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.