Sunday, 10 June 2012

Kyo Ya: Seasonal Kaiseki Cuisine in Lower Manhattan

My cousins, Jenny and Hilly, accompanied me to Kyo ya--recently reviewed in the New York Times. We sat at the counter from where we could see what the chef, Sono Chikara, was doing and ask him questions. Known for his seasonal omakase, we decided that for our first time, we would order a la carte. At the end of a memorable meal, we also promised each other to return for the omakase the next time I am in NY.

After placing our order, the wait person suggested his favorite sake to us. It was excellent. It was a Chrysanthemum Mist Junmai and we enjoyed it very much. We also were shown the obligatory dish of various small sake cups from which we made our individual choices.

Oshizushi or pressed sushi is a specialty here and we chose the best one: mackerel. They were saving the mackerel for omakase clients and so served us soy marinated Canadian salmon with various toppings It was not only beautiful but delightful to eat.

We shared everything we ordered and chose 10 different items, mostly from the appetizers with one main course and a rice dish. I had never had many of the things we ordered and was pleasantly surprised by everything. Shiokara is cured seasonal seafood to be eating with sake. The Yuba and Uni Yoshino Style was unusual. I love yuba (a particular presentation of tofu) but was a bit disappointed with the consistency of what they served that evening. Maybe it is the Yoshino Style that I didn't like.

We had a cold duck salad, but most of our dishes were either fish or vegetables. Everything was exciting to look at and delicious to eat. We had a crab dish with vegetables with which we were presented with a hot grill. It was our job to grill each of the components and then dip the cooked food into an accompanying sauce. This is takenoko (Bamboo) season and we also that vegetable grilled. It was served over small stones and brought back memories of Japan in the spring. Sweet Potato Tempura is something I first had in Tokyo. It is more flavorful than the lowly white potato and the tempura enhanced the flavor even more.

So many restaurants make black cod with miso glaze but I had heard that the preparation at Kyo ya was like no other. The cod is marinated in Tsubu Miso and then broiled. It is a very savory and light dish.

I am partial to the movie, Green Tea and Rice that was made in the '40's by the great Japanese director, Ozu. In it, a couple that has drifted apart reconcile one night while they enjoy a dish they each remember from childhood. When I saw that dish on the menu, I convinced my friends to order that as our rice dish. Such an interesting and unusual presentation. This dish comes straight out of grandma's collection of recipes, and is especially enjoyed by young children. At Kyo ya, they combine red snapper and rice in a bowl. It is our job to pour hot green tea over the rice and fish, and zoop it up with a ladle-like spoon.This Chazuke was an excellent end to a spectacular meal. Please note that Hilary Peltz was a great help with the photography.

Two Great Osteria in LA

I report on two upscale Italian restaurants--each with its own excellent reputation: Angelini Osteria and Osteria Mozza. Of the two, Mozza is more famous and it's more difficult to get a reservation there. I preferred Angelini far and away...

When I am in LA, I stay with my friends, Joel and Rusty. To show my appreciation we choose a great restaurant for me to take them to. This year it was Osteria Angelini: a small, unassuming restaurant with reputation for spectacular food.

A short bus ride from West Hollywood, Angelini's doors open to a festive and very spare restaurant with tables crammed in every which way. The wait staff is very Italian and very friendly. I was taken with the spectacle surrounding the fish baked in a salt crust. I had never seen a more beautifully conceived presentation, and I decided that we would have to have that.

Although we are not big eaters, we love to eat good food. We decided to share three dishes: Mussels and Clams alla Tarantina (with spicy tomato sauce and garlic); Hommade Spaghetti Chitarra alla Norcina with Black Truffles, Sausage, Parmigiano Reggiano; Whole Branzino Roasted in Sea Salt with Aromatic Herbs.

Everything was superb: flavorful and lovingly prepared and, of course, delicious. The chitarra are difficult to make. Apparently, they are rolled out and forced through what looks like guitar strings. As a result they have square sides rather than the round tubes that normal spaghetti has. Their sauce was spectacular. The fish was also an excellent dish. The salt crush ensures the natural juiciness of the flesh.

I love Italian red wines and despite the fact that there were two fish on our menu, we chose the Barbara d'Alba 2008 Vigna Martina, Elio Grasso.

Ready for the dessert course, we also shared and decided to get the two desserts that looked most appealing: Apple Tart all a Milanese with Vanilla Gelato; Crostata di Cioccolato with Coffee Cream and Hazelnut Gelato.

For me, this was a perfect meal. Sharing enabled us to taste a number of dishes and at the end, we were not too full.

Osteria Mozza was a grave disappointment. I love Pizzeria Mozza next door and have only heard raves about the food at the osteria. They have a pasta tasting and we should have chosen that. The pastas we did order were excellent: Veal Agnolotti, burro e salvia; Squid Ink Chitarra Freddi with Dungeness crab, sea urchin and jalapeƱo. But the main courses were awful: Ugly to look at and rather fatty. My friend ordered roast duck and I chose the guinea hen. We each love the meats we chose until we looked at what was served to us!

The sommelier proposed our wines to us, and I also didn't like her choices but wasn't in the mood to complain. Until we arrived at the desserts (the famous warm Bombolini with Huckleberry Marmelatta and Lemon Marscapone with gelato al vanilla), I was quite dissatisfied. I think I'll stick with Pizzeria Mozza.