tzatziki time

tzatziki

Thick Greek yogurt spiked with garlic, cucumber, dill and drizzled with olive oil: there’s never a bad time for tzatziki.

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top 100: sushi yasuda

sushi yasuda

The conundrum of sushi in New York City is that it covers the waterfront, so to speak: from an exorbitantly priced kaiseki degustation to an all you can eat chop shop or chain, the options very often exist cheek by jowl. For many fish lovers the sushi experience in this city has been both dumbed down and made uncomfortably pretentious, leaving little precious middle ground. Behind a Mondrian-style glass facade on a nondescript block near Grand Central Station, however, there’s an antidote: Sushi Yasuda, an airy interior composed almost entirely of butter-colored bamboo planks. Slightly different finishes and a geometric pattern on a few of the walls, creates a sense of dimension and calm. This is most definitely not Haru. Nor is it Masa. And while the service is tolerable, if just a little brusque, I’d gladly chalk that up to the vagaries of cultural difference for Chef Naomichi Yasuda’s empyrean expertise. His sushi is simple. It’s delicate balance reduced to the selection of impeccable raw ingredients treated with respect. A starter of morokyu is the perfect example. What could be simpler than cucumbers with soybean paste? Yet these cukes are like none you’ve tasted before. Blanched to draw out a bit of the excess moisture, the translucent knobs become sweet, almost creamy, and an ideal foil for salty, piquant soybean paste. Yasuda is renowned as a tuna specialist – he typically offers seven or eight options for tuna fattiness – but the hagashi toro, the super high-fatty tuna taken mainly from the top of the tail, drops like rain onto my tongue. I’ve never had sashimi like this before. So, too, the giant clam, often tough and chewy but here as sinewy and delicately fibrous as young artichoke. King salmon, in both red and white varieties is so silken and pure of flavor that I wish I had ordered more. In fact, I wish I hadn’t made theatre plans and could – as tradition dictates – move on to a course of sushi with rice. (I’ve eaten all my fish without pausing to dip into the chef’s special shoyu, or soy sauce!) When the bill arrives – with a pristine box of bamboo toothpicks – I appreciate that I’m paying to have eaten something special without the guilt that comes from seeing a comma in the total. On one hand, Sushi Yasuda isn’t your quotidian fish bar, but on the other, it shouldn’t be restricted solely to special occasions or expense accounts either. Three cheers for the middle ground; it’s the closest you’ll get to an authentic Tokyo dinner in the Big Apple: refined, informal, wonderfully sublime and worth every penny.

morokyu - cucumber with soybean paste

sashimi like butter

toothpicks

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live blog: dakos

For Cretans the secret of their storied longevity is simple. They eat anything and everything the island’s mineral-rich soil produces, consuming loads of fruit, vegetables, greens, legumes, herbs, cheese, bread, and washing their Mediterranean meals down with an excellent, earthy local wine. Today in Aghios Nikolaos I discovered dakos, a deceptively simple Cretan salad of tomato, cucumber, feta cheese, olives and rusk. It could be considered a close cousin of panzanella – if only the Italians twice-baked their bread to the texture of biscotti. Drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar, it’s a surprisingly substantial light meal with a satisfying crunch and a clean, fresh taste. The challenge in recreating dakos when I get back home is going to be figuring out how to get my hungry little hands on those rusks.

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someone’s in the kitchen with asperger’s

After three and a half hours of picking and poking – not to mention parsing and photographing – the 20-odd meticulously composed plates that comprised our extravagantly theatrical meal at Atera, my friends and I were asked if we wouldn’t mind repairing to the lounge for a digestif and some treats. Another party, it seems, had booked our seats for the second dinner seating of the evening. Though it’s hard to imagine anyone turning up at 10pm for a meal of such Brobdingnagian proportions, it’s even more difficult to refuse the personal request of the chef, Matthew Lightner, the latest critics’ darling staking a claim on our little island by way of Portland, Oregon. (cf. Andy Ricker, Pok Pok NY, et. al.) His menu-free $150 nod to the sublime, the ridiculous, and the foraged is not only one of the hottest tables in New York right now it’s also one of the smallest, hosting just 17 diners at a time – most of them seated Teppanyaki-style around a poured concrete bar. (It’s a look evocative of a very particular mindset: sort of Soho by way of Stockholm and Shinjuku, i.e. unconsciously self-conscious or, some might say, pretentious.) To stubbornly stake one’s claim to a seat seemed unsportsmanlike, tantamount to not giving up your seat on the subway for an old lady, so the four of us gladly took chef Lightner up on his request and followed the host out of the restaurant, past the Water4Dogs canine rehab center, and into an elevator which soon descended and opened to reveal a slick, leather clad bolthole with us as the only occupants. The chef arrived soon after with ice cream sandwiches and a crate of truffles cleverly masquerading as tartufi. As a henchman appeared by his side, pouring from a bottle of Nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur, and expounding on “the beach of life,” I was suddenly overcome with the sneaking suspicion that we were under observation. (Was it because I took notes throughout dinner? Or because one of my companions happened to be a West Coast food critic? When my photographer friend suddenly pulled out the Canon EOS-1DX and start snapping was it obvious? More to the point, why were we the only guests in the underground bat lair?) Freed from the intense intimacy of the restaurant we thought we’d be able to relax and speak at leisure about the imaginative cocktails (spot on, and with proper ice, too) the exquisitely presented food (imaginative, yes; though thoughtful to a fault) and the vast effort undertaken to find, let alone create, every forkful just consumed (equal parts Sherlock Holmes and Hercules, there’s a case to made for Asperger’s Syndrome in the kitchen) but that was well-nigh impossible with a man in black studiously at attention nearby. Waiter or warden I wondered? We could leave if we wanted, right? Comfortably uncomfortable, we called it a night. With alcohol and tip it came to a cool $300 per person. Together we quickly chatted outside on the sidewalk, grateful for an unobserved breath of fresh air. Consensus was quickly reached: the yumminess factor was noticeably absent from tonight’s extravaganza. Formally exquisite, cerebrally engaging, Atera is nevertheless like so many Nordic films - emotionally stunted. Still, if money were as easily foraged as oxalis articulata, I’d be back on my perch for a second show – in disguise, of course - quicker than you can say green almonds, yuba, fringed rue, cucumber, & fresh almond milk with a side of rock lichen crackers.

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