Archive for December, 2006

Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – Best in the Land

My long-time readers know that I hold Manresa in high regard (I think this is my 10th meal this year.) Michelin gave it 2 stars this fall but after all of my travels this year, the food is as accomplished as many 3-star restaurants. This is the best restaurant in the country right now. Their bio-dynamic garden is producing vegetables that are truly phenomenal.

Ironically, the Alice-Waters-derivative-restaurants focused on “ingredients” have nothing on Manresa. As their garden matures, and the restaurant better understands how to divvy up the plot of land, the food will attain official Michelin 3-star status. (My prediction? With the next release of Michelin’s SF guide.)

I may sound like a broken record hyping the hometown hero but the restaurant does it like few others. What other restaurant can serve such a large number of dishes with such consistency? What American restaurant comes close to delivering Arpege quality vegetables? What other American restaurant serves fish that is on par w/ the top-tier sushi restaurants in the country?

1. Petit Fours

2. Sweet Maine Shrimp Tempura

Very lightly battered, minimal grease, a touch of lemon – simple and perfect. Very Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Sweet Maine Shrimp Tempura

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Degustation (NY) – An Unlucky Meal?

Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Degustation has been getting raves from nearly everyone in NYC. Degustation serves small plates in a Prada-black sushi bar setting – quality small tastes in a less formal atmosphere – a model that’s proven rather successful for restauarants like Craft, Momofuku, Fatty Crab, Tia Pol, and others. The reviews have been nothing but glowing so it seemed like a no-brainer for this trip.

And then you get unlucky. There’s quite a few things that can go wrong with a restaurant visit:

  • The ingredients may not be up to par for that day (but the chef has to serve something.)
  • The chef, or an important assistant, may be out, not feeling well, etc.
  • The restaurant may be busy and execution may suffer (that is why Wed & Thurs dining often yield the best meals.)
  • And plenty more.

It’s a human business afterall – people must bring ingredients to the restaurant, people must prepare the food, people must cook it, people must serve it, and people must eat. That’s a scary chain considering how dependable people usually are.

The Menu:

1. Smoked Bacon / Apple Croquettes

A good start – these are neither Manresa nor Bastide quality – but the smoky bacon definitely tipped the scales. Pretty Good.

Degustation (New York) - Smoked Bacon / Apple Croquettes

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WD-50 (NY) – Mad Scientist

WD-50 is a restaurant that polarizes eaters. Chef Wylie is a mad scientist who takes the water baths of molecular gastronomy and applies them to the “eastern” cooking and ingredients he learned under Jean Georges. The result is love or hate – more difficult taste profiles for a western palette exasperated by his pyrotechnics.

This was an “average for WD-50″ dinner – it wasn’t firing on all cylinders like my previous visit – but it was still a good meal. I have a soft spot for the restaurant even when it doesn’t perform – I feel like Wylie is doing something unique (and good.) This meal was also quite large – the waitress made a few mistakes with my changes to the tasting menu. As a result, we got the original dishes plus my changes.

1. Monkfish Liver, Persimmon, Fennel, & Smoked Green Tea
The monkfish liver was of average quality, smokiness ok, but I wasn’t sure how it all fit together. Ok.

WD-50 (New York) - Monkfish Liver, Persimmon, Fennel, & Smoked Green Tea

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Sugiyama (NY) – Supreme Japanese

There was no putting it off any longer – it was time for Sugiyama. Some argue it’s the best Japanese meal (re: meal, not sushi) in NYC. Nao Sugiyama worked as the omakase chef for Matsuhisa (LA, the original Nobu) back when that meant something. It’s also rumored he also created the infamous, and ubiquituous, miso black cod dish that every “asian fusion” restaurant in this country serves.

I opted for the 9-course kaseiki w/ Wagyu beef at the omakase bar. They were also offering Fugu for an additional supplement of $30/dish or so – not worth it to me. (As an aside, I don’t understand the fascination w/ fugu. Do people find it thrilling to eat since might kill you?)

I don’t think I’m fully qualified to judge Japanese food yet but this was a fun and delicious meal. Nao is a great entertainer. The food falls short of Urasawa – it doesn’t quite have the precision or refinement – but the format is better for non-foodies (one could also argue it’s 1/2 the price if you don’t get the beef.) A fun time that I will repeat in the future.

1. Tofu / Monkfish Liver w/ Hakkaido Octopus

The monkfish liver tofu was very light yet quite rich – two seemingly opposed qualities. The octopus had a sweet miso sauce that didn’t cloy it. Very Good.

Sugiyama (New York) - Tofu / Monkfish Liver w/ Hakkaido Octopus

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