Sugarfish

Sushi master chef Kazunori Nozawa was also known as “the Sushi Nazi” because allegedly he used to throw people out of the restaurant if they asked for dipping sauces or tempura or for a “California rolls” (apparently even famous people like Charlize Theron got thrown out).

After having run a restaurant in Tokyo with his mother he opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles in the mid/late eighties and  Sushi Nozawa quickly became a world renown restaurant. In 2012, after 25 years, he retired from making sushi and opened Sugarfish, for which he and his sons still select the freshest fish every morning.

Sugarfish has become a hit and has 10 locations in Los Angeles and one in New York. The first ever location is now closed so I visited the second location, which is now the oldest one and is located in Marina Del Ray, near Venice Beach.

When I tried to visit the New York location in the first month it had opened there was a 3 hour wait, so I ate somewhere else. But in LA it’s much easier to get a table or a seat at the bar (although it’s not really a sushi bar, as the kitchen is off to the side). Expect a wait of at least 20 min (we waited 30 min on a Monday night at 9.30, which is a very off time…).

The food is amazing and surprisingly affordable. The omakase (or “Trust Me” as it’s called) is only $35 and there is a light version for $25 and a version with two extra specials for $45.

The fish is super fresh and the preparation is truly great. For example the salmon, and the eel were some of the best salmon and eel I’ve had and the large scallop had a tangy bite to it which was a bit of yuzu ponzu on it. Even the sushi rice was tastier than most: it is warm-ish and harder, almost “al dente”, I’d say, and with the right amount of vinegar. The only bad thing about the rice (and about the whole experience) is the consistency of the rice. The taste is great but you can’t pick up a piece of sushi with your chop sticks without dropping some rice on your plate. It’s impossible. Maybe I should have tried the old school japanese way (by hand)… And forget about picking it up and flicking it over to dip the fish in the soy sauce (which is the way you use soy sauce on sushi, fish side down!). It’s impossible! That was a drag but the taste of the fish made up for it. 

For a place with 10 locations I was amazed at the quality.

Mr Taka Ramen

I’m always a seeker of good pizza, good espresso and good ramen, although I am not nearly as experienced or picky about the latter as I am about the former two.

Opened a little over a year ago by a Japanese owner, Mr Taka (admittedly not a great name) is the NY outpost of a Tokyo establishment of the same owner(s) which bears a different name, thankfully. The NY location is sunny, bright, open and feels pretty spacious even though it only has 4-6 tables and two counters (whole restaurant probably seats 25-30 people max). 

Ever since discovering Mr Taka, in NYC’s Lower EastSide, I’ve been taking all my japanese friends and clients there to see and hear their reactions and everyone seems to love it, which makes me feel good about my approval and love for this place.
Today I took a Tokyo rock band of 6 native japanese musicians here, so it was a great opportunity to take pictures of a few different bowls as well as hear their opinions, which were all very positive (although one of them said “special”, which sounds a bit like a lost-in-translation translation of when Americans say “interesting”… hmm).

Rafael

As I’ve stated before in other posts, one of the many great things about travelling to foreign countries with weak currencies is that you can have amazing meals at a fraction of what they would cost in the US or Europe.

In Bogotá Colombia one such meal was at Rafael, a Peruvian restaurant with Lima-inspired meat and fish dishes as well as pasta and desserts. The bill came in at little under $50/person, but that’s including cocktails, wine, coffees and digestives, so really without drinking this could have easily been an incredible $30 meal!

Of course we started with pisco sours for the table, quickly followed by maracuya and lulo juices for me (the designated driver) and Argentinian Malbec wine for my friends and co-workers.


And for food of course we started with two different ceviche appetizers (of which the traditional version ruled over the other warm type), some pulpo alla gallega and fish cakes (which the waiter brought two orders of without us having asked for that).

For my main course I had a fluffy white fish  (the menu was only in Spanish so I wasn’t sure of the name) prepared in a typical Peruvian way (although the bed of rice in a green sauce didn’t convince me, but the baby scallops made up for). 

Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the main courses of my fellow diners but I can assure you the presentations were impeccable and the food was delicious according to everyone’s account (and I should mention that on this night two of my fellow diners were accomplished french chefs).

For dessert we ordered the typical Peruvian dessert called Sospiro, which came in an amazing spring-looking mousse/sauce over slices of the squishy-textured local guanabana fruit and a bed of dulche de leche emulsion. The second dessert are caramelized pears with a caramel praline slice and a vanilla-based fruity sauce. Both desserts came with small leaves of basil and berries.

Stay away from the coffee! Colombia has unfortunately never had good espresso (even though they produce great beans) but this place is definitely the proof of that. We ordered espressos and got what in Italy would have been a below par bad, bitter, way too watery and way too long coffee so we sent them back and asked for espresso ristretto and got the right amount of coffee but still way below par bad, bitter, watery coffee without the foam that comes from the right water pressure. Avoid coffee here at all costs if your standards are as high as mine for espresso.

Other than a couple of small hiccups with the service (like bringing two appetizers and charging us for it, charging us for a drink we didn’t order etc) this was a great meal at an affordable price that’s definitely worth a visit. 

La Condesa Irina Lazaar

This is a little hidden gem in Bogota, Colombia. It took me about 5 visits to Bogota to discover this place, not even my local frieds knew about it and at the time of this writing it doesn’t even show up on Maps or Google Maps if you search for the name, even though it’s been open for 7 years already!!!

This is a lunch spot ONLY. Reservations recommended. Open Mon-Fri from 12 to 3.30 only, the place serves mostly the political crowd of the nearby city hall and offices (the corruption must be adding to the flavor ;-)). It’s closed Saturday and Sunday and it’s nestled inside the old beautiful, historical and slightly sketchy (at night) La Candelaria neighborhood.

American-Mexican owner and chef Edgardo Areizaga is a really sweet guy and a jazz lover, so if you are in a jazz group or on tour there make sure you stop by and bring him a CD! He’s got great food stories and even produced a jazz CD of a local trio that he wanted to support. What a guy!
He mentioned to me he wants to start opening other restaurants and cook less so try to go soon while he’s still there doing the cooking (although he said if he hires other chef they have to be better than him…).

La Condesa Irina Lazaar serves no wine (except for one local brand of Rosé -although you can probably bring your own wine and have them uncork it) but they have beer and other drinks (none of the amazing Colombian juices though). You walk in to a small dining room with about 8-10 tables and one step up, almost staged, is a big open kitchen where you can watch the chef and his two assistants prepare your food.


The restaurant has no menu but when you walk in Edgardo greets you and tells you what’s good that day. When I arrived he said the steak, the pork chops and the salmon were the thing to get today and he told us to sit down at table 7 by the window. A few minutes later he came to the table and said “I’m making you the steak and I’m making you the pork chop and I’ll make you a little sausage starter”… he kinda ready our minds… hmmmm… why argue?


The italian-inspired sausage starter with tomatoes was actually amazing. The steak cooked rare was delicious, juicy and tender. The huge pork chop was a tad dry if you ate it without the marbled fat around it (which I was at first trying to do to be “good” to by body) but when I cut into the fat and ate the meat and the fat together all the flavors and the consistency came there beautifully, with the right amount of juice and meat. Both mains came served with potatoes and a good salad and the appetizer was served on a bed of delicious cooked tomatoes.


The only dessert available was a chocolate cake which was very good, but I don’t think it was made in house…

This is probably too gringo if you are looking for local food but otherwise definitely worth a visit… and if you are a jazz musician especially so!!!

I Love Paris

Who says you can’t eat good food in an airport? At Paris CDG you can! This stupidly named restaurant is in Terminal 2E and is the latest venture by Le Grand Véfour chef Guy Martin. It’s by far the best food I’ve ever eaten in an airport. That’s for sure!

Mushroom mousse for starter.

A burger cooked rare (because in Europe you can and you should!) with cheese and good fries.

The uniquitous Floating Island dessert you find in so many Parisian restaurants. Basically fluffy white egg beaten with sugar over a bed of caramel sauce and hazelnuts. Delicious.

52

This unassuming almost bistro-looking place surprised me with their presentations. I stopped here for a quick dinner before going to a show at New Moraning jazz club, in the heart of the Harlem of Paris. Affordable, beautifully presented and very tasty food!

When in Paris you must have escargot (snails!) and it’s not your thing or you don’t want a whole plate full of this dish is perfect because it had only one snail served inside a hollow breaded crispy shell with lard emulsion and some good raw ham right on top. Very classy!

Sauvage

On the south side of the river, Sauvage is a great spot where for less than €50/person you can have a meal in a casual setting that would cost twice that in a more formal setting. Great wine list too!

If you go to the bathroom in this place you have to walk through the kitchen and you’ll be left wondering how they can make this amazing food in what is possibly the smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen (smaller than an East Village apartment kitchen!!!)

The menu changes daily but I highly recommend the fois gras appetizer and the bonito appetizer. The place is famous for its sweet bread entre but the lamb is very good too!

One of the most generous portions of Fois Gras I’ve ever been served.

Bonito is basically a japanese tuna tartare. And this is as good as they come. Served in onions, coriander and in a sweet sauce made with some kind of black currant berries. Amazing!

Cochon (Pork) was very hearthy and well cooked.

Sweet bread, the place’s specialty, is cooked to perfection. Simple but better than anywhere else I’ve ever had sweet bread.

Their Faisselle cheese dessert is also very good. Strained raw milk cheese with citrus slices and sauce.

Menu changes daily.

The tiny tiny kitchen, unbelievable!

Albion

Opened in 2011 by a kiwi and brit who came from the highly regarded Left Bank restaurant Fish La Boissonnerie, this place offers some great fish preparations (after all you are in the Poisonnerrie neighborhood) served in a casual setting and to a very local crowd. Very centrally located, a block from the subway and affordable, the restaurant also has a small wine shop.

€28 for appetizer and dessert or €34 for main and dessert. If you are two people I suggest you do one of each so you can share an appetizer and share a dessert and still have one entrée each, so you can try more things!

Great lunch spot!

Although it doesn’t look like it, that is an octopus salad and it was rather good. It certainly is no match to the octopus in Spain or Southern Italy but I did appreciate the different take on the preparation of such a delicacy.

Beautifully played salmon with bonito fish skin flakes and ratatouille.

Amazing dessert made with rice pudding, citrus and exotic fruit (mango, passion fruit) and gentle layers of creme brûlé crust.

Saturne

Possibly one of the best 9-course dinners I’ve had in Paris.
Reservations are a must and expect to be there for 3 hours.
Carte Blanche menu (you don’t need to pick anything, just tell them if you have any dietary restrictions) and set price of €85 without wine and €150 with wine (cheese and water are extra). If you are into wine they have a wine menu to die for with some of the best (hardest to find and most expensive bottles). You can do the wine pairing menu where every course comes with a pairing or you can get a bottle from their menu.

The highlights were the raw tuna with oven-dried blood oranges (one of the best raw tuna renditions ever!) and a dessert consisting of mandarin sorbet sitting atop some meringue crumbles, a cloud of a frozen solid mousse made with the inside of a squash seeds, some sugar glazed squash seeds underneath and a bed of squash mousse at the very bottom: something of a superior originality and taste!

Mini brioche with cheese mousse (sorry about the lines in the picture, some weird artifact of the lighting of this restaurant).

Asparagus in a leaf.

A clam and an an oyster hide underneath a mouse of vegetables.

The superior raw tuna with blood oranges that had to be desiccated in the oven.

Cod with clams and white asparagus.

Masterfully cooked juicy duck on a bed of spinach, peas and avocado mousse.

Unexpectedly hard goat cheese and a salad.

That’s the mandarin sorbet sitting atop some meringue crumbles, a cloud of a frozen solid mousse made with the inside of a squash seeds, some sugar glazed squash seeds underneath (that’s the dark/black stuff you see in the picture) and a bed of squash mousse at the very bottom: something of a superior originality and taste!

Warm chocolate mousse and cold hazelnut ice cream under a layer of crumbled oven roasted berries and chocolate.

Le Galopin

Relatively new restaurant on the Parisian food scene. Not a lot of tables so a reservation is required. But it can accomodate shall groups of 4-6 people. At €54 for a 7 course fixed menu dinner (plus wine of course), this place is priced very honestly for the quality of the food. The no frill service and the friendly and courteous staff make it a great unpretentious but delicious spot in the heart of Paris.

Mushroom soup with the texture of a miso soup and a surprise of salmon roe at the bottom.

White asparagus with compote gelatine cubes, slices of kiwi, mint and feta cheese.

Perfectly cooked juicy chicken with a great assortment of fresh vegetables.


Rather than coffee (which in France pretty much sucks everywhere) this is a delicious coffee ice cream with kumquat and crunchy sweets.

This place is definitely worth another visit!