Monthly Archives: January 2009

Birth of a Blog

dscn2033Empire Resort

There isn’t any food porn in this entry. Sorry. But I’d like to show you where this blog was conceived. In my last few months Stateside, I’d been photographing, cataloging my memorable last meals. These were mementos, postcards from my culinary tour of the city that I thought would be my home. 

dscn2019A small part of the lagoon. It’s (Billy Fuccillo) HUGE!

And while back in Asia, in the first week of my trip to Brunei, with my brother and his family here, my parents took us to spend a few days at Empire Resort. For someone who had been living in Brooklyn, Empire seemed really over the top. As the crown jewel of the small sultanate (population approximately 380,000) everything is done on a lavish grand scale. Yet there isn’t really much to do. I took a wakeboarding lesson (it’s hard!) Swam around the huge “pool” well it’s more like a manmade freshwater lagoon (awesome!) But that’s all I really did. You can’t drink in Brunei so there was no partying at night, and that’s when this blog was created. 

dscn2024A really beautiful place to unwind and get lost in your thoughts.

dscn2042The main atrium at the resort.

dscn2035This restaurant is the best place to be on a friday night in Brunei for the weekly BBQ buffet.

While I’d been toying with the idea of a blog, those few uneventful nights spent in my luxurious room proved to be optimal conditions to put my thoughts to pen and paper. I wrote down the recipe for my blog. I started to write the stories I wanted to tell, thought of the different segments (which you’ll start to see once we get into the Singapore stories,) and decided the angle and what I wanted out of my blog.

Soon I had scrawled on numerous pages of my legal pad and the story of my journey was starting to develop. 

dscn2022The sun sets on MOAR lagoon.

dscn3759Colors, I have to say my little Nikon takes pretty good night shots. 

dscn3748Walking around as night falls.

dscn37731I thought the resort was going to be empty (like Jerudong Theme Park) but it wasn’t.

dscn3781I swam to that small island and hid behind it’s waterfall (now switched off.)

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Becoming a Food Snob

I have never thought of myself as a food snob. But in college, my friends never cooked for me because they felt intimidated.

“I can’t cook like you.”

“But you know so much about food”

“You have great taste and I’m embarrassed to cook for you.”

They would say. Finally when a girl did cook for me, I slept with her out of gratitude. Well I did say I was going to bring dessert. Her food wasn’t Keller but it was cooked with care and consideration, effort. The fact that someone had taken the time to go get groceries and prepare made it lovely.

Over vacations when I stayed with friends, the cook of the house would make the disclaimer that the food wasn’t fancy, having heard that I love to dine out. But some of my favourite meals were in those very homes.

I love food. All types of food. I’m obsessed with the dumplings at my neighbourhood Chinese place in Brooklyn. I love fast food, one of my favourite foods is a hot dog. My boss was shocked to find out that I like Papa Johns pizza. Her taste was to the more refined and authentic New York pizza places around our office in downtown Manhattan. She rolls her eyes every time I bring in my leftover pizza for lunch. “I thought you were some foodie,” she would always accuse.

My brother had brought his family to Brunei to visit our parents. I had flown in a few days ahead. My parents decided that we would spend a few days at Brunei’s premier resort. This place was lavish. It felt like the sultan’s palace. They also had one of the best restaurants in the country. I was excited. My parents had called ahead for their tasting menu. 

dscn2238Appetizers were good. Beef and a seafood salad

dscn2242Soups in shot glasses? Please. Mussels. Nothing stood out.

dscn2248Flavorless beef or lamb which was very tough, tuna which I would have preferred to be rarer.

dscn2251Desserts were decent

The food was mediocre. They had a new chef, a very young man and had just changed their menu concept to something more bistro-like. Apparently haute cuisine wasn’t making money. I’m usually a voracious eater, a human Hoover. But I picked at my food this time, I admit with a little distain. I had just left the foodie capital of the world and was homesick. I think my parents sensed it. They were splurging on their son and he was leaving his plate half eaten, pushing the rest away.

Transitions

dscn20462Home

I boarded the plane at JFK on a Thursday night. I arrived in Singapore at dawn on Saturday. I was back in the army for training on Monday for two weeks and right after that I was on a plane to visit my parents in Brunei. From a Brooklyn apartment to an army bunk with 20 other guys to an absolutely palatial house. The house in Brunei was huge; there were even three, yes three kitchens. Although I didn’t cook at all because the house chef, a proud woman from Miramar didn’t take too kindly to my intrusion into her domain. But I wasn’t complaining. The food was good and it felt great to have everything done for me. I didn’t have to walk down Jefferson Street in the dead of winter to do my laundry, all I had to do was toss it into a hamper and it would reappear the next day clean, ironed and folded. I slept in as late as I wanted to, I didn’t have to wake up just before five to get ready for the day’s training.  I didn’t have to worry about work at the office. 

I enjoyed my time in Brunei, it was restful, a little unreal with all the luxury and pampering but not much else, there is almost absolutely nothing to do in Brunei. I missed my friends and life in New York and would trade all of this to be back. But that was a closed chapter of my life and as I sat in the comfort of my new but temporary room, the best accommodation I’ve had in years, I was excited to be writing a new one.

rscn29342Home from the back

dscn21142The “living room” is bigger than my NY apartment

dscn41033The main kitchen

dscn21693Halal kitchen adjacent to the main kitchen

dscn21522Catering kitchen on the lower floor next to the “official” dining room

dscn21532Catering kitchen

dscn40562You know you are living it up when you have a few of these scattered around

dscn30253Good eating, when you have a chef in the house: Passionfruit cucumber and calamari cups

dscn30262Dressed wonton and tofu with wasabi

dscn35702  Prawn, jellyfish and dragon fruit

dscn37962Radish Cake

dscn38372Starfruit salad

dscn38402Baked crab with cheese

dscn38422Stuffed Fish

dscn30332Passionfruit custard

Yummy Honeys: Aishwarya Rai

1Image from www.page03.com

I was back in Asia at the Empire Resort in Brunei, relaxing in a luxurious hotel room overlooking the South China Sea when I first caught snippets of The Mistress of Spices on TV. I’m not going to lie, it’s a totally sappy movie, made and destined for TV. But it made me realize how I underutilize spices. I seldom use anything more exotic than salt and pepper.

aishwarya-rai-signs-robot1Image from www.extramirchi.com

The movie also made me realize just how breathtakingly beautiful Indian women are. I’ve written about another Indian beauty, Padma, here. (She is coincidentally in this movie too.) But Aishwarya is one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen. Add to the fact that there was some culinary element involved and it made the movie otherwise watchable and enjoyable. 

aishwaryarai55ff_04_16001Image from http://photos-aishwaryarai2.blogspot.com/ 

aishwaryarai31Image from bollywoodmp3.110mb.com

aishwarya-rai-pic-020Image from www.bollygallery.com

Excerpts from the movie:

The Last Dinner: Le Bernardin

dscn1651With a culinary giant: Chef Eric Ripert

My last week in New York and I went all out, Degustation, Lupa, Daisy May’s BBQ, Peter Luger’s, Nathan’s, Tailor and on my last night in the city: the three Michelin-star Le Bernardin.

The hostess opened the door, “Good Evening, welcome to Le Bernar-daan.”

I felt exhilarated as I stepped into the fabled dining room of Chef Eric Ripert’s restaurant dedicated to seafood.

The exhilaration rose further when I asked the captain if it were possible for Chef Ripert to sign my Le Bernardin cookbook and he came back to say that the Chef would be out shortly.

I looked over the menu and ordered the Chef’s tasting menu for Mahnaz and myself. I looked at it again. I told the captain I would also like to add the Conch (which I have never eater and promptly mispronounced, It’s CONK) and the Surf and Turf, which in this rendition had Kobe beef and white tuna. I was intrigued by the “Korean BBQ style” and I wanted to see how such an elegant restaurant would pull it off, but also because I love white tuna. During the first few months when I moved to New York, living in a cell of a room at the Y in Flushing, I would pamper myself and splurge on an order of white tuna sushi from the sushi joint down the street. It was one of the small luxuries that kept me sane though the long commute, isolation from friends and living in a sketchy place. I had savored the buttery fish when I first moved to New York and it would be the last thing I tasted as I left.

Shortly after, Chef Ripert came out to talk to me and I think I heard the din of the dining room cease as New York’s elite wondered whom this young man was (or maybe I imagined.) Awed in his presence I managed to cobble an explanation that this was my last night in New York and if it were possible, to get a photo with him. He sincerely said that he was honored that I chose Le Bernardin for my last meal and led me to the kitchen where we had our photo taken. I was stuck by just how humble this great man was. Here was one of the best chefs, probably the greatest chef to deal with seafood, and he said he was honored that I chose his restaurant. Uhhh excuse me chef, but I’m honored that you’re even talking to me, hell I’m honored that I can just eat at your restaurant. Meeting him was a dream come true.

Although, I must have almost given him a heart attack after our photo and brief chat as I turned and headed for the door. Chef Ripert immediately pulled me back saying that was the wrong door (it was for coming in the kitchen) and that the right one (going out) was just beside it. A waiter had just come in as Chef Ripert pointed out the right egress route. I would have caused a pile up!

dscn1656Amuse (the pictures are posted in their served order)

I settled back to my table. The week had been a whirlwind of activity, packing and meeting friends. Each meet-up was emotionally draining, as I knew it would be a long time before I got to see my friends again. Tonight I shook a living legend’s hand and was riding the crest of elation. But as the amuse came out, I let the experience of eating at a restaurant enfold me. I felt calm and content as I focused on the food. 

dscn1657Fluke: White Soy-Yuzu Marinated Fluke; Seaweed and Spiced “Rice Crispies”

There is finesse and exotic elegance in the food at Le Bernardin. The pristine ingredients, exciting concepts and flawless execution of the kitchen made this one of my best eating experiences, second only to Per Se.

Every single ingredient seemed to sing, there was a depth and clarity of flavor.  An exquisite fluke, augmented with the subtle symphony of flavors from the white soy-yuzu marinate, caramel, salty and sour in harmony. The conch, my special request, had a briny sweetness and a slight crunch that made me very glad I had requested it. It was like hitting a three-pointer.

dscn1674Conch: Thinly Sliced Conch Marinated Peruvian Style; Dried Sweet Corn

dscn1682Conch: Side view

dscn16882Lobster: Warm Poached Lobster; Sweet Pea-Verbena Mousseline; Chilled Grapefruit Broth

dscn1707Calamari:  Sautéed Calamari Filled with Sweet Prawns and Wood Ear Mushrooms; Calamari Consommé

It’s impressive how the food in an establishment like Le Bernardin seems so exotically enticing; there were many global inflections on our menu. I was particularly taken with the stuffed calamari, which tasted almost like a wonton with its sweet prawn and mushroom filling, but with a small  calamari body as the wrapper. The consommé was so flavorful that I wanted to lift the plate to my lips and drink it to the last drop. I didn’t but I wanted to. Instead I agonized with my spoon as I tried to harvest every precious milliliter. 

dscn1713Wild Salmon: Barely Cooked Wild Alaskan Salmon; Snow Peas and Enoki Salad; Sweet Pea-Wasabi Sauce 

dscn1729Turbot: Wild Turbot; Shiso-Maitake Salad; Lemon-Miso Broth

The fish courses had me in awe of the skill of the cooks in the kitchen. Each morsel of seafood, coaxed with just the right amount of heat was cooked to perfection; inattention for twenty seconds would have ruined the delicate ingredients. The salmon was just lightly cooked so that its flesh was still silky. Turbot was tender and firm. The escolar was lush and rare, its buttery-ness contrasting with the saline snap of the sea beans.  

dscn1740Escolar: White Tuna Poached in Extra Virgin Olive Oil; Sea Beans and Potato Crisps; Light Red Wine Béarnaise

dscn1747Surf And Turf: White Tuna and Seared Japanese Kobe Beef “Korean BBQ Style”; Fresh Kimchi; Lemon Brown Butter Emulsion

My favorite dish of the night was the Surf and Turf. It was daring in concept, bold in flavor and exciting in ingredients. I surprised to see this humble Korean inspired dish here and surprised again to see it so elegantly reinterpreted. The Kobe and white tuna had a smoky char, that added a complexity to the two, and their inherently delicious buttery texture was brilliantly contrasted with kimchi and melded together with the lemon brown butter emulsion. 

dscn1757Closeup

Desserts at Le Bernardin are some of the best in the city. There was a smooth black sesame panna cotta that reminded me of the Chinese desserts of my childhood. And then there was “The Egg.”

dscn17611Plum: Roasted Black Plum, Black Sesame Panna Cotta, Cherry Granité, Soy Caramel

dscn1771“Egg”: Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème, Caramel Foam, Maple Syrup, Maldon Sea Salt

Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis’ creation is a complex intertwining of flavors and layers of texture. If I had to pick one dessert for my last meal it would be this one. A pudding like milk chocolate pot de crème with caramel sauce, airy caramel foam and maple syrup enhanced with the barest crunch of Maldon sea salt. I remember once having indulged in some herb and looking for something to eat, sprinkled some Maldon sea salt on a piece of white bread slathered with Nutella. I was blown away by what the salt did to the chocolate. It enhanced the taste, but there was something more, it seemed to make the flavors dance. The Egg did just that, it danced. 

dscn1785Mignardises

dscn1774Mahnaz and I

dscn1793In every ending there is a beginning

Someone recently commented that I should start posting my Singapore material, enough of my New York stuff, which is more than a year old. Perhaps I do it to come to terms with my leaving of a city I’ve fallen in love with. It took me the longest time to complete this last post on the city. In my last few weeks in New York, I lived with the ardent desperation of someone spending the last few days with a lover. And I had some of the best times of my life. I was sad when I left, but it was tempered with the contentment of having lived, felt and eaten to the fullest.

Related Three Michelin Star Eating: Per Se part one and part two 

 

Le Bernardin

155 West 51st Street (Between 6th & 7th Avenue)

New York, New York 10019

(212) 554-1515

www.le-bernardin.com

Lunch from Noon to 2:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday. Extended to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Price Range:

Lunch Prix Fixe: $68, Dinner Prix Fixe: $109, Le Bernardin Tasting Menu: $135, Chef’s Tasting Menu: $185

Dress Code:

You’ll be dining with New York’s moneyed elite. You better suit up.