NYC: Blanca (Brooklyn)

For our first and only outing to Brooklyn last December, we decided to try the tasting menu at Blanca.  We first checked-in at Chef Mirarchi’s more casual and hipster pizzeria Roberta’s. Then we waited inside near their bar until we were escorted by staff through a maze of separate spaces and buildings to the Blanca dining room.  We were seated at the bar overlooking the open kitchen in an airy and minimally decorated room.

Blanca

The chef showcased 25 dishes, mostly bite sized with Italian, Japanese and Mexican influences.  Personally 25 courses is a lot for a 2.5 to 3 hours meal.  I’ve been to tasting menus where there were only 6 courses and I enjoyed every single dish.  With 20+ the chef undoubtedly tucks in a few fillers.  As a result, nothing blew my mind.  What I appreciated most about this meal was that I was introduced to a lot of unfamiliar ingredients.

Except for the dining area, all photos were forbidden.  Lately, some chefs are banning photographing food their customers are eating and paying for.  Some of the reasons behind this include protecting intellectual property, preserving the element of the unknown for future customers or avoiding the publication of undesirable pictures.

So I’ll go through just a few of the dishes to peak your curiosity.

Course #2: Glass shrimp with blood orange with poppy seeds. The transparent bottom feeder had a distinctive chewiness but lacked flavour.  The blood orange added freshness and the poppy seeds gave texture.  Overall, a dish that appeared exotic but ended up being lackluster.

Course # 9: Soft tofu with purple kale.  This was one of those filler dishes. If the ingredient can be easily re-created by everyday people, it’s the chef’s job to elevate it to new heights.The chef made the silken tofu from scratch with an apple juice broth with a piece of blanched kale.   The tofu was in fact soft and very silky. Although he wanted to show case his tofu making skills, the dish was lifeless. I did not see how it added value to the meal.  He could have and should have done something much more groundbreaking.  Simply adding juice and a cruciferous was uninspiring.

Course #12: Mini plankton agnelotti.  Plankton are “floaters,” organisms in the ocean including algae, zooplankton (“animal plankton”), phytoplankton (plankton that are capable of photosynthesis), and bacteria. The black plankton purée burst in my mouth with a fresh and creamy sea flavour.  The most memorable savory dish of the evening.

Course #18: For our bread course we were presented with a home-made baguette, wheat loaf and a Hawaiian roll.  I loved the Hawaiian roll.  Instead of three different breads, of which two were just very ordinary, I would have much simply preferred two Hawaiian rolls. The airy half sphere was made with pineapple juice and topped with black salt.  The bread had a honest pineapple flavour without being artificially fruity. There should have been more items like this one on the menu.  Nothing too creative but still very special.

Course #24: Culantro sorbet with horchata (Mexican black rice) ice cream.  Culantro is the spicy cousin of cilantro and sometimes called a Mexican cilantro.  Keeping with the trend of incorporating leafy green veggies into desert items, the sorbet had a very strong healthy flavour.  The black rice foam toned the sharpness of the culantro.

For a satisfactory meal I felt the dinner was overpriced at $195 per person, not including taxes and gratuities. And very few of the dishes were stand outs.  The quantity was overwhelming and didn’t leave me longing for any one item.  The mish mash of dishes clouded my memory.  At one point, in the middle of our meal, I felt like trying his pizza.  So we asked if there was a way to circumvent Roberta’s long wait list.  For your information, apparently customers queue up for up to 2 hours.  The wait staff kindly informed us that they could only add us to the list like every other customer and the optimal time to put our names down would be around 9:45pm, three-quarters way into our meal.  When we were done at around 10:30pm and reported to Roberta’s front desk, there was still a 30 minute wait.  At that point we decided our hunger for his pizza disappeared very quickly.  If a customer is paying top dollars for a tasting in, of all places, Brooklyn, for a passable meal, a bypass to the chef’s more casual fare would be the honorable thing to do.

www.blancanyc.com

NYC: Mission Cantina

Went to Danny Bowien’s highly anticipated sequel to his Mission Chinese.  It’s not authentic Mexican but it still hit the spot on my last trip to NYC. We didn’t have room to order their rotisserie chicken but still filled our bellies with a few reasonably priced tacos.

Guac and shrimp flavored chicharones

Guac and shrimp flavored chicharones

Guacamole and shrimp flavored chicharrones: guac was nothing out of the ordinary but still good and loved the spicy salsa with the chich.

Pork belly (back), lamb and beef brisket tacos

Pork belly (back), lamb and beef brisket tacos

Fish taco

Fish taco

We liked all the tacos we ordered (pork belly, lamb shoulder and beef brisket) but our fave was the fish. It was deep fried in a tempura batter with avocado and crème wrapped in their corn-only house made soft tacos!

cantina1

 

Was a pleasant lunch to break up the day of walking and shopping. Would definitely go back again especially for their Taco Tuesday at $1.

www.missioncantinany.com

172 Orchard Street, New York (LES)

NYC: Eleven Madison Park

photoD and I always take an annual long weekend trip to the Big Apple and for the first time we opted to visit during the 2013 holiday season. Our last meal of our 3 day trip was at the 3 Michelin star and No. 5 Top 50 San Pellegrino restaurant (2014), Eleven Madison Park. It was the highlight of our NYC adventure with great company, exquisite food and impeccable service. We dined with another couple, New Yorkers, who also appreciate food which made for a very convivial evening.

Other bloggers may give an elaborate report on each course but I’d rather keep this entry concise without giving away too much. This 15 course feast incorporated fun and creative elements. The 4 hours tasting was much more than a dinner, it was gastronomical spectacle. First of all, the backdrop for this meal was held in a dining space I absolutely loved.  Although the ceiling was 35 feet high, the room felt cozy.  Men weren’t required to wear jackets but the ambiance was still very elegant.  The service was attentive without being too stuffy.  Almost every course on the tasting menu paid homage to all that is New York from local and seasonal ingredients to its gourmand history.  The dishes weren’t overly innovative but were still cleverly presented. I also really appreciated that it was a themed tasting menu and each course was thoroughly thought out.

Upstate New York dry aged duck

Upstate New York dry aged duck

Here are some of my comments about the main course and dessert.  Instead of the venison, we agreed on the upstate New York raised duck which was dry aged for 14 days.  The breast came with a side of roasted turnip and huckleberry gelée. Besides the canette (young female duck) I had at the Rino bistro in Paris a few years ago, this is THE most tender piece of duck breast I’ve ever eaten.  The herbs and spices on the skin heightened the aroma and gave an extra crunchy texture. The aging of the meat added more intensity to the flavour.   All together the crispy skin, layer of duck fat and tender flesh melded perfectly to create a mouth watering dish.  On the other hand, I was not as fond of their deconstructed sweet potato cheese cake for dessert. The sweet potato didn’t have the crisp and tanginess that I often crave with a cheesecake.

If you decide to try Eleven Madison Park I would suggest not reading too many reviews as it may spoil some of the many surprises. I also suggest dining in a group of 4-6 people to enhance your overall experience.

elevenmadisonpark.com

Price per person = USD $225