In De Wulf – Belgium

•December 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment


A meal of hints and whispers. Nothing overtly asserts itself and assaults your palate. If anything, the flavors linger in the back of your mind — delicious and somewhat fleeting.

The menu is a choice between 17 or 20 courses. This is not as gluttonous as it sounds. Unlike other tasting menus, the perfect portion sizing and pacing ensures that at no point in the meal did we feel antsy or over fed, when eating becomes a chore rather than an adventure. Instead, we enjoyed each “snack” with some introspection, marveling at its simplicity and subtlety and looked forward eagerly to the next.


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Antica Corte Pallavicina – Emilia Romagna

•December 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment


Culatello tasting at Antica Corte Pallavicina . Aged 18, 24 and 37 months (clockwise)

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Tapas Crawl – Madrid, Spain

•May 18, 2011 • 1 Comment

You could say our trip to Madrid last year was one extended tapas crawl. Most meals, we found ourselves trudging up and down the city in search of tasty little bites. These were among our favorites.

Estado Puro by Paco Rancero

Having just arrived the evening before, we are still getting our bearings around the city and happily chance upon this trendy spot just around the corner from our hotel on Paseo del Prado.

Manitas de Cerdo Iberico (front).

This slice of pig’s trotter is suitably gelatinous and the cuttlefish noodles remind me of a similar dish we had in San Sebastian. Corte de Foie Gras con Pan de Especias (behind) is a thick slice of foie gras smeared with membrillo and sandwiched between two thin slices of crispy spiced bread.
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DiverXO – Madrid, Spain

•March 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Asian inspiration meets Spanish execution. That sums up DiverXO neatly for me.

Shortly before our 2pm reservation, we arrive via cab at a short squat building in the Cuzco area of Madrid. The frontage is painted black and the windows are coated with a dark tint such that passersby can only make out the shapes and vague movements inside. Only the restaurant’s name rendered in gold Asian font lettering hangs beside the double black doors and discreetly announces its presence.

It’s much less gloomy as we step inside. Sunlight spills into the dining area from an inner courtyard filled with greenery. We are handed a menu with only three choices: Express consisting of a mere 7 courses, Degustacion with 9, and the full-blown DiverXO Degustacion with 11.

Apparently, the chef, David Munoz, guards his privacy with equal fervor as no photographs of the food are allowed. As a result I had to resort to using the voice recorder on my phone (ala Matt Damon in The Informant) as well as taking copious notes to memorize our meal.

First to arrive is edamame liberally sprinkled with sea salt and black sesame seeds. It is  served in a white ceramic container resembling a giant Dixie cup crumpled on one side. With it is a bright citron colored ajada (garlic and oil emulsion) flavored with Peruvian chile. The heat is subtle and manifests itself at the back of the throat.

While there is no wine pairing, they do serve a pot of Chinese green tea with lime, raspberry, lily and other herbal flowers to go with the next few dishes:

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El Bohio – Illescas, Spain

•March 5, 2011 • 5 Comments

The town of Illescas lies midway between Madrid and Toledo. It’s home to El Bohio, a Michelin star establishment hiding behind an unassuming one story facade in a semi-industrial neighborhood. A 45 minute cab ride from Madrid, the fare one-way could easily have fed us both very well at any tapas bar on Calle Cava Baja.

Inside, it’s spare and rustic. Exposed wooden beams jut out from the ceiling and heavy traditional furniture anchor themselves on the stone tiles. As we are seated, the waiter brings out an extra chair, a miniature one, for my bag!

We initially opt for ala carte but, after much second-guessing, change our minds and go for the full blown Degustacion menu. After all the effort it took to get here, why skimp now. Might as well have the works.

Amuse bouche (front to back): ensalada de pollo, chicken wrapped in lettuce then rolled in rice paper; sobresada, a spreadable chorizo, with a thin translucent piece of fried pork rind masquerading as a tuile; mojete de la mancha, tuna stuffed in a cherry tomato and topped with crispy roe; black olive and parmesan bread topped with anchovy paste; a long rectangular galeta made with tomato and anchovies.
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O Pazo – Madrid, Spain

•December 9, 2010 • 2 Comments

We almost went to the wrong one.

After reading about O Pazo in a food forum, I googled it and made reservations from the US at the first site I found. Well, apparently, O Pazo is a very common Spanish term (much like casa) and there are at least two of them in Madrid. The one renowned for excellent seafood is in Calle Reina Mercedes. Thank goodness for our concierge.

The menu is quite simple and short. One side lists the seafood; the other has line drawings of them and short write-ups describing their provenance so the diner gets a better appreciation for them.  For more inspiration, I go over to the raw seafood display and chat with the wait staff. Somehow, even with his halting English and my minimal Spanish, we manage to connect and I come away with some excellent recommendations for dinner.

Percebes (Gooseneck Barnacles)

They look like mini elephant legs attached to flat claws, so why do these homely things cost EUR22 per 100 grams? It’s certainly not for the complex cooking technique since they’re just plain boiled. They’re expensive because harvesting them can be a daunting task. It takes two people: the adventurous perceibeiro climbs down the side of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a rope tied around his waist as he picks the barnacles off the rocks. Meanwhile, his partner stays at the top of the cliff and yanks him up every once in a while to ensure he’s not whisked out to sea.
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St John’s Bread & Market @ Spitalfields – London

•September 13, 2010 • 2 Comments

We almost didn’t make it here.

Our original plan was to dine at Fifteen, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant/culinary school for underpriviledged kids; however, our long-time friends in London made such a strong case for St. John’s that we decided to go for it. Plus, we already visited Oliver’s alma mater, the River Cafe, at lunch.

So at 6pm, one hour after the tube strike started, we’re on a cab from Grosvenor Square heading to the other end of town in Spitalfields. Our cab driver valiantly tries to squeeze through rush-hour traffic; forty five minutes later, he drops us off on the busy and bustling Commercial Street. The restaurant is across the street from the Spitalfields Market, a cavernous food court that began its life in the 1700’s as a place to hawk livestock, poultry and vegetables.

Inside, it’s simple and no frills, almost industrial. Baking equipment peeks through a high half wall that also lets diners see the chefs at work. A blackboard hangs prominently on the center wall and displays the specials. St John’s has been open since lunch time and so most of the items are crossed out. The menu itself is split into smaller dishes meant to be eaten tapas style and larger ones meant to be entrees. Those unfamiliar with British cuisine will certainly do a double-take at some of the unusual (and outrageous) sounding names.

Ox Heart, Watercress & Pickled Walnut

It may not seem all that appetizing, but, according to our waitress, this is one of the more popular items on the menu. When describing the dish, she starts by making a gesture with her hands like she’s holding a watermelon. Apparently, that’s how massive an ox heart is. It’s sliced thinly, marinated in a sweet and piquant vinaigrette before being grilled. Paired with the slightly bitter watercress, this dish is downright delicious. The ox heart texture is quite a surprise. It’s chewy rather than spongy, more similar to top round than innards.

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L’ Astrance – Paris

•July 8, 2010 • 2 Comments

For our big splurge in Paris, I booked a table at L’Astrance, the restaurant that earned its third Michelin star in 2007. According to the food forums, obtaining a reservation here requires some amount of strategy and planning. It is through the tips of these generous posters that I was able to secure one, so I’m paying it forward:

1. I called 2 months in advance give or take a few days, waking up at 4:30am EST (10:30am in Paris) on a Tuesday to make the call since they are closed weekends and Monday.

2. I persisted even when I got the dreaded answering machine a few times (i.e. earlier than 10:30am)

3. I confirmed my reservation two days before.

We arrive shortly before our 8pm reservation on the day itself. We’re asked to wait outside even though it is insanely hot because the restaurant is not yet ready. It’s a relatively small place, with 8 tables on the ground floor capable of seating about 20 or so. Ordering is simple since there are only two choices: Le Diner Surprise, a tasting menu where the diner has absolutely no idea what he’ll be eating, or Le Diner Surprise with an equally anonymous wine pairing. We opt for the the latter.

Le Diner Surprise:

The meal starts off with an unassuming amuse bouche of brioche with rosemary butter.

What follows next is slightly better — tart green apples and praline sandwiched between two semi-translucent almond wafers

Maybe the chef is just trying to lull the diner into a state of complacency with the tidbits. Then, BOOM. Shock and awe. This is their signature dish, a wedge of foie gras and granny apple slices placed snugly between shaved raw white mushrooms meticulously arranged in overlapping layers like shingles on a roof. This is accompanied by an invisible pool of hazelnut oil on one side and lemon curd on the other.

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Aux Terrasse – Tournus

•July 7, 2010 • 2 Comments

During our last evening in Burgundy, we dined at Aux Terrase in Tournus. It’s a little more than a half hour drive from Chassagne Montrachet and well worth it. Dining al fresco amidst blooms and foliage makes it easy for guests to forget that they are situated in front of a truck stop and a supermarket. Despite earning a Michelin star, Aux Terrasse remains very casual and reasonable, offering a four course menu (that’s really six) for 45 Euros.

We start with two rounds of amuse bouche:

Tiny cherry tomatoes with basil cream and mustard seed. Gougeres (cheese puffs). Carrot cream with pumpkin seed and chive that reminded me of my favorite dish at Lameloise. At this point, I knew we were going to be in for a great meal.
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Caves Madeleine – Beaune

•July 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Named after the street where it lives, Caves Madeleine is one of those rare gems propagated by word of mouth. Though not on the Michelin Guide, it’s on the tip of the tongues of food enthusiasts both local and foreign.

We’re there for lunch, sitting at the table for two by the store front window, our entire meal on display to passers-by. Stacks of wine boxes separate us from the rest of the dining area with its long communal wooden tables and blackboard menu at the far end. A three course meal is 24 Euros while two courses only cost 14 Euros. We decide to get one of each and just split the dessert.

Salade de Gesiers.  It’s rare to find a dish starring gizzards in US restaurants. It’s a pity that it doesn’t have menu appeal, because this dish is just lovely. Tender chunks of gizzards tossed in a tart creamy dressing and laid out on a bed of bibb lettuce.
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