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!

 

 

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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.

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!

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!

Hong Kong Dim Sum Battle! Lung King Heen vs. Yan Toh Heen(点心味比べin香港!龍景軒vs欣圖軒)

This past weekend was a three-day weekend, so we decided to make a quick getaway to Hong Kong.  The main purpose behind the trip? To eat, of course!

We really love dim sum and in Hong Kong, Lung King Heen and Yan Toh Heen are arguably the two biggest hitters in the field.  The former has three Michelin Stars and is listed at #10 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.  The latter, meanwhile, holds its own with two Michelin Stars.

There was no question that I had to visit Lung King Heen.  However, it seemed a waste not to visit Yan Toh Heen, too, since we were staying at the hotel in which it is located.  So we went big.  Saturday at LKH and Sunday at YTH.  It became a weekend battle of Hong Kong dim sum! Who would come out on top?

Both restaurants were absolutely delicious and both have stunning views of Victoria Harbor.  However, the answer was almost immediately clear, and Michelin got it right.  In almost all regards- taste, value, service, and interior- Lung King Heen was superior. However, Yan Toh Heen had more gourmet options like the Superior Dumplings seen below, and I enjoyed their dessert more.  Still, YTH lost major points with me for charging exorbitant amounts (~$12) for a small bottle of Evian water, while Lung King Heen’s water was free and clear.  I drink a ton of water any time I eat, so this was a big one for me.  We did not drink alcohol at either restaurant, but LKH’s pu erh tea was tastier, as well.  Both restaurants give you heaping pots of tea for very reasonable prices.  Perfect for dim summing.

If you are going to be in Hong Kong and want to have a special dim sum meal, Lung King Heen is as good as it gets.  If you can’t get a reservation there, though, or you just want more dim sum, Yan Toh Heen is delicious, as well.

Both meals were just under $150 for 2 people.  A great value either way!

First, let’s eat Lung King Heen!

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The meal starts with sauces.  L to R: Spicy rayu, oil with garlic, douchi beans, and mushrooms, and a ginger soya sauce.

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Steamed rice rolls with lobster and water chestnut in a fermented bean sauce.  One of the most memorable items, bursting with lobster and flavor.

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Weekend dim sum special- pork, pine nuts, and veggie dumplings

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Steamed lobster and scallop dumpling.

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One of my favorites- Baked barbecue pork buns with pine nuts.

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The inside of these delightfully sweet and savory buns.

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Luxury! Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken.  I could eat 10 of these.

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Crispy shredded chicken spring rolls.

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Steamed rice rolls with barbecue pork and mushrooms.  The sauce is poured by the waiter table-side.

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Steamed shrimp and pork dumplings with crab roe.

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Pan-fried turnip pudding with conpoy and air-dried meat.

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Almond cream with egg white- this is a subtly sweet dessert served hot.  At first it seemed to lack flavor, but it really grows on you.

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Chilled mango and sago cream with pomelo.  Much sweeter dessert and also delicious.

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Petit fours were almond biscuits and a jelly with cherries and goji berries.

 

Next, let’s eat Yan Toh Heen!

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The meal starts with a welcome dish of candied almonds with sesame seeds.  Nice to snack on while waiting for the food to arrive.

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Six different sauces! The spiciest is seen at the bottom.  Top to bottom (as best as I can remember)- soya sauce with seafood, plum jelly, ginger red vinegar, rayu, local Hong Kong hot sauce, and yellow chili.

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Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings.  L to R- Steamed scallop with black truffles and vegetables, steamed lobster and bird’s nest dumpling with gold leaf, steamed king crab leg dumpling with green vegetable.  Quite the start!

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Wok-seared rice flour cannelloni and red cherry shrimp with soy sauce.  Served with a creamy sesame sauce and a hoisin sauce.

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Steamed barbecue pork buns.

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Steamed assorted mushroom and fungus dumplings.

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Steamed garoupa, prawn, and scallop dumplings. Pretty cute!

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Mango pudding.  I liked this better than Lung King Heen’s mango dessert.

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Jasmine tea (one box each) for us to take home.  A nice touch to finish the meal.

Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Maybe it’s the romance of indulging one’s wonderlust and empty stomach in SE Asia. Perhaps it’s the location set in what feels like worlds away from the tourist-centric Pub Street. Or maybe it’s that slight uncertain feeling the tuk-tuk driver actually has no idea where he is going as you pass through streets covered in darkness (he does).  Whatever it is, a visit to Cuisine Wat Damnak feels like something special.

Ranked #43 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and the only restaurant in Cambodia to make the list, it can be stated with confidence that this is Cambodia’s best restaurant.  While this may not sound like such an accomplishment at first blush, this country has some seriously delicious food on both ends of the cuisine spectrum.

Founded by a French couple who decided to stay in Cambodia, Cuisine Wat Damnak serves technical, masterful cooking that takes full advantage of the many gastronomical wonders the country has to offer. Indeed, rather than just changing with the seasons, the menu changes every two weeks.

Given that kind of rapid menu turnover, one might think the food suffers.  Fear not, though, as every course was a gustatory hit. Moreover, the chef may be French, but there is no reliance on French ingredients like butter, cream, cheese, truffles, or fois gras.  This is high Cambodian cuisine that leaves you full, but never heavy.

The icing on the cake (durian?) is the jaw-dropping value offered here.

There are two course menus you can choose from, and the table need not order the same menu.  Each menu consists of six courses, there is no service charge or additional tax, and it only costs TWENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!

The four of us enjoyed the course, had plenty of bottled water, and two skillfully selected bottles of wine.  The damage (or lack thereof) was a good bit under $200.  Unbelievable.

I’m really not sure if there is another place in the world that can provide such an outstanding meal for such an unbelievable price.  If I lived in Siem Reap, I would visit every week to try each menu for sure.

If you’re in Cambodia, this is an absolute, 100%, no questions asked, MUST VISIT restaurant.

Let’s Eat Cuisine Wat Damnak!

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Amuse bouche – pickled turnip under a tofu foam.  Amazing start.

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Shredded duck confit in a stir fried “rice salad” of puffed and toasted rice.

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Grilled “sanday” fish in galangal leaves with a green mango salad.

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The perfectly-cooked, meaty white fish after unwrapping the leaf.

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Messed with the lighting here a bit.  Pork and young ginger sour soup with lime, green cabbage, and “crispy breast.”  Perhaps the most Cambodian dish on the menu. A bit of an acquired taste, but I loved it.  The crispy, juicy pork was outstanding.

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Mekong langoustine in crab coconut broth with lemon basil, pumpkin fruit, and shoot.

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Pandan brioche french toast, sesame nougatine, and dark chocolate ganache.

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The petit fours showcased different kinds of local, Cambodian fruit accompanied by a chili-infused salt.  I really loved this idea of using fruits instead of the standard macaroons, etc.

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The receipt was accompanied by homemade tamarind gummies.  Interesting flavor and a great way to finish the meal.

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A parting shot of the restaurant.  At night, it looks like a home set in the woods.  Very cozy.

El Poblet – Valencia, Spain

So here we are at the 7th entry in this blog called “Let’s Eat Tokyo.”  Alas, it’s the 2nd entry featuring a restaurant located outside of Japan.  I like to travel and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to write about my delicious adventures.  Maybe I’ll rename the blog in the future. Whatever.

Anyways, the wife and I took a trip to Spain and visited Barcelona and Valencia.  While researching Valencia, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this delightful city has around 5 Michelin-starred restaurants.  After digging further into the restaurant scene, we decided to go for El Poblet.  Actually, we had booked Vertical, then they lost the star with the publication of the 2016 Michelin guide, so I cancelled the reservation there.  Sorry Vertical!

El Poblet is right in the middle of Valencia, a short 5 minute walk from the station and the major sightseeing spots.  Very convenient.  There’s 3 courses priced at around 45 euros, 77 euros, and 110 euros.  As this would probably be our only chance to eat here, we went big and were treated to 16 courses.  Drinks are very reasonable at 3 to 4 euros for a nice glass of wine, vermouth, or champagne.

It’s very obvious that the chef puts a large amount of effort into presentation.  This food is absolutely gorgeous.  Additionally, the furniture and interior decoration is very cute, as well, featuring colorful walls and pastel colored lighting fixtures.

This focus on presentation, however, sometimes comes at the expense of flavor.  This was especially apparent in the fish dish towards the end of the course.  Additionally, the chef uses A LOT of cream in his dishes.  You will leave this restaurant with a heavy stomach for sure.

El Poblet was good and reasonably priced, especially as I am used to Tokyo prices. Still, if I ever make it back to Valencia, I think I’d rather visit a restaurant like Riff instead of El Poblet again.

Finally, please forgive my vague descriptions of the food below.  The staff did not speak a lot of English.  Additionally, we were still jetlagged (damn Spanish people don’t eat dinner until 8:30pm at the earliest!) and I can’t remember all the ingredients that went into each dish.  Anyways, the pictures are pretty.

Let’s eat El Poblet!

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We were given a small bowl of rice crackers to snack on with our first drink. Not the most unique amuse bouche as I’m pretty sure these were poured out of a bag.

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The course kicked off with a big bang, both in taste and presentation. This is called “Coral” and the green chip is seaweed flavored, while the red is garlic. The colors were perfect for Christmas time. The dip was made from tofu and cream.

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Bread made with corn. Not cornbread. Very soft, hot, and delicious.

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“Petals of roses” – you eat only the petals with tweezers. They’re actually little slices of apple.

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Served with a very sweet apple “gin and tonic.” A very sweet appetizer, indeed. The small dish is a “cuba libre” consisting of cola flavored gelatin atop foie gras.

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“The living forest.” Under the “dirt” was a creamy concoction of porcini mushrooms.

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“Stones of Parmesan Cheese” – only two of these stones were actually edible. The coating was the consistency of chocolate and the inside was very creamy and cheesy.

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Detail of the “stone” after taking a bite.

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A grilled scallop in a ginger sauce. One of the meal highlights.

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“Tomato snow.” A creamy, cold tomato soup topped with shaved ice.

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“Sailor knot” – two different servings of razor clams.

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“Fried Oyster” featuring the same chip technique as “Coral.” An oyster tempura hides underneath the cream.

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The next dish was presented like this…

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Unwrapped, an entire shrimp is presented. Its only flavor is the saltwater in which it was boiled. Unfortunately, this tasted too much like seawater and was overbearingly salty.

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The shrimp was served with a side of soup made from shrimp head and swiss chard. It was served in a Japanese tea cup. Cute presentation and delicious umami flavor.

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A beautifully presented red mullet fish that is pleasing to the eye but a disappointment to the palette. Sadly under-seasoned and a big miss of a dish.

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The first of the two delicious rice dishes- a kind of green pea and squid paella. Closer to the over-seasonsed side, but I loved it.

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“Rice ashes” – this was tasty but I can’t remember what it consists of at all…sorry.

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The final savory dish was a delicious piece of iberico pork. The brown sliver is a piece of fried skin from a Spanish potato.

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“Citrus countryside” – Lots of different citrus fruits from around Spain with an orange cream in the middle.

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“Slates of chocolate” – the lighter pieces are a kind of chocolate meringue, while the darker ones are chocolate mousse coated in dark chocolate.

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Petit fours to end.

Restaurant Andre – Singapore

I realize that this blog is called Let’s Eat Tokyo and just three posts in I am devoting an entry to a restaurant in Singapore.  Still, there’s only so much haute cuisine I can afford, and Restaurant Andre is spectacular and deserves its own post.

August in Japan means O-Bon Yasumi, a holiday when most families return to their parents’ house and pay respects to their ancestors.  Since I don’t have extended family in Japan, I took advantage of my time off work to visit a good buddy in Singapore before he returns to America.  After a quick search of Asia’s Top 50, I made a reservation at Andre- #5 in Asia and #1 in Singapore.

At around $200 Singapore dollars (~$142 USD) with only one drink and one cappuccino (which I was surprised to find is not included in the course price), this is not exactly a cheap lunch.  Still, it’s comparable to some of the finer restaurants in Tokyo (Narisawa comes to mind) in both quality and sheer number of dishes.  The staff is extremely attentive, friendly to talk to, and the restaurant itself, set inside a colonial house and reminiscent of a compact version of Gaggan in Bangkok, all work together to create a very pleasurable experience.  I’d love to try it for dinner if I’m back in Singapore with a fat wallet.

Let’s eat Restaurant Andre!

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First is the restaurant itself- an old, colonial mansion in the middle of Singapore’s Chinatown district.  A very nice setting just down the street from a $2 chicken rice food stand.

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The menu was placed in an envelope.  I had no idea how to read this until much later in the meal, when I realized that each course is listed top-to-bottom with its featured ingredients written left-to-right.

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The first (of three) amuse bouche which is not described in the menu above.  Great presentation here, as you only eat the three leaves.  From L to R, Jerusalem artichoke, spinach, and onion.  The onion was the most flavorful. A fun start to the meal.

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The next appetizer reminded me a little bit of Takazawa’s SEA dish.  On the left is awabi atop a seaweed “cracker,” and on the right was a delicious oyster topped with a “chicken wing” all hidden under a leaf and atop a dab of cream.  The oyster was raw, but the hot chicken gave it a subtle warmth.  This dish left its savory flavor in my mouth all the way until the next dish.

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My one cocktail was, ironically enough, a Tokyo Blonde Ale.  One of my favorite beers, but this ran $28 SGD ($20 USD).  Yikes!  To be expected though, as even beers on the street in Singapore are super pricey.  What can ya do…

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The last of the appetizers.  On the left is a raw amaebi (sweet shrimp) atop “edible coal” and a red pepper puree.  On the right is Andre’s take on fish and chips.  The “soil” is actually chocolate and garlic, which I ate by the spoonful.

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The first course arrived and was influenced by a Filipino style ceviche.  The main protein is scallop with calamansi lemons, edamame, daikon in a cucumber jelly and finished in a sauce containing coconut milk.  The little dollops of caviar add a luxurious touch.

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My artsy bread and butter shot.  This was a sourdough baguette of which I consumed three.

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This was possibly my favorite dish.  It’s a squid “spaghetti” resting in a kelp and seaweed sauce atop really creamy, cheesy potatoes.  The grains on the left are added to the squid for texture.  This dish had no salt added, but I could imagine people thinking this was over-seasoned.  The power of seaweed!  I loved it.

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Next was amberjack fish topped with homemade potato chips and myoga with a celeriac (a kind of turnip) and potato soup.  The fish was charred on the outside, but soft and creamy on the inside.

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The following dish is Andre’s original creation that has appeared on the menu since their opening.  It’s extremely luxurious consisting of a fois gras pudding (like chawan mushi), black truffle jelly, and a champignon mushroom broth.  It was good, but very heavy.  Also, I feel it’s a bit cliche to feature these three “luxury” ingredients together but hey, I ate every last bit of it.

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The same dish shot from above.

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The last savory dish was a perfectly cooked medallion of lamb served with granola (grains seem to be popular in Singapore), brussel sprouts, black garlic, and a mustard oil & lemon sauce.  The thinly sliced potato skins showcase professional technique, and underneath it all was a melt-in-your-mouth sliver of lamb fat.  Delicious!

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The first dessert was creamy and intense, featuring green pea ice cream, matcha green tea chocolate, shiso, and little chunks of avocado.  Quite an interesting combination that was perfectly executed.

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The second dish featured Singaporean fruits with crushed ice, a style of dessert famous all over Asia (like kakigori in Japan).  Lychee, mangosteen, mandarin, and bergamot orange.  A refreshing dessert that perhaps would have made more sense as a first dessert after the savory courses…

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For petit-fours, I received a chestnut pastry and a cherry soda ice pop.  Honestly, these were average in flavor, but the presentation is great.

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A cappuccino to finish a truly memorable meal.