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Le Bernardin

Happy New Years!

Au Revoir New York! Now how do I celebrate an end of an era? I’ve got the perfect answer…

By dining at one of New York’s most prestigious restaurants, Le Bernardin by Chef Eric Ripert. Often regarded as the world’s best seafood restaurant, Le Bernardin currently resides at #15 of the best restaurants in the world. Did I mention the 3 Michelin Stars and 4 star New York Times rating?A requirement to dine at Le Bernardin is that all men must wear a suit jacket and must have it on the duration of the meal. Stay Classy. If you’re ever lucky enough to arrive early before the rest of your party, you’re greeted with a plate of flaky parmesan breadsticks in the waiting room.

I mean seriously, how awesome is this? 99% of restaurants don’t even serve starter bread as delicious as these breadsticks. Yet, these appear while you’re still waiting in the foyer. Amazing.Let the free swag continue! As soon as we’re seated, the sommelier presents us with $75 worth of complimentary champagne.While sipping on the delicious crisp champagne, a gorgeous plate is placed in front of us. Served as an amuse bouche, is a Poached Oyster with Truffle Foam over a Sea Salt Bed. The oyster has a tremendous flavor while the foam provides a silk-like texture, add in a sprinkle of that sea salt and I guarantee you it’s the best little oyster you’ll ever have. Did I mention, all of this was served before we were even presented with menus? My friends and I elected to go with the tasting menu, be aware that it’s going to take a while. Our entire meal lasted an enduring 4 hours. This was the clearest picture I could get of the ultra quick man with the bread basket. In between every course, this mysterious man floats by, delivering a basket of fresh and warm baked goods of your choice. Now not knowing that he would continue to show up, I grabbed a beastly three pieces off his basket. A rosemary olive breadstick and raisin bread. Another thing to note is that well of softened butter at the top. The bread man had a best friend, and his name was butter man. That well of butter was always fill to the brim thanks to butter man. Sometimes it was like magic, I would scoop some butter for a bite, but when I reached back for more, the well would instantly be refilled.Our first course arrives, and it definitely resembles a pair of lips. Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette with Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The actual tuna ends up texturally similar to a jelly. The foie gras adds a velvety texture as well as contributes a nice depth of flavor. Finally, the baguette adds the final dimension of texture with that needed crunch.How romantic, they add a floating candle to your table. You have to indulge in a bottle of wine to complete this perfect meal.Here’s some more bread, the raisin bread again with a warm and soft sourdough roll. Next up, we have a Charred Octopus with Fermented Black Beans in a Pear Sauce Vierge Ink with Miso Vinaigrette and Purple Basil. Personally, I thought this dish had a strong Asian taste influence with the fermented black beans. And to be honest, although it was still good, it wasn’t my absolute favorite. I would’ve loved to have substituted this for something else.Before I can complain about anything, a magnificent jewel is placed in front of me. A plate containing a Warm Lobster Carpaccio with Hearts of Palm and an Orange Vinaigrette. The server comes around and drizzles a stream of warm melted butter sauce to top the lobsters. This dish would make all the angels in heaven jealous. The soft buttery lobster, is just so decadent that word’s cannot explain how perfect this dish is. I remember closing my eyes so that I could enhance my sense of taste. But as with all great things, it came to an end. Before I could lament, the next course was placed in front of me. Baked Wild Striped Bass with Cashew and Jalapeno Purée, topped Pickled Cucumbers and served with a Chill Blue Crab Consommé.  After the bass is doused with the blue crab consommé, the fragrance of the dish is so splendid it could calm a riot. The beautifully crafted consommé is perhaps the best pure broth that I’ve ever had. The flavor is absolutely ethereal and to be honest, I believe the bass played second fiddle to the broth. Keep in mind, that I’m not taking anything away from the wonderfully cooked bass, but just reiterating how tremendous the consommé truly is. Before I could wipe the gigantic smile off my face, I was served this little number, which made me smile even bigger (if that was even possible). Le Bernardin’s rendition of Surf and Turf – Escolar (aka White Tuna) and Seared Nebraska Wagyu Beef topped with a Sea Bean Salad and Eggplant Fries. I’m literally running out of synonyms for perfect and delicious. But that’s exactly what this was. The Wagyu without question was tremendous and the Escolar was flawless. The red wine sauce compliments both the steak and tuna, and those little eggplant fritters, well, let’s say I can eat a whole basket full of them. My goodness, are we done yet? Thanks to my friend Valerie knowing one of the sous-chefs, we were given another course (compliments of the chef). An immaculately cooked piece of Sea Bass with a deconstructed Chinese BBQ Pork Bun (imagine a steamed BBQ pork bun, but inside out). I don’t know if this fully counts as a dessert, but to me it’s just an intermezzo. Anyway, this “Panna Cotta” is Greek Yogurt served with a Candied Walnut and “Red Hot” Apple Gelée. A definite refreshing palate cleanser. Apparently, this was another complimentary dessert, actually it was a pre-dessert (a dessert before the dessert). An Egg Shell filled with Chocolate Mousse and topped with Sea Salted Caramel Foam.Finally our actual dessert arrives. A Dominican Chocolate Cremeux with Vanilla and Sweet Potato Sorbet with a Bourbon Caramel. This whole dessert not only works, but its abso-fucking-lutely amazing. All the flavors just work harmoniously together and nothing overpowers or is undermined. I now crave Sweet Potato Sorbet. Our last dish arrives, our Mignardises, a set of Petit Fours. A pistachio cookie, a chocolate wedge, a cream puff, and a fruit gelée a perfect way to end a perfect night.

With respects to all the other restaurants, this was by far the best meal of my life. Tons of unexpected dishes, outstanding flavors and unequaled company (thanks Valerie and Queenie) equate to one of my most sublime experiences ever.

Le Bernardin Scores:
Food: 10/10 – Eric Ripert, you are a culinary god. Not only did you give me a fascinating dish, you gave me 11.

Restaurant Environment: 10/10 – Even though it might feel pretentious with your suit jacket, you’ll find the entire restaurant is very welcoming regardless of your appearance.

Service: 10/10 – All the server’s knowing exactly what I want and need before I do, it’s a bit frightening (in an awesome way).

Value: 10/10 – Now this wasn’t cheapest meal in the entire world, but can you put a price on perfection?

Overall: 10/10 – I will be back, oh yes.. I will be back..

Norma’s

To continue the journey of my final few days in New York, I decided to indulge in one of New York’s most beloved traditions. Brunch. Not just your mundane eggs benedict brunch at blah blah cafe, but the Gossip Girl-esque, Upper East Side brunch at the famous Norma’s located in Le Parker Meridien. The restaurant is always packed and you might have a better chance of winning the lotto than scoring a reservation here. That’s saying a lot for a restaurant that is only open till 3pm and serves only breakfast fare. As soon as you’re seated, you’re greeted with a delicious strawberry fruit smoothie shot, sweet touch (pun intended). Now Norma’s is notorious for a few items: the $1,000 breakfast frittata, and their fresh squeeze orange juice. Unfortunately, I can only afford the latter, but not by much. What do I mean? A glass of orange juice at Norma’s will not only cost you a pretty penny, but bring along a pretty gold bar as well. At a whopping $9, I better be served the damn nectar of the gods. The fact is hard to deny though, their orange juice is absolutely phenomenal and the silver lining is that you get unlimited refills, and boy did I exploit it.Another thing to note: The servings at Norma’s were not meant for those petite twigs you see on Gossip Girl, but for full blown lumberjacks with badass grizzly beards. The Scrambled Eggs and Bacon Breakfast Quesadilla with Monterey Jack Cheese, Guacamole and Salsa clearly represents what I mean. Despite the ginormous serving, the quesadilla is packed with flavor, mostly the juicy delicious bacon. However, a few pieces in you start to question yourself, is it really worth $21? perhaps..Next up we have the highly touted Potato Pancakes. As described in their menu, a James Beard award winning recipe with Homemade Cranberry Apple Sauce and Sweet Carrot Payasam. Simply put, this dish was garbage. The pancakes were cold and tasted like cardboard. I would’ve actually been irate if they served this to me on an airplane. No joke, but I’ve actually had better food at the free breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn. If you told me this trash cost $21, I would tell you to gag yourself with a sock, blow your head off and drown yourself in the ocean.

Norma’s Scores:
Food:  5.5/10 – How could you honestly serve those potato pancakes? I’m still steaming..

Restaurant Environment: 8/10 – The restaurant is absolutely beautiful, but takes a hit because of the pretentious crowd.

Service: 6.5/10 – Service was a bit slow, but wasn’t terrible. My orange juice stayed refilled, so that’s a plus.

Value: 2/10 – Dinner prices for some bacon and eggs? I’ll pass.

Overall: 5.5/10

Eataly

Let’s just get right to the point. Eataly is my Disneyland in New York. I can spend all day and night there and still long to go back the next day. I hate to put Batali and Bastianich on a high horse again, but they’ve done one hell of a job with Eataly. For those of you who are a bit lost, Eataly is a giant Italian goods purveyor. But in addition to the giant grocery store are seven small restaurants with their specialities, such as pizza and pasta, vegetables, seafood, and meat. This entry will focus on my journey into the Pasta region of the market.Let’s begin with what I personally believe is the best thing at Eataly. The Classic Mozzarella, which is made fresh daily and drizzled with sweet olive oil and served with a pinch of sea salt. The cheese itself is buttery soft and has a mild flavor, and once everything is paired together, it’s ethereal. This dish certainly fuels my new mantra of simplicity is best. Next up we have a Butternut Squash Lasagna. Let me take this time to rephrase my mantra, simplicity done right is best. Although the lasagna was fairly simple, there certainly wasn’t a wow factor associated with it. It just felt like the butternut squash lasagnas I’ve gotten at other markets i.e. Whole foods (at half the price too).Finally we have the Paccheri al Sugo di Mare or known as the seafood pasta. When described, Pasta cooked al dente poured over with a flavor filled red sauced infused with a seafood medley of Mussels, Clams, Shrimp and Calamari, sounds heavenly doesn’t it? Now I normally love al dente pastas, but this was barely cooked. And like the lasagna, it just wasn’t a dish I fell in love with.

Even though the entrees were a bit disappointing, you can always make it up with.Gelato!! The bottom was a Pistachio and a Sweet Cream, while the sneaky one at the top was Green Apple.

Next time you visit Eataly, just visit the Crudo bar and order a glass of rosé, some prosciutto and mozarella, along with a few oysters. It’s my new favorite pastime.

Doughnut Plant

Doughnut Plant was one of those things I’ve always really wanted to try, but because of the proximity, I kept holding off. Until now.So just image ultra fresh just hot out of the oven doughnuts. Better than the one’s at Krispy Kreme, and with an assortment of unique flavors.The Pumpkin Doughnut with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds was absolutely phenomenal. Which is saying a lot about Doughnut Plant since it was my least favorite of the three I sampled. The doughnut itself is warm and moist. Although the glaze does get a bit sticky and messy, the flavor is out of this world.Now I forgot to state that Doughnut Plant made doughnuts 2 different ways. Either the traditional yeast way that most of us are used to, or the cake way, which resembles the doughnut packages you get for 99 cents at the gas station. The second place doughnut is the latter and is dubbed the Blackout. With a chocolate cake, a chocolate glaze, and for good measure some more chocolate crumbles. PMS euphoria. Finally, my number 1. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Doughnut. Now this square concoction is heavily glazed and sprinkled with toasted peanuts. Next, they have the audacity to fill this bad boy with a blackberry jelly, and the result? The best damn doughnut I’ve ever had in my life.

Not Pictured: Their Hot Chai Tea was amazing as well, especially on a cold windy day like the day I went.

Osteria Mozza

Sorry for the delay guys! As many of you know, my life has been hectic these past few days after getting employed in the restaurant industry. The past few weeks I’ve been on some crazy dining journeys so hopefully I’ll be able to share them with you when I have time.

After hearing about Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s notorious success (questionable New York Times’ 4-star rating) at New York based Del Posto. I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I decided to sample their fare at the sister restaurant Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles. On a side note, even though we showed up promptly for our reservation, we were not seated until after a 30 minute wait. Tsk tsk

Even on a random Monday evening at around 9:30pm, the restaurant is still at full capacity and hustling. We elected to sample the Pasta Tasting Menu. Unfortunately for us we came in on a Monday which happened to be Meatless Monday.The meal started off with an amuse bouche of a Goat Cheese Spread and an Olive Tapenade over a crunchy baguette with basil. A great simple light starter with an intense kick from the olives. I’m not a huge fan of olives, but the dish was certainly delightful.The bread is just your average Joe Schmo bread, a bit unimpressed.The first dish was a Coach Farm Goat Cheese Ravioli with Five Lilies. The raviolis were light and delicate, and the smooth flavor of the goat cheese helped round it out (pun intended). Next, a Farfalle with Chanterelles e Noci. To me, it was a bit bland. I don’t think mushroom based pastas run well with me. A Butternut Squash Mezzalune with Amaretti was up next. The mezzalune filled with butternut squash itself was pretty amazing, but then it actually got ruined with the amaretti topping. Now usually I love contrasting flavors and textures, but the sweetness of the amaretti was absolute overkill, this could’ve well been a dessert. My friend actually aptly named this “butterscotch” instead of butternut squash. Batting clean up on the menu was a Gnocchi al Pomodoro with Basil e Ricotta al Forno. Although the dish was remarkably simple, it felt like I was biting into morsels of heaven after the disaster of a dish before. But honestly, now that I think about it, gnocchi and pomodoro sauce? Let’s get creative!Out of the pastas, this final one was my absolute favorite. A Corzetti Stampati with Eggplant, Olives, and Fresh Ricotta. To me, a pasta should be hearty and robust and topped with plenty of cheese. Even though I direly craved meat, the eggplant was a welcome substitute. I’m pretty sure I wolfed this bad boy down and then that of my partners. A quick side story, since our meal was taking a while and actually getting late (close to midnight), we had asked our server to see if they could just present us with the dishes so we can quickly eat and leave. This bad boy scoop of sorbet took them a whole 12 minutes to plate up. Back to the dish. As an intermezzo, we were served a Sorbetto di Coconut, which was topped with a piece of dried pineapple. It was sharp and refreshing and served its purpose as a palate cleanser. Finally for dessert, Rosemary Olive Oil cakes with Olive Oil Gelato. I am in love with Olive Oil Ice Cream, but the cakes which to me should be served warm, were actually cool. The rosemary laced candied sugar was phenomenal.

Osteria Mozza Scores:
Food: 8/10 – Although the meal overall was a success, there were a few standout dishes that I preferred to have substituted.

Restaurant Environment: 7/10 – A great open feel, and a few “unique” diners (such as a man reiterating that he would die if a peanut got close to him) added to the flair.

Service: 4/10 – I did expect more in this department, but sitting us 30 minutes after our reservation, and even asking to have our dishes sped up, serving it to us at a snail’s pace was just ridiculous.

Value: 6/10 – For $69, the pasta tasting isn’t a bank breaker, but no meat? Come on..

Overall: 7/10

Bottega Louie

Bottega Louie at Downtown Los Angeles. By the way, do not enter the parking garage before 3:00pm. They’ll charge you $4 per 15 minutes instead of the $5 flat rate advertised price.Colorful Macaroons inside the marketplaceDining RoomComplimentary artisanal bread and butterHalf size of the Louie Salad – Iceberg Lettuce, Jumbo Shrimp, Hearts of Palm, Avocado, Sweet Onions, Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, and Dijon VinaigrettePortobello Fries with Garlic and Herb AioliBurrata Pizza with fresh Burrata, Prosciutto, Rapini, and Granna ParmesanPappardelle – Mushroom and Foie Gras Duxelle

Bottega Louie Scores:
Food: 6/10 –  Despite a unique and delicious Portobello Fries, I’ve experience more flavor chewing cardboard than the Pappardelle and the bitter rapini in the Burrata Pizza caused me to shove my plate away.

Restaurant Environment: 8/10 – A large open seating area and a marketplace displaying colorful macaroons upon entry give the restaurant its charm.

Service: 8.5/10 – Our portions were pre-divided in half without us asking, a small attention to detail that allows you to enjoy your dining experience.

Value: 8.5/10 – With everything priced around $12, it’s well within many’s price range.

Overall: 7/10