Category Archives: Hello, Top Chef

A Summer Night’s Dream | Grace

Grace-3947

Tuesday evening. I remember slowly drifting towards the glass doors of Grace. Apprehension, exhilaration, great anticipation.

It took me back to March 2012 when I passed through the revolving doors of Eleven Madison Park. One captivating lunch at EMP cultivated my appetite for the inexhaustible knowledge of fine dining. It’s just as sweet, time after time. A recent trip to Grace in Chicago transported me once again, as I contemplated enchanting plates of vegetables.

Grace offers two menus: Flora and Fauna. The Flora menu takes vegetables that we see on a daily basis to inconceivable heights. The Fauna menu delights tastes buds with shimming cuts of squab and Miyazaki beef.

Grace-3600

Amuse Bouche from Left to Right: Plum Soda with Chia Seeds, Alaskan Crab with Encapsulated Butter, Black Pepper Shell with Osetra Caviar

The bite of crab and butter and plum soda were a friendly introduction to the start of dinner. However, my unfamiliarity with creations like the black pepper shell began to concern me. I began to hope that the elements of molecular gastronomy did not preside over taste. My worries swiftly melted away as I traveled through the flora and fauna menu.

Grace-36291st Course: Corn (Flora)

During the summertime, I preach my affection for corn. At Grace, an intense concentration of sweet corn puree is served with its shoots and scoops of char roe. If corn puree was always this good, I may never have to chew ever again. This dish overshadowed the much more restrained plate of oysters with blueberries, sea bean, and lavender from the fauna menu.

Grace-36572nd Course: Heirloom Tomato (Fauna)

The celebration of the summer season flowed throughout the course of the meal. The flora menu featured a mellifluous barrage of sweet peas in different textures while the fauna portion highlighted the prominence of heirlooms. One bite ignited a succulent blast of tomatoes.

Grace-36803rd Course: Squab (Fauna)

As the images of the Grace’s Poached Quince dessert began to drift away, photos of the squab began to rise throughout the web. The tender squab was paired with the tangy and mildly bitter taste of sorrel and green strawberries. Delightful.

A gorgeous plate of beets arrived on the flora menu. Although the presentation was stunning, I found the beet dish too convoluted and demanding. From the beet noodle to black garlic to apple and tarragon, I found myself at sea, lost without a reference point to turn to.

Grace-37424th Course: White Asparagus (Flora)

The flora menu is nonetheless the star of the show. A soup of white asparagus really blew me away. The warmth from grilled scallions and glass noodles swarmed my taste buds. The crispy artichoke from the fauna menu was also captivating. The sweet floral aroma of curry and dandelion is an absolute treat.

Grace-38225th Course: Miyazaki Beef (Fauna)

Then came the beef! There are pictures of the Miyazaki beef at its raw stage that roam around Chef Curtis Duffy’s Twitter feed. Each layer is an intense marbling that allures the eyes of hungry carnivores. At Grace, the dish is paired with chanterelle mushrooms and compressed watermelon. Meat Candy.

There are also Australian black truffles on the Flora menu. Although I usually refrain from summer truffles for its inability to compete with black truffles in the wintertime, Grace’s sweet pairing of Australian black truffles with caramel and chive blossoms was memorable.

Grace-38426th Course: Maitake (Flora)

The smell of mushrooms began to fill the air. The maitake alongside the juicy notes of daikon, coffee, and fresh scallions provided a rich spoonful of savory memories. And then the sweet lamb from the fauna menu! The combination of rich, hearty, soft lamb with robust kale and herbaceous parsley root really filled my heart with content.

Grace-38817th Course: Raspberry (Fauna)

Along came a flood of desserts. Of the 9 courses on Grace’s two tasting selections, the pastry team is responsible for a third of both menus. Based on Chef Duffy’s time as a chef at Trio, I’m certain that the desserts at Grace will not play second fiddle to the other components of the meal. Pastry Chef, Bobby Schaffer oversees this portion of the menu.

The fauna menu featured an abundance of ripe berries and the flora menu presented a refreshing change of pace with kalamansi and Asian pear. With fruits like these, the summer season is indeed the sweetest.

Grace-39128th Course: Peach (Fauna)

Next, the flora menu highlighted rhubarb with toasted brioche and lemon balm and the fauna menu featured peaches veiled in a sweet shell, waiting to be cracked to open up a sweet combination of black sugar, lemon verbena and licorice. The soft texture from the silky brioche and the crunchy shell from the peaches offered two beautifully different textural contrasts.

Grace-39619th Course: Young Coconut (Fauna)

Lastly, a presentation of coconut ended the three hour dinner. The aromatic notes of young coconut and the tart and sweet notes of lime and huckleberries, and the invigorating taste of basil put me in a spell. Then the bowl of chocolate with hazelnuts and cherries from the end of the flora menu! I was mesmerized.

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Grace may be one of the most important restaurants in Chicago right now. It all comes together from the mastermind of Chef Curtis Duffy and his Chef de Cuisine, Nicholas Romero. Grace is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but Chef Curtis says that he never stops working.

His pursuit to become one of the greatest restaurants in the world is heartfelt. Although Chef Curtis looked fatigued during our brief meeting, the look in his eyes indicated that his desire to push harder and earn three Michelin stars was more than just a dream. This was his opportunity.

This restaurant is more than capable of earning three stars. Ultimately, consistency will be the root to its success as the New York Michelin report revealed when it knocked a restaurant from two to zero stars in the 2014 guide.

Grace not only nourished my voracious hunger for great fine dining, but it also consistently delivered friendly memories with Midwestern warmth and hospitality. I have tremendous faith that Grace will prevail.

86ing Authenticity | Restaurant Review: Kin Shop

Last week, the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fans got a harsh reality check when Pete Wells reviewed and implicitly named Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar as the shitshow of the year. People assume that the status of celebrity chef automatically turns you into a good cook. Maybe you’ll make a lot of money by signing a book deal and releasing a line of cookware. However, getting your own cooking show will not make you a better cook. Look at Food Network/chef/owners like Marco Canora at Hearth or Justin Warner at Do or Dine. These two are respected in the culinary scene because they man the posts at their respective shops and put heart and soul into their work.

There is no immunity challenge in New York City’s intense dining scene. New Yorkers will kick off any chef who becomes too complacent and forgets to operate a competitive restaurant.

Thankfully Chef Harold Dieterle, has not let his Bravo status get into his head. Perilla might have earned a lot of buzz because it opened in ’07 (a year after Chef’s win on Top Chef Season 1), but Kin Shop continued to shine because the food was delicious. White people cooking Thai food seems like a cliché these days, but Andy Ricker and Harold Dieterle have earned every bit of acclamation. Pok Pok serves an unbelievable interpretation of Northern Thai cuisine and Kin Shop delivers exciting contemporary American food with Thai flavors.

Take crispy roti. Dip the buttery pancake in Chili Jam and Coriander Nam Prik and it’ll make Aunt Jemima look like fool. It’s a perfect snack at the beginning of the meal or as a third utensil to soak up all the fragrant Green Curry on Pan Roasted Golden Snapper.

Then there is the killer Fried Pork & Crispy Oyster Salad. Large hunks of deep fried pig parts and oysters are accompanied by a refreshing crunch from celery and peanuts. The mint and chili-lime vinaigrette shocks the palate with pleasure.

However, Spicy Duck Laab Salad on romaine hearts is the opposite of satisfaction. The four asterisks (indicating spice level) will make it very tempting to order, but the meat itself isn’t very appetizing. If you’re training for the Brick Lane Curry House challenge, maybe it will serve a useful purpose during your meal.

The wise option is to order a plate of hearty Fried Brussels Sprouts and Chinese Sausage. The acidic kick from the fermented apple vinegar will make eating vegetables fun again.


No Pad Thai? No Problem.

Kin Shop is far from a stereotypical experience. Instead of gloppy American favorites, Kin Shop serves Stir Fry Rice Flakes with rock shrimp and cauliflower. The sweet layers of vegetables and the wonderfully chewy texture of rice flakes will leave pad Thai in the dust.

Kin Shop also fulfills carnivorous desires. The Roasted Duck Breast with Green Mango Curry and Tamarind Water is an outstanding seared piece of poultry. Wrapped pieces of the duck with Crispy Roti, sticky rice, and Chili Jam make for one of the best single bites I’ve had all year.

If you have an early reservation, you might also score Thai Style Fried Chicken with Sweet Chili-Fish Sauce (pictured at the top). The chicken is brined overnight in oyster sauce, shrimp paste, garlic, herbs, and spices. Then the chicken is coated with rice flour and cereal to give it an extra layer of crunch. It usually sells out by 7 pm on weekends.

Desserts are much more subdued. Coconut Cake impresses in size, but doesn’t offer an exciting surprise like many of the savory dishes at Kin Shop.  The Calamansi Sorbet is a refreshing end to the meal, but Thai Coffee-Chocolate and Galangal ice cream seem like rejected ice cream concepts from Häagen-Dazs Thailand.

Many of the successful Top Chef Contestants don’t open up their own restaurants. The finalists often end up getting invited back into subsequent seasons and start getting endorsement deals from department stores to sustain themselves.

Even as a fan of the show, I considering it a blessing that Harold Dieterle has never reappeared on Bravo ever again. His time and attention will be dedicated to his third project (The Marrow, a Northern European and Italian restaurant) which test his culinary credentials once again.

My Top Chef Moment #4: Luke Holden Left Wall Street for His Luscious Lobster Rolls

Mama Cho is Gonna Have a Heart Attack After She Reads This

This is Luke Holden. When he graduated with a finance/management degree from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business in 2007, he naturally went on to become an investment banker at Cohen & Steers Capital Advisors. Having spent two years already as an intern at UBS, he was on path to racking in the dolla dolla bills.

Two and a half years later, he made the brave decision to leave his job and take a 75% salary cut so that he could open up his first lobster roll restaurant in East Village. According to Luke, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Luckily, he found his restaurant partner, Ben Conniff on Craigslist. Ben had no experience in the restaurant industry, BUT he was a food lover and a writer for Playboy at the time.

In 2009, Tiger Mom would have slapped the shit out of him for leaving such a lucrative position. Fortunately, it was a great decision after all. Luke’s lobster rolls are absolutely delicious and has branched out to six other locations (+ a sexy food truck named Nauti).

The Tiger Mom Approval Rating has probably gone from “not my son” to “just don’t come home during the holiday season.”

Luscious, Luscious Lobster Rolls

I had my first Luke’s Lobster Roll last week. It was so succulent, so tender that I experienced a tremendous level of sadness once I finished my last few bites. Large knuckle and claw meat doused with lemon butter on a split-top bun make my mouth so happy. They use around three lobsters to fill just one lobster roll. It’s actually quite a mouthful.

At many New York seafood restaurants, the gourmet lobster rolls can cost around $25 and be heavy-mayonnaise based. At Luke’s, the goods directly come down from his father’s seafood company in Maine guaranteeing top-notch quality. My favorite part about Luke’s is that there are only small traces of mayonnaise which allows the taste of the claws to shine. It’s the complete opposite of a really bad tuna sandwich. 

NYU Stern Alum Aziz Ansari Can Afford Multiple Lobster Rolls

I would normally need about three of these babies to become satisfied, but the lobster rolls are fifteen dollars each. Either I’m having ramen for the next five days or I’m bitterly ordering just one. For now, I’m counting down the days until my next big paycheck.

P.S. Luke Holden recently opened a Luke’s Lobster in Bethesda, Maryland. I’m definitely looking forward to going home now!

2011 WordPress Annual Report & Site Statistics: The Insatiable Palate

Time to Wake and Bake, Kids!

Site Stats:
This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2011.

The busiest day of the year was November 13th with 268 views. The most popular post that day was The Insatiable Palate Review #8: Pies ‘n’ Thighs (Brooklyn, New York).

The top referring sites in 2011 were:

  1. facebook.com
  2. blogs.nyu.edu
  3. twitter.com
  4. stumbleupon.com
  5. linkedin.com

Most Views:

  1. The Insatiable Palate Review #8: Pies ‘n’ Thighs (Brooklyn, New York) November 2011
  2. The Insatiable Palate Review #2: Tutti Frutti (Columbia, Maryland) May 2011
  3. My Top Chef Moment: Angelo Sosa’s “Bibimbap Burger” is approved by South Korean Mothers June 2011
  4. The Insatiable Palate Review #5: Tacos Morelos (New York, New York) October 2011
  5. The Insatiable Palate Review #4: Wafels and Dinges (New York, New York) September 2011

Some visitors came searching, mostly for

  1. the insatiable palate
  2. honey pig
  3. yuraku
  4. bibimbap burger
  5. tutti frutti frozen yogurt

Where did they come from?

The United States, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Slovakia, Hungary, Netherlands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, and Australia

Thanks for all the support. Stay hungry.
– Jason

My Top Chef Moment #2: Kim Jong-Il’s Insatiable Appetite, Desire For Rabbits, EXPOSED

The Bigger, The Better

After the Kim Jong Il was reported deceased on Saturday evening, Bon Appétit found it appropriate to reveal the head honcho’s gourmet dining style. I’d like to remind the readers that around 37% of North Korean children are chronically malnourished. It’s absolutely sad.

Gettin’ Slizzard

El Supremo’s Dining Demands: Keep Thirsty Thursdays Alive.

  • His Hennessy (approximately $720,000 per years worth, making him the world’s largest buyer of the cognac in the 1990’s)
  • Mugwort-filled rice cakes and fresh fish from Japan
  • Eating Sushi off the live fish imported from Japan
  • Fresh pizza from an Italian chef (OF COURSE)
  • Beer from the Breweries of Czech Republic
  • Caviar from Iran and Uzbekistan
  • Pork from Denmark

Oh nom nom nom

North Korean Officials once visited a German giant rabbit farmer asking if he could help ease the famine by providing his giant rabbits. “Rabbits breed fast and giant rabbits, at upwards of 20 pounds each, have a good amount of nutritious meat.” Why certainly!

The farmer accepts the offer, not realizing that the rabbits were actually going to be eaten by the The Il and his guests.
The farmer is not happy. No more giant rabbits for The Il.

By the way, for those of you who’re sending me condolence messages over Facebook about the death of Kim Jong-Il, WHY?

Just stay tuned for [The Insatiable Palate Review #11: Crif Dogs (East Village, New York)] at the end of the week. Stay hungry!

Cheers to 2,000!

The blog hit 2,000 last week. Thank you for all your support!

My Top Chef Moment: Angelo Sosa’s “Bibimbap Burger” is approved by South Korean Mothers

My Korean mother, whom I typically refer to as “Mama Cho” on the interweb disapproves of my summer “food blogging nonsense.” Spending time, taking pictures of food, let alone wasting my valuable time writing about restaurants? It’s probably the last item on her “things I should force my Asian son into doing before I die” list.
Fortunately, Top Chef Angelo has gotten my “high expectations” Asian mother off my back for a couple more weeks with his enchanting creation, the Social Eatz: BIBIMBAP BURGER.

Oh my lawd, the Top Chef has managed to assimilate Korean and American cuisine without offending the motherland!

Angelo’s hybrid burger-baby:

  • Sesame Roll
  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • Beef (70Chuck/30Brisket)
  • Gochujang (hot pepper paste)
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Poached Egg
  • & A glorifying dosage of Sriracha Sauce

The Bibimbap burger, surprisingly, pays homage to tradition while introducing picky American eaters to Korean food. It was also voted “Best Burger in America,” earning it lots of street cred in the Asian community. This invention might even have Korean mothers pulling their kids out of SAT prep class and enrolling them in culinary school.

My favorite part about this eatery? Social Eatz is bringing Korean cuisine into the American mainstream media without including the words “Wok, Express, and the Great Wall” in their menu selection. Bless them.