While they are extremely friendly and helpful, the first time I went they were a touch too aggressive with plate removal and a bit overwhelming at times with the delivery of courses. Sometimes placing  4 and 5 at a time in front of you. Which, if you become aware of it, and I was, detracts from the experience. Fortunately upon my second visit they must’ve gotten the message from my Yelp review (kidding!) and were significantly better about it.

But with nits aside, it is definitely an experience worth every last penny. And one I will HAPPILY return for (and did), regardless of their minor transgressions.

Now for the things that rocked my world. Of the dozen or so courses between both outings, these are the ones that reached god-like status (many of which are Ultimates):

  1. The Cajun inspired crawfish soup with orange and brioche
  2. The soft boiled egg with caviar served along side fresh baked sourdough and radish butter (also Ultimate bread & butter)
  3. The agnolotti with tofu and sweet corn (Ultimate tofu dish)
  4. The honeydew melon cold soup with avocado and macadamia nuts (Ultimate cold soup)
  5. The shitake mushroom soup amuse bouche
  6. The Halibut with ??? – sorry, I was tad inebriated on sparkling Saki by this point

So, that’s it. Stop reading and start clicking away online to get a reservation. It’s a pain in the ass trying, but your mouth will kiss you for it.

5 teeth