Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

Estiatorio Milos

June 10, 2013

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, Las Vegas

Website here

Originally started in Montreal, Estiatorio Milos is a Greek restaurant franchise also found in the Cosmopolitan Hotel.  For what it’s worth, I consider The Cosmopolitan to have one of the best collections of on strip restaurants, also including Scarpetta, Jaleo and the secret E by Jose Andres.

Milos’ is famous for two things, octopus and its lunch special.  This was my 4th time (Camille’s 3rd) having lunch here, and as always, we opted for the $22.13 three-course lunch special.  This is an amazing value anywhere, especially center strip.

However, some of the courses incur a supplemental charge, including the grilled octopus ($10), the lobster pasta ($15) and a few others.   That said, you MUST try the octopus, it’s mind-bottling awesome.


We started with a pair of wines by the glass, one Assyrtiko and one Assyrtiko-Sauvignon Blanc blend.  Both were very good, with the straight Assyrtiko being full bodied with pronounced stonefruit, apple and minerality. The Sauv Blanc blend was bright with crisp acid, gooseberry, citrus, and mineral flavours.  The blend paired perfectly with Camille’s Lavraki (sea bass), while the straight Assyrtiko paired best with the lobster.  Both paired well with the grilled octopus.

Aside on Assyrtiko: This is an indigenous grape to the Greek island of Santorini and is quite phylloxera resistant.  It is used to make Retsina and other Greek white wines.  It is medium-full bodied (think Chardonnay) and maintains good acidity and minerality.


We both started with the grilled octopus ($10 supplement) as our appetizer.  Flown in daily from Portgual, the octopus is tenderized (AKA beaten back and forth in the sink) and then oven poached in red wine vinegar, olive oil, bay leaf, peppercorns and sea salt.  It is then removed, cooled to fridge temperature and portioned.  Before serving it is grilled over a high heat flame, basted with olive oil and tossed with red onions, capers and lemon.  This results in amazing flavour and a texture not found in any other octopus that I’ve had.  Quite simply, this is a MUST EAT IMMEDIATELY dish!

IMG_2226 IMG_2227

For our main courses, Camille chose the grilled Mediterranean bass (Lavraki), while I went with the lobster pasta ($15 supplement).  Seared, salted and served simply with capers, olive oil and lemon, the Lavraki was rich, fresh, and buttery.  Bass is a delicious but neutral fish, and generally will not whack you over the head with flavour.  This was no exception.

The lobster pasta is composed of spaghetti served with one pound of fresh lobster meat, plus the entire crustacean carcass on the plate, which looks awesome.  The lobster had a rich, meaty texture, and was amazingly tender (better than Per Se) while the al dente spaghetti was topped with a light tomato sauce.  An excellent combination and great value considering the amount of lobster served.

For dessert there are three options, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and walnut cake.  Having had all three in the past, I decided to re-visit the yogurt while Camille chose the fresh fruit.  The yogurt is uber-thick and topped with an apricot drizzle, a very good full fat Greek yogurt.  The fresh fruit was fairly standard with a few cherries, raspberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes and blueberries.  The desserts are decent, but definitely the weakest point of the meal.

Overall, the Estiatorio Milos lunch is one of the best in Vegas, both from a quality and value perspective.  While it does ring in at $47 if you order both the octopus and lobster courses, many 3-course options can be had for the $22.13 price.  The room is beautiful, service is solid and the octopus is killer. If you haven’t been, add a Milos lunch to your next Vegas visit.



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1998 Smackdown

1998 Smackdown

June 7, 2013

Another day, another embarrassment of riches.

Camille and I visited our Edmonton wine friends again this weekend for a two night food and wine feast.  The first night would be the 1998 Smackdown.  The Smackdown series of wine tastings started a few years ago and are horizontal tastings (all wines from the same year) in which each participant supplies a great wine from the vintage.  Here’s the line-up on this night.


Left to right (All 1998): Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Chateau Pavie, Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva, Ornellaia, Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco 

98GossetwithGlassses 1998Fonsalette

Left: Gosset Celebris  Right: Chateau Fonsalette

As you can see, wine porn at its finest.

We started the night with the Gosset Celebris, the luxury cuvee from this house.  Having tasted some other Gosset Champagnes in the past, this was my first experience tasting the Celebris.  Deep straw/gold colour with fine bubbles, this is a full-bodied, intense, high acid, lemon and green apple driven wine with a long finish.  There is little if any toast/brioche on the nose or palate, which is often expected in more prestigious luxury cuvees.  I’d compare it more to a Billiot or Chartogne-Taillet style, rather than Dom/Krug.  I enjoyed this and it paired amazingly well with pates and cheeses.  91 points non blind.

For the first course of BBQ’d quail, orzo salad and truffled mushrooms, we paired two wines, the Bruno Giacosa Santo Stefano Riserva Barbaresco and a Chateau de Fonsalette, served blind.

Giacosa is one of the true old-school Piedmontese wine makers, and I do not hide my love for his wines.  1998 was an excellent vintage in Piedmont, but was overshadowed by the 96s and 97s that preceded it.  However, it may actually be better (and the wines more ready to drink) than both 96 and 97.

Ruby to the rim with roses, cherry, tar and later soy sauce and tea notes, the nose was breathtaking.  The palate did not quite live up to the nose, being more straightforward with cherry, roses and massive acidity.  It paired great with the quail and truffled mushrooms.  91 points non-blind, but a 95+ point nose.

The Fonsalette is a Cotes du Rhone produced by Chateau Rayas, the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer.  Served blind, this was garnet with bricking at the rim.  The nose and palate were congruent with massive amounts of cinnamon, all spice and earth. Powerful cherry and wild raspberry fruits balanced the spice.  Integrated tannin and great acid. 93 points, blind.  I love the character of this wine, which screams Rhone valley all the way.  Try out some Vacquerays for similar flavours at a more reasonable price point.

With the main course of lamb chops, Moroccan lamb sausage and green bean casserole, we had the four Bordeaux blends, three of which were from Italy.

First up was the Sammarco, one of two wines produced by Castello dei Rampolla, the other being the amazing Vigna d’Alceo.  A blend of 85% Cab Sauv and 15% Sangiovese, the Sammarco is always a top notch wine.

Ruby red to the rim, cherry, cassis, tar, hint of cedar and spice, this still has tight, fine-grained tannin and a long life ahead.  A fantastic wine and one I’d highly recommend, this was unfortunately overshadowed by the extremely tough competition served alongside it.

The Sassicaia was deep garnet with cassis, green bell pepper, herb, tar and mint.  The palate was full with a rich mouth feel, fully integrated tannin, and great balance.  Always a hit or miss wine, this was a great showing of Sassicaia. One of the best bottles of 1998.  94 points, non-blind.

The final Super Tuscan was the Ornellaia, which has been the most consistent of the –aia’s in my experience.  That said, I find the Vigna d’Alceo to be more consistent than all of them.  Much like the Sassicaia, this was garnet to the rim with sweet crème de cassis, vanilla, pungent green pepper and pine needles.  Full bodied, rich, voluptuous, this was richer and more expressive than the Sassicaia.  Wine of the Year for a reason.  96 points, non-blind.  However, Camille found the bell pepper overpowering, and I can see exactly where she’s coming from.

The only Bordeaux of the night was a right banker from Chateau Pavie.  One of the consensus top tier right bank wines, this was made in a new world, flashy style.  Rich garnet with cassis, eucalyptus, wet forest floor, cinnamon, and mint, this was a slutty, hedonistic wine, and felt a bit Parker-ized.  I wasn’t expecting such a showy Bordeaux, and this would be loved by those who enjoy a big, sweet Napa Cab.  AKA Me.  It did have a bit of a rough edge on the mid-palate, but the tannin was supple and well integrated and there was still enough acid to balance the flashy attack.  94 points, non-blind.


For dessert we had the 1998 Muller-Catoir Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese.  Say that 3 times fast, or once for that matter.  A cross between the Silvaner and Riesling grapes, this orange coloured beauty was floral with honeyed sultana raisins and ample botrytis.  The extreme sugar was balanced by great acidity that picked up from the mid palate on, built through the finish and intensified over the next few minutes.  I agree with a friend’s assessment that this was a bit disjointed right now, and needs 20-30 years to integrate.  Infanticide for sure, but all the components are there: fruit, acid and great intensity.  92 points, non-blind.

As usual, we were spoiled with a great group of wines, none of which were flawed.  Everything showed well, the food and company were great and the Smackdown series continues to bring out the best of the best.

The only question now is, “when’s the next Smackdown”?



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1133 West Broadway, Vancouver, Canada

June 3rd 2013

As part of the U of S CAEP 2013 expedition, the staff docs took all the residents out for dinner at Tojo’s.  One of the most highly praised Vancouver sushi restaurants, this was a generous and much appreciated gesture from the staff.


The six course omakase began with a bowl of mixed tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) marinated in a sauce of mirin (rice wine), wasabi, soy sauce, sesame seeds and green onions.  The regular tuna texture was a little on the soft side, while the hamachi was much firmer and fresher.  The sauce had great balance from the sweet mirin, salty soy and heat of the wasabi.  Overall this dish was great but could have been even better if the regular tuna were omitted in favour of more hamachi or toro.


Next up was a tempura course consisting of piping hot shiitake mushroom and stuffed zucchini leaf tempura.  The thick piece of shiitake mushroom was perfectly cooked and kept a nice level of chewiness.  The zucchini leaf looked beautiful and was stuffed with chopped scallop, herring roe, raw carrot and yuzu.   The crunchy carrot and pop of the herring roe was a great foil for the soft scallop, while the yuzu provided lingering acidity on the finish.  However, this dish still could have used a bit more “pop”, something to elevate it to the next level.  Overall I loved the originality, presentation and attention to detail of this dish, but it lacked the flavour explosion and depth of an excellent course.


Seared Sockeye salmon served on vegetables with Kyoto miso (light yellow) and freshwater eel sauces (dark brown) came next.  The fish was cooked perfectly and combined well with the light Kyoto miso sauce.  The eel sauce was richer and heavier, and helped balance the sweetness of the miso.  Apparently Kyoto miso is sweeter and less salty than typical miso.  The bed of snap peas, yellow peppers, enoki mushrooms and carrots were solid but unspectacular.  Overall this dish was solid, but had the feel of something I could cook at home.  If I couldn’t, Camille certainly could without much problem.


The 4th course picture is partially eaten, it started as 3 albacore tuna rolls, not just the one seen above.  The albacore roll was tempura battered and deep fried briefly, topped with plum sauce, shiso and basil, and served on a mushroom, long bean mixture.  This was my least favorite dish of the night.  The deep frying had cooked too much of the tuna, while the plum sauce was a bit out of balance with its spice and acidity.  Furthermore, the long beans were slimy and flavourless.  Bland tuna, strange sauce and slimy long beans, not a good mix.


Left to right (top row): Spot prawn, hamachi (yellowtail), salmon + avocado roll

Left to right (bottom row): Herring roe roll, Spicy tuna roll, Scallop/tuna/salmon wrapped in egg crepe

The penultimate course was a 6-piece sushi course.  Overall, they were all average/good, but nothing earth shattering in the group.


For dessert we had a sesame panna cotta with sesame crisp.  For those of you who don’t cook with sesame oil, it is an extremely powerful ingredient; generally one or two drops will flavour an entire dish.  This made for an interesting and tasty dish, great if you love sesame.  As expected it was still one dimensional due to the power of sesame.


There were a pair of sakes to begin the meal, one cloudy, one clear.   I tried the clear, Tojo’s Choice Dai Ginjo sake.  Clean, with floral and stonefruit flavours, it was on the alcoholic side for a sake.  A few at the table were not sake fans, so we ordered a 2009 Inama Vin Soave and a Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir.  The Soave was clean with stonefruit, pear, great minerality and good acid.  It was great with most courses of the omakase.  The Pinot was a full bore, round, new world style with huge cherry-berry fruits and ample oak.  As we say, a good chugging wine.


Despite the large group size (16), the service was attentive and informative, with our server informing each section of the table of the ingredients in each course as it was served.  Water and wine refills were timely.

Overall, Tojo’s was a good, but unspectacular dinner.  A similar experience can be had for much less in most cities, including Vancouver.  There were a few dishes that had potential for “wow factor”, but they always missed the extra ingredient or texture to elevate them to the next level.



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1 Central Park West, New York, NY

Feb.27 2013, Website here

Following our dinner at Eleven Madison Park the night before, we fancied ourselves up for the final 3-star Michelin experience of the trip at Jean-Georges.  As our dinner schedule was already jam-packed, we decided to do JG for lunch.  Located on the ground floor of the Trump Tower, and only a stone’s throw from the Time Warner Center and Per Se, Jean-Georges would end up being one of the most outstanding meals on our trip.

After dropping off our jackets, we were seated at a secluded table tucked into an alcove near the back of the restaurant.  Ultra-cute and private, this table was perfect for us to take photos and write notes without disturbing other diners or staff.


Having already eaten multiple tasting menus on our trip, we went ahead with the 3 course Tastes of Spring Menu, rather than the 6 course lunch tasting.  We were also given a complimentary additional course, and with the trio of amuses, mignardises and dessert, we were thoroughly stuffed after this 3+ hour lunch.




Amuse Trio

Starting with the 6 o’clock position on the plate was beet, walnut, microgreen and creme fraiche served on a small piece of rye bread.  The sweetness of the warm beet combined well with the walnut to provide a clean start to the meal.

Next was fluke with citrus snow. The tangerine, elderflower and buttermilk snow was bright and clean while the fluke had great texture.  Fabulous balance of salinity and acidity from the citrus.

The final amuse was sweet potato puree with dashi foam and parmesan.  Good flavour, this was a warm and comforting dish on a cold, rainy day in New York.

Although not intended (we asked the server), this amuse trio felt like a progression of seasons with the fall beets, wintery sweet potato and bright citrus in spring/summer.  This was a great start to our meal.




Pierre Peters Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru MV

Seeing a seafood heavy menu in our future, we decided on a Blanc de Blanc to pair with our meal.  A super light style, this Champagne was nearly transparent.  Fine mousse, lemon, slate, clean and with massive acidity, this paired well with the lighter fish courses and also cut through the creaminess of later ones.  Stylistically this is like Lanson and other very light Champagnes.

Egg Caviar

Egg Caviar

The egg, caviar, creme fraiche, gold leaf dish at Joel Robuchon is easily one of our top 5 dishes of all time, and thus we always have to choose any combination of egg and caviar when it appears on the menu.  This version featured lightly scrambled egg topped with vodka/cayenne whipped cream and American sturgeon caviar.  The creamy sweetness of the egg and whipped cream were balanced by the salty caviar and the cayenne provided a lingering touch of heat on the finish.  Excellent.

Scallop Peekytoe

Left: Sea scallop, caramelized cauliflower, caper-raisin emulsion.

Right: Peekytoe crab dumplings, celeriac-meyer lemon tea.

Halved and seared, the scallops were topped with crunchy caramelized cauliflower.  The curry and Indian spices in the caper-raisin puree provided pop to this well balanced, rich dish.

The Peekytoe crab dumplings were rich and buttery with a lovely, thin wonton wrapper.  Small pieces of julienned meyer lemon, apple and celery again gave great acid to the dish, while the tea base was light and delicious.

Shrimp ParsnipRavioli

Left: Seared Gulf Shrimp with Kabocha squash

Right: Parsnip ravioli, beet jus, olive oil

These courses were complimentary (seems to be common when you take notes) and were both unique and unexpected in flavour profile.

Cooked perfectly, the Gulf shrimp had great texture and were amazingly sweet while the  Kabocha squash was infused with curry, cajun and chipotle.  Sweet, rich, spicy, one of the best dishes of the day.

The parsnip ravioli was an off menu course with a sweet flavour profile from the beet, parsnip and small pieces of coconut jewel scattered throughout.  The brunoised white beet was infused with citrus, but overall I found this dish needed a bit more acid to balance the multiple rich/sweet components.

SeaBass ArcticChar

Left: Black sea bass crusted with nuts and seeds

Right: Arctic Char, spiced jade emulsion, tender white asparagus

The sea bass was cooked perfectly, flaky and moist.  The maitake mushroom broth was rich with earthy mushroom flavour and cut by the acidity of citrus infused pearl onions.  There were also squash, potato and celery pieces in the broth, again cooked just right.Overall a lovely dish, though I found the bites without the citrus onion to be overly rich.

One of my favorite fish, the massive piece of arctic char was served with celeriac, microgreens and a jade emulsion.  The vibrant green of the emulsion was visually stunning, and the flavour was unexpected and awesome.  Infused with spicy chili peppers, shrimp base and celery, the sauce provided great heat and bite to balance the rich char.  The ratio of fish to sauce was excellent, such that every bite was enjoyable.  Fantastic!

WinterDessert Winter2

Winter dessert: Poached pear and butterscotch caramel with green apple granite

Part one of the dessert duo was a poached pear coated in rose petal and crushed pistachios.  The presentation before the warm caramel was poured over the pear was beautiful, and about half of the pistachio pieces fell off with the caramel.  The caramel and poached pear were good, with the highlights of the course being the whipped cream center of the pear (where it had been cored) and the crunchiness provided by the pistachio coating.  Overall solid, though not spectacular.

The butterscotch caramel w/ green apple granite was less successful, with the buterscotch tasting grainy and a little bit burnt.  The green apple granite was acidic, light and improved the butterscotch.

Marshmallow Mignardises

Fresh Marshmallow and Mignardises

One of the famous JG items is the fresh marshmallow cart.  Trolleyed around on a cart, one server cuts the large marshmallows into four for each guest.  Soft and delicious, I could eat a lot of these.

The mignardises tray was also above average, with nougat, a gelee, chocolates, and macaroons.


The service was excellent at JG, with our Captain being very gracious and interested in our experience and particularly how JG compared with other places on our NYC food tour.  We told him JG was excellent, especially compared with Per Se.

Water and wine were refilled quickly and quietly, plates were cleared immediately and other than one snobby server, it was great.


Jean-Georges proved to be one of the most consistent meals of our NYC dining experience, and falls in with Bouley, Momofuku Ko and Jungsik as a top 4 meal of the trip.  Highly recommended.



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Eleven Madison Park with Mr. and Mrs. EMCrit

Eleven Madison Park

Feb. 26, 2013

11 Madison Avenue, New York –


When we initially decided to go on our NYC culinary adventure, Camille and I emailed Scott Weingart, the only person we knew in New York.  In addition to being a famous medicine podcaster over at EMCrit, Scott is also a big time foodie.  A little known fact is that Scott did a few years of culinary school prior to medicine. We first met Scott in Las Vegas at Essentials of EM, when we went out to Lotus of Siam with Scott and a slew of other famous bloggers/podcasters.  He is a hilarious and down to earth dude who likes to have a good time, eat great food, and make dirty jokes.  Pretty much the same as us.

Dinner at Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas with a bunch of funny ass people. Left side (front to back): Rob Orman of ERCast, Me (SOCMOB), Rob Ryan, Cliff Reid of, Jan Trojanowski. Right side (front to back): Scott Weingart of EMCrit, ZDoggMD, Michelle, Leon Gussow of The Poison Review, Chris Nickson of LITFL, Michelle Lin of Academic Life in EM.

                Dinner at Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas with a bunch of funny ass people.           Left side (front to back): Rob Orman of ERCast, Me (SOCMOB), Rob Ryan, Cliff Reid of, Jan Trojanowski. Right side (front to back): Scott Weingart of EMCrit, ZDoggMD, Michelle, Leon Gussow of The Poison Review, Chris Nickson of LITFL, Michelle Lin of Academic Life in EM.  Still not sure how I got invited to this dinner.  Thanks ZDogg.

On this occasion we had the pleasure of meeting his wife, who is a double boarded Pediatrician and Peds Anesthetist.  In keeping with the typical anesthetist, she is a little calmer and less ADD than Scott, and overall just a super nice person.

After discussing a few possible restaurants, we decided on Eleven Madison Park (EMP), one of three Michelin 3-star restaurants on this trip, along with Per Se (review here) and Jean-Georges.



First some background on EMP.  Situated on the main floor of the Metropolitan Life North Building, EMP has a massive amount of space (much of it kitchen) because the Met Life building was originally intended to be 100 stories tall.   Designed by Corbett and Waid in the 1920s, the Met Life building would have been the world’s tallest building at the time, were it not for the stock market crash of 1929.  Looking at it from the outside, you can see the original intent to be a monstrosity towering over Manhattan.   Unfortunately, it looks a little stumpy next to the South Met Life Tower.


1996 Fleury Champagne

To start the evening we had a bottle of 1996 Fleury Champagne.  Fleury is a biodynamic producer making a small amount of predominantly Pinot Noir Champagne.  Coming from the legendary 1996 vintage, this 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay Cuvee was fantastic with baked apple, lemon, toast and cinnamon on the nose.  There was also an oxidative quality on the nose and palate, somewhat like the 1986 Krug Clos de Mesnil we had at Richard’s birthday. The most striking characteristic was the intense acidity, almost at the level of an extra brut.  Fermented in stainless steel, this was like pure malic acid, which gave it a medium-plus finish.  In a good spot right now, this versatile Champagne could be paired with anything from fish to pork.

Onto the food.

A primary theme of our menu at EMP was “New York”.  How novel.

We would both start and finish the meal with a traditional NYC snack, the black and white cookie.  Typically, the “half and half” is a sweet cookie composed of half vanilla fondant and half chocolate fondant.  In this meal, we would begin with a savory black and white cookie, and complete the meal with the sweet version.


Photo courtesy Fooder from the Ramblings and Gamblings Blog

Cheddar – Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple

A delicate cookie with ample cheddar flavor and soft crunch, these were filled with crab apple chutney.  Having had the Per Se gruyere gougere a few days earlier, I wished for a bit more richness and depth of flavour.  Akin to a glorified Goldfish cracker, this was a decent palate cleanser to begin the meal.


Oyster – Sorrel, Buckwheat, and Mignonette

The next course was presented beautifully, a Duxbury oyster topped with Champagne vinegar mignonette, puffed buckwheat and sorrel.  While a lovely presentation, this dish was a total miss for Camille and I, for different reasons.  Camille’s oyster was too heavy on the mignonette, while mine was ridiculously over peppered.  In both cases, the entire mouthful was overwhelmed by a single flavour, acid for Camille and black pepper for me.  In hindsight, this was the single biggest miss of any dish during the trip, which encompassed well over 100 individual dishes during the 7 days.  Harsh words to be sure, but this dish really failed due to its lack of balance.

Shrimp – Marinated with Olive Oil, Horseradish, and Fennel

Next up was a taste of sweet Maine shrimp, with fennel and horseradish used to highlight the natural flavour of the shrimp.  Creamy and rich, the shrimp was good, though a bit gelatinous in texture from having multiple pieces so close together.  Reminiscent of a Chinese shrimp dumpling in texture, if you like those, you would enjoy this. For me a good, but not great dish.

At this point you’re probably like “Wow, this meal sucked”!  In hindsight, the first three courses were pretty weak, though it would improve from here.


2002 Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Goldloch Riesling Kabinett

At this point we opened a Riesling alongside the Fleury, to pair with subsequent courses.  At the suggestion of our Sommelier, I went with a 2002 Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Goldloch Riesling Kabinett.  Pure kerosene on the nose initially, with honey and lemon notes, this was on the sweeter side for a Kabinett, and a bit lacking in acidity.  Overall a solid wine, but more acidity would have added balance and improved it immensely.  For the same price point, I should have gone with the 2002 Karthauserhof Kabinett, a far superior wine.

Note: The 2002 vintage in Germany is vastly underrated, and wines can be had at bargain prices from this vintage.  The Germans are meticulous about their viticulture, and almost always make great wines, even in the toughest vintages.


Sea Urchin – Custard with Apple Gelée and Scallop

This dish was light and balanced, the softness of the panna cotta and uni contrasting with the firmer scallop texture.  Lemon juice and tart apple gelee provided acidity and brightened the fish flavour.  While very good, this was nowhere near the caliber of a similar Uni dish we would have at Bouley later in the week.


Clam – Surf Clam with Morcilla Sausage and Celery Root

The first “wow” course of the meal, the crumbled morcilla sausage provided depth and richness, while the light and airy celery root espuma was a perfect foil to the heavier sausage.  There were also sweet tiny pieces of pear, celery root and chive to complement the clam.  An excellent course.

EMP-Clam2 EMP-Clam3 EMP-Clam4 EMP-ClamChowder

Top left: Hot water poured over the rocks and kelp releasing the aroma of the ocean.  Top right: Sliced raw whelk with shaved fennel, couscous, and lemon vinaigrette. Bottom left: Littleneck clam with radicchio and pear  Bottom right: Clam chowder

Clam – Clambake with Whelk, Parker House Roll, and Chowder.

One of several elaborate multi-part courses of the dinner, this began with the great aroma of the hot water poured over the rocks to ignite the senses.  The whelk (snail) was light and balanced by the freshness of lemon and fennel, with a slight crunch from the couscous.  The radicchio and pear were a classic pairing to match with the clam, and again were fresh and vibrant.  The best part was the clam chowder.  Rich and deep, this was the essence of clam.

Parker House rolls:  Rich, buttery and delicious and topped with great finishing salt. Nuff said.


Bread and Butter

The second bread course was a light, flaky roll paired with two different butters.  The first was from the Chef’s favorite creamery, while the second contained some of the beef fat from out upcoming rib eye course.  Both were superb.


Scallop – Seared with Radish, Caviar, and Apple

Creme fraiche, caviar and scallop, how can you go wrong?  This was an elegant presentation and had clean flavours with multiple textures of scallop (fresh and steamed).  The apple and radish provided crunch, sweetness and heat.  A well composed and balanced dish.

IMG_1624  IMG_1625 IMG_1628

Carrot – Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments

The next course would be another interactive and memorable one.  A play on the traditional tartare course, lightly blanched carrots were ground tableside and served with a variety of garnishes including (from top left): apple mustard, sunflower seeds, pickled quail egg yolk, smoked bluefish, chives and broccoli flower, pickled mustard seed, grated horseradish, pickled apple, and Amagansett sea salt.  There were also two squeeze bottles which contained spicy carrot and mustard oil, respectively.

Mixing all of the accompaniments with the carrot, this dish was a spectacular success, with huge depth of flavour and balance. The sweetness of the carrot was offset by the spicy oils and horseradish, acidity of the pickled apple and mustard seed, with all the flavours tempered by the rich egg yolk.  This had all the components of a 5/5 dish, great flavour, originality and creativity, while simultaneously being visually impressive and interactive.


Lobster – Poached with Citrus, Tarragon, and Daikon

Another beautifully presented course, the sweet lobster was elevated by subtle flavours of daikon radish, dehydrated citrus (grapefruit and blood orange) and tarragon.  Licorice from the fennel, acidity from the citrus and a touch of heat from the daikon, this was a well executed and balanced dish.


1999 AR. Pe. Pe Sassella Rocce Rosso Riserva

From Valtellina in the Northern province of Lombardy, this 100% Nebbiolo (known as Chiavannesca in Valtellina) was chosen to pair with the upcoming beef and cheese courses, though it would do fine with many fishes as well.  Garnet in color, a traditional Nebbiolo nose of cherry, tar, and mushroom, this had racy acidity on the palate and improved over the evening.  A great, less expensive alternative to Barolo/Barbaresco.

IMG_1631 IMG_1630

140 Day Aged Rib Eye

The piece de resistance of the meal at EMP, the 140 day aged rib eye was the oldest I’ve ever tried.  Brought out two courses before it would be served, it was fascinating to see the extent of the mold development after almost 5 months of hanging. The mold extended at least 3/4 of an inch deep around the cap, and probably a good 1/4-1/2 inch around the bone.  The marbling of the rib eye was impressive as well, though it has to be in order to be capable of dry aging for this long.


Potato – Baked with Bonito Cream, Shallot, and Pike Roe

A contrast of textures, this course included smashed fingerling potatoes, a crispy russet skin and a potato cup.  This was effectively still a fish course, with the strong Bonito cream and black shellfish sauce being tempered by the velvety potatoes.  Another very good course.


Beef – Beef Broth

The multi-part beef course began with beef broth made from the delicious 140 day aged rib eye.  Deep, rich, and closer to a demi glace than a jus, this was unctuous and amazing.  A perfect broth.


Beef – Grilled with Mushrooms, Amaranth, and Bone Marrow

This was another of the standout courses at EMP, and typically we find beef courses to be overrated.  The grilled beef was perfectly cooked over charcoal, and amazingly deep in flavour due to the extended dry aging.  There was also an exquisitely tender morsel (beside the hen of woods mushroom in the photo) which may have come from the cap, though I’m not sure.  It was sublime.  The accompanying bone marrow was soft and rich, while the amaranth and black garlic were a crispy contrast.  The Hen of Woods mushroom was charred nicely and the dish was reminiscent of the “burnt forest mushroom” course from Alinea last year.

EMP-BraisedOxtail EMP-BraisedOxtail2

Beef – Braised Oxtail with Foie Gras and Potato

The final part of the beef course was similarly excellent.  The ultimate custard, this was a perfect dish of deep oxtail, rich foie gras and topped with potato foam.  I could eat a vat of this.

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Greensward – Pretzel, Mustard, and Grapes

Another playful course, we were next presented with a picnic basket containing everything we would need for our “Picnic in Central Park”.  The cheese was a soft, nutty, cow’s milk with a washed rind.  There was also a pretzel bread, mustard, grapes and a craft beer from Ithaca Brewery.  The beer was a high acid, “food beer”, much like the Jolly Pumpkin or Jose Andres ales, and paired awesomely with the bread, cheese and mustard.


Malt – Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer

Another New York tradition, this was our first experience with egg cream, a carbonated vanilla drink.  This was good, but nothing special.


Maple – Bourbon Barrel Aged with Milk and Shaved Ice

The first of two plated desserts, this was like the French-Canadian tradition of shaved ice with maple syrup.  Except that was picked up with popsicle sticks instead of a spoon.  The bourbon gave it a little extra oak and spiciness, and this was a delicious, if somewhat nostalgic course.


Earl Grey – Sheep’s Milk Cheesecake, Honey, and Lemon

This was a well balanced dessert with a rich but not overly heavy cheesecake, loads of bergamot from the Earl Grey, and some nice acidity from the lemon and creme fraiche.  Very enjoyable.

IMG_1645Magic Trick – Chocolate

At this point our server came out with a deck of cards and performed a magic trick, in which we selected a point in the deck and she then flipped four cards, each with an ingredient symbol upon it.  They lifted an upside down cup previously placed on our table to reveal the exact chocolates we had selected (different for each person).  The server did a good job from the illusion standpoint, though Camille didn’t listen to her spiel at all, and watched for the obligate deck switch during the trick.  Overall, I thought it was well done, and about as good an incorporation of magic as could be expected.

The chocolate itself had a thin crispy outside and creamy hazelnut center.

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Tea ServiceOolong

Quite simply, this was the best tea service we’ve ever had.

EMP offers a tableside Manhattan cart to begin the meal, and optional tableside coffee/tea at the end.  Being major tea lovers, we opted for an Oolong from The Pursuit of Tea.

This was served Gongfu cha style, with a rinse followed by three steepings.  We asked for a fourth steeping, preferring the delicate flavors of later steepings. A separate server came to do the tea service, he was caring, meticulous, and timed each steeping.

It was a high quality Oolong with medium oxidation and still fairly green.  The first two steepings were earthy, spicy and had good astringency/tannin, while the third and fourth steepings were subtle, with delicate floral notes and virtually devoid of tannin.  A fantastic tea service, something we should adopt at home.


Pretzel – Chocolate covered with sea salt

The penultimate dessert was a large chocolate pretzel.  We love pretzels, and these were great.


Chocolate – Sweet Black and White Cookie with Apricot

The final dessert brought us back to where we started, with a sweet black and white cookie.  This time a butter cookie filled with apricot chutney, these were more enjoyable than the savory version at the start of the meal.


Apple Brandy Eau de Vie

If you need an after dinner drink, their Eau de Vie is complimentary.

The EMP-Alinea Connection

In September 2012, Alinea and Eleven Madison Park traded locations for 1 week each.  A crazy idea, it was apparently conceived by Chefs Grant Achatz of Alinea and Daniel Humm of EMP over a few drinks one night. And thus, Grant Achatz brought his team to EMP and Daniel Humm’s staff traveled to Chicago.  Video footage of this monumental event can be seen here on YouTube.

This meal had a definite Alinea feel to it, particularly with the interactive courses, opening of boxes and baskets to see what was inside, and the presentation/flavors of the rib eye and clam dishes.  I am not sure if these were conceived before or after the Alinea exchange, but in any case, they were the highlights of the meal at EMP.  I am curious what techniques were adopted over at Alinea.

After our dinner, Camille and I toured the EMP kitchen and had a nice 5-10 minute chat with the Chef de Cuisine.  The most notable things about EMP’s kitchen were:

1)It is massive.  Being the base floor of a proposed 100 storey building allows for a huge amount of space.

2)The atmosphere is happy.  Most kitchens of this caliber are very business-like.  At Per Se and Alinea, the kitchens are nearly silent, save for the voice of one person at a time.  EMP actually had a few people talking, joking, and they seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

The Chef de Cuisine gave us some insight into the EMP/Alinea exchange, and apparently the kitchen environment at Alinea is just a tad more militant than it is at EMP.  That’s putting it mildly.  If you read Achatz’s autobiography, I think you’ll get a sense of how things run at Alinea.


Overall excellent.

Only gripe was that they did not tell us what was in the course a few times because we were talking amongst ourselves.  This is a matter of personal preference, but I like to be gently interrupted when a course arrives so that I can hear the details.  A few times they just put it down and walked off, without waiting for even a second for us to stop talking.  Eventually we decided to shut ourselves up whenever they came with a new course.


EMP had several spectacular courses, and has the potential to be a 5/5 meal.  The carrot tartare, clam espuma and rib eye courses were memorable and were “wow” dishes in conception and execution.  The playfulness and interaction also added to the overall experience.  Unfortunately, the first 4 courses underperformed, and the oyster with mignonentte was a huge miss.  Because of this, based on this meal, EMP does not fall into the pantheon of our greatest meals, and I’m unsure that I would re-visit on my next NYC trip.

Special thanks to Fooder from Chowhound and for many of the pictures for this dinner.  You can read his take on the same meal at his blog, linked above.  It was very dark in EMP, and some of my photos did not turn out that great.

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Michelin 3 Star, New York City | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


Kabuto Sushi

Las Vegas – Nov. 2, 2012

Kabuto is a new addition to my favorite Vegas dining district, the area of Chinatown near Spring Mountain and Decatur.  The strip mall at Spring Mountain and Hauck may be home to the best collection of restaurants in Vegas.  On this night, we had the opportunity to try out Kabuto, a Sushi restaurant that opened about six months ago.

After landing an hour late due to inclement weather, we picked up our rental car and drove straight up the I-15 to Kabuto, and made it there about 5 minutes late for our reservation.


As you can see, Kabuto is a quaint, clean atmosphere, and a reflection of the precision and attitude of its chef.  The menu is succinct, with only 4-5 options, one of which is the Omakase for $80.  This includes the following courses: aperitif, appetizer, sashimi, grill, nigiri (4-5 pieces of edo-mae (read: small) style sushi), miso soup, hand roll and dessert.   Additional sushi can be added at your leisure, and we added many extra pieces.

Fish is flown in from Japan daily, 7 days per week.  Chef informed us it was initially 4 days per week when they opened, but doing just ~30 covers per night, they were running out of fish regularly.  As a result, they had to add three more flights per week out of Japan.


Onto the food.


For our drink, we chose a Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Sake.  This is a cold sake with tremendous floral character and a clean, refreshing palate.  Being more familiar with wine, sake is always an interesting contrast, as it is very light, but does not have the acidity of many white wines.  Sake is actually very dangerous because it goes down so smooth, despite being 16-20% alcohol.

This was a very nice sake and it complemented most of the dishes well over the course of the evening.


The aperitif was house-made fuji apple sake, but only about 2% alcohol.  It is aged 200 days, and was a refreshing, though straightforward, start to the meal.


The first course was marinated Benito, tiny cucumber, Waikiki seaweed and one of their special soya sauces.  The Benito was topped with fresh horseradish. This was a beautiful first dish, with tremendous depth of flavor.  This was our first time having Benito in non flake form, and it has a great firm texture.  Camille, who despises all things cucumber, actually said she “loved the cucumber” which is high praise.  My only complaint about this dish was that there wasn’t more of it.

An aside about their sauces, they use multiple excellent soy sauces, including a 3 year aged soy sauce imported from Japan.


Next up was the sashimi course, which consisted of two pieces each of: Bluefin tuna, rainbow runner (menada), jack mackerel (ma-aji) and striped pigfish (isaki).  Though all were very good, the highlights were the menada and isaki, both of which we’ve not had before.  Again, high praise, considering the quality of Bluefin (Camille and Chef’s favorite fish).


A trio of grilled items came next, Kobe beef with soft daikon paste, grilled otoro (tuna belly) with ponzu and flankfish with yuzu salt.

The otoro was the highlight here, and the grill gave it a slight crunch and texture that balanced beautifully with otoro’s typically soft texture.  The Kobe beef and flankfish were two of the more disappointing courses of the evening.  Though I didn’t ask the grade, Kobe beef never really does it for us, and this was no different.  The flankfish was unfortunately slightly overcooked and dry.  The yuzu salt was awesome though, I could definitely add that to the salt collection.


Now came a tiny bowl of roe served on rice with a delicious sauce I cannot recall.  This was a refreshing intermezzo before the heavier courses that followed.


The saltwater eel (anago) was next.  A large piece of anago, this was smoked, topped with sauce and served on rice.  This was one of the best textures of the evening, with the dense eel center surrounded by creamy, fatty eel on the outside.

KabutoZuke KabutoOtoro KabutoNigiri

Next up came the Nigiri course, which is generally 4-5 pieces of Edo-mae style sushi.  Edo-Mae is a sushi style originating in Tokyo with very small pieces, and can actually be eaten in one bite, as opposed to the giant pieces often served in North American sushi restaurants.  The nigiri on this night included flathead (kochi), gurnard (houbou), marbled rockfish (kasago), trout belly (harasu) and medium fatty tuna (chu-toro).  All of these were flavourful and delicious, particularly the eel and trout belly.  Also included was a piece of sweet omelet nigiri to finish this course.

At this point we added extra nigiri courses.  Additional choices included fresh sea urchin (uni) from San Diego, premium fatty tuna (otoro), a second piece of sea eel, and marinated blue fin tuna (zuke), which is marinated for seven minutes in 3 year aged soy sauce.  All were wonderful, but the otoro and uni were particularly excellent.  Easily the best uni and otoro I’ve had, though this was likely a function of freshness (having been flown in that day).

Next came an otoro hand roll.  I think this was a special option available to us, as the other choice was a blue crab roll, which is not nearly as flavourful.  Camille opted for the blue crab, which was good, though somewhat bland.  I chose the otoro, which was fantastic and the size of about 4 pieces of otoro nigiri.


Along with the hand roll came their miso soup.  A very good miso soup, this came with the option of fish or mushrooms.  We both opted for the mushrooms.

KabutoLayerCake Kabutoicecream

The final course was dessert.  I decided on the strawberry and crepe layer cake with strawberry coulis.  This had layers of thin crepes separated by strawberry mousse with about 12-13 crepes in total.  I particularly liked the chef’s inspiration for the dish, which came from the layered rocks of Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas.  Pretty and delicious, though not mind altering.   Camille chose the pear ice cream, which was excellent and better than the layer cake.

Overall, Kabuto was fantastic, and a great addition to the Las Vegas dining scene.  Though I’ve not eaten at Bar Masa or Sen of Japan, by all accounts, Kabuto is comparable to them at a fraction of the cost.  It is definitely worth a trip down Spring Mountain, and is a formidable addition to this great foodie area.  Getting great sashimi and sushi in the middle of a desert is difficult, thanks to Kabuto, it can be done at a reasonable price.

Posted in Japanese, Las Vegas, Omakase, Sushi/Sashimi | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Richard’s 60th Birthday

After 8 days of dining in Vegas, we would make a pit stop in Edmonton to visit our closest group of friends, and celebrate Richard’s 60th birthday.  We first met Richard in 2004 through our mutual friends at DeVine Wines.   Since that time, we have celebrated many special occasions with Richard and tasted more amazing wines than I can remember.  Before our big wedding celebration in Walla Walla, Washington, Camille and I were legally married in Richard’s living room, which should give you a sense of how much he means to us.


As it was his 60th birthday, Richard had invited over 14 of his closest friends, and was pulling out all the stops with regards to wine.  Knowing Richard, I’m sure he must have taken months deciding on the perfect line-up of wines, and it did not disappoint.


The night would begin with a trio of Champagnes, a magnum of Krug Grande Cuvee, followed by bottles of the 1990 Dom Perignon Oenotheque and 1986 Krug Clos de Mesnil.  That’s what I call starting with a bang!

Krug is one of the most polarizing Champagne houses, and while many love it, others don’t understand the hype.  I am in the former category.  Krug is typically a full bodied Champagne with a weighty mouth feel and is often driven by meat and smoke flavours rather than fruit.

Though no formal notes were written on the Krug Grande Cuvee (served from magnum), this bottle was a youthful example of the wine, likely due to the large format bottle.  Full mouthfeel, great salinity and mineral flavours, with slight apple and smoke.  Not as meaty as some bottles, this tasted fresh and young.

The Dom Perignon Oenotheque is distinct from the regular Dom Perignon bottling, in that it has an extended aging period, typically 15-20 years, before release.  This was the second bottle of 1990 Oenotheque I’ve tried, and tasted identical to the last bottle tasted 2 years ago.  There is tremendous aging potential here, and this bottle won’t likely peak for 10 or more years.  On both occasions, the most striking contrast between the regular Dom bottling and the Oenotheque is the more powerful toast and brioche flavours of the Oenotheque.

This 1990 had a medium straw color and fine mousse.  Heavily toasted with notes of brioche, granny smith apple and citrus.  Marzipan and toasted oak on the palate, along with bracing acidity and tremendous length (45-60 second finish).  Though this wine is far too young at this time, it is delicious and the quality is undeniable. 96 points, non-blind.

The 1986 Krug Clos de Mesnil is the luxury Cuvee Blanc de Blanc produced by Krug in exceptional vintages.  Deep gold color, with nuts, celery and a distinct Fuji apple note on the nose.  Though the nose was lovely, the palate was slightly oxidized with sherry notes and loss of fruit on the attack.  Great acidity and the massive Krug mouth feel were still present and held the wine together.   There was also a bitter almond oil note on the finish.

Considering the legendary status of this Champagne, I don’t think this bottle was a great representation of what Clos de Mesnil can be, so will reserve judgement at this time.


Next up was a pair of German Rieslings from Joh. Jos. Christoffel Jr.  The 1975 Urziger Wurzgarten Auslese*** was served alongside 1976 Erdener Treppchen Auslese**.  1975 and 1976 were two excellent vintages in Germany, with 1976 being the more touted of the two.  It produced the fatter, richer wines, while 1975 produced leaner, more balanced wines.  In hindsight, many critics consider ’75 to be the superior vintage.

The 1975 Urziger Wurzgarten was medium gold with a nose of kerosene, flowers and peach.  Flavours of white flowers, peach, light weight for an Auslese and good acidity.  Lighter than the 1976 served alongside it, the finish was a bit shorter than expected.  91 points, non-blind.

The 1976 Erdener Treppchen had a much deeper gold color and a more honeyed nose with a distinct diesel smell.  The palate was reminiscent of a chenin blanc with honeyed flavours of tree sap, petrol and stone fruit.  Though it could use more acidity, this wine had great length which brought it a few points above the 1975, on this night. 93 points, non-blind.

These paired great with Mary’s salad of lettuce, mandarin orange, candied almonds, celery and green onion.


Next came a 2006 Remoissenet Le Montrachet.  Though extremely young for a Montrachet, the quality of this Chardonnay is unquestionable.  Light straw color with a nose of hazelnut, minerals, lemon, cream and the requisite heavy oak of a Montrachet this young.  The palate had similar flavours and although the oak and hazelnut is massive, this wine is very classy and has a long, long finish.  While heavily oaked Chardonnay is one of my least favorite types of wine, this was technically amazing, and very enjoyable to drink.  95 points, non-blind.


Moving onto the red wines, our first pair was a 1981 Vega Sicilia Unico and 1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Richebourg.  Both wines of great pedigree, the Unico was the clear standout here and one of the wines of the night.  Served with Jason and Jen’s shrimp and crab crostini, a great pairing.

The 1981 Unico has a pure garnet color with no signs of bricking.  Beautiful nose of mint, eucalyptus, cherry, cassis, anise, Chinese sausage and black olive.  Palate of fresh cherry, cassis, pine, hoisin, black olive and anise.   A tremendous wine and another example of  Unico’s greatness.  95 points, non-blind.

The 1988 Richebourg unfortunately was the disappointment of the night.  Medium garnet with bricking at rim.  A nose of wet earth, forest floor, cherry, plum, hints of tar and soy sauce.  On the palate, flavors of violets, plum and earth but sharp, astringent acidity on the finish detract from the wine overall.  As with the 1988 DRC Echezeaux, I think the 88s are ready to drink, and are unlikely to benefit from further cellaring.  89 points, non-blind.


The next flight was a pair of Barolos, including one from Richard’s birth vintage, as well as my favorite red wine, the 1997 Gaja Sperss.  These were served alongside Dean’s excellent porcini mushroom and penne casserole, a perfect match, especially for the 1952 Cappellano.

The 1952 Cappellano Barolo has a pure light garnet-terracotta color.  Initially this smelled a bit reductive on the nose, as with most Barolos of this age.  After 15 minutes of air, it developed a beautiful nose of earth and roses, with a touch of briny oyster and some barnyard.   The palate was supple and soft, with cherry fruit, earth and mushroom flavors, and the wine still maintains a balanced level of acidity.  The palate is not nearly as funky as the nose. This wine was damn impressive, considering the 1952 vintage is a good, but not spectacular, vintage in Piedmont.  Amazing when paired with mushrooms.  93 points, non-blind.

The 1997 Gaja Sperss is ruby to the rim, with no signs of age.  It could stand a 6-12 hour decant if your opening one any time in the next 10 years.   Beautiful nose of anise, tar, eucalyptus and bright cherry.  Tea notes evolved over an hour in the glass.  On the palate, this remains massive with huge acidity and tannin that will enable it to live for decades.   Great balance and power, this is not really ready to go, but the quality is ridiculous.  96 points, non-blind.

85Sassicaia 1995Petrus

Next came a pair of legendary Bordeaux blends that we would enjoy alone before the final course of the evening.

1985 Sassicaia pitted against 1995 Petrus is a ridiculous match up, but on this night, it seemed almost reasonable.

The 1985 Sassicaia is probably the most hyped vintage of Sassicaia ever produced, and in my experience, has been variable bottle to bottle.  When good, it is mind-blowing, but other times it is a huge disappointment.  Fortunately, this bottle was the best I’ve ever tasted.  A pure ruby-garnet color to the rim, classic cassis, green pepper and day old white rice scents on the nose (This is how I identify these damn Supertuscans blind – green pepper and white rice).  Also notes of earth and wet forest floor.  The palate of this wine had amazingly youthful intensity and power, like a Sassicaia from the late 90s.  Great cassis and earth flavors, this bottle was very fresh and wonderful.  96 points, non-blind.

Alongside the Sassicaia would be the 1995 Petrus, my first experience tasting this ultimate of cult wines.  Although Bordeaux is far from my favorite wine region, this was a spectacular bottle.   Ruby-garnet to the rim, nose of cherry, herbs, menthol and chocolate.  A velvety, seamless palate, with cassis, cherry, chocolate and herb flavours.  The most impressive part of this wine was the structure.  As a right bank Bordeaux, I did not expect it to have the powerful, balanced acid and tannin that it possessed.  Perfect balance, this wine will age wonderfully.  97 points, non-blind.  My red wine of the night. (Though not overall WOTN)


Next came a duo of new world wines, the 1996 Opus One and 1994 Penfolds Grange.  Opus One is considered by many (including myself) to be an overrated and overhyped wine, but from 1994-1996, the Mondavi-Rothschild conglomerate made some awesome wines.  Grange is the exact opposite, a wine of superior quality that cannot be hyped enough.   I love Grange, and have yet to taste a bottle that was anything but excellent.  1994 is not the most touted of Grange vintages, but I have been thoroughly impressed on both occasions Richard has graciously served it.

These wines were served with Richard’s stuffed moose roast served with potatoes and vegetables.

The 1996 Opus One is ruby-garnet to the rim, with a great nose of cassis, spice box, tobacco and earthy forest floor.  Consistent with previous bottles, this had a bit of brett on the nose, which for me does not detract from the wine (though it may for others).    There was also a jalapeno pepper note that some may find a bit overly herbaceous/green.  Again, I enjoyed it.  The palate tastes of cassis, tobacco, wet leaves and brett.  Good acidity and medium plus finish.  94 points, non-blind

The 1994 Grange was also ruby-garnet to the rim, with candied wildberry and boysenberry jam notes.  Hint of eucalyptus, but overall driven by candied wild fruits.  The palate was similar, and though this didn’t have the length of the great Granges, it was nonetheless fantastic.  95 points, non-blind.


Finally, a 1988 Chateau D’Yquem was served for dessert after an excellent chocolate cake.  Unfortunately, we had tasted a huge amount of wine by this time, which detracted from the fact that this was the wine of the night.  The 1988 version of D’Yquem is absolutely singing right now, and in a much better place than the more hyped 1989 and 1990.  Huge apricot, peach and tropical fruit notes, not as much botrytis and crème brulee as some, which I like.  Perfect balance, acidity and sweetness, this D’Yquem is close to perfect.  98 points, non-blind.  I am  nearly certain this would be 100 points if served closer to the beginning of the meal.


All told, we enjoyed 15 amazing bottles of wine, and none of them were corked.  We were so stuffed by the end of the night that we were unable to try the 1952 Dalva White Colheita Port and 1952 Leacock Verdelho Madeira, both of which I would have loved to try.  The Madeira should hold for about 10 years, so please save me an ounce, Richard.

More importantly, it was great to see all of our friends again, who we have missed so much since moving away from Edmonton in 2010, but continue to visit regularly.  Maybe I should get a job there so I can move back.


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Per Se

Per Se

4th Floor Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, New York

The single biggest reason for our visit to New York was to dine at Per Se.  Unfortunately, it would be the biggest disappointment of the trip.

*Scroll to bottom if you want to see meal summary now.*

Having overtaken Alinea and newly appointed as the number one restaurant in America, the anticipation for this meal was comparable only to my excitement for my two previous meals at Alinea.  Opened by Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) in 2004, Per Se is now the flagship restaurant in his empire.  In addition to being ranked the #1 restaurant in  2012, there were two other storylines adding to the excitement for this meal.

First, Thomas Keller is Camille’s favourite chef, and his cookbooks have led to many delicious meals at our home.  I look forward to dinner for 2-3 days every time she begins one of his elaborate recipes.

KellerAchatzLeft: Grant Achatz  Right: Thomas Keller

Second, Keller trained Grant Achatz of Alinea (pronounced A-linea, not Al-in-ea) in Chicago.  Achatz (pronounced Ak-ets) was Keller’s sous-chef at The French Laundry and the two are great friends.  In my eyes, Achatz may be the greatest chef in the world. Having dined at Alinea twice in the past two years, and both times having the greatest meals of my life, I was looking forward to Per Se blowing my f***!ng mind.

LightsaberpicLeft: Grant Achatz  Right: Thomas Keller

Regardless of this review of Per Se, and the outcome of the Obi Wan Keller-Darth Achatz Jedi battle, it is an amazing feat that mentor and pupil helm the two foremost restaurants in the United States.  The list of chef’s trained under Keller and Achatz is also awesome, and run many other fantastic American restaurants.

*Unfortunately, this review will not have pictures of every course, as it was very dark at our table, and many pictures were of poor quality without flash.  I’d rather not show pictures at all when they don’t truly represent the presentation, it’s unfair to the chef. I was able to take some good pictures, and will use a few others from the internet and credit the websites.


Per Se is located on the 4th floor of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle.  The false set of blue doors pay homage to The French Laundry, the real entrance is the set of automatic sliding glass doors next to them.

Upon entering we passed through the salon area, which is a no reservations area where you can order  The prices are reasonable, and the setting is less formal than the dining room.  It’s a great option for those who have an unexpected visit to NYC, and can’t make the requisite 30 day in advance reservation.

Speaking of which, getting a reservation at Per Se is no easy feat.  Their website says reservations are available both by phone and on OpenTable exactly one month in advance at 9 AM.  In order to get ours, I needed two phones, two laptops and tried for two days to secure a 5:30 PM reservation.  It sounds kind of like the rule of 2s for Meckel’s diverticulum.  (Google it if you have no idea what I’m talking about)  I was on hold for a total of 120 minutes before finally getting through to obtain the reservation, about $30 worth of U.S. minutes from Canada.  OpenTable doesn’t seem to actually have reservations except last minute ones, so it could be pretty rough trying to make a reservation from overseas.

Onto the food.

The menu at Per Se changes daily.  The only constants on the menu are the two amuse bouche courses and the “oysters and pearls” course.  However, many ingredients are used frequently because of the relationship Keller has with his purveyors.  As a sign of gratitude (I think) a manual containing information about each purveyor is given to guests at the end of the meal.

The meal came in three acts: two amazing amuse bouche courses, the disappointing courses before the truffle pasta, and the excellent courses thereafter.


The first amuse was the Gruyere gougere, a perfect fluffy pastry ball stuffed with Gruyere cheese.  Soft pastry, warm cheese, delicious.

persesalmoncornetImage courtesy

The second amuse is the famous salmon tartar cornet.  Sashimi grade salmon, finely minced chive and shallot, red onion creme fraiche, and wrapped with a wafer-thin, buttery tuille.  Absolutely explosive flavour, I could eat dozens of these.

The two amuse courses were everything we expected.  Awesome!


After looking through the extensive wine list (on iPad), we ordered a half bottle of the 2001 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel.  A stunning wine, this had great petroleum, peach and sultana raisin notes, with lively acidity and a long finish.  2001 is such a brilliant vintage in Germany, you cannot go wrong.  The wine paired wondefully with almost every course.

This brings up the point that white wines are nearly always the way to go when pairing with tasting menus.  There are usually no more than 1-2 red meat courses, and viscous wines like German Riesling (Kabinett-Auslese) pair with everything from fish to foie gras to light red meats.

Unfortunately, we did not order or get our wine until after the first or second course.  This is one of my major peeves when dining, being rushed to choose from the wine list.  If you are a restaurant with a 100 page wine list, how the hell do you expect a wine crazy person to read and choose within 2 minutes of sitting down.  We enjoy perusing the entire list and finding something that is a relative bargain.  This is especially important when the wine list is marked up 4-500% such as at Per Se or Charlie Trotter’s.  Several times on this trip we felt rushed to order our wine, and sometimes food would begin coming before we had even ordered the wine.  Just slow the f#$k down already.


The first course of the meal was Keller’s other signature dish, “Oysters and Pearls”.  A “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca, a heaping spoonful of white sturgeon caviar, and two Island Creek oysters.  The tapioca had great texture, and just enough firmness to offset the medley of other soft textures within the dish.  Nice salinity from the caviar, though overall the dish seemed a bit round and lacking in acidity.  The acidity in the wine complemented the dish very well.

*No pics for next few courses, sorry.

For the second course we both chose the Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm “Bavarois”. (A foie gras dish was available for an additional supplement). This was a lovely presentation of thin heart of palm ribbons surrounded by rhubarb, sorrel, Kishu mandarins and drops of preserved black walnut puree.  The heart of palm itself did not have much flavor, but was very creamy in texture, and balanced by the acidity of the rhubarb and peppery sorrel.  The puree was rich like aged balsamic.  Overall this was the most creative and beautifully presented course of the night.  However, the appearance was the best part of the dish, and there was no wow factor with respect to the flavour profile. If you click here you’ll find a similar appearing heart of palm dish.

For the third course, we had a pave of Meditteranean Turbot.  The fish was well cooked and had a shrimp mousse sandwiched between the fish and golden brown outer crust.  This was accompanied by a green garlic confit, two small pieces of romaine lettuce and caramelized salsify sticks which had a tasty buttered potato fry flavour.  The beurre rouge (red butter sauce) was forgettable and did not contribute to the overall dish.  The turbot and mousse were both quite dense, and like the Oysters and Pearls this dish lacked balance, mostly due to a lack of acidity.  The Auslese did pair excellently though.

The next course was the low point of the meal.  Butter poached lobster tail with parmesan mousse, broccolini florettes and chanterelle-toasted barley potage.  The description sounds amazing, but unfortunately the combination of thick chanterelle sauce, parmesan mousse and lobster was overly heavy and rich.  For the third time in four courses, too much butter and a lack of acidity led to an unbalanced dish.  The highlight of this dish was the toasted barley which gave a crunchy textural contrast to the rich sauces and buttery lobster.  If anyone remembers wheat crunch from mid 1990s grade school, that’s what this tasted like.  This dish would have been much better with less chanterelle sauce, and an acid or heat component.  I literally said to Camille “maybe I should ask for a lemon”.  Yikes!

Thankfully we would be pulled from depression to mania at this point, as we had opted to supplement a black truffle course.  Camille is a truffle eating fiend; we also did an 8 course black truffle tasting at Bouley and a truffle pasta at Babbo this trip.  I’m pretty sure she’d train our kids to sniff out truffles if she could.  Though white truffle season was over, we were in the heart of black truffle season.

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The truffle pasta was a perfect al dente hand cut tagliatelle covered in a massive load of black truffles.  They shaved truffle until the pasta was completely covered, and also generously added more truffle midway through the course.  If you look at the above box, one of those whole truffles was shaved for our two plates.  Nutty, earthy and beautifully aromatic, this was easily the dish of the night (DOTN), pretty much pure heaven.

Up next was the lamb course (Option for Wagyu beef supplement) which was a sous vide piece of Elysian Fields Farm’s loin and smaller piece of tenderloin.  The tenderloin was amazing, rich and melt in your mouth soft.  Served with Meiwa kumquats, braised pine nuts, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms the bright acidity of the kumquats helped to cut the richness of the meat and sauce.  The mushrooms were perfectly cooked and earthy, while the pine nuts added little to the dish. I noted here that the flavours in the sauce were less developed than the demi-glace Camille prepares at home using Thomas Keller’s French Laundry recipe.  A bit shocking.  However, this was still a great dish, though the pine nuts could have been left out.  The tenderloin piece was reminiscent of the perfect sous vide lamb cooked by Chef Bear at the Marcus Whitman Hotel 3 years ago.

A prepared cheese course of Andante Dairy’s Musette came next, a hard sheep’s milk cheese from California sitting on a potato millefeuille and coleslaw.  The spiciness of the slaw and acid of Burgundy mustard balanced the nutty cheese.  There were also two sweet and delicious dehydrated red onion rings, which tasted more like beet rings than red onion.


Next came a refreshing Champagne mango sorbet, with papaya, coconut cream and coconut merignue.  Light and airy, this exploded with floral and tropical flavours with great interplay between sweetness and acidity.  It was balanced without any hint of being cloying.  Simple but superb, an outstanding dish.


The final course on the menu was a Calvados “Parfait”.  Granny Smith apples, hibiscus puree, vanilla custard and maple syrup gelee.  The Calvados ice cream ball was covered with oats (I think) which gave crunchy contrast to the soft ice cream.  Great textures, all flavors were well integrated and everything belonged on the plate.  Another outstanding dish.

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At this point the Mignardises began with a tiny mandarin orange ice cream sandwich.  This was a great bite, bursting with orange.

The house made chocolates came next, an assortment of 24 varieties.  Camille had the smoked black tea chocolate, while I chose a smoked and cinnamon chocolate.  Both were of excellent quality, probably the best house made chocolates we’ve had in a restaurant.


The last mignardises came in a three tiered apparatus; the bottom tier contained lime, milk and dark chocolates, the middle tier was two types of macaroons, and the top tier contained toffees and nougat.  The lime chocolates were fantastic, while we were too full to finish the other chocolates.  One of the macaroons was very good, while the other tasted strangely like Uni.  The toffee and nougat were also great.


As a final gift from our server Kevin, we were brought the famous French Laundry “Coffee and Donuts” dessert.  Cappuccino semifreddo and cinnamon-sugar donuts, the warm donuts were like super awesome Timbits and the semifreddo had an amazing soft and velvety texture.  You can find the recipe online or in the French Laundry cookbook.  This was a great way to finish the meal.

After finishing our meal we visited the kitchen and witnessed the team in action.  Most remarkable was the near silence despite the flurry of activity at the various stations.  No yelling, no clanging of pots and pans, just silent efficiency.  Also of interest was that there are no walk-ins in the Per Se kitchen, so no ingredients can ever be stuffed on a shelf behind others and spoil.  They have a tight system of labeling and accountability for prep as well.

After much discussion and analysis, these are my final thoughts on Per Se:

1)On this night, Per Se was a letdown.  It was not in the same league as Alinea, and it unfortunately was only the 5th or 6th best meal we had on this New York visit.

That is disappointing, as we both love Thomas Keller and respect him greatly for all his contributions to the world of food.  He was not in the kitchen, and we didn’t expect him to be.  At this point in his career, I would be impressed if Keller still made it to the kitchen regularly or even conceptualized the dishes.  In Grant Achatz’s “Life, on the Line” he spoke about doing most of the work for the cookbook with the other sous chefs at the French Laundry, and that was over a decade ago.

2)The meal came in three acts: the two amazing amuse bouche courses, the disappointing courses before the truffle pasta, and the excellent courses thereafter.  Two technical criticisms were the lack of balance in several dishes, and unnecessary ingredients in completed dishes.  Every item on the plate should contribute to the overall dish.

3)The most lacking element of the meal was “wow factor”.  When dining at restaurants of this reputation and quality, perfect execution and technical skill does not cut it.  There needs to be something more, flavours should explode, there should be depth and evolution across the palate, and dishes should be memorable.  Several dishes had wow factor, including the salmon cornets and truffle pasta.  However, at $125 for the truffle supplement, I’m pretty sure anyone can make a wow factor dish.

4)We will give Per Se another chance next time were in New York, especially because the menu changes daily.  Maintaining a standard of excellence while changing the menu daily is a huge challenge, I wonder if it would be more intelligent to keep each dish for a few days or a week in order to perfect them.



Posted in Michelin 3 Star, New York City | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Public NYC


210 Elizabeth Street, New York City, February 24 2013,


Photo courtesy

Public restaurant opened in the NoLita/Soho area in 2003 and since that time has won multiple awards, including a Michelin star in 2009.  The chef, Brad Farmerie, has also appeared on Iron Chef: America, and beat Cat Cora in Battle “Maple Syrup”. Public serves dinner as well as a first come, first serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday.  As it’s a popular spot, showing up before 11 AM or after 2 PM will greatly reduce your wait time.

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Left photo courtesy

Public is a beautiful space, designed by the AvroKo design group.  In addition to its culinary awards, it has also received a James Beard foundation design award.  The space can be best described as a chic industrious-modern design, with brick, warm woods and clean lines.  One of the cool aspects is an old fashioned library card catalog that contains their old menus from each date. There is also a cool horse head on the wall, which even Camille loved (She rides/loves horses).  Ok, ok, enough with the design comments, this is a food blog.

As it was already almost 1 PM by the time we were seated, we decided to stick with a light menu.  Dinner at Per Se would be in 4 hours, so we couldn’t fill up too much.  Having a myriad of brunch options in NYC, I chose Public based on its diverse menu with more esoteric brunch items.

CamilleatPublic OrangeJuice Scones

To start I had a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, while Camille had a Jasmine tea.  The OJ was a spectacular burst of summer, but I guess it should be at six dollars per 8 ounce glass.  The tea was aromatic and light, a standard Jasmine.  We were also given two small scones to start, one cranberry, the other fennel seed.  Both were good, but a bit dry.

Camille decided on the tropical fruit bowl with rosewater and sweet tahini yogurt, while I chose the coconut pancakes with fresh ricotta, mango salad and ginger-lime syrup.


The tropical fruit salad was a bit of false advertising, containing only grapefruit, orange, grapes and pineapple.  I wouldn’t really consider the first three to be tropical fruits.  Regardless, the salad was a pretty dish, with great aromatics from the rosewater and chiffonade of mint.  The flavours were bright and clean, with the mint and rosewater adding an element not found in a typical fruit salad.  The tahini yogurt was thick and delicious.  The two gripes about this dish were the lack of tropical fruits (eg. guava/papaya/mango) and that the rosewater somewhat overpowered the other flavours.


The coconut pancakes were light and fluffy, with a definite coconut flavour.  The mango salad and ginger-lime syrup were excellent, and made for a more tropical topping than Camille’s salad.  The ricotta was great as well. As a big fan of coconut, I was hoping for more coconut flavour, but I think that the texture would become too fibrous if more was added.  In order to make super coconut-y pancakes, you’d likely have to add the flavour elsewhere, either in a cream, drizzle or extract.  Overall I still enjoyed this dish very much.

Our server was knowledgeable about all menu items, and service was efficient and attentive.

Public is a visually stunning restaurant and serves a unique brunch.  The food was great, with only minor critiques.  We unfortunately couldn’t order more due to our dinner at Per Se a few hours later, but the egg dishes seen at other tables looked wonderful.  They also had a table with 3-4 types of scone and various preserves, which guests were welcome to grab at their convenience.  Again, we didn’t try these due to belly space restrictions.



Posted in Brunch, Michelin 1 Star, New York City | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Russ and Daughters

Russ and Daughters

179 East Houston Street, New York City, March 2 2013


Russ and Daughters, R&D for short, is another of the historic New York restaurants around the East Village/Lower East Side area of NYC.  Located on Houston street, just a few blocks from Katz’s, R&D is famous for their bagels, lox and caviar.  I’d recommend going either on a weekday or non-peak hours, as the wait for a bagel and lox can be 30 minutes to an hour otherwise.  When you enter the premises, remember to take a number, as you won’t get served without one.


R&D has a beautiful assortment of smoked fish including sablefish, brook trout, and salmon prepared in multiple styles.  There are also over a dozen cream cheese options and eight choices of bagel. A plethora of permutations for ultimate sandwich construction.  You also have the options of adding red onion, capers, tomato, and roe to your sandwich.

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We decided on a plain bagel with scallion cream cheese, sablefish, capers and onion.  The bagel itself is very dense and chewy, and a bit on the hard side.  Good, but not amazing.  The star of the show was the sablefish, which had a great creamy texture, almost buttery.  Rich and satisfying, I would go back for a slab of sablefish alone.  The cream cheese was thick and delicious, while the capers and onions provided the acidity and spice to balance the other rich flavours.

Overall, R&D makes a fantastic bagel and lox, but the sablefish really carried the sandwich, with the bagel being a little too crusty.  For instance, the sablefish smushed out the side of the bagel when biting down, a clear sign of a problem. We tried a couple of more plain bagels after, and though tasty, they were also on the firm side.



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