Archive for October, 2008

Le Meurice (Paris, France) – Down the Middle

This was the final meal on my recent Paris trip, the day before the restaurant took off for summer vacation. Yannick Alleno went from two Michelin stars to three in a few short years. My main interest lie in trying the acidic and iodized flavors that are often mention in reports of the food, such as this Luxeat review. Seafood-based menus with an emphasis on acidity sounded like a refreshing way to end a summer trip to Paris.

Sardine w/ quinoa

The dining room is baroque and opulent, a setting where very large diamonds and pearls are meant to be flaunted as much as one’s social status. The floors are marble, the trimmings are real gold, the tables decadently spaced apart, and one would not be surprised to find Louis XVI eating dinner – there is plenty of cake here. The atmosphere warms up after an hour or two, but it is stilted and unnatural in this day and age.

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L20 (Chicago, IL) – Striving

L2O is a restaurant that is striving to be one of the country’s best. Through the chronicles of his educational blog (linked to judiciously throughout this post), Chef Laurent Gras has put L2O on the national radar as a (slightly) more traditional alternative to Chicago’s infatuation with too modern cooking. L2O mixes Laurent’s French roots with an ample infusion of Japanese ingredients, aesthetics, and philosophy. I don’t remember my meal at Fifth Floor (SF) many years ago, but it is clear that Japan has recently resonated with Gras.

Sea bean

The meal had possibilities that can not be found in most American restaurants. In a country currently obsessed with locality, L2O unabashedly imports seafood and products from across the globe, particularly Japan, in search of the very best. There are many chefs that incorporate Japanese ingredients/dishes/techniques, but very few feel as natural as Gras.1 Other restaurants would come off as forced or diluted, but Gras’s food faithfully pays homage to its influences.

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Momofuku Ssam Bar (NYC) – Go Raw

Michelin updated its ratings last week for New York and, surprisingly, Momofuku Ko got two stars. That’s an impressive feat (congratulations David Chang) considering the restaurant is merely a year old and it is far less formal than most, if not all, two-starred restaurants. I have not eaten at Ko but I’m a true believer in Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam; if they were located in San Francisco, I would eat at one or the other weekly. For my past New York trip, a friend and I ate decided that Ssam was the way to go and we had nearly every dish on the menu 1. It was a feast served at a ridiculously low price point 2 – this restaurant is about excellent value.

The Momofuku’s are known for pork, with its infamous vegetarian-unfriendly menus, but I find the (raw) seafood dishes perform best. They are the most creative, in terms of conception, and they definitely provide the most delight. I suspect, but I don’t know, that the seafood dishes served at Noodle Bar and Ssam provided ample inspiration for what would later become Ko. I would suggest ordering a few different seafood dishes, the (delicious) ham plate, and a meat dish for the end. The food, particularly the seafood, is good enough for one Michelin star.

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Japan is done – oh, the memories

The Japan trip is over and I’m back on American soil, just in time for the world to end. That would be fine, for I will never have to be subjected to that stuff they call “fish” here again – to think my friends called me a sushi snob before.

Meals ran the entire gamut – disgusting, bad, good, great, and unbelievable. I really did not expect the highs to be so high – think two meals in my all-time Top Five high.

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Sa Qua Na (Honfleur, France) – Light & Crisp

“I remain very attached to the Japanese talent for simplicity and understatement” – Alexandre Bourdas

Sa Qua Na is nestled in the picturesque port city of Honfleur, France. It is manned by Alexandre Bourdas, who cooked for Michel Bras in Japan and has clearly been influenced by his former boss. The restaurant’s name, derived from “Sakana”, Japanese for fish, hints at the aesthetic – lightness and purity. It may only have one Michelin star but the food is remarkably refined and taut, good enough for two. While not without its faults, Sa Qua Na succeeded as a blend of east and west, without the cliches of fusion, that few restaurants accomplish.

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