Sunday, July 08, 2012

Morimoto, NYC: New York

Date:  dimanche 8 juillet 2012
Location:  88 10th Avenue
New York, NY  10011
Telephone:  +1 212 989 8883

Soledad score on scale of 10:  7

Downstairs bar area:  A private 4 seating table.  Great acoustics for meal discussions.

A New York City must-drop-in place to grab a drink in sexy, swank environment, and order a few slices of sushi at the bar.  Would like to come back for the omakase Chef's menu one day.  

The Morimoto drink menu and main menu.  Sleek and minimalist, typical Japanese style.

The Experience:
Alright, I have high expectations when it comes to food and wine.  I'm a die hard San Franciscan semi-hipster (been known to trot down to Mission for a drink bra-less in t-shirt, jeans, flip flops, unwashed hair, 4 eyes) - and can also play the ouh-lah-lah dress-up when needed.  I'm not that into New York food.  Look around and you'll see... not a whole lot of farms (Napa valley farm:table).  Which means, the base ingredients of dishes in NYC won't be able to equate to the quality of produce from San Francisco.  Of course, unless you've lived in San Francisco for more than 5 years as a local - then you really won't know what I'm talking about (since your palate will literally have been transformed by that time).

However, every city has its characteristic goodies.  New York is great if you're a meat eater (I am not).  Imported bloody cow meats, etc., New York is great for that.  Another thing New York is very good at is - SUSHI.  Basically, anything that is alright to be palatable Fed-ex'd and served up on the spot, has a winning chance in New York (produce doesn't stand a chance here, sorry).

Quite simply, Morimoto is a posh, swank joint with consistent high grade sushi you can always rely on.  I've always liked it.  Sure, it's not 15 East or Brushstroke quality, but it's pretty darn good.  Which means, it far outweighs any average sushi bar around your corner.  Of course, you'll pay a pretty penny for each small morsel too.  But you'll never be disappointed.

I stepped into Morimoto today just as they opened, at 530pm on a Sunday afternoon.  Had just left my Cooliris boys who were visiting NY from SF this week, and as they hopped off to a business dinner, the night was still young, so I decided to revisit this cool spot for a drink and some sushi.  I'll never get a chance on weeknights that much is certain (something called work where the delivery resourcing effort was grossly miscalculated by "someone").    

I love the entrance to Morimoto.  it's like walking up into your own real-life movie.  Reminiscent of Tron/Matrix, bit industrial, very A-List type, with a Sho-Gun appeal.  Makes sense yeah?

Morimoto's grand entrace.  

As soon as I stepped in, I was graciously and respectfully greeted by the hostess.  They saw me standing outside before stepping in, and told me they admired my dress.  My little "romantic" dress with lip-prints that I picked up at a Tel Aviv boutique on Sheinkin Street called "BOO."  Haha.  It's one of my favorite dresses I agree.  Even though I was wearing flip-flops (so darn hot in New York!), they didn't grimace.  I happily led myself down to their minimalist bar area downstairs, lit up by glowing ice-blue dim club-like lighting, and intense, dark red lighting emanating from a beam on the bar dining floor to the right.  Very sexy feel!  I can imagine this place filling up with loads of people on Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays. But today near 6pm on a Sunday evening, it was cool, relaxed, not crowded, and there was a lot of room to breathe.  Very comfortable.  Oh, I love the groovy lounge music they play too.  I was very reminiscent of Hong Kong at this moment.

Downstairs bar area, where I always prefer to be seated.  

Cocktails at Morimoto aren't incredible (I was spoiled last week at Spruce and considering the Morimoto price ($15 on average), I certainly expected a lot more than a simply shaken alchoholic beverage with some fresh squeezed lemon/lime/orange juice and a few sprigs of leaves in it.  But hey, so I was sipping on my cool-down drink escaping the New York summer heat, in a swanky cool (super aircon cool) nicely lit bar, and sexy tunes playing... yeah I was feeling pretty alright I admit!

My Shiso Leaf Cocktail:  Bombay Gin, Shiso, Fresh Lime, Soda. 

I tried the Wagyu beef carpaccio appetizer.  Tender, juicy, slightly bloody, slices of fresh raw beef... mmmmmmmmmmm.....  good thing I didn't have to share!

Sexy Wagyu Beef Carpaccio:  prepared with yuzu soy, ginger, sweet garlic.

Next task at hand was to order a few pieces of sushi.  If you're a true foodie, you'll know never to eat sushi on weekends since fish is always delivered fresh on weekdays.  I know, I know, but I just HAD to eat sushi this weekend, so I broke my own rule.  It's okay.  Regardless, my sushi morsels were still beautiful and tasted incredible.  Fresh fish just LOOKS correct.  Non fresh fish has a sallow, depressed, unshiny look about it.  I was happy!

Sushi Left to Right:  Hamachi, Saba, Hamaguri, Ikura, Uni, ginger.

I didn't think I would do it (order anything else)... but after I perused the rest of the menu for just a peek... I couldn't stop wondering what Morimoto's ramen tasted like!  So why not I said.  It was still my first meal of the day afterall.

The ramen wasn't what I expected.  Usually, ramen comes with a bunch of fixings placed inside the noodle bowl).  Instead, what came was a very simple, clean, heavenly aromatic, clear chicken broth.  A few pieces of hand torn chicken, their take on ramen noodles, and seaweed as garnish to add a bit of extra salty-sweet.  This ramen was really delicious, and I certainly could have used this back in May when I was sick for  2.5 weeks in Tel Aviv, and then another month in Hong Kong and New York.  Chicken noodle ramen soup.      So if you live in New York, and if you get terribly ill and cannot cook for yourself, and the only thing that can cure you is a healthy bowl of fresh chicken ramen noodle soup - then Morimoto is your answer!  I do think the broth was a bit too salty... probably to appease the typical New Yorker "heavy on the salt" palate;  so my fault for not reminding them low sodium broth please (I don't think it was MSG since my face didn't tingle or blow up).  While I did enjoy it very much, it doesn't beckon a call back for me.  I guess I'm a traditional ramen girl and like mine chock full of goodies, including a poached egg.  :-D

Morimoto Ramen "The Iron Chef" Chicken Noodle Soup.

Alas, I didn't have room for dessert.  As my little sister remarked whilst she saw my instagram uploads.... "you sure are eating a lot today!!"  :-D  Oink oink.  I ordered a hot green tea to help me digest... and was feeling overall quite relaxed and well satiated.

Oh!  I mustn't forget the pretty, psychedelic, minimalist restrooms!  Each fully enclosed restroom has its own Toto washlet.  Every sophisticated restaurant ought to have only Toto washlets.   Beyond that, was a mirror of reflecting floating cherry blossoms that continued on to infinity.  I snapped a picture of my reflection.  It reminded me of those Japanese ghost stories of floating heroines... kinda creepy but at the same time different and artsy.

Morimoto restroom reflection... with individual Toto washlets!  And cherry blossom reflection to infinity.. 

My previous blog mention on Morimoto 11 fevrier 2011:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hearth Restaurant, Brushstroke, Corkbuzz, Kunjip, and Seju Yang: New York

It's been awhile fellow readers!  I've been away... far, far, away... in many international places that even I myself am surprised at the rapid fervor of my ability to jet set.  From April 6 through May 28, I was on a perpetual 2 month holiday.  Yes that's right, SoleRockinIt! Tel Aviv -> SF -> SD -> SF -> HK -> Taipei -> HK -> Tel Aviv -> HK -> NYC, where I currently scribe this blog from my 30th floor flat in Murray Hill, with a breathtaking view of Empire State and other NYC landmarks.

All this traveling whilst on hols doesn't come without a cost.  I've been fighting a heinous cough which started post landing Tel Aviv from Hong Kong since May 6... then carried that same evil cough back to Hong Kong late May, shared it internationally with fellow VinExpo folks (who also brought their versions of the cough from Portugal and Italy), and gave my HK buddy Simtub a goodbye gift of the most evil of all hellatious flus which struck him down for 4 days!  Surely I also annoyed the two people next to me to no end on Cathay Pacific  toilet class from HK/JFK direct May 28.  16+ hours non-stop flight and non-stop "cough cough, cough cough."  Yup, I became one of those... "diseased people" if you will, who spreads germs globally.  :(  I know, I know.  But what can I do?  MUST. TRAVEL. FOR. FOOD.  :)

Anyhow, last night after two weeks back at work and two loooong weeks of day and night work hours (I don't eat grand every night mind you) naturally I needed  to redeem myself.  A few wine bar restos not yet checked off in my NY list - one included HEARTH RESTAURANT which rumor has it, has great food and a pretty extensive and "interesting" wine list by the well respected Paul Grieco.  Ie, things off the road less taken, lots of German/Austrian/Alsatian Rieslings (my kind of stuff), things like that. Yet, from personal experience, I've learned NOT to get my hopes up about any restaurant, until I show up and taste it myself with my very own eyes and mouth.  My trademark theory is that any restaurant might be "good" by one person's standard - but how do you know what they're comparing it to?  Maybe they eat dog food at night, so for all I know a Hungry Man Salisbury Steak Microwave Dinner might be the best thing since sliced bread to them!
Ok ok, so that's not a very nice comparison but you know what I mean.  I've been duped and disappointed enough times in many years that I just can't take references seriously anymore.  I come from such an extreme global palate, that my expectations far exceed the typical "national" eater.  I didn't get dubbed "Ego" from Ratatouille for nothing, avec plaisir !  All that set aside though, one thing is certain. No matter how direct, honest, and perhaps sometime harsh I may be, you can always be assured that you will never, ever, EVER, have a bad meal with me.  It will always be stellar, and you'll be drinking some pretty damn good wines alongside too.

So yesterday afternoon, I updated my Facebook status with positive hopes (because I see things half full):
Saturday June 9 2012:  ok cool... if the wine list at hearth is any indication of how well the food will pair with the wine (not other way around, i know, i turned!), then im getting excited. wont hold my breath til see and taste for myself. something look forward to tonight after lounging around the city.

Fast-forward, and let's see how last night's evening unraveled with my quick Facebook status this morning:
Sunday June 10 2012:  Last night's quick review of a night started out disappointed, quickly turned FAB!! 
1) Hearth: fun wine list and quite vast, can get lost in it and confused if pairing with food (crikey, the sloppy food!!) but good for education. Food is pretty bad (note I didn't post any photos!!). --YET (keep reading!)--
2) Brushstroke: Precision, laser-like focused wine list, made by a gifted Sommelier Seju Yang, with often low production, unknown, and top quality wines. A wine list by a pro Somm FOR Somms. Food, kaiseki style, beautiful Japanese, and a duo kitchen serving the most delicate, artisan sushi in USA (says the Japan raised Somm himself). 
3) Corkbuzz: best kept secret in NY, a wine bar by Somms for Somms. *** SoleStarEtoile!!***
4). Kunjip: Good Korean late night grub, you need to be Asian to understand how good it feels at 2am!

Basically, I was totally disappointed with the food at Hearth.  Disgusting.  Hate to do this, but couldn't stop myself - must share a photo (#nofilter!) so you can judge for yourself, and not think that I'm a hater.

Copy pasted straight from Hearth's online menu, dated June 9 2012:

Hearth Restaurant, NYC
Top:  LE T T U  C E  S  A  N  D   V  E G  E T  A  B L  E S (aka "The Titanic" - wilted lettuces subterfuged under oil)
Celery, Snap Peas, Cucumbers, Radishes, Tokyo Turnips,
Sunchokes, Red Wine Vinaigrette  $12.

Bottom:  O L  I  V E   O I L   P O  A  C  H E  D   S W  O R  D  F I  S H  (aka "Fished in Polluted Waters")
Freekah, Pickled Ramps, Snap Peas, Trout Roe  $32.

So umm... really???  That's one expensive salad $12 salad for wilted lettuces and produce, with totally over-drenched, subterfuged (they should have renamed the salad "The Titanic!") vinaigrette that tasted nothing like a fresh, tart, proper, red wine vinaigrette.  Maybe they used ??? It literally looks like an oiled up, bad hair day!  Then juxtapose that sad, pathetic, oily, sloppy, salad right next to my $32 "swordfish" - who could tell I was eating different things?  Disgusting!!!  The swordfish was overcooked, and also had a slightly unfresh "fishy" taste to it.  *explitive* #GROSS!  Not only was it NOT a fresh whole swordfish (for that price!!), but it was 3 chunks of the worst cuts of fish - usually left for making SOUP.  My buddy Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg taught me well to notice these things in restaurants.  Caveat emptor!  Next time I order fish anywhere, I'll be sure to ask them - are you serving me a whole fish (for that price), or a few chopped up hunks of days old fish cubes fit for making fish stew?  IT'S A CRIME!!!  By the looks of these photos, Hearth makes even Cantonese style China Town fast-food stir-fry look bad.  Just a mess, as viewed and quoted by my British colleague here.

Looking back, I should have pushed my food away, and demand Hearth take the items off the menu.  Learned that from a cranky, uptight, Israeli older woman (dressed in outdated 1990s period detail with plastic and gold jewelry) I sat next to once at a bar of a Tel Aviv restaurant.  Heh heh.  Guess she had the right!  I learned from her!  The food at Hearth not only LOOKS disgusting, but it also tasted so bland despite the piling over of ten thousand ingredients and oil... and, it was not fresh!  CRIKEY!

For quick comparison just to level set, below I've attached a recent April 2012 photo of a beautiful, farm fresh, organic salad from BLUE PLATE SF.

Copy pasted straight from Blue Plate's online menu dated June 10 2012:

Bibb lettuce salad, avocado, cara cara orange, crispy parsnip, tarragon, in raspberry vinaigrette dressing $10.  

My facebook comment later that night read:
June 9 2012:  What a REAL salad should look like. @ #blueplatesf. Bright, minimally dressed, dazzling and truest colors of pure Mother Nature just waiting to be masticated by you. Your salivary glands start drooling just at the sight of this natural, fresh, colorful, goodness. I ♥ SF. Shame on you HearthNY!

And here, just to make it simple for you and crystal clear, I quickly cropped up a side by side comparison.  What do you think?  Which salad would you want to eat?  Which would you pay $10 for versus $12 for?  Which would you not pay for at all, pay to NOT eat it!!??

West Coast (Left:  Blue Plate San Francisco) vs. East Coast (Right:  Hearth, New York)

Note:  No filters have been used in either photos.  Just pure, organic, Mother Nature goodness from the best in the West of farm:to:table approach.  Thank you, Alice Waters.

<-- Facebook insert:
Okay just showed this pic to coworkers without commenting. They asked if the RIGHT (hearthNY) was chinese food, and that even for Chinese food it looked pretty bad!!!! #epicFAIL #hearthNY #crime

When it's good, it's good.  And no need to cover up nor hide what you ain't got.  You'll just be found out anyway.  Honesty is key, even in cooking!

But not all is bad at Hearth NY.  They have a pretty extensive wine list, whilst long and educational, might also be perceived as a bit laborious and flabby, just all over the place, like a long winded professor or priest, and just like this sentence..... :(((((   Overall you can come here and try some interesting stuff by the glass.  That part is cool.  But if you're looking to pair the wines with food, then RUN and don't look back.  Cuz you won't be getting any edible good food with those nice wines.  Quite unfortunate.

What I drank at Hearth that night:  2009 Gruner by Aldo Sohm.  Pretty darn yum.

It was 1030pm and I was disappointed (pissed!) at my #epicfail "big night" of the week.  I was DETERMINED to redeem myself.  I quickly sauntered down to the respected Michelin Star David Bouley restaurant  "Brushstroke"  My good friend Seju Yang was and is the opening Sommelier here.  Seju comes from a respectable background in Jazz study  as well as being the opening Sommelier for Kyo-Ya and 15 East (two of New York's other well respected Japanese sushi establishments).  I LOVE the wine program Seju has developed at Brushstroke.  From its humbler beginnings of being just a few pages thin and only having Prosecco as its bubbly - to now a growing book with Seju's copyrighted "Rainbow" wine list by the glass.  And (drumroll!) an impressive selection of elegant, extremely small production champagnes that even industry wine aficionados covet.  In other words, time with Seju is guaranteed to be fun.  We both love acidity, minerality, and complexity.

Seju brought over a beautiful glass of wine to soften my crying, cringing, face (result of bad Hearth NY food).  He actually laughed at me for that.  Yeah, I guess it can be funny to see your friend post-eating a bad meal, and the look of truth on their facial expression.  Back to the glass.  100% Albarino, only 40 cases allotted for US distribution (that's 6 barrels for the world!), the revered "Muti" by Raul Perez.

I won't try to introduce the wine, as Seju does it perfectly below.

2010 Albarino "Muti" Rias Baixas Spain Paul Perez, at Brushstroke, New York

After 20 minutes at the bar at Brushstroke and sipping on some insanely searing, laser-like focused wine (yes!), I started to regain my composure.  Seju shared with me some personal insights on Brushstroke's fairly new sushi bar (below!).  Basically, when I get back from Paris in two weeks, I'm making a beeline to the sushi bar at Brushstroke.  And I know I'll love the wine list too.  Match made!

Voyeurism at the Brushstroke Sushi Bar, New York

It was only 11:30pm by now, so we rocked on up to Corkbuzz - a swanky wine bar made by Sommeliers, FOR Sommeliers.  My kind of place!  We went straight for the champagne, with a shimmer in our eyes, and low cackling laughs as we rejoiced in the decadence of our evening.  Heheheheh!

I let Seju have the honor of choosing whatever champagne.  Mind you, I had that 2004 Cristal Brut listed below in Israel 3 weeks back... disappointed... Seju says that's just too young to drink right now.  Perhaps.  In my nascent few years of studying wine part-time professionally (is that even..??) - I've discovered that the wine pros are very seriously... almost fanatic, about top line champagnes.  It wasn't until a few months ago, when I had my first dulcet, minerally, effervescent, few drops of heaven... That 1996 Pierre Gimonnet.  The champagne that changed my perception on wine... the "a-ha" moment, if you will.  And lucky for me, my source has a few more boxes of this tucked away in private wine storage, so I've had a few more bottles at my disposal over the months.  My palate learns ferociously quick!!!

So... scroll down to see our prized champagne for the eve... seemed eons away from that dreaded, fast-food-stir-fry salad and chunky swordfish dish at Hearth NY from just over an hour prior.  SoleSaved. Quickly.

Champagne List at Corkbuzz, New York

2004 Pierre Peters Les Chetillons Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru

But wait!  The night was not over yet.  We drank our champagne sillily (!) without anything to eat... truly, truly, in pure decadence.  Come 1230am, two hungry (maybe buzzed) Asians, and only one thing can do - go for Korean late night!  That's right.  So we topped off our delicious evening of 2004 Pierre Peters Grand Cru with... below.  :)  WELL DONE.  A night firstly gone wrong - quickly saved with the help of Seju and rare Albarino, Grand Cru Champagne, and KOREAN LATE NIGHT GRUB!  2am and it was time to say good night.  And a good night it was.

So stay tuned in upcoming days as I catch up on my backlog of world wind international extreme cuisines from Hong Kong!  Next stop - PARIS!!!!

Kunjip Korean Food Late Night, New York

Bourgogne Cote De Nuits with Seju Yang:

More on Seju Yang (Brushstroke, Sommelier):

Yours truly,

Soledad B.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Shilin Night Market (士林夜市): Taipei, Taiwan

Date:  mardi 1 mai 2012
Location:  Shilin Ye Shi (Shilin Night Market) - the taxi driver will know!

I always make a stop through the famous Shilin Night Market whenever I visit Taipei.  No Taiwan trip would be culturally replete without it.  Upon visiting last night, my friend and I were pondering if there was any other place like Shilin in the world.  We couldn't conjure anything up. 

The night market is exactly as it sounds - a kitchy bazaar comprised of over 500+ small food stalls exhibiting traditional Taiwenese street foods and many more small shops selling all kinds of inexpensive crooks and curios from clothing items, to kitchen items, to beauty items, to electric fly swatters in the shape of tennis rackets with zapping metal strings (my personal favorite!).  Hours are daily 4pm-2am, catering to the first wave of students out of school, and then into the evening and late night for wanderers looking to laze some time away in search of a good bargain.  Always be sure to bargain! 

I guess the best way to relate the experience of walking through the night market is to describe the feeling and smells one will definitely encounter.  First of all, it's extremely humid.  Taiwan is a tropical island, and Taipei is a city on this island, surrounded by valley mountains.  Steamy hot!  Secondly, traditional Taiwanese street foods consist of many small plate items.  Oyster omelettes, oyster noodles, shaved ice with fruit, grass jelly, red bean, green bean, and condensed milk toppings. 

Most popular Taiwan street foods are the deep-fried or pan-fried items.  Imagine the oil particles wafting through the air and onto your skin mixed in with the steam of the night.  Just lovely.  Fried chicken, fried beef meat balls, fried fish balls, fried intestines, and one of my must tries - the infamous deep-fried fermented (preserved) tofu. 

You can smell the unmistakable sour, stench of the "stinky tofu" from many feet away.  It lures you via a game of "follow your nose" to the little fried fermented tofu food stall that is bustling around the large wok of boiling oil.  As rancid as this may sound (or smell), this is a traditional Taiwanese snack that must be experienced!  On the contrary it actually tastes quite good as opposed to its rank, foul odor.  The texture is a chewy, fried puff of tofu skin with a sparse bit of doughy, custard-like tofu inside, with hints of seared garlic oil.  Usually it is served with a side of pickled cabbage and drizzled with black vinegar.  You can add chili sauce on the side too as we usually do.         

Yumm!  Fermented Stinky Fried Tofu!  Locals love this dish every now and then.

View of the Stinky Tofu food stall from the side, where we sat and enjoyed our stinky little bite sized goodies.  

So, imagine yourself wading through the night market street stalls smelling of fried foods, oil in the air, feeling the natural Taiwan sticky steam on your face and skin, seeing the many random knick knacks the small shops are selling, and hearing the shop keepers sometimes advertising the sale of their goods through a megaphone, as if at an auction.  It is a bustling and thrilling experience indeed, and all of your sense will be tantalized.  This is a unique experience to Taipei and I love it!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge: SFO International

Date:  mercredi 25 avril 2012
Location:  Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge at SFO International Airport

Asian hospitality is always taken to the next level.  Probably Americans, Europeans, and Middle Easterns could stand to learn a lot from the kind of courtesy that is demanded by businessmen in certain Asian environments and even in everday living.   

This kind of courtesy rooted in steep cultural tradition emanates from centuries of history, tradition, values, and wisdom.  Chinese and Japanese cultures especially, in ancient times, held high respect to others in all aspects of life.  Hence the selflessness and random acts of kindness in everyday living.  In general, the family unit in Asian cultures is very strong, so you'll easily see the traditional respects of courtesy passed down to today's Chinese and Japanese individuals.   

My professional work has me traveling 100% of the time around the globe for better or for worse.  The better part is that I experience many cultures, foods, and places that most individuals would never even fathom.  The worser part is - sometimes I must endure cultures and environments that are less than hospitable.  Those kinds of harsher environments don't make sense to me, and blaming the fault on a "young" nation just isn't good enough of an explanation for me either - because taking Taiwan as a positive example, it is a country that is only about 60 years old too.     

Therefore, it is important for me to spend time back in Asia yearly and reconnect with my roots.  To feel the energy and vibrancy of my steep traditional culture and values juxtaposed amongst the hustle and bustle of truly fast paced modern society pushing the envelope in technology, electronics, and mobile standards.  Sorry New York City, Hong Kong is on steroids compared to you and a whole lot more efficient too.  Finally - I return to Asia yearly to eat authentic Asian cuisine which offers the most exotic and finest delicacies in the world.  I know I'm right when I judge certain tastes, because frankly, I come from a global palate. 

Long story short - Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge in SFO International Airport held me by quite a nice surprise last week.  Upon entering, I was greeted warmly, hospitably, and efficiently.  No detail was left behind, as I was given the complimentary WiFi password and then courteously welcomed to the breakfast lounge.  Complimentary breakfast was served - a minimal standard - but low and behold what really pleased me was the made-upon-ordered traditional breakfast items.  Won Ton Noodle Soup, Dan Dan Noodles, and/or Shrimp Fried Rice.  Yes, I went for a second helping of the Won Ton Noodle Soup.  Better than any place in Chinatown San Francisco, perhaps better than I'd had in numerous places in Hong Kong too.  the broth was so tasty, savory, yet clean and light in texture.  The wontons were handwrapped and delicate and juicy.  The egg noodles were just right, and the few stems of bok choy lettuces were a healthy delight.  The kitchen was small but tidy, and very clean.  Each little dish came out freshly prepared and your remote beeper would flash as soon as your individual order was read.  Of course, efficency at its best, one of what Hong Kong culture does best! 

Great job Cathay Pacific for making me feel at home with your hospitality - and by offering me such a simple dish that was so perfectly created, so deliciously appreciated by my hungry soul, that I immediately connected back with my Chinese roots.  The perfect way to embark on my San Francisco to Hong Kong 14 hour non-stop flight. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yo'Ezer Meat and Wine Bar: Tel Aviv, Israel

Date: Various, Winter 2012
Location:  Yo'ezer ish habira 2, סמטת יועזר איש הבירה 2‎ Tel Aviv, Israel
The wine bar is on the inland (east) side of Yefet St, a few feet down an alley opposite the clock tower.
Telephone:  +972 03-683-9115

Pictured left, pioneer of journalistic food writing in Israel, Yo'Ezer owner Shaul Evron.

This is a cozy, sophisticated, gem of a find in the characteristic Old Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv. I was invited to have lunch here one day by one of the world’s finest wine connoisseurs around, Monsieur Yair Haidu.  Tasting blind is the only way this gentleman tastes fine wines - a pretty darn precise palate to say the least.  Suffice to say, fine meals to follow dining in his company. 

Most of you know that I’m a flexible vegetarian. If foie is on the menu, I’m ordering it. If Kobe Beef is on the menu, I’m ordering it. If escargot is on the menu, you know the drill. Basically I'm eating meat only if it is very excellent quality.

Yo'Ezer specializes in meats.  But we’re not talking hunks of meats here.  Yo'Ezer cures their own meats, smokes their own salmon, etc.  It’s a finessed take on the preparation of fine meats.  Not the average Israel chock-it-up and drop-it-like-its hot-on-your-table type of restaurant experience by any means.  Quite the opposite, with a seemingly xperienced European approach.  Dishes are savory, possess a great amount of acidity (yay!) coupled with mellifluous harmony of seasonal ingredients.  Altogether, an awakening concoction is created on your palate.  There is a zing to each dish here which I'm still remembering as I scribe this from Hong Kong.

We entered Yo'Ezer through an arched cave underway, tucked inside a building dating back to the Crusader era. Already feeling very good! We joined Shaul at the bar, my preferred dining seating.  The ambiance at Yo Ezer is for the mature, refined, food and wine lover. People are speaking in low tones here, partaking in the slow eating of savory cheese plates, delighting themselves in the myriad of fine meat dishes, indulging in the famous rich and creamy 40-eggs pasta dish. 

Yo'Ezer also has an impressive wine list, as also dubbed by my San Francisco wine specialist friend Laely Heron ( who recently visited Israel and Yo'Ezer with her local wine foodie friends.  This is another indicator that those in the international food and wine scene know that this is a critic's choice place to dine.   

I requested Chablis to start off our lunch, since I was a kid in a candy store seeing the fresh raw oysters Shaul was deliciously eating up.  Shaul offered me an oyster from his plate too.  I was elated!  Harbinger to a guaranteed splendid long, languid, Soledad style luncheon.  I was quite happy.

Yo'Ezer also makes the best cocktails in Israel. Hailing from San Francisco (where we coined the term “mixologist” as opposed to “bartender”), I’m pretty snobbish about my cocktails. Tinctures vs. bitters, shaken vs. stirred, artisan ice vs. crushed, that’s the kind of detailed cocktail I’m talking about. Those details aren't just for looks or being trendy either.  They have every bit to do with temperature, composition, and refined taste per drink made that I expect in my glass.  I liked the Sidecar that the head bartender at Yo'Ezer made for me. I remembered it.

Below photos are what became a gastronomic feast that I would rate as one of my top lunch experiences globally.  For the international food and wine lover, Yo'Ezer is a gem of its kind in Israel and maybe even the world. I will definitely be back.

Sweet, delicate fresh oysters. Right amoubt of brine.

Sheeps brain, egg yolk, bread.  A rich and exotic surprise to my palate.

A medley of finely cured meats and salmon delight, with a paired side of egg salad with the right amount of acidity balancing the protein dishes.

Extremely memorable pairing of lox, mini pancake, and artisan cream cheese spread.  Again, showcasing proper acidity paired with right creamy texture and fluffy sweetness of mini pancake.

Savory beef bourguignon - if I were a carnivore I would not have shared this dish.

Perhaps my favorite dish of all!  A seemingly pedestrian style dish, however amazed with its succulent combination of savory and sour, right acidity, and absolutely perfect textural pairings of meat, smooth potatoe, crispy pickles, and pickled sauerkraut.  Not such a pedestrian dish afterall.   

Ahhh, very nicely prepared pasta al dente.   Just like they make it in Italy.  Prepared with juicy combination of stewed beef and fresh pecorino cheese shaved on top.

Pretty good Sidecar cocktail.  Soledad favorite still lies with Spuce SF, however (

May very be the best Spanish style flan I've had all of my global culinary adventures... Perfect creaminess, perfect texture on top, perfect caramel butterscotch sauce.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Friday Shabbat Dinner: Tel Aviv, Israel

Date:  vendredi 10 fevrier 2012
Location:  Private home in Herziliya Pituach, Israel

Friday Shabbat dinner is a wonderful thing here in Israel, for better or for worse, according to some.  For me, as a foreigner and a foodie, it's always nice knowing that I have something to do on Friday night (revolving around warm food, of course!).  And very good food too, might I add. 

I've been extremely lucky in my world travels to have met some pretty fantastic people who have become lifelong friends.  One friend in particular took me under his wing for no particular reason at all - other than - as I like to think, his having a soft heart and feeling my need for genuine friendship and help acclimatizing to Tel Aviv from a multi-cultural perspective.  Amongst glib English speakers.  :)  His friends quickly became my friends.  I also received the selective invitation (more than once) to attend Shabbat dinner on Fridays at his parents' beautiful home in Herziliya Pituach (a very nice area, liken it to the Beverly Hills of Israel). Coming from Chinese culture, it is not every day that we invite  people into our home for family dinner (too paranoid of our dirty laundry being picked up on and spread out into the public!).  So, I am eternally grateful for these gestures.   Never to be taken for granted.  

At the Kolitz home, it is always warm inside and many hugs and kisses are shared as we arrive.  In these recent winter months, we arrived inside from the outside cold, wet, and windy night.  I am always especially excited to see what home cooked meals are going to be served on the beautifully arranged dining table.  Everyone speaks very well English, which actually is not the norm in Israel.

Mostly, I arrive feeling like the big bad wolf - tongue dripping and salivating, cannot wait to see and taste what's going to be served that night!  Ariel's Mom and their house keeper are excellent chefs.   And thank God they do not overly salt anything at all!

When I reflect upon my Israel Adventure-Journey, this is one of the events I feel most honored to be part of.  The open warmth and welcoming from one particular very generous and giving individual, and my life in Israel was suddenly very much more than OK. :)

I love proper place settings!  :)

This was DELICIOUS warm soup... prepared with lentil beans, tomatoes, onions, and light spices.  Of course, you can see I am a little bit of messy eater when I get excited!

There is always red wine at the table.  :)  2006 Castel Cabernet.

Home-made mustard from mustard seeds!  Can't get enough of this stuff!  The jar was empty by end of dinner.  :)  

YUM!!!  Freshy boiled winter artichokes.

I <3 roasted AUBERGINE (but not in Green Curry - NEVER!) prepared Middle Eastern way.  Always comes out a bit smoky tasting, love it!

Always a healthy, fresh, salad or vegetable.  

Beautiful roasted beef, prepared with herbs!  Wonderful!

Delicious freshly homemade tahini (please don't say it with the HGEBREGEEEWW accent, I can't stand it!).  

 Roasted juicy chicken and potatoes!  My favorite was the roasted parsnips in there!

It's always great eating POMELLO when someone else has already peeled it for you!