Per Se (New York, NY)

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
Dining date: 9/8/15

Door

While traveling in New York, a few coworkers and I had one free night to have a dinner together. They left it up to me to choose a restaurant for the four of us. It didn’t take too much deliberation to pick Per Se. This would be my first time dining here and the first Thomas Keller restaurant for the rest of the party.

Dining Room

Dining Room

Generally regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city (America and the world), Per Se holds three Michelin stars, is rated 4 stars by the New York Times, and is ranked #40 in the latest best restaurants in the world list (holding a top 10 spot for an impressive 8-year streak from 2005 to 2012).

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Eleven Madison Park (New York, NY)

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
Dining date: 2/28/15

exterior

Eleven Madison Park was one of my most anticipated meals in a long time. Since chef Daniel Humm and manager Will Guidara took over the place in 2006, the restaurant has skyrocketed to be regarded as one of the best in the world. Consistently earning three Michelin stars, it was rated the 4th best restaurant in the world in the well-known S. Pellegrino list. Needless to say, expectations were sky-high; so high that I had considerable doubt the restaurant (or any, for that matter) would be able to meet them.

My dad had dined here just over a year ago but this would be the first visit for the rest of the party (though a couple of us have had Humm’s food when he was chef of Campton Place in San Francisco). Over the years, the restaurant has changed the layout of the menu multiple times; currently, it’s a multi-course menu with a fixed price tag of $225. The only choices were whether the foie gras be in terrine form or pan-seared and if the party wanted a duck or pork course.

interior2

interior

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L’Astrance (Paris, France)

L’Astrance
4 rue Beethoven
75016 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/28/14

exterior

After lunch at l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, our last meal in Paris was dinner here at l’Astrance. A Michelin three star and currently #38 on the world’s best restaurant list, it was our toughest reservation too as the popular restaurant has 25 tables and is open only four days a week. Luckily, we scored a table through our hotel concierge.

Pascal Barbot trained under Alain Passard at l’Arpege and brings many of the same principles, using high quality seasonal ingredients and simple preparations to allow the ingredients to shine. Barbot does incorporate more meat into his dishes, though. Having spent a bit of time cooking in Asia, there are hints of Asian techniques and flavors throughout. There is no menu; the restaurant creates a surprise tasting each night (€210).

menu

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L’Arpège (Paris, France)

L’Arpège
84 rue de Varenne
75007 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/27/14

exterior

L’Arpege has been high on my list of restaurants to try for some time. When I first traveled to Paris seven years ago, I remember walking around the corner from the Rodin Museum just to see the restaurant from the outside. Having just graduated from college, I sorely lacked the funds to consider dining here and wondered if I ever would. On this next trip, this was my most anticipated meal in Paris.

L’Arpege has been around for almost 30 years and has become one of the most notable dining establishments in the city. Cheffed by Alain Passard, it’s a Michelin three star (and has been since 1996) and is currently ranked the #25 best restaurant in the world (the highest ranked Parisian establishment). Passard is known for being a visionary and pioneer particularly as it relates to vegetables. The restaurant maintains its own organic gardens to supply its produce and even removed meat from its menu for a period of time. Today, meat is back on the menu but the focus is still clearly on vegetables at l’Arpege.

As with many Michelin starred restaurants in Paris, it can get expensive. Very expensive. The restaurant’s current tasting menu runs at €370 with a vegetable tasting at €290. However, lunchtime brings one more option – a €140 lunch tasting. A relative bargain, we came for lunch and opted for this choice.

knife

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RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan) (2)

RyuGin
Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor
7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 11/20/12

ryugin

My first meal at RyuGin was one of the best meals in 2012. Towards the end of that meal, I was told that they store the menus of all of the diners they seat so that they can ensure a unique meal each time. The promise of a completely different meal towards the end of my trip lingered in the back of my mind until I decided to make it my final dinner in Japan.

The restaurant, a Michelin three-star ranked #28 on the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, is a ‘modern kaiseki’ establishment, where chef Seiji Yamamoto blends Western influences into a traditional Japanese meal. With strong accolades from the Western world, the customer base does seem to largely be foreign (English-friendly!), though it was mostly locals on this Tuesday evening.

The service was some of the best I had seen anywhere in Tokyo, with all of the servers wearing an earbud in one ear, staying in constant contact with the kitchen and rest of waitstaff. In both of my visits, the timing and service was impeccable.

artwork

Sake service was awesome with no less than 20 glasses to choose from. Sweet!

sake glasses

sake

Hot Turtle Tofu with Green Onion Oil

Hot Turtle Tofu with Green Onion Oil

The meal began with my first (and only) taste of turtle during the entire trip. Slightly chewy yet tender pieces of turtle sat in a silky chawanmushi-like custard, topped with a brightness from the green onion oil.

Fried Shirako

Fried Shirako

Shirako (cod milt) is in season; here it was delicately fried atop a bed of Rice Krispies. Dare I say it had a very creamy interior upon the first bite, oozing out of its crispy shell. It was kind of too hot, burning my mouth, so much of the flavor was lost.

Monkfish Liver in White Miso Sauce with Seasonal Vegetables

Monkfish Liver in White Miso Sauce with Seasonal Vegetables

This is a variation of a dish that has been prepared since the restaurant opened nine years ago. The sweet, creamy monkfish liver was delicious, complemented by the savory miso and slight heat of Japanese mustard. Crispy scallion and veggies countered some of the heat and richness of the dish.

Matsuba Crab Served in Crab Broth

Matsuba Crab Served in Crab Broth

crab tag

This was a special kind of crab, sold individually tagged to ensure authenticity. Commonly known as snow crab in America, it had a very subtle sweetness and flavor, sitting in a shellfish broth made of its own shell. Wilted cabbage completed each warm and comforting bite.

Assorted Sashimi

spanish mackerel

lobster

The duo of sashimi this evening was a seared Spanish mackerel with ponzu and a lobster with sea urchin sauce. The rich, luscious still-raw mackerel was pretty tasty, while the seared skin provided a little smokiness and texture. Sweet, spongy lobster was even better with a pureed uni sauce and a touch of wasabi – a perfect combination of flavors.

Thorn Head Fish Grilled on Charcoal then Simmered with Eggplant

Thorn Head Fish Grilled on Charcoal and Simmered Grilled Eggplant

The thorn head fish, stuffed with eggplant then grilled and simmered, was rich in flavor and cooked pretty well. A sauce made of fish broth and ginger was a nice complement, while finely sliced gobo (burdock root) provided a fresh crunch.

Soft Sea Eel and Tofu Bowl

Soft Sea Eel and Tofu Bowl

A tofu ‘meatball,’ cod roe and sea eel were the focal points of this dish. I thought the textures were interesting, but found the flavors to be too subtle to really distinguish. Some mizuna (Japanese greens) provided a little bit of brightness, but couldn’t lift up this dish.

Wagyu Beef Filet Grilled on Charcoal with Assorted Vegetables

Wagyu Beef Filet Grilled on Charcoal with Assortment of Vegetables

Next was this extraordinary dish, which made it to my Top Dishes of 2012 post. Here, the over-the-top fattiness of Japanese wagyu was in the form of relatively lean filet mignon; the opposites created a fantastic middle-ground. The result was something that was extremely tender, yet also very juicy and succulent. Crisp veggies provided just a little bit of textural crunch to lighten things up a bit. So good!

Rice Topped with Chinese Cabbage and Sea Bream Simmered with Sansho Pepper

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Rice Topped with Chinese Cabbage and Sea Bream Simmered with Sansho Pepper

This rice bowl was sort of lesson in textures with an assortment of crispy diced vegetables, chewy rice, and tender chunks of both fresh and dried fish. It was a good one, though not nearly as memorable as the unagi-don of the previous visit.

Rice with Red Bean and Sea Bream over Charcoal

Rice with red bean and sea bream over charcoal

The final savory course was an ‘extra’ from the kitchen. I was kind of disappointed to find this pretty similar to the previous dish, and also happened to be lacking in as much flavor. Add to it the fact that the sea bream had some bones, and this was a disappointment.

With the savory courses completed, a couple of desserts came next.

Candy Tangerine

Candy Tangerine

Candy Tangerine

This first sweet course was similar to the grape dish I had in my last visit. A cold, airy yogurt powder with a pop rocks texture was molded and shaped inside a tangerine shell; when cracked, it was topped with a warm tangerine jam. The opposing temperatures and textures contrasted in a pretty yummy sweet, tangerine flavor.

Roppongi Pudding

Roppongi Pudding

I really liked this one, a jar of steamed pudding with a rich, caramel bottom. Pretty simple I guess, but delicious. Even better with a bowl of bitter matcha tea.

Matcha

matcha

While my first meal was a tale of highs after highs, I found this one to have more ups-and-downs. Maybe my taste buds had gotten spoiled during my trip, but my expectations had also increased given the success of the first meal. Still, the food at RyuGin was yummy, interesting and executed pretty well. Highlights included the wagyu beef filet (so good!), crab, lobster-uni sashimi, and both desserts. I don’t hesitate in recommending RyuGin highly during any visit to Tokyo.

Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan)

Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon
Yebisu Garden Place 2F
1-13-1 Mita, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0062
Dining date: 11/18/12

chateau exterior

I wasn’t initially planning to dine here. I went to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the beginning of my stay and was content on trying more of the Japanese food that I couldn’t get in America. At some point during my trip my thinking shifted and this place shot up my list. Was it all the Japanese food? Not sure; I don’t think so since I never actually got sick of it.

With 7 Michelin stars across 3 of his restaurants, Joel Robuchon has the most stars of any chef in Tokyo. The out-of-place-looking Chateau in Yebisu Garden Place houses two of the restaurants, the 2-star La Table (ground floor) and 3-star Le Chateau de Joel Robuchon (second floor).

interior

The three-star restaurant is very similar to his eponymous restaurant in Las Vegas with some similar signature menu items, kind of gaudy interior, and ridiculous breadcart. Dinner is downright expensive with set menus going up to ¥40,000. Lunch seemed to be a relatively reasonable visit with menus ranging from a weekday-only 5-course menu at ¥6,000 going up to ¥15,000. We went with the ¥15,000 menu, offering 8 courses.

placesetting

We began with a little bubbly.

champagne

Sea urchin with a delicate crustacean jelly and cauliflower cream

Sea urchin with a delicate crustacean jelly and cauliflower cream

The first thing out of the kitchen was this dish, complete with a special plate. This was very similar to something I’d had in Las Vegas. The jelly had a strong crustacean flavor though it was clean and crisp. A cauliflower cream was an excellent accompanying flavor profile, having a creamy sort of earthiness to go along. Bright, fresh uni pieces sat at the bottom yielding a little bit of sweetness with each bite.

Not unlike the Las Vegas restaurant, the Tokyo outpost has the most impressive breadcart I’ve ever seen. Selections were taken back into the kitchen to be warmed through. My first set was a mini ham and cheese croissant (delish!) and milk bread (one of my favorites from the past).

bread cart

bread

Potato salad served with tomato confit, parmesan shavings and autumn truffle

Potato salad served with tomato confit, parmesan shavings and autumn truffle

This really wasn’t like a typical potato salad; instead, warm soft potatoes were beautifully plated with sweet tomato confit, parmesan, bitter greens and truffles. It was exceedingly simple but well-executed, with a careful balance of flavors full of umami.

Sauteed duck liver served with a parmesan cheese risotto

Sauteed duck liver served with a parmesan cheese risotto

I loved this dish. Maybe it was because I’ve been somewhat foie gras-deprived in California, but I found the liver to be seared perfectly with a rich, silky interior. An equally rich parmesan risotto was delicious as well with its al dente grains of rice; a drizzle of olive oil to finish provided a little bit of a fruity note to each bite.

Pan fried amadai cooked with its scales and served with a lily bulb yuzu scented broth

Pan fried amadai cooked with its scale and served with a lily bulb yuzu scented broth

Amadai was cooked with its scales intact, providing a natural texture, almost as if it had been breaded and fried. I really liked the crunch that each bite had, while the moist fish sat in a nice broth with floral and citrus accents.

This red wine seemed like an appropriate pairing for the next course.

red wine

Grilled beef served with seasonal vegetables and a natural gravy

Grilled beef served with seasonal vegetables and a natural gravy

Grilled beef served with seasonal vegetables and a natural gravy

I was eagerly anticipating this dish to see what the kitchen would do with some Japanese beef. I was slightly disappointed to see they used the relatively lean filet mignon; it was a very good piece of tenderloin but I thought another cut would stand out more. The vegetables were cooked until tender, each having its own disparate flavor. To pair with the course, I requested some of Robuchon’s signature mashed potatoes; the server said that they typically only serve them for dinner, but since I came all the way from America they obliged. Score! Reliably as ever, they were rich, buttery and delicious.

Pistachio mousse with pear sherbet and pistachio tuile

Pistachio mousse with pear sherbet and pistachio tuile

The pre-dessert was in the form of this refreshing and cool pear sorbet. A pistachio mousse and crisp tuile provided nuttiness and contrasting textures, while diced pears brought fresh flavors and sweetness to each bite.

Praline mousse with a pistachio filling and an apricot compote, almond ice cream

Praline mousse with a pistachio filling and an apricot compote, almond ice cream

The last course was this pretty strong dessert. The apricot itself was delicious and sweet, and I thought the almond ice cream really went well with it. The duo of praline and pistachio on the left provided more earthy, nutty bites that also paired well with the fresh apricot.

Coffee or tea served with petit fours

cappucino

Cassis macaron and chocolatepanna cotta with raspberry

Lastly, coffee (or tea) service came along with a cassis macaron, chocolate truffle, and panna cotta with raspberry and chocolate sauces.

There was a fun take-home gift of a large loaf of bread; not unlike the Las Vegas restaurant, it’s only for female guests. No fair.

take-home bread

Overall I thought the meal was excellent and the service even better. As expected, execution was on point and I found everything to pretty much be delicious. The cooking wasn’t particularly innovative I suppose, but for some reason I wasn’t looking for that at this point in the trip. Robuchon’s cooking around the world has a lot of Japanese accents, and it was fun to see much of the Japanese influences and ingredients incorporated here. I’d have to say this was easily the best Western meal of the trip.

yebisu garden place

yebisu garden place tree