Loco – Lisbon, Portugal

Loco was the last stop on our European gourmet vacation, and I’ll say it right off the bat- it was fantastic.  This ultra-modern and vibrant restaurant has quickly gained attention in Lisbon, receiving its first Michelin star just one year after opening, and it’s easy to see why.

After passing through the entranceway featuring a massive, suspended olive tree, one can immediately feel a pulse throughout the restaurant. Perhaps it is the open kitchen at the center of the single large dining room, the vivacious greetings from the youthful and gracious staff, or the striking visual design throughout, the space just feels alive and exciting.  I knew right away that it would be good.

The food is beautifully presented and each dish could double as a work of art. Everything is precise, creative, but never convoluted.  The chef obviously holds great respect for Portugal’s natural ingredients and features them prominently in the very reasonably priced course menu (90 euros).

And then there’s the wine.  This is a food blog and only a food blog namely because I don’t know much about wine.  However, the wines that the sommelier recommended to us were some of the best wines I have ever tasted.  For that, I have included some pictures of the wines at the bottom of this post.

Loco checks all the boxes- it’s fun, exciting, beautiful, and absolutely delicious. Moreover it checks all the boxes without being pretentious and does it all for an extremely reasonable price.  To top it all off, the staff gave us a complementary bottle of limited edition Loco red wine to take home with us.

I am sure that at this rate, Loco will receive its 2nd Michelin star soon enough.

Let’s eat Loco!

 

 

Belcanto – Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant, Belcanto, is located in the heart of the city’s historic center, and is nothing less than a must-visit stop on any gourmet itinerary. Landing at #85 on this year’s World’s Best Restaurants list, Jose Avillez’s restaurant has been helping put Portugal on the culinary map.  Indeed, the country’s celebrity-chef has been featured on CNN’s Culinary Journey’s, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, and plenty of other media, as well.

The restaurant is small, cozy, intimate, and very elegant.  Although their countries share a border, this is a whole world away from our experience at DiverXO.  And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to dine in a more traditional setting.  Still, as can be seen in the pictures below, the food is anything less than traditional.  It’s fairly experimental taking cues from Avillez’s time at El Bulli (explosive olives anyone?), but strikes a perfect balance between molecular and recognizable.  And oh my, it is absolutely delicious.

Belcanto offers three different course menus (from 125 euros to 165 euros), each with its own wine pairing.  There is also an A La Carte menu.  Whichever you choose, it will be incredible.  We chose the Evolution Menu with pairing, and it was a perfect amount of food but quite a bit of wine.  We left feeling, well, drunk.

There’s really nothing negative to say about Belcanto in Lisbon.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Let’s eat Belcanto!

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The lovely Belcanto staff were kind enough to let us tour the kitchen. Unfortunately, Jose was not there as he was in Mexico enjoying Noma’s popup in Tulum.

DiverXO – Madrid, Spain

DiverXO, Madrid’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, feels like someone turned Cirque Du Soleil into a restaurant.  Pronounced “duh-ver-show,” the dining experience is an Alice in Wonderland-like, four-hour-or-so trip into the wacky, perverse, and utterly creative mind of owner-chef David Muñoz…and damn, is it good.

To be honest, I feel like blogging about DiverXO deserves a spoiler alert.  If you ever intend to eat there, don’t look at the pics below.  Even if the menu does change regularly, I would recommend going into this restaurant much as you would the latest film in your favorite series.  Keep all prior knowledge and expectations kept at bay and just dive (pun intended) right in.

This destination of a restaurant is set apart from the historic center of Madrid, and that’s probably on purpose.  I won’t pretend to be a Madrid expert (I was only there for one full day), but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that DiverXO’s somewhat remote location was chosen so that its privileged diners could feel they had gone on a journey away from the touristy parts of the city.

Entering the restaurant, one can expect mounted pig butts, massive ice cream cone-shaped wine bottle holders, butterflies everywhere, a full-tour of the ordered chaos of a kitchen, and if you’re lucky (like we were), a photo with the surprisingly down-to-earth David Muñoz at the end of the meal.  Each of the 12 tables are enveloped in a private velvet curtain fit more for a theater than a restaurant.  Around 20 minutes into the meal, the waiters dramatically whisk the curtain away to reveal the rest of the restaurant with a hearty “Welcome to DiverXO!” It’s this dramatic decor and presentation that makes DiverXO more of an experience than just a restaurant.  Of course, there’s also the food, but I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves.

The food is epic, the presentation is epic, and so too is the price tag- there are only two courses priced at 195 euros and 250 euros.  I usually opt for the “go big or go home” type mentality at these places, because I may never have the chance to go back. In this case, however, the waitress actually advised AGAINST the longer course menu.  We were glad she did, because our shorter course was a ton of food. I’m a big eater and can put up a solid fight at any buffet, but by the end of this meal, I was STUFFED.  It begs the question- is the longer course really even necessary?

The reservation system is difficult, so plan way ahead.  You need to find an open date on their website a good 3 months in advance, and then buy a 60 euro “ticket” (down payment that goes to the final bill price) to hold your seat.

I promise you- this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and totally worth all the effort.

Let’s eat DiverXO! (Note- all food descriptions below are exactly as printed on the menu.)

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A small idea of the interior decor.

Zurriola re-visited (スリオラ、銀座)

For Midori’s 30th birthday, it was a pretty easy decision where to celebrate.  Her answer for “If you were on death row, what would you request for your last meal” has been the caviar ravioli at Zurriola since we first had it in 2015.  Indeed, it was time for a 2nd round to this wonderful Spanish restaurant in the heart of glitzy Ginza.

Even though it has two Michelin stars, Zurriola still feels a bit under-the-radar.  It’s deceptively easy to snag a reservation, and the owner/chef Honda-san is so personable and down-to-earth as he explains each and every dish before you.  Restaurants like Den and Florilege may hit the “World’s Best Restaurant” lists, but for my money, Zurriola is a no-brainer.  This is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit…twice.

Except the speciality caviar dish, every other dish was different from those served two years ago.  The menu in concept is still the same- two course menus to choose with the addition of the caviar marking the supplemental price.  Wine pairings available in 3, 4, or 5 glasses, or a long list of bottles available for the connoisseur.  It doesn’t come cheap (20,000 to 30,000 yen per person), but the simple-yet-innovative, artistic, and most importantly, delicious food paired with a welcoming atmosphere is well worth it for any celebratory evening.

Let’s eat Zurriola…again!

Mr. & Mrs. Bund, Shanghai

We spent an extended weekend in Shanghai last week and wanted to dine at one special restaurant.  Mr. & Mrs. Bund is a renowned restaurant that has won all sorts of awards and been on all kinds of lists.  It unfortunately fell off of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants in 2017, but I didn’t care- I had heard great things and I had to try it.

The owner, Paul Pairet, is a French guy who has become a household name amongst gourmets in Shanghai. His culinary empire consists of MMB, the avant-garde (and for me unaffordable) Ultraviolet, and the newly-opened gastropub Chop Chop Chop.

Mr. & Mrs. Bund is an absolutely beautiful restaurant.  Although the interior and service style is rather traditional French (chandeliers, huge white doors, table-side carving service, extensive changing of silverware), the food is innovative, exciting, and fresh.

The menu offers a whopping six different course options meant to cater to each person’s preferences (do you like heavy French ingredients like foie gras, or do you prefer the chef’s carefully selected tasting menu? Want caviar on those oysters?), or you can opt for the a la carte menu.  All the dishes are portioned very generously to be shared by the table, and you will leave feeling stuffed but not uncomfortable.

We chose the chef’s tasting menu which also happens to fall right in the middle of the pricing spectrum.  We left the wine choices to the sommelier and were very pleased with everything on offer.  If you know what you like, however, there’s a massive list of wine to choose from, creatively presented on an iPad.

It’s a splurge (around $500 for 2 people), but so, so worth it.

This is an absolutely amazing restaurant…and oh my god…those desserts.

Let’s eat Mr. & Mrs. Bund!

Hashimoto in Edogawabashi (はし本、江戸川橋)

If there’s one thing I learned from last month’s meal at Ryo, it’s that eel. is. good.  I needed more and decided to check out Hashimoto.  Located in a very quiet neighborhood somewhere between Nagatacho and Ikebukuro, Hashimoto was established in 1835 and is run by a sixth-generation owner and chef.

The scent of grilled unagi wafts outside and upon sliding the front door open, it feels like you are entering a traditional Japanese home somewhere far away from Tokyo’s bright lights.  It’s a very casual restaurant and only offers about 10 items on an a la carte menu.  Unlike most Michelin-starred restaurants, there is no course menu, no service charge, a concise, if not limited, selection of libations, and zero sense of pretentiousness or stuffiness.  Rather, the service is attentive and the eel is given its proper space to shine.  From the fact that almost every item contains eel in some form, to the “Unagi Washoku” posters on the walls, there is no doubt that this is a dining destination for the eel purist (do those exist?).

And it’s one of Japan’s cheapest Michelin restaurants, too.  The most expensive item, the unagi-ju jou, is only 3300 yen and most drinks are 700 or 800 yen.  With sake and all the food below, our bill came out to under 13,000 yen.  Not bad at all for expertly prepared eel with a nearly 200 year-old history.

Let’s eat Hashimoto!

Ryo in Naka-Meguro (翏、中目黒)

I’ve never been a big fan of unagi (eel) despite it’s popularity among Japanese and foreigners alike.  It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just something I’ve never gone out of my way to eat.  Still, my wife always credited my lack of unagi enthusiasm to the fact that I’ve never had really good eel.  With that in mind, I searched for some Michelin-starred eel and was happy to find Ryo, a restaurant new to the 2017 guide.  It’s unique in that it only serves one course and each dish comes paired with sake.  Thus, it seemed like a good place to start my unagi journey, because even if the food was no good, I could at least get a good buzz.

Luckily, the food was awesome.  Let me ride the bandwagon- I am a fan, and would be happy to eat the slithery little water snake any time!

Ryo is in a quiet location, a good 10 minute walk from either Naka-Meguro or Ikejiri-Ohashi stations, and it’s 2nd floor location above a car repair shop makes it very easy to miss. Once you find it, it’s a cozy, 8-seat restaurant with just one table that wraps around an open kitchen.  The owner, a 38 year-old well-versed in music, mans the ship doing all the eel preparation, while his father works as a sous chef, and his wife manages the beverages.  It’s a fairly hip place with vinyl album covers like Neil Young and Coltrane adorning the walls, while similar music plays in the background.

The course is a great value, as well.  Two people can enjoy expertly prepared eel served in the kaiseki style and enough rare and unique sake to feel Ryo’s good vibes for well under 30,000 yen.

Let’s eat Ryo!

Sense at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo (センス、日本橋)

I love dim sum.  My wife loves dim sum.  Really, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love various meats, seafoods, or veggies wrapped into dumpling form and then steamed, baked or fried.   With that in mind, and after my epic weekend devouring gourmet dim sum in Hong Kong last year, I thought it was time to see what dim sum Tokyo had to offer.

Sense at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo Hotel offers gourmet Chinese courses and dishes at night, but it’s the weekend-only, all-you-can-eat dim sum course that piqued my interest. Choosing between two courses (8,054 yen or 10,739 yen for the more premium offering), you get an appetizer, a rice/noodle choice, a dessert option, and oh yes, an unlimited selection of delicious dumplings of love made to order.  Bring your appetite- this could be Tokyo’s most filling Michelin-starred lunch.

The restaurant is situated on the 37th floor and offers an amazing view of Tokyo while you eat yourself silly.  The service is attentive and accommodating.   Additionally, it’s rather easy to get a reservation at Sense through their website.  Indeed, a lunch at Sense is a great way to pass away an afternoon taking in a beautiful view, consuming dumplings to your heart’s content, and perhaps catching a nice little buzz with their expensive but delicious drink menu (pairings available at 7,000 yen for 3 wines or 10,000 yen for 5 wines. There’s more than meets the eye, though, as the wines are themselves paired with full servings of Chinese Huanjiu wine!).

Let’s eat Sense!

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Quite the spectacular view.

 

Locavore – Ubud, Bali

My wife and I went to Bali to spend our Christmas and New Year holiday in the hot weather by the beach.  After some research, I was pleased to find that Bali squeezed one of its restaurants, Locavore, into Asia’s 50 Best at #49.

Locavore is in Ubud, a part of Bali that is actually located away from the beach at a much higher altitude enveloped in lush jungle and picturesque mountains.  The restaurant takes advantage of its surrounding by featuring all sorts of ingredients this island has to offer, thus the “local” part in its name.  To be honest, there are so many different components used in each dish, including Indonesian ingredients I have never heard of, that there is no way I can remember them all.  Still, I have included a slideshow of every dish and cocktail included in the course.  Hopefully the beautiful pictures below speak for themselves, much louder than my lackluster descriptions.

There are 2 menus- locavore (featuring meats and other proteins) and herbivore (vegetarian).  You can choose between 5 or 7 courses, and a cocktail pairing is offered, as well.  We chose the full locavore course with pairing, and for about $125 a head, were treated to five appetizers, six main courses, one dessert, several more petit fours, and six sampler-size cocktails to accompany each main course.  For Bali, it’s expensive.  Were it located in any other major city, however, it would be a real bargain.

Locavore is set in the dead-center of Ubud amongst the heavy foot-traffic of backpackers, hippies, and drunk Australians.  Thus, while the dining is fine and expertly crafted, one can expect a fairly boisterous environment and a lackadaisical dress code (“no beer logo tank-tops”).

If you’re in the area, it’s a must-visit.

Let’s eat Locavore!

Regalo レガロ(代々木公園)

The 2017 Tokyo Michelin guide was published just two weeks ago with relatively minimal fanfare, few, if any, surprises, and no new 3-starred restaurants.  There were, however, several new one-star establishments, and Regalo, just outside of Sangubashi Station in the always-fashionable Yoyogi Koen area, is one of them.  Actually, Regalo was featured in last year’s Bib Gourmand section, a collection of restaurants of both quality and affordability, but not quite warranting the coveted star.  In the new red guide, Regalo has been promoted to one-star status, and it’s with good reason.  Regalo offers top-notch Italian cuisine that relies heavily on seasonal Japanese ingredients.  The result is a fusion cuisine that works well for a reasonable price.

It’s a fairly casual affair with pop music on the speakers, a counter/bar area facing the open kitchen, and enough seats set spaciously apart to fit around 30 people.  The staff is personable, the atmosphere is welcoming, and nothing feels stuffy or pretentious.

It’s also very affordable.  There is an a la carte menu, but I recommend putting yourself in the chef’s hands with any of the 3 course menus.  Even the most expensive menu only costs a mere 8000 yen, inclusive of tax and service charge.  One interesting point is that even in the course menu, you are given an a la carte choice for both dessert and after-dinner drink.  If you don’t have a sweet tooth, you can choose to drink your dessert as we did (see below).  Wine pairings are available as well for 3000, 4000, or 5000 yen (essentially 1000 yen per glass). Indeed Regalo is friendly on the wallet, and very delicious.

Let’s eat Regalo!

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Amuse Bouche- fried fugu served over a yurine (lily bulb) puree. The fugu (poisonous pufferfish) is prepared two ways- the regular meat and the minced skin.

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Hokkaido codfish shirako (smelt) wrapped in kadaif over an Italian herb sauce.  The best fish sperm I’ve ever tasted!

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The breadbasket- parmesan focaccia, onion focaccia, ciabatta, and milk bread.

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Spaghetti with handmade karasumi (bottarga).

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Orechiette over a whole oyster in a spicy tomato sauce.

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Higedara (armored cusk fish) meuniere served over a spinach puree with spinach.

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Charcoal-grilled Hokkaido beef with grilled radicchio and a salsa verde.  Divine!

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While the desserts sounded delicious, we opted for dessert cocktails.  On the right is kaki (apricot) amaretto and on the left is one of the best drinks ever- gorgonzola-infused Okuhida vodka.  Had never heard of cheese in a drink, but this was creamy, refreshing, and absolutely amazing.

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After-dinner drink- who needs coffee when you have herb and berry-infused grappa? Ok, I was drunk by this point.  Midori opted for the herb tea.

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Petit fours to finish.  Buono!