Latest Posts

Weekend Unexplored: Gluttonous Adventures in Houston, Texas

I had a chance to visit Houston over a long weekend and took the opportunity to check out the city’s vibrant dining scene. For this trip, I focused on a combination of stalwarts and new additions to Houston’s downtown and surrounding area. Which establishments lived up to its hype and which restaurants failed to summit?

Saturday

After checking into the Hilton Americas in downtown the previous night, my friends and I were ready to start with brunch at Backstreet Café. This is a popular establishment in Houston and of course, we had to check it out. The exterior reminded me of a fancy French country home with a gorgeous patio beckoning us to waste the morning there; however, we could not compete with Houston’s heat and humidity. We were wimpy New Yorkers so we opted for an indoor table overlooking the brick patio. The menu at Backstreet Café focused on American dining. We ordered a few dishes such as Tuna Poke, Housemade Fresh Burrata, Skirt Steak and Eggs, Lamb with Pesto and Gulf Coast Beignets. All the dishes were well executed, but there were none that stood out. Furthermore, the atmosphere had the ubtiquous casual Southern charm, with well-dressed ladies and gents. I spied a few Hermes Birkin bags while I was there and the prices reflected that ambiance perfectly. [Verdict: Try]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next we rolled our stuffed selves over to the Trellis Spa at the Houstonian for some much deserved pampering. This is considered the best day spa in Houston and was packed when we arrived. The amenities included a pool, steam room, Jacuzzi and rest area in addition to the usual spa services. The deep tissue massage was excellent and pricey at $200 after tip and tax. This would be a splurge for special occasions and a great way to unwind with friends. I would suggest coming a few hours early to maximize the benefits of this spa, especially at the high price point. [Verdict: Try if you have the budget]

All that pampering made us famished so we dressed to the nines to try out a buzzy new restaurant, Roka Akor, for my birthday dinner. Roka Akor is a chain of high end steak and sushi restaurants with locations in San Francisco, Chicago and Scottsdale and just opened its Houston outpost a few months ago. The chain has been voted one to of the top 10 sushi spot in America by Bon Appétit. The restaurant is cavernous, but we never felt lost in it. The décor, especially the bar area, is spectacular. How can I package all that oomph into my tiny home in NYC? My party of six opted for the omakase menu costing $128 per person, which did not disappoint. The menu consisted of Roka’s best dishes spanning sushi to seafood to waygu beef. Surprisingly, the beef was a bit of a letdown while the sushi and seafood shined. Our favorite dish of the night was the beef wrapped in onion and topped with truffles. It was decadent and bursting with flavors. The only negative was that this was one of the most expensive dinners that I had had in a while at around $200/per person after wine, tip and tax. Overall, the trendy yet elegant ambiance really brings special occasion dining up a notch for Houston. [Verdict: Must Try]

img_1450-1

Sunday

Houston heat and humidity set in, which made us all too lazy to venture far for lunch. We settled on Brasserie du Parc with its bistro interiors across the park from the hotel. The menu was typical of a French café and the food was quite average coming from the renowned Chef Philippe Verpiand. I actually think some of us had stomach aches after that meal. I would recommend passing up this brasserie for better options around the corner. [Verdict: Pass]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My friends then left for the airport so I was solo for the rest of the trip. For dinner that night, I arrived at a small strip mall to try Kata Robata, a highly rated sushi restaurant in Houston. I did not know what to expect and let my curiosity dictate what to order. I was seated in front of the sushi bar and noticed that there were a lot of people behind the counter who were not necessarily experienced sushi chefs and were putting out various rolls and sashimi dish with too much urgency. To my right and my left were diners that raved about how good the sushi was…so my expectations were heightened. The head chef, Chef Manabu Horiuchi, was also not there that night so that affected my experience. I ordered a few dishes that highlighted Kata’s creativity. My favorite dishes were uni chawanmushi for its light bonito broth with a perfect egg custard texture and chef choice of nigiri made with waygu, uni, quail egg and caviar. My least favorite dish was the roasted bone marrow with miso and bonito. I was searching very hard for that miso flavor profile and ended up disappointed. The quality of the nigiris were inconsistent such that my hamachi with quail egg literally fell apart as I was picking it up. There was a strong emphasis on the mismatch of ingredients for sushi where it should be focused on the essential basics: rice and the quality of the fish. At $10-$15 per nigiri, the sushi was just average. Overall, the sushi was good for Houston standard, but the pricing was misaligned with the quality being offered. [Verdict: Meh]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Monday

I researched and found Xochi, a restaurant from famed Chef Hugo Ortega, that opened 8 months ago and was only a block away from the Hilton. Xochi’s food is focused on an elegant interpretation of Oaxaca cuisine. The new restaurant has a fantastic “2 for $22” lunch special where you can try some signature dishes at an affordable price point. After being seated, I ordered the popular Ostiones De Lujo (half-dozen wood-roasted oysters, mole amarillo, cotija, breadcrumbs) and Robalo (sea bass, aguachile verde, cilantro, avocado, serrano, corn, red onion, cucumber, plantain tostada). I had some concerns whether the portions would keep me full as they are technically appetizer dishes. Luckily this was Texas where everything is supersized! The oysters were perfectly roasted so that the bread crumbs were warm and crunchy, while the oysters were still rare on the inside. Next came the gorgeously plated sea bass that showcased strong French influences in its presentation. The Robolo was perfectly seasoned so that there was enough tartness without giving me the sour lemon reaction that I often get with ceviche. The dining space is ginormous, yet the service is also personal. I normally do not go for Mexican food, but I would not hesitate to come back the next time I am in town. [Verdict: Must Try]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For dinner that night, I was able to secure a reservation for Theodore Rex, a hot new restaurant that literally just opened. It felt like being part of a secret club to be able to try this gem. The dishes were inventive and experimental, while remaining approachable for the average Joe. As the restaurant is new, there were inevitable misses when the chef tries to be creative. I appreciated the courage to do something different even with a simple seared chicken breast. (Click here for a detail review of Theodore Rex) After dinner, I would say this was my favorite restaurant of this trip to Houston. Houston has a booming culinary scene that only gets better with time. [Verdict: Must Try]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I look forward to seeing what I can discover on my next visit to the vibrant city.

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page or the World Travel Index.

Author: Chau Hoang

Review: Chef Yu’s Reinvention with Theodore Rex (Houston, TX)

On my recent trip to Houston, I discovered Theodore Rex, a 28-seat restaurant from Chef Yu situated in the same space as his acclaimed and now closed Oxtail. Chef Yu is a James Beard award winner and rose to culinary fame with his vegetable tasting menu. After losing passion for the tasting menu concept over the last 5 years, he decided to open a “new” restaurant with a shareable plate concept. Theodore Rex was so new that I had not heard of it until Chef Takata at Kata Robata recommended the restaurant for my last dinner in Houston. The restaurant opened on Friday, October 6. As expected, reservations were already booked out for October. I called the restaurant and was able to get a walk-in seat. The restaurant reserves four bar seats facing the kitchen and one table for walk-ins. Did Chef Yu’s reinvention live up to the hype?

My Uber driver had trouble finding the restaurant in the sketchy looking warehouse district as it has been badly affected by the recent flooding. Once I entered the small and inviting space, I was captivated by the mismatched décor that alternated between rustic, industrial and modern…but it all blended together seamlessly. I was presented with a short menu and selected a few recommended dishes. In addition, the restaurant also has a good selection of wine and cocktails at affordable prices.

  1. Tomato Toast – Rye and flaxseed pan de miel toasted and dressed with tomato fondant, green tomatoes, water, fresh grape, tomato slices and fresh herbs. This dish was a classic holdover from Oxtail and was a perfect start to my dinner. The toast was surprisingly light and had both tartness and sweetness from the tomatoes and grapes. There was an underlying hint of spice that added another dimension to the dish.
  1. Potato Pave – Thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes layered with butter and cream, baked and then pan seared in chicken drippings. The chef then added sofrito and celery, shallot, carrot and parmigiana reggiano. The potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside. The only negative was that the combination of the sauce and parmigiana reggiano made the dish too salty. I asked my friend to try it and he agreed… this coming from a guy who likes salty food.
  1. Pankora-battered Indian Creek “Oyster” Mushrooms” – This tempura dish was made with brown rice and chickpea pankora batter, Indian creek oyster mushrooms and bunching onions. These fried mushrooms were served with a white onion soubise and hackleback roe sauce and topped with cured egg yolk. I had such high expectation after the waiter described this dish to me eloquently. However, all I tasted was the batter and more fat from the sauce. The oyster mushrooms and all the other fancy ingredients got lost in the preparation process. This dish could benefit from some tartness to offset the grease. The batter was well prepared; however, it just lacked any personality. This was a reversal of my Texas bias of “go big or go home.”

img_1646

  1. “Guinea” Hen – My main entrée was a chicken dish: the horror! I rarely order chicken, but the waiter sold me on this. The chef brined a breast of a French guinea hen and then pan seared it. The breast was sliced and added to a broth of fermented green garbie and chicken. The meat was then topped with a salad of sliced onion, cucumber and herbs. The green garbie were fermented for one and half weeks creating a stronger onion taste that stood up to the chicken broth. On my first bite of the brined chicken, I did not know what to make of the texture. My best description would have to be “bouncy”. After a few more bites, I started to like it. The chicken breast had a soft and chewy texture at the same time and worked with the soupy sauce. I generally do not like onion, but it added a lot of extra flavor to this dish without overwhelming the delicate chicken. This dish perfectly described the style that Theodore Rex is trying to capture in its menu, experimental and yet approachable.
  1. Roasted Texas Waygu – This dish highlighted a “Denver cut” that was perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper and then seared and basted with butter. The steak rested atop a sherry vinegar pan sauce and topped with fermented radish caramelized in beef fat and cooked down in beef stock. Charcoal wilted mizuna and kale finished the dish. This was my friend’s favorite dish of his meal and he could not stop raving about it. I had a taste and had to agree that this was a highlight of the night. The steak melted in my mouth and the sauce and vegetable accompaniments lightened an otherwise heavy protein. This was another standout entrée for all meat lovers. It may have been the best steak I’ve had in Houston so far.

img_1615

  1. “Saijo” Persimmons – This was a simple yet complex and delicious dessert. Very ripe “Saijo” Persimmons were skinned and finished with fresh calamansi juice, olive oil and finishing salt. The salt enhanced the sweetness of the persimmons and kept them from going into the candy land territory. I finished this dish in less than a minute, which should tell you how much I liked this dessert.

img_1696

While I had my meal, Chef Yu came by on a few occasions to chat about the food and his background. I asked him why he closed down his acclaimed tasting menu restaurant for this new endeavor. His response was that he wanted to focus on simplicity and the ingredients at the core of his menu. Furthermore, he wanted to be passionate about his food again. I also found out that his favorite vegetable was carrot and he hopes that it will be an addition to the current roster. The menu at Theodore Rex changes every week and is very affordable for the quality, effort and creativity.

img_1688

My experience at Theodore Rex was overall very positive. As the restaurant just opened a few days before my dining experience, some kinks still need to be worked out. There are more hits than misses with the experimental menu and that should continue to improve as the chef du cuisine, Jason White, gets his bearings. Theodore Rex should be on your list to try before it becomes impossible to secure a reservation. This restaurant is a breath of fresh air for Houston’s crowded dining scene.

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page or the World Travel Index.

Author: Chau Hoang

Featured photo courtesy of houstonfoodfinder.com

Review: The “Beginner’s Omakase” – Sushi by Bou at Sanctuary Hotel (NYC)

The concept of affordable omakase that is meant to be eaten within 30 minutes is relatively new to New York City. Sushi on Jones by Chef David Bouhadana launched this trend in 2016 with its first outdoor sushi stall. Fast forward a year and Chef Bouhadana has moved on to open Sushi by Bou at the Gansevoort Market with the same concept, $50 omakase comprising of 12 pieces of nigiri. By July 2017, Chef Bouhadana opened a second Sushi by Bou location at the Sanctuary Hotel. I was intrigued by this speed eating concept so I reserved dinner for two one Monday evening. How did this omakase compare to the typical sushi experience?

Sushi by Bou menu

First, we needed to find the entrance. The restaurant is in the basement level to the left of the Sanctuary Hotel’s main entrance. A bright neon sign and a lot of graffiti indicated that we were at the general vicinity where we could search for a semi-hidden door. Once we passed through the grungy looking entrance, we were greeted with a trendy studio-sized restaurant containing a sushi counter and a “bar”. I had hoped that we would be served by Chef Bouhadana, but we ended up with his sous chef. Once we settled into our seats at the counter, we ordered two cocktails, one sake-based and one whisky-based. My sake cocktail was awful while my cousin’s whisky cocktail was surprisingly easy to drink. This inconsistency was the theme for the rest of the meal.

The sous chef started the timer indicating the beginning of our omakase and then proceeded to feed us one nigiri after another. At times, I felt like I was in a sushi eating contest within a NY minute…which I had expected. Some pieces were nicely composed while other nigiri were just average. The quality of the fish is better than your neighborhood sushi joint in the city and tended to be kissed by a blowtorch. Even though the rice seasoning was nicely balanced between vinegar, sugar and salt, the overall quality was just above average. The omakase veered toward traditional sushi with the exception of one nigiri combination of waygu beef and uni. This Frankenstein nigiri hinted at what Chef Boudahana’s creativity can bring given the right conditions. This piece was my favorite nigiri of the night.

After ingesting 12 pieces of sushi in 30 minutes, we were asked if we wanted to order additional nigiri and I declined. For the price and quality, I did not think it warranted ordering extra pieces. My cousin, who is an omakase novice, loved it for both the trendy atmosphere and generally above average quality for the price. He summed up this experience best as a “beginner’s omakase” and I would have to agree. Sushi by Bou’s $50 chef tasting is an enticing entry point in a sea of $100+ options in Manhattan.

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page or the World Travel Index.

Author: Chau Hoang

Feature photo courtesy of Sushi by Bou

Vietnamese Grilled Chili Bread / Bánh Mì Nướng Muối Ớt

Vietnamese street food has been gaining popularity over the past few years. The combination of influences from western foodie culture and flavors from its Asian neighbors created an interesting variety of new offerings. Vietnamese grilled chili bread or bánh mì nướng muối ớt is a fusion dish that is made for gatherings. This snack is highly customizable and elevates a few inexpensive ingredients to the next level. This is our version of this popular street snack.

Ingredients:

2 loaves of bread such as Portuguese roll or similar type of bread that has a  nice crust with a light and soft inside.

1 tablespoon of chili paste such as Sambal Oelek Chili Paste

1 tablespoon of Sriracha (and more to garnish at the end)

1 tablespoon of regular mayonnaise or Kewpie mayonnaise

1 tablespoon of butter

2 stalks of scallion

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1 tablespoon of garlic (approximately 3 cloves)

Handful of fried shallots

Sprinkle of ground black pepper

Meat Toppings:

1/4 pound of Chinese BBQ pork or any other meat toppings like sausage or ham.

1 cup of pork floss

Any meat toppings that are in your fridge should work.

Directions:

Mix 1 tablespoon of chili paste, 1 tablespoon of sriracha, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

Diced 2 stalks of scallion. Mix scallion with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and microwave for 30 seconds. You can also make scallion oil in a pan.

Minced 3 cloves of garlic (approximately 1 tablespoon). Heat a pan on medium heat with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and add garlic. Remove from the stove when garlic turns golden brown.

Thinly slice BBQ pork and butter.

Toast the bread for 3-4 minutes in a toaster oven until the top is slightly crunchy and the insides are soft. This will make it easier to flatten the bread.  Carefully remove the loaves of bread from the toaster. Using a rolling pin, flatten each loaf.

You can continue to use the toaster oven for the next step or place a baking rack over the burners on the stove. I prefer the stove so I can easily control the next steps. Heat the stove on low. Spread a few slices of butter on top of each loaf and place them on the rack.

Once the butter melts, use a brush and generously spread the chili mayonnaise mixture. Let it “dry” out for 30 seconds and brush on another generous layer. Let that cook for 30 seconds or so until the paste has “dried up”. Flip the bread so that it gets 15 to 30 seconds of caramelization. Remove from the heat. You may need to flip or move the bread away from the burner during this process. Be careful not to burn the bread.

Use a scissor and cut each loaf into bite size strips. Top the toasted bread with slices of BBQ pork, a layer of scallion oil, a layer of pork floss, and then a second layer of scallion oil. Finish the dish with a generous sprinkle of fried shallots, toasted garlic and ground black pepper. Add a squeeze of sriracha and mayonnaise (optional) and serve.

img_6761

img_6834

For more recipes, visit our EAT page or Recipe Index.

Authors: Susan Tran and Chau Hoang

 

Weekend Unexplored: Escape from Manhattan with Getaway (Catskills, New York)

Like many overworked and overstimulated New Yorkers, I was searching for a place to escape from the concrete jungle for a weekend. I stumbled onto Getaway, a glamping company, as I was researching tiny homes for the blog. Getaway was started by graduate students, John Staff and Pete Davis, in conjunction with Harvard Innovation Lab in 2015 with a mission to help millennials disconnect from city life. The company rents tiny stylish mobile homes, approximately 160 to 200 sqf., that are equipped with a comfortable queen bed, two-burner kitchen stove, mini-fridge, full size sink, hot running shower and an electric toilet for approximate $129-$149 a night. There are 12 tiny houses spread across a 20-acre site nestled in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Renters are notified of the location of their cabin within a week and the cabin name and door code within 24 hours of their arrival. This concept prevents renters from stressing out about the trip. The cabins are located within a two-hour drive from Boston or New York. So, how did this glamping getaway turn out for this city girl?

img_0457

Scenic view of the Hudson River from the train ride to the Catskills

Back in July, I had tried to book a cabin with Getaway; however, there was no availability until September. I asked a college friend to come along for the trip since it struck me that this experience had shades of Blair Witch Project #2. It is invigorating and a bit scary to be in the woods by yourself and I was not ready for that. I had searched for a four-person cabin as they had two beds instead of the 2-person cabin with one queen bed. Only the 2-person cabin was available before January so I reserved that option with the assumption that the sleeping arrangement could work with my male friend. I also booked my Amtrak ticket to Hudson Station where I was meeting him. The Hudson Station is a 25-minute drive to the Getaway NY location and also has taxis available for those taking public transportation. Being a type A person, I arranged all of our groceries and cooking supplies. I was very happy that I did some planning. As we were driving from the train station to the campground Friday evening, we could not find a place even to buy firewood as everything closes at 7pm.

When we arrived at our cabin, “Grace”, we were instantly captivated by her unique design. It is only 160 square feet, but it never felt cramped with two people in the cabin. There were a few moments where we just climbed all over the cabin like little kids. After checking out the basic provisions, it reconfirmed my decision to bring my own cooking supplies and food. There was only one bottle of tomato sauce and a package of pasta that was meal worthy in the provisions that were available for purchase. We began to cook dinner since it was now 8pm. We had trouble starting the fire as the rain snuffed it out quickly. Next, our induction burner also did not work, which made any dinner non-existent at this point. I had one bar of signal on my cellphone and I called the customer representative for help. The whole thing resembled a Sprint commercial, “Hi, can you hear me now? Repeat…” It turned out that Getaway knew that one of the burner did not work, but then decided not to warn us. The site manager, who lives in Hudson, arrived an hour later with another 2-burner hot plate for us to use. We were starving at this time without a mean to cook dinner and luckily, the rain stopped and we were able to make a quick meal around 9pm. It was an eventful way to start a “relaxing” glamping trip.

img_0632

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My favorite thing about the cabin was the giant picture window right next to the bed. Waking up at 7am on a Saturday to a view of trees and birds is calming and wondrous. I was more amazed that I woke up earlier than 10am on a Saturday! It must have been that mountain air circulating through the cabin or the mosquitos that woke me up. We then spent the rest of the day alternating between cooking meals on the grill and lazing around in the comfy Adirondack chairs. As there was no Wifi or cell signal, my friend and I were able to just chill without distraction. I could not recall the last time I truly relaxed without reaching for the phone to check text messages or social media updates. We also walked around the campsite and chatted with the site manager, Sam, who was personable and very friendly. We learned from him there is only one 4-person cabin at this site, hence the unavailability for months. The remaining cabins are really made for couples or friends who do not mind sharing a bed. Getaway is looking to expand the NY site in the coming year and I hope they fix this sleeping arrangement.

img_0599

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What I loved about the concept and the cabin was that it is convenient for New Yorkers with all the comfort of a hotel while you are camping. What I didn’t like about our specific cabin was what we “fondly” referred to as the “hole of death”. There was a dining area in our cabin where one side had a sitting area cut out too large into the floor. As you are climbing down from the bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, there is a good chance you will fall into it. The edges of the hole were also sharp and needed to be sanded down. Additionally, there are a few things Getaway can improve upon, such as:

  • Providing cabins where there is an option of two twin beds instead of one queen bed. Not everyone wants to share a bed with their friend.
  • Providing a list of kitchen supplies in their email with the location. The information is available on the website, but it would have been more efficient to have a reminder all in one place. There were things we thought the company would provide such as aluminum foil for the grill, which was not the case. There was only one set of cutlery and place setting per person, which made it hard to cook since we had no plates for prep work.
  • A cotton or wooden mat in the bathroom would have helped keep the floor dry of water after each shower.
  • There should be a mirror somewhere in the cabin. It made it inconvenient to put contacts in and also to apply face lotion without using your phone. Who would want to touch their cell, which are full of germs, and then their eyes or face?!
  • Charcoal should be provided in addition to firewood at each cabin.
  • Getaway should consider partnering up with a meal kit company, such as Plated and Blue Apron, to provide pre-ordered, ready-to-cook meals. If we did not have a car, it would have been a hassle to try to cab to the grocery store and back in the countryside. It would be very stress-free if we were able to order our groceries and have it delivered to our cabin for the weekend, especially for folks who plan on using public transportation.

There are additional things that I would bring next time such as aluminum foil, mosquito repellant candles and additional paper plates. Overall, we enjoyed our experience at Getwaway so much that we are coming back in January when I was able to reserve the only 4-person cabin.

After checking out at 11am, we drove to Hudson for brunch and walked around the charming town. If you like antiques and art galleries, you can spend hours perusing the numerous boutiques. The weekend in the Catskill provided much needed relaxation for an over-connected New Yorker and Getaway made it more enticing to do it often.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page or the World Travel Index.

Author: Chau Hoang

Feature photo courtesy of Getaway House

Review: The new “affordable” omakase at Sushi Ishikawa (NYC)

The Upper east side of Manhattan is going through a culinary resurgence with millennials moving into the neighborhood and the opening of the Q subway extension that now connects the area to the rest of Manhattan. Part of this change is the opening of Sushi Ishikawa, a 23-seat restaurant helmed by executive chef, Don Pham.  Chef Pham’s sushi pedigree includes positions as the former executive sushi chef at O Ya, executive chef at Geisha, sushi chef at Morimoto and head chef at Kitaro. Sushi Ishikawa offers two omakase menu priced at $85 for 12 courses and $125 for 15 courses. The restaurant has a lot of buzz as the hot new “affordable” omakase in Manhattan. Did the restaurant live up to the hype?

I made a reservation for two through Resy, their online reservation system. A credit card was required to confirm the booking as the restaurant has a very strict cancellation policy. You have until two days prior to the reservation to cancel without incurring a $85 per person fee. Upon entering a simply decorated 500 square foot restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the massive sushi bar that took over half of the room. The restaurant adds a bit of whimsical humor with its cute collection of chopstick holders. I was very tempted to take one home…especially the lounging panda holder.

We were lucky to sit in front of Chef Pham as he whipped up creative sushi, one after another. Sushi purists may be put off by the ingredients that Chef Pham uses such as fish sauce, caviar, fried shallots, etc. The creative combination melded together and elevates the simple nigri to another level. This is inventiveness that is also a joy for your taste buds. Furthermore, Chef Pham is very personable and likeable. He explained each nigri and its ingredients; however, the acoustics in the restaurant made it hard to hear clearly at times. Despite that, we were happy to stuff ourselves with the delicious sushi for 3 hours.

My favorite dish of the night was the two types of toro (tuna) with caviar and gold leaf. Who can say no to caviar and gold? Joking aside, the texture of charred and raw toro contrasted beautifully and the lingering hint of smokiness took the nigri to the next level. It was so good that I ordered a second one after eating 15 pieces of sushi.

Sushi Ishikawa deserves the buzz it is getting for the freshest sushi expertly prepared with a dash of whimsical imagination. I would put Chef Pham’s omakase on my top list of omakase in Manhattan for price and quality.

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page or the World Travel Index.

Author: Chau Hoang

Feature photo courtesy of NY Post

Review: Geranium (3 Michelin Stars) in Copenhagen, Denmark

As soon as I booked my flight to Copenhagen, I was ready to splurge on a gastronomic experience. At the top of my list was Noma and, unfortunately, it was closed during my visit. A good friend recommended Geranium, the only three Michelin star restaurant in Denmark. It was one of the best meals that she had eaten and that was good enough for me. I managed to book a reservation for our group of six for lunch and eagerly anticipated the feast. The cuisine at Geranium is modern Nordic with international influences. Lunch and dinner set menu at Geranium costs 2,000 DKK per person (approximately $320) and requires a deposit of 750 DKK per person (approximately $120). I also selected the juice pairing, which was something I had not seen before. With tip and tax, the meal came out to approximately $400 per person. It was a very expensive meal…but the inventiveness of the cuisine and the experience were worth every penny.

Upon entering Geranium, the interiors projected a cool Nordic vibe with its sleek modern décor and luxurious finishes. It is a beautiful restaurant overlooking Fælledparken, the park surrounding the soccer stadium. Luckily we were seated at the center table right in front of the kitchen, which afforded an unobstructed view of the culinary theatre. On our table was an elegant envelope containing a welcome letter and the Spring Universe menu.

DSC_3400.jpg

The meal started with a variety of appetizers that were a work of art and tantalized our taste buds for the courses to come. The most memorable appetizer for me was the “Razor Clam” with Minerals & Sour Cream. The shell was edible and it blew my mind how realistic the faux shell resembled the real thing. Each presentation was art on a plate and tasted just as good.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The main dishes followed the appetizers at a leisurely pace. The whole meal took 4 hours, but we never felt rushed or bored in between each course. One thing I noticed was that every chef at some point served us and explained what the dish was, including head chef Rasmus Kofoed. It added just the right amount of personal touch to the haute dining experience. The kitchen also resembled the United Nation of culinary talents so it was interesting to learn where each chef came from as we were being served by them.

The main dishes that followed were:

“Dill Stone” Horseradish & Frozen Juice from Pickled Dill

The fish are presented as “stones” and exploded with flavors when eaten.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Salted Hake, Parsley Stems & Finnish Caviar in Buttermilk

This was one of Geranium’s signature dishes and I can see why. The fish was buttery and the caviar added a layer of decadence without overwhelming the delicate hake.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scallop, Fillipa Apple, Scallop Roe & Brown Butter

The scallops were served by Chef Kofed in a theatrical display in front of our table. They were textbook perfection.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Crispy Grains, Bread with Old Grains & Gluten Free Bread with Seeds

Oddly this course was disappointing. The various breads were not on par with the dishes that we had had thus far and if anything, the gluten free bread reaffirmed my dislike of it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pickled Carrots, Smoked Pork Fat & Melted Vesterhavs Cheese

This dish was almost too pretty to eat. The pork fat and cheese flavors were subtle and melded together for a tasty treat.

DSC_3406.jpg

Lightly Salted Turbot, Celeriac & Pickled Pine

This was a good rendition of a fish dish. However, it was overshadowed by all the other creative courses that we’d had thus far.

DSC_3411.jpg

Walnut, Cep Mushroom Soup & Black Truffle

I love truffle and this was a truffle dream. The chef shaved a few slices of black truffle directly into the soup and the smell just enveloped your senses as you tasted the creamy liquid.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Grilled Lamb, Ramson & Sheep Cream with Smoked Lumpfish

Our last course was surprisingly small or maybe it seemed diminutive due to the giant plate. However, the dish was the right amount of food to end the savory portion of our meal. Thin slices of tender lamb just melted in our mouths. The lumpfish was the flavor bonus to tie it all together.

DSC_3440.jpg

The assortment of desserts arrived at our table at the same time and they were a work of art. I liked that each dessert was not  sugary and was bite sized.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also ordered the verbena tea and espresso to end our meal. The tea and espresso were good, although the “making” process was gimmicky. For the tea, the server rolled a cart over with a pot of verbena plant and proceeded to snip leaves to brew for the tea. For the espresso, another server rolled out the espresso cart to our table and pressed the coffee by hand. It definitely looked like a workout.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall, the meal was an unforgettable culinary experience and the extravagant price reflected the Michelin rating. I was grateful that we had had the lunch option as it gave us time to digest our 4 hour meal. Lunch and dinner menus are the same at Geranium. If you have a stopover in Copenhagen, this is one experience I would highly recommend to top your list of activities.

Check out our weekend in Copenhagen by clicking here.

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page or the World Travel Index.

Author: Chau Hoang

Photos: Gleb Chuvpilo