Steirereck in Vienna

steirereck in stadtpark

Steirereck the restaurant exists as a world in itself, enclosed within steely glass walls on the grounds of Stadtpark, in isolation from the city center. As the only restaurant in Vienna on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, impressively cracking the top 10 at No. 9, and with two Michelin stars, it truly is in a league of its own. A meal here is a privilege, and it certainly feels that way as you walk into its magical Narnia like quarters.Read More

New Nordic at Aska

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When a plate of lichen becomes one of the top dishes that you’ve had all year, something you devour rather than flick off, you know that the chef who came up with that idea is doing something exceptional. New Nordic cuisine, with all of its foraged pine needles and flowers, is easy to admire from a distance but up close it might be a different story. Not so with Chef Fredrik Berselius’ take at his newly reopened restaurant Aska, which offers one of the most accessible interpretations I’ve come across. The lichen tasted like real food, resting on top of a luscious slab of heavy, caramelized cream with a savory flavor that was almost uni-like, something that a fat cat would lap up greedily. We’re talking about a fungal algae that brings as much pleasure as does a decadent piece of sushi. To pull that off is very impressive.Read More

The Clove Club in Shoreditch, London

clove club, housed in the shoreditch town hall
clove club, housed in the shoreditch town hall

One club you definitely want to be a member of is Clove Club, a restaurant in London’s trendy Shoreditch neighborhood. Clove Club initially started out as a pop-up and has since found a permanent home at the Shoreditch Town Hall. The unique space is different from your typical high end dining room. The separation of kitchen and dining room does not really exist, the barriers between front and back of the house are broken down so that you can truly have front row seats at this dinner show. One drawback of this setup is that the diner is teased with the amazing smells wafting out of the kitchen, creating a sense of anticipation and longing so that what does arrive is met with the most gratitude. The smells do drive you crazy, similar to checking in on a Thanksgiving meal in the making only to be tortured by the fact that it isn’t time to eat yet.Read More

Belcanto

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The best fine dining restaurant in Lisbon, and perhaps all of Portugal, is Belcanto. It has 2 Michelin stars and is No. 78 on the list of the World’s Top 100 restaurants. It deserves a higher spot than that, in my opinion, and I’m sure it would be if it were in a more high profile region like London or France. It was certainly my favorite meal on my London + Lisbon trip, which included meals at higher ranked places like The Clove Club and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. What’s crazy is that Estela, a restaurant in New York, is ranked higher at No. 44, despite Belcanto’s higher skill level, better ambiance and more attentive service, but I guess when President Obama visits your restaurant it opens a lot more doors for you.   Read More

Semilla’s Vegetable Tasting

There’s a classic interviewing brain teaser that goes, “Why are pot hole covers round and not square,” and you’re supposed to demonstrate your on-the-spot creativity by coming up with as many logical reasons as possible. I felt like I was watching this type of ingenuity unfold when I had the tasting dinner at the vegetable-driven restaurant Semilla in Williamsburg.

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inside the kitchen

Semilla’s ingredients are based on what’s seasonal and what’s available, and on the night we happened to be there, it seemed to be a lot of tomatoes. However, the repeat showings of tomato were not tedious or disappointing, because Semilla managed to extract all sorts of different qualities and flavors from the tomato. Sweet and acidic in a cold gazpacho? Check. Roasted and juicy? Done. Cooked in a tart with shiso like a Japanese pizza? Yes, please. This tomato has a lot of layers.

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tomato gazpacho with smoked peaches and radish and arugula
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roasted tomato with corn and parmesan
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sweet corn chawanmushi
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roasted eggplant with pepper leaves and mussel broth
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house sourdough bread with buttermilk butter

It’s important to note that Semilla is vegetable-driven and not purely vegetarian. They do incorporate meat and seafood in their courses, but the proteins are very much on the sidelines. Some have complained that the tasting menu left them hungry, but that was very much not my experience. Having a bowl of smoky, hearty chicken of the woods risotto will fill you up, and the amazing house sourdough bread will take up even more room, as you take multiple slices and slather on the buttermilk butter.

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tomato salad with cucumber and scallops
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tomato tart
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chicken of the woods risotto
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peach saffron and bitter almond
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tarragon profiteroles with wild blueberries

The restaurant attracts a cerebral food-minded crowd. You could tell that people here were really thinking about what they were eating, but not in an obnoxious sort of way. The atmosphere is relaxed and casually elegant, and the counter seating maintains that informal vibe, despite the serious food that’s coming out of the kitchen. The staff is friendly and not standoffish in that Brooklyn hipster sort of way, and they are more than happy to answer any questions that you have about the menu. One conversation you’re sure to engage in is with your food. Sometimes it can be puzzling, other times it can be thought-provoking, but for the most part it is very enjoyable.


Semilla
No. 5, 160 Havemeyer St (between S 2nd and S 3rd St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 782-3474
Two seatings daily from Tues-Sat