Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: Murray's Bagels, Chelsea

One of the keys to eating well is to eat like a local - find local delicacies and fresh produce that has come from the area. This tends to mean fresh, seasonal specialties and above all a taste of the region you're sure to savour more than the cheap souvenirs you bought. In New York this means bagels and coffee, and there's none better than Murray's Bagels.

This is New York where throughput is high and patience is thin, so make sure you choose your bagel and your toppings as you wait in line. The slightest hesitation or questions as you order will lead to eye rolling from the 20 people behind you in the line. This adds up to rapid no fuss service though, despite the popularity of this store the ordering process takes less than 5 mins. Choose your bagel as you go past - white, whole wheat or bran dough is rolled in all sorts of toppings. I favour the Onion Bagels and Health Bagels studded with delicious grains and seeds.

The topping options are seemingly endless. For a breakfast classic try an Everything Bagel with Scallion or Vegetable Cream Cheese $3.50 USD , for lunch a deli sandwich piled high with cured meats and salad. Those fond of Jewish cuisine will find fresh handmade chopped liver, gefilte fish and endless freshly smoked fishes including salmon or lake sturgeon.

The army of sandwich kings are efficient machines, they take my order and cheerily squabble in a variety of languages. Coffee orders are yelled down the line and I receive my order in mere moments. 

Smoked turkey, brie and salad on an onion bagel $7.25USD

Here's a delicious example of their wares, a complete meal in a handful - delicious with chewy high quality bread. A true New York classic.

Murray's Bagels

Sandwich shop and specialty bakery
Move fast, New York hates a dawdler!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Wagokoro Tonkatsu Anzu, Ginza Japan

When you're lost in Japan and all that kanji is starting to look the same then one of the easiest ways to find remarkably good food is to head towards a department store. One night looking for dinner in Ginza we had walked the up and down the neighbourhood for hours and so the next day we decided to make things simple and head to the dining floors of the Mitsukoshi department store.

Even if you're not that hungry the location is worth it for the sky high views of the Ginza main streets.

I walk a lot in Japan chasing tourist sites and so I can afford to let the calories go a bit, this means that without a doubt the thing that I chase most in Japan is really good pork fillet. Accordingly I all but drag my partner into Wagokoro Tonkatsu Anzu.

We order a set meal at 1400Y and 1700Y respectively, the price difference depends on the choice of cutlets you order. This puts the price at around $15 - $20 USD, expensive for Japan but totally worth it. Local beer served in ice cold copper mugs comes for an extra 700Y a glass. 

The set meals, like most in Japan, cover the range and balance of a good solid meal. Cabbage salad and pickles is served with your choice of dressing, miso soup, freshly pickled vegetable and tofu and rice are also included. All items can be refreshed at will other than the serving of meat, though honestly this meal is huge and we are more than stuffed before we can begin contemplating a refill of any of the side dishes. We are given a choice of rice and this is the specialty hinohikari rice and red wild rice from Fukuoka, it is freaking delicious. This kind of side dish in my mind is the perfect example of food in Japan - something so simple as rice can be elevated to absolute deliciousness through simple care and breeding of seed culture.

My partner has opted for the seasonal specialties - always worth investigating in Japan where seasons rule the plate. High quality Anzu pork fillet is beaten and stuffed with two fillings - local leafy vegetables and cheese and a pickled plum paste. The plum sets off the pork with a delicious tang almost like having a tart cranberry sauce. 

I go for a simple but hefty serve of pork loin breaded in Japanese panko bread crumbs. The sign of a great tonkatsu restaurant is the presence of a grinding bowl and freshly toasted sesame seeds (pictured above with a pestle). Mixed with tangy tonkatsu sauce - reminiscent of US BBQ sauce - this is a delicous sweet, savoury, umame deliciousness that I can't get enough of. Be warned though fried pork in such a serving is a hefty meal indeed, we are glad for the pickles and salad to cut through the fat. 

The whole meal is delicious from head to toe, the service the usual excellence one can expect in Japan. I make so many happy food noises that the woman next to me laughs. I feel no shame, this is the kind of meal I come to Japan for and I am not disappointed. 

Wagokoro Tonkatsu Anzu, Ginza

High end Japanese pork specialties
The perfect pit stop while site seeing in Ginza

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: Fleur de Lys, San Francisco

When you're living on a different continent to your partner you want the times that you get together to be special.  What could be more special for two foodies than a degustation at one of San Francisco's most famous restaurants?

Fleur de Lys is Hubert Keller's delightful formal dining offering which offers some novel dishes and interesting taste and texture explorations. 

As it was a special date night we opted for the luxurious 5 course menu $98USD plus matching wine tastings for $75USD each. The wine tastings were a little overly generous in my mind, our formal dining manners went out the window somewhere around course 4 and lead to us raucously giggling throughout the final dishes. 

Fig and walnut bread to start

Amuse bouche of pesto volute and miniature pickles

"Symphony of" Toasted duck ham and mozzarella slider, French potato salad with white anchovy, "Faux gras" mousse and piquillo gazpacho 

You just know that I'm going to order any dish with liver mousse but the slider and the gazpacho (complete with straw!) really take the cake. 

"Colourful" vegetable ragout served with poached egg, truffles and truffle port wine sauce. 

Honestly poached egg dishes are one of my favourite things to order in formal restaurants as they really elevate a wonderful texture out of the breakfast plate. 

Muscovy duck breast with Eggplant, Olive Salad, purple olive jus and duck confit "cigar"

Cigars of rich meat are one of my favourite things of all time and even though I had duck in my apetizer this was delicious. The spiced pudding side dish was another textural deviation that surprised and delighted. 

Bacon crusted sea scallops with black beluga lentils, pork belly, pickled shallots and harissa

Pork belly topped with scallop *and* bacon? It's rather like he listed all the decadent ingredients he could and then played darts and added whatever he hit. 

Coffee rubbed buffalo steak with pickled figs caramelised leeks, espresso and fig red wine sauce and cornbread Madeleine

One of the most excellent signs of good service is when the waiter will let me make substitutions. In this case I asked for an additional meat course rather than the seafood course and was obliged without issue. 

Oven roasted venison loin with truffled baby bok choy accented with a rich cocoa nib red wine reduction, Spanish chorizo and a cocoa tuile

This dish just oozes with dark decadence. All it needs is a side of tobacco jus and the sticky rich combination is complete.

Fleurburger - lightly spiced dark chocolate ganache, home made Beignet Banana flavoured milk shake and frozen fennel ice cream "Pommes Frites"

The most famous (and most novel!) dish on the menu, a confusing delight of sweets made to look like a classic American takeout meal. 

Alsation pain d'epices mousse bar - Mango and raspberry flavoured ice cream on lime meringue Esprite gateau "Black Forest", cherry compote flavoured with Balsamic and fleur de sel

Another dish with so many tastes and textures, each a little morsel of wonder. 

Petit fours

But wait there's more! Coffee and cognac and another flight of taste adventures. 

What can you say? Hubert Keller is a celebrated chef for good reason and a celebrity chef that deserves his fame. The variation in textures and tastes and the decadent ingredients that formal dining affords (including so many of my favourite foods) are just wonderful. Added to this the price difference between food of this quality between the US and Australia means that I would have been fairly happy at twice the price. Hardly an every week outing but a very reasonable sum for such excellent food when out for a special date night. 

Fleur de Lys

Formal dining degustation
Book well in advance and be on time for your seating

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