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Showing posts with label NYC 2014. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NYC 2014. Show all posts

Monday, August 4, 2014

NYC Trip: The End

If someone asks you how big is New York City? Just say “Too big,”.  It really is.  Over a week, I ate my way through the big Apple and found many places irresistibly yummy! Despite a sore foot, I merely covered an area in Manhattan that spans from the Upper East till Downtown.

Although I could never really finish the city, I think I did pretty well food wise and here is an almost complete list of places where I dined sorted into 2 price categories.

NYC Essentials (<$20)

An iconic burger places with occasional collaborations with top chefs that is neither too commercialised to be a joint nor too unique to be a one-off boutique burger place.  But if you are having one of those “days”, what better than a shack burger paired with fries and a happy ending of peanut butter shake.  Happy days!

Start the meal with a basic Gyoza before calling a main of Hakata Style ramen.  Black garlicky oil on an already amazing porky broth?  Damn it was heaven without the line.  

If Hide Chan was North Pole, then Totto Ramen would be the South Pole.  Different from start to end, the only thing similar between the two is its owner.  At Totto Ramen, enjoy a Chicken Paiten Ramen so amazing it makes one dreams of it at night.  This is a legit pork alternative.  Beware, queues are long.

With popular places like Junior’s in the area, it is easy to overlook this relatively unknown diner.  Yet this might be your best bet for quality breakfast pancakes.  Crispy, fluffy and cooked through with perfection, it was all too hard to ignore.

Being the first does not necessarily makes you the best.  But the best itself could not be anymore subjective.  Old school fit up in this humble little eatery maintains its olden day charm.  Come in solo or with the brood, Nom Wah has got you covered.  When you crawl out of the bed during winter, know that piping hot dim sum is not too far away.

I had one shot to get a taste of New York Pizza into my busy schedule.  Thankfully, a slice at ABP did not disappoint.  With the Artichoke slice spanning across two plates topped with their famous cream base sauce, stringy cheese and caramelised artichokes,  this might be NYC’s best value bite yet at just $4.50 a slice. 

An aluminium wrapped takeaway box with a Middle-Eastern scent is the biggest giveaway that someone is holding a box of faithful mixed platter and rice from the infamous Halal Guys.  From street culture to fast-food joint, the Halal Guys are set to dominate.  Cult descriptions of nuclear red rice topped with pieces of meat and lashing of white sauce is just the beginning of a happy end to the night.  Operating till 4am, now Twilight has no reason to exist. 

Chelsea Market (Chelsea)
So much to eat, so little space to put it in.  Here you can enjoy soup, fresh seafood, independent farmers’ produce, Mexican, Korean, pastries or simply just have a stroll.  From clothing shopping to a filling in a hungry stomach, I love this place.  Located indoors for your convenience too.  After the market, head to the Highline Park just outside Chelsea Market for a mile of enjoyable walk to aid digestion.  It is heaven on rails.


If fine dining has always been a part of your priority undertakings to understand the culture a city was built upon, these finer establishments might be the thing you are looking for.  NYC is a city of swag, so common delights can become fancy and clearly so when acknowledged by the headmasters at the Michelin corp.

Fine Dining at NYC
Classy,  sleek and inspiring.  This Jean Georges spinoff has more finesse in its fried chicken than a French bistro does with its Foie Gras. Its seasonal menu takes simple life pleasures and make it into something special.  The courteous service makes dining here a bliss.

Why is this fine dining?  This is because a $30 burger including tip ands tax is pretty damn fine!  But after 26 years of my life, this 1 Michelin star eatery has delivered what I call the “IT” burger.  With a claim like that, many people will have high expectations I know.  But as mentioned, the thick spread of Roquefort cheese on the brioche bun with a juicy patty shows that the Spotted Pig means business.  But that is IF you enjoy the Spotted Pig's take on the classic cheese burger.

The full tasting menu brought my bill beyond the $50 mark.  But a bread course, 4 seafood courses, a seasonal dessert and petit fours make this a bargain.  Sit down and let the jumbo scallops, sensational pastas, lobsters, crabs and briny sea urchins make their appearance as part of a seafood orchestra by Marea.  Top level service makes progressive dining here a seamless experience.
Another Michelin rated restaurant.  If a sushi master pressing sushi is artsy, prepared to be wow-ed by these handy skewer chefs.  Head to tail movement at its finest, see Chef Atsushi Kono coordinate the delicious transformation of the pedestrian chicken protein into something amazing.

One surprise after the other, the Gramercy Tavern is like a roller coaster ride in your mouth.  High and lows in this Modern American X Asian fusion delivers the best bang for your buck of the lot.  Ranked 1 star by the Michelin guide, the inventive savoury menu will keep your buds craving for more.  But when it comes to a sweet ending, good or bad really comes at the toss of a coin.  However, at $60 plus service charges, the tavern is a lunch time gem.

The Japanese culture is big in the States and Sushi Azabu the front runner for no-nonsense sushi exclusivity without the overwhelming price tag of the more mainstream establishments.  Do not expect California rolls or heavy lashings of pretentious Kewpie to make their mark.  Instead, Shim prepares sashimi prawns, tuna, sea urchins and other fresh offerings served on divine sushi rice.


Food business in NYC is big business.  NYC residents are fussy and no trend is always there to stay when you are at the top of the class.  Evolution counts for survival.  Thankfully, with a superbly variable price tag, there is something for everyone.  Whether it is Asian or Western, Chinese or Japanese, Italian or American, be prepared to eat.  But prices in the big Apple can quickly add up especially if you do not watch the cheque due to taxes and tips which usually bumps the bill up by a minimum of 25%.  So, do tell me what you think if you hit the big Apple and try out the food I had.  Note that all opinions here are a from a hungry traveller's perspective which is one that is open and receptive.  If you come here acting all big headed with a mindset from home, it is likely that you will have different views.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

NYC: Modern American @ The Gramercy Tavern, Flatiron District

8 days, a whole lot of food, sightseeing and talking with strangers.  The last stop of my trip after a grabbing a quick slice at Artichoke Bassile’s was at the 1 Michelin Star gastropub, The Gramercy Tavern.  Unlike my previous dinner place at Marea, the dining scene at the Gramercy Tavern is more casual and relaxed as opposed to formal.  Most people will tell you that but do not be too complacent as the $58 dollar Seasonal Lunch Tasting Menu is a favourite among the business community.  Additionally, do no expect any productive conversations as the interior of wood and concrete walls provides little to dampen the noise from a crowded floor.

Before deciding on what to eat I ordered a lemonade.  Kids drink but a winner in Vitamin C.  The lemonade came proper with a small bottle of syrup which allows you to adjust the sweetness to your liking.  I liked how the lemonade was all about you rather than the kitchen because I preferred mine more sour than sweet and that is exactly how I had it :)!

It did not take long after the bread course for my Amuse Bouche to reach.  No mention of the bread at Marea or the Gramercy Tavern because the best bread still hails from either Le Atelier de Joel Robuchon, HK or Tetsuya’s, Sydney. The Amuse Bouche was a complimentary salad filled with the little pleasures of life.  Little chunks of lobsters, sweet grapes halves, crispy croutons, and fresh bean.  All of which were tossed in a vinaigrette.
Amuse Bouche; Lobster, Grapes, Croutons, Pole Bean

The first course was another salad which tasted more like a continuation of the Amuse Bouche rather than a course itself.  In the salad were the vegetables of summer.  Crisp, refreshing and tasty.  This is what makes vegan stay vegans and carnivores refuse to eat vegetables.  Contradictory?  No.   The salad was good but not life changing enough to make people become a convert.
Cucumber Salad; Carrots, Leeks and Meyer Lemon

Another serve of “salad" graced the menu again.  This time, in the form of luxury.  Lobster and eggs with pieces of little pickled ramps.  Sweet lobsters paired with a balanced egg salad.  Not to sweet, or overladen with mayonnaise and neither was it boringly bland.  Lobsters from my experience over the week seem to be a trademark seafood during summer.  Clearly enough, the freshness of the crustacean was intact at the tavern and maximised by its minimalistic preparation.  Poached.
Lobster Salad;  Pole Bean, Pickled Ramps, Egg Salad

Next came my favourite course of the day, a course of fish.  I dislike fish that are stinky and tend to avoid fish wherever I go, but never when it is in the hands of a capable chef.  I have read on other blogs before that the Chef at the Gramercy Tavern cooked at a bistro in Japan prior to coming here.    This dish made it obvious.  Perfectly cooked fish, in a clear mushroom consommé with a sprinkling of green garlic infused oil.  The focus on the fish in this dish showed clarity in the chef’s approach.  Everything was about serenading the fish and it was done well.
Halibut; Kale, Green Garlic, Mushroom Broth

A serve of duck changed the course from white to red meat.  How well was the duck cooked?  The picture says it all.  How good did it taste?  The picture says nothing.  I think for a gamey bird like duck, you need a little more flavour to eat.  That does not mean serving it laden with an overbearing sauces but definitely a little bit more than what Gramercy Tavern put on the plate that day.  Coming in here,  I was expected the red meat to be served a little like the beef Rossini at Sage, KL.  This was OK but not something I would applaud for unconditionally.
Roasted Duck; Radish, Almonds, Wheat Berries

After a refreshing palate cleanser of berry foam and orange custard, came the dessert.  I like my dessert to be sweet but mildly sweet.  A fruity-sweet dessert is more welcomed any day than a sugary sweet one. Not a big fan of meringue.  But when something comes out with lots of fragrance but almost 0 sweetness, mannnn it was hard to down.  Sorry the Gramercy Tavern, this has had to be the most try-hard dessert I have ever eaten.  The beauty of it though were all the layers of texture from the smooth Panna Cotta, to the crumbly apricot pieces to the tapioca pudding.  But perhaps 1 or 2 ingredients less.  All I needed was a Apricot Panna Cotta with more sweetness in it and just 1 other element to finish.  
Apricot Panna Cotta; Tapioca Pudding, Coconut, Thyme

Thankfully the creations of the little oven were pretty decadent.  Macarons were good, nougat were OK and the chocolate was spot on.

A sub-$60 dollar meal which consisted of +/- 8 courses depending on what you call a “course” means WenY should just shut up.  But no way.  The food here was superb in some sense but where it was close to excelling, it did not.  Have you heard Lily Allen’s “Not Fair”?   Close enough.  But where the Gramercy Tavern did well, it really worked.  Lobster & Egg salad?  Win.  Halibut in Mushroom Consommé?  Win.  Then the average Joe’s which were the two starting salads and the duck.  The Hitler of them all?  The Panna Cotta.  So close to conquering the world yet so far.   Progressive dining places like Marea, Tori Shin, Robuchon, and Sepia got better as the course progressed.  But my journey here was like a trekking adventure.  Ups and downs of different peaks but a thrilling one nonetheless.

Gramercy Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NYC: Mixed Platter and Rice @ The Halal Guys, Mid Town.

Good food does not always have to come with a large price tag.  Hidden amongst the ritz and glitz of the Manhattan borough is a story about a food cart phenomenon.  Started by a Egyptian migrant in 1992 who belittled the boring hot dog stands, he started a stall serving halal Egyptian fare on the streets.  Hence the name, the Halal Guys.  His first stall  located between the 53rd Street and 6th Avenue opposite Hilton Hotel still serves up generous portions of meat (chicken or lamb) on rice and flat bread topped with delicious lashings of yoghurt based sauce.  Since then, he has inspired many imitations but none is a good according to biased fans.   
The original store operates between 7pm-4am, 7 days a week(apparently).  When I was there at 10pm, there was a long queue which cleared very quickly but be mindful of the service which deteriorates significantly between busy and calmer nights.

During my stay I could not help but come here twice for a quick takeaway that was surely to satisfy.  My choice here would be the mix platter as it gets you the best of both worlds.  For $6 with no tax/tips, you get a serve of nuclear red rice topped with tender pulled chicken and superbly flavoursome lamb mince as well as a serve of bread and  chopped lettuce.  Once you get your food, move out of the way and start pouring the sauce you like.  First up is a white sauce that resembles a creamy-tasty yoghurt-like sauce.  Then comes the party crasher, a bottle of barbecue sauce.  That was lame.  In the last bottle was a fiery chill sauce that I guarantee will have you tear and shit lava.  Not joke lol. My preferred mix would be a 5 portion of white sauce to 1 red sauce.  It was just right for my Malaysian taste buds.

Nuclear red rice @@!  Not sure what was in it but the right was tasty just by itself!
I really do not think there is much to say.  I would like to call it a Briyani but in no way did this famous rice platter have the same spices like a Briyani.  Yet, it was still every bit tasty.  At the Halal Guys, the food skips all the complexities and dives straight into the comfort food category.  Carbs, meat and delicious sauces.  After two meals here, I was completely satisfied.  Surely this had no Michelin grades or professional recognition.  But to establish a culture that sir, is a class act.  With up to 3 carts and an intent to take the States by storm with a chain-like store, the Halal Guys will not disappoint.   From the hundred dollar meals to the penny pinchers I had in NYC, the Halal Guys will always be something to remember.  No it is no molecular gastronomy but rather a simple pleasure.  Spending 8 days in this big city was definitely insufficient to enjoy all the goodies the city had to offer.  But if you are filled to the brim but still want a midnight supper to conclude, the Halal Guys will be there waiting.

The Halal Guys on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 25, 2014

NYC: Artichoke Slice @ Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, Gramercy

I was chatting to a couple of newly met friends when I asked "What would you recommend a tourist to eat in New York?", the prompt answer “Pizza” came first.  Without a doubt I enjoy crusty slices of pizza with generous toppings.  But with a city so bold so as to name a style of pizza after itself, it was clear that everyone will be calling their pie the best in town.  Online searches never quite worked either.  Too many haters out there.  So I fell back to a couple of Facebook schoolmates and the name Artichoke Basille’s Pizza came tops. 


They now have three branches and since I was about to dine at Gramercy Tavern, I decided to drop by for a slice of pizza at the Gramercy district branch. At 10.30am, there was absolutely no queue besides a granny.  Walking in I heard heard an old lady said, "I need this packed I cannot finish."  I was puzzled.  But not so after I ordered a slice of the infamous Artichoke slice @ $4.50.  

Stretched over two party plates.. wtfk was this monster?  American slice for the win.  It had a pretty good pastry that was cooked just nice.  Sadly though it did not sport the fragrance of a well-oiled pizza tray.  But I loved their tasty cream based sauce.  Very, very tasty.  It carried the hints of garlic, parsley and onions.  The stringy cheese topped the slices perfectly.  In other words, generous !  Then there were the little slices of translucent artichoke hidden the underneath but it was barely seen.  Weird to call this an Artichoke Slice. Could have had more artichokes :)! Toward the end I sprinkled some chilli flakes and really liked how it tasted.  Sprinkled more and more and more.  Oops.  Burnt tongue (and an ulcer soon followed =.=!)

Reading several reviews about Artichoke Basille's in the night got me annoyed when I found that many comments about this pizza place such as burnt crust, hyped for its hipster vibe, ridiculous queues and that sort of shit people make claims of were utterly untrue.  Coming in to see a granny at 10.30am, with no queues to eat a delicious slice of pizza reflected the credibility of the internet at times.  At Artichoke Basille's it was simple and tasty!  The only true part was the lack of artichokes which I was not really bothered by anyway :)!    Great stuff if you ask me!


Artichoke Basille's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NYC: Nom Wah Dim Sum @ Doyer Street, Chinatown

Having spent over a month without a kick ass Asian bite saw my cravings for good Chinese peak when I was in Manhattan. After a few quick reads over the net, I quickly planned a short eating trail through Chinatown. Once done, I got on the tube and was there in a matter of minutes. First up was a random Chinese place a minute or two from the Canal Street Station. I believe it was New Wing Wah Bakery. Not expensive at all to my surprise. Including tax it was around 90 cents. In saying that, all it took was 2 mouths full to finish. Now wonder the aunty at the counter said in a familiar Asian accent “Only 1 enough?!”. It clearly was not enough to fill a hungry tummy.

3 streets down and I was at Tai Pan Bakery on Canal Street. The egg tart at Tai Pan was bright yellow (pic above) showing how eggy the custard was. In terms of taste, it was not too sweet and had a nice custard that is not too runny/firm. It wobbles just the way it should too. But I definitely did not find it significantly better than the one I had earlier at New Wing Wah. Both of them sported an equally amazing crusty. Love how short and buttery they both were. But because the one I had at Tai Pan was fresh out of the oven, the warmth made more pleasurable to savour compared to the other. The milk tea at Tai Pan bakery is terrible though. Too diluted! 

If you have read a post of me at an old lane way stall serving great packed Nasi Lemak back in Penang or my post at Mido Cafe, Hong Kong, you would know how I am a bit of a sucker for shops with a long history. Here in Chinatown, no one knows DimSum better than Nom Wah Tea Parlour. Handed down from one generation to the other, this was the first restaurant in Manhattan to offer Dim Sum. Modernised by the current owner, this place still proudly displays its dated past. Stained signboard, mosaic tiles and other furnitures from the past was a clear statement of its age. 

But despite my fondness of “all things old", it was not the main reason I was here. Nom Wah Tea Parlour understands the dilemma of the solo eater during a social meal like Yum Cha where sharing is a must. Hence, it offers a steamed or deep fried sampler which allows solo diners to enjoy all the perks of Yum Cha without having to bring the whole brood to town. 

First up was my steamed sampler.
Great assortment of little dumplings. While I only had one mouthful of each to judge, I quickly found my favourite amongst the crowded steamer. The dumpling wrapped in yellow wanton skin (not the pork siu mai) was the tastiest of the lot. Very good. The Pork Siu Mai did not quite pack the meatiness of the one I would usually get in Hong Kong or Australia. Not bad though. Then came the prawn filled dumplings, expect a crunchy prawns bursting with great flavours. The seafood in NYC is really fresh I have to say. The two let downs of the platter, the Taro dumpling and the Vegetarian dumplings! Whilst the fillings were great, the thick dumpling skin was not so great. It masked the taste of all the other ingredients in there. Nothing a little chilli oil will not fix though. 

Next up I ordered a serve of panfried dumplings in fear that I might not be able to finish a deep-fried sampler. On second thoughts, I could have finished it anyway.
The panfried dumplings were nice. Skin a little too thick but it was every bit crunchy. To pack an extra kick to the dumplings, I mixed a concoction of black vinegar, chilli oil and soy sauce. Damn it was good altogether. 

The dim sums at Nom Wah were not mind blowing but it was what I would call typical good. High and lows were apparent but still, hard to fault. Edible in every bite, I disliked nothing. Then comes my dramatic talk. Culture, history and legacy. What more exciting than a place older than myself.   Perhaps I am charmed by it being old because one can sometimes get sick by the sharp edges and clean lines of modern cuisines no? Lets dine at somewhere less pretentious. This is where Nom Wah fits in. ;)


Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 21, 2014

NYC: Fine Italian @ Marea, Midtown West

Heralding 2 stars since its opening day in 2010, Marea redefines Italian dining with a touch of class and excellent cooking. This felt a little contradictory to me as my perception of Italian dining has always felt more homely rather than classy unlike the French. It is usually rustic in appearance, filled with classic flavours and typically come in larger portions. Then again, that is just my mindset which was proven wrong by this unparalleled Italian restaurant. 

Walking in to the restaurant, the service was instantaneous. I was made comfortable in no time with the maitre’d coming to my table to offer his service every now and then. One thing I’d realise is the attentiveness of the waitstaff at Marea. I generally have a “lost look” and every time I looked up, the waitstaff would notice me, walk to me and asked if I needed help with anything. Lost Asian kid in New York? lol. 

After settling in, I decided to go with the Marea tasting course. A course that will bring out the finest that Marea’s chefs has to offer in a 5 course meal. Needless to stay, I was looking forward to the meal. First up were the three slices of raw fish. While they were fresh, the merits were in the combination of each pairing . The tuna was the highlight for me over the fluke and snapper. Whatever that green puree the tuna sat on only god knows, but it was simply sublime together.  The plating was sensational and the attention to detail was every bit clear in its presentation. Thinking back, I should have cut them into halves! Their small size means the joy was a little short-lived. Worth it though!
 ASSAGGIO DI TRE, a tasting of three crudo. 

My next course was a popular crustacean. On the plate were perfectly arranged lobster portions on a pressed burrata with the herbs, eggplants, tomatoes and basil seed. I will be honest here. The combination of the cheese, and lobster with a slight drizzling of olive oil was all I needed on this plate. Never have I had the cheese served this way before.  In fact there seemed to be a whimsical sense of creativity where everything just fell in place and worked. Basil seeds did not quite play a big impact but the fresh tomatoes added a sour-sweet note that mellowed very well with the lobster and the fresh creamy cheese. 
ASTICE, nova scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil seeds. 

A classic Italian staple, the pasta was my next course. But this by no means was any ordinary pasta feat. The combinations of flavours here can be compared to how an expert talks about a perfume. Different notes/flavours coming in at different time. It all seemed very planned.  The first bite always had a burst of tomato with a strong crab taste. Something like a bisque. Just as the flavours pass on, you get the sweet-briny flavours of the sea urchin. Decadent! I now wonder whether the sea urchin gave this pasta sauce a cream like silkiness too! Great sauce for sure! Its accompany pasta was called strozzapreti, something like a coarsely rolled spiral with less swirls through. Cooked al dente, the pasta was spot on ( I would be disappointed if it was not)! To finish, the chefs were smart to ensure the dish did not appear one-dimensional and added the garlicky crumbs which not only had texture, but a fragrance to match the well loved seafood used. 
STROZZAPRETI, crab, sea urchin, basil.

I was expecting a little beef dish to pop up at my table after having three courses of seafood. But least did I expect the showpiece of this meal to be another seafood course. This time a stunning dish of scallops, and root vegetables. Before I go further, if any of you watch cooking shows you will understand how important prep work is when cooking scallops. Chefs always say “hot pan”. This was where the magic happened. A really burning hot pan which was probably glowing red in colour. Scallops here were only cooked on one side with butter added at the end and gently scooped many times to cook it at the top. The result was a phenomenal crusty scallop with a melt through flesh. Intense sweetness of the scallop paired sautéed mushrooms, pickled shallots and slow-grilled endives set atop a smooth onion puree resulted in an instant foodgasm! This was clear why Marea has been one of the best if not the best Italian restaurants in town. Sensational. *respect* 

CAPESANTE seared sea scallops, oyster mushrooms, grilled endive, pickled shallots. 

To end, the Marea put together a strawberry dessert. I am not quite sure what it was but I tasted notes of pistachio, coconut. There was probably almond in there haha. Ok, I did not know what I was eating. My brain was still stuck in the previous course. One thing for sure, it was good but nowhere near as memorable as the lobster, pasta or scallop course. 
 TORTA DI FRAGOLE strawberries, ricotta crema, rhubarb, perilla

Boom boom pow! What a lovely meal I had that day. The artsy plating, sophisticated creations of Marea definitely had me think twice before generalising Italian finesse. Their marque automobile is after all the Ferrari. It has been said that always treat your subject with respect and your subject will reward for you.  Marea has shown the world what it does with the produce of the sea.  The ability of the chefs at Marea in retaining the flavours of the seafood was clear from start to end with each protein prepared with respect and garnished only with seasonal ingredients that bring out nothing but the best out of its seafood. There were not heavy lashings of cream, tomato sugo, vinegar or cheese. Most if not all ingredients were subtle and filled the undertones of each course. Very well done to Marea.  I am terribly impressed with this Manhattan establishment. 

Last but not least was the great service I received through out the day. Despite being dressed in chinos and oxford shirt whilst the businessman and woman in this trendy town were set in their black coats and formal wear, I was never neglected . Instead, the waitstaff were still every bit courteous with their greetings and I felt indifferent from the rest of the people. Definitely deserves the rating it holds. 

Marea on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bites: Omakase @ Sushi Azabu, Tribeca

One of the most memorable meals I had in NYC was at a no nonsense sushi place in Tribeca.  Coming at 5.30pm it was just me,  a sushi counter and 3 Chefs. Sushi Azabu is a 1 Michelin starred restaurant. Serving only Omakase at the counter, it was perfect as I did not want to be making amateur decisions like the typical salmon and tuna cliche orders.  Instead, trust the chef to deliver what was in season.

After a courteous bow and jovial introduction, I had a go at a broth meant to clear the palate prior to starting the Omakase.

Then, an Amuse Bouche consisting of a slice of grilled Ayu (sweet fish) and sakura shrimps with Dengaku (eggplant) marked the start of my meal.
I was a little skeptical at jumping right into it as I felt it looked like a mackerel and I have always felt that mackerel carries a strong fishy taste.  To my surprise, every bit was super fresh.  No fishy gut taste and even the bones were soft. It was really quite sweet too.  Eggplants on the other other hand were well marinated and went very well with the shrimps that had a little saltiness to them.  In the hands of a good chef, some impossible looking ingredients become the most palatable.  True enough!

Next was a unique seasonal course consisting of a slice of white fish, and sea urchin set a top a curd.  I found it hard to understand and neither was the taste really outstanding but it was simply different.  In a good way of course.

Then came a dish more familiar to my taste buds minute seared tuna with wasabi honey miso.  The elements critical in delivering such a dish were aced with no mistakes.  Seared to perfection was one and balance in the sauce was the other.  A minute or a notch over and it all goes to waste.    The lean tuna slices here will not melt in your mouth but the flavours of the fish mixed with the sweetness of the honey and heat from the wasabi made it all a very pleasant bite.  Yummy!  

The sashimi course which came up next was splendidly fresh.  On the plate I had Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), Snapper, Fluke, live Squid and live Alaskan Prawn.  Whilst the squid was less apparent to be alive, the prawn’s moving pods and antenna really caught my eye.  The other couple who had their's later in the night was too shocked to eat it that the chef offered to had the brains removed to kill it off lol.
What can I say?  So much to like but the prawns had to be the sweetest protein on the plate.  It was just tantalising! I am drooling thinking about it already!  The snapper was the least impressive fish for me.  The Tuna was yummy and the squid was the most unique considering the its combination with the plum sauce.  After finishing this course, the prawn head was deep fried and served again to me.  Crispy, and slightly salted.  It was the tastiest bit in the Sashimi course!  

I never had the chance to go to Japan to experience the full sushi experience for various reasons. Nonetheless, I have heard enough from experienced people that a meal at Sushi Azabu is as close as you will get to Japan’s best sushi meals in the States.  Without a doubt, I was impressed about what Sushi Azabu served next.  To prevent a massive repeat of the F-word for fresh, I shall let the pictures do the talking here. Shim, the sushi master said that the fish arrives fresh every Monday at Sushi Azabu which was the day I went.  So now you know when to get your sushi fix :)!

Kohada, Japanese Gizzard Shad with Marinated Seaweed.  

Herring with Shiso Leaf.

Salmon Aburi, Torched Salmon

Zuke, Marinated Tuna.

O-toro, Fatty Tuna.  Picture says enough I believe :)!

Shiro Ebi, White Sweet Shrimp.  At this point, I started thinking of how people say that prawns need to be cook right and wondered whether prawns when fresh should just be eaten raw.  It was sweeter than ever!

Unagi Sirayaki, Fresh Eel Simply Grilled.

Anago, Conger Eel.   This was perhaps my least favourite.  I never quite liked eel but this one tasted more fishy due to its minimal preparation.  The difference between the two was the origins of the eel.  This was a salt water and is usually prepared with minimal season whilst the fresh water one above is usually grilled.

Yariika, Spear Squid. 

Alaskan King Crab with Caviar.  You know that feeling when you bite into a thick piece of a crab claw flesh that has been freshly steamed following its catch from the sea?  The tender flesh overflowing with the mild saltiness?  Noms!

Clam miso.

Uni, Sea Urchin.  I never had a good Uni before.  Until I came here.  It was top notch.  Briny, sweetish, creamy and just so decadent.  Booms!

The last savoury piece was the Negitorotaku-Maki or Blue Fin Tuna with Takuan and Scallion Roll. The apprentice’s special.

Tamago, Tokyo Style Egg Omelet.  I loved this and it was prepared by the apprentice too.  He got me two more slices cause I really liked it haha.  Biting into the Tamago, the crisp outer parts tasted like a really enjoyable eggy cake before going right into the middle  where you get this false feeling as if you are biting into a creamy custard.  Absolutely lovely.  Some criticise it for being not sweet enough, which is true when served as a sushi.  On its own, it was just perfect.

Mochi filled with a strawberry and red bean paste (Azuki).

At the end of the meal, I stayed to finish my tea.  My time spent stoning suddenly turned to thinking of how awesome this meal was.  In front of me was a ranked crew from master to apprentice folded my rice to shape, sliced the fish and prepared every piece of sushi I polished.  It was made to look simple that perhaps, even a baby could do it.  Yet, the rice is compacted enough to hold itself when lifted which chopsticks and loose enough to just unfold in your mouth at the slightest touch.  The seasoning in the sushi rice hit all the right notes.  Sweet, salty and sour.  Temperature was right for my common tongue.  I would be proud to be them for one night.

Kept safe from all the unnecessary hype, Sushi Azabu serves authentic style sushi for good value. $120 got me an amuse bouche, 2 seasonal cooked dishes, 1 sashimi platter, a sushi course (10-13pcs) and 1 dessert.  This is nowhere near cheap obviously but at this level of dining, Sushi Azabu felt like a bargain.  Not to mention the enjoyable perks you get in such a place that you do not get at other Michelin starred restaurants.  Proximity was one of my biggest likes at Sushi Azabu.  By the end of the night I knew all three of the chefs names and it was pretty cool.  The careful explanation of the chefs about each sushi and their attentiveness in folding the sushi right before you makes it a very special occasion.  Also, do note that other similar places would charge upwards for $180 with Masa apparently charging close to $400 for their Omakase. Other types of fine dining establishment would easily be double or similarly priced and all you would get is a table with food coming from the appetisers through to dessert.

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