Wednesday, December 31, 2014

SEPTIME (11eme, Paris, France)

80 Rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
Tel: +33 1 43 67 38 29
$$$$ ($50+) [€ 65 for set dinner]
Tues, 12/23/2014, 7:30pm reservation
  (2 Piglets)

Sometime a few years ago, Chef Bertrand Grebaut decided to open up this little restaurant called Septime. These days, its one of the hardest reservations to get in Paris. Hidden with no sign in front of its doors other than a piece of paper taped on the window that reads "Septime", this 1 Michelin star restaurant is rustic and the menu is innovative. If you want to order a la carte, you're out of luck here. It's a set menu and you have no idea what you're in for.

My cousin who resides in Paris was able to secure a reservation by calling the minute the reservation lines opened (10:00am,3 weeks prior to the reservation date). Upon arrival, we were seated immediately. Wooden chairs and candle-lit tables are distributed throughout the restaurant with a fairly open kitchen. Water is served in old gin bottles. The menu was not given out tonight but rather, was going to be a surprise according to our waiter. Waiters speak both French and English so no translation book is necessary at this establishment.  


THE FIRST COURSE: Raw scallops lay under a layer of pickled cabbage. The essence of parsley is sprinkled throughout the dish. This is probably one of my favorites. It was a great start to the menu. It was light, not overpowering with flavor, and the scallops were magnificent.

THE SECOND COURSE: Another light dish. It had pickled root with herbs and a sauce that complemented each ingredient. The sauce was creamy, but it was necessary to coat the roots in this dish.

THE THIRD COURSE: Soup broth with raw oysters and daikon. This was by far, my least favorite dish. The broth was decent but the mere fact of having cold raw oysters in a warm broth did not suit my palate. The first oyster was good but the second oyster had an off taste. Funny enough, I experienced food poisoning one hour following my meal. Was it from the oysters? Most likely....

THE FOURTH COURSE: Fish dish. The fish was delicious. Slightly flakey, not overcooked, and had an orange butter sauce to accompany the dish. It was served with an herb salad.

THE FIFTH COURSE: Meat dish. It was a type of poultry. Good. Moist. Nothing spectacular in my opinion.

DESSERT 1: It had a cream with a pumpkin sauce. Granola was served along with it. This felt more like a breakfast dish than a dessert. I wasn't completely amazed by this dish.

DESSERT 2: My favorite dish. It had a cake with hazelnut ice cream and hazelnuts. Everything about this dish was decadent. The warm cake went nicely with one of the best ice creams I've ever tasted. If I could just have a bowl of that ice cream, I would be a very happy camper.

Overall, I was not overly impressed with this restaurant. Yes, it was good. Yes, it has a Michelin star, but the overall menu was not that superb. My cousin and I had ordered a red wine prior to our meal, and the waiter failed to inform us that the wine we ordered would not complement our dishes. When we asked our waiter about it after the second course, he also agreed but did nothing to make our experience memorable. Regardless, my experience will be memorable just for the mere fact that this Michelin-starred restaurant gave me FOOD POISONING. Would I come back? Maybe... as I always give restaurants a second chance; however, I wouldn't go out of my way to get a reservation. We each paid around €80 for the meal. With that price, there are plenty of better restaurants in Paris to try.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

BARRAFINA (Soho, London, UK)

54 Frith Street
London  W1D 4SL
Tel: +44 020 78138016
$$$$ ($50+)
Mon, 12/22/2014, 2:15pm walk-in (no reservations available)
    (4.5 Piglets)

Hidden on a bustling side street in London, this restaurant was first opened in 2007 by brothers Sam and Eddie Hart. They now have opened a second Barrafina as of July 2014 on Adelaide Street in Covent Garden (again, unreserved with 29 stools). The restaurant is small and casual. Inside, stools surround the open kitchen, and if you're lucky, you may be able to snag just one of them. Outside, a few tables are conveniently placed perfect for people watching.

The restaurant's menu consists of traditional and contemporary tapas. Headed by Executive chef Nieves Barragan Mohacho, the food is pure, fresh, and full of distinctive Spanish flavor. The restaurant recently earned their first Michelin star and is rated as one of the top 100 restaurants by TimeOut London. So my expectations: must be delicious.

We arrived at 2:15pm on a Monday with a queue inside. Seven people were ahead of us and we were told that we may be turned away (the restaurant closes at 3:00pm). Luckily, we were the last two to be taken and as a result, we ordered our dishes within 2 minutes, whilst standing waiting in the queue to be seated. Word of advice: go early or go home!

The menu:

CHORIZO IBERICO DE BELLOTA (£6.00): The spicy oil from the chorizo coats your mouth in every bite. It is one of those dishes where if you want a good chorizo, you order this dish.

COURGETTE FLOWER (£7.80): My favorite dish. This dish is probably one of the best courgette (zucchini) flowers I've ever had. Literally. The tempura batter was fried to perfection. And when you take that first bite, it oozes out a mild cheese that goes perfectly well with the tempura and courgette. I shared this dish, but I probably should have ordered one for myself cause it is quite small and well worth it.

OCTOPUS WITH CAPERS (£9.80): Imagine a delicate octopus, sliced, grilled and seasoned with the most delectable Spanish spices. Well, then you have this dish. The briny capers cut through the richness of this dish. The octopus was cooked perfectly and definitely did not have that rubber-like texture that many do when overcooked.

JAMON AND SPINACH TORTILLA (£7.00): This was my least favorite dish. The texture seemed to be a bit off. Everything from the sauce in the tortilla, to the spinach and the ham just seemed like a soggy mess. Probably best to order the original tortilla.

HAM CROQUETAS (£4.50 FOR 2): This dish was pretty good. The outside was crunchy the way a croqueta should be. Inside, trickled a bit of cheese and ham. This was definitely a creamy, heavy dish so two per order seemed about right.

WILD SEA BREAM (£12.80 FROM THE SPECIAL): This was a good fish. It was definitely fresh and you can taste the lemon and garlic infused to the fish. Skin was slightly crispy, which was ideal. The white fish definitely wasn't too pungent. Once you butcher the fish, run it through the olive oil sauce that the fish is marinated in. It finishes off the fish nicely.

KARMA DE DRAC 2011 (£6.00 FOR 125ML GLASS): This was a perfect red. Not too bold and heavy but quite light. It went perfectly well with the dishes and didn't seem to contrast any of the dishes too much. A must order.

Overall, it was a lovely meal from start to finish. We each paid approximately £40 for a drink and all the dishes. The only con is the fact that there are no reservations taken. Would I recommend this place again? Definitely! Only one bad dish amongst the many ordered!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

TAYYABS (Whitechapel, London, UK)

83-89 Fieldgate Street
London E1 1JU
Tel: +44 020 7247 9543
$$ ($15-30)
Sun, 12/21/2014, 8:00pm reservation
    (4 Piglets)

When venturing out to London, it is only customary to have a good curry during your visit. A patient of mine had recommended this place, which was recommended to him by the celebrity food critic Simon Majumdar (a UK native). Known for their lamb chops, the restaurant was started by Mohammed Tayyab and has been within the family for over 30 years. Their use of spices is generally tasted in every dish.

When seeking Tayyabs, the closest tube stops are either Aldgate East or Whitechapel. It is definitely a bit hidden in an alleyway, but as soon as you see the bright blue lights and the crowd of people standing in the queue, you know you found the right place.

An array of desserts is displayed upon entering the door. People huddle around waiting for their names to be called as the smell of succulent lamb is within their grasp. Tayyabs is a BYOB eatery, so walk over to the nearest off-license or Tesco as soon as you get off the tube stop. And....don't forget to make a reservation for this place! Trust me on this one. It can be done online in less than 2 minutes.

Our bottle of bubbly we brought with us:

Pappadums as well as a salad were provided, along with three different sauces complimentary to the start of the meal. The sauces range from spicy, to a sweet chutney and a cooling creamy sauce. All delicious!

LAMB CHOPS ( £6.50 FOR 4 PIECES): My favorite dish. The chops are delivered in 4 pieces, topped with a tomato and served on a bed of grilled onions. This dish could easily be ordered for each individual. The chops were succulent, rubbed with their own spices and provided with enough heat as to not overwhelm the palate. Is it the best chops I've ever had in my life? I wouldn't say so, but it definitely is ranked high up there and worth a try!

KEEMA NAAN (£2.75): A definite must order. The naan was so fresh and stuffed with minced meat, onions, green chili, and garlic. The bread glistened under the light, waiting to be engulfed by the hungry individuals.

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA (£7.75): The dish is definitely not your normal chicken tikka masala you would find in the States. It contains karahi masala, coriander aka cilantro, onions and chilis. It definitely has a kick so utilize the sauces and the naan. The dish definitely goes well over basmati rice and you can bet your buttons that the chicken was not overcooked or dry! 

KARAHI GOSHT LAMB (£7.00 SMALL): This is my favorite of the two curries. Why? The lamb just melts in your mouth and provides enough heat from the chilis and spices for the dish. Again, naan and basmati rice are a must with this dish.

GARLIC NAAN (£2.00): Order this if you feel like having bread without the stuffing. It is pillowy, soft, and oh so delicious with just the right amount of garlic!

PISTA KULFI AND MANGO KULFI (£2.75 EACH): And just when you thought you were done, you're not. This is a must to finish off the meal. It's ice cream with the creamiest texture in popsicle form. Don't mind the wrapping or the shape of the popsicle. You won't care once you want to cool off your tongue and sink your teeth into these. There are other varieties, but we chose these flavors. No disappointment whatsoever.

Overall, it was a lovely meal shared amongst friends (family style) without breaking the wallet. We each paid £20 with tip and the meal left us thinking about the lamb once more.

Friday, December 19, 2014

CONNIE AND TED'S (West Hollywood, CA)

Connie and Ted's
8171 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
$$$ ($30-$45)
Tues, 08/08/2014, 7:30pm reservation
    (4 Piglets)

Situated on what seemingly resembles a hangar on bustling Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood is Michael Cimarusti's seafood restaurant (yes, that chef from the luxurious 2 Michelin star restaurant Providence in Los Angeles). The restaurant boasts a little bit casual with a little bit of New England flare. The large bar/counter area accomodates those without reservations and offers a look into their fresh seafood display. If you're lucky, you can see one of the guys shucking away at the mouthwatering oysters.

RHODE ISLAND CLEAR ($9.00 BOWL):The bowl was hot that it burned my tongue. It definitely hit the spot if you're in for a taste of fresh clams in a light broth on a cold winter night, or in my case, a hot summer night in LA.

GRILLED CALAMARI ($12.00): The calamari did not have that rubber-like texture found in many that are grilled. It was actually cooked with just a bit of chewiness and sweetness provided by the San Marzano tomatoes. The garlic breadcrumbs rounded out the dish to give the dish the crunchiness it desperately needed.

HOT LOBSTER ROLL ($26.00): Imagine a perfect amount of cooked lobster with hot drawn butter sandwiched between two pieces of perfectly toasted buttered bread. This was exactly what I found in this dish. It had the right amount of lobster to bread ratio and to top it off, fries. You have the option of having the lobster with cold mayonnaise and a side of cole slaw, but I prefer my dishes hot! I feel you can taste the lobster better this way. Just sayin...!

BLONDIE ($9.00): My favorite dish. No matter how full you are, order this dish. You won't regret it. It's that dessert that's supposed to be a brownie but without the chocolate. This dish oozes warm goodness provided by the warm blondie (made in-house) and salted caramel sauce. If you need something to cool it down, don't worry; a scoop of vanilla ice cream (also made in-house) is served.

Overall, from the starters to the main dish, to the dessert, this place is worth a try.