Marea (New York, NY)

Marea
240 Central Park S
New York, NY 10019
Dining date: 3/1/15

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Given it’s been a good six years since I had been to New York City, the list of restaurants I want to try is overwhelming. So, narrowing down a coveted dinner choice was a challenging (though exciting!) task. I wanted a restaurant that would be brand new to everyone dining (my parents and I) and something a little less of a marathon given the extended tasting menus of the previous dinners. Marea is a restaurant that’s been on my radar since opening in 2009 and fit the bill for this meal. An Italian seafood restaurant, the restaurant currently holds two Michelin stars and ranks #93 in the latest best restaurants in the world list.

dining room

While a la carte and by-request tasting menus are available, I suspect most diners choose the $97 4-course pre-fixe, which basically allows one to choose 4 dishes off the a la carte menu (one crudo/antipasti, one pasta, one main and a dessert). Note that there are some pricing supplements for some of the more expensive dishes. My mom, dad and I went for the pre-fixe menu adding one small plate to share as an addition.

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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Paris, France)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/28/14

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This Paris Saint-Germain location was the first of Joel Robuchon’s l’Atelier concepts, which is now a worldwide chain. Holding two Michelin stars and ranked #31 in the latest world’s best restaurant list (and as high as #12 in 2012), it’s oft-regarded as the best of Robuchon’s l’Atelier restaurants.

In my first trip to Europe seven years ago, this restaurant was easily the best (and by far most expensive) meal I had. It’s still one of the more memorable dining experiences I’ve had and I wanted to return once more to see if the restaurant was as good as I remembered. There are no lunch specials at this location, just a la carte and a €179 discovery tasting menu. A la carte starters and mains price in the €40-€80 range each so I figured the 10-course tasting menu was the way to go.

kitchen

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (London, UK)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA
United Kingdom
Dining date: 10/16/14

Dinner

Heston Blumenthal is one of the most notable chefs in the world; his flagship The Fat Duck was once named the best restaurant in the world and has consistently garnered three Michelin stars. He has a number of restaurants in Bray (about an hour outside of London), but Dinner was his first restaurant in London proper. Opened in 2011, it’s achieved much praise of its own, currently holding two Michelin stars and standing at #5 on the 2014 S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Having dined at The Fat Duck a couple of years ago, I was eager to try Dinner while in London.

Kitchen

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Melisse (Santa Monica, CA)

Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 1/24/14

Melisse

Melisse, like the restaurant of my last post Providence, is oft-considered one of the best restaurants in the city for its French-Californian cuisine. It’s truly one of the few refined fine dining destinations that has survived through all the food trends Los Angeles has seen since it’s opening in 1999. Like Providence, Melisse garnered 2 Michelin stars in the last guide; while I have been familiar with Providence ever since it opened, my first visit to Melisse didn’t come until a relatively late 2010. I’ve now had a few meals here (including a very memorable Farewell to Foie last year) and have thoroughly enjoyed them.

The impetus for this dinner was the restaurant’s participation in dineLA’s new $85 price level, an opportune time for 4 friends’ first visit. As with many dineLA options I wondered – what type of meal would Melisse provide at this lower price point? Would it still reflect a ‘regular’ Melisse experience? I was pleasantly surprised on both counts.

menu

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Providence (Los Angeles, CA)

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 1/16/14

exterior

I’ve generally considered Providence one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles since it opened in 2005. I first had chef Michael Cimarusti’s food at downtown’s Water Grill in college and followed him here. This was my fifth visit overall, but my first in about 3.5 years. I’m not totally sure what took me so long to return, but part of it was the fact that my last two visits didn’t live up to the high expectations created by the first two. Providence is consistently in the conversation of top special occasion fine dining restaurants in the city, so it’s a place I like to stop in every so often.

Cimarusti has been a busy man since my last visit and has presumably spent progressively less time in this kitchen, especially with the opening of Connie & Ted’s last year.

exterior

A number of menu options are available. A three course a la carte is $95, while 5-course and 9-course market tasting menus are $105 and $140, respectively. At the highest end, a chef’s tasting menu is available at $195 per person. We stuck to middle ground, ordering the 9 course market menu.

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Tempura Kondo (Tokyo, Japan)

Tempura Kondo
Sakaguchi Building 9F
5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 11/7/12

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Tempura is easy to find in America, and it’s something I really enjoyed eating as a kid (especially the shrimp). In Japan, tempura is taken to another level, with restaurants solely focused on the style. Diners sit around a bar while a chef prepares seasonal vegetables and fish right in front of you. It’s similar to a sushi or kaiseki meal in that aspect, and the prices can be just as high. As far as I know, we don’t have anything quite like this in America.

Tempura Kondo is a Michelin two-star restaurant in Ginza, helmed by Fumio Kondo. It’s one of the most notable tempura restaurants in Tokyo, partially because Kondo-san is a bit of a chef celebrity, often seen on TV.

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Three fixed menus were available of differing lengths: ¥10,500, ¥12,600, and ¥17,850. I went with the middle choice, supplementing it with two a la carte tempura dishes: uni with shiso and sweet potato.

vegetables

Dining alone, I was lucky enough to be seated in the middle, right in front of Kondo-san himself! Preparing tempura appears fairly simple in concept, but the precision in execution was definitely on display with such a view of the action.

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whole baby shrimp marinated in soy

whole baby shrimp marinated in soy

I started with whole baby shrimp marinated in soy. Served raw, they were sweet with a little bit of a delightful crunch.

scallop, salmon roe, sea snail, mackerel sashimi

scallop, salmon roe, sea snail, mackerel sashimi

sea snail

A small sashimi plate was next: I enjoyed the scallop and sea snail most. The sea snail, pulled out of its shell, yielded a very sweet, tasty meat.

steamed tofu with yam, gingko nuts, and potato

steamed tofu with yam, gingko nuts, and potato

Creamy tofu and a duo of creamy starches from the nuts and potato combined for a rather savory, earthy mix.

With the first few dishes done, we moved on to tempura service.

dipping sauce

fried shrimp heads

shrimp heads

Light and crunchy, these were quite nice.

shrimp

shrimp

Next up was a pair of shrimp – one was eaten with a squirt of fresh sudachi juice while the other with the more traditional dashi-based dipping sauce. I liked them both, complementing the hot, sweet flesh of the shrimp. The batter was light, crisp, and not at all oily.

asparagus

asparagus

Huge spears of asparagus from Australia were fried then cut. These were quite flavorful, almost juicy, with a nice crunch.

shiitake mushroom

shiitake

The tender shiitake mushroom was next with its characteristic woody, earthy flavor.

kisu

kisu

This flat white fish was cooked well, moist with a pretty light flavor.

chestnut

chestnut

This tasted kind of like a roasted chestnut on the inside, with a hearty creamy texture.

lotus root

lotus root

I found this lotus root to be a highlight. I thought it was perfectly cooked, with a crispy texture, and a sort of earthy sweetness.

megochi

megochi

This white fish had a stronger flavor than the kisu, along with a denser flesh. Still tasty though.

eggplant

eggplant

Soft and juicy, almost mushy on the inside. Good flavor.

uni with shiso

sea urchin

This was an extra order off the set menu, and a bit of the letdown. I thought it was cooked well with a creamy interior, but the clean flavor of the uni was somehow lost. Instead, it tasted kind of murky and just off.

onion

onion

Sweet and tender, this one tasted about as expected.

sea eel

sea eel

Rich in flavor and moist, I enjoyed this piece of sea eel.

sweet potato

sweet potato

This is supposedly one of the specialties here, and another off-menu item. Seriously, this thing was huge…at this point in the meal, I could barely finish it. I don’t normally love sweet potatoes and this one didn’t particularly win me over either. The interior was sweet with a roasted flavor…almost creamy. Cooked well, but just not for me.

The next course (and final savory) was kakiage served in three different ways: tendon (atop rice with sauce), ten-cha (atop rice with tea) and separately with rice.

kakiage with tea

kakiage

kakiage cha

I went with this choice since it seemed the most unique to me. The rice had a nice chew to it that held up in the roasted tea; parts of crispy and soggy kakiage made an interesting mix of textures, packed with small chunks of seafood.

strawberries and pear

dessert

The last course of the evening was a simple plate of fruit. Very sweet, these were quite delicious.

I enjoyed my meal at Kondo and left completely stuffed; it was truly a unique type of meal. Having said that, I was far from being blown away; maybe my expectations were too high, but I found it slightly disappointing. Everything was pretty good but nothing really was great; overall, for 200 bucks I was looking for something a bit more.