Saturday, March 26, 2011

I do not heart Joël Robuchon (HK)

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Shop 315 & 401, The Landmark,
Central, Hong Kong
(852) 2166 9000

Rating: 2.5/5

L'amuse bouche - Robuchon's version of "amuse bouche"
Valentine's Day was a spontaneous one. Unlike many couples, we didn't have our whole day planned, nor did we make reservations 12847 days prior to this Hallmark holiday. Instead, while walking aimlessly around Hong Kong's central, we walked randomly into Joel Robuchon for lunch. Located in The Landmark, the restaurant is composed of two main colors: red and black, which set a tone of boldness and character. We sat at the regular dining area, which I thought was more private and comfortable. However, you can also opt to sit at the bar area which is noticeably more casual and chill.

Duck Foie Gras Terrine
Their lunch menu was extensive, with different combination starters and entrees to choose from. We went with the set that included soup, appetizer, entree, and desserts for $640HKD. Like any other French restaurants, the waiters came in with a basket filled with a variety of complimentary bread. I particularly liked the bread with bacon bits. Prior to our appetizer,  they served a palate cleanser which consisted of three layers: foie gras mousse, pumpkin and corn puree. To eat this dish, you would dip the crispy crouton, straight into the three layers of flavors; and the rest could be scooped up with a spoon. The taste of it was very light but flavorful - there was also a really nice  pumpkin aftertaste that I liked. For our appetizer, I got the scallops (served cold) while my boyfriend got the Duck foie gras terrine with figs marmalades and spices. My scallops were light, but a little below my expectations. I couldn't really taste anything - I thought the dish needed a pinch of flavor. The duck foie gras terrine was standard and best paired with bread to avoid the heavy and fatty taste of foie gras (although the figs also served as a good complement).

Row of scallops
We had two choices for soup: foie gras ravioli in warm chicken broth or broccoli soup. We both decided on trying the broccoli soup, but while my boyfriend liked the soup, I didn't enjoy it at all. I always had the impression that a vegetable soup will prepare your stomach for a heavy meal (which we were about to have), but unfortunately, the broccoli soup at robuchon failed to do so. For starters, the soup wasn't hot enough for me. I did not expect to drink lukewarm soup, especially from an upscale restaurant! Secondly, the soup literally tasted like raw broccoli thrown into a blender (boyfriend agreed). In my opinion, they could have at least cooked the broccoli and then blend it - that would have given this dish many more points! It is the raw aftertaste that really threw this dish out of the window. As a person who usually finishes her food, I could not get myself to finish the broccoli soup - and mind you, the soup was cup-sized!

For our entree, I ordered the Smoked Pork. Prior to ordering, the waiter warned me about a "strong" taste/smell to this dish. Knowing that my taste buds are naturally inclined to stronger tastes, I told the waiter that it wouldn't be a problem. WRONG! I didn't know the definition of "strong taste" was equivalent to a smokey, urine-smelling aroma (I apologize for the explicit description). Moreover, the meat wasn't tender; and I wasn't impressed. On a brighter note, the mashed potatoes on the side was awesome! The potatoes tasted like it's been whipped 109834 times - very refined, buttery, and soft. Too bad the serving was so teensy-weensy (if you ever go, ask for more as they scoop the mashed potatoes right in front of you!) that I had to steal my boyfriend's portion as well. The steak that my bf ordered was made much better than my pork - the meat was tender and juicy; and it was nicely sauteed. I guess the meal wasn't a total failure after all.

For desserts, we were given the option of a cheese platter, à la carte desserts, or two choices from the dessert cart. The bf chose a strawberry dessert with ice-cream (I know, manly - huh?) Inside the tall, martini glass was freshly whipped cream, cake crumbs, and an ultra thin and crispy biscuit. The ice-cream was placed inside a half-cracked egg shaped bowl - super cute! As for me, I chose two desserts from the dessert cart, which had pretty decent selections, too. In the end, I picked the lemon tart (topped with gold flakes and a mini macaroon/raspberry) and a bowl of fruit. To end the meal, we ordered coffee and tea - with complimentary macaroons and sparkly golden sugar balls.

I wouldn't say the experience was a complete disaster, but it wasn't the best food either. The Joël Robuchon in Vegas has been getting raving reviews, but the branch in Hong Kong definitely does not live up to its hype. Perhaps it's because they specialize in their desserts. It's fair to give this restaurant another try since I've only experienced their lunch menu. I would come back here for their a la carte menu, which may be better than their set menus. Furthermore, I would order a full side dish of those delicious mashed potatoes!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Locanda Verde "Green Inn"

377 Greenwich St 
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-3797
The spacious and beautiful kitchen @ Locanda Verde
Although we dined here two months ago (Yes, it's been that long - my computer crashed and it took me awhile to retrieve all my pictures) I still want to dedicate an entry to Locanda Verde as it left us with a very memorable dining experience. Ever since my cousin started to work at Locanda Verde, the restaurant has been on top of my "to-dine" list. Disgracefully, it wasn't until we actually did our research did we realize that the restaurant is a highly rated and popular dining spot in NYC! As one of Robert De Niro's capital ventures, Locanda Verde, formally known as Ago, is run by executive chef and co-owner, Andrew Carmellini. Reservations are definitely recommended as the restaurant fills up fast - even on the weekdays and before dinner hours! Luckily, I had inside connections (ok, my cousin was the one with the connections) and we were able to squeeze in on a Tuesday at 5:45pm.
Famous Lamb Meatball Sliders - hold your drool!
Despite the freezing rain (remember, this was back in January), we braved the weather and headed to the restaurant. The inside of the restaurant was warm and beautifully designed. It felt like a high-class night club; minus the tight crowd. We were led to the bar area where we ordered a few drinks to start - I had some sort of peach tea mixed with a small dose of alcohol. For a non-alcoholic person, it was weirdly satisfying. Along with our drinks were complimentary assorted nuts for guests to munch on while we waited for our tables to be ready.
Once seated, we noticed the open kitchen right next to the bar area. We watched the entire crew work seamlessly together to prepare the perfect meal - I love open kitchens! We were given warm bread with olive oil as dips. For starters, we ordered their signature Lamb Meatball sliders with caprino and cucumber (yay to no pickles!). The mini-burgers were deliciously tender and juicy. Moreover, the slider sauce  didn't sog up the buns as they were evenly spread and seasoned. The caprino was melted underneath the meatball. The cheese wasn't overpowering, but just enough to make it a remarkably enjoyable meatball slider! The dish also reminded me of the meatball sliders from The Little Owl in West Village - both delectable and heavenly! Unfortunately, there were only two sliders between the two of us, which made me slightly sad as I craved for more! In addition to sliders, we also ordered their other signature dish: Sheep's milk ricotta - my foodie partner enjoyed this appetizer because the ricotta had a good creamy texture that wasn't too overwhelming. It was like cream cheese, but a much lighter and fluffier version; and without the strong, gamey taste.

Looking pleased with the chicken & potatoes on the side
Our first entree came as a complimentary dish from the chef (VIP status, yo!!)  Regrettably, I was too excited about our complimentary dish that I completely forgot the dish's name (clearly, not an experienced VIP). The pasta was cooked al dente and mixed with clams. The serving size was enough to cleanse our palate for the next dish.

Our main entree was the Fire-Roasted Garlic Chicken (for two) which came in as a whole plate of different chicken parts. The chicken was well-seasoned with garlic and herbs rubbed on the skin of the chicken. While I usually prefer dark meat over white meat, the chicken at Locanda Verde was so well-cooked that even the white meat tasted juicy. We were able to taste the garlic flavor at every single bite. Along with the garlic chicken, my cousin also suggested a side of Crispy Garlic Potatoes with cheese. These cubed, bite-sized potatoes were fried to perfection and piping hot. The potatoes, along with the red wine, complemented the chicken very well, I'm glad we ordered it!

Free desserts for two - we were pampered silly!
Just when we thought we couldn't eat anymore, the waitress came out with three fully plated desserts!  (moral of the story: knowing someone in the restaurant business can get you fat) In spite of being full, I immediately grew another stomach and began to dig into dessert heaven. We finished the dinner off with coffee and tea.

In general, the food was delicious, the service was exemplary, the price was not absurdly expensive...and it certainly doesn't hurt if you know somebody who works there ;) Highly recommended!

Overall: 4/5

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NYC Restaurant Week: JoJo

160 E 64th St
New York, NY 10021
Tel: (212) 223-5656

JoJo is a cute restaurant tucked in the streets of the itzy ritzy Upper East Side. It was my second time at a Jean-Georges' establishment; and while his restaurants are usually more modern and spacious, JoJo was very different from the usual restaurant scenes that I've been to. Walking in, I felt like I was visiting someone's townhouse - there were two floors in total; and we were seated on the first floor. The cuteness of the place made me want to squeal. I was swept away by the gorgeous decor. Yup, swept away! Like a Princess who just found her castle. This was the second spot we visited during Restaurant Week and I must admit that the quaint decor and Victorian-styled furniture played a huge factor when I booked a table at JoJo's.

The service was attentive and friendly. We encountered some issues at the beginning, though. The hostess couldn't find our reservation and we had lost our reserved table. Turned out there was a glitch in the system as the restaurant had placed my original reservation for the following night instead. Ugh, I know. Thankfully, the hostess was able to squeeze in an extra reservation for us..and all is well again!

The food was great - we had the Butternut Squash Soup, a great dish to fight off the frigid weather. The soup was creamy, but light enough to finish. Even though it was Restaurant Week, it was still relatively quiet and private, which I liked. The seats were pretty small and tight-spaced. The tables for two felt like a small coffee table - very petite and cute, but also very cramped!

For the entree, I had the Salmon (served with mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and truffle vinaigrette). The salmon was cooked medium rare and was soft, moist, and flavorful. If you want something light to balance the creamy soup - this is the dish you'd want to get! The truffle vinaigrette gave the salmon a tangy flavor - this helped avoid the blandness that may sometimes be of concern with lighter dishes. I really liked the mashed potatoes as well - soft, creamy, and fluffy. My foodie partner on the other hand, ordered the Chicken topped with mango salsa, with polenta fries on the side.
While we were hesitant of ordering a chicken entree, we were greedy people and wanted to try every different dish on the menu so we went ahead and ordered the chicken. Bad move! The chicken was not good. How did they mess up the chicken? It was moist on the outside, but rather dry on the inside and flavorLESS. It was quite a disappointment considering this was the only other dish that was offered besides the salmon on the Restaurant Week menu. You'd think they'd be more selective with their dishes?

For desserts, we shared the Passion Fruit Pavlova and the supposedly famous Chocolate Molten Cake. There was no doubt that I completely ditched the passion fruit dessert and dodged right in for the chocolate molten cake. My poor food partner  was left with the healthy..fruity..dessert...while I barbarically dug my spoon into the warm oozing chocolate. Needless to say, one dish was destroyed while the other one was left half-eaten/ barely touched. It was clear which dessert was the better one ; )
I've been told that due to popular demand, JoJo now offers lunch and dinner specials all year round! I would definitely recommend taking advantage of the cheaper deals and dine at JoJo. The atmosphere of this place is gorgeous - dressed with heavy curtains, chandeliers, and different patterned wallpapers - JoJo makes a unique spot for fine dining with the girlfriends and/or boyfriend!

Overall: 3.5/5
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