Archive for March, 2008

Global or Bust – British Restaurant Expansion

Monday, March 31st, 2008

The other day an English friend of mine mentioned that he read an article outlining plans of certain high-profile British chefs to expand their operations overseas, and I had to grin, as this is definitely a big switch. It will be interesting to see what the French think about it.

Gordon Ramsay, the three-star Michelin chef is one of the most prominent of those who have already opened ventures overseas, and is now in the process of opening another series of restaurants destined for foreign capitals. In his case, the Los Angeles restaurant is under construction and poised to open March 2008 in the London Hotel called, not surprisingly, Gordon Ramsay.

It was not hard to understand that most of these new ventures are targeting the Middle East in cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates; as there are a plethora of investors ready to take the plunge and even more well-heeled customers anxious to make a booking.

Expanding globally is not without its risks, as it is difficult enough to open another branch across the city, not to mention halfway around the globe.

Mr. Ramsay will have his work cut out for him to convince the French that a Brit can succeed in Michelin-starred turf when he opens this spring in Versailles, a short distance from Paris, at the Trianon Palace.

Farewell, Le Francais – Wheeling Il. (Chicago) (CLOSED)

Monday, March 24th, 2008

It was located at:
269 South Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling, IL
(708) 541-7470
Very Expensive

After researching one of the most famous French restaurants in America I discovered that present owner Michael Moran closed the restaurant last summer. The telephone at the restaurant does not respond and it looks as if Le Francais, after one comeback attempt, is now gone forever.

I remember driving up to Wheeling from Chicago en route to dinner at Le Francais, when Jean Banchet was still in the kitchen. I was with my friend and business partner and his then girlfriend who was at the time getting a divorce from her present husband. She was still wearing the wedding ring from her previous marriage, quite a large solitaire diamond, and somehow in a cavalier way I convinced them to throw it away, as a sign of true love. She took it off after much hesitation, and I tossed it out the window into the cornfields. Looking back at it now, it was a damn stupid thing to do, although they were married shortly after and now have three lovely children, the oldest of them is over twenty years old.

Le Francais was an Auberge (country inn) that you would typically expect to find somewhere in the countryside of France; in this case, it was located in the suburb of Wheeling about an hour or more from Chicago. The restaurant comfortably seated 90 patrons on a combination of tables and banquettes. Copper pots and utensils decorated the walls and hung from the ceiling in true Auberge fashion.

Originally, after he took over from Banchet, and on his return with Mr. Moran, Chef Roland Liccioni strived to keep the reputation of the restaurant at the highest standards, which founder Jean Banchet maintained before his retirement many years ago.

A “duet de foie gras,” which paired seared fresh duck foie gras with a thick slice of foie gras torchon.Two preparations of foie gras served over slices of daikon radish served over a bed of diced beets and roasted macadamia nuts; An assortment of game and fowl pates and terrines made with care from traditional recipes; Maine Lobster ravioli garnished with sautéed shrimp accompanied by
a lobster sauce or Vietnamese broth; Portobella mushroom tart served with fava bean and perigueux sauce; Napoleon of Sauteed foie gras with cumin bracelets accompanied by a sauce with slices of salsify; Wild mushroom soup garnished with seafood were just a few of the dishes served in this excellent restaurant.

Biscotti Restaurant – Bangkok

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Biscotti Restaurant
Four Season Hotel
155 Rajadamri Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Credit Cards: All Major

BreadWhat better restaurant to celebrate Easter Sunday lunch than the lovely dining room of Biscotti Restaurant located in the Four Seasons Hotel, which in my opinion, is the most tastefully decorated hotel in the city, and if that were not enough they provide excellent service staff to go with it and in the most easily accessible location in this city. It is a duplicate of the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, and in fact the Peninsula Group built it but experienced various problems that required them to sell. It was bought by the Regent Hotel Group that was subsequently merged into the Four Seasons Hotels chain. The ceiling in the lobby is magnificent and was painted by an Italian artist who died before finishing it, although I believe, his daughter completed it.
I ordered a magnificent Spring lamb, so fitting for Easter and what an excellent dish Chef Danilo constructed. Succulent lamb set on a bed of semi-bitter greens sprinkled with almonds, pine nuts, white beans and a sauce made from a reduction of lamb and almond essence, which was magical.
Other noteworthy dishes to try are: Cavatelli with porcini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and basil and Trofie with tomato couli, Yellow Tail and green beans. More Photos

La Blanche – Tokyo

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

2-3-1, Shibuya-Ku
Tokyo 150
Tel. 03-3499-0824
Credit Cards Accepted
Prices: Expensive

To gain access to this quaint restaurant you must first traverse a steep, sinuous staircase lined with colorful potted flowers.
Chef Tashiro’s signature dishes were served in tandem, steamed vegetables all individually cooked to perfection and then reassembled on the plate with a touch of butter, each individually bursting with their own special flavors. A plate containing fresh bamboo shoots paired with foie gras and sardines were served side by side in two neat stacks. The main course of braised beef cheek, finished with a reduction of red wine and demi-glace, and a perfectly roasted chicken garnished with garlic cloves and yellow potatoes followed. The desserts, a chocolate soufflé with chocolate ice cream and banana parfait, were met with protestations of having eaten enough, but disappeared surprisingly quickly.

Mikuni Restaurant – Tokyo

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Tel. 03-3351-3810, Fax 03-3225-1324
1-18 Wakaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160
Credit Cards: All Major
Prices: Very Expensive


Mikuni can be difficult to find without good directions, as it is hidden on a small residential street not far from the palatial State Guest House. Look for the sign Hotel Mikuni, incidentally it is not a hotel, it has however, been chosen as a Relais et Château Restaurant and with no wonder as it is one of the best tables in Japan.
A large window in the dining room looks onto trees huddled close to the glass in the extreme foreground. On each table, an elegant, curved translucent plastic vase is placed with a narrow trough only large enough to put about a dozen small stems. In one corner is a huge arrangement made out of branches and decorated with autumn fruits and ivy with variegated leaves. Gold service plates flecked with lavender and blue patterns are impressive; the restaurant’s flatware is of the best quality from Paris and the glasses are engraved with a handsome letter M logo. The dining room has some smart looking modern paintings with a couple of large works taking up most of the space on two walls although, the real art is on the plates.


Fish with Red Wine Risotto

Veau Mikuni

For lunch the set menu is priced reasonably and includes 6 courses, coffee, and petit fours. The selection on the day I dined there started with an “amuse bouche” a custard tart and served with a selection of outstanding bread. Wild mushroom soup “Cappuccino Style” was served in a large coffee cup with foaming milk on top of coffee-colored soup. Poached Bass (Itoyori) with fried Makomotake served with a watercress coulis and sweetened vinegar.The next course was Roasted Duck Breton with a Fricassé of Pumpkin (Kabocha) and eggplant with Sauce Poivre Vert. Next Fromage Blanc “Akane-Ringo” the fromage blanc was studded with pieces of apples and ginger and sitting in a pool of fresh, liquefied, apple jelly.

Fruit tart Mikuni

The dessert course “Mikan” caramelized and perfumed with “yuzu” with cocoa ice cream and lemon decorated with a wing made out of bamboo leaf and mint wrapped in a small bundle in the center. After the Chariot of Pastries was rolled up to the table included among the many choices was a fresh berry tart from Hokkaido and Floating Island. Coffee with petit fours followed. For an extra charge, you can sneak in a cheese course preceding the dessert courses.
The house white wine was at the time a Grave Blanc and the red was a St Julien from Bordeaux.
This restaurant is in the same category as the finest three Michelin-starred restaurants in France and the prices reflect this.

Dessert Mikuni

St Julian Mikuni

Vieille Prune

Vieille Prune2

D’Sens at the Dusit Thani Hotel – Bangkok

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Lumpini Park946 Rama IV Road
Bangkok 10500
+66 (0) 2200 9000
Credit Cards: All Major
Prices: Very Expensive

Over the last couple of years I have indulged in many excellent dining experiences sitting on the top floor of the Dusit Thani Hotel overlooking the lake at Lumpini Park, most especially gibier in the autumn season, which have included: wild boar, hare, venison, pheasant, partridge, and grouse.
Today I have just finished a very delicious business lunch consisting of two courses, I was on good behavior and passed on the dessert course, terrine of foie gras and lobster was the first offering, followed by a small tasting portion of the lamb parmentier graciously offered by the management, ending with scallops in a saffron foam 550 baht. There is only one suggestion, in an otherwise constantly improving restaurant, and that is that the wine by the glass and house wines could be improved.Foie Gras and LobsterD’Sens is a branch of the French company owned by the twin brothers Jacques and Laurent Pourcel who have been awarded two stars in the Michelin guide for their famous restaurant “Le Jardin des Sens” in Montpellier, France. Philip Keller is resident chef at D’ Sens at the Dusit Thani and the front of house is managed by Jean-Yves Francois. More Photos

Cold Spring Tavern – Santa Barbara, California

Friday, March 21st, 2008

5995 Stagecoach Rd
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
(805) 967-0066
Credit Cards: All major
Prices: Moderate

From Santa Barbara take Highway 154 past the summit and turn left on Stagecoach Road.

A rather long drive up the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains was broken up by lovely views behind and to the west of Santa Barbara and the ocean beyond, as you approach the summit of the San Marcos pass and you gradually descend one eventually reaches Stagecoach Road and drive down a small winding road until you reach a beautiful tree covered glen where the Cold Spring Tavern is located. Jazz and Blues music is played very, informally outside in front of the bar in the afternoon on weekends and moves inside by the fireplace as night falls.
For more than 100 years the Cold Spring Tavern has been a way station for travelers making the difficult climb over San Marcos Pass. Established in the 1880’s as a stagecoach relay post it has earned a rugged past with cowboys, bandits and buried treasure playing a part in its history. Two bandits once held up the stage when it stopped at the tavern and made off with the Wells Fargo box holding $50,000 in gold coins. A posse caught the bandits, but the bandits carried the box’s whereabouts to the gallows. Roy Rogers once spent seven hours tending bar, and no one recognized him, he seemed like just a simple cowboy from the valley. Things have remained the same since those days and there is still a fire in the fireplace and hearty menu of homemade breads and soups, stews and game.
And the quaint restaurant next door to the bar is charming with fireplaces burning in every room, and you are glad they are there! The menu offers hearty fare that fits into the setting, along with the almost year-round cold temperatures, and offers mainly stew, terrine, and game that is served by a quite knowledgeable staff.
Starters might include: Old Country Game Pate with a salad of white beans, nuts and sherry vinegar, Venison sausage with a medley of sautéed mushrooms and garlic Platter of Appetizers, Pate, Venison sausage and artichoke hearts.
Main courses, for example, might include: Sautéed Medallions of Venison with Roma tomatoes and basil, Grilled Carolina quail, Porcini mushroom Fettuccini, Charbroiled boneless half Chicken, Sautéed New York Steak with black, green, red and yellow peppercorns, sautéed Medallions of Rabbit with wild mushrooms and garlic, grilled filet of New Zealand Venison with wild Lingonberries and red wine.
The wine list is brief but adequate.

Kyotozuchi – Yonago/Tottori – Japan

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

1-71 Kakubancho
Yonago-C, Tottori 68.3
Tel. 0859-22-3386
Credit Cards Accepted
Prices: Moderate

One of the highlights of a springtime visit to Southern Japan is the opportunity to taste tiny, transparent, freshwater whitefish and eat them while still alive as they squirm in a mixture of beaten egg and soy sauce. Quite curiously, while they put up a tremendous fight to resist being eaten, once into the mouth they stop movement immediately. They were able to survive swimming in the sauce for over ten minutes, slowly turning from transparent to a light red color as they absorbed the color of the liquid. The chance to indulge in this delight comes but once a year for a two week period as the fish spawn. I realize that this is not for everyone, as even some of the Japanese nationals in our party were repelled at the sight of the writhing mass.
Raw prawns were in the pink of condition and sweet to the taste and in the many tanks were turtles and Fugu (Balloon fish) along with a really unattractive shell called Akabe.
The thick and crispy Nori (dried seaweed) had a praiseworthy flavor and when wrapped around crab tomalley and sushi rice there could not have been a more admirable finish to this gastronomic dinner.

Kitchen 5 – Tokyo, Japan

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Nishi Azabu / Minami Aoyama
4-2-15 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo 106-0031
Hours:Tue-Sat 18:00-21:45
Prices: Moderate

What a “great find”. This tiny restaurant with unpainted plaster walls recreates dishes from around the world and displays them “tapas” style on a crowded wooden bar. The dining room has only one table that seats four, customers must queue for one of the twelve counter seats to become available. The room is illuminated by bare light bulbs hanging on ropes and a draped cloth hides the most undesirable aspects of the kitchen. Nearby, a stack of vendors receipts hang on a nail; an art form of sorts. Along one wall boxes of wine, sacks of onions and potatoes, ropes of chilies and spare utensils are heaped together along with customer’s coats and umbrellas. A rather attractive, dappled cat sits on this heap and preens itself when not occupied finding a comfortable spot to have a nap.
A refrigerated glass case holds some of the antipasti and the rest of the main dishes are spread onto platters that overlap one another on the large wooden counter top. Refrigeration is at a bare minimum, so upon closing it is a tedious ritual to transfer the remains into smaller containers so that they will fit the available space in the fridge.
Even such a grueling schedule has its rewards, as the tenacious owner, Mrs. Kobayashi, closes her tiny cafe and takes off twice a year to places unknown in order to gather new recipes for her waiting fans.
A Galette of Sardines and Frittata of Vegetables came off well, as did the Gigot d’Agneau (leg of lamb) properly rare. An infrequently seen, in these parts at least, Tagine (a type of meat, vegetables and fruit stew) rarely served outside the home in Morocco.
All these dishes are prepared in a space as small as a kitchen in a tenement apartment in New York City.