Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dessert | Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates

I remember reading about Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates of Philadelphia in one of my favorite design/food blogs, Oh Joy!, back in December. That's when I immediately put it on my list of things to do when I visit Dan in Philly this year. When I made a visit over the Easter weekend, Dan and I made a stop there.

Marcie Blaine is housed in Chef Marcie Blaine Turney's boutique shop, Verde, which specializes in women's jewelry and accessories, while also carrying a selection of clothing and items for the home. Chef Turney's chocolates are handcrafted in a small studio kitchen in the back of Verde.

Marcie Blaine sources its ingredients from Lancaster County, especially for organic cream and butter, as well as nearby farms for seasonal produce, herbs, and honey. The flavors of her artisanal chocolates are inspired by her restaurants with cuisines stemming from Mexico, India, and the Mediterranean.

The chocolates offered that day!

The "Philadelphia Series"--includes Philly Pretzel (i.e., peanut butter pretzel ganache), Philly Skyline (i.e., crispy hazelnut with milk chocolate praline), Love Park (i.e., raspberry ganache), and Liberty Bell (i.e., 70% cacao with vanilla bean).

I decided on a box of six chocolates. From the top left, counterclockwise: (1) Liberty Bell, (2) Italian Flirt (i..e, rosemary, pine nut, and caramel), (3) Philly Pretzel, (4) The Kitchen Sink (i..e, "dark" with "all the good stuff"), (5) Philly Skyline, and (6) Cashew Caramel (i.e., salted roasted cashew caramel).

I found the Philly Pretzel and Philly Skyline to be quite original, and incidentally, my favorites out of the six chocolates I selected. The peanut butter pretzel ganache of the Philly Pretzel was very similar to the same filling inside a Butterfinger bar with the added bonus of pretzels! Additionally, adding hazelnuts to any type of chocolate or chocolate dessert is always a winner for me. The crispy texture and fragrant flavor of the hazelnuts mixed in with the milk chocolate praline (i.e., a combination of caramelized sugar with nuts and milk chocolate)

While the originality of the Italian Flirt and Cashew Caramel enticed me to select them initially, I thought the caramel was a bit overpowering, where the flavors of rosemary, pine nut, and cashews were slightly clouded by the sweet tasting and thick textured caramel. I admire Chef Turney's incorporation of unexpected flavors into her artisanal chocolates, but I was anticipating more powerful supplementary flavors to enhance the rich dark chocolate used. The Kitchen Sink was a nice solid dark chocolate, which was a nice break from the other chocolates' flavors. The Liberty Bell was very similar in taste, but I couldn't really taste the vanilla bean infused in the ganache.

Findings: I like the "Philadelphia Series" that has signature city items (e.g., pretzels, the Liberty Bell, the LOVE sculpture at JFK Plaza, and the city's skyline) silkscreened in edible 'ink" on the chocolate. The visual aesthetic as well as the solid flavors of the chocolates in this series make for a great souvenir gift from Philly.

The dark chocolate used in Marcie Blaine chocolates was of a very nice quality. Very smooth and perfectly bittersweet--just how I like my dark chocolate. I would definitely go back to try other flavors, and try to use them for wine pairing chocolates. I feel like the flavors infused in these chocolates may come out better if paired with the right wine. I really want to give Marcie Blaine a better chance to show off its full flavor spectrum. I especially look forward to trying the prosecco-infused chocolate!

Price point: $11.95 for a box of six assorted artisanal chocolates.

--April 23, 2011

Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates
108 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fresh Find | Archie Grand notebooks

I made a weekend trip to Philadelphia this weekend to visit Dan, and we stumbled upon this knick knack store (i.e., a housewares and gift shop) called Open House in Center City. During our perusals there, I stumbled upon a bunch of notebooks by Archie Grand. For obvious reasons, the below notebook caught my eye:

The cover of this particular notebook reads Chefs I've Met and Liked. I immediately knew I had to get this as a little present for myself. Archie Grand notebooks have 120 blank pages of high quality paper to soak up any kind of ink. These pages are sewn to the spine for a great feel and durability. While it was a little disappointing to find out the notebook has unlined pages, I guess not all is lost--I can do some kind of scrapbook style documentation here perhaps. I'm looking forward to filling this with my experiences of meeting new and long-time chefs during my adventures in the culinary realm--just gotta figure out how to best utilize this notebook! I was thinking I could document the date I've met a said chef and enclose the restaurant's business card followed with a brief description of how the meeting came to be, noting any interesting conversation points. Any other ideas? I'm open to any and all suggestions!

Archie Grand
Chefs I've Met and Liked notebook
Price point: $11 here at Jasper + Black

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tastings | Finger Lakes: Spring 2011, ii

To continue the previous post (i.e., Part I of II) about my wine tasting trip to the Finger Lakes with Women Who Wine, our next stop was Wagner Vineyards.

Since the weather wasn't looking very promising at this point, we decided it would be appropriate to do the group photo here! Although it was super windy and cold, we were able to get some decent group shots--cheers to Women Who Wine!

Wagner Vineyards!

The girls literally running into the restaurant at Wagner Vineyards, The Ginny Lee!

View of The Ginny Lee!

We were all famished by the time we got there (i.e., a little before 2 PM), so we immediately got to ordering!

I had the smoked duck salad with carrots, toasted almonds, cherry tomatoes, and dried cranberries, served with a raspberry-Riesling dressing. It was definitely one of the best salads I've ever had. The dressing was amazing--great combination! I love the added crunch from the almonds, the tartness from the dried cranberries, and the savory, smoked flavor from the duck. It all came together nicely. Gotta figure out how to make that dressing!

After lunch, we walked right over to Wagner Vineyards.

Located on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, Wagner Vineyards is one of the oldest and most recognized wineries in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. It produces over 30 types of wine and are particularly recognized for its Rieslings (from fully dry to sweet ice), that are versatile and food-friendly. Founded by Bill Wagner in 1979, Wagner Vineyards embraces its founder's philosophy that "wine and food are a natural combination." An original concept for the winery was the addition of The Ginny Lee, a café where people could enjoy both.

Here are the eight featured wines offered at the tasting room that day.

Our spot at the tasting room!

Here is what we tasted at Wagner Vineyards (* denotes what I liked):
  • 2008 Riesling, dry: This was a medium-bodied, dry wine with lots of citrus flavors and a crisp finish. Overall, I thought this wine was a bit too dry for my liking.
  • 2008 "Grace House" Pinot Noir: This wine was very dry and earthy--you can definitely taste flavors of cinnamon. The tannins in this wine were soft.
  • 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: This Cabernet had ripe berry flavors throughout.
  • *2007 Riesling, semi-dry: Per Penny's bold statement before we got to the tasting room, this is the white wine that almost everybody likes. Boy was she right! It was actually mentioned in an article in the New York Times back in 1994. This wine has lively citrus and fresh peach flavors with pineapple and peach aromas. Another great wine to have around for the summer season!
  • *"Sunset Red": Another favorite of mine at Wagner--it is a fruit forward blend that is very smooth. It is also best served slightly chilled--making it a great summer red!
  • *2009 Riesling Select: This wine is semi-sweet with rich honey overtones. A very solid Riesling here!
  • "Niagra": This tasted like white grape juice to me--not a favorable wine for me at all. Kat reported that it tasted like bubble gum.
  • *2008 Vidal Blanc Ice: This ice wine has flavors of ripe pears and citrus fruit. A good wine pairing with dessert!

After the tasting, I picked up two bottles of the 2007 semi-dry Riesling because I enjoyed it very much, a bottle of the 2009 Riesling Select, a bottle of "Sunset Red" and a bottle of 2008 Vidal Blanc ice wine for my mom because she's a big ice wine fan. As a fan usually of reds, I was shocked by how many bottles of white I picked up at Wagner and from the prior two vineyards/wineries as well!

Our next and final stop was at Glenora Wine Cellars, the first winery opened on Seneca Lake. Glenora received instant acclaim in wine circles when its initial vintage won several medals at the New York State Fair wine competition.

The "bottle tree" by the entrance to Glenora Wine Cellars.

They had these cute and clever items with "I'm a winestein," "Ain't life grape?" and "Make me wine" emblazoned on them!

Inside the tasting bar at Glenora Wine Cellars.

For the group tasting, we were given a total of six tastings each, where for each tasting, we had a choice between a dry wine or a sweet wine (I went with all dry except for the second tasting). Here is what I tasted at Glenora (* denotes what I liked):
  • "Signature": This dry wine is a premium blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. I felt this one was just okay.
  • *Semi-dry Riesling: This is a medium-bodied Riesling with pear skin, green apple and melon notes. I really enjoyed this one, though not as good as the one from Wagner--the one from Glenora was a little bit grittier.
  • *Seyval Blanc: This is a wine tastes just like a Pinot Grigio!
  • *Pinot Noir rosé: This is a wine, that Glenora advertises, pleases sweet and dry drinkers alike. I really enjoyed this one as well--another wine to add to the summer cellar!
  • *2008 Cabernet Franc: This is a rich red wine that is aged in oak. Very dry but has a satin and smooth finish. It was a little bit too dry for my liking--I think I'm more of an in-between wine drinker, leaning a little towards the dry side.
  • *2009 "Meritage": This dry, rich red wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I really enjoyed this one, as I very much like red blends (like the "Radiant Red" from Wagner.

So you ask what loot I left Glenora with? I picked up a bottle of the 2008 "Meritage" on my way out. I wish I had also picked up the Pinot Noir rosé, but that will have to be for another trip!

Saying goodbye to Glenora and miserably greeting the icky, rainy weather outside to head back home.

Julianne, Melissa, and Whitney on the party bus, on our ride back!

Julianne, Jamie, and Bonnie!

Kim and Danielle!

Melissa, Whitney, Penny, and Leann!

Kala, Kat, and me!

Findings: I definitely found the wines at Wagner and Glenora to be a little more commercialized and larger in variety than the previous two I mentioned in my Part I post. I was able to find more wines that suited my tasted at these two wineries/vineyards, probably due to its higher variety in grapes used and wines produced. I've also rekindled my interest in white wines since this trip--before then I was solely a "reds" kind of girl.

Also, being able to visit all four vineyards in one day is definitely helping me prepare myself for the trip Marcus and I have planned in May for San Francisco and Napa Valley--lots of wine tasting to be had there! It was definitely a lot of tastes and smells to take in at once, but I think the initial sensation I felt (i..e, being overwhelmed) subsided when I was able to gauge how I really felt about what I liked and what I didn't like. I wish I had brought my "Wine Notes" notebook (I saw Penny with the same one, suddenly realizing I had one at home) so I could properly document, but I guess my chicken scratch notes worked out fine! I'm very much looking forward to toasting with the "loot" I purchased on this trip (I believe I brought home a total of eight bottles of wine) for any and all special occasions this year!

I would definitely recommend making a similar trip up to the Finger Lakes--making Goose Watch, Wagner Vineyards, and Glenora Wine Cellars a must on your list. Organizing a larger group is always more fun--plus, you can rent a "party bus"/car service to take you and your group up there without any worries about drinking and driving. It is definitely worth doing it this way. I plan on organizing a Long Island wine tasting trip similar to this one for the upcoming summer, so hopefully I'll do as good of a job as Whitney did for this one :)!

It was so nice to meet some very interesting women during this trip--I had so much fun trying new wines with them! They're all pretty knowledgeable in the wine arena, so I have lots of catching up to do. The "Party Bus" was such a great idea--lots of snacking, drinking, and dancing (I'm vowed to secrecy--what happened on the "party bus" stays on the "party bus"--so that's all I'm saying!). Looking forward to the next annual trip with Women Who Wine--visiting some of the same vineyards while trying new ones as well!

Price point: $9.99 for smoked duck salad at The Ginny Lee, $2 for a tasting of eight Featured Wines at Wagner Vineyards, $9.99 for a bottle of 2007 semi-dry Wagner Vineyards Riesling, $11.99 for a bottle of 2009 Wagner Vineyards Riesling Select, $19.99 for a bottle of 2008 Wagner Vineyards Vidal Blanc ice wine, $6.99 for a bottle of "Sunset Red" ($9.49/$9.49/$11.39/$18.99/$6.64 respectively with 5% discount from purchasing a half-case of wines); $2 for a tasting of six wines at Glenora Wine Cellars, $24.99 for a bottle of 2009 Glenora Wine Cellars "Meritage" blend.

--April 16, 2011

The Ginny Lee
Wagner Vineyards
9322 State Route 414
Lodi, NY 14860

Glenora Wine Cellars

5435 Route 14
Dundee, NY 14837

Tastings | Finger Lakes: Spring 2011, i

This past weekend, Kat, one of my best friends from university, invited me to go on a wine tasting trip up to the Finger Lakes (located in Upstate New York) with a group of girls (a few include her friends from work) who have informally dubbed themselves Women Who Wine. I absolutely love that! Kat told me that she and the girls went on a similar trip last year (with a few vineyards/wineries in/out of the mix), and they all had a blast. I've never been wine tasting at an actual vineyard when I was of age (before I've visited Beringer in Napa with my family while I was only a teenager and Porto in Portugal a few months before graduating high school), so I was very much looking forward to seeing some East Coast wineries/vineyards and tasting wines that are more "local" to us than California wines.

One of Kat's co-workers, Whitney, organized the whole trip for us (big thank-you shout-out to her!), including this "party bus" which took us from eastern Pennsylvania all the way to Upstate New York, where the Finger Lakes is located (about three-hours each way) and drove us to each of the vineyards, so we didn't have to worry about driving that far out, especially after having tasted many wines. All the girls on the trip packed snacks, goodies, and lots of drinks (cocktails, wine, and all) for us to enjoy during the long drive up.

One of the girls on the trip, Melissa, made personalized wine glasses for each one of the twelve girls on the trip. "Wine tastes better with friends" is written on the back. A big thank you to Melissa for making them for us--they definitely served lots of use (mimosas and wine, for the win!) on the long drive!

The region of the "Finger Lakes" derives its name from their linear shape and the north-south orientation next to one another. The two longest, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, are among the deepest in America. These largest lakes resemble the others in shape, which collectively reminded early map-makers of the fingers of a hand, resulting in the "Finger Lakes."

The first stop on our itinerary was to Fox Run Vineyards, located on Torrey Ridge overlooking one of the deepest parts of Seneca Lake. Scott Osborn, the owner of Fox Run, has introduced "a program of minimal intervention wine-making and revitalized the vines by converting to a new trellis system which has had excellent results in Germany, France and Australia." Mr. Osborn is also "a strong advocate of the place of wine in a healthy life-style, and he appreciates the health benefits of garlic as well" as demonstrated by the Vineyard's Annual Garlic Festival, which is committed to pairing a good wine with the fragrant taste of garlic.

Inside Fox Run Vineyards. I like how they used old wine bottles as a vessel for twinkle lights for decoration! I remember seeing how to make these on Wit & Whistle, one of my favorite design blogs, and I've been meaning around to make a few! Just gotta learn how to work a drill, haha.

Inside Fox Run Vineyards.

The tasting bar at Fox Run Vineyards.

The chalkboard detailed the featured wines for that day.

We had a tasting of the six featured wines along with an additional wine from another listing provided to us with our tasting notes. Here is what I tasted at Fox Run (* denotes what I liked):
  • *2008 Reserve Chardonnay (with the option of one aged in stainless steel and the other aged in oak): I had a little taste of both--Kat got the one aged in stainless steel, while I had the one aged in oak. The former had a metallic aftertaste--it wasn't subtle at all. The latter one aged in oak, however, tasted a lot smoother, adding a little more depth of flavor than the strong aftertaste from the former. Definitely strong tastes of apple.
  • 2009 Dry Riesling: I didn't find this to be very sweet, and there was a strong aftertaste of stainless steel, which took away from being able to taste the wine's true flavors (i.e., lemon, ginger, tangerine, lime, and apricot).
  • *"Drink New York" Riesling: I really enjoyed this one--it had aromas of nectarine, mango, and pineapple. It was semi-sweet with a residual sugar of 3%.
  • 2007 Pinot Noir: This is the classic Finger Lakes "Pinot"--it had lots of subtle spices. It was a lot dryer than I had expected which wasn't too favorable for me. Many of the other girls loved it because they tend to lean towards dryer wines.
  • 2007 Cabernet Franc / Lemberger: I found this one to have lots of strong flavors of violets and slight pepper (from the Lemberger variety of grape).
  • *"Drink New York" Merlot: This was the one red wine from Fox Run that I enjoyed. In fact, the Vineyard says this newest wine release delivers immediate appeal.
  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: I selected this as my "wild card" wine (see explanation above). It was a pretty solid Cabernet, rich and soft, full of sweet fruit flavors. Again, this was on the dryer side for me.

I bought a bottle of the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay (seen above). I think the comparison between this (aged in oak) and the other (aged in stainless steel) emphasized the depth of flavor the former had over the latter, which resulted in my purchase!

I just took a quick snapshot of the "Drink New York" Riesling because I liked its play on J. Howard Miller's "We Can Do It!" poster for Westinghouse that was modeled on the middle Michigan factory worker, Geraldine Doyle, in 1942. In retrospect, I wish I had picked up a bottle of this, too--for both its design and taste!

They had stuffed animal foxes in this huge wine glass!

Whitney, Melissa, Penny, and Leann!

Kat, Kala, and Julianne!

Me and Kat!

The second winery on our itinerary was Goose Watch Winery, "situated in a beautifully restored century-old barn nestled within one of the area's only commercial chestnut groves." Its new wines are produced from classic European grape varieties, such as Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Lemberger and Merlot.

Inside Goose Watch Winery, where you can see Cayuga Lake from the tasting room.

The tasting room at Goose Watch Winery.

Women Who Wine at the Goose Watch Winery tasting room!

We had a customized tasting of wines with the choice from selecting up to eight wines in listing provided to us with our tasting notes (with the exception of reserve and ice wine tastings, which were additional). Here is what I tasted at Goose Watch (* denotes what I liked):
  • Pinot Noir sparkling brut rosé: This is a rare brut rosé made from the "king" of champagne grapes. There were tastes of strawberry--both crisp and light.
  • *2009 Traminette: This is made from a premium wine grape developed by Cornell University. It was very dry, with subtle hints of Gewürtztraminer (one of my favorite types of white wine grapes), which is probably why I liked it so much.
  • 2009 Cabernet Franc rosé: This was a dry rosé, which isn't really seen much in the limelight of the wine world (until recently). It had a strong watermelon flavor--very refreshing, but not really up my alley. I love watermelon as a fruit, but just not in my wine.
  • *"Snow Goose": This was the fruitiest white wine made at Goose Watch--it is a white wine blend that is both sweet and crisp. It has strong flavors of peaches and pineapple--very refreshing and the perfect light summer wine.
  • 2007 Merlot: This was a medium-bodied red wine which was very smooth with black pepper aromas and rich berry fruit.
  • 2007 Chambourcin: This was a lighter, but dry, red wine with raspberry aromas that is aged in oak.
  • "Renaissance Red": This is Goose Watch's "new age" style of red wine that makes a great alternative to dry reds with a softer and fruitier sweetness. It is the wine that pairs well with almost everything. I wasn't too crazy about this one--there was too much berry-juice flavors.

Bottles of "Snow Goose"--I enjoyed this one so much that I picked up a bottle of it on our way out! I think it'd be perfect for the perfect white summer sangria with chunks of nectarines and peaches.

Findings: I definitely found visiting the two vineyards/wineries to be a great experience, as we had the opportunity to taste wines before possibly purchasing them (a smart marketing device for them, and a great opportunity for us--the visitors--to discover wines they like before committing to a purchase). I find many times I'm blindly walking into a wine store and hope for the best that the bottle I selected will be to my liking. I usually ask for recommendations, but many times, one's tastes may not align with the suggestions offered by said store associate. I would love to visit the Finger Lakes again when it gets warmer (and when the weather is better) because then we'd be able to get a better view of the entire vineyard--perhaps have an opportunity to go on a proper tour--I think that would make the experience even better! I'd say both Fox Run Vineyards and Goose Watch Winery have several different wine offerings (plus ones that have won many accolades) to accommodate wine drinkers of all kind.

The thing I have noticed at these two vineyards (and the other two that we visited, in the post that follows this one) that the tastings are very informal--you arrive at the tasting room/bar, they pour you your choices, you sip/savor/drink and come up with a verdict for said wines, leave the bar and buy whatever you thought would be worth taking home with you, then you head back to the bus. There's not much interaction between the wine pourers unless you initiate--it's definitely something that you have to be proactive about at the Finger Lakes. I feel like in Napa, there's more dialogue on the proprietor side than there was here. Nevertheless, I had a great time learning about the different grape varieties and wine blends that are grown and bottled in the Finger Lakes.

P. S. I'm working on finishing my blog post for Part II of this trip to the Finger Lakes--it should be up shortly! I will sum up and finalize my findings for all four vineyards in the next post!

Price point: $2 for a tasting of seven Featured Wines at Fox Run Vineyards, $12.99 for a bottle of 2008 oak-aged Fox Run Chardonnay ($10.40 with 20% discount from purchasing a half-case of wines); $2 for a tasting of eight wines at Goose Watch Winery, $12.00 for a bottle of Snow Goose ($9.00 with $3 coupon included with tasting).

--April 16, 2011

Fox Run Vineyards
670 State Route 14
Penn Yan, NY 14527

Goose Watch Winery
5480 Route 89
Romulus NY, 14541

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chef's Tasting | Brushstroke

Housed in Chef David Bouley's space that was once Danube (his past Austrian restaurant), Brushstroke is Chef Bouley's new project and partnership with the Tsuji cooking school in Osaka, Japan. It isn't necessarily your typical sushi-serving Japanese restaurant--in fact, per the New York Times, Chef Bouley insists that Brushstroke is not a sushi restaurant, even though one course offers a sushi option. It all began when Chef Bouley made a trip to Japan to visit the Tsuji cooking school, when he suggested to Yoshiki Tsuji, who runs the school, that they should do a restaurant together. Since then, "he and a rotating team of chefs have worked on recipes in the Bouley test kitchen," with a focus on ingredients, which "led to a wide-ranging program of importing Japanese seeds to cultivate special produce varieties, including eggplants, in California, New York and New England." The kitchen is run by head chefs Isao Yamada (a former restaurant owner in Japan) and Hiroki Murashima (a former teacher at the Tsuji school).

As such, Chef Bouley has said the restaurant is aiming to be "Kyoto-style" which in turn implies seasonality, as there are twenty seasons in Kyoto, Japan. The restaurant's menus, design, and experience will tailor to these "seasonal changes" accordingly. Currently, Kyoto is celebrating Sakura, i.e., the cherry blossom festival, explaining the above floral arrangement inside Brushstroke.

Brushstroke has been a decade in the making, and I was lucky enough to nab a reservation on its opening day to the public. The restaurant's name came from a sign on the wall of the building that Chef Bouley originally planned to use as the restaurant's space, but due to many structural problems, the space was moved to Danube's former space on the corner of Hudson and Duane Streets.

Making it to a restaurant on its opening debut day to the public was an entirely new experience for me. In the past, I've been to restaurants when they've been open for a couple weeks (sometimes even only for a few days), but never have I had the pleasure of sitting at a restaurant (one of Chef Bouley's, no less) as a privileged diner that gets to see and eat from the first ever menu before the rest of the public (not counting journalists and VIPs who have attended preview dinners).

This is the bar/lounge area of Brushstroke. The walls here are covered with vertical and horizontal stacks of old paperbacks (the New York Times citing there are more than 20,000 books) with their page ends facing out. This plays a visual trick on the beholder, as the walls look like slabs of wood, complementing the rest of the restaurant's interior, commissioned to Japanese design firm, Super Potato.

Here is the main dining area and counter--the interior here is mostly made from honeyed wood (majority of it reclaimed). Marcus and I were fortunate enough to get a reservation for two at the counter, where we could watch the kitchen's chefs prepare all of the tasting courses while enjoying the dinner. It was not only an important day for Chef Bouley as Brushstroke was debuting for the first time, but it was also a special day for Marcus and me--it was our one-year anniversary!

More view of the dining area--love those lamps! The imposing panels seen by the window are made from reclaimed steel from Staten Island.

View of the kitchen preparation area. Look at all the beautiful Japanese ceramic ware!

I started off the night with some genmai tea, a fine Gyokuro green tea mixed with toasted brown rice. I enjoy having green tea paired with dinner at Japanese restaurants, particularly when it has a toasted flavor to it!

Marcus went with the homemade ginger ale, which he found to be a lot sharper and biting in taste than the taste of standard ginger ale found in the grocery store, probably because the restaurant uses actual ginger root when it is made. He usually finds ginger ale to still have a soda-like undercurrent. As such, he reported the ginger ale here didn't have the soda flavor to it, making it different from what he was expecting, but he still enjoyed it very much.

The chef's tasting began with a light broth infused with a cherry blossom flower and rice pops. It was really refreshing, but I found the infused broth to be a bit bitter from the blossom. I do like how the restaurant incorporates the current season of Kyoto into its menu and décor.

This was the first course--on the left, young vegetables in miso-mustard dressing, and on the right, flash-fried spring vegetable tempura. As decoration, there was a branch with budding flowers and a candle in a cut out vegetable or plant--not sure what it was exactly, but really pretty nonetheless.

The young vegetables included nagaimo yams, broccoli rabe, radish, and other vegetables that escape me now. The vegetables were very refreshing and fresh, and the miso-mustard dressing paired well with it, adding a little savory-bitter spice to the plain vegetables.

The flash-fried vegetables included an artichoke, oyster mushroom, and a string bean curled into a swirl. The tempura batter was really light and crispy, which was great because many restaurants tend to over-batter whatever they're frying tempura-style. The contrasting pairing of vegetables as the first dish definitely emphasizes Chef Bouley's commitment to having fresh Japanese produce available on its menu. It also a nice alternative to a salad--quite different, as vegetables tend to be offered as "side dishes" as opposed to being a part of a full course.

Here is a close up the candle!

The next course was served in this cute little miniature bowl/cup that had silver-shaped fishes as handles on its side as well as on its lid.

Inside the bowl/cup was chawan-mushi egg custard layered with a Dungeness crab and black truffle. The texture of this dish tasted like the shark's fin soup my family prepares during Chinese New Year combined with the dau fu fa (i.e., silken tofu with sugar), only here infused with the umami-bite of black truffle.

This custard soup had a lot of depth of flavor to it, which I really enjoyed. The custard has a very nice silky texture, while the crab was soft and soaked in all the flavor from the broth, infused by the black truffle, leaving quite the lingering flavor. If you're jonesing for a big explosion of umami, you're guaranteed one with this course!

We watched one of the chefs prepare our next course--tuna sashimi strips, delicately seared. Here, he is slicing pieces of chu-toro (i.e., medium fatty tuna) to be seared.

Once the pieces are seared, they are plated nicely over a bed of shredded radish.

Here is the delicately seared strips of tuna sashimi, plated and ready to eat. It was served alongside spicy soy sauce with finely chopped radish mixed in. The edges of the tuna were very lightly seared, giving a little toasted flavor to it. The soy sauce mixture added a nice touch to the richness of the tuna, which melted in your mouth without much chewing effort. This was Marcus's favorite course of them all--as it reminded him of the chu-toro we had at 15 East last October for his birthday.

The fourth course was a grilled black cod in sesame marinade with lightly seared sea urchin sprinkled with pistachio and pickled kohlrabi. It was as heavenly as it sounded--the black cod, standalone, would have been more than adequate as a course, as the soft, rich flakes of perfectly grilled cod filet in sesame marinade would have had the expected melting buttery sensation to blow you out of the water. But the added bonuses of lightly seared sea urchin (reminiscent of the torched uni at Sushi of Gari) plus sprinkled pistachio--man, the wave of umami goodness you get from this is phenomenal. This was my overall favorite during the tasting at Brushstroke.

The next course was seared lobster with yuzu-miso and thinly shredded nori. While the lobster was cooked really well, to lightly opaque color, I wasn't super crazy about the yuzu-miso sauce with which it was seasoned. I felt the yuzu sauce was a bit strong, taking away from the lobster meat at hand. The nori had a little better handle to it, but overall, it wasn't up there with the rest of the courses for me.

The sixth course was duck smoked with sencha leaves, served with softened agebitashi eggplant and sencha tea sauce. The first impression I got from this was whether I was in fact having duck--I thought it tasted like smoked ham! I had another piece shortly after to contemplate the taste and flavor at hand. I looked over to Marcus and asked him, straight out, "Does this taste like ham to you?" He looked at me a little puzzled, replying, "It tastes like duck to me." He took another bite of it to see if he could taste what I was tasting, then he was able to taste it a little bit. I came to the conclusion that it was probably the intensely smoked flavor that was throwing me off as I'm used to having smoked ham more frequently than smoked duck. The duck was very succulent and full of smoked flavor, and the fat from the skin definitely made the duck that much better!

Our server was preparing/mixing our rice dishes which comprised the seventh course. We had a choice from a listing of five rice offerings on the menu, and Marcus and I each went with the rice dishes prepared in do-nabe pots, which are special earthenware pots that are used to cook over open flames in Japanese kitchens. These pots are glazed on the inside and remain porous on their exterior. While earthenware typically shouldn't be used over open flames, the Japanese-style of cooking with do-nabe pots takes special precautions when doing so. First, the outside of the do-nabe should be dry before use, as moisture within the clay will expand in the heat and may chip or crack the pot. Secondly, the pot should be heated gradually to reduce the possibility of cracks due to heat stress. Third, the pot should never be left over the flame while empty.

My rice dish was Dungeness crab steamed with rice and salmon roe prepared in a rustic do-nabe pot. The rice was very flavorful--the crab meat was soft and tender while the salmon roe gave it a concentrated saltiness throughout the rice mixture.

It was served alongside with seasonal pickled Japanese vegetables.

It also came with miso soup--hot wit tofu cubes and scallions.

Marcus had the lobster steamed with rice and salmon roe prepared in a rustic do-nabe pot. The rice here was similar to the rice dish I ordered except it had chunks of lobsterinstead of Dungeness crab. The rice absorbed the flavors from the roe and the lobster, adding more dimension to what would've been plain white Japanese rice. Marcus really loved this course--he had three bowls of this rice, nearly finishing off the do-nabe pot! I was so full already that I only was able to finish a little under two.

While we were eating the rice, we were watching one of the chefs prepare oysters for a table at the bar. The bar menu offers many of the courses that appear on the tasting menu, along with a few others that aren't featured on the tasting menu. This was the Pacific Jumbo oyster with grape seed mustard dressing.

As a palate-cleanser, we were given a lychee sorbet (which had real lychee fruit!) with tangerine sauce and powdered honey. It was a refreshingly awesome break between the savory main courses and the upcoming dessert. The powdered honey enhanced it all very well, adding a subtle hint of sweetness without all the thick stickiness of typical honey.

For dessert, and as the last of the eight courses from the tasting menu, we were served soymilk panna cotta with matcha green tea sauce and red beans lined at the bottom. The soymilk panna cotta tasted like a very soft and smooth custard pudding which paired really well with the matcha green tea sauce--it was like having soy milk in green tea! A+ from me for dessert!

Served alongside the soymilk panna cotta was a chocolate cake ball with red bean sauce and rice pops. The cake ball was very rich and dense, while the red bean sauce and rice pops added an Asian flair to what could have been mistaken for an American dessert.

As a Japanese twist on the petit-four, we were served this nice Japanese box filled with two types of oblato (i.e., thin pieces of rice paper/cracker)--one sprinkled with shiso powder and another with green tea powder. Both contained pine nuts inside. We were told these were very delicate, so we had to eat them quickly so they wouldn't fall apart. The green tea powder had the bitter yet refreshing flavor typical in its drinkable flavor, while the shiso powder had mildly salty and tart flavor. Shiso powder is actually made from traditionally pickled and dried red shiso (beefsteak) leaves--it kind of tastes like a bitter plum to me. The oblato was very light (and indeed, delicate), making for a great ending to a wonderful tasting at Brushstroke!

Findings: The interior space of Brushstroke is beautifully organic, as it uses the colors of honeyed wood and paperback page-ends to create a soothing and earthy atmosphere and ambiance. When you walk in, you immediately feel relaxed and will probably have a zen feeling come over you--it is not at all a harsh décor. I also admire the restaurant's emphasis on embracing the seasons of Kyoto for its menu, design, and culture--you truly feel like you're eating in a traditional Japanese restaurant in a modern era.

I really believe Chef Bouley has really outdone himself with Brushstroke--in design and in cuisine. The collaboration with the Tsuji cooking school of Osaka is undoubtedly evident in the execution of all of the dishes that are served to the restaurant's patrons. Everything is meticulous, deliberate, and pragmatically implemented. There have been many times I've been to restaurants where American chefs attempt to carry out Japanese/Pan-Asian cuisine to the best of their ability, but more times than not, the menu offerings result in a fusion of dishes that stray away from the traditional dishes (most of the time for the worse--not enhancing them at all), making them highly "Americanized." To sum this experience up as best as I can, you basically feel like you're eating in a Japanese or multi-Asian cuisine restaurant in America--where chicken teriyaki and California rolls reign.

However, in the case of Chef Bouley's Brushstroke (and my experience at Chef Harold Dieterle's Thai spot, Kin Shop), you most certainly do not feel this way at all. You feel as if you're in a Japanese restaurant, free of American context, perhaps even to the point where you're sitting at a restaurant counter in Kyoto, Japan. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for having chicken teriyaki and California rolls when I'm in the mood for them, when authenticity isn't an issue at hand. But nevertheless, Chef Bouley respects authenticity to its highest honor--where there is no skepticism or suspicion that these dishes aren't prepared in the traditional Japanese ways, perhaps with a little modern twist that enhances the overall experience of the dish. After all, that's what conducting all the work, studies, and experiments in the Bouley test kitchen was for--the bragging rights for true authenticity.

I would highly recommend sitting at the counter if you can--in my opinion, it's always the best seat in the house of a Japanese restaurant. You get to watch how all the chefs prepare items from the tasting menu! The best part of it is the ventilation is amazing, where you don't leave smelling like you were in the trenches of the kitchen for the meal, like in the case with hibachi dinners. And if you don't want to commit to a tasting menu, the bar menu looks promising as well, with some of the tasting menu items offered along with other offerings. I was very impressed with the smoothness of service during the course of dinner, as it was the first day the restaurant was operating for the public. The serving and clearing of dishes was very fluid, and our water glasses were perpetually filled--never empty. Our server, in particular, was super helpful--answering any and all questions I had about the intricacies of the meal. I was expecting minor catastrophes, and there were none to have been witnessed. So big round of applause to the team at Brushstroke for making our anniversary celebration there so wonderful and enjoyable.

Price point: $85 per person for eight-course tasting menu, $15-18 supplement for do-nabe rice dishes; $5 for genmai tea, $6 for homemade ginger ale.

--April 20, 2011

30 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10007


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...