ABC Cocina review

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Cocina might be more rustic and noisier than its big locavore brother ABC Kitchen, but it takes itself a lot less seriously too. On one hand the impressively lavish menu seems to steer solidly in the direction of Iberian-inspired tapas, but then a sudden sharp turn suggests we’re on a runaway taco truck with no brakes, picking up a litany of multi-culti hitchhikers as we perilously head for the border. With a chipotle pepper here or a chorizo there, here a taco, there an empanada and everywhere a salsa…Vong has created the ultimate pan-Latin kitchen comedy, by masterfully staging a telenovela right in the middle of a bullfight.

Spiced Ground Beef Empanadas - ABC Cocina

Spiced Ground Beef Empanadas

Many of the usual suspects are re-imagined with new and exciting textures and flavors like adding hearty eggplant to the Spiced ground Beef Empanadas or laying landmines of crispy chicken skin with lemon zest into the Arroz con Pollo giving the otherwise mundane staple some unexpected crunch and purpose.

Patatas Bravas - ABC Cocina

Patatas Bravas

I was initially suspicious of the 24-karat gold roasted Patatas Bravas that were nested next to a pool of mysteriously dark and picante sauce suspended in the heart of an ivory aioli, but after mixing the liquids together and then dribbling them over the crispy nuggets, I found myself pleasantly overwhelmed in rosemary rapture.

Grilled Maitake Mushrooms - ABC Cocina

Grilled Maitake Mushrooms

Even though the woody-smoky-charcoaly Grilled Maitake Mushrooms were crowned with melted herb goat cheese, their tart Fresno pepper vinaigrette might have shifted the earth on its axis by a hair.

Chipotle Chicken Tacos - ABC Cocina

Chipotle Chicken Tacos

Of all the gourmet Taco options, the Chipotle Chicken seems to have done the best job at already establishing its own fan club and Twitter account. But as delectable as it might have been, with just the right amount of fuss you’d expect to find inside a floppy masa shell, something was definitely missing. Too dry? Too crunchy? Turns out the grilled Jalapeño salsa was left in the kitchen and only arrived after we had digested the final morsels. Oops! But the sublimely moist and flavorful Grilled Chorizo sausage arrived with all of its parts fortuitously present.

Housemade Chorizo Sausage - ABC Cocina

Housemade Chorizo Sausage

While things may have changed slightly since former chef de cuisine Dan Kluger left the ABC’s to start his own venture, his footprints for success are still well-entrenched in these polished-concrete cocina floors. ¡Esta bien!














Umami Burger review

Umami Burger

You probably wouldn’t believe it, but there is a connection between the words Umami and Chutspah. Umami – borrowed from Japanese – has to do with the perceived fifth “savory” taste after salt, sweet, sour and bitter, and Chutspah is Yiddish for gall, guts, courage, fortitude, determination and a touch of arrogance. But Adam Fleishman (coincidentally Yiddish for “meat man”, hmm…) is the very personification of both. After going for broke, the California native created Umami Burger, a formidably successful franchise from the umpteen-thousandth re-re-re-invention of the hamburger. But when that wasn’t enough, he did the unthinkable – he brought it to New York City. As you can imagine, New Yorkers of all walks of life were unspeakably apoplectic with indignation that Fleishman would have the chutspah to enter their holy burger grail, tell them that he could do it better, and that he was an Angelino no less!

The predictably feverish hype and hoopla blitz ensued, and instead of standing in line for 3+ hours outside their Greenwich Village location (although I’ve read that the wait has shrunk to below 30 minutes for a table nowadays), I decided to sample Fleishman’s creation in its natural habitat. I sat at one of the raw wooden benches with a view of the parking-lot outside the tip of Fred Segal’s ivy-covered clothing empire in Santa Monica, as my server wearing the iconic logo of a cross between a burger and a pair of Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-ketchup-stained lips on his T-shirt, brought me the Original burger with a side of Smushed Potatoes dredged in a roasted garlic aioli.

Umami - Original burger

The Original

The soft, yet dense Portuguese roll has a cute cattle-brand of a “U” on its lid. The meat is roughly chopped Wagyu steak, which is loosely packed and cooked to a juicy medium-rare with Fleishman’s secret seasonings that are supposed to unleash that unbridled Umami flavor. The toppings are on the unconventional side, with sautéed shitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and a Parmesan crisp wafer that adds an interesting crunch as you bite down.

The overall flavors are definitely restaurant quality. There’s char-grilled depth, salty moisture and a heartiness you wont find in a fast-food factory burger (which always remind me of gray wood-shavings and Purina puppy chow.)

But is it the best burger in the land? Probably not.  Is that such a bad thing? Probably not.  And will this be the last ever re-invention of the burger as we know it? Most definitely not.

Next time someone wants to reinvent something, why not try Escargot? They’ve been prepared the same way for over 350  years. I think it’s time.