Category Archives: Dining

Dining Review: L’Arpège, Paris, France (Revisited)

I had dined at L’Arpège a couple of years prior and had a wonderful experience, so I knew I wanted to return on my most recent trip to Paris. I had a bit of trouble making the reservation myself, so I got one of my credit card concierges to make the reservation for me. Once again, I decided to eat there at lunch, as it’s significantly more affordable than dinner (although the dinner menu is also available at lunch).

Exterior of L'Arpège

Exterior of L’Arpège

Place setting

Place setting

I ended up going for the lunch surprise menu, which was 145 euro. I said that I didn’t eat meat, which the person who took my order confirmed, but I later realized that not eating meat doesn’t mean quite the same thing in French as it does in English.

Up first was an egg course. Last time, I had l’oeuf parfait, or the perfect egg. This time, the egg was good–an egg yolk served with maple syrup and sherry vinegar foam–but it wasn’t as rich as other egg dishes I’ve had. The yolk itself was rich and delicious, but I felt like the accompaniments didn’t bring enough to the table. You can also see butter in the background of this picture. The bread and butter service at L’Arpège is absolutely incredible–best I’ve ever had. I think I ate two wedges of butter and eight slices of bread throughout my meal.

An egg to start (with Bordier butter in the background)

An egg to start (with Bordier butter in the background)

A tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream followed. A fun play on acidity and temperature. This course was refreshing and light.

Tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream

Tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream

Up next was beet sushi with fig. Sushi is often about the rice, but I did not think the sushi rice was very good, and I’ve had much better vegetarian sushi. There was a bit of a smoky flavor, but the plate was overall a bit too sweet with the beet, fig, and surrounding caramel sauce.

Beet sushi with fig

Beet sushi with fig

The following course was simple, but one of my favorites. Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil. It was creamy, salty, sweet, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures. The olive oil was perfectly salted; the melon was perfectly sweet; the mozzarella was perfectly creamy. This dish was so, so good.

Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil

Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil

Next was vegetable ravioli, which is a “classic” dish as this restaurant (as is an egg dish). I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish the last time I was at L’Arpège, and I wasn’t a huge fan this time around either. The soup was very acidic, the ravioli interiors were very herbal and crunchy, and the pasta was overdone.

Vegetable ravioli

Vegetable ravioli

My first clue that my statement “I don’t eat meat” was lost in translation was when the next course came. It was described as a lunchtime surprise, as sea urchin had just come into season. Now, I love sea urchin, so I wasn’t about to send it back, but it seemed odd to serve seafood to someone who said he doesn’t eat meat (of course, in French, not eating meat means not eating land animals, rather than being vegetarian and not eating seafood either). The sea urchin was served with scallops and an apple, carrot, and cucumber emulsion.

Sea urchin with scallops

Sea urchin with scallops

The following course was a sweet onion gratin with parmesan cheese and caviar tomatoes. This was so sinfully rich and delicious. Incredible sweetness from the onions, richness and umami from the parmesan, and great acid from the tomatoes and greens. This was like the best grilled you’ve ever had, but multiply that experience ten times to get this dish.

Sweet onion gratin

Sweet onion gratin

I forgot to take a picture of the next dish, but it was a fricassee of green beans with pear and juice of sage. It was like an extremely elevated green bean casserole. Absolutely delicious, and the pear was a great addition.

The next dish certainly surprised me. It was a filet of dover solefish, potatoes, mussels, leeks, fennel, and cabbage. First, it was seafood, and second, it was an absolutely enormous portion. It’s not really realistic to serve such large portions in a tasting menu. Not all tables received this dish–for example, the table next to me got a lobster preparation that was similar instead.

Dover solefish, potatoes, mussels

Dover solefish, potatoes, mussels

An umami bomb was served next. A ball of vegetables composed of peppers, tomatoes, hazelnuts, beets, and other things, accompanied by a tomato sauce.

Vegetable ball

Vegetable ball

Beet root tartare followed, which was really good. The “tartare” was creamy and sweet, the tomatoes provided some nice acid, and the “egg” on top was actually a tomato sitting on cream. Super playful take on steak tartare (and the plate is gorgeous).

Beet root tartare

Beet root tartare

The final savory dish was a sweet potato lasagna. Hazelnuts on top, sweet onions and parmesan inside, with a super acidic foam surrounding. This was good, but super rich, and a bit challenging to eat after 11 other courses and way too much bread and butter.

Sweet potato lasagna

Sweet potato lasagna

Dessert number one was a hazelnut Paris Brest. The choux pastry was actually a bit salty, which made the dessert all the more delicious. This was such an incredible pastry.

Hazelnut Paris Brest

Hazelnut Paris Brest

At this point, I was also given a plate of mignardises. Often, I find that this is one of the weakest parts of the meal, but I greatly enjoyed most of these. The only one that I found a bit strange was that one of the cookies had cream and bell pepper in it.

Mignardises

Mignardises

The second dessert was a pear and raspberry sorbet served tableside. So soft and creamy and deliciously tart.

Pear and raspberry sorbet

Pear and raspberry sorbet

The final dessert was a chestnut and caramel napoleon. I had specifically requested the millefeuille for dessert since I had missed out the last time I dined here, so I was super happy to receive this dessert. There was a bit of tartness from apples inside, and the pastry was so ridiculously rich and flaky. So much sugar and butter.

Chestnut and caramel napoleon

Chestnut and caramel napoleon

Overall, the meal was 145 euro for the lunch menu, and 9 euro for a bottle of San Pellegrino. Was it as good as I remembered? Not quite, but I’ve also eaten quite a bit more since that first meal. I still think it’s a great value at lunch, and it’s definitely a restaurant to visit if you like vegetables (although if you’re vegetarian, you need to explicitly specify no meat and no seafood!).

Dining Review: Tian in Vienna, Austria

Tian in Vienna is one of only three Michelin-starred restaurants in the world that I’m aware of that doesn’t serve meat. Joia in Milan is another. I went to Tian for lunch and had a great, affordable vegan meal.

Entrance to Tian

Entrance to Tian

I loved the interior of the restaurant. Super airy with high ceilings. It felt interesting and bright.

Dining room

Dining room

For lunch that day, they offered the choice of 2 or 3 (or more) courses from the light lunch menu, or you could order a 4-, 6-, or 8-course tasting menu. I asked for 3 vegan courses from the light lunch menu (although no vegan dessert option was listed, they substituted a vegan dessert course for me).

Lunch menu

Lunch menu

The amuse bouche was a mushroom foam. It was tasty and savory like any good mushroom foam should be, although it was quite salty.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

The bread service consisted of a delicious house-made ciabatta served with three kinds of olive oil, an extremely rich butter that was almost cheesy, and some sprouts. I’ve never been served sprouts with my bread, but I enjoyed it. It was fun and unusual.

Sprouts with bread service

Sprouts with bread service

As a starter, I received turnips and cabbage. I felt that my dish was a bit confusing, but it was decent.

Turnips and cabbage

Turnips and cabbage

My dining partner had the asparagus as a starter. I felt that the preparation of asparagus at Tian was better than the asparagus dish I had eaten at Steirereck the day before.

Asparagus

Asparagus

My main consisted of sunchokes and spelt. It was a hearty dish and a large portion, although perhaps a little one-note. It could have benefited from some acidity or freshness. My dining partner had the risotto, which was an absolutely massive portion.

Sunchokes and spelt

Sunchokes and spelt

For dessert, I received a plate of chocolate and passionfruit. I loved the presentation, and it was extremely tasty. The brightness and acidity of the passionfruit was a nice contrast to the sinful decadence of the chocolate.

Chocolate and passionfruit

Chocolate and passionfruit

My dining partner had a sour cream strudel, which she also greatly enjoyed.

Apple tart

Sour cream strudel

Overall, the lunch menu was extremely affordable, and I thought the food was quite solid. The three-course lunch menu was only 34 euro, and I’d love to return for the full tasting menu at some point.

Dining Review: Steirereck in Vienna, Austria

One restaurant that I dined at in Vienna was Steirereck, a two Michelin star restaurant. I went for lunch, which was more affordable experience than dinner.

Steirereck is located in a somewhat funky reflective building in Stadtpark. The park itself is also quite nice, if you get a chance to walk around.

Funk building

Funk building

Entrance to Steirereck

Entrance to Steirereck

We were the first guests to arrive for the lunch service. The decor inside was understated and elegant. There are a couple of separate dining areas, so it feels like a more intimate dining experience since you don’t see all of the diners in the entire restaurant.

Table decoration

Table decoration

I went for the four-course lunch menu, as I chose to skip the cheese course.

Menu

Menu

We started with selections from the bread cart. I sampled the black pudding and blood sausage bread as well as the rye bread with honey and lavender. One small downside (or upside depending on your perspective) was that we got the end pieces of the loaves since we were the first table served for lunch.

Ridiculous bread cart

Ridiculous bread cart

The breads themselves were delicious and served with three sticks of butter with different toppings. Not pictured here were the amuse bouches that we were served.

Bread service

Bread service

My first course was the char with beeswax, yellow carrot, “pollen”, and sour cream, one of the signature dishes of the restaurant. It’s a slightly gimmicky dish in that they come out with the char and pour the beeswax in front of you (and then take it away so it cooks), but the char was cooked perfectly and it was absolutely delicious. The caviar served on the side was great, as was the jelly infused with beeswax. A super inventive and wonderful dish.

Char being cooked in beeswax

Char being cooked in beeswax

Cooked char, yellow carrot, "pollen", and sour cream

Cooked char, yellow carrot, “pollen”, and sour cream

My next course was green asparagus with sheep’s cheese, daylilies, and bergamot. To me, this was the biggest miss of the meal. I was hoping for a treatment of vegetables like you might find at L’arpege or Manresa, but this was just not that great.

Green asparagus with sheep's cheese, daylilies, and bergamot

Green asparagus with sheep’s cheese, daylilies, and bergamot

My main course was the charcoal grilled tubers with tumeric “caviar” and shoots. This was a giant portion and generally tasty, but it wasn’t that remarkable otherwise.

Charcoal grilled tubers with turmeric "caviar" and shoots

Charcoal grilled tubers with turmeric “caviar” and shoots

My dining companion ordered the cheese course, and out came an enormous cheese cart. There are so, so many choices in front of you. I’m not a big cheese person, but it might be worth it to order the cheese course just for this experience.

Ridiculous cheese cart

Ridiculous cheese cart

Cheese service

Cheese service

The dessert courses were great and satisfying. My dining companion had an absolutely delectable souffle; I had a wonderful preserved calamansi (a citrus fruit) with cream cheese, gingerbread, and walnuts. Interesting flavors, good contrasting textures, and not too sweet. Everything I want in dessert.

Souffle

Souffle

Preserved calamansi with cream cheese, gingerbread, and walnuts

Preserved calamansi with cream cheese, gingerbread, and walnuts

Finally, there were some petit fours from the kitchen. They were cute, if a little simple.

Petit fours

Petit fours

Peek into the kitchen

Peek into the kitchen

Overall, it was an enjoyable dining experience. The char was by far the best dish of the meal, but otherwise, I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this restaurant.

Dining Review: Joia, Milan, Italy

Joia in Milan is one of the very few vegetarian restaurants in the world that has a Michelin star. There are, of course, many Michelin-starred restaurants that serve vegetarian food, but I’m talking about restaurants that serve no meat. So when I found myself in Milan recently, I knew that I had to eat at this restaurant.

I made a reservation for 7:30pm, which is late for me to eat dinner, but this is Italy, so I was the only one in the restaurant for about half an hour when I arrived. Joia offers three different tasting menus, as well as ordering a la carte. I decided to go for the most extensive tasting menu which was named “Zenith”. I also asked for everything to be made vegan (rather than just vegetarian), and they were happy to oblige.

Dining room

Dining room

Miscellaneous toys around the holidays

Miscellaneous toys around the holidays

Zenith menu

Zenith menu

The first thing brought to me looked like a painter’s palette. It had a number of raw vegetables served with various things to dip them into. This was a bit playful and whimsical, but wasn’t much more than dipping raw vegetables into vinegar and oils.

Vegetables to start

Vegetables to start

The first cooked course was a fake cactus served with parboiled potatoes in a creamy, tart, acidic goodness. There was also a carrot at the bottom of the pot, which was a nice crunchy and sweet surprise. This offered up a good potato flavor and was again quite playful.

Fake cactus

Fake cactus

The first dish that was on the written menu was called travel notes. The cup contained almond milk foam, celeriac, artichokes, and olives. On the spoons were passionfruit and 25-year old aged balsamic vinegar. This course had a deep, meaty flavor (strange to say meaty when there’s no meat), and the flavor notes reminded me a lot of Chinese food until I got to the olives and balsamic vinegar.

Travel notes

Travel notes

The bread was served in a bamboo steamer, and one of the breads also reminded me a lot of mantou, which is a Chinese roll.

Bread service

Bread service

The next official course was the shape of life. This was a fake egg made out of beets and filled with almonds and other things. This was an incredible course, both in taste and execution. I’ve never eaten anything quite like it.

The shape of life

The shape of life

Up next was a vegan take on foie gras. I have no idea how they made this because it really did taste like foie gras. It was super savory and accompanied by apple, a crazy delicious tofu that was more like a savory mochi, and a kale chip. This was course was another winner.

Oh my dear planet

Oh my dear planet

The next course was a truffled cream with artichokes and cabbage. You were meant to take the herbs on the side and rub them in your hands to release the aromas (but not eat them). This was crazy delicious, although maybe a tad salty. The charred cabbage leaf on the bottom of the dish was some of the best cabbage I’ve ever had.

Let's singing the mountain

Let’s singing the mountain

The soup course was a curry that contained more delicious cabbage. The soup and its contents provided a nice mixture of textures. I am generally not a big fan of soup courses, but I thought that this was a great soup.

Reflection about where I would like to be, here

Reflection about where I would like to be, here

Next was a miso cream on top of a rice cake with artichoke inside. The rice cake was executed perfectly with a slightly crispy outside but chewy inside. The miso cream was quite pungent, but it was worked well with the rice.

The navel of the world

The navel of the world

The next course was my least favorite of the night. This was a replacement course because I requested a vegan tasting menu, but it was a clear artichoke soup with a buckwheat disc, balls of carrot and turnip, different purees, and some balsamic vinegar. This course didn’t make much sense to me and was unwieldy to eat with just a spoon.

Serendipity in the garden of my dreams

Serendipity in the garden of my dreams

I was then brought a nut ravioli with carrot puree, a tart sauce, and carrot, celery, and avocado. The ravioli and puree were really good, but I didn’t really understand why they needed the other things on the plate.

Divertissement, thinking about winter and zen

Divertissement, thinking about winter and zen

Up next was a pea cake, tofu, mushrooms, and grapes. It was served table side from a cauldron, and the sauce was incredibly meaty and heavy. I did not realize that you could get these sorts of flavors only using vegetables.

A soothsayer told me

A soothsayer told me

The next course consisted of fried artichokes on top of cabbage. The cabbage was again delicious, but I think the batter of the artichoke was missing some salt.

Under a thin blanket

Under a thin blanket

The final savory course was similar to a cheese course with an almond cheese served with turnip, brussels sprout, and beet. This was a great course that was simultaneously simple in composition but complex in flavor.

Fallow

Fallow

The first dessert course had green tea cream, anise almond milk ice cream, orange, and hidden pomegranates. I’ll admit that this dessert was a little strange, as I didn’t think that the flavors melded that well.

Rainforest

Rainforest

Citrus fruits the Asian way contained orange, grapefruit, kumquat, and a tangerine sorbet. It was also served with a stick of incense for additional aroma. I feel like the most Asian part of this dish was the kumquat, but I’m not complaining because it was a tasty dessert.

Citrus fruits at the Asian way

Citrus fruits at the Asian way

The penultimate dessert was called “gong”. And it was served with an actual gong. When they serve you the dessert, they put a mini gong on your table and ring the gong before you eat. Part of the rationale is that the chef wants to make sure to involve all of your senses in the dining experience (hence the things like the incense stick and rubbing herbs with your hands).

Gong

Gong

The actual dessert was an almond milk foam and cream served with raspberry and chocolate. Absolutely delicious.

Gong

Gong

The final dessert was a raw chocolate and coconut mousse served with raspberry, mango, and guava. You really can’t go wrong.

Macon

Macondo

The service throughout the meal was very attentive. Everyone was on the ball, and my water glass never went empty (surprisingly hard for me since I drink a lot of water!). The service maybe wasn’t as formal as restaurants with more Michelin stars, but there were no miscues and the service was generally very competent.

This meal ended up taking about 2.5 hours and cost 110 euro (+3 euros per bottle of sparkling water). I think that this was extremely reasonable given the inventiveness and playfulness of the food, but I recognize that not everyone will be as amused as I was, and not everyone is looking for novelty in their food. But I heartily recommend this restaurant for any vegetarians or vegans looking for a fine dining experience or for those people who are looking for novelty and whimsy in their food.

 

Restaurant Review: L’axel in Fontainebleau, France

Fontainebleau is a relatively small town outside of Paris. Some tourists take the shortish (~40 minute) train ride out to Fontainebleau to visit the famous chateau in this city. When I visited Fontainebleau, I decided to dine at L’axel for lunch, which has one Michelin star. Because I wasn’t sure about my schedule, I just walked into the restaurant without a reservation, but I walked in pretty late in the afternoon, and it was not the busy tourist season.

For lunch, they offer their full tasting menu, a shorter menu, and a lunch menu. I decided to go with the menu gastronome, which is their medium-length menu at lunch (this seemed to be the most common choice at lunch the day I was there).

Menu

Menu

Interior of restaurant

Interior of restaurant

Up first was a couple of small bites: a beet and mussel tart, a kabocha squash puree, and a spoon with smoked salmon. Each of these bites was fine, but nothing special. The best smoked salmon I’ve ever had (and one of the most perfect bites of food I’ve ever had) was at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Washington state).

Small bites

Small bites

The bread service was solid. I love me a good bread service (why don’t more airlines have better bread?). The butter could have been served closer to room temperature, but I loved that they provided salt with the butter since salt is key to unlocking the amazingness that is butter.

Bread service

Bread service

The amuse bouche was a foie gras flan with herring eggs and a smoky foam. This was pretty delicious.

Amuse bouche of foie gras flan

Amuse bouche of foie gras flan

I’ll mention that one of the servers was quite good and spoke very good English (those are two separate facts). The rest of the wait staff defaulted to French, which I mostly understand, but it’s not a restaurant where all of the wait staff are comfortable conversing in English.

My first course was described as a daikon millefeuille with crab salad. There were a lot of things on this plate, and while everything tasted good, the components didn’t feel additive to me.

Daikon millefeuille with crab salad

Daikon millefeuille with crab salad

My main course was sesame-crusted duck, served with sweet potatoes, beets, bok choy, and a raspberry vinaigrette. This was a pretty heavy and sweet dish (the sweetness coming from the sweet potatoes, beets, and vinaigrette). I’d imagine that most other people would like this dish, but it wasn’t my favorite.

Duck and sweet potato

Duck and sweet potato

The final savory course was a take on a cheese course. 1000-day old gouda served on top of a salad. I’m generally not a cheese person, but this was absolutely delicious.

Aged gouda

Aged gouda

The first dessert was a vanilla wanna cotta with jellied apples, a poppy flower mousse, and… pop rocks. Okay, they might not have been actual pop rocks, but they were some sort of carbonated candy that made the same mouth sensation. I’ve encountered pop rocks in dessert a number of times now in fine dining restaurants, and while it’s fun, it feels a bit gimmicky to me.

Dessert #1 - vanilla panna cotta

Dessert #1 – vanilla panna cotta

Dessert #2 had a lot going on, but it was tasty. There’s apple, orange salad, avocado mousse, green tea, pastry cream, sorbet, praline, and pastry here.

Dessert #2

Dessert #2

Finally, there were some petit fours to end the meal.

Petit fours

Petit fours

Overall, the meal took about two hours, and I thought that the pacing was good. For 52 euro, I felt that this was a pretty good deal for this quality of food and service, especially given the current exchange rate. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I found myself in Fontainebleau again.

The Most Disappointing Fruit Ever: Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit looks like it should taste awesome. It looks exotic and beautiful and so tantalizing that you think it must be delicious inside. And it has an awesome name.

The outside looks so good (picture taken from the public domain)

The outside looks so good (picture taken from the public domain)

But dragon fruit doesn’t really taste like anything. It’s super bland. It’s not sweet, it’s not sour, it’s not tart, it’s not refreshing–it just kind of… is.

Eating dragon fruit is like meeting a man or woman who’s really physically attractive and you’re really into it and then you have sex for the first time and he/she just lies there like a dead fish and it’s terrible. Attractive exterior, but can’t back it up with the real goods.

During my time in Bali, though, I found out that there’s more than one type of dragon fruit, and the other types are better.

Dragon fruit with red flesh (picture taken from public domain)

Dragon fruit with red flesh (picture taken from the public domain)

The dragon fruit that you normally find is red on the outside, has white flesh, and tastes like nothing. There’s also a version that looks the same on the outside, but the inside has red flesh, and this version is decently tasty. I’d still choose most other tropical fruits over the red flesh dragon fruit, but at least it’s sweet and tastes like something.

So if you ever get the chance, try the red flesh dragon fruit. It won’t blow your mind, but at least it helps justify dragon fruit’s awesome name and exterior. Be warned, though, that it will turn some of your bodily excretions red if you eat enough (similar to what beets do, so don’t freak out).

How to Do the LAX In-N-Out Layover

If you’ve got a lengthly layover at LAX, you should consider the In-N-Out layover. There’s an In-N-Out not too far from the airport, and you can sit outside and watch the planes pass by overhead as you enjoy your animal-style fries and burger.

While the In-N-Out is within walking distance of the airport (it takes about 25 minutes to walk from Terminal 3 to the In-N-Out, but it’s not a particularly well-marked walk), there’s a shuttle that makes the trip much shorter. The Parking Spot Sepulveda parking garage is right behind the In-N-Out, so if you take the Parking Spot shuttle to Sepulveda, you get dropped off right behind the In-N-Out. Heck, there’s even a marked door in the parking garage that says that it’s the way to In-N-Out.

So make your way out of the terminal and wait under one of the “Hotel & Courtesy Shuttles” signs (there should be one in front of every terminal), and wait for one of the spotted shuttles with a red sign saying “Sepulveda”. Do not go on one that has a blue sign that says “Century”. When you board, if the driver asks, tell them you did self parking.

Look for this sign

Look for this sign

Make sure the shuttle says Sepulveda

Make sure the shuttle says Sepulveda

Don't just rely on the color of the shuttle

Don’t just rely on the color of the shuttle

Cushy seating

Cushy seating

Once you’re at the In-N-Out, order whatever you want. Check out their not-so-secret menu for more options.

The fabled In-N-Out

The fabled In-N-Out

Quite busy inside, so budget your time accordingly

Quite busy inside, so budget your time accordingly

The menu

The menu

Animal style burger and fries

Animal-style burger and fries

And then go outside and enjoy the sun and plane watching. You can see some planes moving on the apron and taking off, but the real fun is the planes that are landing that fly seemingly directly overhead. There will be plenty of other airplane fanatics milling around, and I’m sure you’ll run into other points/miles enthusiasts if you’re willing to strike up a conversation.

The Singapore A380 that I took to get to LAX

The Singapore A380 that I took to get to LAX

Great plane watching right overhead

Great plane watching right overhead

After you’re done watching planes and stuffing your face, you can take the Parking Spot shuttle back to LAX. Or you can try to burn off some calories and walk (again, it’s about a 25-minute walk to Terminal 3–longer if you need to go to a different terminal).

For me, I’d want a layover of at least 2 hours to go to In-N-Out. Assuming I want to be back at LAX about 30 minutes before my flight, that leaves about 90 minutes to get to/from In-N-Out, order and wait for food, and enjoy the food and planes.

SEA 2014: You’re Doing It Wrong at Tong Heng (Singapore)

My time in Singapore was characterized by eating, more eating, and then eating some more, to the point of a constant malaise/euphoria from being so full of delicious food.

One place that might be on your eating list is Tong Heng, which is known for their egg tarts (Gary from View From the Wing wrote about it in his recent Singapore food recap). But if you stop at the egg tarts, you’re doing it wrong.

Inside Tong Heng

Inside Tong Heng

The best thing I ate at Tong Heng was their kaya omelet toast aka fried deliciousness with kaya smothered on top aka kaya eggy orgasm in your mouth. It’s like kaya toast, but with an omelet on it, then deep fried. They make it to order, and it’s best consumed immediately.

Secret menu at the back (not really secret, just not well known)

Secret menu at the back (not really secret, just not well known)

To provide a little context, we stopped at this place after gorging ourselves at the nearby Maxwell Food Centre where we had chicken rice, porridge, dumplings, and drinks. We really didn’t have room to eat much more than half an egg tart each, but we finished the omelet anyway because it was that frickin’ delicious (so much delicious regret afterward).

The egg tart wishes it could be as tasty as the kaya toast omelet

The egg tart wishes it could be as tasty as the kaya toast omelet

Don’t get me wrong: the egg tart was good, but there are lots of places in the world to get good egg tarts (I also don’t think this place is worth a detour just for their egg tarts). But if you like fried food and dessert, I’m sure you’ll love the kaya toast omelet as much as we did.

If you want to go, it’s within walking distance of the Chinatown MRT, and it’s a block away from the Maxwell Food Centre.

Restaurant Review: Ester, Sydney

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a restaurant and just been like, “wow, this place is good” (off the top of my head, the last place I felt this about was probably Barley Swine in Austin, which I ate at 2 years ago, if that tells you anything). Ester has delicious food, and I think it’s surprisingly affordable in a relatively expensive city like Sydney, so I’m posting about it now just in case anyone has a trip to Sydney in their immediate future since you should definitely go.

I made a same-day reservation online for a Wednesday night for a seat at the bar. I’d definitely recommend making reservations, since every seat was reserved the night that I was there (both at the bar and at tables). The restaurant is located within walking distance of Redfern station, so I took the train and walked.

A la carte menu

A la carte menu

View of the kitchen

View of the kitchen

Some of the restaurant

Some of the restaurant

On Wednesdays, they do set menus from around the world (menu for August was Sri Lanka), but from talking to the bartender, he recommended that I just order off the a la carte menu and he could figure out some half portions and such to give me a taste of what the restaurant does since the plates are normally meant for sharing. Maybe I just need to ask for it more, but I really wish more restaurants would do half portions so you can try more.

First up was brussels sprouts three ways. Brussels sprouts have definitely become a trendy food over the past couple of years, but this was my favorite brussels sprouts dish I’ve eaten. The shredded brussels sprouts were great with a tangy vinaigrette, creaminess from the soft egg, and an appropriate amount of saltiness from the parmesan. You can’t go wrong with the crispy fire-roasted leaves, and the last preparation of roasted brussels sprouts made them so caramelized and sweet that you’d think you were eating candy. This plate was the normal serving for $17.

Brussels sprouts three ways

Brussels sprouts three ways

Next was the roasted cauliflower with almond mayo, almonds, and mint. When this dish first came out, I thought for sure it was a full portion since it’s a lot of cauliflower, but my server did confirm that this was in fact a half portion for $8. The cauliflower was roasted beautifully. It was tender without being mushy, retaining a good texture. The mayo provided a slight tang, and the roasting brought out so much of the cauliflower’s natural sweetness. I think cauliflower needs to be the next “it” vegetable.

Roasted caulfilower

Roasted cauliflower

For my final savory dish, I got a half portion of bone marrow ($8.50) with house-made XO sauce. It was served with their house-baked bread, which had a great char, and some salty and peppery and acidic greens, which provided a nice contrast to the gluttony of bone marrow. I think they forgot to salt the bone marrow, but when I added a pinch of salt, it became savory on a whole new level. I normally think bone marrow is a bit of a cop out since it’s so easy to make delicious, but the XO sauce definitely added something else to the dish. I also appreciated the amount of bread they provided, as I often find with dishes like this that I run out of bread.

Bone marrow with XO sauce

Bone marrow with XO sauce

At this point, I was completely stuffed and didn’t really want to keep on eating, but the previous dishes were so amazing that I had to try some dessert, so I got the three milks dessert ($11). It has goat’s milk dulce de leche, cow’s milk ricotta panna cotta, and sheep’s milk yogurt foam, as well as some crushed olive oil cookie and deep-fried rosemary. I loved the tang of the yogurt contrasted with the sweetness of the caramel and the crunch of the cookie to the creaminess of the panna cotta, all with the aroma of rosemary. Good, competent dessert.

Milk three ways

Milk three ways (I accidentally started eating it before I took a photo–sorry!)

In total, this meal was $44.50, which I think is already a good deal for the quality of food (and tax and tip are included!), but what I think is crazy is that I could easily have split that amount of food with another person and both people would have been satisfied. Those half-portions of cauliflower and bone marrow were absolute steals.

I honestly contemplated just eating here for the rest of my meals in Sydney since it was so good, and I’ll definitely come back the next time I’m in Sydney. If this restaurant existed in San Francisco, you’d have to make a reservation exactly 2 months in advance and the prices would be doubled and it’d still be worth it. So go.

Dining Review: Central Restaurant, Lima Peru

The second fancy restaurant that I ate at in Lima was Central, which has been lauded in numerous places, including San Pelligrino’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (Central was number 15 in 2014). I made a reservation for 8pm, which is the first seating. Sounds late to me to have 8pm be the first seating, but that seemed typical in Lima, and everyone who was seated at 8pm was English-speaking (and rather casually dressed, although the restaurant is definitely upscale).

Also, apologies in advance for the bad pictures.

I had pre-ordered the tasting menu, so no regular menu was offered. The tasting menu is conceptually based off of different elevations of Peru and the ingredients found therein. The chef Virgilio Martinez Veliz definitely tries to introduce novel ingredients that are indigenous to Peru, which means I had never eaten a lot of the foods that I sampled.

Looking down on the main floor

Looking down on the main floor

Menu for the night

Menu for the night

The first four bites were bites from the sea, coast, mountains, and jungle. First bite was squid on top of a seaweed cracker, which had a fresh sea flavor without too much brine. The native corn was a completely unfamiliar flavor to me–it tasted vaguely like chicha morada. The creaminess of the corn contrasted well with the crisp crackers.

Squid on top of seaweed cracker; sweet potato with camomile

Squid on top of seaweed cracker; native corn

Yacon root covered with a bit of pepper was next. It was a bit like eating jicama with a little bit more of a peppery kick. The final bite was sweet potato with chamomile, which tasted like a fall harvest.

Yacon root

Yacon root; sweet potato with chamomile

The bread presentation was impressive. There was a cocoa leaf bread, cacuts fruit bread, and tuber bread served with toasted butter. The butter could have used a tad more salt, but it tasted almost like caramel without the sweetness.

Bread presentation

Bread presentation

Up next was scallops served in something crunchy like quinoa and a ceviche-like sauce with passion fruit and avocado. This was a solid course, with a good contrast of the crunch of the grain against the scallops, combined with the more familiar flavors of ceviche from the sauce.

Scallops in something like quinoa with a ceviche sauce

Scallops

The next course with octopus served in a soup with purple corn, olive, and limo chili. I enjoyed the octopus as it was grilled well and had some chew, and the soup was delicate with just a hint of heat at the end from the limo chili, but I didn’t really understand the other aspects of the dish.

Octopus with soup

Octopus with soup

The next course puzzled me. It was essentially like eating raw shrimp, which can be a wonderful experience (like at a good sushi bar), and it was creamy, but it was also stringy and slightly unpleasant. The frozen herbs were interesting on their own, but I wasn’t sure how this plate tied together besides the elevations theme.

Raw shrimp

River shrimp, native herbs

This course was similarly odd. It was like eating mashed potatoes with balls in it. Granted, the potatoes were tasty, but it didn’t seem like much beyond it. I also thought the other thing on the plate was a hunk of meat, but it was just a decorative root.

Mashed potatoes with balls

Frozen potato

The following course was my least favorite of the night. It was arapaima, which is a large freshwater fish native to the Amazon, but I did not enjoy it. This was just salty and chew and confusing, so much so that I didn’t finish the plate. The sauces didn’t add to the dish, and I didn’t enjoy the presentation.

Salty chewy

Arapaima; also, when did splatters become fancy food presentations?

Up next was lamb and things it eats/produces. The lamb itself was tasty and cooked well, but it was covered in an overpowering sauce. Some of the other elements on the plate helped to counter the richness of the sauce. This plate was too salty and sticky and crunchy.

Lamb with things it eats

Lamb

The first dessert was interesting, full of things I had never eaten and probably can’t pronounce. There was citrus and nuts and fruit, and each element was individually interesting, although I wasn’t sure how well they all went together.

Dessert #1

Dessert #1

The second dessert was chirimoya with cacao, which was simple, tasty, and cute.

Cherimoya with cocoa

Chirimoya with cacao

Finally, there was a selection of bonbons and a house-brewed drink. The bonbons were generally good; the drink had a somewhat unpleasant smell but a mostly pleasant taste. Mostly.

Bonbons

Bonbons

At the end of the meal, I received a lot of stuff. I’m not sure the point of it all, but it included cards representing each of the courses I had eaten and each elevation.

Lots of stuff

Lots of souvenirs

The chef also made rounds throughout the night to talk to each of the guests. He was very gracious.

The chef

The chef

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Maido more than this one at Central. While both used novel ingredients (to me) and had interesting concepts, I felt like the food at Maido was generally more delicious while I was mostly left feeling puzzled at Central. The price point was also similar at 325 soles for the menu plus 7.50 for a small bottle of gassy water (the current Elevations menu appears to be 388 soles per person).