Sunday, May 20, 2007

Nobu, New York New York

"I've eaten at Nobu"

Perhaps 'back in the day' that made you cool, but now with a Nobu in seemingly every city with a population bigger than Columbus and a sushi joint on every corner in Omaha I'm not really sure it makes you anything more than lighter in the wallet.

Don't get me wrong, the fish at Nobu is beuatiful and tasty, but the portion sizes are tiny to the point of humor. As another yelper noted, "If there was ever an argument that a restaurant's quality and quantity are inversely proportional, Nobu would be Exhibit A."

Three mini-sashimi tacos for $18? Sure the lobster was fresh, but for $18 I could buy a fresh lobster and prepare it myself. $6 for a single piece of sea eel? Cheaper and better elsewhere. $4 for Octopus? I get 3 pieces for the same price in LA. On a Saturday night they were also out of Toro ($8 a slice) and Abalone ($7) as well.

Ironically, for a sushi shoppe, the one thing propping Nobu up was their desserts. The Bento Box was decently sized, wonderfully rich, and presented beautifully. Similarly the Coconut Jasmine Bombe was deliciously complex and infinitely smooth with just enough bite from the Jasmine to make it unique. The mochi, served in cherry blossom, green tea, and chocolate was standard fare.

While the crowd was pretty and the platings even prettier, there are simply better sushi options, especially in big cities. Had we not eaten at Il Mulino the night before and still been a little stuffed, the meal itself would have probably led to a late stop at Magnolia for a cupcake. Servers were mostly attentive but somewhat aloof. Overall, certainly not worth the price, even if the area was quite interesting and Alexander Grey's CoSM worth the trip alone.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but Social House in Vegas, Koi in LA, and even Tyfoon in Columbus were more fun and the fish not much different in quality......yet a whole lot cheaper.

You're paying for a name and an image.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Il Mulino, New York New York

Small, dark, intimate, and beautiful - My family and I made reservations almost one month in advance for a Saturday night and were rewarded more than we could have expected for the effort.

A meal beginning with multiple courses of complementary appetizers; cheese, salumi, garlic bread, italian bread, roasted mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower gratin, olives, bruschetta...all served within 2 minutes of taking a seat. Waiters in tuxedos pace themselves adequately and allow you to get a generous sampling of the appetizers before arriving and presenting menus (hardly necessary) before reciting an ever changing menu of 20+ specials from their head in immaculate detail. Sure, prices are not given and most of the specials top $40, but once you taste the food it really doesn't matter.

For our mains, I selected a squid ink pasta with dungeness crab and mushrooms that tasted divine. The perfect al dente pasta was complimented with a very mild garlic mushroom sauce whose woodsy flavor wonderfully complimented the delicate crab. The portion was enormous and after the hefty sampling of appetizers I actually had to cut myself off in order to enjoy dessert.

My mother, aunt, and sister who were also in attendance sampled everything from a flawless chicken marsala with a wine sauce that tasted like perfectly aged balsamic to a lobster ravioli in cream sauce with carrots and root vegetables to langostinos in red sauce that tasted like the freshest heirloom tomatoes with only a hint of salt. Everything was plated creatively, pleasantly, and enormously without a hint of pretense.

Having experienced the meal and loving Tiramisu more than any other dessert I've yet tasted, I simply had to sample what Il Mulino had to offer and despite my fullness it was the best decision of the meal. The best, bar none, Tiramisu on the planet was served in a large square with buttery ladyfingers that held their firm texture despite copious espresso-laden marscapone and a warm yet crispy cocoa crust with the perfect splash of rum and cinnamon. It was heaven on a plate and even though I was beyond full afterwards I devoured every bite (aside from the few I spared for family to sample....after all, they are family.)

The other desserts, a wondefully thick New York Ricotta Cheesecake with fresh strawberry compote, and seemigly weightless profiterroles wrapped around creamy handmade vanilla icecream with a heavy dark chocolate sauce were equally amazing.

Following the meal a delciously complex house coffee/espresso was served on the house along with traditional Italian grappa. The whole meal took nearly 2.5 hours and cost $300 with tip (no alcohol) and was entirely worth it.

No pretense, perfect presentation, large portions for large dollars, and the most attentive and friendly waitstaff I've encountered. When I travel I make it a point to never try the same restaurant twice, but honestly I think I may go back to Il Mulino the next time I'm in New is that good.