Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Q&A | Alice Gao

I'm happy to have had the opportunity to have a little Q&A sesh this month with Alice Gao, the awesome photographer over at Lingered Upon. What's funny is Marcus was the one who introduced us in the first place -- she and Marcus attended the same university. Over the last several months, our mutual penchant for food led us to a new friendship and many a delicious conversation about our dining experiences, almost in the same manner as young kids trading baseball cards. So nice to know that Alice can completely relate to voluntarily aligning your life to revolve around good food! Yay for befriending well-eaten omnivores! :]

Alice's work as a photographer (particularly her captures of interior spaces and of all things culinary for me) is beautifully haunting and has a touching warmness to them. Along with taking on her own clients, Alice is currently a freelance "foodtographer" over at Serious Eats New York and has collaborated on a recent piece (see here and here) in Kinfolk magazine. She even did a little photo shoot for Marcus and me back in October of last year, where I pretty much fell in love with all of the resultant film snaps. She's a busy little bee, so I thank her kindly for taking the time to sate my curiosity about her food life with the usual Q&A questions at Four Tines. Having already been to 'inoteca and an Um Segredo dinner (thanks again for inviting me!) together, I'm sure there will be many meals ahead for us to share together! Thanks again, Alice!


Alice, enjoying dessert at The Modern: Dining Room.

NAME
Alice

CURRENT CITY
New York, NY

FAVORITE ALL-TIME RESTAURANT
I think the BEST meal I've ever had was at Alinea, but I would call Degustation my favorite all-time restaurant. I've always had such pleasant experiences there and I love that the ten-course tasting is just about all off-menu items, so each course is a little surprise.

MOST REGULARLY FREQUENTED SPOT(S)

DRINK OF CHOICE
cortado or drip coffee by day, something with mezcal or bourbon by night

SOMETHING YOU SECRETLY INDULGE
Hah, I have few secrets when it comes to what I eat. I used to secretly indulge in oatmeal with gochujang sauce. Let's just say I had a few bizarre eating habits in college.

DISH YOU MOST ENJOY PREPARING
Well I don't exaaactly cook, but I'd say I really enjoy preparing coffee and breakfast in the morning. Something with eggs, toast, and cheese usually does the trick. And preparing a great cup of coffee (with a pour over or Chemex) is my favorite daily routine.

THE HOMEMADE DISH YOU ALWAYS LONG FOR
Mom's mapo tofu and "Ants Climbing up a Tree" (ma yi shang shu)

GASTRONOMIC GETAWAY/ADVENTURE OF CHOICE
I have YET TO GO TO PARIS. ARGH. I feel less legitimate as an eater because of this. Also would love to do food tour of Southeast Asia.

CULINARY ICONS
Grant Achatz, Rene Redzepi

MEAL YOU WISH YOU CAN REPEAT BUT SOMEHOW CANNOT
I think the first time I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, there was like magic in the air or something. It was a gorgeous autumn day -- we spent the day walking around the farm area, and it was the perfect getaway from the city. We even just did a walk-in and sat at the bar for the whole tasting (and I barely remember what I ate) but it was absolutely one of my favorite dining experiences. The second time we went, we actually sat in the dining room but it just wasn't quite as magical as that first...

ABSOLUTE "CAN'T-STANDS"
overly salted food, white chocolate, and when people order vodka tonics at awesome beer bars

FAVORITE DESSERT OF ALL TIME
It's a toss-up between Hearth's apple cider doughnuts and an incredible "smoked caramel" dessert from Corton that wasn't too sweet and had a great combination of textures. Oh, also the caramelized tortija from Degustation... I have had that dish more times than I can count, and I still love it to death.

FAVORITE COOKBOOK/COFFEE TABLE BOOK
Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine for sure -- I regularly flip through the photos (by the amazing Ditte Isager) for inspiration. Also love my Richard Avedon photography coffee table book, Woman in the Mirror.

CULINARY WORDS THAT NEVER LOSE THEIR PANACHE
demitasse, bourguignon, mise en place, chanterelle, mille-feuille

FOOD BLOG(S) YOU JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF
Is there a right answer to this besides Four Tines? :P

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Signing | Ed Levine, Carey Jones, & Erin Zimmer

In true "Stefie"-fashion, I was happily attended a book signing at Williams-Sonoma Columbus Circle on my birthday this past Sunday. Funny how we did the same thing for Marcus's birthday last year, when we got to meet Chef Ferran Adrià at the very same place!

This time it was for the new book put together by the folks at Serious Eats, entitled Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making & Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are. Ed Levine, its founder, and Carey Jones, SE: New York editor, were there to discuss and promote the book as well as to address any questions posed by the attendees and store passersby.

Copies of Serious Eats on the counter of Williams-Sonoma's kitchen, with Ms. Jones (left) and Erin Zimmer (right), Serious Eats' national editor, right behind.

Mr. Levine began with introducing Serious Eats and its mission. Essentially, he explained that Serious Eats is a website "focused on celebrating and sharing food enthusiasm through blogs and online community." He emphasized that the community created by and content brought by Serious Eats brings together "the distinctive voices of food bloggers" as well as "spirited and inclusive conversations about all things food- and drink-related." The content of the cookbook at hand are well-researched (and tested!) recipes for classic comfort foods like grilled cheese, pastrami sandwiches, cookies, etc., as well as Serious Eats' favorite spots all over the country for a given "food" along with mouthwatering photographs! They also touched upon the site's "single-food" (e.g., hot dogs, cupcakes) reviews, and how much research and "testing" goes into delivering and reporting thorough and accurate results of the "best" ones out there in New York City, based on certain criteria depending on the food at hand. I thought that was quite interesting, because as a receiver/reader of the information (with tests conducted and results already filtered through), you don't necessarily get to see or understand how much goes into "narrowing it down" to the best xyz. Certainly makes me appreciate the work these guys set out to do on a daily basis to delivery delectable value to its readers.

Mr. Levine with Ms. Jones, interacting with the attendees. I've never seen a "panel" of writers so welcoming and patient with questions from the audience. The topics discussed included kosher haute cuisine, health/caloric implications with writing for Serious Eats, and competitions from other national food blogs.

And as usual, Williams-Sonoma had samples of a recipe from the Serious Eats cookbook -- the triple chocolate adult brownies that appear on page 280, to be exact. The edges of the brownie were slightly burnt, which Marcus and I really enjoyed. What made the brownies even more amusing is that there was an elderly gentleman who tasted a sample and immediately shouted quite loudly, "Wow, thaaat's gotta be the best brownie I've ever had!"


{
1} Our copy of Serious Eats, {2} signed by Ed Levine, Carey Jones, and Erin Zimmer. As I was getting my copy of the book signed, I had a brief conversation with Ms. Zimmer about my favorite column "Cook the Book" over at Serious Eats, mentioning that I like to collect cookbooks. She was so incredibly nice to talk to, so much so that she even extended an invitation for me to e-mail her any time with suggestions on cookbooks they should cover in the column. I said I'd be delighted to send stuff over as if and when anything came to mind. Now, time to start digging through my shelves for some feature-worthy recipes!

Findings: I'm looking forward to some serious perusing of this book -- it is certainly resourceful, especially for when I'm out exploring culinary realms outside of the Tri-State area (namely Boston, D.C., and Chicago). It was also nice to put a name and voice out to the folks over at Serious Eats -- they are totally down-to-earth and so easy to talk to, which goes to show how well the team over at Serious Eats has fostered its community, both internally and externally through its website. All in all, it was a contently casual and informative event to attend on a relaxing Sunday afternoon as a little birthday treat. Plus, one more signed goodie to add to the shelf!

Price point: $27.99 for each book.

--February 26, 2012

Williams-Sonoma
Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle, Suite 114
New York, NY 10019
http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/tip/book-signing-events.html

Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are
Ed Levine
available here at Amazon.com

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fresh Find | Justin's Nut Butter

So my latest cupboard fixation are with Justin's Nut Butters. I discovered them while roaming around inside Whole Foods Market, reminding me of a post from Oh Joy! that I saw last summer. Justin's Nut Butters was founded in 2002 by Justin Gold, "an active outdoor vegetarian who started with a food processor in his home kitchen and began selling 16-ounce jars to natural food stores in Boulder, Colorado."


All of the nut butters from Justin's are "made in small batches to preserve premium quality standard and fresh taste" with the "highest quality natural and organic ingredients that are sustainably harvested, found as locally as possible, and are simple and nutritious. Among the main ingredients of these nut butters is palm fruit oil from an organic farm in Brazil, as it "minimizes oil separation which many consumers prefer as well as contains no trans-fatty acids and much less saturated fat than coconut and palm kernel oil."

Its flavors include honey almond butter, chocolate almond butter, chocolate hazelnut butter (like Nutella), and maple almond butter. My personal favorites are the honey almond and the chocolate almond. They go really well with warmly toasted brioche or just a toasted slice of bread. Once you taste a bit of this, you'll be hopelessly addicted, guaranteed.


Justin's Nut Butters
assorted flavors, here at Justin's Nut Butter
Price point: $9.99 per jar or $0.99 per squeeze packet at nationwide Whole Foods Market locations.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Toasts | 25

It's my twenty-fifth birthday today. Just wanted to share a little blast from the past with you all.


Mom, Baba (my dad), and 婆婆 (my grandma) at our old house in Jersey celebrating my third birthday, 1990.

Twenty-two birthday cakes later, I've come along way to present day -- no longer shy and scared of my own shadow. And yes, that is indeed Mickey Mouse iced onto the top of the cake.

Anyways, I'm hoping not to be counting beans today (still up in the air, unfortunately), but rather just spending the day relaxing with Marcus and Neutrino, our kitten (more like cat these days :P). The ideal plan is to grab brunch at Trestle followed an afternoon of attending a Serious Eats cookbook signing with Ed Levine, its founder, and Carey Jones, its editor, at Williams-Sonoma Columbus Circle and making our usual "birthday stop" at Argo Tea. Those are the best birthdays -- the ones where you spend it with the ones you love over an afternoon of relaxing and loosely laid plans.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chef's Tasting | Um Segredo Supper Club, i

I had the fortunate pleasure of attending a dinner hosted by Chef David Santos at his humble abode on Roosevelt Island (I mean, how cool is that?! We're practically neighbors!). Alice invited me to tag along for the dinner featuring a "Tasting of Vegetables," and I was happy to oblige, with Linda as my honored dining companion for the night. Though, I should stipulate one tidbit about this said dinner --- shhh, it's kind of a secret!



Inspired by his Portuguese heritage, Um Segredo Supper Club was created by Chef Santos to host a series of "secret" dining events (in fact, um segredo actually translates to mean "secret" in Portuguese) curated/created/prepared by Chef Santos in his very own kitchen. The first installment took place during late November 2011, when I had initially heard about it through Alice and from various sources of foodie news. Now, February 2012 being Um Segredo's second installment, Chef Santos has hosted another series of dinners with a distinct menu each weekend throughout the month. The lucky attendees can bring their own wine (with a particular emphasis on just bringing what you like to drink) and a $75 cash donation for the dinner -- exactly what what we did -- to the designated "secret" venue. With each dinner capped between 8 to 12 guests, it is quite the intimate dining experience.

Having previously worked at the famed kitchens of Chef David Bouley (Bouley) and Chef Thomas Keller (Per Se) and more currently at 5 & Diamond as well as Hotel Griffou, Chef Santos took everything he learned from these various establishments and decided to venture off on his own, taking his cooking in his own direction.


The kitchen at Chef Santos's apartment.


One of two side prepping tables in the kitchen with ingredients and a deep fryer.


Homemade bread that was totally addicting. Dying for some more even now!

After getting settled in and enjoying some pinot noir (courtesy of Um Segredo's encouraging BYOB), everyone took seats at the communal dining table set for twelve in the living room. There were some brief introductions among the guests -- in fact, Linda and I met another couple who lives on RI plus another woman who had lived there for twenty something years before moving into Manhattan with her family! Chef Santos gave a brief introduction about himself and Um Segredo, mentioning that there had been many requests for a "vegetarian" menu since the supper club's first installment, resulting in this dinner featuring a "tasting of vegetables." Alice took an informal poll from all the guests, asking if there were any vegetarians in the room. Surprisingly enough, we were all omnivores with the exception of one pescatarian. Interesting, indeed -- just goes to show you the elusive, yet compelling, power of vegetables :P! Chef Santos then left us to converse amongst ourselves and to munch on some bread while he began his cooking for the night. A short while after, the first course was served.

The first course from the "Tasting of Vegetables" was a mushroom carpaccio with porcini mushrooms, shaved Parmesan cheese, and arugula. The carpaccio was made using a purée of mushrooms mixed with agar agar, creating a gelatinous (yet still vegan/vegetarian) block which he then thinly sliced and plated. It was lovely starting course, light and fresh, as it eased us into the courses ahead -- the sheer "thinking outside of the box" to turn a raw vegetable somehow into a carpaccio (typically thin slices of raw beef or fish served with a sauce) was a promising harbinger of what was to come. This could definitely compete with a protein-driven carpaccio in a snap.

The next course was a "winter salad" with grilled endive, kumquat purée, and kale tempura. Chef Santos introduced this course as a stark contrast to the expectant salad, whereby its ingredients would be served raw and cold. As the dinner took place in the middle of the winter season, he thought it'd be fun to experiment with a "warm" salad -- in the same way you would have warm soups in the colder months and chilled soups in the summer months. With the added bonus of a beautiful presentation, this salad certainly warmed me up. However, I still haven't blossomed into liking bitter greens like kale and endives, even though my mom is convinced that I'll grow into it eventually :P. So while the tempura added some softness, and the kumquat purée some sweet tartness, to the otherwise harsher taste tones of kale, it just wasn't my cup of tea. Still, beautifully done, and props to the chef for turning some bitter vegetables into an elegant art.


Now this next course was more my style --
smoked tomato soup served alongside aged cheddar grilled cheese. The tomatoes themselves were individually smoked before becoming puréed into a creamy, well-blended flavor of soup -- the kind that reminds you of those days, after trekking home from school through the elements (most likely snow and rain), to find a warm bowl of densely blended, hearty tomatoes waiting to be spooned alongside triangularly cut just-pressed grilled cheese sandwiches. Chef Santos's tomato soup had so much depth in flavor -- the smoked tomatoes really did a number for it overall -- maturing much from the simpler, childhood days of Campbell's cans. Oh, and the aged cheddar grilled cheese made for the perfect accompanying "starch" for ratio eating, especially with something as heavy and concentrated as a tomato soup. The cheddar had a good medium between mild and sharp working well with each dip into the soup. At this point of our dinner, you can definitely feel the dishes progressing in size, portion, and weight. I think after having this, it totally slipped my mind that everything on the menu for the night was all vegetarian. It's funny how a skilled sleight of hand can transform and otherwise "lacking" meal (i.e., in protein and meatiness) into a meal that has an equitable "fillingness" as you would get with a non-vegetarian course.


View of the communal dining table after finishing the third course.

Following the smoked tomato soup and aged cheddar grilled cheese was a poached egg and caramelized onion cassoulet with scallions and beans. Traditionally a French-style stew of meat and beans, this unconventional cassoulet was a risk taker, with a single, delicately poached egg to compensate and to unwittingly demonstrate that, with the right execution, the absence of meat need not be so pervasive as to ruin a meal but to enhance it. The poached egg was hands down my favorite part of the course. The beans were a just a bit undercooked for me, but the stew's base certainly made up for that. I even used some pieces of bread to wipe clean the bowl!

The last course before dessert was tortellini with celery root, truffle foam, and shaved black truffles. Chef Santos urged that we eat this immediately, as the aromatics and flavor dissipate rather quickly. The truffle foam and aroma from the shaved truffles did wonders for the tortellini, was it added that layer of sating fullness. While I felt the pasta was slightly under al dente for me,the tortellini had strings of celery root tucked inside, giving the dish a soft and subtle crunch (in texture, not decibels, haha).


A peek of Chef Santos plating the last course of the night. My only regret of the night was not spending some time with the chef in the kitchen -- I got so incredibly chef-struck that I was mostly speechless until I was able to garner some cohesive sentences at the end of the night to thank Chef Santos for a wonderful meal. I know better for next time -- definitely going to do lots of observing!


To conclude, Chef Santos presented us with a deconstructed pecan pie with a broken brown butter crust, toasted pecans, a scoop of vanilla gelato, and generous dollop of molasses (if I recall correctly). The crust was light yet crunchy -- like thin, freshly made graham crackers -- and exuded that feeling of utter delight when you devour a dessert that really gets your sweet tooth. What I liked about this dessert was that there was nothing complicated about it. In essence, i
t was truly pecan pie in taste -- just not served as the typical pie sliver-wedge. Going in the same way of the smoked tomato soup and aged cheddar grilled cheese, this is another one of those comfort foods that will always be welcomed in my stomach. I hope Chef Santos makes this again for another dinner.

Findings: The composition of Chef David Santos's dishes were, as simple as I could put it, poetic. The ingredients, once raw and lone, are no longer kept to themselves -- they are chatting up the other plated ingredients forming meaningful conversations, and for us, a precise and deliberate delivery of dulcet flavors. Perhaps it is because he's worked in the kitchen of Chef Thomas Keller and garnered the signature finesse behind his cuisine into his own culinary style, but you can only go so far with learning finesse. As such, talent must be part of the equation here -- he is undoubtedly one talented chef. The progression of the meal was gradual, never peaking too early nor too late. What's more is that he did this pretty effortlessly with only vegetarian ingredients. After the first two courses, it

Additionally, not only does he know how to cook and host one hell of a dinner party, but he is easy to talk to, extremely knowledgeable, comical, and very humble. The conversations we had with him were never brushed off -- his enthusiasm for cooking and all else that is related to it made for an enriching experience, via your palate and your noggin. There were several questions going around that night, and not for one second, was he indifferent or any less animated or lively. In fact, he welcomed it. Those are the best chefs to be around.

Who knew I'd ever be able to say that I can stroll right down the block and around the corner to experience such a four-star restaurant-caliber supper club that was prepared in a city-sized kitchen. So Um Segredo -- watch out! You'll be certainly seeing more me at upcoming dinners -- your menu themes never cease to impress!

Price point: $75 cash donation, plus gratuity for service; BYOB.

--February 17, 2012

Um Segredo Supper Club
e-mail umsegredo12@gmail.com for further inquiries

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Toasts | Happy Birthday, Mom!

I just wanted to take the time today to wish my wonderful mother a happy birthday!


My mom and me at family party, circa 1991.

My mom is an amazing woman. Her wisdom and unceasing patience has made me the person I am today. The root of everything she has taught me over the years epitomizes one simple thing -- humility. She always reminds me that everything in this world is a privilege -- no one should feel entitled to anything, for you should earn and be thankful for the privilege of whatever is at hand. I continue to carry that philosophy with me today, and I can't imagine living myself any other way.

She is also the strongest person I know and a woman of few words. Her resilience to hardships -- she carries herself through the thick and thin almost effortlessly -- is something I strive to have some day. And although she isn't verbally expressive with her emotions (the typical terse, Asian way), her actions -- both selfless and humble -- just shows me how thankful and lucky I am to have such a gift of being her daughter. We've been through so much together (good and bad), and everything she's done has always been for me, for us, and for our family. I hope that one day I can become an ounce of the mother she has been to me for my future children.

Terri Guillemets, a quotation anthologist, has poetically described mothers best:
I love my mother as the trees love water and sunshine -- she helps me grow, prosper, and reach great heights.
Mom, thank you for always being there for me and for helping me grow into someone who will always wish to reach great heights. I know we don't say it as often aloud as we should -- I love you, Mom! Hope you have an amazing birthday today!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dinner | Bohemian

A couple months ago, Lisa and I were trying to figure out where we'd have our annual birthday dinner (just the two of us, as always) this year, throwing around possibly attempting to get a pair of coveted seats at the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare or venturing to the Dining Room of The Modern adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art. After several futile attempts to call the Chef's Table on a few Monday mornings and our desire for something original and unexperienced by either one of us, I remembered something about a "secret" Japanese restaurant in the city somewhere that we could consider. I have my former co-worker, Christine, to thank for telling me about that very restaurant -- Bohemian, a speakeasy-esque (i.e., members only or by "invite") restaurant/sushi bar over in NoHo. She mentioned it in passing that a friend of hers had been trying to figure out how to get a reservation, as the restaurant has a "secret" telephone number which you'd have to get by word of mouth. Somehow, Christine's friend discovered the number to score a reservation and subsequently had a great dining experience there. With that, I knew I had my in!

After generously getting the number from Christine, I called a month before the intended reservation date (per Bohemian's policy) for a later dinner reservation and was greeted with a very friendly hostess. Once the reservation was finalized, the hostess wasn't ready to let me go just yet. She subtly asked how I heard about them (aka, how did I get the number), so I just said the name of Christine's friend. The hostess happily thanked me and ended the call. Quite the elusive dining establishment, for sure. I also later found out via the restaurant's website that you can try e-mailing them at ny-info@playearth.jp with a brief introduction of yourself. This may result in your favor with the restaurant inviting you over, bypassing the need for the " secret" number or becoming a member.


Bohemian is the sister of a bar found in the district of Nishiazabu in Tokyo. Housed in a former space that belonged to Andy Warhol (thus from where the restaurant's name is derived as the artist frequently spent his time among such eclectic folk), {
1} the entrance to the restaurant is located behind warehouse door, followed by {2} a long corridor, adjacent to a Japanese butcher shop, Japan Premium Beef, Inc., leading to a glass door that can only be opened by pressing the chime and confirming you have a reservation.


Once we were confirmed to enter, we were lead into a space resembling a generously sized studio apartment. With four tables at the center, two banquettes off to the side, and six seats at the bar, Bohemian was pretty roomy considering the intimate size of the space. It was cozy enough to feel warmed and welcome, but it was spaced enough to be able to carry on personal conversations without the interruptions from the other tables.

In the rear of the restaurant was a peaceful little garden -- very much of Japanese bonzai influence.

{1} We had these bold colored "scarfy" napkins, which {2} Lisa is showing off here -- an outlined cartoon dragon.


The cocktail menu had a trove of concoctions from which to choose. To start off, our dinner began with {1} glass of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) for me and {2} a lavender-vanilla infused cocktail for Lisa, as recommended by our waitress. During a future visit back to Bohemian, I would love to explore the rest of the list!

Initially, Lisa and I were going to do the tasting menu which consists of six courses (five savory, one sweet), but since the menu would require participation of the entire table, we surmised that it would be best to just select the top 6-7 seven dishes (menu items are mostly small plates that are meant to be shared anyhow) that stood out to us, where the said dishes made us drool simply from their descriptions -- I mean, c'mon, Bohemian basically had us at uni.

The first course was the washu-beef short rib sashimi with citrus, pickled cauliflower, wasabi, and soy sauce. The beef sashimi had a very similar texture as toro (i.e., fatty tuna), where its richness gradually melts in your mouth, resulting in one of the most savory things you'll ever experience on your palate. This unique texture in the slices of beef is a direct result from wagyu cattle's predisposition to intense marbling. These marbling characteristics yield an increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. I haven't had much beef tartare/carpaccio in the past, but this particular dish reminded me of something Lisa and I had at Takashi last year -- the niku-uni had chuck flap served on leaves of seaweed and shiso topped with raw sea urchin. What does that mean, you ask? That this is undoubtedly a definite must-order, too.

Following the washu-beef sashimi was an uni croquette (one for me and another for Lisa) -- a mushroom cream croquette with fresh sea urchin and grated sea salt atop. The croquette had similar characteristics to those fried taro balls found on a dim sum smorgasbord, only with true Japanese flavors. Its interior had a piping hot, rich cream filled with the strong aroma of mushrooms, contrasting against its crunchy and thinly breaded shell. Oh, and the uni to finish? Mmm -- the ultimate finale to this delectable morsel of intense umami, collapsing in waves of delicious flavor with every last bite. Can't pass this one up either -- order, order, order!

This next course was no surprise, mainly because I was dining with Lisa, after all -- an ice bucket of fresh oysters. Just like the two previous courses, this dish also reminded me of something I fell in love with last year upon first slurp -- the happy hour oysters at Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco. It was the first time I had a raw oyster without gagging or experiencing diner's regret. There wasn't any unwelcome sliminess or briny fishiness to overcome -- just refreshing and zesty when drenched in the accompanying hogwash. It was the winning combination of fresh raw oysters and a well-blended hogwash that reeled me in. Since then, I've been on the search for equitable oysters here on the East Coast.


We ordered half dozen of fresh oysters (Montauk Pearls, to be precise) with apple vinegar and fresh key lime. Ever since returning from San Francisco last year, I've been pushing myself to explore the raw bar offerings of certain restaurants I visit. Nothing really has struck my palate at all -- either too fishy, not meaty enough, or just icky texture. The East Coast oysters that I kept sampling were just not up to par with the ones from Hog Island. So my skepticism wasn't unwarranted, but we were out for our birthday, so why not be adventurous and just take another leap of faith? Just as I was about to hold my nose and take one fast gulp before the supposed gagging would commence, the flesh of the Montauk pearl tickled my tongue as it slid down ever so smoothly from a meaty bite. I was happily surprised and content to be won over by these seemingly iridescent bivalves. Plus, the apple vinegar and fresh key lime mixture was a lovely hogwash-like condiment for the oysters -- I would even go as far to dub it to be a Japanese hogwash. A little more biting and zestier than the one at Hog Island, this little wash has a splash of ginger and some other Japanese flavors that give it some character. You would be a fool to pass these up, too -- at least give them a chance like I did. They might even change your mind about these little suckers :P!

After the oysters, we were served the miso black cod with sea urchin gratin and miniature plums. Silky flakes and the charred surface of each piece glided like smoky butter, but the taste and flavor of the fish were mediocre for us. I didn't think there was enough miso, and the temperature of the fish, even for me, was on the undercooked side. However, the sea urchin grain was a saving grace -- a fondue-like twist on the rich and savory roe. Upon initial scoop, the contents were blazing hot, but once it was safe to sneak a taste, it was another explosion of luscious flavor, creamier with the added layer of nearly liquified cheese. For Lisa and me, this course, overall, seemed quite disconnected -- they seemed to be able to stand alone, without needing the other to enhance its flavors and taste. The sea urchin gratin was cheesier than I would have preferred, so I just had a less cheese with my uni. On the other hand, Lisa didn't seem to mind the gratin -- it bridged the unlikely gap between her inner uni fanatic and turophile (i.e., a cheese lover).

We also had Bohemian's washu-beef burger with fried potato, sautéed onion and semi-dried tomato -- each order comes with a set of two sliders. Considering these were "slider-sized" burgers, they were pretty heavy in taste. Made from the same wagyu beef as with the sashimi we had earlier, the marbling effects were certainly evident here, as a result of the burger's concentrated juiciness. The first few bites were great, but after a while, it got to be a little too much -- the meatball patty was deceptively hefty. Perhaps it was the progression of the meal that was starting to catch up to me (the previous courses were already laden with such a guilt-causing savoriness) that did not permit me to enjoy the burger as I had anticipated. It got to be overly gamy and increasingly difficult to eat. Lisa was a trooper -- she finished hers, while I threw in the towel, at only a few measly bites left. The toppings were nice, just not able to salvage the rest of the burger for me.


Relieved the burger wasn't the last course for the night, we were glad to be whisked back to culinary euphoria with the most anticipated dish on the menu -- the ikura caviar and uni rice bowl. This incredible combination of roe -- sea urchin and salmon -- carried on clouds of Japanese rice, against which the tiny explosions of the delicate pearls (with texture of tapioca) could dance alongside with the golden, tongue-like strips of butter. While moderation is always key, it was nice to spoil ourselves (our poor cholesterol!) just a little at Bohemian with a rice bowl covered with these full-bodied, resonating delicacies. No complaints whatsoever -- we were extremely content after finishing every last bite, even scraping the remaining tiny bits and grains of rice gone astray. Even days after our dinner, this meal continues to haunt my dreams -- I'm pretty sure I'm drooling in my sleep for this very reason.

Last of the savory was the foie gras soba. Browned evenly on both sides, the foie gras had that nicely seared exterior that had the subtlest of crunches after first biting into it. Fatty, succulent, and so delectable that I can barely phrase it into words, the foie gras was amazingly delicious -- not surprising, as it is pretty difficult to really botch pan-seared foie gras. What really seized our attention was the soba. It wasn't because the foie gras was forgettable or bland -- it was pretty much the contrary. The seemingly bland noodle was not at all that -- served chilled, the soba noodles had more depth than either one of us had experienced previously. And it wasn't due to an excessive amount of salt, either. The soup base was well-balanced with the essence of the typical dipping sauce with cleanly clear flavors that helped cut through the greasiness of the foie gras. The soba noodles themselves were cooked perfectly, to what would be the Japanese equivalent of the Italian al dente. For a chilled pasta in broth, it was quite filling and full of flavor -- definitely a highlight of dinner at Bohemian.

To end our exquisitely savory dinner was the riesling poached pear sorbet by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams of Columbus, Ohio. Even as a sorbet, this sorbet was surprisingly rich with the flavor of pear and with "notes of riesling on the finish." I could taste the pears used to craft this beautifully churned confection -- grainy and refreshing in texture, almost like a pure pear purée. I was glad to have chosen a sorbet to conclude this otherwise awesome savory meal (and I mean that in the best way possible). The clean, chilling characteristics of sorbet cleansed our pleasantly saturated palates and helped us digest this filling meal of small plates -- like having a fresh piece of ripened fruit paired with a petite glass of dessert wine.

Findings: Our celebratory dinner at Bohemian was nothing short of fantastic and extraordinary. With the exception of our little ordering faux pas with the washu-beef burgers, we loved every single course was an automatic hit with us. The intimate ambiance were more than enough to allow us to catch up with each other while enjoying the impressive dishes served before us. I would've never imagined there existed this hidden restaurant behind a steel sliding door, that created the dreamiest thoughts as small plates. For us, since we didn't go the tasting course route, it was like a "create-your-own" kaiseki (i.e., traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) which highlighted all of our usual favorites in Japanese cuisine (e.g., uni, wagyu beef, ikura, and more uni!) and some fused influences from other cuisines (e.g., foie gras, sliders, gratin, raw oysters). It was nice to also have these small plates bring me back to old, tucked away food memories with a new and inspiring twist, Japanese style, proving Bohemian's menu to be based in the traditional yet still dances with its own originality. I left in a happy daze, wondering how I could have possibly digested all of that sea urchin roe, ikura, foie gras, and marbled washu-beef without having a minor, if not complete, coronary. I'll be laying off the savory for a while -- at least, just having such a dish or two, instead of all. But I have to admit, I'm already thinking about my next trip to Bohemian, haha. While the service was nothing to write home about, the actual eating experience redeemed it in one fell swoop. So if you're fortunate enough to get invited in (or if you're able to get your hands on the *ahem* "secret" telephone number), don't hesitate. Go!

Price point: $10-22 for each small plate, $7 for dessert.

--February 16, 2012

Bohemian
57 Great Jones Street
New York, NY 10012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fresh Find | Lifefactory reusable glass bottle

I had been on the search for a really good reusable water bottle that did not use plastic (water wears them out too easily for my liking, particularly with that resulting intense plastic odor) or stainless steel (water was too metallic in taste for me), leaving glass as my only option and search parameter.



Then I came across these Lifefactory bottles at Whole Foods one day -- a glass bottle with a silicone sleeve for better grip and handling as well as a loop screw-cap. It definitely encourages me to consume more water while I'm working during the day without worrying about wear and tear. This bottle also allows for easy care and cleaning -- I usually just throw in the bottle and the cap into my daily dishwasher load. Highly recommended!

Lifefactory
16 oz. glass bottle with flip-top cap and classic loop cap
Price point: $22.99, here at Lifefactory.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dinner | Jewel Bako

Marcus and I decided to take my mom over to Jewel Bako for her birthday -- it's been on my "list" of places to dine at for a while (thanks to Linda's past praise for it), and since my mom's favorite cuisine is Japanese, it seemed like the perfect place to take her.

This little gem (literally one, as its name really translates to "jewel box" in Japanese) happens to be adjacent to Degustation (where we ate late last year) -- in fact, they're both owned and run by boutique restauranteur, Jack Lamb. The unlikely story of how this hot spot sushi bar came to be is quite serendipitous. Back in 2001, Mr. Lamb, daylighting in the law profession at the time, spotted a "For Lease" sign across the street from the townhouse he had recently purchased with his wife, Grace. Soon enough, the couple soon "made the transition to restaurateuring, making a splash on the culinary scene" with a tiny (but by no means lacking in cuisine) sushi bar Jewel Bako.

When I called to make reservations, I emphasized that we be seated right at the sushi bar (something you should definitely do if you have a small party of 2-3 -- no question), so we can interact with the sushi chef(s) and have an intimate experience with the assortment of raw fish ahead. The gilded décor certainly gave way for what was to come -- the accompanying, pretty little treasures like the golden charger plate, the vintage bronze napkin holders, the flat shiny stones for resting chopsticks, and a mother of pearl coasters to delicately hold your glass of water.

I love the restaurant's logo embossed on the menu's cover -- an abstraction of circular shapes and rounded rectangles to emulating the recurring theme of jewels (literal ones or delectable pieces of nigiri sushi).

Inside one of the main dining areas.

The sushi bar's actual "jewel box" of fish, ready to be sliced and served.

While we were getting settled in, we were watching one of the sushi chefs work his magic for a platter of sushi for one of the tables in the main dining room.

The sushi bar got us started with an amuse-bouche of bluefin tuna over a ball of fried sushi rice and spicy sauce, topped with scallions and tobiko. For me, it was a wonderful (and much better) execution of the usual "spicy tuna roll" I see in neighborhood sushi joints. The tuna was very smooth in texture which was nicely contrasted with the very crunchy fried sushi rice ball (I believe the sushi chef lightly torched its outer surface) and with the spicy, creamy sauce. I normally don't like tuna (I usually forgo it unless it's the fatty kind, haha), but this was quite delicious.

After perusing the menu, the three of us each decided what we wanted -- I went with the sushi omakase while Marcus and my mom each went with the sashimi omakase. As I've touched upon before, omakase loosely means "I trust you" or "I'll leave it to you" in Japanese, which is to imply here that for the price dictated on the menu ($65 at Jewel Bako), you are entrusting your dining experience and sushi selections with the chef. Utlimately, by choosing this, you expect to be getting the highlights of the restaurant's offerings and assortments of fish. I originally wanted to get the chef's tasting omakase (which is essentially a sushi omakase with some additional courses), but I wasn't sure I could eat that much that night.

As a prelude to our omakase ahead, we each had a complimentary miso soup with scallions and cubes of tofu. Very cleansing and calming, the soup was very delicious, and I liked that it wasn't overly salted.

Here's one of the sushi chefs plating the sashimi omakase platter for Marcus and my mom.

The sashimi omakase undoubtedly resembles (both visually and figuratively) a beautiful collection of "jewels" -- very fitting with the restaurant's name.

So something I don't believe I've seen before is an actual fresh wasabi root. In Japan, the traditional method for grating wasabi uses an oroshi (i.e., a sharkskin grater) -- which is what I believe was used at Jewel Bako. The important component of the grater is the teeth or nubs -- smaller teeth produce a finer paste that increases the unique heat and flavor of fresh wasabi. This is because the finer the paste, the more chemical reactions take place and thus producing a more piquant flavor and spiciness. In fact, grating wasabi releases a volatile compound (i.e., isothiocyanates) that gradually dissipate with exposure to air, making it vital for the wasabi to be grated right before eating sushi. Without grating the root into a paste, these compounds are not present until the root is broken up into a paste.

You must be wondering what you've had in other Japanese restaurants then. Most wasabi served in the United States is not actually wasabi, but instead is a powder made from dried horseradish (which is in the same family as wasabi), food coloring, and dry mustard. This is because over the years, Japanese restaurants found that fresh wasabi was not preferred by Americans, so the horseradish mixture has become the standard.

To properly grate a {1} fresh root of wasabi for us, our server cut off one end to expose its freshly cut interior and {2} rubbed the root along the oroshi to produce a finely ground wasabi paste. When the oroshi produced sufficient amount of finely ground wasabi, she would sweep it right onto the platters in front of Marcus and my mom with their sashimi omakase. This is because using the wasabi grater and keeping the resulting ground wasabi to the grating surface minimizes its exposure to the air so that the volatile compounds are allowed to develop with minimal dissipation. Its strong aroma is certain to clear any sinuses you may have!

Alongside the freshly ground wasabi root, the sashimi omakase, running from the top then left to right, consisted of bluefin tuna, botan ebi (spot prawn), Scottish salmon, k isaki (black bass) , o-toro (fatty tuna), nama dako (raw octopus), hamachi (yellowtail), kanpachi (amberjack), suzuki (sea bass), hotate (scallop) wrapped in a cucumber with yuzu, aji (jack mackerel), uni (sea urchin), and ebi (sweet shrimp).

The highlights? Upon asking Marcus what else were his favorites, he simply responded, "I don't remember which was which -- I just went, 'Ooh, colorful fish . . . nom!" But in all seriousness, Marcus loved the o-toro the best (as usual), as well as the uni (even though he's not typically a fan of it) and the Scottish salmon (noting that it had a flavor he had never tasted before -- an unexpected but an enjoyable surprise). For my mom, it was also o-toro and uni as well as the sweet shrimp. The not-so-good? Marcus and my mom were disappointed with the nama dako -- they found it a bit tough and overly chewy, making it hard to eat. Nevertheless, they still loved most of the colorful assortment set before them -- everything was fresh and stunningly presented.

Another thing to note is that our server made sure to inform us that the sashimi omakase is served all at once on a serving tray/slab, while the sushi omakase has the option of either being served this way (i.e., altogether) or piece-by-piece. I like the theatrical/live-action part of being seated at the sushi bar, so I opted for the latter service, so that way I can savor and enjoy each piece of the sushi omakase flight at a more gradual pace.

My choice of service resulted in the set-up of this leaf plate for the sushi chef to present each piece of nigiri (i.e., hand-pressed sushi) in the flight.

I even got my own nifty little plate over which to eat, as well as a vertically standing damp napkin to wipe your fingers after eating each piece of nigiri, which should be eaten in one bite. In fact, I had no idea it was acceptable (if not, encouraged) to eat nigiri sushi with your hands! So at Jewel Bako, it was my first time doing so.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Chef Sho behind the counter. Given the industry's cultural inclination (originating from Japan, of course) toward male sushi chefs, coming across a female sushi chef tends to be an uncommon happenstance, but by no means nonexistent. Fortunately, female sushi chefs have an easier time with this issue here in the U.S. With that being said, Jewel Bako certainly has a wonderfully talented chef in its sushi bar!

Chef Sho was very welcoming, with lots of spirit upon starting my sushi omakase. She crafted each piece of nigiri with much precision and finesse -- an oblong mound of vinegared sushi rice (almost resembling an oval-shaped gem, apt with the restaurant's recurring theme from its name), a generous swipe of fresh wasabi underneath neta (i.e., the topping in nigiri, whether it be seafood, egg, etc.) with a lightly painted layer of soy sauce atop. This process was repeated, with some varying preparations of the neta, for the 12 pieces of nigiri ahead in the sushi omakase.

Here were the first few pieces I had with the sushi omakase:
{1} marinated bluefin tuna - This was nicely marinated and had an intense zing of fresh wasabi which was punchy on the palate -- definitely cleared any existing sinuses I had at the time!
{2} shimaaji (striped jack) - This was snappy in bite with the same reaction to the fresh wasabi as with the bluefin tuna.
{3} seared Tasmanian king salmon with rock salt and yuzu - This was scored, criss-crossedly, on the surface of the salmon with a smoky overlay from the seared effect of the blow torch. The briny and rough texture from the rock salt added another dimension to the salmon. I enjoyed this one a lot!
{4} ishigarei (stone flounder) with yuzu zest and a shiso leaf underneath - This was very refreshing from the yuzu zest and had a nice subtle snappy texture to it.

Where are the photographs, Stefie? I hear you asking. Well, here's what happened -- I got so overly excited about the start of the sushi omakase that it totally slipped my mind that I needed to photographically document all the bites I had! I'm definitely facepalming myself now in hindsight. Gotta stay on top of this from now on! Good thing I remembered after the fourth/fifth piece. Even Marcus and my mom were saying they didn't even notice I wasn't taking photos, most likely because they were, too, entranced with the colorful fish from their sashimi omakase. Damn the alluring fish -- messing me up like that!

This was actually one of the first pieces of sushi for which I missed taking a photograph, but I requested an additional piece of it after I completed the sushi omakase because it's one of my favorite pieces to order at a sushi bar (when available, of course). This was kinmedai (golden eye snapper) with yuzu and pepper. Now if you've been keeping up with this blog, Four Tines is no stranger to this fish (see visits to 15 East and Inakaya) and its iridescent qualities (both literally and figuratively). The nigiri version of kinmedai at Jewel Bako was no different -- a smooth sliver of snapper with a zesty surprise from the yuzu-pepper dabbed on top. Absolutely love this -- definitely worth ordering, with or without any omakase!

Next was namerou (chopped jack mackerel) with shiso, ginger, and scallions. I really, really did not like this. There were too many herbs mixed in there that very much overpowered the jack mackerel. Shiso, ginger, and scallions each yield a distinctly piquant flavor already -- combining them like this in a seemingly tartare texture with the jack mackerel just did not work. The flavors did not fuse in a way that was pleasant to my taste buds at all. I felt like I was eating the interior of a raw dumpling.

Following the not-so-great namerou was o-toro (fatty tuna). Now, this was more my style. Scored criss-crossedly with soy sauce painted right on the resulting delineations, the o-toro melted right onto my tongue, barely needing to take full bites. It was the melty goodness you get when you have a really great piece of chocolate, but even better. It was almost like butter only instead of the richness of cream, it was the richness of the tuna's fatty flesh found at the bottom half of its entire filet. Also, another one of my favorites found a sushi bars -- you can never go wrong with toro of any kind! How can anyone resist or oppose its indulgent texture and flavor? I know I can't!

This next part of the flight makes the sushi omakase worth every penny. {1} Chef Sho started with a tray of golden uni (i.e., sea urchin roe) from Santa Barbara. At this point, my mouth was already watering. I would have been happily content just eating that whole tray, but my cholesterol would have probably suffered some unhealthily crazy highs. {2} Picking a generous few pieces of uni, Chef Sho placed them on a ceramic surface and proceeded to sear the top side of the uni as well as a thinly sliced raw scallop with a chef's blow torch. {3} In a tiny bowl, she placed some sushi rice at the very bottom, covering it with the seared uni and scallop then topping it all with shredded nori and cucumber. Oh my, this was undoubtedly the most buttery of textures you'll ever experience in the realm of sea fare. This little bowl of bliss brought forth many dimensions of savoriness -- the aforementioned buttery goodness, a toasty smokiness, and a highly charged experience of umami to follow. The scallop added a nice balance to the richness from its unique texture (more structured and solid) along with its clean and pure taste. The rice gave way to a satisfying ratio of matching subtle, vinegary starch to the rich flavors of the uni and scallop. Without the rice, the uni could easily overwhelm the consumer. If there's anything for which I'd go back to Jewel Bako, it would be for this, hands down.

Like it was for my mom and Marcus with their sashimi omakase, the nama dako (raw fresh octopus) with yuzu and green tea sauce was disheartening. Its appearance, while lovely and divine (it looks like a cloud for heaven's sake!), was very misleading. It did not taste like a cloud -- it was tough and too chewy in texture and there was wayyy too much wasabi coating its underside. The green tea sauce was probably the only thing I enjoyed about it, but it would've fared better if the octopus was actually edible. Pass for me.

Another one of Jewel Bako's saving graces, the kamasu (seared barracuda) with lemon juice was awesome. With three deep slivers along topside of scales, the barracuda gave way to a delectable tartare texture (unlike the namerou) matched with the smokiness from the torched skin's texture and taste. I had never had barracuda before, so it was nice to try a fish outside of my repertoire of gustatory experience. Good for individuals willing to explore outside the typical salmon-tuna-yellowtail raw fish spectrum.

Always a delight is ebi (sweet shrimp). Served in triplicate as the neka, the ebi were refreshingly veiny (not sure how else to describe this other that like so) and tapioca-like with a subtly sweet finish.

This was the last of the sushi omakase flight (nigiri number 12!) -- anago (i.e., sea eel). {1} Before the anago could be served, Chef Sho seared it between two banana leaves with her blow torch. {2} The resulting anago was warm and soft with a silken flaky texture and had just the right amount of brushed kabayaki sauce. This was pretty good (better than the average unagi I've had in sushi joints), but it wasn't necessarily the best I've had.

Marcus and my mom were still a bit hungry after their sashimi omakase, so they decided to order a large salmon skin makimono roll (one roll is typically divided into nine circular pieces) to share amongst the three of us (three each). The roll had {1} salmon skin, toasted to a crisp and {2} lettuce, cucumbers, kaiware (i.e., sprouted daikon radish seeds), and Japanese pickles, wrapped in nori and sushi rice and topped with sesame seeds and bonito flakes. The salmon skin, predictably, was awesome as well as the topped bonito flakes. Our only complaint about the roll, however, was the nori seaweed. It was very not at all crunchy enough -- very chewy and stale. And perhaps this is a personal preference thing, but I think makimono rolls are too big for my liking. As with nigiri and regular maki-sized rolls, they can typically be eaten in one bite. With a makimono roll, it is a bit more challenging to eat in one bite for two reasons: first being etiquette-driven (i.e., trying not to eat with your mouth completely full) and second being that it's just unpleasant and burdensome to eat something that is pretty fragile in structure in more than one bite. The way to go would probably to just stick to the classic salmon skin roll, given that the nori is crunchy and not stale. Overall, the salmon skin makimono roll was disappointing, considering how the restaurant's menu seems to pride itself (implied from how many are listed on the menu) on the many makimono rolls it offers a la carte and as a tasting.

After struggling with the salmon skin makimono rolls, we were all pretty full, but once our waitress told us about the desserts Jewel Bako had on its menu, we immediately made room in our stomachs!

I went with the lychee sorbet -- freshly made inhouse (at least, it tasted like it was!). Throughout each scoop, there were bits of real lychee fruit -- always a winning point with me! I found the sorbet to be a delicious palate cleanser to the end of a salt-umami driven dinner -- refreshing, slightly sweet, and fresh. Can never go wrong with those attributes in a sorbet!

Marcus and my mom (seemingly kindred spirits when it comes to order, I've noticed) were immediately enticed by the green tea ice cream sandwich -- green tea ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate cookies sprinkled with matcha powder. From the bites I stole from my mom's, you can definitely tell the difference between the ice cream at Jewel Bako versus the ones we've had at other Japanese restaurants and from Asian grocery stores. My mom and I observed that the latter two generally have a "green tea" taste, but it just tastes artificial. The ice cream at Jewel Bako tasted like frozen green tea -- fresh, bitter (in the way that is calming in a tea), and ultimately homemade (i.e., most likely infused with real matcha leaves or powder). If you do wish to have a dessert at Jewel Bako, this would be it. Consider it like a Japanese Oreo cookie.

My mom and me seated at Jewel Bako's sushi bar.

Before I forget, just wanted to say: Happy (Early) Birthday, Mom! Hope you enjoyed Jewel Bako as much as Marcus and I did! Love you :D!

Findings: All in all, we had a lovely time at Jewel Bako. Not that I was expecting something horrible, but I was shocked (in a good way, of course) to find that the sushi bar was not at all as stuffy as I had anticipated. From what I had heard from the grape vine and various reviews, people complained that the environment was somewhat hoity-toity. I'm sure I would feel that way in the dining rooms, likely to be attributable to its super dark ambiance. The dining room, in contrast, was quite intimate -- you can even say crowded and cramped, which is not something I like to experience at all in a fine dining establishment. With that being said, I'm relieved (and very glad) that we opted to sit at the sushi bar -- it felt more open and welcoming with bright but tasteful lighting and with Chef Sho behind the counter. Lighting did wonders for our experience -- my mom always says, we should be able to see the food that you're eating. Also, it's just fun to interacting with the individual that's delicately crafting your food. Plus, I'm sure the chefs like it when you converse with them -- makes the time go by faster and more enjoyably!

Strangely enough, we were the only ones to be seated at the dining table that day until we were nearing the end of our meal, reason being that most of the guests in the dining area were larger-sized parties that the sushi bar could not effectively accommodate, especially if all the guests wanted to interact and converse with each other. The resulting semi-private atmosphere most certainly made us feel comfortable and at home enough to enjoy the high quality fish kept in Jewel Bako's own imported "jewel box" of exotic fish and sea fare without the unnecessary highfalutin nonsense you encounter at so many places of the same gastronomic caliber. The fish at Jewel Bako is incredibly fresh -- in fact, the restaurant's ability to fly in fish directly from purveyors in Japan is key. Jewel Bako serves its imported fish the day after they are caught. As a result, our omakase experience, minus the few hit-or-miss items like the nama dako and namerou, was comparable to the dinner Marcus and I had at 15 East back in 2010. The assortment of fish offered was impressive -- the kamasu (i.e., barracuda) was something I've never had before. Same goes for Marcus and his experience with the Scottish salmon. It is refreshing to know that when I try new fine sushi bars (like Jewel Bako, 15 East, and Sushi of Gari) that I'm bound to encounter a new type of fish. But of course, there will always be those favorites that I'll want to come back to experience again (like o-toro, kinmedai, and ebi) and the promise of new ones (like the seared Tasmanian king salmon, kamasu, and seared uni and scallop at Jewel Bako). Overall, Jewel Bako delivered a fantastic experience for us to celebrate my mom's birthday this year. So my advice for those who wish to go: sit at the sushi bar, order the sushi omakase -- you'll get more "bang" in kinds of fish for your buck -- and nom away. You'll be glad you did.

Price point: $65 per person for sushi or sashimi omakase, $18 for salmon skin makimono roll, $6-8 for each dessert (from what I recall).

--February 4, 2012

Jewel Bako
239 East 5th Street
New York, 10003

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