Momofuku ko: turning passion into luck that tastes so good

Momofuku ko is a mature upgrade dressed like a teenager. The awarded restaurant plays on rhythm, multiculturalism and fun on the Lower East Side. Now the hippest part of Manhattan, it was not so when the chef David Chang opened his immediately highly acclaimed eatery there a dozen years ago. Just say that name over and over and listen what comes out (a naughty blurb). Formally, Momofuku means “lucky peach” in Japanese (also it is the title of the founding chef’s well-received magazine on food culture), but more it is an homage to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen, so popular with students as Chang once was. Breaker of preconceived paths, the brazen man studied religion at college and taught English in Japan before his culinary adventures at Manhattan’s Jean Georges, Tom Colicchio’s Craft and a two-year apprentice stint in Tokyo. Chang’s first restaurant was a ramen bar in the East Village. Ko means the “son of” in Korean and is a grown up offspring of his two previous culinary openings.  The stunning murals on the charcoal deep walls, a nightclub vibe and shared joy in an open space invite to a sophisticated meal, and reveal both the obvious and the alter ego of the concept.

Manhattan street art

The son of lucky peach

As an Asian-American by his family’s Korean roots, Chang’s cuisine is more contemporary decadent American with frequent addition of Korean and Japanese ingredients. His food has that mouthwatering generosity in each bite that leaves you satisfied with just little. Like his inclusion of an abundantly creamy umami in uni. Chang understands tastiness so sea urchin features in most of his tasting menus as much as a rice course does. Hokkaido, Santa Barbara or even Vancouver provide the richest specimens. I cannot agree more with Michelin: “assured, innovative yet expertly balanced”, that is how all of our meals at Momofuku ko were to date. A solid two Michelin star menu since 2009. The NYT gave its full four stars.

Well, you are for a feast, so the first, slip into the mouth courses warm you up for the main feast. Seasonally changing, usually a sharable meat dish. As you u-shape the around open kitchen centered dining counter, the meat aging wall alerts vegetarians that this (as with the Chef’s Table at the Brooklyn Fare Midtown, yet we much prefer the more balanced, wholesome menu at Momofuku) is not their place of worship.

Korean dining in New York

Contemporary challenges of a New York restaurant

The consistent pleasure we derive from our tasting meals deserves praise in this turbulent time of change. I waited to revisit Momofuku ko until after the pandemic lockdowns settled the gastronomy in New York into more stable waters, and it paid off this fall. Yet another superb meal, this time not at the popular U-shaped counter, but at one of the two tables set ideally for people with dietary restrictions. Joined by an octogenarian family member, we had three different limitations – gluten, pork (I am the guilty renouncer of eating this holy cow of David Chang at his past eateries) and cow’s milk. While they cannot accommodate a 100 percent gluten-free meal, the team tries their best to reduce it for the sensitive individuals. With soy sauce being used in many preparations and with some dishes requiring days ahead of your meal, this wheat-containing condiment cannot easily be removed. Nobody left with a stomach ache, so well done kitchen!

Above all and next to deliciousness, the meal at Momofuku ko is about fun. The tasting evolves like a conversation. It starts with the sommelier’s suggestions, an optional beverage pairing, and a glass of something with good acidity to rise your appetite.

A trio of snacks may include the famous quadruple fried chicken drumstick served cold. Battered in a mix of cornstarch, flour, vodka, and beer, re-battered in between each fry, and finished with a brushing of mirin, yuzu, and green Tabasco, this is not for the sober bunch. A sublime crunch! Most recently we got a honeycut squash with gamtae, nori roll with lobster and egg yolk, and white truffle over coal-charred cabbage. Our choice of a bottle of exquisite, mineral French wine from Savoy scored a double jackpot at this entree.

Some signature plates pop in and out of the tasting menu, to vary it for the regulars. I loved the Egg cut as if the caviar came from its mouth like a blurb. Garlic chips make everything more fun. Seafood is beloved here. Scallop, soybeans, tomato was finished with a sauce from pine nuts at the table, while when asking what was that mysterious seafood in the Black cod dish, the waiter did not hesitate to bring me the entire geoduck! It’s a peculiar shellfish, and some might rather prefer not seeing it, just savour. At Momofuku ko, the service is as friendly and helpful as it can be.

This fall, an exquisite roasted duck oomh and ooohed our taste buds. Heritage Mallard and Pekin duck cross called a Rohan™ Duckling is less fatty than the Pekin breed, just perfect for a dish like the Roast duck with fried rice we had this fall. Sometimes smoked Muscovy duck breast takes its turn as the chefs team do not sit on their laurels and constantly play with the always tasty dishes.

This food is what a great gastronomy should be, not pretentious, for the sake of newness creating dishes, but consistent yuminess in each morsel. That ecstatic exuberance of hedonism of David Chang is, I think, key to his success. Sustainability is also on the team’s mind. Most parts of the duck, like the usually discarded neck is shaved like bottarga over the crispy skin of the bird, or fish skin and bones are used in the meal.

New York Michelin

Desserts come in four incarnations. In the French fine dining style, a lighter ice cream or sorbet transitions from the savory courses. Do not expect watery mouthfuls though. Ginger gelato, soy cream or something in that flavorful genre. With my recent cow’s milk and cream restriction, I was treated to by any way no less creative concoctions of sweet joy. The last Fernet (herbal Italian and in Argentina popular liquor), fig coated in dark chocolate with spiky cocoa nibs ball was a blast to remember.

Just in case you were not full, the waiter appears before your departure and slices squares of tomato focaccia to go either for on the way back indulgence or a breakfast if you resist biting in when it is still warm. A finale like we want it. Chang is aware of hedonists’ guilty pleasures. Usually after a long tasting menu and even longer list of wines we consumed, we enroll at a nearby pizza joint to round it up. We are young, still so young, we tend to thing. Hello friends! You know that beat. It is been some fifteen years since we had started this anthem of post-gastronomic indulgence.

The wine list to match the accessible spirit of Momofuku ko

The wine list looks familiar for those who frequent the Brooklyn Fare. The current sommelier there used to stock Momofuku ko’s cellar. We rejoiced at our favourite bottles, very niche producers not found easily elsewhere. Many organic or biodynamic wineries. It was a pleasure to find a well aged red (Le Clos 2007) by Domaine Milan who makes one of the best wines in Provence. We started with the super mineral white Altesse in Quartz by the Savoyard Domaine des Ardoisières, whose richer Schiste blend of indigenous Jaquère, Roussane, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche we also adore. Les coteaux de Cevins offer an incredible terroir for the crisp wine lovers. The French cellar is just so well stocked and fairly priced for Manhattan that we mostly go for old world bottles aged perfectly. On a birthday occasion, Cheval Blanc 1966 awed our palates with its stamina. A mature Rioja or Emidio Pepe from Italy rejoice most old world wine lovers boundlessly.

best wine from Provencebest wines in the world

If you don’t dare for the tasting menu and would like to sample some of David Chang’s dishes a la carte, there is a “testing kitchen” bar where you can luck yourself at first come first serve, sans reservations counter. The chef’s emphasis on accessibility blooms here. One does not have to luck oneself with snapping the so hard to get reservation at the main stage, the hours lasting orgy of hedonism and a set price slightly over $200 (which is rather low for the current Manhattan standards at fine dining multi-course dinners) and just show up at the Bar. We are so glad that a restaurant like this exists in New York.

The location is quite puzzling in the gridded Manhattan. You need to walk literally into an “extra” cul de sac on the First street.

8 Extra Pl., New York, 10003

+1 212-203-8095


The alternative cheese story in this millennium: why we should embrace transformation of plants, that is dairy-free, without lactose and low in carbon footprint

Not only vegans should read this. All of us will find exciting inspiration in my years-long investigation into alternative cheese. In the age of anything healthy, trendy and/or sustainable, ideally all in one, and shortly “-free”, plant alternatives crop up on the menus of eco-minded and to restricted diners welcoming restaurants. The shelves of gourmet grocers, neighborhood mini marts and increasingly regular supermarkets of most “advanced” countries regularly introduce plant-based, non-dairy products that improve with the rising demand. Many “creameries” currently transform vegan cheese into a wide variety of curiosity-rising forms. Humanity needs to innovate to meet the pressing climate disaster in a more sustainable living. Global population keeps growing and its demands for food with it, hence we cannot keep eating dairy and other animal products daily. Ideally, we balance it off. Reduce meat and dairy, include less carbon-intensive plants. Let’s broaden our diets with these wondrous choices. Only a few years ago I would staunchly say: there’s no way this nut thing can ever taste like the real thing! Well, let’s keep up with the innovators, because by being open I had to revise my no “fake” cheese opinion based on the delectable evidence in my mouth.

vegan cheese

sustainable dietraw nuts

Traditionalist mindset versus embracing the new in “cheese”

I confess, I love cheese, the real stuff, well more precisely the traditional buffalo, cow’s, goat’s, sheep, ewe’s and other dairy cheese (no camel or donkey milk, thank you). Available today are cheeses from Europe, the Americas and made as far as in Japan (mainly from Hokkaido), and so it is now with the plant alternatives, and I am open to try. Not only those dairy- or lactose-intolerant as well as staunch vegans seek milk-like products made from nuts, grains, soy protein or other plant-based ingredients (even coconut oil, oats, peas or quinoa) — eco-minded generation is the market power now. During my decade-long, taste-centric global study (I’m guilty of not researching enough in Africa that I rarely visit and have never been to Antarctica, where one has probably different concerns than looking for vegan cheese alternatives) I found that the best of all vegan cheeses were made with a blend of savvily inoculated ingredients. Now there is even a non-dairy cultured butter that really feels like the traditional lusciously melting churned cow’s treat. I wish we had it in Europe!

vegan cheese

The premium league of vegan cheese makers *

Naturally, the French figured it out parfaitement, yet as America has been flagging the growth of creativity over the past century, there the vegan “creameries” are unafraid to experiment and unapologetically copy from established traditions in the European cheese making. Like in Provence or with Italian robiola, cultured fresh cashew soft ‘casheeze’ is wrapped in dried fig leaves to preserve its moisture and look alike. 

Fresh or ripened even cultured with mold, the best specimens now taste and look like a camembert. While Swiss New Roots have yet no match to an excellent creamy brie, Rebel Cheese in Texas, and more so Conscious Cultures with their Maverick do literally magic with their vegan bries sold at my favourite plant “cheese” store Riverdel in New York).

Roquefort style by French Jay & Joy as well as the awesomely tangy Billy Blue by Riverdel, yet the best of all the blue styles was Conscious Cultures Creamery Barncat made in New York state. 

Nevertheless, the connotation of these products as “cheese” is misleading as much as the nut “milk” that one Czech producer transparently calls “not milk”. We need to broaden our vocabulary with these new foods introduced in our diets. Many producers realized this confusing linguistic overhang and so they now invent new words that more precisely denote what is inside these cheese alternatives. A step further, organic ingredients sate the integrity of the eco-minded and staunch ‘healthovores’.

plant-based alternative to cheesebest plant-cheese

There are a few plant product makers doing it quite well when compared to the average supermarket cheese, but when you get a top quality artisanal cheese, there has not been so far the level of natural complexity in some fine aged cheeses I could compare the vegan concoctions with. Take a matured Comté, creamy Délice de Bourgogne, or savoury feta in Greece and then we can talk of comparisons. The best aoc/aop cheese from Europe still take the laurels.

nut cheesevegan cheese

What is in alternative cheese

It used to be mainly soy that replaced the dairy in the “fake cheese” era, but as the bean’s quasi-estrogenic effect (and cut the rainforest to grow soy) on our body fell out of fashion, other grains, seeds and nuts came to its aid. Italians now make local rice-based Risella comparable with an average cow’s milk mozzarella, but forget buffala, burrata or the oozing straciatella. Mamma Mia! I was also impressed by the Vegotta made by Ferretti in Perugia that very closely feels like ricotta in terms of texture and somewhat in taste. The fennel seeds fragrance though tells a blind taster that this attempts to taste like a dairy product.

best vegan cheese in Americavegan cheese

It seems that macadamias, oats, coconut oil and cashews work best for these dairy replacements. An almond ricotta by Kite Hill in the US used to awe me (a shame they stopped adding truffled salt, which is a game lost to another US artisan Cheezehound who perfected their Truffle Ash Casheeze). The pricier macadamia ricotta by celebrity plant chef Matthew Kenney tops the curd styles. Creamy cheesy spreads and dips are also getting incredibly delicious. Some are still a waste of calories, but others taste as the best buttery garlic dips, dilled lox-like spreads, herbed Boursin-like or Greek style. Whipped by California’s Miyokos Creamery under the brain of its Japanese founder miso and rice koji add umami savory fermented touch (even their salted butter is ooomh the best in the vegan league!). I prefer them to Kite Hill’s and other US cream cheese alternatives like Forager. So far these are only available in Canada and the US (yet, they are working on it though as confirmed via an email).

plant foods in Brooklyncheese alternatives can look like dairy cheese

best vegan cheese store in Americaplant-based alternative to cheese

Like the “normal” dairy, cheese alternatives can be sold pure or with flavourings – from being washed with cognac or other alcohol, smoked, with added dried fruits and nuts, herbs, spices (pepper is popular), laced with truffles, even naturally coloured in the cheddar or Amsterdam styles.

On a road trip through California recently, the highest rated “lunch in Paso Robles” on Google was the just about a year-old Vreamery. To our surprise, this was a plant cheese bar inside a new hip food hall. Their signature Cashew Cream with artichoke and garlic crackered our taste buds out! As if I had forked into my granny’s buttery garlic dip, but this was sans animal involvement. They make some themselves, but buy most from selected vegan creameries in America. A very refined selections as our cheese box revealed. Truffled Chévre from Riverdel (a great vegan boutique with two locations – Essex Market on Manhattan and in Brooklyn) and a selection of blue styles like the blue rind can fool you as in the Bleu Cameblu by Rind also based in New York. They also make a more funky Blue with a pink tint under the blue-gray crust. Miyoko’s Creamery in Sonoma makes spot on aged Smoked English Farmhouse with liquid smoke.

plant-based alternative to cheese

Blue cheese is a masterpiece of its own. Jay & Joy in Paris, France created Jeanne Le Bleuté végétal, soy-free, lactose-free and so-called artisanal (made in small batches). Based on organic almonds, coconut milk and cashews, with fermentation bacteria and the fancy salt from Guérande adding a sophisticated tang. It’s blue veins are not based on spirulina or other plant colorings as I had seen with blue vegan products previously. Hence the taste is not affected by seaweed. Quite nice is also Petit Bleu, a French cashew cheese, yet there is not much blueness going in it.

Greek Violife figured out how to make smooth, creamy, coconut-oil-based Greek White that looks like feta, but the briny tang of the real dairy is missing. Their rawmesan and sliced toast-style “cheese” are mediocre. Violife makes also a great spreadable cheddar-flavoured and moist Greek-style plant cheese I can recommend.

Vegan cream cheese alternatives

Making your own plant-based cheese

Cheese is addictive too (what on can do against its innate chemistry?!) and I am fully guilty of that naging craving. Yet, as I try to be progressive, climate-sensitive and balanced, I am reducing my dairy consumption by including plant alternatives. While trying many brands and complaining about the ok taste of these dairy replacements, to be fair I made a couple of plant fromages myself at home. I find two sources of inspiration – cookbooks and the packaging itself. The later is more daring and risky, but it challenges me to make it as great as they do in even a smaller batch.

food sustainabilityMaturing vegan cheese

A cashew aged cheese that I matured for one week turned out nicely and almond and macadamia ricotta inspired by Matthew Kenney was also satisfying. Vreemery sells a cheese alternative making kit, I got the Truffle Melt. Many contemporary cookbooks focused on fermenting include some recipes. The aesthetics are another story though. It’s tricky to mould the nut creations into a smooth log or wheel like a pretty chévre, or try to hole out a Swiss-eyed hard cheese or a layered truffled brie. For taste, crafting a small batch is more often key to success as it is with most artisan cheese. So try to make your own! Just keep it clean as anything can turn your product into a spoiled mess. Vegan rennet can be found in most health stores.

The French art of the cheese trolley has transpired beyond the Gallic borders. I have not yet seen a vegan restaurant rolling around a proper selection (Perhaps Daniel Humm’s revamped Eleven Madison Park on Manhattan will offer that in its $335 per person vegan tasting?), yet the plant creations turned out to be messier and more delicate than dairy products. Nevertheless, alternative cheese plates are increasingly common. In Venice Beach, California Matthew Kenney’s Plant, Food and Wine offers a nice vegan “cheese” board and so does his new cafe Sutra on Manhattan. In Paso Robles, California Vreamery pairs up your picnic box with local wine tasting at the town’s newest food hall.

plant-based dessertplant-based alternative to cheese

Beyond savory treats, most desserts can easily do with almond, coconut or rice cream. The Key Lime Cheesecake at Moby’s Little Pine in Silverlake, California is sublime! And so is their refreshingly summer-like plant mozzarella skewer (photos above). In New York again, Rawsome Treats create the tastiest plant-based desserts sliced carefully as they were all frozen prior to consumption. Their nut “cream” fillings” will send you high.

Manhattan vegan food best vegan macha cake in New York

While vegetarians embrace the real cheese’s guiltless pleasure in small quantities regularly, made in artisan, considerate, small-scale farm setting, there is still a room for plant alternatives. As my suggestions approve, now time is ripe for vegan cheese hedonism. Honestly, I would not post this article before, indeed, so enjoy the ascend of the alternative cheese as I do!

*I received no sponsorship, no PR, and have no financial interest in any of the above mentioned companies. These are purely my personal reflections on taste.


Gastronomic ceramics in America: from otherworldly architecture to Korean ware

Much of the most exciting gastronomy in the US is in the hands of talented immigrants, second generation Americans or those who returned from temporary stages at uniquely inspiring kitchens mainly from France, Scandinavia or Japan. Yet, in America the most contemporary poised chefs spin their ideas through the wide accessibility to incredible produce and professional workforce to its own unique level. Plus there is one Savannah-raised grown-up child whose imagination surpasses any culturally-inspired culinary approaches.

Culver City designgastronomic ceramists

gastronomic design

I cannot see the “from a time that is yet to be” restaurant by Jordan Kahn (in his own words) anywhere else but in LA. His current futuristic, almost spiritual project is nothing like his previous venture, although not much less talked about Red Medicine. I dined at both, but here we talk gastronomic ceramics, not the food (which in my opinion was great). The entire concept of Vespertine is about the wholeness of the experience. The visual, aural, gustative and intellectual sensory impact feels post apocalyptic and so do the locally made gastronomic ceramics the chef chose.

The sci-fi design of the Vespertine in Culver City collectively transformed the creative television production area of Los Angeles. The extraterrestrial architecture by Eric Owen Moss Architects is not for everyone, but it strikes everyone. Some of the vessels were designed by the otherworldly creator. His architectural water pitcher (pictured above left) is literally a miniature of the building itself.

gastronomic ceramistsgastronomic ceramists

Most of the barred down, rustic and construction pieces resembling tableware is made on the same street by MATCH stoneware. As its name suggests, this studio (pottery classes available) works mainly with sturdy stuff. The rusticity of the weighty bowls and plates invisibly blends in with the architecture. The overwhelmingly black, grainy stone bowls and plates are simple, yet profoundly complement chef Kahn’s visually naturalist cuisine. Some serving utilities by MATCH stoneware are just slate slabs, while others like the bowl for the desert look like broken scraps to be thrown away. Yet, their edges are smooth and safe to handle. The unconventional attracts everything surrounding the Vespertine concept. This casual, rather understated style is what the location is about. Culver City is unquestionably the most 21st century part of Los Angeles.

gastronomic ceramistsgastronomic ceramists

Quite the opposite, culturally immersed and educative dining experience awaits you on Manhattan. At Atomix chef Junghyun and general manager Ellia Park intend to ‘gift,’ innovative Korean Cuisine to New Yorkers. Inviting young South Korean creatives to join them expands the experience beyond its realm into the far-eastern contemporary journey. Atomix commissioned up-and-coming artist Eunyoung Kown, porcelain master Namhee Kim, and even the chef’s cousin ceramicist Youme Oh. In an interview for Bon Appetit in 2019 J. Park says: “I want Atomix to be a way to introduce young Korean talent, there aren’t many channels to enter the market otherwise.”

From the names I dropped so far you get that the restaurant is also a family business. His cousin crafted this jade-hued ceramic bowl by hand to mimic traditional Korean wares.

In my Gastronomic ceramics series, check further out what talent the great French chefs support, how wild the Best Restaurant in the World goes in working with designers in Spain, and learn about the seasonal tableware selections in Japan.


Shion: the purest Tokyo sushi export to Manhattan

Sushi Shion by the namesake Japanese chef Shion Uino sates the highest expectations from the Tokyo frequenting sushi lovers in New York. Hailing from Sushi Saito, one of the most iconic three Michelin sushi restaurants in Tokyo and for many experts the best sushiya in Japan, this authentic Japanese export to Manhattan will not disappoint. The young chef Uino worked himself all the way up to precisely cutting and moulding nigiri sushi at the second counter of Saito, and currently Sushi Shion rivals in quality to Masa, another Edomae-style omakase shrine in New York.

Humble, relaxed, friendly, intimate and focused, right in his first year in New York of opening Sushi Amane chef Shion Uino received his own first Michelin star. While Amane is now headed by another sushi chef bunkered bellow another established Japanese restaurant, the Mifune, Sushi Shion is a headline on its own. Located in TriBeCa at 69 Leonard street, he was called over by Idan Elkon, the owner of both establishments. Taking the game to a grander scale with even more premium seasonal wild products, the chef’s signature plates he learned at Saito, and an elegant setting haloed by contemporary art, Sushi Shion is perfectly set where it should be. Above, I feature some photos from the chef’s dishes and bellow the setting at Sushi Amane. While some plates remain, more rare fish is included now thanks to the wider accessibility of the New York market to these premium products.
The eight-seat bar like at the greatest Tokyo sushi spots is simply decorated the purchase of the highest quality fish and seafood. The $250 (plus tax) at Amane here climbs to $350 ($420 per person with the added 20% Manhattan gratuity) nightly (except for Sunday) omakase menu that sources the best wild sea (plus sweet water eel) produce available on the very competitive market.
The pure edomae, no caviar, foie gras and gold leaves for the Instagram snaps, celebration of the chef’s Sushi Saito apprenticeship is best for those coming to Sushi Shion not to show off but to appreciate. Mastering for hours simmered abalone (awabi), perfectly cooked and marinated laid next to the crunchy yet delicately soft octopus (tako) in Saito style on the US soil awed our palates in full decadence. Marinated red snapper (yokura) or other seasonal zuke style sashimi (marinated in a cooled reduction of sake with shoyu) follow. Slightly charred clams or scallops like two coins are handed sandwiched in a crisp warm nori. A trio of Hokkaido and a small, sublime Kyushu uni are otherworldly. The chef serves the sea urchin from different parts of Japan, particularly priding in his hometown of Amakusa that produces a very elegant, balanced sea urchin.
Pickles, the vinegared sunemono such as cucumbers and cubed (as opposed to the more common shaved slivers) ginger root ready your palate for change. The omakase sushi at Sushi Shion changes sometimes daily. You may get hata/羽太 (grouper) with ponzu and shiso leaf sauce with a yuzu citrus punch, squid brushed with yuzu nitsume sauce, kai (red snapper), kohada (gizzard shad), beaker, akami (red-fleshed bonito) and some rarities like… The omnipresent maguro (tuna), from its lean cut through the more fatty in chu-toro, his was a bit earthy in autumn, to the fattiest belly in the winter in o-toro. The sushi rice at Amane is not as sticky and in so allows for the fish to stand out. An almost undetectable touch of freshly grated wasabi is dabbed on the rice. With omakase sake works wonders, the fermented rice beverage cleans the palate in between the morsels, but the wine list at Sushi Shion is worth glimpsing over if your pocket is not too deep.

 

Follows hot, steamed fish with its skin, my favourite is kinmeidai. Beware burning your tongue, unlike with the sushi, you can wait to chop stick it into your mouth. Aji (horse mackerel) with chopped spring onion, anago – cooked warm eel in a delicate, balanced, not too sweet sauce, and the last rice filler – the otherworldly tuna hand-roll in the most perfect crispy nori sheet. You can pay for extras. It is your call or the chef can select for you either a different part of chu-toro, horse mackerel and akami that he thought was the best on that day. My salivating husband devoured them with pleasure (getting ahead of the balancing vegetarian meals that I mostly prepare back at home). Miso soup soothes the stomach and a superb tamagoyaki egg cake, sweet with a dense cheesecake texture, juicy pudding like, settles the night’s bill.
sakesake ceramics

Over a decade under his sushi belt taught the chef a razor concentration on his material. He slices each morsel with gentle elegance and brushes the nigiri like a painter with the reduction sauce of nitsume or the nikiri sweet glaze. To witness him in his mindful artisanship is a meditative rather than just a theatrical experience for any participant in this delectable ritual set in the sped-up New York.
As with our first spotless meals at Amane, we now make sure we dine at Sushi Shion every time we fly in. Be on time, if you are more than 30 minutes late for your reservation or cancel under 72 hours prior to your meal there, you will be charged the full fee per guest. Each seating starts when all guest are seated so this is also a lesson in politeness. Book through phone or online on Resy, where I enjoyed an intriguing interview with the chef and the owner of Sushi Shion.

+1 212 404 4600

Mon-Sat 6pm or 8:30pm seating

 69 Leonard street, Tribeca, NYC


Hearth East Village: a political meal that cures your Instagram bug and more

What do the rest-deprived New Yorkers need more than anything for health is a truly nurturing, slow-paced meal at Hearth. Even in the medical field it has been proven that mindful eating, next to meditation and walk in a forest can powerfully remedy the pressures of urban life. While not many kitchens in Manhattan’s apartments are used beyond reheating a delivery, at Hearth your grandmother’s generosity is served casually enough that a weary mum can venture in for a supper with her school kids. Hearth’s hospitality invites awareness and care about what and how you eat to the table — welcome to the family!
East Village restaurantpotato

Real world social meal in New York

First, a note on your table discourages from taking photos during the meal and sharing them on social media. A guilty perpetrator, for this article I had to — secretly and with my cheeks aflame, snap a few. You also eat with your eyes, don’t you? Still, I dined at Hearth so many times that I managed to stay off distracting technology during most of our wholesome meals there. Deepening further your social awareness, food waste, local produce, sharing plates and vegetable-centric menus include educational manifestoes by chef Marco Canora, who knows a great deal about sustainability, but will not force you eating vegan.
Offal, seasonal vegetables from root to tip, fermented grains, sourdough, for long hours simmered broths, sustainably-caught fish and grass-fed, wild grazing cattle cooked with care, Hearth further avoids artificial anything, including sweeteners.
The Italian-American chef laid ground for dining with awareness in the hip East Village on Manhattan. His market-driven cuisine feels satisfying, richer for example than Jean Georges’ ABC projects. Hearth makes a perfect meal in a breezy fall, freezing winter or the rainy spring in New York. wholesome breakfast in New York

Hearty locally-sourced food with a homey feel

Italian recipes inspire some of the menu, but the American melting pot defines the rest. Europe’s food traditions emigrated to the Americas, but the ingredients at Hearth are local. Google describes Hearth as a Tuscan restaurant, the heartiness, perhaps? They serve whole grain pasta, gnocchi, polenta, and bistecca, but the tweaks on the plates are far from the Tuscan tradition I’m familiar with (Tuscany is less than five-hours drive from my home in Monaco). Let’s settle with American-European cuisine.
The popular weekend brunch alleviates stress from any home cook’s shoulders. Seasonal fruits (pomegranates, apples, pears in fall), house crunchy granola, stacked pancakes, plus a warm mug of coffee or tea set you up for the day.
organic chicken in NYC
A must order, warm, long-fermented whole grain bread with grass-fed butter, extra virgin olive oil, and whipped lardo (the bread service costs $6) introduces the costs of real bread to the New Yorkers. Vegetables star. Like the whole baked potatoes nesting on whipped ricotta to start, not just the sides are veggie-centric.
The famous Hearth broths change slightly seasonally. Recently, mushrooms dipped into the vegetable bowl of warm comfort.
To share, the whole Spatchcock chicken is an organic, formerly free-grazing tender beauty, served with sautéed greens and Calabrian chilli. Not spicy, but tastes like your Sunday family lunch if someone cooks very well.
For a serious nose-to-tail indulgence, the bone marrow and the savvy Variety burger (think a blend of brisket, chuck, heart, liver, …) with melting fontina cheese and sweet potato fries is a feast.
Menu at hearth in nycAustrian Riesling

Hearth nurtures rustic romance in the East Village

Although in the evening it gets cosy dark inside, transparency about its provisions’ provenance, like at Raaka chocolates in Brooklyn, is the heart of Hearth. The purveyors list is spotlighted on their website and on the flip side of the menu.
The wine list at Hearth in the East Village is one of the broadest and savviest on the entire Manhattan. Chateau Musar from Lebanon is known for its red Bordeaux blends, but after a broad tasting with one of the family members, I learned that the whites are treasures to age into breathtaking magnificence. On the Hearth list recently a 1975 vintage kicked the splendour off. From the oldest wine regions, greek and georgian wines may inspire your vinous adventure. Still, we often order a bottle from Italy or California, equally far-flown. With a sweet spot on Riesling, find multi-regional selections accompanied with a trip-inspiring, creative musings on the wines, the makers or their location. From Austria to the New York state.
Chocolate is paired with wine as a dessert option, but we love the cheese made from grass-fed dairy to end.
Corinto NeroEastern European wines
Heart is a complete food business. Its generous broths became so popular that a few branches of Brodo opened on Manhattan. A scaled-down convenience, the window selling their slowly simmered broths comforts more healthfully than any take-away in New York. From vegan through chicken, beef and the house speciality the bone Hearth broth either in a paper cup or the more ecological, re-usable (get a dollar off with your next refill of the same! broth) glass jars sold cold for more convenient transport. When renting in New York recently, my time-constrained schedule, welcomed the wholesome additions in my fridge to heat up when feeling down or too tired to cook late at night.
Hearth also offers “take-home, CSA-style package to provide you with the tools you need for quick and healthy cooking”, so stock up with their wholesome ingredients for that rare meal in!
403 E 12th St, New York, NY 10009
+1 646 602 1300
Dinner Mon-Sun: 6-10pm (Fri 11PM); weekend brunch 11am-2pm (Sun 3:30pm)


Raaka: unroasted and fully transparent chocolates made in Brooklyn

Raaka means raw, wild in Finnish. That is the echo of how these Brooklyn-made chocolates are crafted from the organic, fair trade-certified, gluten-, nut- and soy-free, all kosher and vegan ingredients. In an easy fall weekend, I enrolled myself and my husband into a decadent chocolaty experience at their Red Hook production facility. After re-tasting them all myself, my other half gasping with pleasure nodded to my inclusion of Raaka in my post on the best chocolates made in America.
artisan chocolateartisan chocolatechocolate tourBrooklyn chocolate

Raaka: the ‘Virgin’ chocolate approach

Like an extra virgin olive oil, Raaka uses only unroasted cacao and processes the mass in as low temperatures as possible. The virgin chocolate maker believes that some of the cocoa’s fruity and bold flavours are better expressed by not exposing the beans to an extreme heat.
At our visit, we started with tasting two types of raw cocoa nibs from the rich Peruvian and the tropical Tanzania beans. The African queen captured me so powerfully, that I lured for more of their raw pleasure. Like Alain Ducasse‘s cracked cocoa nibs, these Tanzania cracking pleasures should be sold by Raaka in bags.
artisan chocolateartisan chocolate

Equitable business model

Transparent trade is the core of the business at Raaka. Sourcing from small cooperatives with sustainable growing values, and paying a substantial share from the sales, often a double above the fair trade minimum, Raaka steps closer to a guilt-free chocolate indulgence for eco-conscious consumers. At the back of each label, the exact price paid for the cacao used in your bar compared to the commodity and fair trade charts alerts you to the stark market pressures. Perhaps the most important aspect of quality is the access and harvest of the raw ingredients.
Every step – from bean to bar – is in detail explained and demonstrated during the tour. Thinking deep into the details, the leftover cocoa husks are donated as a compost to sustainability promoting projects like the Edible Schoolyard in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn chocolatechocolate making equipment
Established in 2010 in Red Hook, the industrial workshops domaine of Brooklyn, the chocolaty pleasure is made in small batches.
Starting with an improvised sorting machine (PHOTO ABOVE: an intriguing combo of an old juicer, a vacuum cleaner and a fan), a curious relic from the first years in Raaka’s production, now replaced by serious Swiss-made machinery.
Moving to the strict temperature-controlled grinder mixers (watch the seductive videos bellow) from which we got a heaven-meets-my-tongue taste. Watching the smoothening of the cocoa mass through tightly-set cylinders, our mouths were drooling with anticipation. The wavy folds of the creamy substance started to shine like a cup of real hot chocolate.

Tempering is an essential step in chocolate making, and even Raaka would not skip the smoothening of the product that would otherwise result in undesirable grey maps all over the chocolate. Our guide showed us such a ‘dusty’ piece that needed to be re-tempered. Some hippie, raw chocolate makers sell chocolate like this, but this rustic, lazy process yields dry, powdery texture.
undesirable grey maps all over the chocolatechocolate making process

Playing with sweetening agents and original flavors

Raaka makes pure single origin dark chocolates, but also smartly flavored blends. They experiment with the sweetening agent – I saw sacks of organic cane sugar, coconut sap sugar (its nearby competitor and another favorite of mine Fine & Raw uses exclusively this low GI sweetener), maple sugar, and yacon, which is a Native American root that has a low GI. Some are blended together in certain bars. In my favorite Peruvian Pink Sea Salt in Zorzal 71% cacao from Dominican republic, cane meets maple sugar. In Maple & Nibs 75% bar from the CAC Pangoa farms in Peru, the crunchy nibs play with the smooth maple crystals sweetened chocolate like an exotic fruit breakfast granola immersed in a thickened Nesquik.
From the same cocoa is another sweetheart of mine – the Oat Milk, where 58% Peruvian cocoa meets luscious, dairy-free, powdered oats with ground coconut. I prefer this blend to their pure coconut milk version. The creamy texture comes from the coconut, but its toasty coco taste is balanced by the addition of the oat flour that adds more robust texture on the tongue.
American chocolate
The recent label and logo redesign (photos bellow) shifted into a more simple, impactful, functionally colorful landscape renderings over the former graphic patterns. The new logo was designed by New York-based Andrea Trabucco-Campos and Simon Blockley from California took over the intensely hued landscapes for each cocoa’s origin. I liked the look before (photo above) more, but a business seems to require bold labels in the stiff on the shelf competition. Packaging in post-consumer recycled paper as they used to do and using a biodegradable foil to wrap each bar is an eco-echelon yet to be climbed by Raaka.
fair trade chocolate

Experimental chocolate with an American inventiveness

Seasonal flavors and monthly subscription introduce experimental, limited editions titled ‘first nibs’ to your palate. Cherry Creamsickle, Vanilla Maca Crunch and Raspberry Mint are some we tasted. At our fall visit, micro batches of Tahini Swirl and Orange Halva made it into the hedonistic box of pleasure shipped all over the US.
The Green Tea Crunch contains a roasted genmaicha, as opposed to the often-used powdered matcha that does not pair well with dark chocolate in my opinion. A 66% Dominican Republic cocoa with organic puffed quinoa adds an extra crunch. I am not keen on the monkey Bananas Foster, the overtly embellished Cocoa, Coconut and Strawberry and the Cabernet Sauvignon cask flavors, as they overpower too much the impact of the cocoa.
American chocolate

Back to the virgin origin

From the pure bars, the unique Peru Nacional varietal, with lighter beans called “white” cocoa because of their inherent higher percentage of the cocoa butter, is naturally sweeter, lighter and smooth. In 2012 Raaka created single vintage bars from this Maranon Valley origin. Available in various percentages for all tastes. I go above 80% when I can.
For serious cocoa addicts, 100% cocoa from the banana leaf and fruit scented Tanzania beans in a bar of chocolate is the ultimate expression of the soil in its growing place. From the same beans, the Bourbon Cask Aged 82% dark chocolate with a lingering oak scent, a touch of caramel, vanilla and bright cherry aroma has been my go to treat ever since I discovered Raaka at the irresistible ABC kitchen section years ago. The unroasted beans acquired a one-month-worth woodiness in a used Bourbon cask. This is upcycling with a decadent result.
American chocolate
You can experience the chocolate making process at the Raaka manufacture every Saturday. The $15 includes a full tasting, from the cocoa bean to their wide range of chocolate bars. Long pants and sleeves, closed shoes and wearing a hair and mustache nets are mandatory as the working space must comply with the hygiene standards for food production, so beware — not the ideal first date. Gourmands above eight years old − from a curious schoolboy, young couples, parents accompanying their bellow 18 offsprings to intrepid elderly friends, formed our white-capped group.
Raaka unroasted cocoa
Raaka reasons its restrictions: Our tours and classes can be quite information heavy, and all of our chocolate is dark.” Hence, kids may not get it, and who wants complainers in a serious chocolate immersion?
Beyond savvy gourmet shops in America and Canada, you will find Raaka’s chocolate bars also in Europe (Selfridges). Competing with the old continent’s by centuries-polished knowhow, I discovered that indeed “happiness is unroasted”.


UPDATED: Top New York healthy, plant-based dining

Eating plant-based food in New York has never been easier. Across Manhattan the eco-friendly choices now include delicious gastronomic vegetarian and vegan restaurants, vegan sushi and hip plant-based bars. Some are casual eateries, while others cater to trendy foodies and true fine dining lovers. All inform customers more diligently about their menu and transparent sourcing.
Mediterranean dips carrots
I rigorously multi-tested the most popular vegetarian and vegan eateries in the metropolis and selected the best. As a non-vegetarian, an occasional fish or meat eater balancing health and sustainability, my palate is more sensitive to the flavours in the vegetarian food in New York. My choices below kept quality on a high roll over the past years of my plant-centric investigation. Such a broad offer of meat, seafood and dairy-free food in New York reduces our cravings for flesh and our carbon footprint when staying in the fast, global metropolis.

Celery Cheesecake at Dirt Candy in NYCDirt Candy Manhattan

Dirt Candy

Gastronomic vegetarian

Vegetables play leading role in Amanda Cohen’s cuisine. The first vegetarian chef to contest the Iron Chef title on the US television. A gourmet twist render her original veggie-centric creations impressive even for the most demanding foodies. Curious visits by members of the carnivorous population is on the daily menu at Dirt Candy in China Town’s upcoming strip. Cohen is poised to prove that meat is redundant in our daily diets. Showing the greatness of vegetarian food in New York, she seduces through her sophisticated savoury plates, as well as vegetable desserts like Celery Cheesecake or Carrot Meringue for which she is known for. Insisting on reasonable portions, mostly organic ingredients and culinary creativity shifts what used to be an outlier, to one of the most creative vegetarian restaurants in New York. Her challengers sprung from the high culinary ranks such as Jean Georges Vongerichten, the plant-guru Matthew Kenney, so diversity makes veggies fun on Manhattan.
MUST HAVE: Brussels Sprouts tacos, vegetable desserts
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ABCv vegetarian restaurant in NYCIndian dosa

ABCv

vegetarian, trendy, top chef

Jean Georges Vongerichten is an established name on the New York high-end culinary scene. His venture into purely vegetarian dining involves the most revered homeware and design department store in New York. The ABC is for the rich, but the clients squeezing into his Union Square Farmers Market sourced eater do not seem to mind. The food is bright, delicious and original. From breakfast, all day, ABCv is packed also with non-vegetarians as the laurels of the Michelin chef lure them in. My every trip to New York includes a meal in this Zen-faced cafe, where Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotes contrast the loud city crowd. You hardly find inner calm here, but the food is superb and changes frequently as the seasons dictate the creative menu.
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MUST HAVE: Dosa with condiments, seasonal vegetable starters such as beet carpaccio, lettuce tacos, ‘superfood’ cocktails.

Thumbnail Beyond Sushivegan sushi in NYC

Beyond Sushi

Original vegan sushi wholegrain rice bowls

The seasonally inspired rolls and rice buns indeed go ‘beyond sushi’. Most ingredients are sourced locally from the Union Square farmers market and sustainable New York State growers. Improved nutritional value of their sushi together with superb taste rend Beyond Sushi’s creations even more attractive to millenials. Flexible choices between healthier, whole-grain rices (brown, six grain, Forbidden black rice) and cholesterol-free plant ingredients in tasteful preparations turns the meal into a guilt-free sushi treat. The Roll and the Piece of the Month reflect the changing clocks of nature, but there are all-year staples like miso soup, hot or cold noodle and rice bowls. At most branches you can eat in, at some only take-out is possible, yet non-recyclable plastic was cut out. Souen in East Village also does overwhelmingly plant-based (little fish is included) Japanese menu, and its SoHo base has been very casually catering to macrobiotic clients since the 1970s.
MUST HAVE: The Spicy Mango and Mighty Mushroom Roll, Spicy ‘Shroom’ Wrap, seasonal ‘Piece of the Month’, avocado edamame rice bowl
Read more
vegan and raw food Live Jicama and Avocado Tartare with kale chia crackersvegan and raw food

Candle Café and Candle 79

Local green plates

A sake, wine bar an a restaurant in one, all organic, makes for the ideal healthy veggie meal. A brunch on weekends offers egg-less vegan “Nuevos Rancheros“, tofu scramble and fruit-packed pancakes and waffles. Sourcing directly from the farms and local farmers markets the original Healthy Candle was ahead of its times. The veteran of vegetarian food in New York was renamed as Candle Café and became so popular that a more upscale Candle 79 was additionally born. As the first “Certified Green Restaurant” in New York, everything from washing up the dishes to decoration is conscious of its environmental impact, including the eco cocktails. The latino roots of the executive chef Angel Ramos penetrate most recipes. California Mexican ingredients such as avocado, chipotle as well as Asian influence on modern American cooking all talk on the menu. Daily cut fresh pasta bring a breeze of Italy into the smart dining room. With gluten-free options abound, Jorge Pineda, the pastry chef at Candle 79 is recognised as making one of the best vegan desserts in America, so at least try his plant-based gelato.
MUST HAVEGuacamole Timbale, Angel’s Nachos, Live Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Live Plum Pie, house-made ice creams, sorbets
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Autumn vegetablesKajitsu New York

Kajitsu

Vegan organic gastronomic Japanese Michelin star

For a purely vegan Japanese gastronomic experience go to Kajitsu, whose shojin kaiseki tasting was awarded one Michelin star. Kajitsu is a temple of the monastic Buddhist cuisine a few block from the New York Public Library. It’s counter suits solo diners and the relatively quiet dining room offers the rare calm in the midst of Manhattan. A multi-course set menu includes seasonal highlights, presented at the start of the meal in a vegetable basket. Everything else is a pure symphony of restraint and flavour.
MUST HAVE: Tasting menu only, but dietary requirements will be met with an advance notice.
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Korean herbsbest Korean food in Manhattan

Hangawi

vegan Korean tea herbal infusions

Take off your shoes and shuffle your feet along the wooden floor to your low-set table. The interior is like a wallpaper pulled off a traditional Korean room. Dimmed lights, brisk service, the room is humming with the international foodies of Manhattan. Hangkawi is a more upscale Korean sister of Franchia further on the East side. Both offer a generous and comforting vegan bibimbap in a stone bowl, sizzling tofu and vegetables served on hot lava stone, brown rice, and a wide menu of snacks. Most dishes are ideal for sharing as the portions are still American-sized. The Korean herbal brews healthily accompany any meal.
MUST HAVE: Assortment of wild Korean vegetables (share), bibimbap, Korean herbal infusions.
vegan food

Avant Garden

vegan natural wine

Avant Garden in its dimmed East Village bar setting, kept impressing us with its Italy-meets-American-abundance over the years. Open only for dinner, the vegan food has been always delicious, finely tuned to abundant flavours, reasonable portions, and a smart selection of natural wines. From its original success in Brooklyn, the  has thrived. Sadly, the founding chef’s recently passed away, therefore its future is in the hands of the creative and diligent team. The service can be slow since the tiny, open behind the bar kitchen is modestly staffed. Sharing cuts the waiting time. Ahead of its time, Avant Garden does not look like a vegan hangout, the cosy room is as hip as any trendy bar on Manhattan.
MUST HAVE: Grilled mushrooms, pasta, grilled toasts

Tofu skin

Yuba: tofu skin at ABCv


As meat is less trendy, even plush steak houses offer more plant-centric plates. In my musing on the future of food I provide evidence for the increased number of meatless plates served even at the world’s most coveted restaurants from Paris to New York. Being vegan is in vogue and that is great news for animals as well as the environment. If it is healthy for you though depends on the nutritional balance of the dishes and the preparation techniques. Too much oil and sugar will make us fat or diabetic. So, carefully enjoy and savour the plant bounty that even the millennial trends chasing chefs lovingly fell for.
flower vegan NYC
Most of these Manhattan based restaurants use mainly local organic ingredients. Globally, plant-based dining is on upswing, therefore keep an eye on the newcomers, still, I dined at the above healthy restaurants on multiple occasions without a single disappointment, so I keep coming back for the comfort of knowing that the risk of failure is low for me.
Bloom, Dimes, Lady Bird (sister of Avant Garden) and the Matthew Kenney‘s (his Asia-bound Arata was hit and miss, the same plate-dependent experience we had the Mediterranean XYST) growing empire of plant-based restaurants, are also worth trying. Afterall, each of us has different taste preferences and these should not be judged but embraced.
Enjoy the top New York healthy, plant-based dining, as I did!


Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare: #foodporn² in low-carb, luxe tasting menu on Manhattan

The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare has entered a legendary status on the New York culinary scene. The whispers of the hedonistic tongues have tipped the heavily Japan-inspired, in French-cuisine-trained chef Cesar Ramirez as the gastronomic revelation of the metropolis for years.

three Michelin star NYC

Chef Cesar Ramirez and Head Sommelier of the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

Many firsts filed the tasting menu only gastronomic restaurant into the golden stash of the Big Apple. Not the counter concept since Robuchon had already coined that joyful affair with L’Atelier, and Momofuku ko took more affordably further, but as a fine dining staged inside a deli, the signature trait of New York, and being the first three Michelin star restaurant in Brooklyn.

Either changed though three years ago. The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare relocated to Manhattan where the gastronomic competition is rife. The once intimate counter does not square around the kitchen any more, it is larger and there are also regular tables in the second line along the wall. Hell’s Kitchen is not far from the high-earning offices of Midtown, the media giants around Times Square, the residences in Chelsea, and a dart drive to both Upper Sides. More money can pour into its pockets (menu excluding beverages comes at $400 per head, plus tax).

Were the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in Tokyo, the experience would be less eye banging. Counter restaurants serving about the same quality of seafood and meat, are tossed around like rice grains at a sushi joint there (whereas you hardly find any carbs on the menu at the BF). To par his three Michelin star tasting menu with Tokyo’s Kanda, Sushi Saito or Yoshitake is unthinkable for the regulars at either.

three Michelin star NYCThree Michelin chef Cesar Ramirez

Low-carb, ultra-luxe tasting menu on Manhattan

“Won’t I get even a small bread roll or a sliver sourdough?” I asked the waiter, my stomach overwhelmed with the fat and high protein sixth course at the Chef’s Table.  The restaurant will not accommodate seafood allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets. We found the tasting menu off balance. Dining twice in the new Hell’s Kitchen location, the highest echelon of gourmet hedonism in Manhattan served a vitamix of animal, mainly seafood flesh, full stop. “We do not serve bread, madam”, was the answer. It seems that the pricey restaurant keeps some business for its namesake deli that in a speakeasy fashion ushers the well-heeled diners into its fancy troves. As after the previous four digit meal for three, we roamed the grocery aisles of tortilla chips and glutenous crackers to balance the fatty affair. I wished there was a great pizza joint next door, any carb would do. Owned by Moe Isa from Kazakhstan who also runs the three namesake delis, the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is a savvy deal as each time we spent extra $$ buying snacks to fill in for our no bread, rice or pasta dinner. It was fun though, and getting a breakfast ahead without going off your way is practical. 

The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is the exemplary embodiment of the #foodporn tag on social media. The orchids decorating the tables, caviar, sea urchin, even the langoustine plating, all resemble human reproductive organs. Galloping along the frantic pace of New Yorkers, the entire meal is faster than at most three star establishments. Over just two-hours the meal is over. Two seatings, first at 5 pm. Our 7:30 booth for four diners was the last layover wiping the plates at 10:30pm. The counter seats face the open kitchen, and additional low chair tables are less discrete than the two booths.

Japanese influence

Chef Ramirez was the right hand at David Bouley for eight years, where the food is strongly influenced by Japanese cuisine. Then he went to Osaka in Japan to exchange culinary ideas. He came back creating a rich, simple, yet high-profile ingredients listing tasting menu. The presentation is not Instagram-friendly, but orgasmic on the foodie terms. High in cholesterol (seafood and red meat), vegetables barely feature on the overwhelmingly in Asia-sourced menu (up to 90 percent in some seasons).

Starting with ovations, the signature Tartlet of saba (Japanese mackerel) was at both meals my favourite bite. It’s oily quality is balanced with a sour flesh of a lemon segment – extraordinary!

Uni lovers rejoice, the Hokkaido sea urchins nesting on a two-bite brioche (a little carb insert) topped with marinated Australian black truffle are insanely decadent. This is a Sex in the City dish. Yet, as we are getting extras for our missing companions the second time we dine here, we learned that one is enough. Too much of the super-charged mouth filler.

A Grilled wild trout (Pennsylvania) served with its skin in an oily dressing freshened by enough of grated ginger was nice.

Table service of farmed caviar

Now some show. The server brought a giant box of Kaluga Queen Caviar. Spooning out the farm raised cross of female kaluga with amur sturgeon, the Chinese roe topped a bowl of crab, sansho puree in a wine-based creamy sauce so rich that a pumpernickel bread would make it more palatable for me. Our palate and my stomach started to crave some carbs or neutralising flavours.

An egg custard with foie gras chunks and diced black truffles where acidity and fat again mingled made me hallucinate. I need bread! Sardinian pane-crassau or light crackers at least could be served on the table, I dreamt, or rice please!

The superb Scottish langoustine with root puree (reminded me of Toyo in Paris), blood orange segments and foam (a cliché late in 2018) distracted me more a year before as a morsel of Koshihikari rice was served with it. Stonington Maine Lobster steps in when available and in season.

A Japanese fish chosen according to the season. Agamutsu – red sea perch from the Chiba prefecture in fall. Topped with sliced Matsutake mushrooms, the dish was delicate as in Japan, but in a more salty broth for the American seasoned palates.

Two meat courses continue the paleo gourmet feast. A very fatty, chewy local duck from John Fasio farm Upstate with roasted brussels sprouts, chanterelle mushroom and cabbage confit creamy purée in 2019, while celery root provided a bite-size vegetable fix in fall 2018. The wagyu-like rich duck was not to either of our trio’s liking. On Manhattan, we much prefer the duck served at Momofuku ko and Cosme.

Next, the real thing – the Japanese wagyu beef from Miyazaki Japan, horseradish purée. I much prefer a top yakiniku as well as Kanda’s more meaty and juicy cuts of beef in Japan. At our second meal at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, a crisp yet smooth Black Cod with smoked eggplant purée added a mini taste of vegetables into our menu. I prefered the previous version with Oregon Matsutake mushrooms.

three Michelin star diningThree Michelin star diningThree Michelin dessertThree Michelin deserts

Chef Ramirez decides all proposals from the team for the deserts. In the mildly sweet finish of communal creativity a palate-refreshing (much needed) pre-desert of Sea buckthorn ice cream and Komekome sake jelly was superb. Another time Pink Grapefruit with Sake Gelée freshened it up as did another ice-cold treat of Sobacha (roasted buckwheat) Sorbet. The main dessert of Bichontan charcoal burlet pear with pure milk ice cream was not sweet and the sour caramel sauce was interesting.

For the final desert blast a frozen milk Matcha souflé (no eggs) like Japanese shaved ice with powdered matcha all over revealed a three star surprise of salted crisp white chocolate balls hidden inside. A light ‘Japanophobia’ that I loved. Previously my final tea accompanied a soft Chocolate Custard.

Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese rare champagneChambolle-Musigny

Tipples at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

To start, a $35 glass of blanc de blancs Grand Cru (Mesnil sur Oger) champagne by Robert Moncuit impressed with its complex and characteristic chalky intensity. Partially (about 30%) aged in oak, the floral and citrus tones of the Chardonnay were preserved. The wine list was successfully curated to the current tastes. A grower champagne out-rules the commercial giants by the glass, off the beaten path producers balance the big names. A rare nod from a seasoned wine drinker lie myself, the cellar at the Brooklyn Fare excites me as much as the Playboy magazine turns on teenage boys. The sommelier (former of Momofuku ko) knows his game so perfectly that he balances trends with the essence.

Natural wines could not escape his attention. Tschida’s Austrian rose, a red Cornas by Auguste Clape, the pioneer of  bottling his own estate wines in Northern Rhone’s Cornas. A great selection of Japanese sake reflect the eastern inspiration (a carafe of dry – Junmai DaiginjoDaishiki Minowamon worked with the seafood well). Most sommeliers today have a penchant for Mosel, so the recommended white German bottle of Scharzhofberger Riesling landed on our table. The late-harvest off-dry 2009 Spätlese from the slopes of the Mosel river is usually not our first pick as dry wines are more tuned to our palates. Made by the legendary bull-headed Egon Muller, it was drinkable, but the $613 + tax tag stung. Balancing the sheets at the next meal, the decade old Gevrey Chambertin (Premier Cru of the astute Les Charmes site) by Hudelot—Noellat was a masculine affair with a smokey nose, forest needles, hummus and ‘ooh nature calls’ horse shit perfect Burgundy.

three Michelin star diningthree Michelin star dining

With desserts a wisely chosen tea list complements the liquid menu of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Japan-focused Kettl tea (Brooklyn and now a branch in NoHo) provides soba cha, a roasted buckwheat soother, Fukuoka sencha and black tea for caffeine boost, while the mint infusion came from the BF deli. Served in a Hering Berlin pottery touched a modernist feel.

We much prefer to dine at Momofuku ko Downtown or the Single Thread in California since the tasting menu is much more exciting and complete.

The reservations are very specific so check their website for details. A warning, $200 per person is non-refundable upon reservation, so show up!

Two Tuesday-Saturday dinner seatings only at 5 and 7:30pm

 431 West 37th Street, Manhattan, NY 10018
+1 718 243 0050 

Fine & Raw Chocolate: life tastes better with chocolate made in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn manufactory of Fine & Raw Chocolate is a spectacle blending in seductive aromas, churning machinery and hand-wrapping that happily ends in decadent chocolate hedonism. Their bean to bar, organic and raw chocolates have been popping up on the trendiest gourmet addresses in New York, through the West Coast to Australia and round to Europe. I have devoured their refined sugar-free goodness for years when visiting New York, while always loading my suitcase for travels to choco-deprived destinations. Compared to the thousands of aspiring raw chocolates on the market in America alone, Fine & Raw Chocolate is by a wide stride the best happy brain booster there. No compromises have been made in their small scale production.
raw cocoa beans Fine & Raw Chocolate

Organic, transparent and truly in love with chocolate production

Burlap sacks of raw cocoa beans pile next to supplies of Indonesian coconut sugar in a contrast to the jewel box display of daily fresh, all organic truffles at Fine & Raw Chocolate manufactory in Brooklyn’s Bushwick. The experientially honed know-how and dedication to the best quality of used raw materials lift this honest American delicacy to the throne of the best morsels of chocolatey indulgence. Daniel Sklaar, the founder of Fine & Raw Chocolate sees the raw form as the celebration of chocolate. The native South African is poetic about his craft, writing; “native chocolate is the artful balance of developing magic in flavours and food alchemy”, therefore “we highly recommend storing at least one on your tongue for 5 minutes everyday”. His humour resonates with my happy life philosophy, since I follow this prescription diligently.
artisan chocolatereal chocolate
Sustainable production cycle at Fine & Raw Chocolate will clean your indulging karma. Inspired by an honest belief: “We like our planet, it’s the only one with chocolate”, therefore, all is organic, “handmade” with coconut sugar, which with its low GI is a healthier alternative to the usual cane sugar in confectionery. The female hands paper wraps them in attractive floral prints or girly Bonnie cartoons. Every ingredient has been certified organic, even the salt as well as the alderwood smoked salt in the 70% bar from the Brooklyn Bonnie Collection. In this range half of the cocoa is raw (for nutritional value) and the other half was roasted for added flavour. These sophisticated tweaks make Fine & Raw Chocolate unique. The dark 70% cocoa formula is beefed up with intense flavours such as the Alderwood smoked salt, which underlines the complex coffee, earth, tobacco leaf depth with a kick of salt at the start and later in the final aftertaste. Superb! The Habanero salt is a bit racier and perhaps to smoothen it a bit palm sugar was mixed in with the usual coconut sweetener. The mineral tasting salt flakes glued on the bottom of the chocolate bar are dominant, the cocoa is just a bystander. Sea Salt, Hazelnut Butter, and Espresso complement the Bonnie range.
Brooklyn chocolate store
The quality obsession reflects itself in carefully balanced flavours such as seasonally changing cocoa beans in their blended chocolates, the finest natural ingredients and not mixing in any animal products. Keeping it plant-based opens the doors to vegans and health seeking indulgers. Rio Caribe in Dominican Republic provided Hispaniola type of raw cocoa beans in winter when I visited last. It shows off in the 83%cacao bar made from only three organic ingredients: cacao bean, coconut sugar and cacao butter.
I have tried their entire range and re-tasted dozen times my favourites. The only cacao invention of Fine & Raw chocolate I do not like is the Mesquite bar. The low GI mesquite has a powdery taste, and its carob-like sweetness overshadows the 58% cacao. Lucuma was added perhaps for an extra superfood effect, but also to balance the intervening mesquite. The Bonbon, and Lucuma & Vanilla bars were also not ideally balanced yet for my chocolatey intensity seeking palate.
Fine & Raw shopFine & Raw Brooklyn store
 
raw chocolate truffles Fine & Raw Brooklyn
The truffles’ flavours change daily so you can find either himalayan sea salt, chipotle,cinnamon, clove essence, dried orange peel, ginger, hazelnuts, lavender, lucuma powder, toasted sesame oil, tamari, dried strawberries, raspberry, rose essence, peppermint essence, espresso beans, matcha powder, whisky, and other delectable inspirations in the adorable dark chocolate concoctions.
The espresso bar offers seductions like the house hot chocolate and luscious shakes not sold anywhere else than at this brick and mortar Brooklyn shop. Plus the occasional “unicorns” show up for excitement.
https://youtu.be/4NqeLKJ4FAs

Chunky: between a chocolate bar and truffle

The marketable proof of how great the Fine & Raw chocolate is are collaborations with other strong local players in the food sector. Mulberry & Vine teases you at their checkout counter with a mini me version of the 70% square embellished with sea salt. At Organic Avenue after your liquid lunch, the Coconut Chunky fixes your craving for a crunchy substance. Like the Fine & Raw Truffle Chunky, the thick layer of dark chocolate coats the heavenly paste made with agave, coconut sugar, and cacao butter creating a caramel melting feel. My favourite from the perfectly sized, one and half ounce (42g), releases is the Almond Chunky where the bits of roasted almonds play the sexiest duet with the cocoa nib rawness of the cacao bean. This morsel is so addictive that I am grateful for the small size packing. Otherwise, I would devour a gallon with a large smile on my innocent childish face.
chocolate spreadraw chocolate
Hazelnut Chunky sourced the nuts from a hazelnut farm in Oregon. The Sweet Hazelnut Butter is also churned from the harvest and with its Chocolate Hazelnut Butter alteration was blended with FINE & RAW 60% couverture. The nirvana on Earth is though the lick the spoon until it melts Marcona Almond & Chocolate Butter. The best Spanish almonds are toasted in olive oil and salted for depth and richness, ground with their 70% cacao chocolate. They make one cocoa-free product. Perhaps inspired by the latin ladies working at the manufacture, the Coconut dulce de leche is made naturally from coconut sugar, coconut butter, water, vanilla, sea salt, and is far healthier alternative to this beloved latino gooey treat.
hot chocolate
You must come in to try also the unctuously dense house hot chocolate, you will lick your lips in a nirvana of earthly pleasures. I have not sipped on a more luscious and balanced hot chocolate yet, making the trip to the industrial edge of Bushwick in Brooklyn worth the ride. The indulgent goodness is served and sold not far from Roberta’s, the Italianate heartbreaker serving superb pizza, plus when inside the manufactory, you can taste the sublime cocoa/nut spreads and buy the freshest truffles.
Mon-Fri: 10am-6pm; Sat: 12noon-6pm
288 Seigel St, Brooklyn, NY 11206


Trendy Manhattan tea scene: boba, matcha et al. in New York

Alongside the increasing marketing power of the Far East, patience has been brewing on the tea neglected New York scene. The trendy Manhattan tea shops now offer enough quality and Instagram snappy diversity that even the coffee metropolis is turning to the slower mode with tea.
trendy Manhattan tea

Although the Indian spiced chai appeared at the American coffee chains first, matcha has entered the growing tea repertoire at these globally successful fuel stations for city workers. By acquiring Teavanna, Starbucks has signalled the domestic consumers’ shift to tea, even in desserts. Matcha flavoured chocolate, cookies and chiffon cake have settled in the America’s pastry shops.
matchamatcha tea truffle

New York’s matcha storm

The tea transformation of the New Yorkers came abruptly as matcha bars are taking the fast-paced city by Sandy’s coup-de-force. Trawled in a lidded paper cup across the city to work, matcha has a devote following. In the Nomad Hotel hip area Chalait tea bar sets you until the next meeting, while in SoHo and the West Village two brothers transplanted their caffeine addiction from Williamsburg to the more lines forming Matcha Bar on Manhattan. The later is not for serious tea connoisseurs, if you are fine with the Starbucks quality though, then spike your day with their power green dose. Charged with double as much caffeine as in a cup of espresso and a slight bitterness, the whisked Japanese green tea powder is softened by milk or any fashionable dairy-free alternative into a latte. A health focused gal pal of mine, cannot envision a day without getting her matcha fix even at her favourite Aussie cafe. Next to the signature flat whites at the Bluestone Lane Collective Café you can order a rainbow latte tasting – golden turmeric, grassy green matcha, and even an ultra purple-pink beetroot. We adored and sipped them together – the sun-kissed turmeric latte won it for me. Another New York-based Australian-style chain, Two Hands Café also serves matcha latte as do many restaurants like Jean Georges’ ABCv, and Kajitsu fanfares the finale of the kaiseki tasting menu per tradition with a bowl of perfectly whisked pure matcha. Omakase sushi counters tend to serve houjicha (roasted green tea) at the end. 

matcha bar in NYCbubble tea

If you insist on having even your matcha “clean”, then NOHON matcha bar is all organic, mostly vegan transplant from Canada to Manhattan’s East Village. Their house-made, chemicals-free tapioca pearls, beyond the thrill from the chewiness, are caramelised for more flavour. Till 5pm you can sip your trendy Manhattan tea at the karaoke bar next door. Considering matcha’s high caffeine load, the time limit guides you to a more sound sleep. Still like with most trendy Manhattan tea spots, Nohon is more a take-out than for savouring a top grade matcha from beautiful Japanese pottery. I like their white chocolate matcha truffles, sweetened by a low-glycemic coconut sugar and plumped up with a goat milk powder. They are balanced, not too sweet. The organic almond or soy milk for the vegan matcha latte can be further enhanced by vanilla (Tokyo Fog) – the bestseller, caramel (Macchiato), lavender (Furano Field) or topped with house cooked adzuki beans.

milk tea

Trendy Manhattan tea scene embraces BOBA FUN FROM THE EAST

Bubble tea is also turning on the East Coast after its boom in California. I must confess that my daily consumption of boba tea when living in Singapore and Taipei refined my palate so not just any nasties concealing beverage would do. Some of the super cheap branches that crossed over from Asia serve poor quality, powdered milk meets health-risky chemicals enhanced tapioca pearls, beware! I wrote about bubble tea and the millennial tea trends globally in other posts, but here I highlight the best quality trendy Manhattan tea spots cooking their tapioca perfectly with transparent integrity.

Strawberry Matcha Latte by Boba Guys

Some sell more edible tea beverages to go, that in Taiwanese dessert-like fashion have landed in a strong fleet of branches in New York. Like Boba Guys, the San Francisco mega hit with an American cleaner, sweeter and more indulgent ethos, who debuted on the West coast. The ever present lines of customers prove their knack of the local tastes. I am not a fan of their speciality rainbow dessert-like sugary drinks, but their Strauss organic milk tea is balanced, the oat milk dairy alternative is original and the real natural tapioca pearls are house made daily from scratch. No fillers, and nasty chemicals will distract you from cleaner indulgence. The ice and sugar level can be adjusted in most, except for some signature drinks that had been pre-blended.

boba tea NYCboba trendy Manhattan tea

One of my Asian favourites is Gong Cha. Originally from Taiwan, the brand has been expanding like a blitz across Asia to Europe and the US. In New York, their 38th street branch prepared their signature real milk cream topped teas best. Hot lattes (I was put off by the overt sweetness of the Winter melon latte, more like hot milk drink, soy is available) are not their vice, so go iced with an adjustable level of diluting with the frozen water. My favourites from Gong Cha include the Pumpkin Spice topped Mustache Series. The lush, creamy milk foam topped oolong tea with sweet coconut jelly or the classic boba. The Mustache Wintermelon is slightly sweet so avoid adding any sugar into it. I like adding coconut jelly or basil seeds. Ask for no or the lowest level of sugar if you are after not masking the tea’s fragrance. Extra toppings for a surcharge include white pearl, pudding, herbal jelly (bitter), ai-yu jelly, basil seeds and red bean (adzuki). Almost everything is customised, except for some specials, two sizes, dairy-free (except for the Mustache series).

cream teaGong Cha tea
Herbs in, dairy out, house made nut milks pour over, please. Caffeine-free, less allergens, while promising glow, happiness, immune boost or antibacterial clean up, that is the new health spiked force battling over the American tea palettes. Naturopathica in Chelsea has adorned their natural spa with any curious mind attracting Vitality bar. Offering some loose leaf teas, kombucha on tap, but the cue here are herbal tea blends, tonics, elixirs, superfood smoothies and tea lattes steamed with an ultra-dense house almond and coconut milks. Pour in to rejuvenate, at least psychologically, your body and mind.

The TRENDY MANHATTAN TEA scene constantly evolves. Like the ramen outlets that are being squeezed out by poke pop-ups, the nitro coffee shops are being swallowed in part by the booming matcha and bubble tea swirling from the Far East. Even some concept stores like Miansai in SoHo include a tea counter serving their own signature hot teas and kombucha (fermented slightly fizzy tea) on tap. It is easier than ever to tea in New York.


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