Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Vendome 10/28/12

It is located in a castle “Schloss Bensberg” in the suburb of Cologne, Germany. I arrived there about 8 pm on a Sunday night. The place was full. The restaurant is spacious allowing plenty of rooms among tables. Staffs were very polite and professional. Since I was very hungry and would like to try out as many dishes as possible, I chose the medium menu offering 13 courses.

Although the restaurant is located in a castle, inside is with modern setting and tables are arranged with proper space in between, providing customers with a relaxed mode.

The meal started with Amuse Bouche which was a plate with four petit-four looking items. They were not desert, but the appearance was so elaborate. It was rather unusual that chef devoted so much effort to the appearance, taste and quality for Amuse Bouche. Each of the four Amuse Bouche was a bite size, but each required substantial work to make it so presentable as well as pleasantly tasty. Chef Joachim Wissler is a true master of Amuse Bouche, expressing his big ideas in small bites.

Vendome served good variety of breads. Their focaccio was excellent, light, fluffy, tasty with crunchy top.

After Amuse Bouche, the 1st course was served. It was “Silence – a walk through the Forest." It was a plate of varieties of mushroom, mashed chestnut and some cooked or pickled vegetables.
The 2nd course was “Crayfish – Tonda di Chioggia: lemon-coriander." This course included two dishes. One is the poached crayfish which was tender and tasty. The other one is crayfish bisque, it tasted almost like lobster bisque.

The 3rd course listed on the men was “Raviolo – Calf’s Head: sweetbreads: meat-bouillon." Since I did not like sweetbreads, the manager offered “Mascarpone Ravioli mottled- Perigord Truffles: white tomato-Veloute” as the replacement. The ravioli filled with melt in your mouth mascarpone was fully covered with truffles. You can imagine the taste of truffles permeated my palate with great pleasure.
The 4th course was “Sweet Water – Trout: almond butter: Char Caviar." I am ultra picky on how fish was served. It has to be medium, there were numerous times that fish dishes returned to the kitchen because fish was considered overcooked. Vendome’s kitchen did it right. The dish was served with caviar, broccoli rabe and form providing with visually contracting colors in the plate.
The 5th course was “Sea Urchine – Pudding: Lobster." It was Sea Urchine flavored pudding served with some sea urchine and lobster broth. Sea Urchine dish requires ultra fresh ingredient, otherwise it tastes very fishy. This dish had a rare combination of lobster and sea urchine offering a lasting taste in your taste bud.
The 6th course was “Sole: Palourde Clams: lemon-Hollandaise.” to replace mackerel which I did not like and was originally on the menu. Sole offers tastier but less fishy flesh than mackerel even though both are salt water fish. Clams are from the North Sea. Sole filet was properly brown with crispy to and medium in the center. The clams and lemon Hollandaise sauce served on the side further enhanced the taste of seafood.
The 7th course was “Buffalo Mozzarella: Coconut: sugar peas." Buffalo mozzarella was wrapped in a translucent layer of dough to keep its’ flavor. It almost looks like a dumpling except the texture is lighter. It was served in a slightly flavored coconut sauce with sugar peas and some cute yellow flowers for decoration. This dish was also used as a palate cleanser after seafood courses were served and before the meat courses were about to begin.
The 8th course was “Bone Marrow – A la Quique: d’Aquitaine Caviar." The roasted bone marrow was filled in the center of the bone topped with caviar. Bone marrow was almost like flavored bone marrow mousse. It melted in your mouth with flavor of bone marrow and caviar.
The 9th course was “Saddle of Lamb from the Muritz region – green olives in lambtea: ricotta gnocchi." I did not like Lamb Neck in the original menu and requested for lamb chop instead. This is the 1st time that I had lamb served with kumquat jelly. Lamb actually went very well with kumquat which offers a very distinctive taste.
The 10th course was “Venison-pine needle jerry: celery cream." Autumn is the season for game animal meat. I had venison at the Dorchester a few days ago before I dined at Vendome. Although the venison dish served at the Dorchester was good, what served at Vendom was even more refined. In addition, at Vendome the venison dish was also served with my favorite white asparagus and other root vegetables.
The 11th course was “Apple – Quince – Goat yogurt snow: tarrageon – olive oil ice." I have never tasted prepared quince even though I have tasted the raw quince before. This dish of combination of apple and quince is unbelievably tasty and refreshing, a perfect palate cleanser. I have requested for a substitute for this dish and ordered Brin D’Amour instead. However, I tasted what was in my friend’s plate and found out how wonderful this Apple-Quince dish was.

The substitute for the 11th course was “Brin D’Amour- lavender: sabayon." A cheese course with floral accent. It was very difficult to extract fragrance and incorporated into food and still remained the pungent flavor. This is also the 1st time that I tasted a floral accented cheese dish.

There was another dish, not indicated in the menu, was served as a palate cleanser. It was raspberry flavored frozen foam. It was frozen, with a fluffy and light texture probably made with some high-tech equipment. I had similar thing at Noma in May 2012.
The 12th course was “Chocolate Soufflé – with coffee panna cotta and blackberry foam." I have found out it has an extra taste besides chocolate. Upon inquiring, I found out the creative pastry chef has mixed in some crunchy tobacco leaves in the soufflé. What surprised me was how the crunchiness lasted so long in the soufflé.
The 13th course was miniature pastries and Vendome’s house made chocolate. They were so good that I could only manage to taste no more than a few with the greatest efforts to stretch my overburdened stomach.
I really love Vendome. Among all other fine dining places where I have visited in Germany, Trantris in Munich, Fischer Fritz in Berline, Vendome is the best. Its chef was apparently a perfectionist. Among the Michelin 3-star restaurants that I have visited internationally so far, I would consider it one of the best. I wouldn’t mind going back anytime when I travel in the region again.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester 10/25/12

Ever since I read Elizabeth Taylor’s biography I have been longing to go to the Dorchester. I had a rather high expectation from Alain Ducasse. Dorchester is a beautiful and classy place to look at. Inside the Alain Ducasse, it was really fancy. In the middle of the dining room, there is cylinder shape of private room. The edge of the room is made of white shining drapes of crystal pieces, with an opening to allow guests go in and out.

I ordered from a la carte menu because I was not in a mood to have the items on the prix fixed lunch menu. The general director is a French and he highly recommended a lobster dish which has been on the menu since the 1st day of this restaurant opened for business. I took his advice and ordered this dish for appetizer.

To start with, I was served with a plate of cheese puffs. They were delicious; I kept munching half of a plate before I realized that I have forgotten to take photo. There were two types of butter served, one is the cow butter and the other is the goat butter. Goat butter is mild flavored. I liked it. Bread is nothing spectacular.
Appetizer - Upon the general director’s recommendation, I ordered "'Sauté' Gaurmand of Lobster with truffled chicken quenelles and home made pasta." It was a picture perfect dish. Things were neatly displayed on the plate. When I started to eat, lobster tasted like rubber without much taste and overcooked. On the contrary, pasta was undercooked. It also did not have much taste. Even though I saw “truffled chicken quenelles” on the menu, there was hardly any truffle taste. I was truly disappointed. I choose Alain Ducasse because it is a Michelin 3-star restaurant. The taste and quality of this dish is worse than a 1-star restaurant’s dish. I was hungry so I grudgingly ate them while I was waiting for any waiter passing by. It took a good ten-minutes of waiting before I could get hold of a waiter. I explained to the waiter about the situation and the waiter called the general director. He was not happy about my comments, but agreed to serve me with a replacement dish. So, I ordered “Dorset CRAB two ways”. This dish came with two styles of preparation, one is salad and the other is foaming broth. I ate salad first before I remembered to take the photo. The taste and quality were good, but nothing outstanding.

Main Course - “Rib and saddle of VENISON Grand –Veneur, pumpkin, beetroot, quince.” Venison was excellent, both rib and saddle were juicy and not with overwhelming gamy taste. Somehow, I felt the taste of venison in Europe is better than what I get from US. This is probably the best dish that I have had at Alain Ducasse. After the main course, I was served with petit four including chocolate covered nuts, 3-flavored macaroon, chocolate truffles and salted caramel candies with passion fruit pulp. The petit fours were good, but nothing spectacular. Nothing has surpassed any of the 3-star restaurants that I have visited in the past.
When I got the bill, I could not believe that they charged me for the replacement dish. I have never been charged with any replacement dish whenever I returned an unsatisfied dish back to the kitchen in a Michelin starred restaurant. I just couldn’t believe they are so petty to charge me half price for a replacement dish. This restaurant definitely has failed to live up to the standard of a Michelin 3-star restaurant.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal 10/24/12

I have read Chef Heston Blumenthal’s name and Fat Duck many times. Since Fat Duck is located outside of city of London, it would be time consuming to dine out there. In addition, Blumenthalhas assigned Fat Duck’s executive chef as Dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s (DHB) executive chef. I, therefore, decided to try out at DHB. DHB had an open kitchen with glasses surrounded all sides. I was seated right by the kitchen and could see the activities inside the kitchen clearly. There were four peeled pineapple hung on the counter. It looked cute and I found out a few days later that pineapple also symbolizing for welcome to the guests.

I had a lunch there. It was a 3-course prix-fixed menu.

Appetizer - “Dressed Snails with Parsley, Beetrot, Salty fingers and Red Wind Juice." The red wine juice was quite tasty, snails were plump and tender. Salty fingers were sautéed julienned fennel roots. It was a very well-balanced and flavored appetizer.
Main Course - “Roast Ray Wing with Parsnip, butter milk puree, sea aster, brown butter and capers." This was the 1st time that I have ever had Ray. It was a bit like skate, however tastier than skate. Ray flesh had less long tissue like skate and is tenderer. It was also the 1st time that I had a new vegetable “sea astor”. Sea astor looked almost like spinach except its leaves were with even width. It was a vegetable grown in land even though it had a name “sea astor”. It tasted less tarry than spinach and with more refreshing taste in the mouth. When I placed the order, I strongly emphasized that I hate overcooked fish. I was glad that Ray was well prepared, medium and not overcooked.
Desert - Sambocade (Goats Milk Cheese Cake, enderflower and fig). I don’t remember that I had no-bake goat cheese cheesecake before. But, this one was certainly the best goat cheese cheese cake that I have ever had. I requested for another order for take-out. Unfortunately, I was told by the manager that DHB did not offer any take-out dishes. Nor did they share any of the recipes. I was truly disappointed. After the cheesecake, I was served with a complimentary small portion of desert comprised of ¼ cup of chocolate mousse and a cookie. Cookie is very flaky and buttery with a slight touch of spices. Chocolate mousse was not too sweet and smooth. I definitely had a very good meal. My expectation at the DHB was met.

The general manager found out that I was from NYC and came chatting with me. He and Rouge Tomate’s manager Spencer Weiss were ex-colleagues. What a small world.

Monday, December 30, 2013


Lincoln, NYC, 11/22/13 & 11/25/13

Lincoln is a new entry in 2014’s Michelin one-star list, located in Lincoln Center cross the street from Avery Fisher Hall. It is a joint venture by Jonathan Benno, the ex-chef of Per Se, and Patina Restaurant Group. It’s design is contemporary and classy featuring glass walls, signature sloping lawn roof and a spectacular view of the reflecting pool and the Henry Moore sculpture. The restaurant rotates the theme of Italian regional cooking. For the week of 11/22, it focused on Piemonte region’s cuisines. It also had white truffles available for extra supplement. I decided to try out its lunch first before I had tasting menu for dinner. On 11/22, I had lunch there.

On 11/22, I had lunch there. I had a 2-course lunch:

It started with Amuse Bouche. There were four pieces of fried stuffed green olives with pork sausage. They were delicious, when I bit into the olive I was surprised that the warm juice from pork sausage flowed out.
1) Appeizer -" Insalata Ai Frutte Di Mare – Grilled squid and octopus, whelks purgatorio beans, borlotti beans, fennel, red onion and lemon." Squid and octopus were grilled to the proper texture, tender and not chewy. Whelks, a type of clam from France, were meaty and fresh. Grilled food usually had a taste of charcoal flavor, slight bitter on your taste bud. The sauce served was too weak that the bitter taste of charcoal overwhelming the taste from the sauce. I almost requested for some balsamic vinegar and lemon to enhance the flavor. But, I didn’t because I was in a hurry to go to a dental appointment.
2) Main Course- "Quaglia E Pancia Di Maiale Alla Griglia – Grilled quail and Berkshire pork belly, Farro, pickled red onions, aceto balsamico." Quail was grilled to the proper tenderness and pork belly was tasty. However, I was disappointed that skin was not attached with the pork belly. If the skin had been there, it would have tasted better.

On 11/25, I had a tasting menu dinner there. It was a 5-course meal featuring apple-finished Dorset lamb.

It started with Amuse Bush:
1) Cristini with wild mushroom and goat cheese mixture, topped with Pecorino Romano cheese. It was a not too complicated Amuse Bush, but it was tasty.
2) Autumn squash and pumpkin soup with crumbled Amareti cookies on top. Soup seemed to be short of a little bit of something. It was also not a very complicated Amuse Bush.

1st Course – “Carpaccio, Hazelnuts, Pickled Sunchokes, Cardoons, Bagna Vert." Lamb was 80% raw, thinly sliced and served with pickled sunchokes and cardoons on a bed of green sauce. The pickled sunchokes and cardoons were both very tasty. Sunchokes had a slight crunchy texture almost like daikon and cardoon was almost like the stem of bah choy. The green sauce was made of variety of herbs and tomato although you don’t see any red color in the sauce. The combination was excellent that the tender slice of lamb dipped in green sauce and pickled vegetables. Out of the three savory dishes, this was my favorite.
2nd Course – “Agnolotti Del Plin."  Pasta with lamb filled inside and served with lamb sauce. Since the lamb used by the restaurant was young lamb, the gamy flavor of lamb was not strong. It was an ideal dish to have white truffle as a supplement. The manager brought a tray with glass dome, two chunks of white truffles sitting inside the dome. When the cover was lifted, the fragrance was so overwhelming. I was informed by the manager these two chunks of white truffles would cost $1000 if we were interested in. He shaved approximately 4 slices into my friend’s plate for a supplement of $32/plate.

3rd Course – “Arrosto Misto – Butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, pancetta." This plate was comprised of various parts of lamb, each part was prepared in a different way. There was a piece of broiled loin of lamb, a piece of shoulder coated with bread crumb and seared crispy on both sides, a piece of thinly sliced leg of lamb, a piece of lamb sausage and Brussels sprout stir fried with lamb pancetta. Each of the varieties was good, although my loin chop was overcooked. I got a replacement piece with the right medium-rare. The lamb pancetta was really tasty and not gamy taste. I was informed the lamb used for the dishes was a young lamb. I know for sure from the texture it was not a 5-month old lamb which I had twice when I had fine dining in Paris in September 2013.
Palate Cleanser – “Sorbette di Pomegranate”. It has good flavor of pomegranate. Some fine dining restaurants do not count palate cleanser as a course. But, here in Lincoln it did.
Desert – “Tortino Di Cioccolato." Mast brothers dark chocolate ganache. Hazelnut praline and gelato. There was a layer of chocolate ganache on the top and chocolate cake at the bottom. It was neither light nor heavy type. Chocolate did have dark chocolate taste. Hazelnut praline was a soft type of texture similar to mousse and gelato was as typical Italian style of gelato. This course of desert was good in terms of quality if it can be followed by some petite four. But, Lincoln did not provide petite four, only some candies. I somehow felt something was not quite complete with the meal.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

William Frachon/Chapeau Rouge

William Frachon, Dijon, 9/26/2013

The itineray of the trip that I took would have an overnight stay in Dijon, the capital of the famous Burgundy region. I decided to use this opportunity to indulge myself with the best meal in Dijon when I visited there. The restaurant is located inside l'Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge. It was upgraded from one Michelin star to two Michelin stars in 2013. The manager was so eager to convince me that he insisted to have me keep the current Michelin guide. I chose the medium degustation menu because otherwise I was not allowed the option of replacing any items with their signature dish. In order to have the signature dish included I must choose the medium menu. I knew I had to stretch my stomach hard.

It started with Amuse Bouche – two courses:
I. Amuse Bouche 1st Course
1). Quail egg with red wine sauce. Red wine was reduced to a very thick status and be able to coat on a miniature quail egg sunny side up. The server kept reminding to eat it when it was still warm while I was busy taking notes and picture. Egg yolk was barely set, a good combination with reduced red wine sauce.
2).Smoked ham with mustard. House made ham with the best Dijon mustard that I have ever had.
3). Ginger bread with Foie gras and red currant sauce. I am usually not a good fan of ginger bread. But, in this case it went well. Currant sauce offered a sweet and a touch of sourness, a well-balanced taste with foie gras.
4). Smoked trout with pasta. It was a long piece of house made pasta topped with smoked trout. Using pasta to bring out the delicate taste of smoked trout. A change of taste among the Amuse Bouche.

II. Amuse Bouche 2nd course - Smoked haddock with potato mousseline and mushroom. 1st course of amuse bush was heavier than the 2nd course. Everything was light and tasty in the 2nd course. Potato mousseline, topped with smoked haddock, was like a light form of mousse. This course of Amuse Bouche really opened up your palate.

1st Course – “ Lobe de Foie Gras de Canard Rotti Entier, Mirabelle et Pomme Granny, Lait d’Amande." Foie gras with almond milk and pastry wrapping with sautéed apple inside. The lightness of almond milk and sautéed apple served as a balancing to foie gras. I can see the Burgundy region love Foie gras and can create numerous recipes for foie gras.

2nd Course – “ Grenouille, Bouillon de Poule et Cressons." This is the restaurant’s signature dish. There are two parts for this course, one covered by a glass dome and the other just displayed on a plate without cover. You were instructed to eat the part without cover first. This 1st part was fried frog legs and frog filet with garlic cream and watercress puree. They were crispy outside and tender and tasty inside. Then, I opened the lid and smelt the aroma of what was under the dome. The 2nd part was comprised of truffle, low temperature poached egg with egg yolk still soft, mushroom and chunk of frog leg meat. The smelt of truffle was so overwhelming because it was under the dome for a few minutes before I lifted up the lid. This course definitely deserved as being a signature dish.

3rd Course – “Taubot Sauvage Cuit a l’Arete, Artichaut Poivrade et Pomme de Terre Ratte Cuits en Croute de Sel, Bouillon Iode." Turbot slow cooked served in seafood juice accompanied by potatoes and artichokes baked in salt. It looked like salt baked vegetables were in fashion during this season in France. Without of doubt salt baked vegetable is quite tasty. Slowed cooked fish has a different texture, it is also very tender.

4th Course – “Agneau de la Ferme de Clavisy, et Truffes du Periford, Jus a I’Ail Confit." Shoulder and loin of Lamb flavored differently. Loin was roasted rare-medium and shoulder was pan braised with crispy skin like the braised belly. Even though this is not the 5-month old baby lamb, I was quite satisfied with the taste and the combination. 

5th Course - Cheese, Truffle Cheese, Bourgogne Chesse and Goat Cheese. The restaurant did not have the 36-month aged Comte, they only had the 18-month old Comte.

6th Course – “Tarte Chocolat, Sesame Noir, Cremeux et Sorbet Macha." Chocolate tart was filled with a light custard like filling. Tea flavored ice cream is also light. They together served as palate cleanser for the formal desert.

7th Course - “Soufflé, Marmelade d’Orange et Sorbet Orange Sanguine." This course was comprised of Grand Marnier soufflé, my favorite blood orange sorbet and orange marmalade. I have noticed these days the texture and the appearance of soufflé have changed a bit from the past. At present, restaurants are more focused on the appearance so they tend to decrease the portion of béchamel in order to keep the inflated appearance staying longer. However, by doing so the taste is compromised. I felt the taste of Grand Marnier could have been stronger. I did express my opinion to the manager.

Petit Four – Comprised of Coconut Passion Fruit Tart, Berry Tart and Raspberry Jelly Candy and mini Chocolate Tart. Coconut Passion Fruit was my favorite, it had a chiffon-mousse like texture with passion fruit flavor and covered by very finely shredded coconut pieces. Since I expressed my little disappointment with the soufflé, the manager would like me to go home with the feeling of happy meal, he packed 4 pieces of Passion Fruit Tart in a goody box.