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Amada – Master Class of Incompetence

Amada – Master Class of Incompetence

Amada – Master Class of Incompetence

The entire time I’ve been back in Jersey my mother has been requesting to go to one of our favorite restaurants Amada in Philadelphia. The baby of the Jose Garces restaurant empire has since its opening been one of our most frequented tapas places and like the dozens of previous trips anticipated brilliantly executed plates of food. However, last night was a disaster and probably one of the worst experiences I have ever had while dinning out.

From arrival to leaving after canceling the rest of the order and walking out (have never walked out of a restaurant before nor sent food back to the kitchen) it was a virtual showcase of epic self-destruction. Entering Amada 10 minutes before the reservation we eagerly went to the spacious bar to enjoy a glass of tempranillo until the being seated. If only that was possible. The two bartenders not only ignored us along with the entire third of the bar customers on our side for 15 minutes while they were dicking around not doing much of anything or making drinks. We were given drink menus and offered water but the table was ready. Normally something like this wouldn’t bother me, but it was a foreshadow of exactly how the evening to follow would go.

Finally we were seated in the backroom that we love in a quiet corner. The head server finally arrived then promptly disappeared after taking the order for a sangria. Once the order was placed we ample time to converse while waiting for what we hoped would be a steady flow of plates to the table as normal. Little did we know what we were in for. 25 minutes later the first dish arrived.

Food Plates Actually Were Served

Croquetas de Jamon Arrive

Croquetas de Jamon

Croquetas de Jamon with Romesco

I use to love these Croquetas de Jamon so much. The plate has changed completely since my last visit. No longer were they gooey, delicious, lightly battered magical morsels of jamon and manchego with wonderfully acidic romesco. This current bastardization were over breaded, fried to death, as salty as salt-lick and had little romesco to speak of to foil against the barrage of salt. Crushed on first bite.

The wait begins….

20 minutes later Sangria finally arrives.

Sangria

Sangria Where’s the Wine?

Where’s the Wine? Sangria and tapas go hand in hand. This sangria was a thing of beauty in the past and something we would order by the nonstop pitcher the entire duration of the meal. All I tasted was fruit mix, none of the typical spices and not one hint of wine.  Just plain sugar syrup with cut up pieces of fruit and ice. Skip on the Sangria.

Crispy Bread

Crispy Bread Tuna and Capers

This was the single best thing we ate the entire meal and unchanged. If only they served it promptly and not with the 2nd wave of tapas. The crème fraîche and tuna just works amazingly well with the crispy cracker. Good Stuff.

Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo is staple for a reason. Olive oil, garlic, chili and shrimp harmonize perfectly. After the delicious  shrimp are consumed who doesn’t love to dunk break into the remaining liquid. These were way too salty (I love salt and salty food) even for me, the garlic flavor was absent along with any sign of chili.

The longest wait ever 40 minutes for the next 2 plates of food.

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas with pimentón aioli

 

The potatoes were so unevenly cooked. Some borderline hard, others okay, but still not tender as they should be if prepared properly. There was virtually no salt or seasoning to the potatoes and the accompanying aioli was extremely bland. There was absolutely no spicy pimentón punch that patatas bravas have. Hard Pass.

Pulpo a la Gallega

Pulpo a la Gallega

We could not finish this disaster of a plate. In fact, I’m still chewing them as I write this review. Nothing annoys me more than killing an animal twice. The overcooked octopus was  extremely chewy, desperately needed seasoning and coated only in pimentón. It was one of those “ah f*ck it” plates from the kitchen. Hard Pass.

The waiting continues. At 9:00 pm our inattentive waitress comes back to finally clear the plates, check on us and setup for the main course. Mind you we’ve had thus far only three plates of food. The Ensalada Verde, Albondigas, Scallops, Iberico Pluma and Chorizo a la plancha were never served and the larger plates ordered were going to be served next. She had no idea we had not been served any of those dishes, nor did it seem as well like the back room had any plates of food during the wait.  This was the first time I have ever walked out of a restaurant as at this point we had no interest in the rest of the order.  There was no justifying attempting to eat the next plates of food and rightly so the manager comped the bill.

The server was friendly and tried her best to be accommodating but I got the impression the staff is under trained and poorly managed. The head server had no idea what the runners did and didn’t bring, gave little attention to any of the tables in the back room. Tapas is a rapid fire and normally is an in and out meal from Amada in 90 minutes or less. There is literally zero quality control in this once great restaurant anymore. Out of four plates we received the bread which is complementary was the only thing that was delicious. The slow trickle of food is one thing, but the attitude, horrible execution and utter lack of pride in the plates going out from the kitchen was astonishing.

I normally give a rating of 1 to 10 with 8-10 range as worth of Michelin Stars, today I can’t place a number value on this restaurant as it was infuriating and depressing as all hell. I loved and respected Amada too much. Maybe Garces should be a little more hands on instead of expanding multiple new restaurants a year and properly training the staff.

R.I.P Amada June 5th, 2016

Grading

Morimoto – Mother’s Day

Morimoto – Mother’s Day

Morimoto – Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day at Morimoto in Philadelphia seems to have become a family tradition over the last decade… and for good reason. As patrons of the restaurants since it opened, this recent trip was welcomed with great additions to the menu, a completely reworked dessert menu and updated plating. Bringing innovative artistic elements, mouth dropping flavors and superb ingredients, this last trip to Morimoto exceeded our high expectations of what is a Morimoto experience.

Wagyu Dumplings

Wagyu Dumplings with kanzuri-miso broth

The wagyu dumplings consisted of wonderfully tender and deliciously moist beef. The accompanying broth was a perfect match, adding just a bit of sweet and spiciness. Everything was in-balance and this plate lasted all of 15 seconds on the table before being devoured. Overall this was a tasty new addition and the plating was equally spectacular.

10-Hour-Pork

10 Hour Pork ‘kakuni’ braised pork belly with hot rice porridge

Although, probably one of the oldest dishes on the menu, the 10 hour pork is still my favorite dish. The braised pork belly is slightly sweet, salty and oh so rich. The congee when eaten with the pork is remarkably addictive. I don’t think I’ve ever not ordered a plate of the 10 hour pork in 15 years of going to this restaurant and I highly doubt the trend won’t continue.

Rock-Shrimp-Tempura

Rock Shrimp Tempura with spicy ‘kochujan’ aïoli

This is another one of those dishes my family has enjoyed every time visiting the restaurant since it opened. The tempura battered rock shrimp are light, crispy and just the right level of spicy. Morimoto does have other variations of this dish in his other restaurants, but the kochujan is still hands down the best… A must order!

Mentaiko Pasta

Mentaiko Pasta spaghetti, nori, scallions

Morimoto has always had several types of warm noodle dishes on the menu whether it was the soba carbonara, uni carbonara and now this version which tasted like a cacio e pepe of sorts. Cacio e Nori is closer to what I would describe this dish. The pepper was substituted for a some delicious high test nori, the scallions added an extra layer of flavor and the grated cheese when matched really worked. I love this pasta, it was so simplistic, yet so exotic tasting. My mom probably would have  devoured another bowl of these and that’s saying a lot.

Sashimi

Mixed Sashimi

The fish quality at this restaurant is remarkable. Everything is extremely fresh, very tasty and handled with the care it deserves. If you love sushi or sashimi then this is your place!

Black-Cod-Miso

Black Cod Miso with su miso mustard

Black Cod Miso is classic Japanese. The one at Morimoto is perfect. Crispy skin, tender moist flesh and wonderfully miso. There’s nothing to change on this plate and it’s been a classic on the menu forever.

Sea-Bass

Sea Bass koi marinated and grilled, seasonal vegetables, dashi nage

What a lovely new addition to the menu. This dish screamed Spring with every bite, although my Uncle was guarding it with vigor. The Sea Bass was cooked perfectly, the vegetables added great texture and pop to the plate and then there’s the dashi (which was eaten to the last drop).

Bori-Bop

Ichi Yaki Bop rice dish prepared at your table in hot river stone bowl buri (king yellowtail)

There are rice dishes and then there’s the Ichi Yaki Bop at Morimoto. This dish puts all other rice dishes to shame. Think fried rice, served in a 400 degree stone bowl. Seasonal vegetables, nori, yellowtail cooked on the stone medium rare and this amazing ginger soy seasoning is everything. It’s a theatrical dish start to last bite. The crunchy bits of rice are just amazing, singed on the stone will keep you wanting more.

Toban-Yaki

Toban Yaki sweet prawns, scallops, king crab, boo chop, manila clams, oyster mushrooms, citrus butte

Toban Yaki is a marvelous stewed dish. The scallops, prawns, king crab are perfectly cooked in this miso, buttery broth. I love this dish and I can’t say enough how good it is. There’s so many great things to pick on the menu, but this is the entrée I come back to order the most.

Dessert

Fiery Chocolate Tart salted caramel ganache, chocolate sorbet, marshmallow, almond

Desserts were always interesting at Morimoto in Philly for a while, but with the recent reworking by Morimoto’s main Pastry chef, they are at a whole other level. The tart was theatrical, with burning 151 liquor ,who doesn’t love a little fire? The flavors and textures were great. Each bite different from the last. The second desert however was marvelous, The Milk Chocolate Key Lime Pie was kinda the tables holy shit moment of the evening. The pie was paired with chocolate crunch, key lime meringue and raspberry-wasabi sorbet. Unreal at how good it was. New layers, textures on each spoonful. Do order this Key Lime Pie.


Mother’s Day spent home Mom and the rest of the family is always a great time. The experience and food at Morimoto this year took it to a whole other level. We probably have gone to Chef Morimoto’s restaurants a bit too much over the years, but there has never been anything resembling a bad meal. His Philadelphia restaurant was opened 3 weeks before my 15th Birthday and the food has been a consistently good meal ever since…. 15 years later!

I highly recommend eating at any of the other Morimoto Locations

Pick up your copy of Morimoto’s wonderful cookbook Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking It’s a beautifully written and highly visual cookbook that has given me a lot of inspiration over the years.

Talula’s Garden

Talula’s Garden

Talula’s Garden Review

Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia has become an institution among restaurants in the city since it opened its doors 2011. Having been patrons of all of the Stephen Star establishments in the city, this restaurant quickly became a family go to.

The farm to table cuisine is highly seasonal, pretty ambitious and overall generally well prepared. This recent visit was somewhat of a let down not nearly to the level or expectations we have experienced at this restaurant.  Apologies for the pictures I didn’t have my Nikon during this trip.

Talula's Garden

Food Course by Course

Brioche Rolls

Brioche Rolls whipped marscapone butter

Brioche Rolls

Full disclosure I’m a bread nut and love brioche. These piping hot, flaky, buttery rolls topped with whipped marscapone and salt are ridiculously good. Ask for a second helping of them.

Cornmeal Fried Chesapeake Oysters

Cornmeal Fried Chesapeake Oysters Spicy Charred Wild Ramp Remoulade, Shaved Cucumber and Lemon Dressed Lettuces

Cornmeal Fried Chesapeake Oysters

The oysters were slightly overcooked, but not to the point of destroying them. They had the right amount of breading, which was light and crispy. I found the remoulade on the bottom of the dish far too heavy-handed and overpowered the rest of the ingredients. The wonderful flavor of ramps was not present nor the spice you expect from a remoulade. You would be hard pressed when eating everything as a single bite to be able to distinguish the flavors of each ingredient.

 

Focaccia di Recco

‘Focaccia di Recco’…Whipped Ricotta, Farmstead Bacon, Leek, Fresno and Asparagus ‘Pesto

I kinda of liked this “Focaccia”. It was piping hot, tasty and extremely filling. There was far too much ricotta, uneven amounts of bacon (didn’t get to try with bacon) and slightly too much grease. However, the flavors were good and everything seemed to work as described.

Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Goat Cheese Gnocchi Sweet Onion Parmesan Fondue, Wilted Savoy Spinach and Roasted Local Beech Mushrooms

Goat Cheese Gnocchi

The gnocchi were made well. They were fluffy, light and matched the rest of the dish well. I got neither sweet onion nor parmesan out of the “fondue”. It basically tasted like lemon. An earthier, nuttier cheese would have done wonders to the dish instead of the current sauce. Kind of a disappointment for someone who loves gnocchi as much as I do.

Saffron Chitarra

Maryland Crab and Saffron Chitarra Artichoke & Spring Ramp Barigoule, Picked Basil and Herb Crumb

Maryland Crab and Saffron Chitarra

The pasta had the right texture, cooked correctly and matched the sauce well. Although, none of the Saffron came through in the pasta and I have to question the use of another cream based sauce. Not that I’m a stickler with the never pair seafood and cheese mantra, I felt like the sauce missed its mark and overpowered the crab.

Roasted Rohan Duck Breast

Roasted Rohan Duck Breast Buttery Farro, Lavender Scented Duck Sausage, Black Garlic, Wilted Ramps and Mustard Greens

Roasted Rohan Duck Breast

I love duck and prefer to order it over most other cuts of meat when dinning out. The duck was overcooked, but tender. I prefer to eat mine medium rare. I just hate seeing proteins ruined. The sausage was good, but not the prettiest looking thing in the world. The Farro was tasty with the greens. Overall solid entrée and huge portion. It would have been great if they just properly cooked the focal item of the plate.

Petit Butcher Filet

Petit Butcher Filet Parsley Root-Olive Oil Puree, Spring Onion Petals, Royal Trumpets, Hop Vinaigrette, Brandy Spiked Farm Butter

Petit Butcher Filet

My father seemed to really enjoyed his beef dish. The several bites I was permitted to eat were tasty. The beef was cooked perfectly, super tender and the garnish all worked well.

 

Shaved Fennel & Arugula Salad

Shaved Fennel & Arugula Salad, Sweet Sliced Strawberries, Fresh Garden Herbs, Walnuts and Peppery Lentil Dressing

I ordered this salad because of the main ingredients fennel and arugula which are favorites. The sweet strawberries succulent were buried underneath and the herbs along with the walnuts were almost nonexistent. This salad could have been delicious but the peppery lentil dressing was overpowering and smothered all the ingredients. I really did not taste any pepper or heat.

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake Candied Walnuts & Cream Cheese Chamomile Ice Cream, Verjus Raisins, Carrot Butter

Carrot Cake

The Carrot Cake was good. No risks taken with this dessert but executed really well. Nothing to fault.

Chocolate Crémeux

Chocolate Crémeux Fresh Mint Ice Cream, White Chocolate Crunch and Vanilla Salt

Chocolate Crémeux

Great desert, clean flavors and one of the better dishes of the night. The dense Cremeux was super chocolatey and the vanilla salt on top just worked. I would order this again. Anyone who loves mint and chocolate would love this as well.


I love what they have done with their wine and beverage program. I commend them for seeking out small bio-diverse and organics wines. However, 4 to 5 times mark up per bottle of wine from retail cost is really absurd. Even by New York City standards that’s far too much price gauging. The bottle of El Nino was a decent bottle wine for its retail price of $14, albeit fruit forward with nothing else going for it, but priced at $68 on a menu is unjustifiable.

Tabula’s Garden is a solid dinning choice in the heart of Philadelphia. The beautiful space outclasses the food, but their cheese plates rival those of any restaurant in the United States.  I wish they were truly more farm to table and less reliant on dairy in every course. I think they try way too hard on combinations and cramming as much into one plate. Simplifying, focusing on textures and flavors would do this restaurant a world of good.

6/10

Grading

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Gramercy Tavern

Gramercy Tavern

Gramercy Tavern in New York City is a long-standing culinary institution and pioneer of New American cuisine. Having dined here previously half a decade ago I must confess I didn’t remember a great deal about the previous meal. My only reference to that experience and overall quality of the restaurant is a fond memory of the legendary smoked trout and cipollini onion dish. This most recent trip for a birthday celebration was the necessary excuse to go for the Spring Tasting Menu and actually explore what Gramercy has to offer. I find that there is no better way to get a true sense of a restaurant then the tasting menu format.

The service, timing, and execution of the courses is all on display when going the tasting menu route. The flow of each progressive course has to be there or it doesn’t work. By all means last nights meal delivered. There were hits and a miss here or there, but overall we enjoyed much of what we were presented. Lets start with the first course.

Gramercy Tavern

The Food Course by Course

Clam & Scallop

Clam & Scallop Salad
Sea Island Peas, Kohlrabi and Basil

Clam & Scallop Salad

This was a solid and refreshing opener to the meal. The clam was perfectly cooked and chilled and the raw scallop added a ton of natural sweetness to the dish. The acidity of the dish and basil provided a pleasant foil to legumes and shellfish. The textures worked perfectly with each ingredient. I enjoyed this dish, although I think my table was even split on liking it or not. The Chef accommodated a fellow dinner who is allergic to clam, by altering the dish. We all agreed that the extra acid (apple cider vinegar) on her plate was overall tastier than the version we were served.

Lobster Salad

Warm Lobster Salad
Sun choke, Leeks and Cipollini Onions

Warm Lobster Salad

Everything here worked on this dish. The lobster was perfectly cooked, the leeks, sunchokes and cipollini onions beautifully accentuated the lobster. There was no doubt that this dish would be anything but superb as everything on the plate are items I love to cook and eat. Good balance of richness, acidity and texture. This was a hit with the entire table and something I personally would order again.

Char Black Rice

Smoked Arctic Char Asparagus, Rye and Black Rice

Smoked Arctic Char

This entire plate was about texture. Personally, I found it slightly distracting with the amount of crunch from the rye and black rice.  However, the Char was perfect. Beautifully smoked, presented and masterfully handled. The asparagus was finely shaved and delicious, but the amount of black rice and rye took away from the dish. It seemed heavy-handed and slightly unnecessary. On the fence with this dish.

Mushroom Tortellini Nettles, Pecorino and Pickled Burdock

Mushroom Tortellini
Nettles, Pecorino and Pickled Burdock

Mushroom Tortellini

Hands down the Best plate of food the entire evening. The rich mushroom filling of the tortellini was delicious and the pasta was perfectly executed. The sauce of nettles and a pecorino foam was magical accompanying the tortellini. Very earthy, highly seasonal as each bite screamed of Spring. This was some wonderful cooking. Interesting, balanced and beautiful.

Beef

Rosenkrans Beef
Bamboo, Fennel and Morel Mushrooms

Rosenkrans Beef

I found the seasoning to be slightly off and was inconsistent from plate to plate. I wish my beef was saltier while others found it too salty. Never the less, the beef was cooked perfectly, the sauce, morel and fennel all worked nicely together. The bamboo was met with some resistance by a fellow dinner, but I enjoyed it with the rest of the items on the plate. A good plate of food, nicely presented that showcased the beef really well.

Strawberries & Cream

Strawberries & Cream
Whipped Cheesecake, Candied Pistachio, Meringue and Sorrel Ice

Strawberries & Cream

This was a righteous bite of food. Pastry Chef Miro Uskokovic hit it out of the park with this dish. The whipped cheesecake was insanely superb. Not too sweet, perfect texture and consistency. I’m not the biggest fan of strawberry, but these were ripe and wonderfully handled, almost making me a convert. The sorrel, pistachio and meringue made each bite different, enjoyable and interesting. A fabulous desert and a great end to the meal.

The Experience

The staff is attentive, knowledgeable and makes the environment rather relaxed for a Michelin Starred Restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I love the pop and circumstance when eating at a jacket and tie required restaurants, but there’s something comforting about being able to eat in this type of atmosphere without the pretense. The pace of the meal was just right, nothing rushed, but consistently timed between course. The overall amount of food was just right, possibly on the smaller side for the final savory course as a main entrée. In addition, we appreciated the extra effort and accommodation to alter a few courses due to food allergies.

The restaurant space is beautiful, not over done, nothing stuffy and generally more relaxed than the majority of fine dinning in NYC. Overall a Very Good fine dinning experience from a legendary New York Institution and Chef Michael Anthony  8/10.


For More Information on Gramercy Tavern please visit their site at www.gramercytavern.com

Check out Chef Michael Anthony on Twitter and Instagram

I highly recommend The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook as both a coffee table and practical use cookbook.

List of Current New York City Michelin Star Resturaunts

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30th Birthday at Le Bernardin

30th Birthday at Le Bernardin

Le Bernardin

There are seafood restaurants and then there is Le Bernardin. Everything I’ve read and heard about this place absolutely lived up to the hype. The only issue I found was selecting the menu at the beginning of the meal. Everything sounded great on both tasting menus as well as the Prixe-Fixe menu so we just opted for the larger Chef’s Tasting menu.LBMenu.jpg

The Savory Courses

 

LBAmuse

Amuse-Bouche – Tuna with Puffed Rice, Fluke with Ponzu and Mushroom Soup with a Pepper Tuile

LBtuna

Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio; Iberico Ham “Chutney,” Sea Beans Lemon-Extra Virgin Olive Oil

LBking

Warm King Fish “Sashimi;” Osetra Caviar Light Marinière Broth

LBlango

Pan Roasted Langoustine; Truffled Foie Gras Aged Sherry-Verjus Vinaigrette

LBlobster

Lacquered Lobster Tail; Herb Spring Roll, Lemongrass Consommé

LBhalibate

Poached Halibut; Manila Clams, Wild Mushroom Casserole

LBSurf

Crispy Black Bass and Braised Veal Cheek, Parsnip Emulsion, Ginger-Five Spice Reduction

Sweet Courses

LBtea

Green Tea Custard, Preserved Lychee Jasmine Ice Cream

LBapple

Ginger-Scented Apple “Bomb,” Warm Ricotta Financier

The quality of the ingredients, skillful preparation and simplicity made each of the plates of food magnifique. Nothing compares to perfectly cooked fish. It is mind blowing how great fish can taste and the amazing texture it can have. When presented with a minimalist each plate seemed to be the right temperature, seasoning, sauce and element to accentuate the flavor of the fish. 

My next reservation is already made at Le Bernardin, as I am excited to conquer more of the superb extensive menu.

 

 

Jean-Georges

The first stop of the trip was a lunch in the elegant main dinning room at Jean-Georges. Everything from the wait staff, Amuse-Bouche to Petit fours and marshmallows was superb.

Amazing lunch from a New York City culinary institution and Jean George roaming the dinning room during service was a wonderful surprise. The mix of Japanese and French makes for extremely interesting combinations and tastes. I will be going back for dinner in the near future to sample a tasting menu.