Restaurant Review – Waters, Fort Worth, Texas

Rating: 4/5

Waters Restaurants

Overall

Simplicity is the key to success, and Jon Bonnell seems to understand that. With a small menu focusing on well made fresh seafood, Waters delivers no frills quality that’s sure to please.

Entrance and Decor

The place looks really nice. It’s fairly open, with a bar area on one side and dining room on the other. The decor is mostly straightforward modern with lots of black, white, and blue. It’s elegant and inviting. There are some fun accent pieces like an oyster shell hanging display in the bar area and some abstracts metal birds hanging above the dining room. It’s not over the top and adds the right amount of flair to the environment. The place looks great when you walk in and sit down.

Oysters

Naturally, we got a dozen oysters for our appetizer. They had 6 different varieties, and we received two of each. The oysters were great, clearly fresh, and came with the standard cocktail sauce, horseradish, and lemon. I love oysters, and they were delicious. I recommend getting oysters to start anytime you go to a nice seafood restaurant, and Waters is no exception.

Main Course

I ordered the crab cakes for my main course, and my companion ordered the ahi tuna steak. Both dishes were excellent. The crab cakes were packed with flavor and cooked perfectly. The crab was tender and fresh, with a nice crispy sear on the outside. My only criticism of the dish is the arugula salad on the side. The salad and the dressing didn’t quite work with the cakes. I would’ve like something with a little more acidity to help cut through the savoriness of the cake. It’s nothing that detracted significantly from the meal, though.

The tuna steak was a little overcooked, more medium than my friend would have liked, but it still tasted delicious. There isn’t much else to be said about the tuna. It was executed simply, allowing the fish to be star of the plate. That’s always important.

Tuna Steak Crab Cakes

Sides

We got the lobster mac ‘n cheese for our shareable side, and it was stupid delicious. It was perfectly creamy, with tender delicious lobster running throughout. The shells were cooked well too, just right. I could’ve eaten just this for my entire entree.

Lobster Mac 'N Cheese

Dessert

I had the tiramisu. It was good, but nothing remarkable. A little thick on the mascarpone, but still made well. The ladyfingers weren’t soggy, and it wasn’t too sweet. It didn’t blow me away, but I’d certainly still recommend it.

Waters Restaurant

Restaurant Review – Clay Pigeon, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Rating: 4/5

Overall: The food is fantastic and boasts of excellent fundamentals. Pick good ingredients, combine flavors that go well together, and plate to highlight the star of the dish. I just wish the interior was a little more inviting.

Entrance and Decor

The location of Clay Pigeon is a little odd, as is the exterior. It sits on a corner, and really doesn’t look like much when you drive by it or go to enter the front door. For the most part, the inside is pretty plain. There are the standard black and brown chair and table sets, stone floors, and brick walls. There’s also a wine cellar adjacent to the main dining. All of this in itself isn’t bad, but the problem is that it doesn’t really suit the place. The cuisine doesn’t match the decor, nor does the level/quality of service. More importantly, they use giant mirrors as decoration, like above the bar. Those mirrors are pretty gaudy with their giant golden frames and don’t go well with the rest of it.

While I think the restaurant is attempting to go for a brutalist look that matches the “back to basics” feel of the cuisine, I think it falls short of the mark. Instead, what the result just feels unfinished, mismatched, and disjointed. So the place becomes a little uninviting when you first step in. Nothing that will ruin your dinner at all, but definitely something that can be improved.

Appetizer

Let’s get on with the food. For the appetizer, I ordered the bone marrow. Now if you haven’t ever tasted bone marrow, you need to. When done right, it’s fantastic, and this place does it right.

Everything in this dish was perfect. The marrow was roasted perfectly, the seasoning was excellent, and even the little salad on the side added a refreshing accent. You can also see that the plating is done quite thoughtfully to put the bone right in your face. Bone marrow is difficult to do properly. It can often come out bland and lacking color. But, this was spectacular.

Main Course

I ordered the braised lamb shank. Now, a braised lamb shank, or really anything braised, should fall apart at the touch of your fork. It should melt upon entering your mouth and release all that sealed in umami right onto your tongue. Eating a well braised “meat on the bone” dish should be an almost sexual experience. You should be able to feel the flavors dripping down your throat before you even swallow it.

Ok…maybe that’s a bit much, but you get the point. This lamb shank did all of that to perfection.

I didn’t need the knife to separate the lamb; it was already molting off the bone, being shed like the skin of a snake. You can see the sauce pooling at the bottom, and what you can’t see is that sauce flavor imbued into the meat in equal measure. Every bite was perfect.

The only criticism I have of this dish is the olives. I don’t think they’re necessary, and the flavor doesn’t quite harmonize with everything else. They seem like an afterthought that should be rethought.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t order desert, in my efforts to remain as keto friendly as possible, so let’s skip to the final thoughts. Here’s the deal: the place isn’t too well known from what I gather, nor is it particularly inviting when you first walk in. I think their clientele probably range to an older crowd. But the food is fantastic. If they made the establishment slightly more vibrant and cohesive, I think this is an easy five stars.

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Delicious, But Should Be Better – Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse Review

Seafood Tower at Jacob's & Co.

Bringing back the restaurant reviews, and the first new one is Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse in Toronto.

Rating: 3.5/5

Overall: When a place puts on airs like this, I expect perfection. Unfortunately, the food was not perfect, so the would be elegance of the establishment just felt arrogant.

Entrance and Decor

The entry pathway is unnecessarily convoluted, though I understand the reasoning behind it. You climb a small flight of stairs to enter the building, and then descend a few stairs to the host desk. The desk is located by a lounge area, which is slightly separate from the main restaurant. In order to reach the main dining area, which we were taken to, you must walk across the floor of the lounge in a circuit, and climb another flight of stairs up to the main dining area. This main dining area, though, is located next to the same stairs you use to enter the building. You can see the main entrance from the dining area, so it’s actually a forced walk through a separate area of the restaurant.

I understand this advertises the lounge and encourages guests to become aware of a different part of the establishment. However, upon reflection, it seems like unnecessary advertising. A place with prices like this shouldn’t need to do something like that. It’s a nice restaurant, we get it.

That being said, the rest of the decor is straightforward and elegant. Standard black tables, comfortable seats, and a basic grey scale color scheme give the place a nice unobtrusive modern finish. It’s clear that the intention is for the food, namely the steak, to be the focus.

There’s also a glass walled display room where the restaurant displays its beef selection. This is located centrally and is actually a great fixture in the restaurant. Putting the premium ingredient on display is a smart choice both psychologically and aesthetically.

Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse

Appetizer

My colleague and I ordered the seafood tower (pictured above). It contained mussels, oysters, shrimp, lobster, scallops, and crab salad.

Let’s talk first about the price. That tower cost $150. For that price, I expect a quality of seafood that transports me into the waves. I should be able to feel the spray of the ocean upon my face, and that feeling ought to live within the product I’m receiving. While this was the case for some of the items there, it certainly was not true for all of them.

The mussels and scallops were both accompanied by a sauce verte which was reminiscent of a cross between a chimichurri and a mint chutney. It worked well with the chilled mussels, adding a nice flavor which complemented the texture of the shellfish well. The scallops, however, were destroyed by the sauce. Scallops are one of the most delicate shellfish, particularly when served chilled. They do not require powerful flavors to complement or enhance them. To add such a strong sauce verte to chilled bay scallops without adding more textured components can almost be considered amateurish. Seared scallops served warm could have handled the complement alone, but not these scallops. As a result, that part of the dish left me wanting. It felt like it was trying to be a completely conceived ceviche, but didn’t quite make it.

The crab salad, while not bad, was unremarkable. Once again, based on how the establishment presented itself, I would expect something like a crab salad, which would ordinarily be simple fare, to be elevated to new heights. It was definitely good, but far from dazzling.

The shrimp and lobster were excellent, but I attribute that to the quality of product rather than anything that was done to them. They were simply cooked and chilled, and their natural flavor was excellent.

In general, the items on the seafood tower that were not tampered with were excellent, and the ones that received some intervention were underwhelming.

Main Course

The main course, not surprisingly, was steak. I ordered a Canadian prime striploin, and my colleague ordered the USDA prime striploin. It should be noted that Jacobs & Co. has Wagyu and A5 Black meat on the menu. I was tempted to give it a shot, but you know, $500 for a 12oz steak is a bit excessive for me.

Let’s start with the cook on the steak. We both ordered ours medium. Mine came out medium well, and my companion’s came out medium rare at best, closer to rare. I personally don’t mind temperature differences much, and neither does she. But, if you’re going to present your establishment the way Jacobs does, it is completely unacceptable to be so much as a few degrees off from the ordered cooking temperature.

Steak

The sear on my steak was a little uneven, resulting in an inconsistent crust. I’m actually not sure how the steak was cooked. It seems it was seared for too short a time, and then finished in an oven. But, the temperature was too well cooked for a short sear, and the tenderness did not reflect a longer stint in the oven, so I’m not quite sure what happened. There was also a single sprig of thyme on top of the steak, which was  a little ridiculous. Add a few, or none at all. The single sprig just looks strange.

The flavor, fortunately, was excellent. The seasoning was perfect, and the accompanying salts that were provided added a sharp enhancement to the already delicious meat. The chimichurri was great as well.

Final Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, the steaks were definitely superior quality, and I am certainly being hyper critical. Jacobs & Co. demands hyper critical evaluation, though. They are clearly striving to be an upper crust establishment, and based on my dining experience, they fall slightly short of the mark. With a little more thoughtful preparation, this place can easily be five stars. In the grand scheme of all restaurants, it definitely deserves a higher rating than I’ve given it. When compared with its peers, though, it still has some growing up to do.

Spectacular in Every Way – Zheng He’s Review

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Zheng He’s, a restaurant named and themed after the explorer, is the venue for today.

Rating: 4.5/5

Overall: The service, decor, and food were all excellent. Not only was this some of the best Asian food I’ve had, it was some of the best food I’ve ever had, period.

Entrance and Decor

The entrance to the restaurant is a descending stairway lit with lantern-style lights. It’s a good introduction to get you in the mood for your dining experience. The host desk is at the bottom of the stairway. The restaurant has an open and inviting feel. The decor is fairly minimalist with some slight Asian accents to add to the theme. The intent is clear, that the restaurant wants an open dining experience that focuses on the food and is appropriate for the entire family. This was accented by the fact that there were predominantly families dining at the restaurant.

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The view from our table was spectacular. The hotel fountain/pond was right next to us, and the beach and horizon were immediately visible beyond that. We actually spent a few minutes taking in the sunset view before taking our seats. The table decorations were also minimalist…in that they were non-existent aside from the Chinese style triangular cloth napkins and chopsticks. All in all, the introduction definitely made me optimistic for the meal I was about to experience.

The Food

Two of us ordered the fixed menu called “Zheng He’s Voyage.” It is a nine course meal for two (but there was certainly enough food to serve three) designed to provide diners with an experience of the entire menu. At 360 AED per person, it’s remarkably well priced compared to similar quality restaurants as well. The third person in our group ordered dim sum and stuffed crab claws separately. There are too many courses to review each one individually, so I’m just going to go over the highlights, but rest assured that everything was delicious.

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The appetizers included a selection of various dumplings and dim sum, and a wonton soup. I particularly enjoyed the barbecue chicken bun, but the other items were also all good.

The entrees is where the meal really picked up. Let’s start with the duck, the restaurant’s specialty. It was a perfectly tender roasted sliced duck cooked with a perfect crisp on the skin, as all duck should be cooked. It was accompanied with Chinese pancakes, sliced cucumber, spring onions, and two different sauces (ginger lime, and hoison). The idea was to wrap the duck, cucumber, and spring onions in the pancake with a drizzle of the sauce. Everything worked together perfectly. The crunch of the cucumbers and spring onions added a great texture accent to the tender duck, and the sauce was exactly what was needed to elevate the dish to the next level. The house specialty was delicious.

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The slow cooked short ribs were also remarkable. They were perfectly tender, sliding off the bone at the slightest touch. The barbecue sauce was the perfect combination of sweet, smoky, and a little tangy. It was incredibly flavorful without being too heavy or overpowering, quite a feat to accomplish with this type of dish. There was a sizzling homemade tofu dish which should also be mentioned. It was brought out on a metal skillet, and a minced chicken and peanut gravy was poured on top of the tofu and skillet at the table. It sizzled and bubbled and added a bit of flare to what might have otherwise been an ordinary dish. It also tasted excellent, the peanuts and chicken providing a nice elevation to the blandness of tofu, so it wasn’t just for show.

The star of the meal, though, was without a doubt the Chilean sea bass with spicy chili sauce. I scarcely have the words to describe how incredible this dish was. Mind blowing? Orgasmic? Unbelievable? Yes, it was definitely all of these things. What I want to talk about, though, is the stunning preciseness of balance that it showcased. The danger with cooking a fish like this in Asian spices and seasoning is losing the delicate flavor of the fish itself. This regularly happens in South Asian cuisine where the flavors of seafood are masked with unnecessarily heavy spices. Going too far in the other direction, however, can also be dangerous as the dish might end up too bland. I have never eaten a dish that was as well balanced as this one. The batter on the fish was light and thin, giving an extra layer to the texture and flavor, but not being overly present. The chili sauce added just enough heat to accent the natural warmth of the fish. And the fish itself, the fish itself! I still have not been able to understand how a battered cubed fish could possibly have been cooked so perfectly, hot and flaky throughout, while still being moist and tender. The fish itself deserves some credit, but this is a fish that is also quite easy to mess up. If you’re going to order anything at this restaurant, this is what I would recommend. I would pay the price of the entire meal just for this dish.

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The desert was an interesting experience and provided a fun close to the meal. Believer it or not, that picture is of what this restaurant called a creme brulee. Rest assured, it’s not a creme brulee. The desert was a chocolate mousse cake, lychee sorbet, and sliced kumquat marmalade. The creme brulee element was that the chocolate mousse did indeed have a layer of torched sugar on top. The flavors complimented each other quite well. The mousse was light, the kumquat marmalade added a nice acidity, and the lychee sorbet provided a light finish. They just shouldn’t call a tulip a rose.

All in all, I think the final picture below perfectly sums up this restaurant experience. This is the best place I have eaten in Dubai, and one of the best I’ve eaten at in my life. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has a chance to eat there.

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Great Food, Confusing Place – Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay

BSK

Time for another review. This time, Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay is on tap.

Rating: 3.5/5

Overall: While most things were good, I suppose my expectations were higher of a Gordon Ramsay vehicle. The food was good, but lacked perfection in some critical aspects, and the decor straddled an awkward line between intimate and open. Overall, definitely better than most, but also definitely short of the upper tier establishments.

Entrance and Appetizers

The entrance is markedly open. You can immediately see into the entire restaurant. There is a cute dessert stand immediately to the right of the entryway as well as a bar and bakery type area to the left. This part of the restaurant is actually perfect. It gives you a fun vibe that makes you want to be part of what’s happening inside. The yellow lighting is also bright and dim at the same time, which is an interesting effect at first, but does get a little odd, as I’ll explain later in the review. We were escorted to our table and greeted by a friendly server who brought us water and bread to start.

This is where the place began to feel a little strange. Once seated, the restaurant seemed like it was inviting diners to be in an intimate space. The lights were dimmer, the settings of rich wood exuded comfort, the music was low, and the top down black server uniforms were fairly atypical of a casual establishment. These things stood in stark contrast to the open floor and the immediately visible inside bar and kitchen areas. The dessert and bread areas also made this a child friendly place. While I love children, this was another thing which contrasted with the more adult aspects of the restaurant. Although, at a place like Atlantis, it certainly makes sense. However, as a pair of young adult professionals, the place seemed slightly out of balance to us, like it was trying to succeed as a casual and fine dining establishment without fully committing to important aspects of either. Pick a side Gordon.

The bread was excellent, clearly freshly baked, and the butter which accompanied it also had an intense saltiness which perfectly complimented the bread. I think the butter also may have been homemade? It certainly seemed so.

The menus were brought to us on thick wooden clipboards. This wasn’t just decorative as the menu was all separate pages actually held in place by the clip of the clipboard. This made it a bit difficult to flip between the pages, and I also had to slide them down a bit to comfortably read the pages after the first one. The clipboard seemed a little unnecessary considering how unwieldy it was. In any case, we proceeded with our order. After seeing Ramsay yell about raw scallops on television for years, I had to order them. My companion ordered the tagliolini for her appetizer.

The scallops were a little over cooked, so slightly rubbery, but not too bad. Fifteen to twenty seconds less would have been perfect. They also weren’t full size diver scallops, which is what I had expected, though it didn’t say that on the menu. The garnish and accompanying puree was excellent, providing a nice accent to the scallops. The tagliolini was spectacular. It had perfectly cooked pieces of lobster, beautiful heat, and a surprising acidity. The flavor was powerful, and the addition of crunchy textures like the spring onions provided a nice contrast to the soft and rich pasta and lobster. The portion size was also substantial for an appetizer, which I always like to see from a restaurant.

Entree

Naturally, we ordered the legendary Gordon Ramsay beef wellington. The wellington came with a truffle mash and roasted carrots, as well as a marrow bone sauce. The wellington was great overall, and the truffle mash was exquisite. The carrots were cooked and seasoned beautifully, and the sauce was just a little tart, and just rich enough to not be overpowering, a nice accent to the already flavorful wellington. There were a couple issues which kept this from being perfect, however. The innermost layer of the pastry was just a bit raw. It didn’t ruin the dish, but it wasn’t perfect. The ducsel in between was slightly too salty as well. Finally, we were told while ordering that the steak is prepared medium, but it came out medium rare. I don’t actually have a problem with medium rare, I like it just fine, but it wasn’t what we were expecting. It seemed another 3 – 5 minutes in the convection over, assuming that’s what was used, would have cooked the pastry through and brought the meat to the expected medium temperature. Despite these issues though, the dish was still an overall success.

Already full from some large portions, we decided to skip dessert, but if I ever return, I’ll be sure to order some.

All in all, it was a good experience, but not quite the perfection I expected from the Gordon Ramsay I have been watching on TV for years.

Some of the Best I’ve Ever Had – Rang Mahal

rangmahalI love food. I love trying new food, cooking food, and generally just enjoying various food related experiences. I realized recently that I don’t have a food section on this blog, so I decided to add one. I’ve decided to attend every restaurant in Dubai that’s opened by a Michelin starred chef and see what all the ruckus is about. There isn’t a Michelin guide for Dubai, so none of the restaurants themselves are actually Michelin starred, but I hope that the chefs will try to maintain comparable standards at all their vehicles.

The first establishment I tried was Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar at the JW Marriott Marquis hotel. The review is below. Enjoy!

Rating : 4/5

Overall: The experience was excellent. The food was some of the best I’ve had, and the service was exceptional. This would have a five star review if not for the oppressively intimate decor and some slight inconsistencies with the food quality.

Entrance and Happy Hour Specials

My companion and I arrived at the hotel and made our way to the restaurant where we were warmly greeted and escorted inside. The entrance way was a long dimly red-lit corridor with cushion adorned booths on one side and artwork on the other. It really didn’t feel like a restaurant, but more like a massage parlor or gentlemen’s club. While not off putting, it was still peculiar, but I suppose that could be attributed to the cultural disconnect. Most people in Dubai probably wouldn’t make that association.IMG_20160715_192543

We were informed of a new Happy Hour special the restaurant was conducting for which we were offered special South Asian flavored cocktails and a selection of appetizers. The price point was actually quite cheap, so we ordered all the appetizers listed and the Indian martini with passion fruit chutney. The drink was excellent. It had a beautiful mix of heat, tartness, and sweetness that really woke me up. Think bloody mary with a little less tomato and more kick. The bar appetizers were great as well. There was a selection of samosas, spring rolls, chicken boti, and squid with tamarind chutney. The potato based samosa filling was seasoned perfectly, and the pastry was flaky and cooked well. The spring rolls were good, but nothing to write home about. The chicken boti was juicy and had a perfect amount of heat, but was strangely garnished with broccoli. The broccoli didn’t really add much and should probably be replaced with something else. The squid was well cooked, and the tamarind chutney with it added a beautiful sweet and sour accent. I generally don’t like South Asian style seafood because the spices usually overpower the natural flavor of the seafood, but the seasoning on the squid showed a remarkable restraint, and the chutney was gentle enough to let the squid shine.

The only rub was that happy hour specials were not available at the table, so we had to sit at the bar area and finish this introduction before being permitted to go to the table. This area was completely empty, so it was a little odd sitting there rather than in the dining room. I suspect they are trying to encourage use of the bar area more, but it’s a tough sell when there are dedicated bar venues in the same hotel that people would likely prefer to go to. We were also informed of a promotional prix fixe menu option. Effectively, the diner receives a different fixed menu which reduces in price on each subsequent visit up to 4 or 5 visits. I looked at the menus, and they didn’t contain any of the dishes I had scoped out from my earlier investigation of the menu. It also seemed like we were being solicited which was a little off putting and not becoming of an establishment striving for high quality.

In any case, we completed our happy hour intro and were taken to our table.

Appetizers

After seeing how delicious the bar food was, I was excited to see what the actual meal would bring. The decor in the dining room immediately strikes the eye. There are large tapestry-like works of art on the wall, accented with broad twisting columns throughout the dining room, all set amidst a warm red glow. Putting all these elements together was a bit much. The restaurant is not billed as a romantic establishment, but even if it was, the intimacy should be scaled back a little. South Asian food provides warmth such that a decor which shadows the diner this much is not really needed. Turn on the lights Atul.

We were presents with a traditional basket of papdi and a selection of chutneys to go with it. This was pretty unremarkable. While not bad, it wasn’t anything extraordinary or different. The chutneys were good, and the papdi was crunchy and well seasoned. I’ve found that this initial bread offering is pretty hard to screw up, even in the worst of Indian food establishments.

On to the menu. Being an ardent fan of chana chaat (or as some people might call it, the mixed plate); I immediately knew that’s what I wanted to order for my appetizer when I saw it on the menu. I have to tell you; this was some of the best chaat I’ve ever tasted, surpassed only by the one my mother used to make, of course. It was also unique in that I was presented with three different chaats served in what was reminiscent of a miniature sushi boat. There was a traditional chana chaat, and a crispy fried potato chaat, and a sprout. The first and second were fantastic. The chana chaat had a wonderfully tart and refreshing mix of tamarind and mint chutney with a base of yogurt. The chana inside were cooked perfectly, retaining their flavor without becoming mushy. The crispy potatoes were a unique twist on the traditional diced and boiled potatoes usually found in a chaat and were seasoned equally as well. The sprout chaat, however, was far too salty, to the point of being inedible. I suspect it was accidentally seasoned too much or not checked before being sent out. I informed the server, and it was replaced with a less salty one, and I enjoyed that as well.

All in all, the appetizers were good, and we moved on to the entrees.IMG_20160715_201450IMG_20160715_195740

 

Entrees

I wanted to try as much as I could, so I ordered the nihari (braised beef curry) and the tawa champ (grilled lamb chops). The nihari was good, but it didn’t quite match up to the nihari you would get at a niche Pakistani place which specializes in it, like Sabri Nehari in Chicago. The curry/sauce was a little thinner than typical and slightly more anemic in color. This is usually an indication that it was wasn’t cooked long enough or didn’t have enough oil added. The meat was wonderfully tender as it should be and seasoned perfectly, though.IMG_20160715_205105

The lamb chops, however, were out of this world and not at all like I expected. I can scarcely remember ever tasting lamb this delicious. They came in a spicy curry sauce and were garnished with various herbs. The lamb melted in my mouth and flooded it with all the beautiful South Asian spices I would expect. Slight accents of citrus provided the right acidity to cut through some of the heat, while the ginger and cilantro offered an excellent accent and lifted the flavor higher. I would return to this restaurant just for this dish.

Desert

This was the highlight of the meal. I ordered the kulfi, and I cannot explain in words how incredible it was. I wish I could have gotten a good picture, but the lighting didn’t allow it. It was a layered kulfi with multiple different flavors: traditional, pistachio, and various fruit flavors. The placed was garnished with different berries to add a little sweetness. I was in love after the first small spoonful and proceeded to eagerly eat the rest. It was gone before I knew, and I was left debating whether to order another one. I didn’t want it to end, and it was a perfect close to a delightful meal.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for an upscale South Asian dining experience with some unique twists on traditional Indian classics.