The Michelin Quest: Recap

And so ends the glorious trip of gluttony, elegance, and opulence.

If we take a look at the 2 and 3 star list again post trip:

3Star:

  • Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
  • Daniel
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • Jean Georges
  • Le Bernardin
  • Masa
  • Per Se

2Star

  • Atera
  • Jungsik
  • Momofuku Ko
  • Marea
  • Soto

I’d say I covered what I could fairly well. All said great food comes with great cost. Food alone for the 5 day run ran up a bill in the neighborhood of $3200 for one person. Mind you this excluded two lunches, which puts the average full day cost at around $800/head. Excessive? Some restaurants were definitely not worth the money; i.e. Jungsik, Oceana, and Marea. Jean Georges would probably be even more of a bargain if you forgo the wine pairings and just order the tasting menu sans pairing. Some places seem to be one and done kind of deal: Eleven Madison Park, Del Posto. And there are those who just completely blew my expectations out of the water and made me want to keep going back again and again: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare and Daniel. Lastly, if money is not an issue Le Barnardin for lunch is just a superb all rounder.

My next splurge trip to NYC will most likely be a way’s off in the future and hopefully I’ll be able to have a taste of Masa and Per Se while they still have their stars. Will definitely hit up Chef’s Table and Daniel again and maybe we’ll see another restaurant pop up on the list. In the mean time, my next NYC trip will probably be a “NYC on a Budget” trip, where I try the most unsuspecting places for cheap and hopefully good food; so keep an eye out in the future for that journey.

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The Michelin Quest: Day Last

Day 5: Star Count 21

Well here it is, the last and most starry day. A six star day at arguably the two of the best restaurants in all of NYC. If there was a way to go out with a bang, this is pretty close.

Jean Georges

Lunch service at Jean Georges is a bargain and a real treat. By this point I found that the pricing keeps fairly in line more or less to a base of $100 plus another $100+ per Michelin star. At $300 for a 3 Michelin Star meal with wine pairings that seems like a deal to me. Anyway, pictures first, talk later:

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Summary:

Delicious. Every bite. Not a single complaint about the food. In fact for a lunch, I would say that the portion size is comparable to a dinner meal. By the end of lunch I was almost struggling to finish my dessert. The Crab Salad, Steamed Cod and Tenderloin were all full sized dinner portions. So even if the price by itself doesn’t scream a good deal, after eating the food, yes it’s a good deal. Full of flavour, subtle sweets, bold savory just the right amount of spice. The most interesting dish that I did not think was going to end well was the Wasabi Sorbet. Two foods that I would never think should ever go together. For those who are unaware of the Wasabi filled Marshmellow incident, wasabi and sweets do not sit well mentally or palatally. Against all logic, the wasabi sorbet with strawberries was really, really good. The wasabi was perfectly balanced. And by perfectly, I mean, you take a bit of it and you start to feel that wasabi tingling feeling, and right when you feel like it gets to be too much, it stops and you get the refreshing taste of strawberries. Every bite. It was a very fun dish to eat. Back to critical mode, the meal unfortunately was not perfect. I had a real problem with the wine. Very big problem. at $150 for wine pairing for 6 dishes, I expect some damn good wine. Instead, what I ended up getting was less than spectacular wine. Rule number one of wine tasting is to check for clarity (which is why you always grab by the stem, wine etiquette, a whole different lecture). Every wine they poured, other than the Champagne for the Caviar and Desert, had tons of sediment floating around in it. Big no-no. Needless to say, the wine pairings were subpar, many of which left a not so crisp aftertaste. In this case the wine most definitely let the food down.

My Rating: 4.5/5. At the end of the day, it’s about the food and it was superb. The wine was a bit of a let down which is why I could not give JG a full 5/5 rating. The value you get for the lunch service is unrivaled. Del Posto comes close with a sub-$100 menu and $75 pairing, but the quality of food at JG far surpasses which is why it has a coveted 3 Star rating.

 

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

This post will be short. Why? No pictures. No notes. Not supposed to have any other electronics out. No menu. 15-ish courses. This was, and still is, by far, the best meal I’ve ever had. End of discussion. Better than all the late night drunk gotta have something, anything that’s oh so satisfying feeling that I’ve ever had combined. Better than the homiest of home cooked meals after being away for so long. And better than anything I’ve ever made with all the pride and effort I put into my own cooking. Chef’s Table is very easy to miss. The street front is literally the width of 5-6 windows in a sleepy neighborhood in unsuspecting Brooklyn. You’re not going to find fancy signs, or doors. No canopy over the sidewalk. No grand entrance. You just walk through a flimsy plexiglass door and the doorman/waiter/prep cook unlocks the actual door, which is your standard retail door, lets you in and locks it behind you. You are then ushered to one of 14 seats at a stainless steel center island where your server stands trapped in his steel ring. Needless to say, it is a very intimate atmosphere where you get to see the chef and his team prepare these amazing dishes and carefully construct them. Of the dishes that were served, the only ones I can remember are: Sashimi, Caviar, Abalone, King Crab, Duck, Wagyu Beef, Cheese, and some sort of Chocolate confection. Honestly it was just too much to be able to remember everything. The only thing I am very sure of was that the food was amazing. The sashimi was so fresh, as if the fish had been filleted alive. The abalone had the texture almost like pork, tender and juicy and far from the chewy little rubber pucks that are commonly served. The King Crab was very sweet and refreshing. The wine to go along with the food was also very well balanced and paired. Also to note, Chef’s Table and Eleven Madison were the only restaurants to refill your paired wine glasses when and if you ever finished what was poured. Clearly the dining experience at Chef’s Table is exactly what it is, a dining experience. It’s not overly focused on the food, though if Chef wanted to, he could do that and still maintain his 3 stars. It wasn’t skewed towards the wine pairings as good as they were. It had it all. And on top of that the environment allows for interaction between patrons from different parties and also with the chef and his team. Part of the reason I am unable to regurgitate the information or even the main components of each dish I had was because I was too busy enjoying everything else around me, the conversations, the taste of the food, the homey atmosphere, the fragrant drinks. At Chef’s Table, you can have your cake and eat it too.

My rating: 5*/5. If the scale could go any higher it would be there. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is a must for anyone who goes to NYC and truly enjoys food. Reservations are nearly impossible to secure but if you are lucky enough to get one, you wont regret it. There really are no words capable of describing this place. The hype around Chef’s Table is real. I may have to make this a mandatory stop for every time I visit NYC in the future.

The Michelin Quest: Day 4

By this point of the trip I had to take a 7th inning stretch. Taking a break from Michelin Stars for lunch and hit up K-Town for some Wooriji. $10 for a big box of food I’d say was pretty worth it.

Day 4: Star Count 15

Eleven Madison Park

Bottom of the seventh, joined by my sister and her husband for a taste at Eleven Madison Park. Late dinner at around 9:30, I decided to have the 15 course Tasting Menu with the $225 Wine pairings rather than the $135 pairings. And as my sister can bear witness, that extra $90 is money well spent. Here is the Menu with pairings graciously provided by the restaurant. Along with photos of most of the courses.

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And the Food:

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Summary:

I had a real problem with what they were calling “courses”. 15 courses sounds like a lot but many of them were just bites, or fillers or palate cleansers, which is why many pictures are missing. I just didn’t realize that some of the stuff they presented were actually dishes. And then some of the courses were broken into two parts served separately. Anyway, I could give a whole rant on that topic but we’ll go back to how the food actually tasted. Strictly food-wise, honestly it was everywhere. I didn’t really get a sense of any real flavour progression of the menu, or theme. I guess it kind of built up to the Duck but then sharply dropped off after that. Don’t get me wrong, each dish by itself was for the most part very good, except for the duck which I felt had a very salty and over-seasoned skin. But the one saving grace was the wine pairings. More specifically, the 225 wine pairings. I had some tastes of the food with the other wines at times since my sister decided to go with the 135, but let me tell you, the difference is night and day. In fact, the wine went so well with the dishes, the way it melded with the different flavours of each dish, I almost didn’t care if the course progression was like a roller coaster ride. Definitely Eleven Madison for me was all about the careful selection of wine to pair with each dish. Not just for the star of each dish, but each wine pairs with each and every element and ingredient on the plate. Definitely a masterful marriage of food and drink.

My Rating 4/5. Overall experience was very pleasant lifted by the wine. Food-wise very average and had a couple slip ups. So if you ever find yourself at Eleven Madison and have to decide between a $440 or $350 meal, go with the $440, you wont regret it. There are also a couple little gems dining here but I think those are best left as a surprise as they definitely make the dining experience a unique one.

The Michelin Quest: Day 3

OK, time to kick it into high gear. 3 Star Restaurants from here on out.

Day 3: Star Count 12

Le Bernardin

The 3 Star French inspired seafood restaurant did not disappoint. At $336 pre-T&T, the 8 course tasting with wine pairings menu is pricey but boy it was a damn good lunch.

First Course: Tairagi

  • Charred Raw Tairagai Clam; Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple Ginger Broth
  • Reuilly, Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine de Reuilly, “Les Pierres Plates”

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Second Course: King Fish-Caviar

  • Warm King Fish “Sashimi”; Osetra Caviar, Light Mariniere Broth
  • Yuki No Bosha, Yamahai Jummai Sake

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Third Course: Langoustine

  • Sauteed Langoustine; Truffle and Chanterelle Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Cotes de Jura, Chardonnay, En Griffez, Domaine de L’Aigle a Deux Tetes

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Fourth Course: Lobster

  • Lobster “Lasagna”; Celeriac, Truffle Butter
  • Cidre, Grand Brut, Cidrerie du Vulcan

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Fifth Course: Monkfish

  • Pan Roasted Monkfish; Tarragon Scented Pea Puree, Armagnac-Black Pepper Sauce
  • Le Cigare Blanc, Bonny Doon Vineyard

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Sixth Course: White Tuna-Kobe Beef

  • Grilled Escolar and Seared Wagyu Beef; Fresh Kimchi, Asian Pear, Soy-Lemon Emulsion
  • Barolo, Cascina Fontana

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Seventh Course: Strawberry

  • Pistachio Mousse, Strawberry, Sorbet
  • Beerenauslese, Alois Kracher

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Eighth Course: S’mores

  • Smoked Madagascan Chocolate Cremeux, Graham Cracker, Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
  • “Sitia” Late Harvest

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Extras!

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Summary:

Everything about Le Bernardin at lunch just says fine dining and elegance. From the moment you walk in and notice the high ceilings and white everywhere. Noise level was surprisingly low considering number of people there. Only one complaint here and if you read my previous post, you might be able to guess what it is? Truffles. Why more truffles still? Oddly, of the two dishes with the truffle one was balanced perfectly while the other was overtruffled. The Languostine was debatably one of the best if not the best single dish I had the entire trip. The Lobster Lasagna not so much. Wasn’t really able to tastethe lobster or feel the texture. So, this got me thinking why it would be that one dish used the truffles beautifully but the next complete opposite. Also I noticed a not so fresh lobster at Del Posto a couple days prior, so my only reasoning is that for there was no fresh delivery of Maine lobsters Sunday and Monday which led to an attempt to cover up with truffle. Either way, the lasagna was still palatable but a polite feedback of the overtruffling was relayed back to the chef.

My Rating: 4.5/5 The Lobster was the only reason I couldn’t give a 5

 

Daniel

No photographs allowed, but I did pick up this nice Menu for the Bellacour Tasting menu.

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OMG Yes please. Hands down 5/5.  My experience at Daniel far exceeded my expectations. Every dish, and I mean every dish, was cooked to perfection. Seasoning was spot on and the flavour profile of each dish was just so complex yet balanced. On top of the superb food there was a generous smattering of complimentary courses. Now I don’t know if that is standard or not, but I know for certain there were at least 2-3 full fledged courses that were not on the menu that was served. This could be due to the fact that the waitstaff had originally thought that I worked in The Industry. I guess not very many people go to a 3 Michelin Star restaurant alone looking like a total boss. Regardless of the reason, I got special visits from both the General Manager and the Service Director and managed to secure a complimentary wine tasting on my next trip to Daniel (which should honestly make Daniel a 6/5 rating). And at a $440 price point normally (I also got charged for the $130 wine pairings when I actually got the $220), I would say It was well worth it. Definitely going to go back next time I’m in town.

 

The Michelin Quest: Day 2

With Day 1 in the books we move on to Day 2:

Something else to note. As I rate these restaurants, keep in mind I am rating them as Michelin Star Restaurants. There is no doubt in my mind that compared on a general scale, these are all 10/10 or 5/5 meals that I had. So my comments, critiques and ratings are going to inherently be hypercritical.

Day 2: Star Count 6

Del Posto

Del Posto is only a 1 Star restaurant but had received very good lunch reviews and was highly recommended by those who had been there for lunch. So lunch at Del Posto it is! There is no menu for the tasting menu. I repeat: there is no written menu for the tasting menu. I stress this because there is no way I was going to remember everything that was in these dishes or even come close to remembering what I had to drink. The wine that comes with these tasting menus are so obscure and the grapes so specific to a certain region that there’s no way of remembering. And no I was not going to spoil this or any other eating experience by trying to write down or record every little detail. So that being said, I had the 6 course Captain’s lunch and added the extra Black Truffle Pasta taste (For only $10 more, what a deal! Yes that $10 extra came with its own wine pairing too!)

So the pictures in order of what I can remember are:

  1. Wild Vegetable Salad
  2. Something Veal with Fried Mushrooms and Capers
  3. Black Truffle Pasta
  4. Ear Pasta with Lamb Shank and Shoulder with Pea Puree and Creme Fresh
  5. Five Seafood Broth with Crab, Oyster, Squid, Lobster and Octopus
  6. Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Corn and Apricot
  7. Sorbet/Gelato Palate Cleanser
  8. Slow Roasted Nectarine with Mint Gelato
  9. Little sweet bites at the end of the meal

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Summary:

Yes. At $180 Pre-T&T this was a gem of a lunch. The dishes all went well with each other. There was a very nice flow and progression. The only oddball of a dish was the seafood broth. For whatever reason, something in the broth didn’t taste fresh. I suspect it was the lobster and oyster, but something was off. Which was a shame, because the rest of the dish, the broth, was a bowl of hearty tasty yumminess. If there was one other minor complaint, there was just a touch heavy of truffle on the pasta dish.

My rating 4.5/5 because it was such a good deal.

 

Jungsik:

The 2 Star Modern Korean Restaurant had a small cafe feel. Sporting a cafe-esque bar area and limited tables positioned at the edges of the room with a nice decorative partition / glass cabinet in the middle with a more intimate back room with a couple tables.

The menu was as follows with pictures showing a couple extra bites here and there: It shouldn’t be too difficult to pair up descriptions with pictures which are chronological.

  1. Bulgogi Carpaccio 육회
  2. Bread Crusted Scallop 관자
  3. Fried Oyster 굴튀김
  4. Octopus 문어구이
  5. Crispy Red Snapper 바삭도미 (Picture Missing)
  6. Royal Bibimbap 로얄비빔밥
  7. Red Curry Wagyu Steak 와규스테이크
  8. Watermelon 수박
  9. Green Tea Cremeux 그린빙수

 

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Summary:

I didn’t really know what to expect here. I wasn’t sure what kind of food Modern Korean was but if this is what it is, I enjoyed it. I unfortunately did have several complaints. Scallop was cooked beautifully, had that flaky chew to it. What I didn’t like was that all the seasoning was concentrated on the breaded portion. So, while eating the scallop it will taste a bit bland, then as you reposition it in your mouth as you chew, you get an overly salty taste. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, but I could do without the bipolar character of the scallop. My next qualm was with the Royal Bibimbap. Which also brings me to a really big food pet peeve. Truffles! Why truffles why?! My problem is not the truffles themselves. I think they are a very good ingredient to use. They add that boldness. They intensify the flavour profile. But, only when used properly. Way too many people miss the mark and just put way too much truffle and truffle oil on dishes and it kills it. Completely. At Del Posto, I didn’t complain about the black truffle pasta because it’s a black truffle pasta. It was literally two pieces of beautifully hand made pasta with a black truffle sauce. It didn’t try to be anything else. I’m not sure if you can see it in the picture, but all those flakes are black truffle flakes. You could smell the truffle from 2 tables away. It was a real shame because the bibimbap was folded with fois gras, bulgogi and kimchi. None of which were discernible through the truffle. Sadly I had to send half the bibimbap back because I just couldn’t handle the whole thing. Aside from my Oceana experience, that single dish put a sour note in the back of my head for the rest of the trip.

My Rating: 3/5 and at a $270 price point pre-T&T, I’m was expecting a little better.

And with my conclusion of dinner, so concluded my star adventures on the west side of the island.

The Michelin Quest: Day 1

Let’s see, how to parse this trip. I could have just made one monstrosity of a post but that would be way too long. I could also then make one for each restaurant, but then that would be too many to flood and some posts would be super short due to certain restaurant policies. So, I’ve decided to break it down by day. No I’m not going to critique each dish, that would take far too long and frankly impractical. I will however make any noticeable comments at the end to summarize

*Disclaimer I am well aware some of the pictures in this series will not be the clearest but I tried to make the picture taking process as quick as possible not to detract from the food.

Day 1: Star count 3

Marea

I officially start my journey with a walk down the street to Marea, a 2 star seafood restaurant. First impressions were promising, unlike Oceana, the restaurant was well seated by the 8 o’clock hour. Surely if this many people eat here, the food must be good. Atmosphere-wise it was busy with lots of hustle bustle. Not the quietest of fine dining, but I’ll give that a pass this time. As with all the restaurants this week, I ordered the Five Course Five Year Tasting Menu with wine pairings. At $190 this was one of the cheaper pre-tax and tip meal.

First Course: Crudo

  • Raw Pacific Snapper with Whole Wheat Panzanella
  • Thallassitis Gai’A 2013

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Second Course: Tarteletta

  • Lightly Cooked Spanish Mackerel with Salsa Cruda
  • Paestum Greco, “Calpazio” San Salvatore 2012

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Third Course: Tagliolini Verde

  • Shrimp and Seppia Ragu with Lobster Oil and Molica Nero
  • Soave Classico “Monte Alt”, Ca’Rugate 2012

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Fourth Course: Ippoglosso

  • Nova Scotia Halibu with Corn, Romesco, Clams and Sopressata
  • “SP68” Rosso, Occhipinti 2013

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Fifth Course: Cioccolato Bianco E Pompelmo

  • White Chocolate Crema with Pine Nut and Grapefruit Sorbetto
  • Torcolato, Maculan 2009

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Summary:

First off, miles above my experience at Oceana. There was no comparison. There were a couple low notes though. As I had mentioned before, the atmosphere was a bit noisy, in part due to the choice of decor and flooring. Looking back, the service of the restaurant, though very well attended to, had a normal feel to it. Almost as if I were at a fancy Pappadeaux. The staff were friendly, but I just didn’t get that fine dining feel. Being my first real Michelin Star experience I didnt really know what to expect food-wise. Even after years of eating sushi, I had snapper for the first time and it was a delightful snapper. Overall, all the dishes had big bold flavors that melded well with each other and the wine. All except for one. The Shrimp Ragu, though very well cooked and balanced as a light dish, just didn’t fit in with the rest of the menu. It could stand to use a little more seasoning and oomph.

And so the end of Day 1 with a trip total of 3 stars.

The Michelin Quest: How it began

This is going to be the first post of a series of posts. So I watch a good number of television food shows and I always hear these chefs having restaurants with these so called Michelin Stars. Apparently they’re somewhat of a big deal. Coming from Houston, we don’t have these things so I figured, I got a week in NYC to kill, why not try to see what all the hype is about. Also, I just recently got my Chase Sapphire Preferred card so I need to spend $3000 in the first 3 months to get my 40,000 point sign up bonus. Also Chase has a 2x points system on restaurants.

I set out to find these Michelin Star restaurants and get some reservations. I figured if I’m going to try them, I might as well try the best of the best, so I focused mainly on 2 and 3 star rated restaurants from 2014. I must make note of the year because I had wanted to try one of those Chef Ramsay Restaurants but The Ramsay and The London lost its 2 stars this year so i had to reluctantly strike that off my list. Other regrettable notables are Per Se and Masa; both were closed for the entire week I was in NYC. Apparently this is an annual thing where they close for a couple weeks…

A quick google search and the current 2 and 3 star restaurants are:

3Star:

  • Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
  • Daniel
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • Jean Georges
  • Le Bernardin
  • Masa
  • Per Se

2Star

  • Atera
  • Jungsik
  • Momofuku Ko
  • Marea
  • Soto

 

Many phone calls a month+ in advance and coordination with my sister and her husband, I managed a respectable schedule for the few free days I had available:

  1. Sunday: Marea
  2. Monday: Del Posto, Jungsik
  3. Tuesday: Le Bernardin, Daniel
  4. Wednesday: Eleven Madison Park
  5. Thursday: Jean Georges, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

All in all I had planned for a packed 20 Star schedule.

 

Day Zero:

So, the main reason I went to NYC was to attend a certification course. Unknown to me, for one of the dinners, we were taken to Oceana, a 1 star restaurant. Perhaps 1 star too many. Family style appetizers were very good. Trays of fresh oysters, clams, mussels and prawns on ice were amazing. Fried calamari and fish tacos, very excellent. Then came the ordered foods. I had the crab cakes and a steamed Maine lobster. Crab cakes visually were very lacking. I don’t have any pictures, but they looked like giant crab tots. Two shot glass sized cylindrical pieces of crab cakes that were overly salted and disappointing. Next came my lobster. The lobster, cooked perfectly and very fresh. No complaints. Except for the lack of anything non-lobster. You would think that at ~$40/lb you would get something with your lobster, but nope, all you get when you order the lobster is a lobster on a plate with a side of dipping sauce and butter.

Disappointing indeed but the evening was not lost thanks to good company and a couple glasses of Macallan 25. Looking forward to the next night, I was almost praying that the gap between One and Two Stars is a considerable one.