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Posts Tagged ‘18/20’

Soto, New York City, United States

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

My first visit to Soto, a Japanese restaurant in Lower Manhattan, was actually in April 2012. It was so impressive that I went back with the “usual suspects” of food friends in October, the Saturday before that superstorm Sandy hit Manhattan.

The restaurant was not easy to find, as there was no sign or name outside to indicate the location of the restaurant. So if you do ever visit this place, remember it’s number 357!

The menu was extensive and served a whole range of dishes that sounded delicious enough without even sampling them! The four of us decided to pick with the dishes we really wanted to try, and then go for another round of ordering afterwards – if there were any dishes in the first round of ordering that were really exceptional, we could just ask for another portion in the second round.

(1) Fluke Ponzu (Thinly sliced fluke with chive, shiso leaf, ginger shoots, scallion, under mizore ponzu sauce) was fresh and worked well with the citrousy ponzu sauce.

(2) Goma Tofu (Black sesame and white sesame tofu, served with wasabi soy sauce and soy form) had a silky smooth texture with a rather delicate soy sauce.

Fluke Ponzu Goma Tofu

(3)  Uni Tempra with Uni Powder (Deep fried sashimi quality sea urchin in tempura batter, flavoured with home-made uni powder)  was interesting with the sea urchin just melting in the mouth. A first dish that won our hearts and got a repeat in round two of ordering.

(4) Sea Trout Carpaccio (Cured sea trout with black truffle sea salt, chive and caviar, served with watercress with miso mustard sauce and sesame) was so fresh it was almost like eating by the sea. Another dish we simply had to repeat in the second round.

Uni Tempra with Uni Powder Sea Trout Carpaccio

(5) Chawan Mushi (Traditional organic egg custard soup with shrimp, chicken, shiitake mushroom, mitsuba, gingko nuts and yuzu zest) tasted a little bland at the start but the flavour grew with every mouthful of it, and finished off to a very nice memorable taste.

(6) Botan Ebi Tartare (Chopped botan ebi sweet shrimp with fresh ginger, topped with uni served with shiitake dashi broth) had the expected sweet taste of the shrimp. However there was too much of a ginger taste.

Chawan Mushi Chawan Mushi

(7) Uni and Yuba (Black soy bean milk skin with finest uni, served with shiitake broth)  was one of the very few disappointing dishes – a lack of flavour of any kind.

(8) Tuna Tartare ( Chopped big eye tuna with pine nuts, asian pear, cucumber, scallion, sesame seed in spicy sesame sauce) was like a fish version of the Korean Yuk Hwe (raw beef), and it was delicious with a nice hint of spiciness.

Uni and Yuba Tuna Tartare

(9) Uzaku (Broiled fresh water eel with tosa vinegar and sweet eel sauce, garnished with japanese cucumber) was the third winning dish for us. The sweetness of the sauce coupled with the delicious eel meant that we simply had to order another one to make sure it was that good – and it was!

(10) Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse (Layers of steamed Maine lobster and uni mousse in lotus wrap, garnished with smoked uni and caviar) was so beautifully presented that it left us staring at the dish for quite a while, wondering who would have the courage to ruin the piece of edible artwork in front of our eyes. However, the meat of the lobster was a little too cold (maybe we should have stared at the dish for longer to let the meat warm up a bit more) but the sweetness of the uni mousse really lifted the flavour of the dish.

Uzaku Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse

(11) Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri (Sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso, served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction) was interesting enough though it lacked the flavour somewhat, which surprised me because I was expecting the sweetness of the sea urchin and the soft-boiled quail egg would really come through in this dish.

Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri

(12) Tartare Tuna Roll (Spicy tuna tartare with asian pear, cucumber, avocado, sesame, pine nuts, scallion wrapped in white kelp) had an extremely creamy texture and easily one of the best tuna rolls ever.

(13) We also had a few pieces of nigiri sushi: Maguro (blue fin tuna from Massachusetts) and Zuwaigani (snow crab from Nova Scotia) were good but not that impressive, while the Anago (sea eel from Nagasaki) had a very slick texture and was absolutely delicious.

Tartare Tuna Rol Maguro Zuwaigani Anago

(14) To finish the meal off, it’s a selection of ice-cream mochi. Pleasant and light enough as a dessert.

Mochi

For a restaurant of this high calibre in the middle of Manhattan, the price was not ridiculously expensive. If anything, even with sake thrown into the meal, it cost no more than USD100 per person which was very reasonable indeed. I usually find Japanese restaurants that are Michelin-star-rated in the Western world rather disappointing, but Soto has proven that this is not always the case – if anything, it has become one of my favourite restaurants in New York City for sure.

Address:  357, 6th Avenue, Manhattan, New York City , United States
Telephone: +1 (212)-414-3088
Website: www.sotonyc.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 5:45-11:45 pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visit in October 2012]

Ye Shanghai, Shanghai, China

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Shanghai has changed a lot over the years, and with the rise of the new wealth and the hunger for good food, there have been a lot of new exciting restaurants cropping up all over this metropolis. The area of Xintiandi, which did not even exist at the turn of the millenium, has become an affluent area for dining and entertainment in Shanghai. The pedestrianised area with the Shikumen architectural style represents one of the most successful redevelopment models.

While Ye Shanghai is a modern Shanghainese restaurant in Xintiandi, the name of the restaurant comes from a classic Chinese song from the 1930’s by the Shanghainese singer/actress Zhou Xuan, and the restaurant oozes the decadance of the fashionable Shanghai in the 1920’s/1930’s. In the evenings there’s a pianist playing music in the background.

It’s one of the restaurants that has been on my radar for a long time, and so I just had to check out this restaurant while I was in Shanghai. In fact, I ended up there twice in one month, so here’s an account on both visits:

  

Visit 1: 15 January 2012

The menu was quite extensive but one dish caught my eye straigh away: “Pot Pourri of 18 vegetables” – I could not possibly identify all 18 vegetables but certainly had cucumber, celery, yellow and red peppers and carrots. I was not even sure if there really were 18 different vegetables. However the dish had a nice refreshing dressing to go with it. Then I spotted Xiao Long Bao on the menu, and the crab meat and pork ones were supposed to be the specialty at Ye Shanghai, so I had no choice but to order that also. They were delicious with the pastry holding a generous amount of soup without any problems, and the pastry was not thick either. The soup base  did not leave a greasy flavour in the mouth afterwards – an absolute joy to eat.

 

For the next few courses, we had Crispy rice with chicken, prawns and mushrooms – this was a bit more bland than I expected, but nevertheless the dish was well cooked; Tianjin cabbage with Jinhua ham which was one of my favourite dishes anyway and my only complaint was that there was  just not enough ham (but there never would be); Dongpo Pork was delicious with a rich sweet soya sauce – the sauce was so nice that I could do with mantou (Chinese steamed buns) to soak up all the gravy, but it’s a shame that they didn’t do mantou.

  

For dessert, we ordered the Mango Pudding and the Ye Shanghai Steamed Black Sesame Rice-flavoured Cake. The latter looked like a piece of rich chocolate cake, but it was very sticky and gooey, and not a rich flavour at all – in fact it had a delicate flavour of black sesame (a bit like black sesame soup, but smoother), although it was not easy to take the two pieces fo cakes out from the steam basket because of how sticky and wobbly they were.

 

The meal was outstanding – easily one of the best meals I had in Shanghai. The food would have easily scored 9/10.

Visit 2 – 29 January 2012

Originally there was not going to be a second visit so soon, but many restaurants were in shutdown mode during Chinese New Year, even in a big city like Shanghai. The original plan of dining at 1221 did not materialise as it was closed, so in the end we decided to go to Ye Shanghai once again, especially because after the first meal we were curious about some of the other dishes. As it was our last meal in Shanghai before heading back to London, we decided to go with the classic Chinese dishes that we liked.

We ordered the Crab Roe Xiao Long Bao – while each dumpling consisted of a generous amount of soup, the flavour of the crab roe was somewhat lacking and, in my opinion, not as good as Nanxiang.

The Peking Duck came in two courses. The first course was the traditional duck skin with pancakes, and then the second course was stir-fried duck meat with lettuce. For the first course, instead of leaving everything for us to assemble, the waitress prepared the pancakes with the duck skin, scallion, cucumber and carrots for us. Nice thought but it took away part of the fun really. Also there was not enough duck but too much accompaniments, and the pancakes were a bit too thick also. For the second course of stir-fried duck meat with lettuce – the stir-fry was a bit more gooey than expected but that actually made the meat less likely to fall out from the lettuce – the flavour wasn’t quite even across the dish, so for certain mouthful the flavour of the duck was lacking.

  

We also ordered Stir-fried River Prawns, a classic dish that sounded and looked simple to do, but in fact really was a test of the cooking – it was a light refreshing dish, without the cornstarch paste taste that some incompetent restaurants would end up with. We also ordered Shanghai Stir-fried Rice Cakes, which was cooked with pork and vegetables – the dish was OK, nothing to write home about really. However the texture of the rice cake was not as nice as Restaurant 1931’s rice cake.

 

For the desserts, Russell chose the Mango Sago Cream with Pomelo while I had Glutinous Rice Balls with Osmanthus. Not being a fan of Russell’s dessert, I had a mouthful and it was actually much better than I expected – there was a nice balance of mango and pomelo flavours. For the rice balls, there was a generous amount, and the osmanthus gave the dish a more refined taste. Both were nicer than the desserts from the previous visit.

 

The food at this second visit was somewhat less impressive than the first one, with the Peking duck being a real let-down. But then this is a Shanghainese restaurant and so I should not expect Peking duck to match Dadong or even Quanjude.

This restaurant is a top choice for a nice meal with friends or with business colleagues – beautiful decor and professional service. There is a mixture of classic and modern Chinese dishes to choose from. Definitely a place for me to go back again next time I am in Shanghai.


Address: 338 Huang Pi Nan Road, Xintiandi, Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 (21) 6311 2323
Website: www.elite-concepts.com/eatplusdrink.php?id=20

Opening Hours: Daily: Lunch 11:30am – 2:30pm ; Dinner 5:30pm – 10:30pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on 2 visits in January 2012]

Mr Underhill’s, Ludlow, United Kingdom

In an ideal situation, I would have booked to dine and stay at Mr Underhill’s in Ludlow when I went there with Russell, Darcy and Bob. However, our visit coincided with the Ludlow Medieval fayre at the end of November – managing to secure a table was already a pure stroke of luck; but my fortune did not extend to getting the rooms. It appeared that all hotels in and around Ludlow were full also. So we ended up staying in Tenbury Wells – not ideal to find our way round this part of the country on a cold dark November evening with the GPS almost non-functional.

After getting a bit lost driving in Ludlow, we parked the car near the castle and then walked down to the restaurant. We got there just before 8pm, and were greeted warmly by Judy Bradley, and then led to the table straight away. The restaurant was buzzing – with no empty tables and everyone in good spirit.

To go with our aperitif (kir royale as usual), we were presented with a trio of olives (marinated, gougeres & flatbreads). There was only one set menu which was fine – Judy phoned me earlier in the day and checked if we would have any problems to the dishes (of course not!). We also asked for recommendation on the wine and Judy suggested half a bottle of albarino to start – it was a good choice.

The first course was a cone of marinated smoked salmon – the salmon was beautifully marinated and filled the whole cone. It was a very promising start to the meal.

The next course was white onion velouté with crispy shallot – the soup was full of onion flavour, and the sweetness and creaminess of the soup contrasted well with the texture of the shallot.

The third course was duck liver custard 2010 with sweetcorn cream and lemongrass glaze. Every mouthful of this made me want to eat more. The duck liver custard was already heavenly delicious on its own,, but it was elevated to a new level with the intense sweetness of the sweetcorn at the bottom of the little jar. It was an extraordinary dish. Bob, on his anti-plastic-straw campaign (yes, he hated plastic straws in drinks), said “you can put a plastic straw on it and I’d still like it”. Not that you could have enjoyed this with a straw anyway!

The fish course was hake on fondant tomato with chorizo & orange – the fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked, with a fine balance of tomatoes, chorizo (without going over the top with the quantity like some other places) and a fantastic orange sauce. At this point of the meal we enjoyed everything so much that we all agreed that we could have had a big plate of every dish on its own without any hesitation.

The meat course was slow roasted fillet of Mortimer Forest venison with venison jus, gin and orange vinaigrette, and girolles and baked potato mash. The venison was very tender, and went so well with the sauce that Darcy even forgot that the wine was there (now that’s a first!). The dish was not too heavy on the stomach either.

The pre-dessert was plum ‘sponge’ with star anise ice-cream – the “sponge” was a very refreshing plum granita. Overall a very pleasant taste.

For the desserts, we could choose from a menu of various dishes. Although Darcy was not a dessert fan, she went for the rhubarb crumble tart with clove ice-cream (and in her words, a dish “To Die For”!). Bob chose the sticky toffee pudding with creme fraiche ice-cream, which he claimed it to be “sticky toffeerific”

 

Russell went for the Highland parfait with flapjack wafer,  with Scottish oat praline, caramel and drambuie – he was disappointed with this one as he did not think it was anything special.

For me, being the adventurous one, I went for a dessert that was billed as “part savoury, part dessert” for those undecided: Oakly Park rarebit with anchovy sauce and delicate piccalilli. Interesting concept but it was definitely nowhere near a dessert. At best it could be classed as a cooked cheese course. 10/10 for the idea, but it’s not something I enjoyed that much.

We were one of the last customers to leave the restaurant, and before we left, we were given some shortbread biscuits to eat “on the road” – not that we needed them that evening, but it was something that we enjoyed the next day and reminded us of what an enjoyable meal it was. We agreed that it would be one of the restaurants we’d make a special effort to go back to.

Address: Dinham Weir, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1EH, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1584 874431
Website: http://www.mr-underhills.co.uk/
Opening Hours: Dinner: Wednesday to Sunday arrival between 19:15-20:00

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visit in November 2010]