Archive for November, 2006

11 Madison Park (NY) – Humm Still Not Top Tier

I went to 11 Madison twice during my recent trip – a Tuesday and Saturday. Neither meal was overly impressive but it’s the potential that is even more frustrating. These meals weren’t an improvement over Daniel Humm’s San Francisco tenure at Campton Place but the flashes of brilliance were still there. It sounded like he may have been realizing this potential during the summer when many reviewers on varied online forums could do nothing but rave. However, these meals, while pleasant, were solidly in the second tier of US dining.

I will return on future NYC visits w/ my fingers crossed.

Both meals were largely the same (I should have made it more clear on the 2nd visit that I’d dined there 4 days earlier) and the results more or less the same. Below are the various dishes I had.

1. 3 Radishes w/ Persimmon & Lemon Sauce (no picture)

A first-timer they claimed – an understated, but still powerful, amuse. The sauce was a bit cloying to me but this could be easily refined into a very nice amuse. Good.

2. Beet Salad

(from memory) The red beet was quite tasty. Good.

11 Madison Park (New York) - Beet Salad

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Urasawa (LA) – Serene Refined Elegance

Urasawa is the most refined Japanese restaurant in the country. The chef, Hiro, trained under the now-infamous Masa (most expensive restaurant in the country, blah, blah) but he has certainly eclipsed his teacher. His fish is not the very best (that designation is only reserved for Sawa Sushi and Kuruma Zushi), his rice second to Sushi Yasuda, the cooked dishes second only to Masa, but the sum at Urasawa is far greater than its parts.

The food is deeply personal – this is the closest you’ll get to experiencing a chef’s cuisine. It’s a one-man show from reservations to daily flower arrangements to ice carving to preparing the dishes. Hiro tastes every ingredient on *every* dish that gets served – inferior ingredients are discarded, fish is trimmed, etc. No corner is cut. The dishes have a refinement only seen in the world’s greatest kitchens. This is very special dining.

This was my 4th trip to Urasawa. It wasn’t my favorite meal but even a lesser meal at Urasawa will eclipse nearly any other Japanese restaurant in this country.

The Highlights

Turnip filled w/ Seafood Paste

This was quite spectacular. If you look closely, you’ll notice Hiro intricately carves each radish (!) before boiling it. The end dish is delicate and light.

Urasawa (Los Angeles) - Turnip filled w/ Seafood Paste

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Alex (Las Vegas) – Something Real in the Netherworld

As you know, Las Vegas is a weird city. It’s a city that was founded on nothing; and continues to develop thanks to nothing. You can gamble in nearly every state yet LV brings in the majority of that past-time’s tourism.

It nearly works the same way for food too. Top chefs from around the world hear LV’s cash registers and get invited to open an outpost. However, don’t expect to properly experience the chef’s cuisine in LV because it works just like New York, New York – it’s an often watered-down mechanized version of the food fit for the average American palette.

Alex is one of the lone exceptions. His LV restaurant is his only restaurant and he cooks there. I ate here on the 2nd-to-last meal of the road trip. I was expecting something a lot richer (from previous reviews) than I got. Went w/ the tasting menu.

It was a good meal but overpriced at $175. If i went back, I would create my own tasting menu that focused on the richer side of things – namely foie gras.

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Restaurant L (Boston) – Surprisingly Different

Restaurant L has made some noise about being on the cutting edge ala Moto and Alinea. My lunch last year was more akin Slanted Door (some might say that’s a compliment, I wouldn’t) than anything cutting edge. Well, I am not one to give up – and sometimes it pays off. I was visiting friends in Boston and decided they could entertain me even if the restaurant could not. This time, I got a meal that more resembles the articles about Pino Maffeo.

What I find interesting is that the cuisine is not WD-50, Moto, or Alinea; instead, as you’ll see below, the dishes are far more organic in nature with just a few experimental tweaks. The dishes looked largely Asian-influenced (particularly SE Asia) but everything contained some hints of gas-mol. Oddly, I read in an article that he considers his food a refinement of Italian flavors w/ Japanese flavors. Maybe, if you’re strictly talking flavors, but I don’t quite get that one.

1. The Fancy Bread Structure
This was served w/ some very delicious miso cream cheese.
Restaurant L (Boston) - The Fancy Bread Structure

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Radius 10 (Nashville, TN) – Southern Experimentation

Radius 10 represents its city well – a cuisine with a clear southern lineage but one that is augmented with modern (and international) technique. The practicalities of running a restaurant in Nashville have probably prevented Jason Brumm’s cuisine from realizing his ultimate vision, but it is certainly a worthwhile visit in its current manifestation. Radius does not eschew comfort and deliciousness as some of its contemporaries might; rather, it uses that as a base for its modern technique. The end result is a unique voice in today’s food scene.

The View from the Chef’s Bar

Radius 10 is a lot of fun too. There is a chef’s bar where one can watch (some of) the action and talk to the chefs. I became somewhat of a minor celebrity that night through my road trip tales (or is that trials & tribulations?)

Radius 10 (Nashville) - View of the Kitchen

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