FoodBoomblogger and diner extraorinaire Ken Shin shares his picks of NYC’s best plates.
Aska. 120 Day Dry Aged Rib Eye, Preserved Black Currant and Salted Plum, Cured Beef Fat. “Now that’s what I’m talk’n about”.
I’ve had outstanding beef dishes last year, but I don’t know if any of them can top this. The rib eye was more or less perfect in its juicy, tender state, and the seasoning was toned down just to my liking so that I can savor every single bite of this astounding piece of meat. If you follow my blog you know my wife Jun and I are not very keen on over seasoned or salted meats.
Chef’s Table. Grilled Lobster with Clementine
I’m not sure if I have had a grilled lobster as wonderfully crunchy as the one that I’ve had at the Chef’s Table. Overall Chef Cesar Ramirez multi-course tasting menu was exemplary. The koshihikari rice submerged below black truffle was a close second to the Lobster and it displayed a ton of richness without somehow making me tired of it. I indulged in every scoop of this marvelous dish.
The first U.S. outpost of this popular Japanese chain opened this year in Brooklyn but unlike the one in Japan there was no vending machine and the dining space was half solo booths and half group seating, so Jun and I were certainly relieved not to have had that weird experience where we felt like we were cramming for final exams in study booths. But I digress; let’s talk about how awesome the ramen at Ichiran is.
What I loved most about the dining experience at Ichiran is how much you can customize your tonkotsu ramen. If the flavor doesn’t turn out right, you have only yourself to blame because you get to control everything from seasoning to richness of the broth to firmness of the noodle, and decide whether (and how much) to include garlic, scallion, sliced pork and spicy red sauce. The result was one phenomenal ramen that displayed such delightful flavor in the broth without overpowering my palate with heavy sensation. The noodle’s texture was also more or less perfect so I felt like a smart person for ordering extra noodle before the ramen dish arrived. I was suffering from a somewhat rough hangover from a friend’s wedding the previous day, so having this beautiful ramen was such a relief to my body and spirit.
Mala Project. Dry Hot Pot (Beef Heart, Pork Belly, Chicken Gizzard, Quail Egg, Prawn, Lotus Root, Oyster Mushroom, Bok Choy, Chinese Cabbage). “A Salad that’s not a Salad”.
After much anticipation, the beautiful looking “salad” came out, and what an impressively spicy dish this was. Jun and I preferred the vegetable ingredients, especially lotus root and oyster mushroom. Prawn and quail egg were also quite memorable. On the other hand, the meat ingredients felt a bit lacking in texture (I thought the beef heart would come out a bit more tender, and chicken gizzard could’ve had a bit more crunchy feel to the bite). Still, despite having nine ingredients in the bowl, we just couldn’t stop digging at this pure awesomeness. The consistently delicious level of spiciness throughout the ingredients, with xiangxi fried rice on the side, was quite remarkable that I really had to try hard not to rush into each serving at the risk of getting a stomach ache. I suspect there must be some kind of magic formula behind the spices; it couldn’t be just peppercorns that comprise the Sichuan flavor.
Beatrice Inn. Roast Duck Flambe with Cherry Jus. Warning be prepared to dine here as a group because the sky-high prices can now only be afforded by those receiving the benefits of Trump’s and the Republican’s “middle class” tax cuts.
The kitchen roasts a whole duck and then brings it in flames to our table for a little show before carving it for us on a big plate. In all my five and a half years of culinary journey in New York, I haven’t tasted a duck quite like this. It is absolutely tender and juicy, while the seasoning is kept at a minimum to make the texture shine even more. Combine the meat with cherry jus on top throughout, and you have an absolute winner. The whole duck was for a party up to 4, but my wife and I were actually glad we were the only ones devouring this beautiful bird on the table, and did manage to finish off the entire plate! My wife, who has always been partial to duck dishes in her diet, declared she couldn’t remember having a better duck dish than the one.
The Grill. Pasta alla Presse. Jun and I had the good sense to take on this place before most of the critics and the rest of the pack had a chance. It has become the most celebrated restaurant of the year and we probably will never get a table again with such ease.
Almost everything at The Grill’s retro continental menu is just as much about performance as about food. I still can’t forget the Pasta alla Presse. A staff person comes out with an original French duck press on a cart where they insert different poultries into the press and extract the meaty juice that then goes onto egg noodles. There is no other ingredient on top of the noodles, but we all marveled at this incredibly smoky feel to the dish. At that point, I was really struggling to think of a better pasta dish than this one that I’ve had this year.
Okonomi. Sawara (Spanish Mackerel), Maitake, Oregano, Sansho, Yuzu.
“We may never see this one again”.
My favorite dish of the night would undoubtedly be the Spanish mackerel with maitake mushrooms on top. The chef explained that he prepared the dish at the spur of the moment, which makes this dish even more remarkable. The mackerel was cooked to perfection and the textural combination between the fish and the mushroom is something that I would not easily forget, even more so with the refined flavor from a hint of yuzu.
Norman. Pork Collar (Red Banana Fingerlings, Spicy Greens, Pickled Gooseberry).
“With a side of Cabbage and Cheese please.”
What an awesome dish this turned out to be. Contrary to the server’s warning, the meat was very nicely prepared with an ideal texture for pork, and it worked wonders with charred cabbage with fresh cheese, hazelnuts and gooseberries that we ordered as a second small plate item. If there is such thing as the best pairing of a main dish and a side, I would highly consider this pair for the wondrous complexity of flavor and texture all over the place with different ingredients.
Nur. Smoked Eggplant Carpaccio.
I’m not an eggplant person in general, but the way this fire roasted carpaccio with raw tahini, dates and pistachios sprinkled on top was an absolute beauty, offering a rich complexity of flavor that was very well-balanced and elegant, while the combination of smooth eggplant and crunchy pistachios worked harmoniously together. It was definitely one of the most stunning dishes I’ve had this year.
Empellon. Avocado dessert. Try this one soon as Avocado prices are expected to soar with the demise of NAFTA.
Everyone is talking about the avocado dessert at Empellon Midtown, so even though both of us were barely breathing at that point from eating, we still needed to try it. It was undoubtedly a show-stopper, with colorful blend of lime and Eucalyptus yogurt that gave, in chef Stupak’s own words, when he approached our table, a sensation of a delightful key lime pie. Not only was it beautiful in appearance (hence all the Instagram photos for the plate) but the complex yet refreshing flavor was absolutely wonderful.
Honorable Mentions. We have had so many wonderful plates this year it has been difficult to narrow them down. But here are two more to make you an even dozen.
Ugly Baby. Baby Chicken Skewers. “Keep your eyes on the thighs or keep your eyes on the Thais”. Either way you won’t go wrong here.
My favorite dish of the night was a couple of simple looking chicken thigh skewers, not necessarily because it was the least spiciest dish during our meal (although by no means was it mild), but the texture of the chicken thigh worked quite beautifully with Thailand’s southern style spices. I wouldn’t mind having this dish for a snack at least once a week!
Patisserie Chanson. Yuzu Honey “The power of Candy”.
This dish was a standout among the great desserts offered on a tasting menu at this new Chelsea hot spot. How about a combination of yuzu ice cream and honey candy? When Jun and I were children in Korea, we used to love this street candy snack called ppopgi (made by melting a combination of sugar and baking soda). This Yuzu Honey candy gave us the similar textural sensation but was even more delightful in flavor. BTW we heard that “Rocket Man” Kim Jon -Un is a big fan of ppopgi and according to U.S. Intelligence he eats enormous quantities of this candy. In fact he has a button on his desk to summon his butler to bring ppopgi whenever he wants. The other button on his desk orders a missile launch. So perhaps the sugar rush explains why he has been so active lately.