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Noma: The Nordic Food Revolution

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Noma: The Nordic Food Revolution

If you’ve eaten at a restaurant anywhere in the world in the last 10 years and been offered something foraged, something smoked in hay or moss, or something flavored with hearty greens or pine, it's because of Noma—a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark.  

If you've eaten at a vegetable-forward restaurant or eaten something that is usually thrown away (like the fish head below), it's because of Noma.

If you've eaten at a restaurant where everything on the menu comes from less than 100 miles away and is likely fermented, it's because of Noma.

If you've been to a restaurant that's been influenced by or is a part of the Nordic movement, it's because of Noma.

Under the direction of chef and owner René Redzepi, Noma has arguably had the biggest impact on the world of food in the last decade.

I ate at Noma in February 2014 with my friend Jen, who is incredibly knowledgeable about the restaurant world. At the time, Jen was only was acquaintance. A mutual friend told Jen that I was the kind of crazy, obsessive foodie who would trek halfway around the world with her to spend the weekend in Copenhagen to eat at Noma. After a jam-packed food itinerary that included meals at Geranium, Relæ, Radio, a castle, and a bunch of smørrebrød, we were great friends. Poorer friends, but great friends. 

While the farm-to-table philosophy seems very Bay Area, it’s Noma that started the hyper local food trend. Chef Redzepi actually employs the extreme constraints of using only Danish, and sometimes Nordic, ingredients to push the creativity of the restaurant. He has a specific theory that extreme constraints drive creativity. In the 2013 recipe and journal collection René Redzepi: A Work in Progress, he spends a year keeping a journal focused on the restaurant, pushing himself and his staff to be more creative and trying to stay sane and centered through the pressures of being the #1 restaurant in the world for four years in a row. It's a fascinating window into obsessive creativity, and I came away from both this journal and my meal at Noma thinking that this level of perfection and creativity requires a certain level of madness. In the right profession (a chef, a sculptor, an architect, etc.) and a sufficiently high level of notoriety, madness is also known as genius.

Was Noma my favorite meal ever? No. Athough it's certainly in the top 10 (and it’s a great top 10 list). The main reason may be that it was winter in Denmark. The only non-Nordic items used at Noma are chocolate,wine and coffee, and they are used sparingly. That means that most of what’s served in February are hearty greens, root vegetables, preserved items, fish and game. For such a vegetable-forward restaurant, that means that the palate of the meal is tarter and more bitter than I prefer. Nonetheless, I was blown away by the meal .

My favorite courses were the fish head, caramelized milk and monk fish liver, urchin toast, and caramelized bread. The fish head was served on the stick that is used to grill it, with no other utensils. It is covered in an incredibly savory seaweed-based wet rub, and Jen and I used our hands to eat it. I ate the eyeball, too. I was glad I did because tasted great—like a rush of the best savory broth. But cultural norms die hard, and I almost gagged. The caramelized milk and monkfish liver was brilliant. Dairy is plentiful in Denmark, and Noma finds many different uses for milk. In this case, milk is slowly caramelized until is becomes a solid, and it is used as a cracker base for the dish. Monkfish liver is like the foie gras of the sea, so the dish was rich, savory and meaty. The urchin was served on a small piece of charred bread, and it was covered by a duck "skin." A rich duck broth is cooked until a thick skin of protein forms on the surface, which is then removed and dried. It tastes like the best parts of duck, but unimaginably concentrated. I would never have thought to combine urchin and duck, but it was brilliant. 

The wines were natural, often orange—and funkier than I had ever tasted before. The juice pairing was a collection of vegetable and fruit juices, often fermented and always refreshing. At least 80% of the menu was either something I had never eaten before, or never prepared in that way before. 

Noma is currently closed, with the intention of opening again sometime this year. Their new space will be a farm within the city, allowing them more space to grow their own ingredients and enough space to house their extensive research and development activities. Noma has done a series of pop-ups in Japan, Australia and Mexico, and all of them have received rave reviews. It's hard to imagine that they can continue to grow and push the boundaries of creativity, but I have no doubt that they will. If I have the chance to go again, I certainly will. Hopefully in August this time.

 

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Food Trends 2017: What's on the Way

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Food Trends 2017: What's on the Way

As an obsessive foodie and avid traveler, I have the opportunity to eat at a wide variety of restaurants around the world. That puts me in a good position to spot emerging food trends. 

One current food trend I hope will go away soon is pine. Every restaurant of a certain creativity level has a dish flavored with pine right now. Yep, that's Christmas tree flavor. We can thank Noma and the Nordic food revolution for this addition to the global food lexicon. A lot of amazing things have come out of the Nordic movement, but pine is not one them. When I ate at Noma, Geranium, Radio and Relæ in Copenhagen in 2014, I had a LOT of pine. (If Rene Redzepi were here now, I'd have a very creative way to thank him for the pine in my food!)

Below are some food trends that I expect to gain popularity in the next few years. Feel free to share your own predictions in the comments section below.


Koji

SingleThread  in Healdsburg, CA - Mt. Lassen trout ibushi-gin with shio koji vinaigrette, trout roe, and myoga

SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA - Mt. Lassen trout ibushi-gin with shio koji vinaigrette, trout roe, and myoga

Koji is the fungus used to make soy sauce, miso and sake, and shio koji is a salted liquid that is used as a marinade and sauce which contains enzymes that help break down proteins which releases free glutamate, the main source of umami. Koji preparations are clearly well known in Japan, but koji has been on the menu at SingleThread in Sonoma, Baroo in Los Angeles, Barley Swine in Austin, The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa, and Restaurant Andre in Singapore.

Barroo  in Los Angeles, CA - Farro and kamut cooked with koji beet creme and dashi with nuts and rose apple pickle.

Barroo in Los Angeles, CA - Farro and kamut cooked with koji beet creme and dashi with nuts and rose apple pickle.


Raw Fish

Gaggan  in Bangkok, Thailand - Raw fish taco

Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand - Raw fish taco

Raw fish preparations are a part of many cultures, but we are not simply seeing them in expected places like Japan (sushi), Mexico and Peru (ceviche). We are seeing raw fish in Hawaiian poke-like preparations in fast casual restaurants, and a raw lobster preparation at Bianchi in Zurich. There were recently two raw fish dishes on the menu at Gaggan, a high end modernist Indian food restaurant in Bangkok, and just about every chef driven restaurant in the US will have a crudo or ceviche like dish on the menu.


Edible Clay and Dirt

Central  in Lima, Peru - Cushuro (a round colony of bacteria from the Andes that are solid but chewy), cacao, chaco clay.  

Central in Lima, Peru - Cushuro (a round colony of bacteria from the Andes that are solid but chewy), cacao, chaco clay.  

Noma in Copenhagen has served dirt to their guests (on purpose), and for years Michel Bras has garnished his famous gargouillou salad with a bit of dirt. Andean natives in Peru eat the clay that sticks to the potatoes they cook in the earth, and Central and other restaurants in Peru have started serving edible clay. Central actually serves a dessert with edible clay and white chocolate.  As Peru is driving many culinary trends right now, the edible clay trend will continue to grow.

 

 


Non-alcoholic Drinks and Pairings

SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA - Turmeric and grenadine with smoked salt

SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA - Turmeric and grenadine with smoked salt

Many high end restaurants are putting more effort than ever into beverage pairings that do not contain alcohol. SingleThread in Sonoma County offers a revelatory non-alcoholic pairing. Coi in San Francisco offers a tea pairing, and Restaurant Andre in Singapore is fermenting their own juices. The trend is also starting to trickle into more casual chef driven restaurants and will continue to do so.

 

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Single Thread: Soon to be a Michelin 3 star restaurant

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Single Thread: Soon to be a Michelin 3 star restaurant

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SingleThread, an inn, farm and restaurant in Healdsburg, California, opened at the very end of 2016. I visited the restaurant four months after opening, and I have never had a more perfectly curated restaurant experience. I was in Napa for the Culinary Institute of America's annual World of Flavor conference (very likely the best food conference each year), and was lucky enough to secure a reservation. 

When I walked in, I was greeted by name and was invited to take a look into the kitchen before heading up to the roof for a drink. Chef Kyle Connaughton came over to the window to say hi and asked me how the conference was going. I asked him how he knew I was at the conference and he said, 'We know things." We both laughed and chatted about the conference. A lot of restaurants claim to do their homework on their guests, but SingleThread really does.

The next stop in the flawlessly curated evening was the roof top patio. I was greeted with a drink of purple sweet potato bush and oroblanco. It was tart and refreshing. It was a perfectly clear, blue, and warm Sonoma county day. After a few minutes, one of the servers brought over some snacks nestled amongst a plate of foliage. The four bites prepared me for the visual perfection, immensely fresh vegetables, and creativity of the meal to come. It was clear that the SingleThread farm was providing gorgeous produce for the restaurant.

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I was escorted into a stunning dining room where many of the tables faced the kitchen. The far wall of the kitchen is shelf after shelf of Japanese donabe cooking vessels, simple yet elegant. The table was already set with a bounty of foliage and hidden bites. My favorite items in this first barrage of delightful bites were malted potato with caramelized onions and turbot, creamy egg with caviar and spinach purée, and tuna loin cured with seaweed and flavored with with house-aged ponzu, and scallop crudo with shiso vinaigrette. 

Every one of the ten courses that came out after the initial offering were surprising in different ways. The trout cooked in a donabe was one of my favorites. It was served over a vinaigrette made with shio koji and topped with trout roe. Koji is the fungus used to make soy sauce, miso and sake, and shio koji is a salted liquid that is used as a marinade and sauce which contains enzymes that help break down proteins which releases free glutamate, the main source of umami. The trout itself was cooked flawlessly. It had the perfect doneness of fish cooked sous vide, but with a firm texture and a very slight smoky flavor. It was perfect, and nothing I've ever seen before. It was paired with a yellow tumeric and grenadine cocktail with smoked sea salt, which was a superb pairing. Another of my favorite dishes was foie gras with turnips, spinach and tomato tea made from dehydrated tomatoes from their farm. I have never had foie gras with turnips before, but I do hope to again.

I was driving back to St. Helena after dinner, so I opted for the non-alcoholic pairing. Non-alcoholic pairings are definitely a test of how seriously a restaurant takes its bar program. At Noma, their juice pairing was fascinating, full of non-alcoholic fermented vegetable and fruit juices. At Coi, the tea pairing was a first of its kind and I learned a lot that night. SingleThread was by far the best non-alcoholic pairing I've ever had. It is head and shoulders above any other in my experience. Every drink was unique, superbly paired, something I had never come across before, delicious, and in the most beautiful glassware from Japan. The glass maker is Kimura in Japan. 

As you can see, I was inordinately impressed by SingleThread. Some people may find the heavily Japanese inflected food a bit light or subtle, and I do think there is room to continue to improve the food. But let me be clear, that would mean taking a few things from very good to great, or great to amazing, as everything was at least very good. Considering that the restaurant has only been open for four months, they have achieved the nearly impossible. I predict that they will have 3 Michelin stars when the San Francisco Bay Area guide comes out in October. In all of my travels and all of my restaurant visits, I have never had such a perfectly choreographed evening. 

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Gaggan: #1 Restaurant in Asia

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Gaggan: #1 Restaurant in Asia

I had spent the previous 24 hours in bed, and I was not sure I was going to make it to dinner. About 4pm the previous day I got very cold, in Thailand. By American standards, it’s really hot in Bangkok all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME.  But that night I wore a long sleeved shirt and a jacket to dinner and I didn’t take it off all night. I had been really excited about my three nights in Bangkok because I had reservations at Issaya Siamese ClubNahm, and Gaggan, the #21, #5 and #1 ranked restaurants in Asia, respectively, according to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. 

I had been to Nahm before and had been blown away by the citrus, chilis and funky flavors that meld into beautiful harmonies. Most people don’t think of Thai food as fine dining, but David Thompson can easily change that opinion. Unfortunately, that night the food didn’t sparkle like it did the first time. I could barely eat more than a few bites of each dish, not because the food wasn’t wonderful, but because I felt so full. When I returned to my hotel after dinner, I realized I was sick, and likely had been since the afternoon. I got in bed and stayed there. And throughout that night and day, I worried. Not about being sick and alone in a foreign land, not about all the things I’d eaten on my culinary walking tour that day, and not about anything except whether or not I was going to make it to Gaggan. The time ticked by and I alternated between sleeping and worrying. By 3pm I could sit up and watch TV. By 4pm I was starting to get bored by sleeping, lying down and watching movies. That is always a good sign for me and usually means I’m getting better, so I decided to risk it. I showered and headed downstairs, and was extremely relieved to feel really hot as soon as I exited the hotel lobby. Maybe I was going to make it to Gaggan after all.

The restaurant is down a short alley off the main street. As per usual in Southeast Asia, never judge a destination by the griminess of the path to get there. You never know what you will find, and in this case it’s a bright, welcoming fusion of a colonial building with an ultra modern glass entryway. This is the perfect setting for the melding of traditional and modern food inside. Gaggan is a modern Indian restaurant started by Chef Gaggan Anand in 2010. Chef Gaggan had been frustrated with the status of Indian food in the world, and he set out to change that by cooking fine dining, modernist Indian food. He has succeeded dramatically, winning the top spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the last two years in a row. 

When I sat down, I found the menu on the table and it was written in emojis, 21 of them. The titles of the dishes are not given until the end of the meal. Until the last savory dish of crab curry, the dishes are one or two bites of beauty and intensity. Surprisingly, this is a great way to eat after 24 hours in bed suffering from what was likely food poisoning. One bite at a time over the course of many hours is the perfect way to recover! And if you are lucky enough to be in Bangkok and have a reservation at the best restaurant in Asia, it’s also the most delicious way to recover. 

I loved the creativity of the entire menu. My two favorite dishes were the yogurt explosion and the chutoro sushi. Spherification has almost become a cliche in creativity driven modernist kitchens, but not at Gaggan. The key is that it tastes amazing. It is tart and sweet, with subtle flavors of cumin. If yogurt was always this good, we would all live to 100. The chutoro sushi was another great example of over-the-top flavor combined with originality and creativity. Good fatty tuna sushi is a gift from the food gods, but every sushi restaurant in the world carries it. No one else has Gaggan's version though. The rice in the sushi is a crisp, dry foam that dissolved on my tongue. My guess is that it is a dehydrated tight foam made from pureed rice. Chef Gaggan has more than proved that Indian food can be luxurious, creative and modern. If you are in Bangkok, I hope you get the chance to experience it.

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Homemade Thai Spiced Potato Chips

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Homemade Thai Spiced Potato Chips

Sometimes at a Super Bowl party, you want Frito Lays with canned Hormel chili (no beans; don't be ridiculous) and Velveeta. Theres nothing wrong with that. It tastes good!

I'm from Denver, so every year the Broncos make it as far as the Super Bowl, I also make two pans of rice krispies treats at my house. One batch is orange, and one is blue. Even if the Raiders are in it, Im still gonna make my orange and blue rice krispies. I've lived in the Bay Area for 20 years, but once your arch enemy, always your arch enemy.  

Sometimes at a Super Bowl party, you want chips with onion dip, tiny pizzas and beer.  

And sometimes you want to make those homemade potato chips and caramelize the onions for the handmade dip. Maybe the pizzas are tiny tarte flambées made with specialty puff pastry, and the beer is home brewed. Just sayin. If this is one of those years for you—like it is for me—this recipes for you.

Homemade Thai Spiced Potato Chips

Serves 4

  • Ginger - 25 g
  • Galangal - 25 g
  • Lemongrass - 2 stalks
  • Thai chilis - 25 g
  • Lime leaves - 20 leaves
  • Coconut - 25 g unsweetened shredded
  • Takii umami powder
  • 4 Russet potatoes
  1. Dehydrate all of the spice mix ingredients except the Takii powder on separate shelves in a dehydrator.  The ginger, lemongrass and galangal should be cut into thin slices to speed up the dehydration.  [Most ingredients will take only a few hours to dehydrate, but do this the day before in case some of the ingredients need to be dehydrated overnight.]
  2. Roughly chop each ingredient before grinding in a spice grinder.
  3. Grind Takii powder in a spice grinder.
  4. Mix 10g each of ginger, galangal, lemongrass and coconut.  Add lime leaves, chilis and Takii powder to taste.
  5. Cut potatoes into 3mm slices using a mandoline (no need to peel).
  6. Cook potato slices for 3 to 5 minutes in boiling, salted water.  The potato should taste cooked.
  7. When cooked potatoes cool, fry at 165C (330F) until brown and crispy.  This will likely need to be done in 3 to 4 batches to avoid overloading the fryer. 
  8. Immediately transfer potato chips to a large bowl, add some spice mix and toss to coat.

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Smoked corn "noodles" recipe

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Smoked corn "noodles" recipe

For National Spaghetti Day we are sharing a modernist recipe that looks like spaghetti but doesn't actually contain any pasta! This smoked corn noodles dish has noodles made of smoked corn cob infused broth with a sauce of thickened Vietnamese-style nuoc cham, all topped with fried shallots, mint and hibiscus crystals. The noodles are made with a mixture of hydrocolloids, which provide a chewy, noodle-like texture (courtesy of Rich Rosendale).  And remember, the same three steps are almost always used with hydrocolloids: disperse, fully hydrate with heat, and cool.  The dish is smoky, savory, sweet and tart, in addition to being gluten free and pescatarian safe.   

Smoked Corn Noodles with Nuoc Cham

Nuoc cham:

  • Sugar - 60 g
  • Xanthan gum - 0.8 g
  • Fish sauce - 60 g
  • Rice vinegar - 30 g
  • Lime juice  - 30 g
  • Garlic, minced - 10 g
  • Bird’s-eye chili, minced - 1

Noodles:

  • Broth - 900 g of chicken or pork broth
  • Smoked corn cobs - 6 ears of corn smoked for 30 min to 1 hour (until corn kernels are cooked) at 135C (275F) 
  • Salt - to taste
  • Locust bean gum - 3 g  
  • Kappa carrageenan - 1 g
  • Iota carrageenan - 5 g
  • Calcium lactate - 0.5 g 
  • Mint leaves - 12 small leaves
  • Cilantro leaves - 12 small leaves
  • Fried shallots - 30 g
  • Hibiscus Flower Crystals from Fresh Origins - 10 g

Method:

  1. Mix sugar and xanthan gum together
  2. Mix all ingredients for nuoc chom together and sprinkle in sugar/xanthan gum mixture while whisking
  3. Whisk to dissolve sugar and xanthan gum for at least one minute to fully dissolve and then set aside
  4. After corn is removed from smoked corn ears (and kept to use for another purpose), steep corn cobs in broth for one hour at a low simmer
  5. Season the broth to taste, but be careful not to over salt because the nuoc cham will be salty
  6. Strain the broth
  7. In a blender, disperse (blend in slowly) the locust bean gum, kappa carrageenan, iota carrageenan and calcium lactate 
  8. While stirring constantly, heat mixture to 70C (158F)
  9. Pour mixture into a flat tray to set.  It should be no more than 1/4 inch deep.
  10. Let cool to solidify
  11. Cut smoked corn broth into 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick noodles
  12. Portion noodles and dress with nuoc cham to taste
  13. Top noodles with fried shallots, cilantro, mint, and Flower Crystals

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Maido in Lima, Peru: The best of Nikkei, the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese food

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Maido in Lima, Peru: The best of Nikkei, the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese food

Recommended: Strongly        

Type of Food: High end, Technique driven, Creative, Modernist, Local Ingredients

Maido is ranked 13 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list and is ranked 5 on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list.  Maido was my favorite meal in Lima.  At it's heart, Peruvian food is a fusion cuisine based on all of the immigrants who have added their flavors to the indigenous culture including Japanese, Chinese, Italian, African and Spanish.  Nikkei is Japanese-Peruvian food.  When I first heard about Nikkei, I was skeptical.  When I tasted it, I was an immediate convert.  The great umami centered Japanese cuisine combined with Peruvian ingredients with it's acid and incredible fruit and vegetable diversity makes for one of the most flavorful and exciting cuisines in the world.  No doubt.  The vibe at Maido is relaxed, and it is large enough that there are a small number of walk ins available.  However, reservations are a must if you want the Amazon Nikkei Experience, which is their tasting menu.  I have heard that if you are not able to get a reservation for the Nikkei Experience, they may be able to provide a smaller tasting menu experience.  Mitsuharu Tsumura is the chef and owner of Maido.  He is a native of Lima and trained in Japan before opening Maido.  If you are in Lima, make sure to get a reservation at Maido for the Nikkei Experience.  

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Central in Lima, Peru: The best restaurant in a great food city

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Central in Lima, Peru: The best restaurant in a great food city

Recommended: Strongly        

Type of Food: High end, Technique driven, Creative, Modernist, Local Ingredients

Central is currently ranked #4 on the World's 50 Best Restaurant's List and #1 on the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant's List.  They are known for venturing into the wilds of Peru to find native ingredients to highlight in the restaurant.  Peru is one of the world's most ecologically diverse countries containing peaks in the Andes that are over 20,000 feet high, jungles along the Amazon river, and a coastal desert where most of the population lives.  There are 4,000 varieties of potatoes, hundreds of varieties of chili peppers, and jungle fruit I had never seen before.  Central's mission is to highlight the amazing diversity and uniqueness of Peru's flora and fauna and they do it incredibly well.  The cost of the large 18 course tasting menu is 398 Peruvian Nuevos Soles which is about $120.  This is a lot of money in Peru, but much less than most world class restaurants cost.  Central succeeds in presenting a very refined version of incredible Peruvian cuisine.  

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42 grams: Michelin 2 star dinner party

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42 grams: Michelin 2 star dinner party

Recommended: Strongly

Categories: High end dining, Creative, Technique driven, Modernist

Lately there are a few high end restaurants playing with the theme of a dinner party.  Lazy Bear in San Francisco is one of my favorites, and El Ideas in Chicago is also very successful with the model.  42 grams goes in a more intimate direction than either of the other two restaurants and seats only 8 people at a time.  The entire staff consists of two chefs, a dishwasher and one person running front of the house.  Jake Bickelhaupt is the chef and co-owner with his wife Alexa Welsh who is the entire front of the house.  Chef Bickelhaupt worked at Alinea, Schwa, and Charlie Trotter's, so he has a great resume.  Like Schwa and El Ideas in Chicago, 42 grams is BYOB.  They offer still or sparkling water only.  This is not a place that focuses on the traditional aspects of fine dining.  It is comfortable and modern inside, but the neighborhood is not a great one and there is no lounge area inside, so do not come early.  But don't be late either because everyone is served at the same time, like at a dinner party.  Clearly, the focus is on the food and creating a relaxed and friendly environment where people interact with each other.   42 grams is completely successful at this.  The food is amazing and I had a great time with the people next to me.  We shared our wine and chatted the whole night.  Most of the time we were talking about how good the food was.  

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Grace: One of the best meals of 2016

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Grace: One of the best meals of 2016

 

Recommended: Stongly

Categories: High end, Technique driven, Creative, Modernist

This is one of the best meals of the year so far.  Grace was extremely impressive.  The food was beautiful and unique.  There were classic European flavors like prosciutto and truffle served only a few dishes after tuna carpaccio with caviar, coconut, cashews and fennel, and then a few dishes later the beef had Southeast Asian influences from lemongrass and finger lime.  While some of these Southeast Asian flavors can be quite assertive (which is why I love them!), Chef Duffy manages to make them a bit more subtle so that they can fit in with the flow of the tasting menu.  The most beautiful dish of the night was the two layered cucumber and king crab dish that was sweet and savory in perfect balance.  The lightly sweet sugar crust on top played off the sweet king crab and cucumber below.  The raw tuna dish came in a close second for the most beautiful dish of the night.  The flavors here are brilliant and unexpected with the caviar and fennel pairing well with the Caribbean flavors of coconut, lime and cashew.  The raw squash dish was tossed with a warm som tum dressing and crispy, yet not overpowering, garlic might have been my favorite of the night.  This squash dish was from the flora menu, proving that the vegetable menu might be even better than the fauna menu.  

The service was very good and the wine pairings worked well.  One particular wine, Bukettraube from Cederberg in South Africa, was especially nice, and I had never heard of it before.  The table next to me had the same surprised reaction.  Bukettraube is a German varietal that is a cross of Silvaner and Schiava Grossa.  It reminded me of other German whites in that it was very aromatic and complex.  I will look for it again.  

Grace has some of the most beautiful dishes I have seen this year.  The restaurant opened in just 2012 and has already earned three Michelin stars.  After eating there, I am not at all surprised.  I am a huge Grant Achatz fan and would suggest Alinea, Next and especially the Aviary to anyone living in or visiting Chicago.  However, right now, if you have to choose one three star restaurant, I would choose Grace over Alinea.  If you don't have to choose, even better!

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