Saturday, October 12, 2013

Paul Bakery (Washington DC, USA) ★★★★☆

Look what I found.....a Paul Bakery in Washington DC!

After fighting the rain all day, we were just glad to find a shelter. Needless to say, we didn't expect to bump into my favorite French pastry shop on Pennsylvania Avenue.

They have all kinds of French pastries and desserts available. Now where should I start?

But first, a glass of hot chocolate to keep me warm. When I ordered hot chocolate, I was hoping for something along the line of what I had at Angelina or Ladurée. Oh, but that's secret recipe.

Perhaps I have set the bar a little too high. This was not nearly as rich as what I was wishing for.

I was struggling to pick between an Éclair and one of their nice looking fruit tarts so I ended up taking both.

At first, the Éclair Pecan did look kind of boring but after just one bite, it was overwhelmed. This was not your typical Éclair found in any pastry shop. According to the description here, it's a "puff pastry choux filled with pastry cream swirled with crunchy caramelized pecans, topped with a fondant mixture".

Enough said......

The Tarte Poire Cannelle topped with sliced pears and cinnamon was almost as good. If it was a little bit warmer, it would be perfect!

Of course a meal at Paul would not be complete without one of their jumbo macarons. Pistachio again, that's my favorite flavor.


That was precisely what I was looking for on this miserably rainy day. Something to cheer myself up. Thank you, Paul.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$
Address: 801 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Closest Subway Station: Archives
Tel: +202 524-4500

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POV Rooftop Lounge (Washington DC, USA) ★★☆☆☆

The famed rooftop lounge P.O.V. at the W Hotel Washington DC serves a promising food menu that is powered by Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. However, the most attractive element of this bar and lounge has to be its view of the White House and the city’s skyline and historic monuments.

After taking a few photos in front of the White House and the neighboring Department of Treasury building, we proceeded to the P.O.V. Bar and Lounge as planned. Rain started to pour at this point and by the time we arrived at W Hotel, we were almost soaky wet. So much for the supposingly best view of the White House, it was totally "destroyed" by the weather condition.

Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna, Citrus-Chili Sauce, 4/10 
The rice cracker crusted tuna provided us with a decent start.

Hearts of Romaine Caesar Salad, 3.5/10
The salad dressing was a tad too sour for my liking.

Artichoke and Shiitake Mushroom Pizza, 7/10
Easily the best of the four dishes. The artichokes and shiitake mushrooms were surprisingly good match for each other. 

Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Avocado, Chipotle Mayonnaise, 3/10
Should have used softer sandwich buns here. My dentist definitely won't be thrilled with these.

The view was certainly worth the visit (though not considered stunning) but the food had a long way to go.

Food Rating: 3.5/10
Price: $$
Address: 515 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Closest Subway Station: Metro Center
Tel: +202 661-2400

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Jaleo (Washington DC, USA) ★★★★☆

Be happy and have fun, that is the spirit of life...

Jaleo, the Spanish word for revelry, fun and bustle, was also our first destination in Washington DC. In case you haven't heard, Jaleo has been a fixture in the DC's culinary scene for 20+ years and after a minor facelift in 2012, the place is looking better than ever.

José Andrés, world-renowned Spanish chef and owner of Jaleo, has been one of Washington DC's best known chefs for years. He's the brains behind some of the most popular dining destinations in the city, including Zaytinya, Oyamel and minibar but his flagship has always been Jaleo.

After the flashy renovation, the place looks much warmer and a lot more inviting.

A few glass-topped foosball tables could be found at the entrance of the restaurant. Never imagine tapas restaurant could be so much fun!  

This has to be one of the most comprehensive menu I have seen from any Spanish restaurant in recent memory. At least 70-80 items were named here, not counting the daily specials. That's impressive.

We first started with something from José Andrés' old friend Ferrán Adrià, an amuse-bouche-like dish with molecular gastronomic inspiration called the ferrán adrià‘ liquid olives.

In a nutshell, these were liquid balloons of rich and flavorful olive juice that popped in our mouth releasing an intense burst of black olive flavor. This concept by Ferrán Adrià was really nothing new but yet we still got excited whenever we tried one of these (8/10).   

Before the meat and seafood arrived, a little bit of veggies to stay healthy - sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins and apples (5/10).

My two-cents of advice is to stay away from the Japanese fusion dishes such as the sea urchin with diced peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and trout roe (2/10) as well as the salmon tartare and trout roe cone (4/10) and simply go with the Spanish influenced dishes.

Trust me, you won't miss a thing!

The signature Spanish mini burgers made from the legendary, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs of Spain were next and they were absolutely unreal (10/10).

This was my second favorite dish of the night, behind the mini-burgers - a seared scallops with pine nuts and Pedro Ximénez. The sweetness from the Pedro Ximénez was quite an interesting match for the scallops (8/10).

Grilled quail with rosemary sauce and honey alioli was another well executed dish that was very flavorful and intense (7/10).

Patatas Bravas is a dish I always order whenever I visit a Spanish restaurant, mainly because I am a potato freak. And it's very comforting to know that it's also a Jaleo favorite that is served with a spicy tomato sauce and alioli (5/10).

A few of the paellas were sold out so only three to choose from. We ended up picking the traditional paella of chicken and chef selected mushrooms and the taste was rich, complex and mouthwatering (8/10).

This was a great start to our short visit to Washington DC. Thank you, Jaleo

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$
Address: 480 7th St NW  Washington, DC 20004, USA
Closest Subway Station: Gallery Place Chinatown / Archives
Tel: +1 (202) 628-7949

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fairfield Inn & Suites (Washington, USA)

Finishing up our 2-week trip in North America was a short stopover in Washington DC which saw us stay at the Fairfield Inn for 2 nights. Located in the heart of the city's Chinatown, the hotel is just 1-2 minute walk from the Verizon Center and the other main attractions (ie. The White House, different museums etc.) not too far away (15-20 minutes).

I admit I wasn't the one responsible for picking the hotel. I was happy that someone did all the research for me this time around so I didn't have to lose all those sleep reading reviews on Tripadvisor.

But this turned out to be quite decent. Both the hotel lobby and rooms are modernly decorated with a nice oriental twist. The bed and linens were clean and comfortable and yes, I slept pretty well on both nights.

The bathroom was fine.

Breakfast was included (isn't that a rarity in US?) but it was only served until 9am on weekdays (weekends till 10am) so we had to scramble a bit waking up early. And even if we did show up in time, that didn't guarantee much coz there were way too many hotel guests squeezed into a very little space. Not the most comfortable situation to be in and we didn't manage to get much to eat.

Another issue we needed to tackle was parking. There's no garage available in the facility, only valet parking which cost $33 per night. During our check-in, they indicated to us that our car would be ready as long as we told the front desk 10 minutes in advance. But it ended up taking almost an hour on the morning when we were driving back to the Big Apple. I sympathized with the one and only valet parking staff who had to deal with so many customers in one morning; however, everyone including us has a tight itinerary to follow and an hour wait was really unacceptable any way you put it.

In addition to parking, we had a water leakage problem. We stayed on the top floor (10/F) and during a weekend of heavy rainfall, we had leakage in the ceiling with water drilling down. At the end, we had to switch room at 10pm but to the team's credit, they did a good job arranging a new room for us in very short notice and we had everything taken care of in approximately 10 minutes. 

All in all, I found Fairfield Inn to be serviceable but whether we would stay here again, well that's another question.

Rating: ❤❤❤
Price: $$$
Address: 500 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States
Tel: +1 202-289-5959
Website: Link

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bouchon Bakery (New York, USA) ★★★☆☆

Thomas Keller is undisputedly one of America's most celebrated chefs and also the only American chef to have been awarded three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants under his name at the same time - Per Se and The French Laundry. In addition to his two fine dining restaurants, chef Keller also owns Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery which serves modest priced French bistro fare.

After visiting Jean Georges for lunch, we spent a little bit of time at the nearby Time Warner Center. Both Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery are located on the third floor of this spacious building overlooking Central Park while chef Keller's prized restaurant Per Se can be found one floor above.

At about 2:30pm, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery were still fully packed with customers. Some of which were simply having a late lunch while others (like us) were hunting for something sweet. 

TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo) Cookie - Chef Keller invented his own Oreo cookies with dark chocolate sandwich cookies and a white chocolate filling.

I was prepared to be blown away by this but was fairly surprised to find that I did not get "KOed". 

The pistachio macaron was slightly better than the TKO but it was still not considered in the same league as ones being served at some of the traditional French pastry shops such as Paul Bakery.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: 3/F 10 Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center, New York 10019, NY, USA
Closest Subway Station: 59th St/Columbus Circle
+212 823-9366

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Luke's Lobster (New York, USA) ★★★★☆

Crab toast (@abc kitchen) or lobster roll (@Luke's), which one to start first, that was the question being thrown around this afternoon. 

After a delightful lunch at Jean Georges, we took a slow walk in the Central Park before making our way past the Plaza. There it suddenly strikes us that a Luke's is conveniently located only steps away at the famous Plaza Food Hall.

The Plaza Food Hall reminded us slightly of the famed Harrods food hall in London. Comparing to Harrods, there are fewer formal eateries at Plaza but more selections of snack foods and desserts. But at this point, we were way too full to have anything else other than a delicious lobster roll.

Don't get the wrong impression that Luke's is just a one-trick pony. Apart from their signature lobster roll, their crab and shrimp rolls also rock. 

The lobster roll came with five to six large pieces of Maine lobster meat sitting comfortably on a New England-style hot dog bun. It was nicely prepared with owner Luke Holden's secret recipe which included mayonnaise, unsalted butter and a few pinches of celery salt. That was the best $12(USD) I spent here in New York City.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$
Address:  1 West 59th Street, New York, NY, USA
Closest Subway Station: 5th Ave/59th St
Tel: +646 755-3227

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Jean Georges (New York, USA) ★★★★☆

Words cannot begin to explain how excited I am approaching this lunch at Jean Georges.
Rated 3 stars by the Michelin guide and 98th best in the world by the Restaurant magazine in 2013, situated in one of the prime locations in all of New York city and led by one of the world's most celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the storyline simply can't get any better than this.

Housed in the prestigious Trumph International Hotel and Tower, Jean Georges is the acclaimed flagship of Chef Vongerichten's restaurant empire.

We wasted no time meeting our man Chef Vongerichten in person. While we were still checking our jackets in at the reception counter, there he was passing us by with two bags of groceries holding firmly in his hands. I could not help but ask our hostess who was just standing right next to me, "So does he still do his grocery?"

After being led through the dining area of Nougatine (the casual neighbor of Jean-Georges), a black door slid open in front of us and there it was, a minimal yet elegant main dining room with amazing view of the Central Park through the floor-to-ceiling windows right in front of us.

Lunch got off to a flying start with an amuse bouche of warm broccoli soup, a braised spinach "ball" with wasabi and miso, and a skewered white fish tempura. Chef Vongerichten has always been a master of ethereal Asian-inspired French cuisine so it came as little surprise that some of these nibbles got somewhat of a Japanese twist (7/10).

Right after our amuse bouche, first up for us was the first starter - three small slices of black toast with Santa Barbara sea urchin, jalapeno and yuzu on top.

I thought this dish was a little flat. The sea urchin did not work well with the black toast at all and the supporting cast also failed to deliver (3/10). 

But apart from the sea urchin, the rest of the starters provided quite a culinary experience for us starting with the hamachi sashimi, avocado, yuzu and crispy radish. That was an adorable presentation (7/10).

We had quite a number of yellowfin tuna tartare on this trip but yellowfin tuna ribbon? This had to be our first time. 

This was a fairly enjoyable dish. The avocado puree, spicy radish and dash of soy sauce and ginger marinade all contributed to the layering flavors of the tuna (7/10). 

Saving the best for last, our final appetizer was a wonderful dish of pan seared sea scallops, served with caramelized cauliflowers and a very complicated caper-raisin emulsion

If I want to be picky, I thought the scallops could have been better but I really came to enjoy the caper-raisin emulsion which was the difference maker here. The contrasting sweet and sour flavor helped to provide the perfect balance to the sweetness of the scallops (8/10).

Oh wait, I ordered an extra starter - Peekytoe crab dumplings with celebriac-Meyer lemon tea. Yes, lemon tea!

This was arguably the best dish so far. Large lumps of crab meat stuffed inside a thin wrapper provided a rich and buttery texture which was absolutely tantalizing to our palates (10/10).

By an amazing coincidence, everyone decided to order fish for main course. The Arctic char with black burgundy truffle crumbs, crispy parsnips was the first to be unveiled by our server and I thought it was the best out of the three fish courses.

This was an Arctic char that was nicely done with a crispy skin. The overall texture was tender but firm while the inside was still slightly raw (7/10).

Following the Arctic char was a poached hake with spiced jade emulsion and tender celebriac. I was quite content with the texture of the poached hake but the spicy Thai kick with the spiced jade emulsion (seedless green curry) proved to be a bit too overpowering (5/10).

Matching the slow-cooked black fish with a lettuce puree and herb-lime vinaigrette was an interesting thought that did not really come to fruition (4/10).

After three wonderful courses, it's time for a little pre-dessert before we were officially introduced to our dessert menu. Homemade marshmallows for everyone!

But after reading the dessert menu, we decided that there's nothing attractive enough there for us to do further damage to our belly. 

It was certainly a memorable meal at one of the most famous restaurants in the world. I thought the food was genuinely good but not great. If I had to pick between this one and our previous lunch at David Bouley, my vote probably goes to David Bouley.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$
Address: 1 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023, USA
Closest Subway Station: 59th St/Columbus Circle
+212 299-3900

 S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 98th (2013)

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