John Dory Oyster Bar

We fell in love with John Dory, not the fish, but the oysters, mainly happy hour.
Original location closed back in August 2009; it only survived for nine months in Chelsea, then suddenly shuttered its door. Couple years later, April Bloomfield and gang tried the idea again in Ace Hotel in 2011. It has been several years now, it seems to be a success. At least For the times we were there, it was packed. I really hope it is here to stay.
Compare to its previous location on 10 Ave, Nomad is more central, with more traffic. When it first open, like any other April Bloomfield’s’ establishment, they have a no reservation policy. But that is not the case anymore. Welcome to the age of online reservation system. My life is much easier.

Like the other establishments from ms bloomfield, the place is wrapped by plants, and filled with colorful, playful, but somewhat crowded decoration. It reminds me of the Macy’s flower show, but this is here to stay, year long. The fish-themed John Dory is the same. Fish tanks over the cocktail bar, laminated fished hanging everywhere, take a walk to the bathroom, you will find “fish” tiles too!
There are two bars in this triple high ceiling room, first we encounter the wet bar, then spotted the growing oyster bar in the middle of the room. Now you would think that the “namesake” oyster bar is the main character, but it only sits 6, compared to the wet bar (sits at least 12), clearly stated which makes more money.


chorizo stuffed squid; escarole salad; Uni


Shellfish plateaus


Whelks with parsley-garlic butter


Cocktails are about $14 a piece, along with the extensive wine list. Come happy hour, we happily take advantage of the half price menu. There are half price oyster too, not as many choice but all are good quality. On different occasions, we ordered the chorizo stuffed squid with smoked tomato, the escarole salad, all are fantastic, and the parker roll was something out of this world. It was so so sooo fluffy and soft, seriously, I can eat a dozen of them and feel guilty later. There is a reason why they are charging for this bread. Yes, I’m not happy that they are charging for bread. But it is really worth it. the main star of the night, obviously is the oysters, well, not only the oysters, it is the shellfish plateaus. It has at least 4 different kinds of oysters, east coast and west coast. The clams, are always fresh and sweet. If you are lucky, there will be whelks. And those little shellfish although tough to get to, but it is unbelievably juicy and sweet. It would take some time to master the skill to take out the whole piece, be patient, it cannot be rushed, if you broke it apart inside, that awesome piece of goodies will be hidden from you forever. You know it is there but you cant get to it… tears….
And then there are sea urchin. Those little spiky creature, after ms Bloomfield’s pomegranate treatment, is even more sweet. The acidity is just the right amount. I am not ashamed to say, I want a whole one for myself, may be even two, or three if there’s no parker rolls left.

 

John Dory Oyster Bar | 1196 Broadway

 

Pinch Chinese

When we heard there’s a restaurant opened by a Din Tai Fung veterans, the first thought was we must go. We missed that famous Xiao Long Bao, which could very well be call a Taiwanese National Treasure. If anyone have been to the real deal in Taiwan, it is an experience hard to forget or compare. Every little soup dumpling is handmade in all steps, paper thin dumpling skin wrap up the juice filled goodies inside. Every “bao” is identical, with same amount of meat, soup, the size of the dumpling wrap. Tt has to be 18 folds, not one more, not one less. Which is the established amount of folds make the dumpling versatile to hold up the soup inside, but not make the top folded portion doughy. The dumpling skin although paper thin, but it will not break when you pick it up with chopstick. It is not only an art form, but also a science. The Famous Din Tai Fung own it; they are the grand master of soup dumpling. Yes, there are of course other place that are outstanding in their crafts too, but when compared to Din Tai Fung, they are still missing a beat. Din Tai Fung has a very successful branch in Los Angeles, opened one location after another (currently have 9 if including Seattle). It is operated by a family member of the Taiwan Original. However, the craft did not match up with the name. Our visit to LA was unfortunately a disappointment. Carma in West Village also claimed to have a Din Tai Fung former executive chef in their roaster, but we did not find any evidence of such. There are a lot of Chinese restaurants in town that advertise their soup dumpling, but very few look like the real thing, even less come close to taste or feel like it should. Most of them fall apart upon picking it up, many of them are too doughy, even more that don’t really have any soup inside. And don’t even get me started with those humongous ones that need a straw… One Bao after another, we tried. Yes, we have long seek those perfect little soup pillows, and our search might be over soon.
Pinch Chinese opened in Soho earlier this year. It replaced what was Peek (a long time Thai restaurant). And their soup dumplings, were very much on point.

We learnt from somewhere that Pinch Chinese is run by a former Din Tai Fung Head Chef. We were a little skeptical at first. After all, we have had quite a few disappointments. In the first few months of opening, there’s always a line at dinner time. They did not have reservation system in place, and might have underestimated the power of “Din Tai Fung’s name” in this town. Several months later, Pinch is on Resy, and with touch of a button, we were there. Gone is the awkward semi-transplanted bathroom, the long shape room is now brighter, and red themed. The large portrait photo deco on the wall are pasted together with newspaper. To be honest, it is rather scary. Especially the wall in the front of restaurant is actually a choking help manual. We don’t know the significant of these people, I just feel awkward. But the old lady on the drinks menu made me smile. Perhaps it is because the subtitle said “Drink while there is still wine”. For me I think the translation should be “Tonight we drink”.

Of course we started with Soup dumplings. Out of the 6 different choice, we chose pork, and a pork with seafood. We were hoping the pork with seafood would be with crab or crab roe, which is the way it should be, but they turned out to be pork and fish. Too bad Pinch does not have crab roe, but the pork soup dumpling is almost as good as the Taiwanese original. Exactly 18 folds, easily pick up with chopsticks but not easily broken. With a little bit of vinegar and shredded ginger, the whole thing went head first into my big mouth. One bite, the soup inside burst out, and I am swimming in a cream pork broth. The meat and fat inside was just perfect balance; I wish there would be a little more soup. But I dare to say this is by far the best soup dumpling I had in United States. The closest to the real deal (the pork seafood was not in comparison). Order the Pork dumplings, I stand behind the original.



Xiao Lung Bao was just the start. And everything that came after were excellent as well. They are exactly the way they are meant to be. I was actually surprise of how authentic our meal was. One would say, New York has a huge Chinese population, the biggest Chinatown in the World (outside of China), how hard would it be to find authentic Chinese. Actually, you would be surprise. Many Chinese restaurants have been Americanized, especially in Manhattan. To find that authentic “home” taste, we often have to go to outer borough. And there are very few “FINE” authentic Chinese cuisine. Unlike the other Asian cuisine, Chinese somehow always went into a bargain deal war with each other. Instead of refining the product, Chinese chose to lower the price to complete, at the same time, lowered the quality. It is sad, but it is a fact. Thanks to Pinch, I now have a Chinese restaurant that I would be proud to recommend to others for dinner (dim sum is another story).

House Special Shrimp tiger shrimp Kung Pao’d



Spicy Wontons niman ranch pork + house crack sauce


Scallion Chicken Cold Noodle bell & evans organic, charred scallion


Free Range Wind Sand Chicken Lancaster organic, garlic


Dong Po Pork Belly bak choy + house stewed tofu

 

 

Pinch Chinese | 177 Prince St | May 2017

 

Restaurant Ato

If i have a choice, i would always chose counter seating in a Japanese restaurant. The counter eating habit is a culture itself. Not only we can view the whole process of the kitchen, it also let us cultivated a personal conversation with the chefs. It doesn’t need to be a verbal conversation, it could be a mutual admiration, a look, a smile and even a facial expression when we are enjoying the dish. A chef once told me that, that his biggest reward is not an award, a star or a great review; it is a satisfying smile on a patron’s face when they are truly happily enjoying his food. That is what make his day. The motivation for him to continue, or inspired. Japanese counter eating culture does not stop at sushi. Yakitori is another one, so is ramen. We have seen it extended it’s reach, or got adapted by other culinary mastermind. Our experience at chef’s table at Brooklyn fare is an excellent example. And it was well worth the money and the hoops i jumped thru to get a reservation. I mean, how often would you have a master chef cook for you, in front of you. We might spend the same or even more money at eleven Madison park or French Laundry, but do you know Daniel Humm or Thomas Keller is really in the kitchen, pouring his heart out on a dish? To me, it is not just a meal, or a fantastic dinner, it is an experience, then turned into memory, forever remember. It is personal, it is intimate.


Restaurant Ato is one of those night that is close to heart. It is a fairly new place in the west side of Soho. Right across the street of David Burke’ kitchen. A tiny store font with complete view of the whole kitchen. No backroom, no basement. We can clearly see everything from outside. There are room for only four person at the counter, the whole restaurant sits about 20. The bright little room cannot afford anything but minimalism. Light bond wood furniture blended into the white space, it is all very zen. On the night we went, this 6 months old restaurant was very quiet. We got to have the chef all to ourself.

The young chef is a vet of Jean-Georges, Morimoto, and Masa. Needless to say his background is French/Japanese cooking. The best description I can give about Ato is, it is a modern “French-Japanese” seafood focus restaurant, with a chance of sushi Omakase. Chef Shen incorporated both French and Japanese technique in his cooking, every dish is not only eye-pleasing, also thoughtful and with impressive flavor. So why a chance of sushi? The night we went, upon sat down, we were told the chef will not be making sushi tonight. They were going to focus more on the innovative menu than traditional sushi. Jaw dropped, shocking, we were disappointed. How could this happened…. I guess it was mistake on my part that I didn’t do my research before heading to Ato. From all the pictures I saw on Instagram, I just assumed this a sushi place. I was wrong, however, I was happy to be wrong. Ato’s modern French take on Japanese dishes definitely works. Every plate is a work of art, tastefully, visually. Maybe because I was able to watch each masterpiece being constructed, not only I enjoyed each bite, I certainly appreciate the hearts and efforts that’s put into it even more. The courses were actually rather small. Fifth course in, we looked at each other and share the same thought. We were still hungry, would this Omakase actually fill us? Would we go home hungry? The answer is absolutely NOT. Yes, each plate is small, but they add up, because the pacing of each course was actually rather quick, it didn’t hit us just yet.

Warm asparagus salad, mushroom, pickle scallion

The frequently changing tasting menu is 17 courses. That’s right, 17. There were a lot of times we were hesitant when ordering the chef’s tasting menu, with a side of worrisome. We had been through quite a few long dinner, the longest record we had was 5 hours. An supposedly enjoyable night ended up being somewhat a pain. Real pain, cause my back and my bottom gave out before my main course arrive. Normally there’s no way to know how long an tasting menu would last, so we just have to roll our dice, and tough it out. Luckily that is not the case here at Ato. The 17 courses’ pacing was extremely well timed. There’s little to none wait time, just as we finished one course, after a sip of water of wine, the next one is ready. And since we are watching the performance of the kitchen, there is no dull moment.

Fire fly squid with sesame dressing


Sawara with truffle oil and honey Dijon


Cherry blossom trout with Chinese black vinegar tomato

All the dishes are seafood base, except for the warm asparagus salad, and the seared mouth-watering A5 wagu beef. Supreme quality, perfect temperature, unbelievable flavor, so good that makes my jaws went sore.
Our night at restaurant Ato is not just a dinner, it is theater. Every single piece of tableware and silverware are artfully crafted. We were told that each place is unique. The little dots on the plate represent an island in Japan. A small detail of the craftsman, but remind us where all these exquisite samples of sea are originate from. In between these artfully constructed tasty delicacies, we watched the kitchen staff carefully tender to sear a piece of fish, Chef Shen prepped and cooked and placed every masterpiece. Half way through the dinner, the house manager chatted us up and ask what is our favorite so far. It is really hard to put a favorite tag on one single dish. Every dish is a new experience, a new adventure.

Medai with lemon emulsion

Santa Barbara uni with cuttlefish yuzu sauce and soy sauce


Norway sea trout with carrot purée, funnel


Hamachi with Diet Coke jelly and quinoa


Red snapper, Japanese eggplant with crab stew


Maine uni with soy reduction and fresh wasabi


Cape cod scallop cured with sea salt and yuzu


Kumamoto Wagu A5 beef


All the ingredients are familiar, but we are still amazed by the combination and use of sauce and seasoning. For example the hamachi with diet coke jelly and quinoa is really interesting. I would be happy to have the fire fly squid plain, but the sesame dressing is like frosting on a cupcake. Then there came the cherry, Chef Shen decided that he can make sushi for us. So, at the beginning of our dinner, the kitchen had made clear that Chef was not going to make sushi that night. Perhaps our disappointment on our faces, perhaps the night was slow, perhaps chef has a change of heart, either way, it was our gain. We have sushi!!! as imaginative and innovative as it is, Chef Shen said that traditional sushi is a thing he hold close to heart. Something that needs all the focus, and attention, one rather not make if not 100%. and really we were in for a treat. Chef Shen’s sushi is as good as any great sushi chef in the city. I did felt that the sushi rice need a bit of work. The first batch was a bit mushy, but the second batch was way better. But that is no fault on the kitchen. After-all, they were not prepared to make sushi that night.

 

 

special Hokkaido Uni Bowl


Everything was exceptional. But for a restaurant this young, and have some kinks that needs to work out. There were a couple dishes we felt the sauce was a hint too much, and then there were some that was so good, that we search for a “non-exitent” spoon. The miso egg drop soup was on the salty side, and I strongly felt we could have use a better soundtrack than listening to Rockabye or Rihanna’s latest hit on Spotifly. But overall this is excellent contemporary Japanese fine dinning that could be something extraordinary. I can’t wait for it to flourish and I can’t wait to go back.

Matcha panna cotta with red bean paste

 

Ato | 28 Grand St. | April, 2017

 

 

KazuNori

KazuNori, the so call original temayaki (hand roll) bar in new York city, a spin off from the LA based, highly popular Sugarfish, which also landed in NYC last year. Now I have not been to Sugarfish. I have to admit that the pictures of Sugarfish on social media are not very appealing. It is amazing how a few pictures could change our interest in a place. I am in no hurry to go to Sugarfish, but I thought I could try out the more affordable Kazunori first to get a feel what the Californians rave about.

I strolled into the counter only dining room in NoMad on a sunny afternoon, just passed 1pm. Cashier right at the door, there is no hostess, but a velvet roped line defining waiting area. Next to it is the menu stand, the handroll place offers an eat-in and a take-out menu with lightly different items. 
The lighting was dimmed, almost dark, the place seemed packed and I couldn’t look past 1/3 of the long hall. I stood around looking for seats, and also at the menu. 5-10 minutes had passed, I thought I was waiting in line for an open seat. I finally walked up to the counter and waved at one of the servers to inquire about seating. Then he directed me to the deeper end of the bar. Turns out there were plenty of seats in the back. So, yes, it said seat yourself, but it would be nice that someone would tell me there were seats available. it was really too dark inside to know there were empty space ……  Did they think I was standing there for something else?   
I finally sat down at the deep end of the bar, since I had plenty of time to look at the menu, I was ready to order. But then unfortunely, I was informed that I was looking at the take-out menu. Well…. The two menus look the same…. Yes, I guess I should have read.

Take-out menu (L) & Eat-in menu


Turns out there were no special on that day, snapper was sold out too. L instead of snapper, it was salmon instead. That helped me chose the 5 handroll set instead of the 4.
Where I was sitting gave me a full view of the prep station. Almost like a Chipotle counter, everything is already prepped, just scoop, scoop, andwrap. The toro looked like they were blended instead of chopped. All mashed, and that was the first one I was served. The toro had completed lost any texture at all. So mushed, I couldn’t tell what I was eating. It felt like some cold meat. If this was in fact toro, I am hurting for the tuna fish. It scarified for nothing.
The nori was crispy enough, but the rice….. the rice was hot. Extreme temperature difference between fish and rice, the mashed toro was on the cold side and the rice was almost hot enough to have steam. Once the rice hit nori, all the crispyiness was gone. I was sad. Not only it lost the crunch, after the second bite, the nori was so mushy that I cant even seprate it with my teeth, ended up stuffing the whole thing in my mouth. And in the process, a handful of rice and fish mixed ended up in my palms. Yes, there were no back stop. So if you have to finish the handroll in 3 to 4 bites, chances are, your hand would be quite messy, as the rice fall off the back end. There’s not much you can do at that point. Eat off your hand, Or push it off to the plate and use chopsticks to try and pick up the pieces. There are no good choice here, and I hope you washed your hand. 

toro handroll


blue crab hand roll


baby scallop & yellowtail hand roll


Almost to the end of my meal, the “manager” look alike came up and asked how was everything. A routine gesture, just a polite thing to do. Normally I never really say anything. I don’t know what hit me that day, I spoke up. I guess he was surprise too. I told him my honest opinion about the rice being too hot, and totally “melted” the nori. He responded politely and said that it is something that their customers like specificity, the rice being warmer than room temperature. Well, I am impressed; I am impressed that he came up with a “logical” answer off the spot. It totally felt rehearsed. However, it still haven’t change my mind about hot rice, and I certainly wouldn’t call that “slightly warmer than room temperature”, it was not steaming, but it was straight out of a rice cooker.
Original or not, there are other hand roll bar in NYC. The price is attractive, but I don’t know if that could made up for the quality. I might actually defer to sunrise mart and have a couple boxes for the pre-made refrigerated rolls instead. But if you have to come here, try the baby scallop. Between the mushed toro and the heavily mayo’d crab, the baby scallop would be my choice.

 

KazuNori | 15 W 28th St.

Bessou

Bessou means vacation home in Japanese. It is also a cozy hideaway restaurant in NoHo with charming white trimming french window underneath the little blue awning.
It was a very quiet night. The freezing weather might have played a part to that.
We sat all the way inside in the corner by the kitchen where the heat is blasting. Light smoothening music playing at a minimum level. It is comfortable and relaxing. There’s not much decor, very minimalist and chic modern. Light is warm and welcoming. The little water color picture on the wall resemble a little secluded beach we visited in Italy, but could have been any small fishing village in Japan. I can imagine Bessou being in one of those charming towns, nicely tucked away in a seaside inn on the quite end of the beach. Listening to summer waves, children’s laughters and wind-charm tingling in a far distance; but that is just my daydream. In fact, when we visited Bessou, it was absolutely freezing outside.


The drinks menu have various choices of wine and sake, all at a affordable price range. I chose the special of the night, a clarified Milk punch with pomegranate. The bubbly drink with sake pomegranate and fresh Brazil is extremely light and refreshing. More like a flavored water than a drink. And the lemon peel is an excellent addition. It brighten everything up. Take the refreshing sensation up to another notch.


Salad.— love the thinly sliced deep fried lotus root. The lotus root had a crispness of it’s own, after deep fried, it is like a perfect piece of potato chips but only healthier. There’s no sogginess ever.

Crispy Rice Onigiri with Maine uni, spicy tama miso, shiso, nori


Uni “toast”, this is what brought us here. Where ever there’s uni, it will be on our list, and we will eventually get there. Santa Barbara uni on top of a perfectly grills rice. A a smash of miso on plate. I feel that the miso was unnecessary. The saltiness was an attempt to balance the sweetness of uni or add flavor to the crispy rice. But neither need the help. They were perfect just as is. Really love the crunchiness of the rice. Perfectly cook and grilled inside out. Not mushy but just sticky enough to hold together. The outside layer is just crispy enough and it only breaks apart in the mouth. Perhaps the rice could be an even thinner layer.


The dinner menu only have 6 entrees but there’s a special. The night’s special is duck soba noodle, as it detaily illustrated on the lip chalk board outside the restaurant. We saw that when we were walking in. The duck noodle is surprisingly light, excellence balance. Then we had a bite of the clay pot braised fish, and were all enlightened. I never expect skate to be so silky smooth. This is excellent Japanese home cooking. Nothing oily, mostly soy base dishes, very comfortable light fare. Then all the sudden, one of us crave fried chicken, out of nowhere. The chicken karaage is wonderful, but not spectacular. However, the Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) sides was amazing. Cooked perfectly with a light graze on it to bring the sweetness out. I never like pumpkin, but i wouldn’t mind having a full bowl of this.
But truly, this is great Japanese home cooking, comfort a tried soul, especially in a freezing winter night.

Bessou | 5 Bleeker St | March, 2017