Joe's Shanghai (Midtown) - Interrupt

>> Thursday, November 29, 2012

Date of Dining: 10/6/2012
Price: $4-10 appetizers, $12-30 entrees
Location: 24 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

The Quick Bit

+ high quality xiao long bao
+ good service for comparable class restaurants
Δ portions could reflect the price better

While I was in New York, I wanted to make a stop to visit one of the famous Chinese restaurants in the city. Unfortunately, the threatening weather influenced me to change from a visit to Chinatown to a restaurant closer to the hotel as I didn't want to get stuck and lost in a rain storm.
Luckily, one of New York's Chinese institutions had a branch close to my hotel. Joe's Shanghai was founded in 1995 and has been recognized as one of the city's best Chinese restaurants by the New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and Zagat. While these accolades may not be quite as recent, I felt that it would still be a good opportunity to sample what the city had to offer in its Chinese cuisine.

mixed seafood asparagus chowder
As the weather was cold and raining, it was absolutely vital that I got a soup to warm up and feel comfortable. This soup accomplished that perfectly as it was heated to nice hot temperature. The mix of vegetables and shrimp was a nice combination as the sweetness of the peas and carrots complemented the sweetness of the shrimp while the mushrooms added some earthiness to balance things out.

crab meat with pork steamed soup buns (xiao long bao)
Joe's signature dish is the soup dumplings, which are offered as just pork or a pork and crab mix; We opted for the pork and crab mix. The dumpling skins were hand made and were extremely delicate - almost translucent, but retained enough strength to hold in the soup within each bun. The amount of soup, the flavor, and the stuffing were all in perfect harmony to give a great bite. These xiao long bao were of the same caliber that I enjoyed at Shanghai's top xiao long bao establishments (Jia Jia Tang Bao). Overall, I was extremely pleased with these soup dumplings.

seafood rice cakes
Because of the Shanghai namesake, I decided to order the rice cakes, which are a classic shanghai dish. The rice cakes were not overcooked and aside from the liberal use of soy sauce, the dish was well composed and enjoyable.


While I was unable to make it to Chinatown during this visit, the quality of Joe's Shanghai gives me hope for future visits. I enjoyed most of the dishes, and the signature soup dumplings were an absolute delight. If I had one complaint about the restaurant, it's that the restaurant seems suck in the nineties as far as the ambiance and plating of the dishes. While the taste of the food remains at a high quality, the feeling of walking into an older time period may be somewhat of a turnoff for the younger crowd, especially in the middle of midtown.


Ess-A-Bagel (Interrupt)

>> Thursday, November 15, 2012

Date of Dining: 10/6/2012
Price: $10.75 for sandwiches
Location: 831 3rd Avenue, New York, NY

The Quick Bit

+ classic bagels made fresh on site
Δ wait time could be shorter

While I was in New York, one of the things I wanted to try was the classic lox and bagel. After consulting many different sites, I chose Ess-A-Bagel as the place to try the delicacy based on location and reputation.
Established in 1976, Ess-A-Bagel has become a staple of the New York bagel scene. The bagels are boiled and baked on premises constantly throughout the day.
everything bagel - nova lox, scallion cream cheese
For my one breakfast at Ess-A-Bagel, I settled on the classic sandwich. While I asked for a hot bagel, I assume this was code for tourist and I felt my bagel was anything but hot and fresh. Further, the lox was not particularly good to make up for the bagel; the kirkland brand smoked salmon you get at Costco was better. Overall, I have to say that the sandwich was a little better than what you would get at the local Einstein Bros. However, when cost and convenience are factored in, I didn't particularly feel that Ess-A-Bagel was far superior to the local bagel shop.


Ultimately, I have to agree with the Serious Eats article that I referenced when choosing a bagel shop - namely, a bagel older than 30 minutes is indistinguishable from any other bagel. While Ess-A-Bagel was churning out fresh bagels to order from the bagel counter and was packed full of customers, they were unable to send out fresh bagels as sandwiches to customers. This failure is a massive oversight.
If you are in New York and want to enjoy great bagel and lox, I recommend ordering the lox and cream cheese separately and then going to the bagel counter to make your own sandwich. This will ensure the freshest bagel with the best taste.


TBL3 @ George's California Modern (November 2012)

>> Friday, November 9, 2012

Date of Dining: 11/8/2012
Price: $170 for TBL3, $80 for wine pairing
Location: 1250 Prospect, La Jolla, CA 92037

The Quick Bit

+ seasonal ingredients prepared masterfully
+ great selections of wine for pairing
+ completely different experience from previous TBL3
Δ the storytelling of the experience could have been more consistent

While I've enjoyed a variety of other tasting experiences in the past year, it would have been wrong of me to not visit the penultimate progressive meal this year (and during my personal favorite food season of the year). During the TBL3 meal last year, I learned much more about Chef Trey Foshee's food and was so happy that many of the dishes won my end of the year awards.
For this TBL3, many other food writers were included - it was organized by Yao at {insert-food} and also included Rodzilla as well as (newly launched) Foodie Flirt. It was a great opportunity to catch up with Yao after his trip to Australia and meet Foodie Flirt for the first time.
Perhaps as a disclaimer, I've been sick for about a week prior to this meal, but felt good enough to go eat the food. I feel like I was able to taste about 80% of the flavors but may have missed some of the more delicate touches.

First Course

local lobster - spiny lobster leg meat, citrus whipped cream, northern divine salmon roe,
jerusalem artichoke, sorrel
pairing: NV Henry Devernay Brut
The meal opened with the seasonal spiny lobster of local waters. I sampled a piece of the leg meat at first and I was really surprised to discover that the flavor was in fact more intense in the leg meat. The citrus cream was really well done in that the cream was extremely smooth in flavor but the citrus really came through in the flavor. The caviar added a nice element of saltiness. Taken together, the entire dish really worked nicely as an opening course.

Second Course

cup covers the smoke inside the oyster
oyster - fannie bay oyster, candied buddha's hand, apple, celery root puree, smoke
pairing: NV Henry Davernay Brut
As the cup was lifted, a pervasive smoky aroma permeated through the air. The smelling experience of the smoke was truly part of the dining experience. The oyster itself was extremely creamy and had a nice flavor. The celery root puree added a creamy textural component to carry through the dish, which the apples added a bit of sweetness and textural contrast.

Third Course

cup that was covering the oyster
pairing: GCT - gin and tonic with celery and candied buddha's hand
beef tongue - brandade cream, cherry tomatoes, purslane, germanium
This was the best dish of the night for me; moreover this is a strong contender for best dish of the year. Chef Foshee described this dish as a "play on smoke" with the previous dish and also his take on a vitello tonnato.
The beef tongue was incredibly tender and contained a strong essence of beef flavor. It was complemented with the incredible salted cod flavor of the brandade cream. The greens enhanced the flavors of everything and added a needed acidic contrast. When I had everything in my mouth and bit into the tomato, the tomato juice literally burst the flavors throughout my palate as an explosion.
To cap off the dish, the drink was incredibly well done. The smoke in the glass really worked well with the gin and tonic and the celery and candied buddhas hand added a very nice flavor.

Fourth Course

peas - chino farm pea puree, tosse peas, lettuce puree, lemon foam
pairing: 2008 Gutzler Pinot Noir (blanc)
While I was wondering what could possibly follow the amazing beef tongue, this dish was an incredible followup that completely caught me off guard. At first we were wondering if peas were in season, but were informed that there are actually two pea seasons and that the fall pea season is preferred because the sugars in the peas are a bit purer in flavor. This pea puree was incredibly flavorful and supplemented well with the perfectly al dente crunchy peas. The popping texture was an amazing feeling in the mouth. Finally, the lemon foam really worked in brightening the dish and adding a bit of acid without compromising the quality of the peas.

Fifth Course

turnips - sous vide turnip, seaweed butter, uni, white truffle
pairing: 2009 Evening Land 'Summum' Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnay
Chef Foshee came tableside to shave the white truffles on top of the turnips - this is actually my first time to have white truffle, and I can definitely confirm that I prefer it to black. The aroma of the truffle was enough to still permeate through my sick haze and I really enjoyed the aroma.
What I really enjoyed in this dish was the strong umami flavors complemented by the earthy truffles. The turnip cooked sous vide oozed of umami, but was topped with the seaweed butter that even further enhanced these flavors. The uni added a nice salty and seafood contrast while the earthiness of the truffles rounded out the dish.

Sixth Course

chino farms squash - butternut squash puree brussels sprouts, persimmon, pomegranate, brown butter sauce
pairing: 2011 Long Shadow's 'Poet's Leap' Riesling
(photo provided by insert-food - my camera battery died and I lost the save of this photo)

The squash was prepared very nicely as the puree had a really sweet and creamy flavor that was complemented but the crunchiness of the pomegranate seeds. This course was perhaps somewhat lacking without the wine pairing, but really made sense when drinking with the wine. The squash and other fruits acted as the "front end" component to the wine while the Riesling had an incredible long and complex finish to carry through the dish.

Seventh Course

poached chicken - poached chicken, chicken jelly, chicken skin, maitake mushroom
pairing: 2009 Weingut Knoll gruner veltliner
Prior to the meal, Chef Foshee found out I was sick and joked that he would include some chicken soup on the menu; I imagine he was referencing this dish when he mentioned that comment. When Rodzilla read the tweet, he jokingly blamed me for "wasting" a course while Yao and I assured him that it would include some other fabulous ingredients.
While I'm not exactly sure how to interpret this dish, I still felt that it was a great take on a deconstructed chicken soup. The chicken jelly acted as the broth while the poached chicken pieces were the meat. The raw matsutake mushrooms were sliced very thinly and acted as noodles. Those three components taken together had a very soulful and delicate amalgamation of flavor. While the chicken skin was absolutely delicious and a great textural crunch, the boldness of the flavor did somewhat cover the other delicate flavors. However, it was still a great component to be included in the dish.

Eighth Course

snapper - snapper, grapefruit, verbena, fish bone and verbena stock
pairing: 2010 Salwey Pinot Gris
As this was more of a delicate flavor dish, I felt that I perhaps missed some of the delicate flavors from being sick. I really enjoyed the quality of the snapper in the raw form.

Ninth Course

swordfish - swordfish a la plancha, chino farms yellow, green, white cauliflower, italian parsley, bacon
pairing: 2010 Chateau Thivin Gamay
The cauliflower had three preparations - grilled, raw, and puree - and really was the star of the dish. The different contrasts of the cauliflower really supplemented the flavor of the swordfish and added moistness to the fish. The bacon added nice bits of salitness as well.

Tenth Course

soil-crust grill - salt, egg white, star anise, cafe motto coffee
carrot - yogurt, carrot jam
pairing: 2008 Falcor Sangiovese
This dish was a complete revelation and the playfulness was extremely enjoyable as well. The carrot was rich enough to act as a protein from the soil-crust grill and retained much of the coffee flavors. The house made yogurt was incredibly tasty and the sourness of it acted as a nice contrast with the rich earthy sweetness of the carrot. The carrot jam added a nice sweet tartness to really round out the flavors of the dish. 

Eleventh Course

lamb - paella rice, hollandaise squid ink, seaweed, lamb, squid, lamb jus
pairing: 2003 Chateau Simard
A classic surf and turf rounded out the savory courses. The cooking temperatures of every component on the plate was spot on. I especially enjoyed the squid preparation. One interesting thing I found about this dish was that eating each of the proteins with the other components worked well, but eating them together also brought out an entirely different flavor profile that was enjoyable as well

Twelfth Course

frozen yogurt - late season kumquat, kalamata olive,bourbon, vanilla gelee
This course served as a great palate cleanser with the acidity from the kumquat. The frozen yogurt was also extremely well done with the vanilla gelee enhancing the vanilla flavors of the yogurt. What really worked in the dish was the kumquat olive and bourbon mix that complemented the flavors of the vanilla frozen yogurt.

Thirteenth Course

brown butter pear - pear, hazelnut, parsnip panna cotta, parsnip chip
pairing: 2008 domain de durban muscat de beaumes de venise
When Chef Foshee brought out this dish, I was extremely impressed with his description of the parnsnip chip - he described it as a "dynamic garnish." The way my parsnip chip was bent into the great shape, I thought it was dynamic indeed. The pairing of the pear and parsnip was an excellent choice as it contrasted a root vegetable sweetness with the sweetness of a fruit. The hazelnuts was the intermediate earthy flavor that tied the elements together, and the dynamic garnish even seemed to emulate the branches of the tree. I appreciated that this dish was not too sweet, but was packed with flavor.

Fourteenth Course

chocolate cremeux - red wine quince, sesame brittle, cumin ice cream, chocolate cremeux
pairing: 2009 cargasacchi 'invincible sun' late harvest pinot grigio
This was the first time I had quince and I was really impressed with this preparation. There was a nice sweetness and tartness to the dish that really worked well with the cumin ice cream. If I had to pick a star of the dish, it was the cumin ice cream. The spice of the cumin was just the right level to work with the quince and also enhance the flavors of the cremeux. The cremeux was a nice and rich dark chocolate flavor that was a nice way to finish off a meal.


While I felt my first TBL3 experience was a real showcase of Chef Foshee's culinary vision and talent, this experience combined that vision and really showcased all the flavors of fall as well. So many of the components in our meal were extremely seasonal to this time of the year and they were featured prominently throughout the meal. While I consider myself having eaten many things, it was great to enjoy this meal with several components that flavors that I haven't had previously - namely the white truffles, quince, and buddha's hand (as more than a garnish). 
The company I had to enjoy the meal was superb as well. I really enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones as well. 
 While the service was much improved from the last meal, it still has a small ways to improve. While I felt that there was a progression and story to this meal, I got lost in the story somewhere in the middle. Had there been a bit more consistency to how the dishes were brought I feel that the experience would be perfect.
Still TBL3 is easily San Diego's premier tasting experience. My experience at TBL3 this year is enough to upgrade my award to the coveted Terrabyte award. Congratulations Chef Foshee!



>> Sunday, November 4, 2012

Date of Dining: 11/3/2012
Price: $11-18 per appetizer, $15-30 per entree
Location: 655 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

The Quick Bit:

+ great aromas in the food
+ premium ingredients in the food
+ excellent service
+ free validated parking after 5pm
Δ construction in the front makes the restaurant hard to find
Δ some flavors are repeated

When Sora first opened two months ago, I was really interested in trying it. Unfortunately it opened while I was planning for my vacation, so I was unable to attend the opening. Perhaps that is for the better because the restaurant was much maligned in its initial reviews. Fast forward two months, and the owners are trying to re-invent the restaurant. I've seen no less than three separate coupon offers to try and get diners back into the restaurant. It was from the bloomspot deal that I got the opportunity to try a four course dinner for two.
Sora is headed by Chef Teruya Noriyoshi, who trained under renowned Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Chef Noriyoshi worked with the Nobu brand in the flagship restaurant before opening Nobu aboard the Crystal Serenity cruise ship, Nobu Milan, and Nobu San Diego. Sora, which means "sky" in Japanese, focuses on Japanese Italian style dishes that Noriyoshi featured at Nobu San Diego during tasting menus. While there currently is no sushi bar, the restaurant plans to add one in the coming months to supplement the Japanese-Italian fare.

First Course

wagyu tartare - onion, garlic, capers, soy sauce, olive oil ricotta foam
The wagyu tartare was a bit of a misnomer as the meat was torched to give it a smoky flavor. While I was initially perplexed, I liked the seared preparation as it melted the fats in the beef slightly to give the entire dish a great mouth feel. Some bread accompanied the tartare to enable creating a crostini type serving mechanism that worked really well. The olive oil foam added to the mouth feel of the entire dish.
mussels - miso sake broth, yuzu juice, garlic
The mussels were cooked perfectly. The miso sake broth was delicious, but the key ingredient was the yuzu juice; not only did it add the required acidity, it brought a nice freshness to the entire dish. As many of you have noticed, I tend to order mussels a lot because I enjoy them and it gives a good indication on the quality of cooking. In this preparation, I felt both the flavors and technique were among the best mussel preparations I've had.

Second Course

parmesan cheese block for the risotto
truffle and wild mushroom risotto - black truffle, wild mushroom puree
The black truffle risotto was the highlight of the night. First, the truffle aroma from the risotto was totally prevalent when it was initially brought to the table. Then the entertainment factor of the parmesan wheel for the risotto was an added benefit to the dish. Finally, the risotto had great flavor. While the parmesan wheel might be discounted as a parlor trick, it really did add some nicely melted cheese to the risotto and improve upon the flavor. While I worried that the cheese might make the dish too salty, the risotto was perfectly seasoned in the end.
I also felt that there was tremendous value to this dish. While a truffle risotto is likely to set you back $45-60 in most fine dining restaurants, it also includes shaved truffles on top. This particular preparation didn't include the shaved truffles but only cost $28. Moreover, the portion was equal if not greater than those other restaurants. I'd like to see a $5-10 supplement to add shaved truffles on top next time.
uni and crab pasta - garlic negi miso sauce, edamame puree, fusilli di gragnano
While the uni pasta was well-prepared, it was a bit of a letdown after the risotto. There were strong aromas of uni coming from the sauce, and the crab added a nice sweetness that complemented the uni. The pasta was handmade and prepared perfectly al dente. I really enjoyed how the pasta was able to capture the sauce. If I had one complaint about this dish, it's actually that the portion was too large. Because uni is a strong flavor, the extended version of it somewhat overwhelmed my palate. 

Third Course

(Note - while the deal allows ordering 2 entrees, we decided to get 1 so we could try both the risotto and uni pasta)
japanese new york sirloin - wasabi butter armagnac sauce, maitake, shiitake
I had very high hopes for this dish to finish out the night, and I ordered it over the filet because I was fascinated by the description of the wasabi butter armagnac sauce. Unfortunately, the sauce did not live up to my expectations. The meat was still cooked well and went very well with the mushrooms, but the dish seemed flat after the absolute hits of the risotto and the pasta.


green tea tiramisu
I'm not exactly sure where the tiramisu came into this dish, but it was very enjoyable. I didn't really detect liquer, but this dish featured layers of green tea, chocolate cake, and marscapone which were very enjoyable. Best of all, it was not too sweet.


While Sora still has a few things to sort out, I really enjoyed my experience there. The food was well-prepared and well-executed, and the portion sizes were adequate. I would go as far to put Sora as a gaslamp destination for convention goers. I understand that while the restaurant had some initial hiccups, it has learned from those mistakes and is now generally back on the upswing.
I was also extremely impressed with our waiter and the service in general - I would put the service on one star michelin level. The ambiance was somewhat of a strange trendy vibe, but that is to be expected from gaslamp restaurants.
All of this is enough for Sora to get the megabyte award.


Regina Pizzeria (North End) - Interrupt

>> Thursday, November 1, 2012

Date of Dining: 10/2/2012
Price: $11-14 small pizza, $19-23 large pizza
Location: 11 1/2 Thatcher St, Boston, MA 02113

The Quick Bit

+ brick oven pizza -> great tasting crust
+ great selection of specialty pizzas
Δ wait can be long

While many people argue about the merits of New York pizza vs Chicago pizza, my friends from Boston have always insisted that Boston pizza was actually the best. Intrigued, I made sure to make a stop to try the Boston pizza from what was allegedly the best pizza in the city.
Regina Pizzeria has been open since 1926 and was mainly a family run operation until it was expanded in the last decade. While I did pass some of the mall locations, I noticed that those locations used conventional style ovens to cook the pizza. However, what makes Regina special is its brick oven that was built in 1888; the oven reaches temperatures in excess of 700 degrees, which makes the crust taste especially unique. Another specialty of Regina is that the sausage is made fresh daily.
St. Anthony - regina sausage, sausage links, roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms, garlic, mozzarella
As I dropped by Regina during the afternoon to avoid the rush, I only had space to sample a small pizza as part of a snack. I settled on the St Anthony because it contained the specialty sausage and was also a white pizza.
In the first bite, I knew that the crust was special. The style of the pizza isn't quite VPN - I'd say it's more of an Americanized version of VPN, which made the experience much more enjoyable. Moreover the flavor of the Regina sausage really stood out. It had a nice complex flavor of spice mixed into the pork sausage that made the flavors of the St Anthony special. 


While I haven't tried the best Chicago and New York pizzas to declare a winner of the best style of pizza in the US, if Boston Pizza is in the style of Regina, it will be hard to beat. The pizza had all the characteristics I enjoy of the VPN style pizzas, but were brought up a notch. Keeping in mind that Regina is a completely casual style restaurant, it was definitely one of the better pizzas I've had in my life.
Regina Pizzeria gets a bit award for the great tasting brick oven pizzas.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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