Review: Colonialen

16 September 2014

I had a wonderful day exploring the brilliant Norwegian gem that is Bergen and was looking forward to a fantastic tasting menu at one of Norway’s best-regarded restaurants, Colonialen. I had really fallen for this town already, and memories of last night’s feast at 1877 still lingers in my mind.

I arrived at Colonialen on the early side as I had a very early flight in the morning, so I was the first diner to grace the eatery. I was very much looking forward to a huge production, a full 12-course tasting menu with full pairing. Why not, it’s a pre-celebration for my birthday, and to really enjoy as much of Bergen as I could during my short stay here in this lovely city.

As I was doing a full pairing, they happily poured me the wine from the first course, a wonderful, crispy white from Tournelle. I relaxed and smiled, especially as the first amuse bouche arrived.

AB1-mussel_sphere_oyster

Fabulous innit? On the left is an oyster under a very flavourful foam. On the right, on the spoon, is a “mussle sphere” — which, alongside the algae gracing its side, made for a flavour explosion. Wow… I’ve rarely had an amuse so flavourful… Needed a big gulp of wine after this, wow….awesome!

AB2-pressed_oxtail_onions

Soon came the second of the amuse, this one an excellent pressed oxtail with onions. Excellent taste, a nice segue into the tasting menu. I’m happy already! They topped up my wine as we began the 12-course adventure. First up, scallops.

01-scallops_seaweed

These raw scallops, sourced from nearby waters, were excellent and mildly sweet. It sits in a base made from fermented celery juice, which really added something interesting to the scallops. Excellent dish showing a modern approach to local traditions! The topped up the Tournelle as it was to run into the next course: chicken heart.

02-chicken_heart_apricot

This was cute and tasty, as it was accompanied by apricot. The heart was cooked well, retaining texture without it being difficult to eat. Good prep here. I was really enjoying this so far. As they poured an Austrian sauvignon blanc I awaited dish number three — monkfish cheek.

03b-monkfish_cheek_cabbage

Excellent piece of fish, strong flavour and texture. It was accented fabulously with fermented cabbage and broth of mussels, as well as some orange mist that was sprayed by the server as the plate arrived. What a fabulous combination! The flavours tonight have so far worked perfectly, and I am extremely impressed. Very rarely do I enjoy a long tasting menu so much as I am tonight.

04-lobster_apple

The fourth dish is based on local langostine, a local favourite. Very nice flavour, heavily accented by the apples that are so beloved in this region. A succulent dish! Been loving the seafood so far, as well as the accents from the best of local produce and traditional cooking techniques — including the shaved dry langostine roe. This is what a tasting menu should be like in a place like Bergen!

05-snail_barley

The fifth dish I did a double take at first, but it is based on barley. Oh, also some very flavourful snails (escargots). The latter were done very well, not overcooked, retaining a lot of character. A tasty little treat, once again showing off local ingredients. Enjoyed a tipple from Chassagne-Montrachet alongside the last two dishes also.

06-turkey_soup

A switch of pace for the sixth course, a small but rich soup that featured turkey fricasee. Oddly it used chicken soup as the base. Was on the salty side to be honest, the first semi-miss of the evening. So far this has been pretty spectacular of a tasting menu!

07-halibut_fat_bokchoi

That led into course number seven, which returned to seafood as it focused on the halibut. This was an utterly fantastic and rich dish. The halibut itself was very tasty, laying on a bed of bokchoi. The fish was topped with “false” herring roe (made with its essence). But most fabulous was the small piece of halibut belly…oh my goodness was it good. I know some people avoid it due to difficulty in making sure it is clean and so forth, but when you can get it like this…wow… Just gorgeous…

08-grouse

We now move into the meats and they presented something from my dear Scotland for the next course, a wonderful grouse. Despite my love for game, I generally am not a big fan of gamebirds. However, this grouse was very tasty, cooked very well. A small bit of pureed tenderloin topped the meat, which was just dreamy. Mmm…

I really needed a bit of a break at this point, and coincidentally it was a break in the menu as well. They brought out a small rum-and-apple concoction as the palate cleanser…mmm… I’m saying mmm a lot tonight… Did the Homer Simpson “gargle-drool” a few times too…

09-lamb_pumpkin

Back on the saddle, the ninth course was the last savoury of the evening, a wonderful dish of local lamb. Again using local favourites, this was accentuated very well by pumpkin. The flavour of the lamb was just excellent, a real lamb (sorry the photo angle didn’t get the lamb clearly). As good as yesterday’s if not better. Lovely stuff. What a great way to end the savouries!

10-cheeses

After another wee break the cheese course came out. I was a little surprised with the French cheese selection, and I was to be honest spent by now with the wonderful local items all night. This was a large selection, and I didn’t do that well…too much of a good thing tonight!

side-berry_hazlenut_milk

They then brought out a nice little side treat, a small traditional berry bake swimming in hazlenut milk. What a nice treat! This came just before the eleventh course, a dessert based on cloudberries.

11-cloudberry_sorbet

I love how they use local produce once again, making the sorbet and the berries, with a nice bit of cream. Mmm… Not too sweet, not too tangy, but a perfect balance for someone who likes things less sweet. Nice stuff.

12-plum

And finally we reach the end, the twelfth course, once again focusing on local produce. this time the plum — a prized fruit in this region. A nice plum tart, with a nice traditional milk ice cream laced with just enough cardomom on the side. A fine, fine closing number!

I was extremely happy at this point, relaxing with some coffee and staring at the petit-four — but too full to eat anything else. I had a wonderful evening, one of the top long tasting meals I’ve had in a long time. I really love the devotion not just to local ingredients, but also to traditional cooking and prep techniques such as fermentation and salting. There is some real talent here.

I headed out in the nice warm Bergen evening, having spent nearly 4 hours enjoying that amazing tasting menu. I actually stopped at 1877 en route back to my hotel for a nitecap, which made this excellent evening even better.

Despite having to get up very early in the morning, this was a fabulous day and a fabulous 30 hours in Bergen. I know I will return again, this town is just too lovely to keep me away! I am addicted!

Now off into the North Atlantic in the AM!

Colonialen
Kong Oscars gate 44
Bergen, Norge

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Review: 1877

15 September 2014

I had been planning something interesting for my birthday this year. Two years ago when I turned 40, I made a trek to Spitsbergen. Last year, I had a rather rough trip to London. So I thought for 42, let’s go back to doing something more interesting than dealing with signal failure at Edgware Road…

This birthday trip began rather chaotically, thanks to immigration queues and missing a connection flight, but I eventually made it to the beautiful Norwegian city of Bergen. I have a love-hate relationship with Norway, from the excellent (but pricey) restaurants of Oslo (like Maaemo and Ylajali) to the horrible eateries of Tromsø. I have heard a lot of buzz about Bergen, so I decided to check it out myself.

Simply put, Bergen is a fabulous town in every way, from the people to the food. Despite being exhausted from the travels (IAD-LHR-OSL-BGO), I was looking forward to my dinner at the well-regarded 1877 not far from my hotel. The few short hours in town I was already enchanted by it.

I found 1877 after a short stroll from my hotel and as the hour was still early I was the first to be seated in the very cute dining room. And yes, it was sunny in Bergen!

dining_room

I enjoyed a local pear cider and slowly decompressed from the flying and headaches that I had to endure to get to this place. But really, it was worth it already. I was looking forward to the 5-course tasting menu, which was a promise of the best of regional products. I couldn’t wait. Then it began.

ABb-cod_watermelon

The amuse bouche was a fine example of local cod, alongside some tasty watermelon. The use of the pink salt block as the dish helped as the flavours seeped into the ingredients — especially the watermelon. Good start!

bread

My excellent server, who acts also as guide and storyteller for this feast (I reckon she’s also a co-owner), brought out their sourdough bread. She tells me about naming it Lucy, as the starter culture of the sourdough has been with them for many years and they care for it like a child. How cute. The bread is nice, with hints of apple. This prepared me for the first course of the 5-course tasting menu.

01-scallops_cauliflower

The opener was a beauty. This scallop, sourced locally, was one of the tastiest morsels of this mollusc I’ve ever had. Rich and shamelessly lush with brown butter, the flavour was as good as any I’ve had — even in the best places in Oslo or even Tokyo. Wow. The cute use of cauliflower, from flower to leaf, added to the appeal of this dish. Paired with a fine chenin blanc from Alsace. A fabulous, fabulous opener!

02-tusk-pumpkin

The second course featured two local specialties — tusk and pumpkin. An excellent preparation of the local cod-related fish with a very seasonal pumpkin brought out the best in both feature ingredients. The fish was tender and flavourful, especially with the rich pumpkinness. Another excellent dish!

03-lamb

We move onto the third course, a tasting of local lamb. It’s always a joy to enjoy lamb that tastes of lamb, not some neutral, flavourless meat that’s typical of North American lamb these days. My server’s idea to complement 2 different parts of this dish is to pair them with 2 different Barbera d’Asti to complement the difference. Fabulous! Rarely are restaurants so generous with their wine pairings. You see true hospitality here. Assortment of root vegetables also excellent, from very nice beetroot to delicious sunchokes. Spectacular stuff!

Needed a little break after three wonderful savoury dishes. I’m still dreaming about that scallop. I was shocked to hear an adjacent table of confused Italians moan about the same dish. Maybe they’re from Torino and hate the idea of fresh seafood. They actually asked for tiramisù later on…FFS…

04a-cheese

Next up was the cheese course. And much like the previous course, the extremely awesome hospitality showed again as each cheese had its own pairing! The local brie was paired with a local ale, the blue paired with a fine tipple from Valpolicella, and finally the hard cow-and-sheep cheese with a tasty sherry. I found the brie my favourite of the trio. But what a fabulous set-up!

05-chocolate_plum

I was almost spent when the final course arrived, a dessert based on chocolate mousse, plum and apple. The latter 2 fruits are some of the best produce in the region, and I was glad to see them featured so prominently. Tasty but not overwhelming, it really balanced the totality of the meal just right.

I was more than happy for this first of many meals on this trip. The food was top rate, as good cooking brought out the spectacular fresh regional ingredients. The service was top notch, and my server was just absolutely fantastic. She worked as storyteller, guide, sommelier all in one, and almost felt like a dining companion for me all evening. She performed the same magic at other tables too, flawlessly in various languages.

If there’s one word to describe this place, it is HOSPITALITY. Totally awesome, totally recommended!

1877
Vetrlidsallmenningen 2
Bergen, Norge

Review: Yono’s

10 September 2014

Despite a lengthy trip planned for Europe soon after, I made my way north to the capital of New York state earlier this week. The original plan was to catch the first 2 shows of the new configuration of King Crimson — one of my favourite bands of all time. However as I planned the trip, the more I thought of balancing it — with elements beyond music, namely eating and hiking/sightseeing. For the latter I spent the day in various parts of Upstate New York, a region I’ve not been back to for 20 years.

For the former, I decided to check out the best restaurant in the region, Yono’s. It just happened to be in my hotel — the first time you’ll see a tasting menu in a restaurant linked to a Hampton Inn I’m sure. I knew I’d had to sacrifice the 2nd show to enjoy the feasting, but I decided to anyway. I need balance in my life at this point, and I got to see the very 1st show — which was memorable enough.

The previous night, after the concert, I had a late dinner at Yono’s sister restaurant, DP Brasserie, and had some nice dishes. I would have written a review or posted some photos but it was so dark I couldn’t see what I was eating — and was eating with my phone light so I know what I was putting in my mouth. Come on, that’s annoying as all hell… And earlier in the day I also had a wonderful smoked prime rib at Smoky Rock BBQ in Rhinebeck.

Anyway, back to Yono’s. It’s a cute dining room within the same complex as DB Bistro. It wasn’t very busy it being a Wednesday night when the New York State Assembly was out of session, but it was actually somewhat loud. The room echoed pretty noticeably and for the earlier courses I could barely hear my server. I was seated in a nice corner table and enjoyed my 8-course tasting.

After an amuse bouche based on a berry compote the first of the courses arrived, the peekytoe crab salad.

1-peekytoe_edited

It was a nice portion of crab, and the avocado at the bottom was a nice touch. But for me it wasn’t very congruent, felt like various elements sitting on its own. The texture also made it hard to mesh the parts in a mouthful. But it was of good quality seafood. A nice muscadet as a pair. Not a bad start.

2a-lobster_agnolotti

The second dish was the lobster agnolotti. Cooked well, much better than the odd agnolotti I had at Pittsburgh’s Cure a few weeks earlier. Not spectacular but solid for the most part, the corn was very nice. A good viognier paired this dish.

I do apologise for the photos. The Samsung Galaxy S-4 has some major problems with the camera. It often fails to focus correctly when light is low — which was the case in Yono’s. It was not as crazy dark as next door at DP Brasserie, but it was not bright. And even with the so-called “picture stabilisation” feature that helps take pictures in low light, it very frequently fails in its focus. So the selection of shots (I always take 5-10 per, including 1 or 2 using picture stabilisation) that I had to choose from was surprisingly poor this evening…

3-corn_shrimp_bisque_edited

The third dish (sorry for the drab photo) was the corn and shrimp bisque. Now corn is a major produce in the region so I was looking forward to this. It also featured (unseen) a shrimp tempura on the bottom. However, if you don’t drink this fast (I like to savour the flavours of soup), the tempura gets a bit soggy. I never like this kind of item in my soup. But the soup itself was excellent, full of maize goodness. This time a nice vouvray paired this flavourful soup.

One thing very good about Yono’s tasting menu is that it really utilises the various strengths of regional produce. This part of Upstate New York produces some excellent items across the board, and it is well treated here in earlier and in upcoming dishes.

4-foie_gras_edited

The fourth dish of this 8-course tasting gets into the meats with another regional specialty, foie gras. To be honest this was a bit of a small portion (considering how healthy the portions of all the other dishes were) and it wasn’t anything special. And the brioche under the foie gras was pretty much wasted, as it was inedible soaking up an odd assortment of juices that didn’t add to the foie’s character. Probably the weak dish of the night.

5b-duck_breast

Moving onto the fifth dish we get another regional specialty, duck. This was a fabulous piece of duck breast, cooked perfectly. It was tender and scruptious, one of the best duck breast I’ve had in years. Fabulous! An Oregon pinot accompanied this dish, which worked very well. The best dish of the night, and the entire menu was on solid momentum now.

6-braised_shortrib

Onto the sixth, the last savoury dish, we got the 24-hour braised shortrib. This was really the first touch of Chef Yono’s Indonesian roots. The meat was utterly delicious and tender, a wonderful last dish that was also very filling. This was larger than it looks, very solid. Close to being the best dish of the night, a great 1-2 punch for the end of savouries. Seriously good.

7-goat_cheese

I was pretty happy as we shifted into the relaxing portion, with local goat cheese as the first offering. A nice Churchill’s white port worked well with this rich cheese. The pistachios were delicious as well. The server nicely checked if (and when) I wanted my coffee. I’m glad, because too often the coffee service timing is off when there is beverage pairing because no one asks at the right time. Good training.

8-chocolate_coconut_torte_edited

And finally we arrive at the final course, my dessert of coconut chocolate torte. Two flavours I absolutely enjoy, this was a fine way to close the evening. The chocolate was not overwhelming, and the coconut complemented the richness of the chocolate just perfectly. A wonderful closing number, especially with a glass of the rather rare tannat dessert wine from Uruguay (Alcyone).

This was an excellent dinner, capped off by some calvados. Portions were generous, and the variety excellent, especially in demonstration of some of the best produce of the region. Yono’s is an excellent restaurant with a solid tasting menu, better than some of the Michelin-starred places I’ve been to in the last few years. It may have started a little slow but it was burning down the fast lane as the meal was in full force. Recommended.

Post-script. After dinner I later returned to the bar (which is at DP) and enjoyed some local spirits, as craft distilling has exploded in Upstate New York. From some excellent whiskeys to awesome gin, I was very excited by the products in this part of the country. Excellent stuff that liquor connoseurs should definitely try, and kudos to owner/sommelier Yono (chef’s son) for putting together one of the best stocked bar I’ve seen outside of a major metropolis. Even his wine list is extremely impressive, as I enjoyed a wonderful zhilavka from Macedonia’s excellent Stobi Winery the night before.

Post-script #2. I had a killer hangover, not helped when I was woken up at 7am by construction INSIDE the hotel. Hotel fail.

Yono’s
25 Chapel Street
Albany, New York

Review: Cure

10 August 2014

After Cincinnati I made my way to Pittsburgh and stupid me I went and had a massive drink-a-thon on a totally empty stomach. The mammoth binge was pretty idiotic, I ran up a crazy bill and felt like death the next day…

Nevertheless it was my last day of this long roadtrip. It had already jumped the shark in Nashville, and I was just waiting to get home. This last insane binge, that beat all the sessions on this trip combined, was just the last straw… But for my last night I did crawl my way out and get to the most buzzed restaurant in town, Cure.

I cabbed out to Cure, which was a bit outside of downtown where I was based. Didn’t want to drive since I didn’t know the area well and heard parking was an utter nightmare in that area, so… Got there on time and took a seat at the chef’s counter.

Loud and energetic, you can see this place has plenty of buzz. This place is famous for its charcuterie so I began with the smaller plate of salumi (the larger being way too big for 1 person).

01_salumi

An interesting and visually striking selection, ranging from rilettes to ‘nduja, from ham to lardo. However, to be honest, the ‘nduja was a little lacking. The duck was the star of this selection. Lots of care in parts of this dish, some of it seems haphazard tho. Up next was my middle course, the corn agnolotti.

2_agnolotti

Hmmm…my first through was “was this the right dish?” At first glance you’d think it may be an enchilada. However, it was indeed agnolotti. Not sure I like this prep. The consistency of the agnolotti was almost like a hot pocket and the base was a bit confused with a chili oil slick (you can see on the photo) and sprinkling of corn. Quite a miss. Then came my main, the boudin noir

3_boudin_noir

House-made, not bad, but was not a generous portion. It seem they just focused on the plating rather than the overall item. Not bad, but frankly a simple Blutwurst anywhere would have been more successful without the unnecessary production. And the side items are soaked in oil. And really, blood sausage with a green splat. Sigh…

I was going to get something to go but they said no on the items I had requested. I understand the issue of how it keeps, but there is an ego about this place since I walked in that just left me unimpressed. The front-of-house staff are great, but there is something about the back-of-house folks. A little too self-important maybe.

I left by cab and was glad this trip was over. Didn’t end the way I hoped or wanted. Cure is a good restaurant and maybe I was there during an off-night (Sunday), but seems to be damaged by its own hype — almost like Husk in Nashville and countless others that I have visited in the past few years driven by hype rather than by heads-down solid execution and crafting like at Seviche in Louisville and others.

Well, at least the trip ends the next day driving home. Finally.

Cure
5336 Butler Street
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Review: Orchids at Palm Court

7 August 2014

I apologise for the lateness of this review, it now being over a month late. It has not been an easy few weeks, but as all things pass, it passed. So I am trying to catch up on all the reviews before I head off on another trip.

I had left Nashville earlier and stopped at Old Hickory BBQ in Owensboro, Kentucky for some of their famous BBQ mutton. Unfortunately it was not very good, rather poor preparation and overcooking. It’s like they want to “un-mutton” the mutton into something bland… But I moved on to Cincinnati to catch a game at the Great American Ballpark, but had a free evening before, so I decided to eat at the well-regarded Orchids at Palm Court.

I was already staying in the hotel where the restaurant is located, so that was simple. The hotel is a beautiful relic from the days when travel was a luxury. The inside of the building reminds me of places like the Waldorf=Astoria in NYC or the Palmer House in Chicago, or even the Jefferson in Richmond (where Lemaire is located). Beautiful murals dot the high walls and ceiling, a very nice location for a restaurant.

I began with a “Vesper” — the Bond-inspired cocktail that’s spread in odd places. After an amuse bouche the first course arrived, a special of stuffed squash flowers.

1-stuffed_squash

I had chosen items that are locally sourced and this was the first of the trio. It was not bad, but didn’t feature the main item as much as I would have liked. A little off-balanced though the items were good. My second course was a soup.

2-corn_soup

This was a rather nice corn soup made from local corn, rich and sweet. The wee shrimp didn’t do much for the overall dish but the soup itself was excellent, brought out all the best qualities of local corn.

By now I was having a headache listening to people in adjacent tables, but I just ploughed through the rest of my courses. My main was the black bass with crispy skin.

3-black_bass

Well, this was excellent, the fish flavourful and skin perfectly cooked. However, I do have one major criticism — an odd one from an offal eater. There was way, way too much sweetbreads on this dish. There were more sweetbreads than fish (a mountain of it under the fish). Of all offal sweetbreads is my least favourite, so in some respects this dish failed. Most people would love this, but not me. But again, the fish was fabulous.

I was in a pretty good mood as the loud folks had left, so I stayed for both a cheese and dessert course. The cheese was a local brie-ish item, and it wasn’t bad.

4-cheese

Then came the desset, two wee slices of banana cake.

5-banana_cake

This was a nice way to close a rather solid meal. The service was a little stiff at first but it warmed very nicely as the evening progressed. I enjoyed my bottle of Kerner as well and overall this is a nice place to enjoy an evening. Beautiful dining room, solid food, friendly service.

Orchids at Palm Court
Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza
35 West 5th Street
Cincinnati, Ohio