Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting

In the winter of 1998, a couple months after I first moved To NY from Boston, I was talking to my youngest brother down in Florida, about 6 at the time, who had seen the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center on TV and swore up and down that he had seen me there on the broadcast. Although I had been within a few blocks that night, I tried to tell him it wasn't me on TV. He would have nothing of it; he was convinced. The tree was in NY, and I was in NY, and that was that. Well Jonathan, this year I was there, however it was well out of sight of the cameras, far above the fray. Here are some pictures for you.
I was invited to attend a dinner and observe the tree lighting from a balcony overlooking Rockefeller Center just across 5th Ave. It was a fun night, capped by a nice New York holiday experience, even for jaded denizen of the City like me.
Merry Christmas everyone, enjoy the holidays.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sushi Yasuda, hit it before the master decamps for Tokyo

Sushi Yasuda has been one of the highest rated sushi restaurants in NY for some time now, and has been near the top of my must try list for a quite a while, but until recently I never got the kick in the pants I needed to actually call up and make a reservation.  The kick arrived in the form of information that Yasuda-san was leaving to open an 8 seat sushi bar in Tokyo, which caused me to make the call posthaste.  While I was not fleet of finger enough to secure a spot at the bar in front of Yasuda himself, our party of four did reserve the sushi bar and I still wanted to go and see him in action and enjoy a meal while the restaurant remained under his watchful eye.  I'm glad I did, as we experienced an onslaught of delicious bites, each a carefully proportioned composition of warm delicate rice topped with a excellent fish that led to a harmonious combination when eaten.  Outside of Masa, which I consider to be somewhat of a different beast, this was the best sushi I have had outside of Japan.

Outside there is no signage bearing the venue's name but just the small lit print of a fish above the entrance.  Not that the place is hidden; in fact it is quite lit and passersby can clearly observe the whole place through a large plate glass window.  We had a 6pm reservation, and our party was the first to arrive a few minutes before, as we were advised multiple times not to be late and that we had a mere 90 minute window to dine, and we did not wish to squander our time there.  I admit I was a bit concerned we would leave feeling hungry, rushed, or both, but we left quite full and happy.

Even from the other end of the bar, watching Yasuda-san work was impressive.  His hands at times seemed almost disconnected from the rest of his body, moving quite quickly, but precisely, so confident in their motion while he carried on conversation and maintained full eye contact with the patrons in front of him that his limbs seemingly had a mind of their own directing them.  But we were here for the sushi, and we were left in the more than capable hands of Chef Yoshi in front of us, pictured on the left.  I believe next to him is Mitsuru Tamura, who will take up the mantle when Yasuda-san leaves for Japan and passes the baton.
While I glanced at the short menu of appetizers from the kitchen, we ordered only sake and beer and told Yoshi we eat everything and otherwise left the choices in his hands.  Before I get to the pictures, let me address a couple things.  First, Yasuda is most well known for the quality of his rice, and rightfully so.  The flavor, texture, and mouthfeel, even the temperature, is very carefully calibrated to lift each piece to new heights.  (Although I do have to admit that one sole piece I found the rice a bit too warm, so they did not bat 1.000 for me, but pretty close.)  The second thing I had read often in other reviews is that the ratio of fish to rice was too low to fully appreciate the fish.  While I understand from whence this criticism comes, as the slices of fish did tend to the slimmer side when compared to other places, I found nearly all of my sushi to be quite balanced.  I agree the proportioning did shift the balance of the focus from the fish more towards the rice, but to my mind not in a deleterious fashion.  I believe this preparation to be quite deliberate and given the excellence of the rice, led to each piece being a masterful composition in its own right.  It is a slightly different experience then one might be used to, but I very much enjoyed it.  That said, I will concede that the one exception was the toro; I perhaps would have enjoyed that piece more had there been a bit more fish.  However, it was still great and did not stop me from getting a second piece as one of my last three bites to cap the meal.

Onto the sushi.  We started with Blue fin Tuna, for which I neglected to retrieve the camera.  Our second was Bluefin Toro:
Next we got two different pieces of Yellowtail, I believe Buri and Shimaaji.  (Forgive me if I misnote, misremember, or just mistake some of these identifications, I'm sure I've messed up a couple but I think I got most of them.)
Another thing for which I have seen raves about is Yasuda's eel, freshly prepared.  I was already had my hopes set high and was pleasantly surprised.  More than that.  I was blown away.  First I had the Shirayaki (fresh white freshwater eel) on the right, which I thought easily the best eel I've ever had.  That thought lasted until I tried the Anago (fresh dark sea eel) on the left, which, if not better, was close enough to make me think hard to decide which was best.  I think the Shirayaki wins, but both were unexpectedly delicious.
Yet another notable experience at Yasuda is the flights of fish they often do, letting you try several similar fish, or different cuts of fish, back to back.  Here we had, L to R, Tasmanian ocean trout, White King Salmon, and New Zealand King Salmon:
Next was Oyster (Canada), Scallop, and Orange  clam.  The scallop was a standout we would revisit later.  The oyster was a briny delight.  I had read about a Peace Passage Oyster that is sometimes offered and came highly recommended, which I believe is different than what we got, and our Canada Oyster was the only oyster they had that night.  I hope to try the Peace Passage on a later visit.
Of the next three, the Gensaba in the middle was my favorite.  It was a tender and fatty mackerel that melted in your mouth, but, despite the fat content, it was less fishy that some lesser quality oily fishes can taste, and the delicate flavor of the fish really came through.
Spanish mackerel, Gensaba, Pompano:
Striped bass, Orato (snapper), Fluke:
Onto some Uni, always among my favorites.  I had hoped they would have uni from a couple different regions, but the only kind they had was from California, I assume Santa Barbara.  I had heard they sometimes get a special "export quality" uni from Maine with a distinctive taste that I would have enjoyed comparing to the California specimen, but it was not to be.  At least I got some Maine sea urchin from the John Dory the other day, so don't feel too sorry for me.  The California sourced uni they served us was excellent, delicious and clean tasting, and especially creamy.  Certainly up there with other good stuff I've gotten in the US, even if it doesn't measure up to my samplings in Japan.  I'd revisit the uni for my last bite.

Uni (California), Sweet shrimp, Squid:
Artic char,  Cherrystone clam, Octopus:
For the end of Yoshi's selections for us we each got three pieces of toro roll, with just a hint of scallion.  It is worth pausing here to talk about Yasuda's nori, as it is something special.  It was thin and crispy with a mild yet complex flavor.  I'm at a loss to describe it, but it was way better than your typical nori.  The chefs are aware and Yasuda is quite proud of the nori, made especially for the restaurant in Japan.  I think the kelp beds are tended to by mermaids or something, probably previously the product was destined only for the emperor.  (Speaking of the emperor, did you know that after WWII the US made him get on the radio and renounce his divinity?  Sweet.)
For the remainder of the meal, we asked specifically for what we wanted more of.  I wasn't sure how much room I had, but at the top of our lists was more eel since the first round was so fantastic.  Again, we each got one piece of freshwater and one saltwater, but they were different from the first ones we were served.  I was so anxious to eat them, that I devoured the sea eel before recording it, but I believe it was Sawani (fresh white sea eel).  The piece I did shoot I think was Unagi Kuro (fresh dark freshwater eel):
Perusing the menu to see if anything caught my eye, I asked for some Sardine and some Sayori  (needlefish), and as a bonus I got a delightful crunchy piece of cooked Sayori skin:
We were so enamored with the nori, that we did another (smaller) round of Toro scallion roll, just to get another taste.  (This was the largest miss of the night, as the fish was too cold, but it was still really good, it just could have been better.)  I really want to try a hand roll with the awesome nori next time, but we were running out of time and space, and I knew I wanted to finish with seconds of my favorites. 

And those favorites were the Uni, Scallop, and Toro.  All four eel preparations were right up there, but we had already revisited those.  These three were the perfect way to end my meal.
I must note, that while we went all out and got a ton of sushi, one of the greatest things about Sushi Yasuda, especially when compared to Masa, is that going all out is not at all necessary.  One could easily sit down and get just a handful of pieces and still get the same excellent quality with less of a hit to your stomach or wallet.  And speaking of wallets, Sushi Yasuda strikes me as extremely reasonable, if not outright inexpensive, when compared to the quality.  There are plenty of sushi places in the city that are almost the same price but fall way short in delivering excellent fish.  There are precious few places which I would not be hard pressed to justify going rather than returning here.

Remember, Yasuda-san won't be around for much longer, and while I hope the restaurant remains just as excellent, you never know.  (nb, they close from Dec 25th - Jan 10th; I believe Yasuda will stick around for a short while into January.)

Humm Dog at PDT, get it while it's hot

The Humm Dog is back at PDT, but only for a limited engagement during December.  Last year, chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park crafted this special bacon-wrapped, deep-fried dog with celery relish, melted Gruyere cheese, and black truffle mayonnaise to appear on the menu alongside other distinguished wieners such as the Chang Dog and the Wylie Dog.  Its previous appearance was short lived, however, as the ingredient costs proved prohibitive and it was pulled from the menu.  I don't know if PDT got a deal on truffles, or are being generous for the holiday season, but it is back on offer for $6 through the start of the new year.  I didn't get to try one last time around, but I was not going to miss it this time.  So last week, I dropped in for a nightcap and to give the Humm Dog a try.  (I killed two birds with one stone by dragging my idiot friends who live around the corner to PDT for their first time as well; I'd been telling everyone about the pace for years.  They were sold and will return often.)
The Humm Dog was excellent, the hint of earthy truffle with some nice texture and mild acidity from the celery relish.  I think the Wylie Dog with it's deep fried mayo, shredded lettuce, and tomato molasses is still my favorite by a bit, but the Humm is close and would deserve a strong spot in the rotation if it were around all year.  Being a limited offering, it's the obvious choice right now.  Oh, and it goes without saying, but you can't go wrong with the cocktails.  The Paddington paired nicely.
I suspect that it is likely to make another appearance next year around this time, but it you don't want to gamble or just can't wait, get ye there in the next couple weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

MxMo LIII: Like That? You’ll Love This! - Dark Daze

Mixology Monday for December is upon us.  Chris Amirault at eGullet is again our host and the theme for this month is "Like That? You’ll Love This!"  He's looking for creative cocktails to offer patrons who ask for those drinks that make us cocktail aficionados wince - drinks which you might find on your local TGI Shenanigans full page laminated menu of oft neon-colored "martinis."  Damn, I winced just thinking about it.  Here's his request, and let's hope we find some replacements worthy of the name cocktail for those drinks we all heap such scorn upon:
Here's the story. At the bar where I now work, I regularly receive requests for the bar staples of the late 20th century, espresso martinis, appletinis, and other things that end inappropriately in -tini. Though these are standard-issue drinks at most bars, Cook & Brown Public House aims for a classic approach that eschews the pucker line, flavored vodkas, and bottled sour mix.

I've been talking with other bartenders and they, too, want to find a balance between customer service and stocking products that they can't or won't back. In addition, a well-made tweak of someone's favorite can be just the ticket through the gate to the sort of quality cocktails you want to serve guests at home or at work. Hence this MxMo, devoted to sharing gateway drinks that allow you to say, "If you like that, you'll love this!"
To this end, I wasn't sure what to try and in the end I decided to tackle the Chocotini, or Chocolate Martini, or whatever they call the syrupy sweet, often creamy, probably flavored vodka containing abomination.  I had played with Mozart Dry last month and figured it would be a respectable avenue to travel for this purpose.  (Bittermans Xocolatl Mole Bitters being another possibility.)  Unfortunately I believe Mozart is not currently readily available in the US, and I ordered my bottle from UK's The Whisky Exchange, so you'll probably have to take my (or Tiare's) word on the quality of the spirit.  Mozart is 80 proof, and as the name implies has no sugar content, but carries the rich essence of chocolate.  I first considered pairing it with Bulldog Gin, which has some nice botanicals and is light on the Juniper, and then thought maybe rum would make a nice base, but settled on some of each.  Since the first three ingredients are strong spirits, I included some floral Dolin Blanc to leven the heat of the alcohol, some orange bitters to add a note of complexity, and at least a touch of simple syrup for a hint of sweetness, but as noted if you are trying to wean someone off a chain restaurant's Chocotini, it may be best to start on the sweeter side.  In the likely case you have no Mozart, even using Crème de cacao and no simple I think would be a step in the right direction at least.  Perhaps even omitting the Mozart and using a generous helping of those Mole bitters might work, but I have not tried.
  Dark Daze
  • ¾ oz Clément Rhum Vieux Agricole VSOP
  • ¾ oz Bulldog London Dry Gin (or some other not too assertive gin)
  • ¾ oz Mozart Dry Chocolate Spirit*
  • ¾ oz Dolin Blanc
  • 1 dash to ¼ oz rich (2:1) simple  syrup**
  • 2 dashes Regan's orange bitters #6
Stir and strain, orange twist garnish.
* or substitute ½ oz white Crème de cacao and omit simple syrup.  That kinda defeats the purpose, but at least it's not vodka and still has some bitters
** For the simple syrup, I prefer just a dash for a dryer cocktail, but if you are trying to win over an actual chocolate martini drinker, the ¼ oz makes it a pretty sweet drink. remember to omit if you've subbed Crème de cacao for the Mozart Dry
Heh Heh, shenanigans.