The Gentleman Gourmand

sharing the best food around

Category: Dining (Page 1 of 2)

Super Fusion Cuisine Photo Review.

So I called up Super Fusion Cuisine this evening, looking to score some affordable sushi and get some more stock photos.


Lara and I sat at the bar and ordered some of the dishes off the new menu plus a few old favorites.


Air Force One Roll – Super Fusion Cuisine, Brookline MA


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How to eat at a restaurant.

"Most of us know at least one person who has great restaurant karma. You
know, the person who always picks the right place, always orders the
right thing and has a great rapport with waitstaff. Restaurant karma,
however, is not some mystical force that some are predestined to
control while others are out of luck. It’s certainly the case that some
folks are great intuitive diners, but most of us have to learn."

Excerpts and commentary on Steven A. Shaw’s Turning the Tables: Restaurants from the Inside Out: a wonderful book on how to dine these days.  I highly reccomend this book — its got some great information in it.

"Let me try to clear up a few common misconceptions that I’ve encountered on the road:

knowing how to get the most out of the dining experience is not some
rarified skill that’s useful only in super-expensive, fine-dining
restaurants. You can take control of your dining experience at all
restaurants above the level of McDonald’s. Restaurants are all
fundamentally members of the same species. The differences between the
corner diner and the four-star temple of haute cuisine mostly have to
do with scale, style, training; in other words, they aren’t different
species — the difference is the equivalent of a gene here and there.
You also don’t have to live in New York or San Francisco. Restaurants
may be better or worse according to geography, but they’re still
restaurants. During the years I spent doing the research for Turning the Tables,
I spent time in restaurants from New York to Vancouver, and at every
level from highly regarded fancy places to pizzerias, hot dog stands
and barbecue joints. The similarities by far outweigh the differences.
Indeed, some of the most rewarding special dining experiences I’ve had
have been not at fine-dining restaurants but at smaller, family-run,
casual places.

Second, you have to be willing to expend some
effort. People often bristle when confronted with the reality that they
have to work in order to get a good meal. They want to be served. But
it doesn’t work that way. Just as with any kind of human relationship
from a marriage to a business partnership, you get more out of dining
when you put more into it. It’s like when you decide to buy a new TV.
You have two choices: walk in to the store and buy whatever the
salesperson convinces you to buy (or, in the case of a low-service
store like Costco, pick something at random), or take control of the
situation by doing some research: go to Consumer Reports online, read
product reviews on CNet, check message boards and Amazon feedback,
compare prices. You’d put an hour into it, wouldn’t you? Well, guess
what? Dinner for two at the top restaurants in the Western
industrialized nations now costs as much as a new TV. And the value of
participation remains high once you get to the restaurant. If you want
to get the best possible meal out of a restaurant, you’ve only got two
choices: resent being an active participant in your dining experience,
or learn to enjoy it. Either way, don’t blame me. I didn’t create the
system; I’m just trying to help folks get the most out of it."

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A wonderful video of Alinea – Grant Achatz’s new masterpiece-theater-cum-restaurant in Chicago.

db – bistro moderne

db bistro moderne – unedited, uncropped, and unspoken (pre-theater rush!)


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Sushi Yasuda

If you want to learn 1) how to eat sushi and 2) what good sushi is: make your way to 204 East 43rd Street, New York City.  Look for this sign:


Arrange to sit at the sushi bar, either in front of Yasuda himself or any of his other sushi masters, and simply ask to be fed.


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Schwing? Ming!

You guys remember Cate?

Good.  Now let me introduce Sammy; an excellent friend of mine (and partner in dining-crime) at BU.  Meet Sammy:


Since we’re all acquainted, I’ll start with the storytime.

After an epic hour long journey between cars, taxis and chauffeured town cars, my parents, Sammy and her mother and I finally made it to Blue Ginger.

For those of you who don’t know; Blue Ginger is Ming Tsai’s flagship restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  Mapquest will attempt to woo you with it’s sweet lies, reporting a a quick, 20 minute drive.  That doesn’t account for rained-out Sox/Yankees games and pouring down rain.

After getting the Ritz concierge to talk to the hostess (Sammy’s mother, who I greatly enjoyed finally talking to, was staying at the Ritz), we arrived for our promptly at 9:00 for our 8:15 reservation.

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Grill 23. A Man’s Restaurant.

Restaurants these days are turning a bit frou-frou. They hire design consultants, feng shui artists, poodle walkers. While these touches can be cool and sleek looking, sometimes you just want a taste of the old school. Grill 23 provides that and then some.

When you heave open the heavy, wooden and glass doors (no automatic, cylindrical glass spaceships here), you enter a darkened, wood paneled dining room. There is definitely old world charm here, and you can see it from the first second. Wines are stored in meshed-in cabinets all around the room, the tables are heavy, immovable wood pieces of furniture; not just a wobbly platform. The chairs are plush armchairs that you would feel perfectly at home leaning back in smoking a cigar and sipping a glass of 30 year port. And if you do it right, you might just be doing that in a few hours.

Once seated, a waiter appears at your table as if he had been standing there all night just waiting for you to arrive. The rather new-school choice of waters is offered, and then food menus, wine menus, and cocktail menus are given out.

The meat is clearly the focus. This is a steakhouse. The name of the restaurant is Grill 23. Some may argue that “hey, you can grill other stuff, like fish!” No. Order meat for your entrée. If you wanted a girly piece of seared tuna you should have gone to your local avant garde place. Seafood is acceptable, nay, encouraged as appetizers. We indulged in the seafood platter.


After the delicious, simply prepared seafood, the appetizers arrive. The super-chilled iceberg lettuce was interesting, and I couldn’t really see what was “super-chilled” about it. It was cold.


Anyway, the kobe beef carpaccio was delicious, but the toughness of the parmesan basket sort of took away from the tenderness of the meat. The onion and mushroom salad inside was delicious though.


The tuna carpaccio was fine; it was the same as all the tuna carpaccios that appeared spontaneously on all menus across the country about three years ago.


Once the appetizers are cleared away, prepare yourself. The real reason you came to this place is about to be made apparent to you. They will take your chilled white wine away, and return with a bold, hearty red. Get ready to be taken back to the days of dinner in tuxedos and train travel. This is a man’s meal. An old school, aristocratic, powerful man’s meal. What could possibly be more masculine than drinking ancient wine, and chewing on a perfectly dry aged, amazingly flavorful cut of beast?


Not only is the meat cooked perfectly (Rare/Medium-Rare), but every single one of the side dishes is crafted with amazing care. The onion rings are shoestrings, and each one is perfectly coated with batter, and fried crisp. The hash browns are browned evenly, and entirely delicious. You can even get tobacco onions.

The desserts were uniformly excellent. The winner was quite possibly the “s’mores;” a chocolate mousse with marshmallows on top, and graham crackers stuck into it. Others included a black and blue shortcake, and a few others that were unfortunately not shared with the guy who writes about the food. *ahem*



As per Massachusetts law, cigar smoking is no longer allowed inside, so the traditional way of finishing the meal will have to stay at home. However, you may most certainly enjoy a fine glass of Graham’s 30 year tawny and go on your way.

Please note: This post is not trying to say that women are not allowed at Grill 23. In fact, I went with two of them and enjoyed their company very much. My point is simply that a lot of places have let the atmosphere get out of hand and become much less masculine. That’s not to say that for something to be good it needs to be masculine but a steakhouse has a very manly concept behind it, and the decor should, in my opinion, reflect that. The focus should be on the food first, then the surroundings. We have really lost a lot of what made our country the way it is. The days of grand train stations, fine steakhouses, and just being a man are slowly fading away to shopping mall airports, chain Cheesecake Factories, and metrosexuals. I could keep going on about how letter writing is a lost art and cell phones are starting to drive me crazy, but that has nothing to do with food. It’s nice to sometimes go back to the good ole days. I suggest everyone do it from time to time. Leave your cell phone, your blackberry, and your palm pilot at home. Go out to dinner with your spouse, your kids. Go somewhere independant. Go to a local mom and pop italian place. Go somewhere that the food doesn’t come in portioned controlled baggies. (Now I’m really digressing. I did have my cell phone on me at Grill 23, and I’m sure they portion control their meat, but I’m making a broader point now.) Think about how hard it is to find places like that these days. If you can do it, come back and tell me about it. I know you’ll enjoy it. Don’t do it for me, do it for your country.

Note number two: I have read this a few times through now, and each time it seems that what I’m saying is really sexist. I’m really not trying to be. What I’m trying to say is that a steakhouse should be manly like a nail salon should be womanly. A nail salon would not do very well if it had paneled wood walls, a humidor, and Playboy to read. At least I don’t think it would. Unless it was in Northampton.

(Just KIDDING. I love Northampton!) People get so offended over the silliest things. Here’s my final comment; Go eat at Grill 23 if you want a steak without frou frouieness. Take the rest with a grain of salt.

I am spoiled for life. Part 2

So the night after we ate at Pinchiorri, I noticed that there was a Michelin two star, Arnolfo, about 5 km from our hotel.

After a complicated reservation making process, we headed back to the hotel to change.

You aren’t really supposed to park in the old city walls, but we did anyway, and headed up to the restaurant. One odd thing about this place, is that you can’t open the door. You have to ring a buzzer, and the hostess comes up and lets you in.

I have to make note here that the guy who took our reservation came up with the most creative spelling for my last name that I have ever seen. Baber became Piler! Oh well, no harm no foul. We were seated as soon as this was figured out.

Now, this was much more like a regular restaurant than Pinchiorri, and because of that, it seemed almost pedestrian. There were 2 servers for 20 people, one sommelier, and the chef wandered around almost all night.

Again, we ordered the biggest tasting menu possible. (We decided not to repeat the last night’s charades and only ordered 2 bottles of wine.)


We started off with the now-familiar cycle of breads. The first set was good, small rolls with tomato, onion and garlic.


An amuse arrived quickly, the best of which being the goat cheese nibble, and the tuna tartare spoon. (I had been SERIOUSLY raw-fish deprived since I’ve been here, and it was a well needed hit for me.)


The next course is boggling me, I can’t remember what it was. It looks tomato-ey, but I can’t remember what it was. I don’t think we had gotten to the menu items yet. Oh well.


Then we started with the first menu item. This was really good. The shrimp was crusted with almonds, the eggplant terrine was delicious, and the tomato “paste” echoed the one at Pinchiorri. The other two tidbits on the plate were good, but not really memorable.


Two dishes then came at once. One, a hot tomato soup with a bit of fried basil and fish. This was very good. The other “soup” was actually more of a tomato jelly. Unexpected, but good as well. Very refreshing and both very tasty.



Now, I’ve had lasagna before. In fact, the lasagna that Donatella makes at the castle is my favorite lasagna in the world, especially the next day when you overcook it in the oven and the edges get all crispy…..but this wasn’t really lasagna. Even if it wasn’t what I was expecting, it was still good in it’s own right. The sauce was potato-saffron, and it was smooth and perfectly strong. It matched very well with the shrimp. There was a tempura fried zucchini blossom on the back side. This was the second or third tempura fried item we had seen so far, which we both thought was a bit odd, but they were all perfectly light and fried.


It really just isn’t fair to compare the lamb at Pinchiorri to the lamb at Arnolfo. Pinchiorri blew me away so much, that the lamb at Arnolfo almost tasted dull. It was clearly a properly prepared piece of meat, and everything worked well, but I just couldn’t get my mind off the previous night.


I actually really liked the cheese course at Arnolfo. For some reason, at Pinchiorri they had forgotten to give us the little marmalades and such with our cheeses, and we both forgot to ask. At Arnolfo, I got prune, honey, and other that I can’t recall. There was no cheese selection, it was just brought from the kitchen. I really liked the selection, mostly cow and sheep, but the softer cheeses were really excellent. In fact, it was so good that I totally forgot to take a picture till I was half done. I got distracted by the little dishes of honey and jams.


Some madman came flying into the restaurant and demolished my intermezzo before I got a chance to take a picture.

I was pretty pissed.


I was able to take a picture of the real dessert, though. There were mini-panna cottas, a mint sorbet, and a bunch of gooseberries(?). The berries were a bit too sour for my taste, but my dad scarfed em all down.


Afterwards came the mini-after-dessert-tidbit-tray. This is not something I should get used to. These things are really good.


I had talked with the chef a couple times during dinner, and he invited me into the kitchen after I had expressed interest in seeing the paco jet. It’s really a pretty cool piece of machinery. Its basically just a really fancy immersion blender thing. You put a cylinder of whatever you want blended, and an arm with a blade or whip or whatever you want, comes down and mixes it really fast. He says it makes great sorbet, and he let me try some freshly made peach. It really was quite fresh and light, moreso than regular sorbet.


I took a couple more pictures of the kitchen, talked with the chef for a bit, and headed back to our hotel.




It really was not fair to compare Arnolfo to Pinchiorri. They are in two completely different worlds. Here’s a fairly complicated analogy. Arnolfo is to airplanes as Pinchiorri is to space shuttles. Lets say that chefs like the one at Arnolfo are like pilots. Just about everybody flies on planes. Some are better than others, some are longer, and sometimes you fly first class. Pinchiorri is on a whole level entirely. Only really, really rich people can go up on space shuttles, and even then, they don’t do it often. The chefs have to train harder, longer, and often just have something inside them that just makes them one cut above the rest. But once you’ve seen space, it’s hard as hell to go back to just normal flying. (This is the extent of the analogy. The “traveling” part of flying doesn’t equate to eating. Blah blah blah)

I am spoiled for life. Part 1

I have been irrevocably spoiled for life.

Two nights ago, I dined at the three star Michelin rated restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiori. This was not just a restaurant. This was a food temple.

Not only was the food absolutely incredibly unbelievable (much more on that in a minute), the service was as good as it could possibly get. It seemed at times like every single employee was your personal server. All the employees with either in tuxes, or impeccable suits. Since I didn’t bring a jacket (which was “recommended,” but really meant you had to sit on the patio, which was really hot) they provided me with one, which was a bit short, but hey, I ain’t complainin.

Let me set up the scene for you:

There is not really a sign. You see these two huge green columns, with the maitre ‘d hotel standing in the entrance. He gives you his card, and directs you to the free parking lot that has lots of incredibly beautiful (and fast) cars in it.


As you enter, everyone greets you. You are escorted to a sitting room, where you await the person who will take you to your table. I had to wait an extra minute while they tried to find a coat that I could at least get into.

Once seated in a small dining room (of which there were many, so I didn’t really get a chance to see how many people could actually eat there at once), you start to notice just how different things are here.

For women, there is a small side table behind your table for your purse. The lighting is soft, but bright enough to see clearly, and appreciate the beautiful food that is about to come.

First you are offered an apperitivo. I chose some Champagne. A double magnum of Krug champagne was brought, and poured into our waiting glasses. There was no silverware or plates on the table yet. They would come….oh God would they come.

While you enjoyed your aperitivo, you were presented with the menu. You can choose either a la carte, or tasting menu. I had already decided that no matter what, we were going to do the tasting menu. We informed one of our servers of this decision, and embarked on the best meal of both me and my fathers life. (At this point, it was around 7:40. This will make sense later.)

Almost immediately after ordering, we were given a “gift from the chef,” which was actually one of many gifts from the chef. Evidently the chef is a really nice guy.


Now, I have a confession to make. I didn’t take a picture of the menu, and it isn’t online. Now, I have emailed them and asked for it, but I am incredibly sorry to report that it’s possible that I won’t be able to tell you what everything was. Please, however, feel free to enjoy the pictures and pretend you know what everything is.

Next, we got another gift from the chef. A sardine, perfectly preserved in vinegar, split in half, deboned, and rolled up on top of a geleed cube of strawberry and tomato. At this point, we both knew that this was a bit different than anything we had ever eaten.


We then got the first course from the menu. I honestly can’t remember what kind of fish it was, but the fish really isn’t what made the dish amazing. Underneath the fish was sautéed sea cucumber. It was so good, that when I couldn’t get the last little piece on my fork, I made sure no one was looking, and picked it up with my fingers. In a 3 star restaurant. It was THAT good.


During this next dish, something happened that has never happened before to me. I took a bite, and instead of just thinking “wow, that’s amazing,” I actually felt tears welling up. It was so good that I nearly cried. Right after that emotion, though, I started to laugh. It was really just absurd. This was food like I had never had before. It was so pure, so intense. It was a terrine of foie gras, with a gelee of somethingorother, but the foie gras was so incredibly perfect. It was all at once creamier, more flavorful, and more intense and amazing then any other foie gras I have ever had. When I dragged the bits through the salt and pepper, and they crunched in my mouth with the foie gras, it even elevated the salt and pepper to higher standards. I really, honestly, couldn’t believe it. It was served with bread with prunes in it, but I had eaten most of my liver before I got to it, and I thought it was good.


Oh, I have neglected to mention that up until that course, we had gotten a different type of bread with every course. Around the 4th course or so, the rotation started again.


Here’s an ok view of our dining room. I was playing with the camera trying to adjust light settings, and I snagged this picture without really disturbing anyone else.


I really am feeling bad now, because I don’t have the item descriptions. This next course was very, very good, but did not illicit the same emotional response. It was a fried piece of fish, with a pureed vegetable which tasted like the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. I really need the menu. Argh.


Next up – lobster two ways. On the left is fried lobster with a avocado puree and on the right is sautéed lobster with fresh mango. The reason I remember this course is because 1) it was very clean and amazingly good, and 2) because there weren’t many ingredients. Sometimes in fancy restaurants, they do too much to lobster, and really muddle the flavor, but here it was perfect. The avocado went very well with the crispiness of the meat, and the mango really brought out the freshness in the lobster.


This course looks simple to the untrained eye. To put it simply, it is spaghetti with olives, tomatoes, and some tuna. If you were to put it in your mouth, however, you would not be able to speak for at least a few minutes. This course, I honestly have no idea how the accomplished. I thought I had eaten the best pasta to be found. I was absolutely wrong. This pasta was so far and away better than any pasta I have ever had before. It was absolutely tender, unbelievably flavorful, and just unreal. For the second time, I was nearly moved to tears. For someone who has never cried during a movie, play, opera, or listening to music, it was a new experience. At this level, it really is an art. For the most part, making food is a craft, a trade, something you can learn. I don’t know how anyone learned how to do the food that I was eating. It seemed like something sent down from heaven. Honestly, it felt like a religious experience. If I had to find a place to be Mecca for my to date food experiences, Enoteca Pinchiori would no doubt be it.


Once I had recovered from the spaghetti, we moved on to a pasta stuffed with meat and topped with shavings of reggiano (I believe). It was great, but did not move me in the same way.


Just when I was starting to believe that I was not going to have another experience like the spaghetti had given me, the lamb came. Now, it’s hard to tell since I took the picture so close, but these two pieces of lamb were less than the size of a quarter each, and about a mm thick. Even so, they were bar none the best pieces of lamb I had ever had. To say they were cooked perfectly would be an understatement. I now believe that there is no other way to correctly cook lamb. What really made this dish as good as the spaghetti, though, was the red blob that the lamb was leaning against. This “blob” (which some might call a quenelle) was tomato. Not just tomato, but the best tomato flavor I had ever even conceived of. You know the tomato that I wrote about? The perfect Umbrian tomato? Take the flavor of the best tomato you’ve ever had, and multiply it by about 50,000. Then make a sauce out of that flavor exactly. Just like the sea cucumbers with the fish in the second dish, the tomato really made the dish unforgettable.


I really was thinking that at this point it couldn’t get any better. I had drank enough amazing wine (which actually warrants a separate post, which will come later), that I was just in a food induced haze. I remembered that the next course was supposed to be pigeon, and was expecting the same type of pigeon that I had eaten before. I was wondering how they were going to take this gamey, tough, dark bird, and turn it into something worthy of the name Pinchiorri. I’ll tell you now, I have utterly not a clue how they did what they did with this dish. I thought I had gotten a piece of beef. This was not bird. It was tender, meaty, rich, and ungodly good. Again, the sides really enhanced the whole experience. The gravy was, oddly, made with a mix of crack and codeine, since it was utterly impossible to resist the temptation to lick every inch of the bowl clean. The toast was covered with a sweet molasses-type coating, and seemed to vanish all too quickly. I’m sure it was quite a sight to see me gnawing on the bone like an animal, to make sure that every single atom of flavor was sucked from the pores in the bone.


This concluded our savory portion of the meal, and I was getting full. A cheese cart, the size of which I have never seen outside of a specialty cheese store was rolled over, and we were instructed to choose whatever we wanted. I absolutely love goat cheese, and chose 5 different types. (There were about 10 goat cheeses in all, in fact, they took up the whole non-pictured tray that stuck off the close side of the cart.) All of these cheeses were at the same time different and similar. They were all clearly goat cheeses, but the method of production was so incredibly varied that I thought I was eating cheese from completely different planets.



We were then presented with about 15 different desserts. There was a main plate with one side that was all chocolate and the opposite all vanilla, there were cones of sorbetto, a watermelon shot, a citrus sorbet, and various other little nibbles. I was about to die, I was so full.







To give you an idea, and a preview of the wine post to come, these were all of the wines we had tasted. Note: these bottles were not just ours, we probably had 3-4 glasses from each.


Click to enlarge to see lables better.

After this, we drank grappa that was made just for the restaurant. Grappa = kerosene + amazing flavor.


I pondered slashing my wrists with the grappa glass and dying happy. Then I drank more grappa.


Now is a good time to note that there was a table next to us with a couple that was simply phenomenal. John was from DC, and Grace was from California. We had actually talked for a moment in the sitting room, when they went to get me a coat. When I started taking pictures, we struck up some more conversation. It turns out that Grace had gone to BU (for a year, I think), and was seemingly impressed with my food taste. I really enjoyed talking with them, and would like to see them again. Hopefully they’ll find this site since I gave them the address, but they, like us, had drank many bottles of wine. If you’re reading this, Grace and John, email me!


Ah, that break was refreshing. We head on!

I asked for a tour of the kitchen, and was promptly given one. At this point, it was about 11:45, and they were cleaning up. The kitchen was spotless, and the guy I talked to seemed like a nice guy, even if he did want me to get out of his kitchen.


I posed for a group photo of our sommelier on the left and one of the servers on the right. Notice the coat length.


Coming up next, why I shouldn’t have had that meal, the wines, and the next night’s meal!

A suprise review coming!

So I may not be able to do it tomorrow or the next day, but I guarantee, that no more than 3 days from today, I will have a review that will knock your socks off.

Some of you might be able to guess it if you do some research, but I won’t reveal any more about it until afterwards!

I leave you now with a picture I took in the church in Orvietto.


See you guys in a few!

Note to those just joining us, please scroll down to the Public Service Announcement, and read up. From now on I promise to write in reverse to alleviate this problem. Or upside down. Or both!

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