Archive for May, 2012

Momofuku Saam Bar Revisited

Posted 28 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

Saam Bar masters the art of the small plate within a deep rooted yet flexible Asian theme. David Chang and his crew keep the food fresh and delicious even after attaining star status and expanding globally. On this trip I notice a trend for the first time: the menu offers a hint of wild seasonal botanicals that are unusual even for New York.  Sweetflag (a wetland grass with edible leaves and rhizome) is served with Santa Barbara Uni and knotweed is used as a garnish over chicken liver mousse with olive berry and Maitake. The sweet flag probably found its way onto the Saam Bar menu from the Chinese medicine cabinet where its use is common. The knotweed is a large perennial plant considered invasive that is in season in spring. My guess is that the use of knotweed is connected to Japanese Sansai (traditional mountain foraging) although my first thought was Chang riffing on the Scandinavian foraging aesthetic so in vogue right now.

Perhaps Chang has taken the Redzepi foraging movement and turned it eastward to make it his own. His team of thinkers and culinary tinkerers continually earn their stripes by finding vague and obscure ingredients, innovating from broader trends, and drawing in inspiration from global travels all without losing focus on their purpose. These weeds aren’t added for simple effect, they fit a broader theme and philosophy. I am excited to sample!

Like most nights, the bar is packed, people are happy and the food and drink flows in simple rhythm. Elbow to elbow at the bar I am next to a young lady and her chatty sister on one side and a distinguished couple on the other. Seating is tight at the bar and personal space gives way to an intimacy among strangers that is pleasant and engaging if you are ready for it. Everyone is talking about and gawking at the food. With space this tight it’s hard not to hover over each other as servers drop off plates meant for sharing. The mood is expectant, jovial, and electric at the bar yet quieter and more reserved at the tables along the wall. There are more than a couple happy children seated at the tables with their parents.

Like WD50, Momofuku is not an architectural or design gem but it is beautiful. The restaurant is simple and sleek, a rectangle of solid wood walls and ceiling. The service crew is delightfully casual, well informed and attentive and the food arrives promptly and steadily. Everything is delicious.

Out the door now after a great meal headed to the next adventure. Just outside, I pass the graffiti tagged exterior Saam Bar wall along E. 13th street. It’s a splash of creative color (graffiti as high art) that is beautiful but deceptive to the uniformed. Further to the left there’s a huge tank of hissing liquid nitrogen adjacent to the side entrance of Booker and Dax, Chang’s experimental modern bar with mad scientist Dave Arnold. Chang is to be admired for continually sharpening the cutting edge.

Saam Bar Graffiti

Long Island Fluke, Kumquat, Cilantro, Green Peppercorn

 Santa Barbara Uni, Sweetflag, Sea Beans, Chawanmushi

Pickled Vegetables

Steamed Pork Bun, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions

Selection of Country Hams, Finchville Farms, Benton’s Smoky Mountain, Broadbent, Edwards Wigwam Ham

Dry Aged Sirloin Tar Tar, Watermelon Radish, Spinach, Nori

Chicken Liver Mousse, Olive Berry, Knotweed, Maitake

Spicy Honeycomb Tripe, Ginger Scallion, Celery, Pickled Tomato

Corn Ice Cream ,Mango, Thai Basil

Tri-Star Strawberry Sorbet, Celery Root, Ritz Crunch

Momofuku Saam Bar

207 2nd Avenue

New York, NY 10003

(212) 254-3500

Momofuku Milk Bar

Posted 08 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Pastry & Dessert, Warms My Heart

Milk Bar Cold Case

Momofuku Milk Bar isn’t fancy. The minimalist design including strand-board casework, small front counter, simple packaging, and chalk board menu suggest a place staged with simplicity and profit in mind. Fact is, I have never been overly impressed with the interior of Milk Bar and probably wouldn’t seek one out except for the fact that I am completely addicted to Chef Christina Tosi’s strawberry lemon cake truffles. Her candy bar pie is incredible too but the truffles draw me in whenever I am within a block of a Milk Bar outlet (usually the one in midtown). My trips to New York always place me within walking distance to the store on West 56th street, lucky peach indeed.

W56th St. Milk Bar

So it was with great joy that I watched Christina Tosi edge out some of the best chefs in the country to receive the 2012 Rising Star Chef of the Year from the James Beard Foundation. The honor is awarded to “a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come” according to the foundation web site. That she is so talented, heads a growing empire of stores, is teamed with one of the most recognized chefs in the country in David Chang, and leads a team of folks mostly under the age of 25 is a testament to her talent. That she does all this in one of the most competitive and hyper food markets in the world is monumental. She deserves this recognition (even though I am a huge Dave Beran fan!).

Chef Christina Tosi (2012 James Beard Awards)

On stage, Tosi looked radiant in a black sleeveless dress with red pumps, her shoulder length hair straight and parted. Relaxed, she accepted her award with grace as chef Grant Achatz looked on (he won the award in 2003). She made sure to thank the Beard Foundation and, more specifically, to thank her extended team (as any good leader would). She showed tremendous poise and humility while also exuding great confidence. What a great role model at such a young age.

Congratulations Christina and the entire Milk Bar and Momofuku team…

Milk Bar Cookie Baskets

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle Interior

L-R, Compost Cookie, Chocolate Chocolate, Cornflake Marshmallow Cookie

Candy Bar Pie

NEXT: El Bulli

Posted 03 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

Next week, I predict that NEXT restaurant in Chicago will win “Best New Restaurant” at the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards and that Chef Dave Beran will win “Rising Star Chef of the Year”. My rationale for this prediction is based primarily on the incredible success Beran, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have had launching what I consider to be one of the most innovative and technically successful new restaurants in American history.

If you follow NEXT you already know that to dine there you have to buy tickets for the menu being offered, that only sixty four seats are available each night and that tickets for each three month run sell out in minutes. Pretty innovative huh (albeit old news now that Kokonas and Achatz have proven the model). The food community also knows that Beran and his team execute each menu flawlessly (there have been three menus to date: Paris 1906, Thailand, Childhood and now El Bulli (Sicily and Kyoto are soon to follow). Each time NEXT offers a new menu the creative team at the restaurant completely reinvents the experience, resetting the entire table top, service ware, menu, production and service. That these guys can shift themes every three months from Paris 1906 to Thailand (including a rave review by the N.Y. Times), turn the corner and take on Achatz’s and Beran’s memories from childhood in the 70’s and 80’s in menu form and then run a 29 course El Bulli menu three months after that (to extreme accuracy) is unheard of; a feat of super-culinary capacity and sheer determination. NEXT is the best new restaurant in the U.S. and, probably, one of if not the most innovative restaurant in the world today.

NEXT Restaurant Kitchen

Recently, I had an opportunity to enjoy the El Bulli menu and visit with sous chef Rene Deleon (Beran and Achatz were in Kyoto conducting research for that future menu). Deleon and the rest of his culinary crew are all fresh faced, young and of fighting weight. They hustle with kinetic energy in the kitchen while performing their roles with precision. They love what they do and covet the experience. Deleon in particular praises the opportunity to work at NEXT and the incredible leadership provided by Beran and Achatz. He relays his perspective while filling his purchase order for the following day’s comestibles, sitting at a table at 1:10 am in the morning as though it’s 4:00 pm in afternoon (his work day is nearly done). He lives the nocturnal life, the life of a cook where daylight is for sleeping (it off) and nighttime is for work and play; where you go home when the sun is rising not when it sets. A life the public rarely ever sees but one that serves as the basis for an underground culinary culture that we all love or have learned to love to be successful.

And that’s my point. NEXT thrives as a restaurant, a business, an art-form and aesthetic within the culinary realm. And it delivers. Beran, Achatz and Kokonas will receive the recognition they deserve at the 2012 James Beard Foundation awards. Kudos and congratulations in advance, I know of no other team that could pull off such a wonderful launch as these guys and the women and men who work for them. What an incredible American culinary and cultural asset. I can’t wait to see what’s NEXT.

Nitro Caipirinha with Tarragon Concentrate

Dry Snacks: Puffed Rice Black Pudding, Nori Cracker, Black Olive Butterflies, Puffed Coffee Polenta,

Puffed Saffron Tapioca, Parmesan Crackers, Lotus Flower Chips, Pork Rinds

Hot/Cold Trout Roe Tempura

Spherical Olives

Coca of Avocado Pear, Anchovies and Green Onion

Iberico Sandwich

Golden Quail Egg

Black Sesame Spongecake and Miso

Chicken Liquid Croquettes

Orange and Cardamom Bitters for Malaga Moscatel

Smoke Foam

Carrot Air with Coconut Milk

Cuttlefish and Coconut Ravioli with Soy, Ginger and Mint

Savory Tomato Ice with Oregano and Almond Milk Pudding

Hot Crab Aspic with Mini Corn Cous-Cous

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc

NEXT Diningroom

Cauliflower Cous-Cous with Solid Aromatic Herb Sauce

Suquet of Prawns

Potato Tortilla by Marc Singla

Trumpet Carpaccio with Rabbit Kidneys

Red Mullet Gaudi

Nasturtium with Eel, Bone Marrow and Cucumber

Civet of Rabbit with Hot Apple Jelly

Rabbit Civet up close

Gorgonzola Globe (Gorgonzola bechemel siphoned into a balloon, frozen via rotation in liquid nitrogen),

topped with fresh grated nutmeg tableside

Foie Gras Caramel Custard

Spice Plate (guests play a game of identifying each of the 12 flavors placed around the perimeter of the plate)

Mint Pond (Mint Powder, Muscovado Sugar, Macha Tea Powder)

Chocolate in Textures

Chocolate Donuts

Creme Flute and Puff Pastry Web


Jules Verne Lollipops, Chocolate and Puffed Rice, Yogurt Croquant and Raspberry Lolly, White Chocolate, Lemon and Coffee Lolly, Star Anise and Mandarin Lolly, Raspberry Kebab with Balsamic Caramel Cloud

Passionfruit Marshmallow – The Farewell

NEXT Restaurant

953 West Fulton Market

Chicago, Illinois 60607

(312) 226-0858