Thursday, March 31, 2011

London, England - Nobu London

There are three reasons I keep going back to Nobu on Old Park Lane in London:

1) They serve my favorite champagne, Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose, by the glass
2) The signature dish: Miso Black Cod
3) Green tea ice cream

Even as newer and trendier Asian eateries are constantly opening in London (the new Hakkasan in Mayfair, Yauatcha, Zuma, to name a few), Nobu maintains its reputation as a consistent favorite. Popular amongst visiting businessmen and high-brow international tourists staying at the nearby hotels on Park Lane, I've still never been able to get a reservation earlier than 9:45pm (and I know ALL the angles). It would appear then, that Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's sushi business is booming.

The sushi bar
A lively space with Hyde Park views on the second floor of the building that houses the famous Metropolitan London Hotel, Nobu has been serving "new style" Japanese with a Peruvian flair since 1997. The restaurant has also been awarded a Michelin star. There is a large sushi bar and the overall space can accommodate 150 people.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose by the glass

The menu is quite extensive, offering sushi, sashimi, salads and soups, rice, appetizers, tempuras, a list of special dishes as well as main courses and delicious desserts. Here is a look at what we devoured.

Appetizers: Spicy tuna roll, O-Toro sashimi, avocado and sweet potato tempura, Rock Shrimp Tempura with ponzu sauce, Nobu special tuna tacos, miso soup.
A spicy tuna roll and O-Toro sashimi
Various vegetable tempura

Rock shrimp tempura with ponzu sauce
Main dishes: Chicken with terriyaki sauce and white rice, Miso Black Cod

A classic chicken with terriyaki sauce

The piece de resistance: Miso Black Cod

Dessert: Chocolate Bento Box (chocolate flourless cake with green tea ice cream), Lollipops (vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate), Banana split 3000 (poached banana, hot chocolate foam, saffron crumble and torrone ice cream), as well as extra Green Tea Ice Cream on the side (as if we were lacking on the desserts!).
My favorite green tea ice cream, I could eat pints of this!

Vanilla ice cream lollipops covered in chocolate
(a flourless chocolate cake with green tea ice cream can be
 seen in the bento box behind, and the Banana 3000 off to the right)
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Monday, March 28, 2011

London, England - Osteria Basilico

I've been coming to Osteria Basilico in Notting Hill for thirteen years. It is my favorite casual spot for Italian food in all of London, and I make it a point to eat here at least once each time I am back in the city. I first discovered this restaurant when I was a study abroad student living in London during my sophomore year of college. After a long morning of shopping on nearby Portobello Road with my parents, we were looking for a lunch spot, but were unfamiliar with the area. I just happened to overhear a conversation on the street where an American ex-pat was telling a friend that she and her banker husband had recently moved to London and their favorite italian restaurant, Osteria Basilico, was only one block away. Thanks to my keen hearing, we scouted it out, were lucky to get a table with no reservation, had a fabulous meal, and have been coming back ever since.
An inviting candle lit dining room, as seen from the street
The Osteria is a tiny place on two floors. I like the basement seating as much as the street level, as there is a very cozy, rustic farmhouse feel and candles everywhere. The street level has large windows that look out onto Kensington Park Road. Seating is very close together and come lunch or dinner, there is never a free table, this place is always packed, so make sure to reserve ahead of time. The menu is divided into starters, pasta, meat and fish, side dishes, pizzas and dessert. It is a fairly extensive menu and there is something to please all tastes. I've never had a bad meal here and that is why I keep coming back. I like the fact that all the waiters are Italian, it adds to the authenticity of the place.

Last week I ate here with two friends and we sampled many items from the menu. We all started with the special appetizer, which was prosciutto and burrata cheese. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made of mozzarella and cream, and usually served at room temperature. The outside layer is the harder mozzarella, while the inside filled with cream as well, gives a soft and unusual texture. Simply delicious!
Fresh burrata cheese and prosciutto
Next we sampled two pasta dishes. The first was a fabulously flavorful homemade fettuccine pasta served with a veal and rosemary ragu and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese on top. You can never go wrong with a fresh pasta and a warm meat sauce, if it is done correctly, and this one hit the spot. The other pasta was a spaghetti with mixed vegetables (asparagus, tomatoes, carrots), pancetta and scallops in a white wine sauce. I loved the taste of the scallops and the pancetta together and the white wine sauce was both light and delicious. For a meat course, we ordered the veal milanese cutlet with a bed of arugula and cherry tomatoes. The meat was tender and pounded very thin, which is how I like it, and not overly greasy from being pan fried.
Fettuccine with veal and rosemary ragu with shaved parmigiano reggiano

Spaghetti with mixed vegetables, pancetta and scallops

Veal milanese with arugula and cherry tomatoes

 For dessert, they bring you complimentary cantuccini, or small biscotti, with almonds that are great for dunking into a sweet dessert wine. We also had a classic tiramisu with layers of lady fingers, mascarpone cheese, espresso and marsala wine. It was a little heavy on the marsala, but still very enjoyable. I am already plotting my next visit to Osteria Basilico! As a side note, should they be completely full, they also own two other Italian restaurants on the same road, Mediterraneo and Essenza, that I hear are equally as good.

Cantuccini biscuits offered by the house

A classic tiramisu

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

London, England - Bar Boulud

Daniel Boulud, the three Michelin star chef, has finally made it over to the other side of the pond, and opened his first restaurant abroad in the brand new Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge. The restaurant is very much a scene right now and is serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. I had lunch there two days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The front entrance
The interior design is said to be a modern interpretation of a wine cellar and the designer, Adam Tihany, used classic materials such as oak wood floors, leather banquettes, and a zinc-topped bar with a cork panel facade. The restaurant is divided into two dining rooms: a front room, which benefits from nice natural light from the front windows, as well as a back room with a wide open working kitchen whose long glass counter displays charcuterie and cheese. Tables are fairly close together and the menu is every bit french bistro fare. The waitstaff were very accommodating and attentive.
An open kitchen in the back dining room
There is a daily prix fixe menu with two and three course offerings, as well as a daily specials menu too. There is also quite an extensive list of charcuterie (many pates and foie gras), sausages and fish, including oysters, shrimp, mussels and a caviar selection. Salads, soups and house signature dishes round out the offerings, though the favorites here seem to be the three different NY hamburgers with french fries, each with different ingredients such as confit pork belly and BBQ pulled pork.
The daily prix fixe lunch menu
We ordered a very traditional coq au vin with chicken legs on the bone, mushrooms, bacon, onions, a red wine glaze and short spaetzle noodles.  It was a very flavorful dish and the chicken was cooked to tender perfection, nearly falling off the bone. We also ordered a croque monsieur consisting of ham, gruyere and béchamel sauce drowned in melted cheese on top. The croque monsieur was also very well done, though caloric guilt got the better of me and so I just couldn't bring myself to eat the entire thing.
A traditional Coq au Vin

Croque Monsieur

Yankee burger with cheese

For dessert there is a nice cheese selection, ice cream and sorbets, traditional french madelines and some cakes, a few of which were a classic french cake with brandied cherries, a chocolate tart with peanuts and salted caramel and an amaretto soufflé with praline and passion fruit ice cream. 

The lunch crowd consisted of nearly all affluent women of leisure who live in the area, so your Upper East Side ladies who lunch equivalent that you would find at Bar Boulud in NYC. There were also a few groupings of businessmen and I happened to sit next to the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. I hear that the evening cocktail and dinner crowd is trendy and younger. Overall I had a very positive experience at Bar Boulud and would recommend it highly if you are looking for classic French bistro fare done well.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

London, England - The Lanesborough Hotel

Arrived in London this morning and checked in for four nights to the fabulous Lanesborough Hotel, a favorite haunt of the Aga Khan, Michael Jackson, and many other celebrities and VIPs, located on Hyde Park Corner in Knightsbridge. The Lanesborough was the recipient of the 2011 Condé Nast Gold List: Best Location in the UK award. The hotel is a St. Regis Hotel and has 93 guest rooms, 43 of which are suites, and all are decorated with antiques in typical English regency style.
The lobby entrance to the Lanesborough
I was given a deluxe room on the front of the property with tall ceilings and two massive windows overlooking a balcony and Hyde Park beyond. The room is decorated with dark mahogany wood moulding and furniture, as well as paintings from the 1900s and antique pieces from the 1820s.
A picture of my deluxe room
The sitting area with front facing windows over Hyde Park
I love the fact that they have discreetly installed state-of-the-art technology into many of these old furnishings. For example, press a button and the flat screen TV arises from the top of an antique chest, or open the bedside table drawer and there is an entire touch screen remote that controls all the lights, the temperature, a world clock, the butler button, the do not disturb signal and a message center.

My bedside touch-screen command station
The TV ascends from an old antique bar

My favorite aspect of the hotel is the fact that I have my very own butler assigned to me who is available 24 hours a day. When I arrived, he rang the doorbell to my room and made me familiar with all the amenities of the hotel and the room itself. He then unpacked my luggage, offered me complimentary wardrobe ironing services, brought me tea and gave me my very own personalized stationary and calling cards. There is a button I can ring to call him at any point during my stay. I could get used to this!
My very own calling cards, there was personalized letterhead too
When I came back from a long day of visiting friends and shopping, my butler had left me a bottle of Taittinger Champagne and petits fours, as well as a fruit basket, which came in handy since dinner with my dear friend Aruna Seth was not until 9:30pm. If you are not familiar with Aruna Seth shoes, click on the link here. She is currently in the running to have her bridal shoes worn by Kate Middleton on her wedding day. We are hoping Kate chooses them!! Another nice touch was a good night poem by John Keats left by my bedside and signed, "From Your Butler."
A bottle of champagne and petits fours in my room

A goodnight poem from my butler left by my pillow
One of the most beautiful places to have tea in London is in their Michelin star restaurant called Apsleys. The room features a glass conservatory ceiling, massive chandeliers and comfy couches. There is also a piano player during tea hour. I had the champagne tea service here last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Lanesborough boasts England's first tea sommelier as well, who will guide you through all the different teas and help you select one to your liking. 
Apsleys - A Michelin star restaurant and a lovely afternoon tea setting

I also love the cozy atmosphere of the Library Bar, which has a roaring fireplace and one of the largest vintage cognac collections in the city. The bar is lined with leather bound books, typical British horse and hound paintings, dark leather wing chairs and mahogany wood walls. This is the perfect stop for one last drink before bed (though I could do without the Russian call girls swarming for wealthy male hotel guests).
The Library Bar
Last, but not least, the location of the Lanesborough is in the heart of the Central London and is just a short walk to Harrod's in Knightsbridge. The temptations of Harrods food halls and couture clothing are just too close to resist, so be careful!
Harrods famous department store
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

New York City - Eataly

I remember the days when I would take an empty suitcase with me on trips to Italy so I could bring back all of the authentic food products I could never find at home. Luckily, with the burgeoning of America's absolute love affair with Italy, its food, culture and dolce vita, more and more products have become available on the U.S. market in recent years through import. But some products here just aren't the same. For example, the Nutella you buy in the supermarket is made in New Jersey and they use a different oil than the real stuff that is made in Italy, and therefore, the taste is different. So you see, I take my food seriously. Thankfully, with the opening of Eataly, now I only have to take my empty suitcase as far as New York City.

The cheese counter
Eataly (the original location is in Torino) is a massive 50,000 sq. ft. space that was created by combining two buildings: an old events hall and a row of former toy stores. It sits on lower Fifth Avenue across from Madison Square Park and the iconic Flatiron building. Under one roof you will find anything and everything to do with Italian gastronomy: a butcher, fresh pasta maker, a bakery, coffee shop, chocolate counter, gelato shop, full grocery store, fish monger, salumi and cheese shops, vegetable market, a rotisserie, a wine shop, sandwich shop, bookstore, housewares, even a travel agency and a cooking school, not to mention six different dining options and a 150 seat beer garden on the roof.

Many varieties of homemade pasta for sale
Making fresh ravioli
In addition to the 150 seat rooftop beer garden that will open when the weather is warm enough, let's start with the restaurants:

Le Verdure is a seated counter and a table area that serves Italian style vegetable dishes including soups, bruschetta and warm and cold dishes. A chalkboard describes the day's in-season specials.

La Piazza is a stand up food and drink bar located in the center of the store and serves salami, cheeses, mozzarella and a raw bar as well as wines by the glass or bottle and beer. Counter and standing table space is available on a first come first serve basis and you just find a spot and a server will bring you a menu, take your order, and bring you your food.

Standing at the counters at La Piazza

A salami, cheese and fig with honey board at La Piazza
Il Pesce is a seated counter and table area that serves a raw bar plus Eataly's own creative and traditional take on Italian seafood from antipasto to main course portions. There are specials written on a blackboard that describe the daily catch.

Tables at Il Pesce
Finishing off a meal at Il Pesce
Manzo is a more formal dining experience celebrating meat from the U.S., where you can taste both modern Italian preparations and traditional piemontese beef antipasti, as well as get a full meal including antipasti, pasta, a main course and plated desserts from the meat centric kitchen.
The counter leading into the dining room of Manzo
 La Pizza & La Pasta share two seated counters and a table area that serves artisanal dried pastas as well as fresh pasta, including tagliatelle, lasagna and ravioli. At this location you can also have Rossopomodoro pizza imported directly from Naples, including the pizzaiolas. Pizzas are individual 10" size. I just loved the gilded wood brick ovens!

I decided to eat at La Pizza & La Pasta because I wanted to try their authentic wood brick oven Neapolitan pizzas. I started with a mixed salumi platter that consisted of copp, speck, bresaola and cacciatorin cured meats. They were all delicious. In addition to the full pizza menu, there is also a special pizza of the day, and this is what I decided to order. It was actually three different varieties of pizza in sections on one pie: the traditional Margherita (mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, basil), the Casandrinella (mozzarella, tomato, ricotta, prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano) and the Massese (mozzarella, tomato, basil and spicy salami). The pizza was fairly authentic tasting and well cooked.

A salumi misti
The special pizza of the day

Below is a look at the bakery, the pasticceria, the fishmonger, the butcher shop, as well as the gelateria and Caffe Lavazza:



Here's my final assessment of Eataly: it is an amazing source for imported authentic Italian products and grocery shopping here, where you have everything you need under one roof, is quite amazing. However, if you think Whole Foods on a Sunday is a war zone, you may need to take a tranquilizer before doing your shopping here; in the end it has become a tourist attraction and there are massive crowds. The Caffe Lavazza serves some of the best coffee in the city and their traditional Italian pastries in the morning are sweet reminders of breakfasts in Italy. As far as the restaurants go, if you want a quick pizza, pasta or cheese and salumi platter, your needs will be met. But, if you want a truly authentic, quality, Italian meal, there are so many other places in the city that offer exceptional Italian dishes. If you can sign up for a cooking class with Lidia Bastianich at Eataly's La Scuola coking school before it sells out, I imagine it would be a wonderful experience to be in the presence of one of the finest Italian chefs in the U.S.

Adore the Italian packaging, so beautiful!

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