Cosme review

While much of New York had been in a state of near apoplectic delirium as it anticipated the opening of Mexico City master-chef Enrique Olvera’s newest dining sensation Cosme, I have to confess that I also smooshed my nose against the glass on more than one occasion as I’d walk past the former sleazy strip bar (or “gentlemens club”) to witness the progress. Thankfully the space bears absolutely no resemblance to its former existence. Instead Olvera’s team has created a sleek and moody, dark gray, L-shaped room with sparse lighting, bright wooden surfaces and eye-level racks of wine. In the off chance that there might still be an open ear for improvements, I would make a plea for some desperately needed sound-absorptive materials. Hidden fabric ceiling panels, cushions, rugs…anything to facilitate hearing some of the intricate preparation details from the authentically accented wait staff.

I think it’s imperative to point out that if you’re expecting a typical taco/burrito/quesadilla dinner, you wouldn’t be reading a review by me. Chef Olvera’s menu is the culmination of homegrown authenticity combined with unexpected and unusual international preparations that elevate Mexican cuisine into the culinary stratosphere. The flavoring is bold – but not blunt. The dishes are diverse – but not random. The presentation is full of bright contrasts, but still very appetizing and approachable.

Occidental Heirloom Blue-corn Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and Habanero butter - Cosme

Occidental Heirloom Blue-corn Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and Habanero butter

Instead of bread and butter, they serve a heavenly (yet modest) portion (I was obliged with three subsequent follow-ups) of Occidental Heirloom blue corn Tortillas, that have been dried and freshly fried until they deliver a deeply earthy and dark purple crunch with a curry colored paste of pumpkin seed, garlic, habanero peppers and butter – the perfect introduction to the dozen or so appetizers ranging from sea urchins to eggplants.

Seafood vuelve a la vida - Cosme

Seafood vuelve a la vida

I am a huge fan of ceviche, but no one ever served me a Seafood vuelve a la vida (comes back to life) inside an avocado before. The combination of sweet tomato and horseradish, with morsels of fish inside the cocoon of a creamy avocado is utterly simple, remarkable and wonderful. We had to try the much bleated about Burrata with salsa verde and “weeds”, which is another confident combination of simple flavors and fresh textures that might crisscross multiple borders, but delivers flawlessly nonetheless. The only disappointments to the daily printed menu were the Chicharones which were quizzically sold out by 7:00pm, and our first two wine choices were both temporarily un-locatable, but the main courses proved to be fierce distractions.

Back garlic rubbed NY Strip Steak - Cosme

Back garlic rubbed NY Strip Steak

It was a fairly close call for the Broiled Red Snapper with a Hoja Santa salsa and plantains, but I ended up settling on the magnificent Black garlic rubbed New York strip steak. Hiding between the rare seared domino sized medallions of tender steak was one of the rare appearances of guacamole in the entire establishment. I had no idea that the über-popular green dip was such a red-headed stepchild, that it needed to be disguised as “avocado purée”! Velvety smooth and finished with tarragon and spiked with wasabi, who cares what they called it – to me it was absolutely delicious.

Duck Carnitas - Cosme

Duck Carnitas

The most popular dish has to be the Duck Carnitas – and with good reason. The boneless breast of succulent, salty duck literally tears apart with little more than a suggestion, before being inserted snugly into warm, fresh tortillas along with white onions and a citrusy salsa verde. They describe it as a sharable dish, but that depends on the familiarity of your fellow diners.

Husk Meringue - Cosme

Husk Meringue

Olvera’s contra-ordinary prowess shifts ceaselessly into the desserts. His two fluffy Husk Meringue halves are actually made from dried, ground corn-husks, which are separated by a surprisingly light and airy mound of corn and mascarpone mousse (although a dose of liquid nitrogen can even make me light and airy) but the dominant sweet and subtle savory combination is the work of a flavor maestro who knows what he’s doing. Also taste-worthy is the unpronounceable yet utterly caramelicious Nixtamalized Carrot paired with a cinnamon cake and sweet-tart cream-cheese ice cream.

Nixtamalized Carrot with Cinnamon Cake - Cosme

Nixtamalized Carrot with Cinnamon Cake

Even though Enrique Olvera named Cosme after his favorite obsession – the cosmos, in my mind the man wasn’t just reaching for the stars –  he seems to have clutched a few fistfuls before bringing them down to the Flatiron district to share with the rest of us.

http://www.cosmenyc.com/

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Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles review

Hinoki scented Black Cod - Hinoki and the Bird

Hinoki scented Black Cod

Tucked away beneath a condo tower just beyond the eastern edge of the 20th Century Fox backlot, you might discover one of the greatest stars this town has ever unveiled. Hinoki and the Bird – brainchild of Sona and Comme Ca chef David Myers and Kuniko Yagi, (a waitress-becomes-a-chef success story of her own) is a surprise-filled candy-box of an east-meets-west bistro defying any other SoCal dining experiences heretofore.

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was struck by the expanse of unfinished Japanese cedar wood planks (Hinoki) lining the walls, doors and floors, that under less subtle direction might have resembled the inside of a cuckoo clock or the Unabomber’s cabin, but Myers’ attention to detail and the pools of amber light and shadows creates a formative oasis – just rustic enough for an after-work foo-foo cocktail – yet utterly sophisticated enough for an original and transformative dining event.

Chef Yagi’s varied menu bounces between the familiar and the exotic like a restless ping-pong ball, from all across south-east Asia, with dominant overtones of her Japanese heritage to her adoptive California. Things start calmly enough with a raw bar including a silky Beef Tartare spiked with pickled jalapeño, and a couple of sashimi’s. Not being a huge fan of raw fish with fruit, the popular Hamachi seemed a touch out-powered by the intense sweetness of persimmon and pomegranate, but who cares when you practically gorge yourself on a milky, cheesy, yoghurty Japanese ranch dip on the backs of Dutch Potato Chips?

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage - Hinoki and the Bird

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage

We were issued deliberate instructions along with the nugget-sized Lemongrass Lamb Sausages, to tear off a piece of the hoja santa leaf they rode in on, bundle them up, and then dip them into the chili-lime sauce. As the complex flavors and textures began to unfold, from the furry aromatic leaf to the citrusy sauce surrounding the succulent meat, even the avid non-lamb-eater at the table couldn’t resist but to reach for more.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity as to why a sub-section of the menu is called Inspiration! I was politely informed that “those are dishes inspired by flavors from around the world.” Hmmm, which would suggest that all the other dishes must have been inspired from…someplace else? Regardless, this menu-within-a-menu includes notable signatures such as Coconut-curried Mussels with shaved cauliflower and crumbled sausage, and the conversation-stopping Hinoki scented Black Cod with maitake mushrooms and shishito peppers – which arrives with a thin canopy of burning wood, delivering wafts of smoldering cedar smoke over the delectably sake-laden and wonderfully juicy, miso-flavored fillet. Sake is also to blame for the fate of the impossibly tender and ridiculously delicious Drunken Duck Breast that could quite easily be sliced with the back of a spoon.

Of all the times I have ever enjoyed Short-rib (and there have been numerous), I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it braised in cumin and coriander before. Chef Yagi if you’re reading this, please grant your Curry Short-rib special a permanent spot on the “Inspiration” section, as this has to be the most inspired and original execution of one of my favorite cuts of beef.

Roasted Yam - Hinoki and the Bird

Roasted Yam

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the names of the ample side dishes, but their preparations are so astonishingly original, it felt as though our table clocked a million frequent flier miles into the future: the rice is neither steamed nor fried – it’s grilled, the roast potato with crème fraiche and crunchy lardons is a toffee-sweet yam, the bok choy is smothered in lemongrass and shallot, the swiss chard on steroids is all about the sesame. (Somebody, stop me!)

Miso Donuts - Hinoki and the Bird

Miso Donuts

In addition to the Ice-creams, Sorbets and Mochi’s, desserts include a multi-textural death-by-chocolate Ice-cream Sandwich and the curiously salty and feather light-and-fluffy Miso Donuts with a sublime honey flavored caramel dipping sauce – the kind you can spread on an old shoe-brush and still enjoy.

Hinoki and the Bird, you are without doubt my restaurant of the month!

http://hinokiandthebird.com/reserve/

Cherche Midi review

Could it be that Keith McNally (the New York Times proclaimed restaurateur who invented downtown) has the caviar touch when it comes to creating dining hotspots that become indelibly entrenched into the culture of New York City life, or is it even remotely possible that the culinary impresario might only have one, two or possibly three well practiced tricks up his sleeve? The man who brought us Balthazar, Lucky Strike, Pastis, Morandi, Minetta Tavern and so many other hard-to-get-into variations on a very similar and well-regurgitated theme, recently unveiled his empire’s newest clone – Cherche Midi – on the northern edge of his well-trodden stomping ground.

Cherche Midi

Cherche Midi

Once you recover from the overdose of déjà vu as you step into the brightly lit room, dotted with pillars that stretch the matrix of hexagonal floor tiles apart from the stalactite maze of white balloon light fixtures, you realize that McNally’s manufactured familiarity will probably go a long way to convince many of his loyal diners that he has once again given birth to yet another baby Jesus of the Steak Frites world.

The menu is well peppered with dishes that have continued to satisfy tourists and locals for nearly three decades. The Salade Nicoise is there, so are the Beet Salad and Steak Tartare. There is a new Short-rib and Gruyere spin to the (Black Label) Burger, and although the always delicious Pan-roasted Foie Gras with briefly poached apples in the shade of a mahogany loaf of soft and salty brioche is as remarkable as can be, I couldn’t help feeling a bit stung by the $27 price point for such a paltry portion.

Butternut Squash Soup - Cherche Midi

Butternut Squash Soup

On the less-exorbitant side, the addition of micro-diced challah croutons gives a welcome crunch to the decadently creamy Butternut squash Soup.

Lobster Ravioli - Cherche Midi

Lobster Ravioli

Considering the overwhelming popularity of the Steak Frites, the fish-to-meat ratio of entrees (while familiar) is fairly generous. In addition to two ocean and one river fish, the fennel-flavored Bouchot Mussels are finished in Pernod and crème fraiche. But a heavy-handed bombardment of ginger annihilated any trace of shellfish in the Lobster Ravioli with piquillo peppers.

Filet Mignon au Poivre - Cherche Midi

Filet Mignon au Poivre

It was hardly surprising – yet thoroughly delightful to bite into a flawless cut of Filet Mignon au Poivre, sealed with a thin crust of charred peppercorns – neither too peppery nor drowning in jus – accompanied by a handsome harvest of twice-fried in peanut oil, Idaho potato French fries. As a side dish, we tried the Roasted Sunchokes, (which were an off-menu option and should probably remain as such) with an overly-crispy crust and an overly-mushy interior.

Ile Flottante - Cherche Midi

Ile Flottante

But I must say that it has been a while since I enjoyed an lle Flottante this good. The multi-textured dessert featured a perfectly poached, foamy meringue floating on a vanilla cream lagoon covered by a fibrous wig of spun sugar. Sweet, light, fluffy and utterly un-sharable.

Only after an hour surrounded by so much familiarity: the tried-and-true French dishes, the white paper-covered tables, the hip crowd and the long burlap-aproned wait staff – did it finally dawn on me that Cherche Midi just increased my chances of landing a reservation at either Minetta Tavern or Balthazar – thanks to the addition of twenty extra tables in a very similar space a mere neighborhood or two away.

http://www.cherchemidiny.com/reservations/