Wednesday, May 30, 2012


So if anyone is still reading this, I apologize for the lengthy delay in posts. It's been months and I am deeply sorry to all my faithful readers out there who hang on my every word.

I figured it is only fitting that I start 2012's posts with one for the ages. Benu. This is Corey Lee's post-Keller baby. Does that sound weird? That is Thomas Keller. Lee was the Chef de Cuisine at the French Laundry and sous chef at Per Se. Decent resume padding I suppose. Anyways I just happened to be in San Francisco and had managed to snag a reservation at Benu. Lucky me. So here, kicking off my new concentrated effort to post with more frequency, is benu's 17 course tasting menu.


Our night opened with seaweed/rye crackers in place of the traditional bread course. They were kind of like a very thin, oceany Finn Crisp. Light and crisp, they were a perfect way to start off the 17 courses. 

Thousand year old quail egg, potage, ginger - The first course was quite small. It had to be a when you're dealing with a thousand-year old quail egg. The tiny jellied egg came sitting in a potage with ginger at the bottom. The egg had no real discernible flavor, off-putting or otherwise, it was more of a textural oddity since one doesn't really expect eggs to have the consistency of a firm jello.


Oyster, pork belly, kimchi - Our next course was even smaller. There was an impossibly tiny oyster sitting on a pork belly foam of sorts. The crispy cup holding the whole thing was made of kimchi. I would have liked to have had a bit more of the kimchi flavor come through. The first taste was that of the pork, slightly smokey and rich, while the oyster was briny and clean. A nice balance of flavors.


Potato salad with anchovy - This was one of the least satisfying dishes of the night since it was simply your standard potato salad. The caramelized tiny anchovies were the best part. Sweet, slightly fishy, and crunchy. But then again I'm a sucker for small, crunchy, fishy things. Weird I know.

Monkfish liver, cherry blossom, alliums, green almond, brioche – One of my favorite dishes of the night. The liver was quite mild in flavor, light, but had that richness associated with foie gras. The green almond added a taste of spring as well as a bit of crunch for texture. I called it the faux-gras course, complete with a warm brioche.



Aloe vera, buckwheat, strawberry vinegar, wasabi – To me it was a deconstructed strawberry. The aloe vera acted as the gelatinous texture of the berry itself, while the crunchy buckwheat stood in place of the strawberry seeds. The vinegar was intensely flavored with strawberry. I didn’t taste any wasabi and the bite might have been a nice touch to counteract the fruitiness of the dish.


 Eel, feuille de brick, crème fraiche, lime – Delicate and light, this eel was delicious. It was more or less a play on a crispito, the one is served at bad Mexican restaurants. The crème fraiche was a nice counterpoint to the eel, bright and a little bitter with the lime zest. 


Hearts of palm, date, chicken-ginseng jelly – This was a very subtle dish that did not rely on big bold flavors. It had the feel of a comforting bowl of Chinese ginseng soup, but it was cold and fresh. The soup part of the dish was a gelatin of chicken and ginseng stock. It was nice and cold, very refreshing and cleansed our palates for the flavors to follow.



Mozzarella, basil, xo sauce – One of the more unusual dishes of the night in that mozzarella tends not to be a staple of Asian cuisine. However, despite feeling out of place, it worked beautifully. The heat of the xo sauce tempered the richness of the mozzarella while the rehydrated shrimp and scallops were a nice salty addition.


Salt and pepper squid – Think of a shrimp chip that comes with your take-out Thai. Now picture one made out of squid ink. A dark black, puffed, squid ink shrimp chip came with pureed and confit squid. The pickled Serrano chilis and micro cilantro added some color and brightness to the "dish" (we'll call it a snack...)

Foie gras xiao long bao – In the running for the best dish of the night, it was everything a soup dumpling should be. With one catch. It was better than that. Foie gras is decadent, rich, and completely over the top so to put foie gras into a soup dumpling is really gilding the xiao long bao. The foie was incorporated into the gelatin in the middle so that it melted and became part of the liquid. The result was a slightly livery, very rich soup that coated your mouth in a delicious foie gras fattiness.

Chicken velvet, abalone, abalone mushroom, chrysanthemum – Another uninteresting course in that there weren't any remarkable flavors in it. The chicken velvet looked and had the texture of a matzoh ball. The play between the abalone and the abalone mushroom was fun, but I wouldn't want to eat this a second time. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't gross or inedible, just uninteresting.


Hokkaido sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp, cucumber, onion, fermented pepper – One of the weaker dishes of the night simply because I am not used to sea cucumber. The texture was gelatinous and the shrimp stuffing did not help that. It was certainly a textural experience. It wasn't bad, I was just a bit turned off by the texture. The dish really needed the cucumber to give it any sort of texture.


 Duck, celery, scallion, Shaoxing wine, black truffle bun – The duck was cooked to perfection although I would have loved to have more of the inherent duck flavor come out. Honestly it could have been pork tenderloin. Shoot me for saying that. The black truffle sauce while delicious was a tiny bit overwhelming. The bun was absolutely phenomenal. Waves of deep truffle smell wafted over me and upon biting into the bun I was greeted by duck confit. Truffle para-para-paradise. Yum.



Beef braised in pear, beech mushroom, sunflower seeds and leaves – The rich beef paired well with the lightness of the Asian pear and the sunflower leaves. It was not a dish that would blow you away, but it still somehow managed to completely disappear from my plate.



“Shark’s fin” soup, Dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard – This was my favorite dish of the night due to the incredibly silky smooth black truffle custard. There was no shark’s fin in the soup, tsk tsk, instead the ham was turned into the gelatinous strands similar to shark fin. The crab was great of course, but the real star was the earthy, rich, truffle custard. I would have licked the bowl clean. Really.


Strawberry, white chocolate, yuzu – The first of only two desserts, the yuzu was a bit overpowering considering the delicate flavors of the white chocolate, but the strawberry sorbet really tied it all together. It was a dessert that completely fooled me in its presentation. I figured the white chocolate was what was crumbled, but that was a frozen yuzu meringue. Perhaps the white foam that the sorbet was sitting on could be white chocolate? No, that was an unfrozen yuzu meringue, silly me. The white chocolate was a pudding that was hidden underneath everything. Clever Mr. Lee, very clever.

Messy? You betcha.

Caramel, prune, coffee, cashew, thyme – This looked like a mess on the plate, but it was incredibly complex in flavor. The bitterness of the coffee ice cream/powder as well as the herbaciousness (is that a word?) of the thyme guided the dessert in a more savory direction. However the caramel liquid and the cashew powder steered the dish back towards a sweeter presentation. It was fun to figure out different combinations of flavors and textures.

Overall grade: A, a very fun, extravagant meal. Consider that a Thomas Keller extended-tasting at Per Se will set you back at least $500 per person (excluding wine and other libations) and benu is a steal. I was struck by the creativeness of the dishes, updating some classics, while pairing together some unusual ingredients (green almonds and monkfish liver for examples). The wait staff is prompt if not a tad overbearing. I think I stopped counting at 19 different people who graced our table even if it was to simply take silverware away.

                         Smack dab in the entrance to the kitchen is a column where all visiting chefs have inscribed.                   Daniel Humm is the only one I can make out...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This is not a restaurant in Paris. Nor is it in France. It's a restaurant in Madrid that just so happened to receive its second Michelin star the night I ate dinner there. I figured since it was just awarded its second star I should give it its due as close to the date as possible (Thanksgiving 2011, 11/24/11).

I'll admit that I first heard about Diverxo on Bourdain's No Reservations, contrary to the show's title one needs a reservation to Diverxo at least 30 days in advance. The restaurant is located in a residential neighborhood, right next to what is basically a bodega one would find on the corner of any New York City block. Unassuming from the outside (simple black windows), the inside is incredibly sophisticated looking. Shades of grey, white, and black are what greet you, do not expect bright colors or any colors really except for the dishes. This lack of color in the room serves to highlight each and every plate brought out.

We were greeted with a glass of cava (the Spanish are very quick to point out that this is much different than the French champagne) and a very odd looking center piece that looked like a metal atom model. There were cards with different words on them (I don't remember what they were) that were attached to the center piece and on one of them sat a curry flavored meringue. A single bite that was sweet and had the perfect curry essence. 

After the meringue was inhaled, the metal atom was whisked away and in its place our server placed a tall cup of edamame with two small cups of Peruvian cheese sauce. Basically a sophisticated cheese wiz with a strong presence of sesame and a little kick of heat at the end. It was simple, yet it showed us what was to come: a seamless blend between Asian and Spanish cuisine.

There is no a la carte menu at Diverxo. Instead there are choices of five, nine and eleven course tasting menus. With only a 20EURO difference between the nine and eleven-course, we opted for the eleven. When in doubt turn it up to eleven.

Our first real course was a sweet and sour soup made from oxtail. There were bits of smoked eel, angulas (baby eels), very tiny baitfish and tomato caviar. It was served with a piece of fried eel skin. The soup itself was gelatinous much like the hot and sour soup you get at bad Chinese restaurants, but this was natural (I'm guessing the oxtail lent the gelatinous quality to the dish). The smoked eel added a smokey note (clearly) and the tomato caviar lent a sweetness and acidity that balanced the dish nicely. Let me go on record by saying that fried eel skin, akin to pork rinds, will be the next big thing.

Eel skin top right
In conjunction with the soup we were presented with a "sandwich" of sorts. In between two thin crackers was braised and shredded ox tail and on top were more angulas. Quite tasty and an interesting take on a surf-and-turf (although they would never call it that). It was a nice soup and sandwich combo although we declined to dunk the sandwich.

Small bite, but worth it

The next course brought the Diverxo version of a traditional Spanish tapa mejillones tigre, or tiger mussels. Usually it is a large mussel stuffed and topped with toasty bread crumbs. The Diverxo take was a dish shaped more or less like a mussel and layered, like a parfait. On top were the breadcrumbs followed by a layer of kafir lime cream, which surprisingly was not overpowering. Underneath the cream was flying fish roe and a big mussel. The whole thing worked perfectly together, brininess of the mussel pairing well with the kafir lime, with the fish roe providing nice pop and texture.

Mussel parfait?

If you've ever heard of cod chin, I commend you. If you've ever eaten it, I commend you even more. This as far as I can tell was a piece of fish jello. Normally that would be a horrifying thing, but this was delicious. Cod chin with fried duck tongue and avocado. The crisp, grease-less tongue was the perfect thing to counter the gelatinous fishy cod chin. There were Szechuan pepper corns on the cod that we realized when our tongues began to tingle slightly. Duck tongues and fried eel skin, I'm telling you, next big thing.

Just put it on his bill...or his tongue
Our next course was one of the best things I have ever eaten. A smoked bonito belly with shavings of bottarga, an egg yolk wonton, black garlic aioli, and a sweet kimchi sauce. The belly was smokey without being overly (and also perfectly cooked, slightly above rare) so and was complimented by the smokey black garlic aioli. The richness of the dish was provided by the runny egg yolk wonton which burst into ooey, gooey, egg yolk goodness. Bottarga was salty, fishy goodness, while the kimchi sauce just pushed the whole thing into heaven territory.

No Asian meal is completely without a dumpling and that's exactly what we got. It was described as a Shanghai dumpling with red shrimp. It came attached to a very thin wafer and also had a broth in the bottom of the dish. It was not too dissimilar to a soup dumpling, but with the soup on the outside. There were shitakes that added an earthy note to the dish and went well with the sweetness of the shrimp.

Not your average dim sum
My second favorite dish of the night manifested itself in a pillowy soft bun. One of my favorite things to eat is a roast pork bun. This was that but with an intense mushroom inside and a sweet outside. It was sitting on top of a tomato salad. The immediate taste and smell was that of black truffles, but it soon turned into a mushroom bonanza, tempered by the brightness of the tomato salad. To push it over the top was a piece of jamon made from ox, to be eaten separately. Sort of a clash between roast pork bun and the classic jamon con pan y tomate (ham with bread smeared with tomato).

Mushroom bomb
As part of a duo of sorts, we were next served "cochinillo" that is to say suckling pig. However Diverxo got it right and served the best part of the suckling pig: the skin. It was a rectangle of perfectly crisped skin with a black sesame sponge on top with cucumber spheres and salmon roe. The whole thing was a textural explosion, quite literally with the pop of the roe. I would have liked a little more sesame, but it was quite a nice combination of flavors: acidic, salty, sweet.

With a piece of suckling pig skin, how could you go wrong?

The partner to this dish was served in a styrofoam hamburger container. It was not a Big Mac, but a small summer roll. It was Iberian pork that was served rarer than any pork product I have ever eaten, but it was fatty and rich. I wouldn't call it unctuous, but I feel an obligation to use that word in tandem with the word "pork". It was served with basil, mint, an iceberg leaf (could they have used a different lettuce leaf?) and a glass of dipping sauce that was basically a vinegar with different dried herbs. I tasted thyme, oregano, and basil. It was a perfect foil to balance the fattiness of the pork.

Nice to throw us off with the box, but rare pork? Talk about a curveball
Dipping sauce, chopsticks on left (never used them)

Our first "main" course was a piece of monkfish with grilled white asparagus, purple potato "chips", yuzu cream, pea shoots, black sesame powder, and Chinese barbeque sauce. This was what I thought to be a play on a fish and chips, although elevated beyond the point of recognition. The chips were incredibly thin, and translucent purple. They looked like a fragile fruit roll up. The fish itself was tender and delicious, while the yuzu cream added a nice acidic zing to the whole thing.

Fish and translucent purple potato chips just doesn't sound quite right...

Another fish course followed. We were presented with a plate covered in edible flowers, thin shavings of black truffle, and pea shoots. Underneath all the garnishes was a perfect piece of red mullet, which was sitting on top of a puree of tomato and tabasco pepper (not the hot sauce). A cart emerged which our plates were taken to and one of the chefs poured hot oil on top of the dish. This served two purposes, one was to cook the fish a little longer, and the second purpose was to release all the fantastic flavors and smells of the garnishes. The truffle hit me along with the pea shoots however neither were overpowering when eaten. The fish was flaky yet pink on the inside, and the oil mixed with the puree to form a sauce that was a little spicy, but didn't flame out my palate.

Oil spread with the utmost expertise

Aromatics galore

Finally our first real piece of meat during the meal, but it was well worth the wait. The dish was described to us as slow cooked ox with fat but without the fat. The meat itself had been cooked for 24-hours at 80 degrees, meaning all the fat within the meat had broken down leaving the meat tender and succulent. The "fat" draped on top was simply a textural component to the dish as I believe it was made from rice. There were barely cooked pieces of bok choy (nice and fresh) and a tamarind foam that, while powerful on its own, got a little lost among the rest of the dish. It tasted amazing and was distinctly Asian, the bok choy really brought a lightness to the dish where it would have been fairly one note and heavy had it not been there.

If only I could get my fat without fat...

With our savory portion of the meal over we were left to dessert. The first dessert brought out was a galangal sponge with coconut cream, fried nori, and blood orange sorbet. It was really a mix between sponge and foam since it disappeared in our mouths. The galangal packed quite a punch, but it was tempered by the coconut cream and the blood orange sorbet. The nori was there for texture and didn't add much flavor wise. It was a nice palate cleanser after all of our savory dishes.

Galangal almost knocked me out

The next dessert really could have been a savory. We were told it was black olives and celery. Clearly something was not as it seemed. The olives were actually chocolate balls surrounding a liquid white chocolate with a little black olive salt sprinkled on top. The celery took the form of foam, gel, and sorbet. There was spun sugar with micro cilantro that only further enforced the vegetal center of the dish. It was almost like an entirely separate vegetable course gone awry, but it was incredibly refreshing and made us laugh at the thought of pairing celery with dessert.

One of the stranger things I have eaten

We thought that the meal ended there, but we were brought a plate that looked like it was straight out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It was covered by a clear glass cover that was removed upon being set on the table. On the plate was a lavender marshmallow with sesame ice cream (I think...) and a big gob of lavender cotton candy. The whole thing was quite stunning to look at, but it was a little too perfumey for my taste and I wish we had ended on either of the other two desserts.
Cotton candy, delicious
Sparse yet quite powerful

My only complaint for the night (and it seems petty I know) was that there were no, for lack of a better word "freebies." Aside from the edamame there weren't any extra dishes, even though it was their second star night. They did send out an extra glass of cava, but even just some petite fours at the end would have been a nice way to end it. Again minor complaint and really, who am I to complain about something like that?

Final Grade: A, Overall the meal was one of the best I've ever eaten. Nothing was too salty or too...well...gross. We might have put the dishwasher out of a job since we cleaned our plates quite thoroughly. The night was made even more special by the fact that Diverxo was awarded their second Michelin star. While also churning out amazing food the staff got to have some fun as well, made evident by the flour coated chefs that came out of the kitchen. If you are lucky enough to travel to Madrid, and have time for one amazing meal, this is the place to go. 

Sorry for the long post, just couldn't break it up.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paris Part I - L'Epi Dupin

I am extremely behind on posts, but this next series of reviews consists of a short trip to Paris, not nearly enough time, but so be it. 

Our first lunch in Paris found us at a small restaurant called L'Epi Dupin. It's a small restaurant that is shielded by heavy curtains at the entrance to prevent the biting winds from entering every time someone enters. The menu can be found on several blackboards scattered throughout the restaurant (keep in mind it's only about twelve tables and a long tables for parties.)

Everything was in French of course so deciphering things was a little tricky, but our waiter spoke enough English to tell us that we had just ordered veal kidneys, we revised that mistake. I ordered the veloute de potimarron with a foi gras poêle and the cuise de canette fondante with fondue de blettes au condiment carotte, which when put into a translator is: Cream of pumpkin, faith gras, leg of duck melted, melted Swiss chard with carrot condiment. In short, pumpkin soup with fois gras and duck confit with Swiss chard. My girlfriend ordered the tartin d’endives caramélisee' au chèvre, sauce mielleuse à la coriandre and the porcelet marine "soja citron vert" with pommes paysannes: caramelized endive tart with a honey-coriander sauce to start and then pork and potatoes. 

After we had ordered we were greeted with an amuse of some sort of root vegetable soup with a root vegetable sorbet. The flavors were bright and vibrant, highlighted by the extreme change in temperatures between the ice cold sorbet and the hot soup. 

Hot potato, hot potato, who's got the cold sorbet?

My soup was quite rich, almost to the point that I couldn't finish it (I did though). There was a sizable lobe of fois in it that had been seared, but it had an odd texture almost like eating a quiche...still made for quite a heavy soup. The bits of toasted slivered almonds added good crunch to each bite, otherwise would have been a very one-note dish.

Big ole' hunk of fois

The tart was by far the best thing that we ordered. While the other dishes were good, they had some flaws here and there, but the tart was fantastic. The bitter endive was tempered by the sweet caramelization, but at the same time it was enhanced by where the caramel had been cooked just a little too long. The sauce that I had originally thought was some sort of reduction of vinegar was in fact a honey sauce, however it had a distinct bite to it so there must have been something else in it. In addition, the flaky pastry dough provided a nice base and sponge to sop up the delicious sauce.

Little dots are coriander seeds, which had a nice burst of flavor

The duck confit was perfect. The leg was crispy on the outside, yet it fell apart when I touched it with my fork. This would have been the best dish had it not been for some ghastly Swiss chard concoction underneath. As far as I could tell there was mustard, Swiss chard, and some sort of cheese. It had an unpleasant taste that I can only describe as a sweet cheesy mustard. 

Notice toxic yellow below duck...

My dining companion's pork was good, not great, but solid. It was reminiscent of Chinese barbeque pork. Perhaps they used five spice (not something I would generally associate with the normally tame French cooking), but whatever they used it definitely hinted towards Asia. The potatoes were nicely done and the sauce that coated both the pork and potatoes was quite good. I would have liked that sauce to be on the duck. 

Pork could have been cut a little better as some pieces were still connected to each other
Final Grade: B+, for €25,00 per person for two quite good courses, it was fairly priced. The food was good, clean, French cooking, but while each dish retained a certain rusticity it was certainly quite refined. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sudestada - Asian in Madrid? It can't be!

Living in Madrid has been great, however it lacks one big thing, something that has been true and dear to my heart for my entire life: Asian food. Really at this point I will settle for the General Tso’s Chicken at Ollies. However there is one place that, while a tad expensive, has been one of the best meals I’ve eaten in Madrid, and bonus, it’s Asian.

While a restaurant billed as fusion Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese might scare some off, the thought of any of those three made me salivate. True it gave me reason to pause, but there was enough literature on Sudestada (roughly translated to South-East) telling me that it was the best place to get real Asian food that there was no reason not to try it. We walked in to a well-lit room, more on the modern side of things with a bar on our right and the dining room on our left. It was pretty empty and while we didn’t have reservations, we were seated immediately.

The menu was presented to us and it had a huge range of food. It was clear that when they said Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese fusion, they meant it, but they weren’t horrific Frankenstinian dishes: ingredients combined that have no business being together, all combined by a gluey, corn syrup-rich brown sauce. They brought a cold soup in a Chinese teacup. I tasted rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, cilantro and cucumbers. It was a tasty soup and it set the tone for the rest of the meal. To start we opted for the nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls). For our main courses we got the braised beef cheek in red curry and the stir-fried rice noodles with lobster, iberico pork, squid and chanterelles.

Actually tasted quite similar to a sauce I make at home.

Now I’ve been looking for authentic Vietnamese food since I moved to the States many, many years ago, and I have yet to find it (despite living in New York), but the nem I had at Sudestada were some of the best I’ve had. They were fried to perfection. The filling was the right combination of meat (rabbit and shrimp I think) and mushroom, giving it a very specific taste that I can only describe as the essence of nem. The best part however was what it came with: a lettuce leaf to wrap, fresh mint, cilantro, and basil, bean sprouts, pickled vegetables, and the best part of all, nuoc cham (delicious, delicious fish sauce). These things are essential to creating the perfect nem, wrap all ingredients in lettuce leaf with the nem and dip in the fish sauce. I was in pure bliss. All the flavors of Vietnam came rushing back.

This is what heaven looks like, wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a big bite taken out of it.

With Vietnam now out of the way, we turned to our respective Thai and Chinese influenced dishes. My noodles were fairly bland, but the lobster was nice and the chanterelles were earthy and delicious. The noodles could have used some more kick, some chili peppers or something to just boost all the flavors. The whole thing ate heavy, but the finish was light and I didn’t feel overly stuffed.  

Good, but needed more overall flavor.

My girlfriend got the beef cheek, taking us from Madrid to Thai in a hurry. The flavors were absolutely explosive. The heat from the strips of chilies burned in a lovely way (since Spain seems to be allergic to spiciness). The dish was rich from the coconut milk and the lemongrass and galangal (slightly spicier, more ferocious version of ginger) lent brightness and very Thai flavors to the curry. The cheek itself was braised perfectly, fork tender and done in such a way that the fat was deliciously sticky and flavorful. It was all we could do to not dive into the bowl and lick up every last drop of the amazing curry.

One of the best things I've had since being here.

Final Grade: A, €63,00, while not cheap it was completely worth the price. The noodles fell a little flat, but the nem and curry were absolute knockouts. Next visit: the chef’s tasting menu.

Monday, November 7, 2011


About three weeks after I first got to Spain, I watched an episode of one of my all time favorite shows, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, where he goes to Spain. There I saw Zimmern travel through a very touristy neighborhood in Madrid called Sol and devour various bizarre and not so bizarre foods. As the camera panned around one tapas bar, it looked rather familiar. When they showed the shoes nailed to the wall I knew exactly where it was.

Zapateria. The shoe store. I had been there my second weekend in Madrid and had loved how small and intimate the place was as well as how everyone was incredibly friendly. I had wanted to go back since the last time I was there and this video gave me some suggestions of what to eat.

I decided to follow Zimmern's selection: crispy pig's ears, snails and bull tail. Unfortunately the bull tail was not available when I went so I was fortunate enough to have a dinner consisting of cartilage and gastropods (new name for blog?)

The ears came first and were plopped in front of us on a silver platter, literally. They were cut into small manageable pieces and were cooked with some sort of red sauce. The ears were cooked on the grill and pressed down for a while, thus formed a crispy exterior to some of the bits. The texture was definitely a bit funky. I likened it to the crunch of the pickled carrot one finds in banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), but it was definitely in its own class as far as bizarre textures. The gelatinous coating in my mouth spoke for the cartilage, which had clearly broken down a little bit when cooked. Flavor wise it was porky and slightly reminiscent of bacon, albeit not as smokey. The real kicker were the pieces of ear that still had small hairs on them, threw me off a little bit, but with those pieces kicked aside, I plunged right back in.

Bad picture I know, but trust me, it was a hairy situation

The snails were cooked in a spicy sauce, a nice change from the normally tame Spanish cooking. However the sauce completely overpowered any chance at tasting the snails. The snails themselves were soft, but gritty. With every snail I ate I hoped for a clean snail, but every bite I was met with the crunch of grit. The sauce was worth sopping up with bread although it could have used a little more salt.

Clearly a slow cooked dish...sorry for the bad puns...

Final Grade: B-, I'm definitely going back to get the bull tail, but overall the food was so-so. Everything was gone by the end of the meal, but I wouldn't order either of theses dishes again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Porto Part II: La Mesa Restaurante

Our big dinner for the week, ranked in the top five of restaurants in Porto on tripadvisor, proved to have its highs and lows. The location was a bit tricky to get to, and we were late by nearly half an hour since we were counting on a cab being right near our hostel, but of course there weren't any. We ended up taking the subway to a more populated area and then hopping a cab from there. Already in bad moods the restaurant was tucked away in an apartment building. Literally an apartment building. Did not bode well in our minds....

However when we got out of the elevator we were greeted with an amazing room. Perfectly lit, aged wooden tables, intimate. It was just one of those rooms that instantly puts you in a good mood. Our hopes restored we apologized for our tardiness and proceeded into the dining room.

The menu was large, but we cut through it pretty easily and decided what we wanted fairly quickly. I ordered the foie gras stuffed with a plum compote and then the "traditional" Portuguese stew with monkfish and shrimp and fresh cilantro. I bold that because the cilantro was the first cilantro I had had since leaving the States. My girlfriend got a salad with grilled goat cheese, bacon and sun dried tomatoes and then ordered the braised veal cheek with turnip tops and potatoes.

We were sent an amuse bouche of a puffed pastry stuffed with goat cheese and honey. It was quite good, but would have liked the whole thing to be warm, somehow eating cold goat cheese was just not what I wanted to start with. Our first courses came out and they looked stunning. Another good sign for the night. The foie was creamy and delicious, but was set on some sort of sponge cake, which seemed like an odd choice. The plum compote provided the acid for an otherwise sweet and rich dish. The salad looked good, although the "bacon" tasted like was gone quickly so I assume that was a good thing.

What should darken our door but a goat cheese puff (literally, the picture is dark...)

Salt was a nice addition also, aged balsamic was of course delicious

A little broken, but it came in a huge cracker bowl, caught it just in time

Our main courses were next and again they were quite pretty to look at. My stew was quite good, although it was more or less a curry. Nice to have some really strong and bold flavors. The monkfish was tender and meaty while the shrimp were perfectly cooked. The cilantro brought a freshness to the dish that would have sorely missed it had it not been there. The only problem: my shrimp were not cleaned. I’m all for eating everything, but eating a poop vein is not my idea of a good time. It was gritty and there’s nothing worse than eating something delicious and then crunching down on some grit. 

More complete than I wanted them to be...

The veal cheek was fork tender, and the sauce it was in was delicious. Really you can't screw up anything slow braised. The turnip tops and potatoes melded beautifully together, the bitterness of the turnip greens paired with the creaminess of the potatoes. The dish was quite good, but was a little salty. 

Was the cherry (tomato) on top, almost

This is where the good part of the night ended. We declined desserts (too stuffed), as well as coffee/tea. We instead asked for the check. We waited for it. And waited. And waited. I flagged down our waitress and asked again. Again we waited, and waited. I caught her eye again and she nodded at me, indicating it would be right there. More waiting, more looks. Finally forty-five minutes later she came with the check, apologizing and saying that the machine had been broken so they had to write everything by hand. Five items (bottle of water too) took 45 minutes to write down? 

Final Grade: B, the food was pretty good, certainly for the quality of restaurant it was fairly cheap, however the 45 minute wait for our check proved to be fatal for this reviewer. Unfortunate for Mesa, and unfortunate for us, but hopefully they've hired a couple good writers.