Address: 21 Calle San Jeronimo, San Sebastian

Phone: 34 943 42 2575

We really wanted to experience the pintxos bar hopping that is so famous in the Basque country, so as soon as we touched down in San Sebastian, we went straight to the old quarter area and started eating. Since it was a weekday when we arrived in San Sebastian, the old quarter pintxos bar area was not too crowded, which was good for us since we didn't have to fight the crowd for good food.

Our first stop, Ganbara Pintxos Bar. We heard that Ganbara's specialty is the wild mushroom dish so we ordered a plate. We also had some anchoas, fish roe, peppers wrapped with anchos, jamon croissant, and two glasses of our first Txacholi in San Sebastian. Txacholi is a type of low alcohol sparkling white wine produced in the Basque country, and it's a pretty popular drink in this area. We like that it's low alcohol, bubbly and goes well with pintxos! The anchoas at Ganbara was really good, so was the jamon croissant and wild mushroom egg dish. Since it was just our first stop, we tried not too eat too much as there are more pintxos bars to check out. So off we go, to our next stop- Goiz Barc Argi.

Gan: Pintxos is the basque country equivalent of tapas in Spain. As per wikipedia, it literally mean spike or thorns, which is represented by the toothpick holding up each of this small little bite-size dishes on a piece of bread. In actuallity, the pintxos can be anything from small brochette style dish to more comprehensive cooked to order small portion of dishes. We are seeing a lot of similarity between Japanese and Spanish cuisine in this trip.. seeing that the Japanese has the izakaya. Both pintxo bars and izakaya are bars that serve alcohol and accompanied small little dishes. I'm quite sure the alcohol was the origin of the intent and the little food dishes are there to attract more customers but as any culture with passion for food, the dishes evolved and turned into the focus and attraction. After all, there's only so much you can really do with alcohol as opposed to food.

The first time I saw Tony Bourdain's Spain-San Sebastian episode, I was already hooked to this region and the pintxos hopping. As Juan Arzak personally told us while we were dining at Arzak, in Europe the restaurants are a source of many food inspiration and in South East Asia region we are known by our street food. It's very true, I feel, that as we get wealthier in our culture, our food evolved together with it. The origin of these inspirations usually come from the food that ordinary people eat everyday. In Asia we have the hawker food, and in Western countries, there's the bar food. In Spain, there's pintxos and tapas!

Ganbara's specialty was its mushrooms. As we slowly begin to see the many different idiosyncracies of the Spanish cuisine, the pintxos and tapas has many differences as well. There's specializations in certain produce (mushrooms, shrimp-gambas, meat-carne), food temperature (hot-cooked, cold), and regional styles (basque, catalan, galician). And I have to say, the mushrooms are amazing in Ganbara. The very friendly owner got us a plate of mixed mushrooms simply cooked with egg. The mushrooms are good soaking agent so the sauces are well soaked with the runny scrambled egg sauce. We had a mixture of chanterelle, woodear and porcini. It was very appetizing. The aroma and the flavor was great. It's just a bit steep in price.. I think it was about EUR15 but it was definitely worth the try.

Paco Meralgo


c/ Muntaner 171, Barcelona (Hospital clinic metro stop)

Phone: 93 430 90 27

About Paco Meralgo...Gan wasn't too excited, at first, about dining there. We had to make our way to Hospital Clinic metro stop from Sagrada Familia to get to this restaurant and his first impression of the restaurant when he saw it was, "it looked like a chain restaurant". I don't blame him, since he just had his favorite tapas meal in Inopia last night. But don't judge a book by its cover, I told him. As it turned out, he really liked some of the dishes at Paco Meralgo!

Paco Meralgo is a cooked food tapas place, and seems like their specialties are grilled seafood and catalan dishes. Just like the Spanish, we got into the habit of drinking while eating, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. I had a glass of red wine while Gan went with a glass chardonnay. We ordered the broad beans Catalan style, Razor clams with olive oil and lemon, small plate paella, fish and seafood croquettes, beef fillet with black pepper and fried suckling lamb. All the dishes were simple, but spot on in terms of seasoning and taste. The razor clams were just with olive oil and lemon, but it's one of the nicer olive and lemon razor clams I have eaten. The fish and seafood croquettes were amazing as well, the Spanish really knows how to make awesome croquettes! The black pepper beef fillet, very good, and our favorite turned out to be the small plate paella - so moist and to die for!

For dessert, we ordered two torrija de santa Teresa (Catalan French Toast) since we really love the torrija we had in Degustation Wine & Tasting Bar in NYC. But Paco Meralgo's version of torrija was somewhat different from what we had before, but still good. It was coated with egg on the outside and fried just like a regular French Toast, but instead of bread, it has a more "custardy" texture on the inside.

Paco Meralgo dishes and ambience are definitely more refined, but still comfortable and unpretentious. Seems like it's a popular lunch spot for businessman as well. We like this place.



C/ Tamarit 104, Barcelona

Phone: 934 245 231

If you ask me at this point which restaurant I absolutely recommend to eat in Barcelona, it would be none other than Inopia. Inopia is a modern tapas bar owned by El Bulli's dessert chef, Alberto Adria, who is also the famous Ferran Adria's younger brother.

Inopia is not a dessert place, nor is it a molecular gastronomy restaurant. What they served there are just damn amazing tapas. We went to the restaurant around 9pm, and waited at least one hour before we could be seated. Actually, we were offered to "stand" at the bar area in the restaurant, but keep in mind that most people stand and eat instead of sitting down at tapas bars like these. But I was really tired and lazy, so I grabbed two bar stools as soon as they are available! From the first tapas to the last (we ordered 10 dishes, including desserts), everything was absolutely amazing. Gan compared this place to another restaurant we Love in Paris call L'epi Dupin. We adore restaurants that serve AMAZING food at reasonable price, and L'epi Dupin and Inopia are that kind of restaurants.

If you go there, you have to order the croquetas (croquette) caseras de jamon Iberico, Pinchos chorizo with chimicurri sauce, gambeta friegida (fried shrimp) and the patatas bravas (fried potatoes). Best croquetas, best gambeta friegida and best patatas bravas we have eaten so far. Other dishes such as the ensaladilla russa (tuna salad), pincho moruno de cordeno (lamb skewers), lomo de atun la parilla con mojo (toro), "bomb" (huge minced meat croquette) are pretty good too.

Gan: My favorite dishes were the croquetas and gambeta friegida. Still need more research on the origins of croquettes as our experience has been limited thus far to Japanese style. But one thing we observed of the differences between the croquettes from these 2 cuisines (Spanish and Japanese) is there's no katsu sauce to accompany the Spanish croquetta. It's served straight up, just very nicely clean olive oil fried croquette with silky smooth potato puree & meat inside. The fried shrimp was similar to the Hong Kong style salt and pepper shrimp. Only they're probably fried with olive oil and the batter is lighter. I was actually a little pissed at the ladies next to us for not finishing it... how do you say "If you ain't gonna finish it, let me at it?" in Spanish? :-)

For dessert, we ordered the lemon sorbet and flan de huevo de la casa and gin & tonic with lemon. Very satisfying. I think we would have ordered more if Inopia wasn't closing that soon! ( the restaurant closes at 11pm).

Gan: This comment is for HC, my favorite gin and tonic mixologist back in NYC. Dude, you're in for some serious competition man! They're just that good. Who would've thought it's just such a common sense, why give small strips of lemon peel when you can give a whole avenue wide of it? Duh! And the final touch of shaved salt rock (??) was perfect.

Bar Churreria Layetana


Via Laietana, 46, Barcelona

Phone: 93 268 12 63

After eating tapas at El Quim and El Xampanyet, we could really use some desserts to clean our palate. First thing that came to mind was churos and hot chocolate. I wanted to try a churos and hot chocolate place around Barri Gotic but it was not on the way back to our hotel. So we decided to find another place, and so happened we ran into Bar Churreria Layetana at Laietana street. It was a small store, nothing fancy, which was what attracted us to it in the first place. We got in and the friendly waitress took our order - hot chocolate, cafe americano and churos with sugar. The hot chocolate at Layetana turned out to be my favorite hot chocolate. It was not too sweet and has a little malt flavor to it, something like thicker version of Milo. And the churos was so fresh and delicious, crunchy, chewy and not too oily. They also serve "yaotiu" or chinese fried dough like thing which we didn't get to try. We told the waitress we really love the churos and hot chocolate and she said we must go back again. Even if she didn't ask, I am definitely going back there again next time, perhaps for breakfast.

El Xampanyet


Carrer Montcada , 22, Barcelona

Phone: 9 33 19 70 03

I remember this tapas bar from one of the Andrew Zimmerman's Bizzare Food Spain episode and really wanted to try their sparkling white wine (xampanyet) and cold tapas ever since. So we went there for lunch today before heading to Museu Picasso de Barcelona, which is just across the street.

The restaurant has been around since the 1920s, so the interior is pretty old-fashion, which I love. To order, you can either let the waiter know what you want, or just go to the bar counter and point at the tapas you'd like to have. We had the canned seafood (mussels, clams, oysters, etc), salmon, cat fish, roasted tomatoes, as well as the house special Cantabrian Anchovies. And one of the reasons why we chose to go to El Xampanyet was for its house special xampanyet, and the sparkling white wine definitely did not disappoint.

Seems like this is a tapas bar liked by both locals and tourists, and I can see why -- Nice/lively ambience, good service, good food, and good xampanyet. Lunch there was also much cheaper than our breakfast at El Quim, thus more satisfying. Be sure to bring enough cash when dining at El Xampanyet and other mom and pop restaurants/tapas bars since they don't usually accept credit cards and even if they do, it seems like Mastercard and Visa are the only accepted cards.

El Quim de la Boqueria


Address :
La Rambla, 91, Barcelona (Inside the Boqueria market)

Phone: 93 301 98 10

For our first breakfast in Barcelona, we ate at El Quim Tapas Bar in Mercat La Boqueria, Barcelona's very famous and impressive indoor market. In New York, breakfast is quite limited to cereal, oatmeal, bagels etc so it's really not that exciting. But breakfast in Spain is a different story. People eat good stuffs such as tapas, hot chocolate, churos here for breakfast, and sometimes with a glass of cava (sparkling wine). I say that's an awesome way to start a day!

It sure wasn't easy communicating with people at the tapas bar without knowing much Spanish. But I think I know the basics - gambas = shrimp, sardina = sardine, patatas = potatoes, anchoas = anchovies. I still need to learn more Spanish so that I can order better food. But the dishes recommended by El Quim's owner - Huevos (egg) with baby squid with squid ink was really delicious. Imagine perfectly fried egg with runny yolk and chewy little baby squids. Why don't anyone make this dish in NYC? He also recommended gambas al ajillo - shrimp with garlic, which I thought was not bad. The 3rd tapas dish we ordered was sardina drizzled with olive oil. All those dishes plus a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice came up to around EUR 50! The food was good, but I thought it was overpriced for the dishes we ordered. Perhaps that's the disadvantage of not knowing Spanish in Barcelona. We have tourists written all over our forehead!!!

La Boqueria


Placa de la Boqueria, 08001, Barcelona

Phone: 93 318 25 84

I have started planning for this Spain trip after watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation Spain episode. I was totally impressed by the Spanish's obsession with food (my kind of people!) and their commitment to bringing their cuisine to a new frontier. El Bulli and its spin offs have made Spain the most exciting culinary center of the world , that's why Gan and I just have to travel to Spain to eat. See how we tip-toed around whether Spain is the best food country in the world, given they already widely recognized best chef in Ferran Adria and best restaurant in El Bulli. For our food tour, we will begin our journey in Barcelona, making our way to San Sebastian, and then back to Barcelona. Our focus in Michelin stars restaurants will be in San Sebastian where we'll be dining at the famous Mugaritz, Arzak and Extebarri. Note we've tried unsuccessfully to get reservations at El Bulli since a year before this trip but Gan thinks it's actually a good thing. Every good story or movie usually have a part deux, or even a trilogy. So you'll just have to tune in for that. No despair as other than the usual Michelin star studded food, there will be lots of tapas/pintxos bars hopping, trying all sorts of food that Spain has to offer.

First stop, the Boqueria Market near La Rambla. Although I have been to many amazing markets in other countries, I thought this market has the best food selections and the produce sold there are unbelievably fresh! The sight and sound, color and beat of the market are unbelievably vibrant, considering it's only off one of the more touristy street in Barcelona, the La Rambla. You can see locals and tourists inter-mingle within the premises. At the fruit stalls, I saw a good mix of popular fruits such as cherries, pineapple, apple, grapes and more exotic fruits such as dragron fruit, mangosteens, lychee and rambutans. Most of the fruit stalls also make freshly squeezed fruit juice. There were also a lot of stalls selling all sorts of candies and chocolate, meat, cured meat such as jamon, seafood etc. Some of the more unusual sightings were a display of rabbits and game birds (that still have their fur on), and cow heads. This Market also houses tapas bars that are highly recommended by many people, and we went to El Quim for breakfast this morning.

Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶


Bak kut teh literally means pork rib tea in Chinese (Hokkien) and it's the combination of herbs, spices and tender pork ribs that make this dish so delicious and popular in Malaysia and Singapore. In Malaysia, people usually have bak kut teh for breakfast, serve with yam rice and fried dough. Thanks to the prepacked herbs and spices, I am able to prepare authentic bak kut teh here in New York City. It's one of the easier dishes to make, you just need to gather the right ingredients and seasoning, let it cook in the pot for at least an hour, and it's ready to serve. Of course, it's a little more work if you like to have the traditional yam rice instead of the white rice. But still an easy dish to prepare overall. Here's the recipe:

Serving size 2

Chinese celery
straw mushrooms (enoki)
shiitake mushrooms
fried tofu skin (fried yuba)
1-2 lbs of pork ribs
2 whole garlic
1 cup of yam (cubed, without skin)
1/4 cup of dried shrimps
1 1/2 cups of uncooked rice
10 cups of water
soy sauce
sweet soy sauce (ABC brand)
oyster sauce
1 satchel of bak kut teh prepacked herbs and spices

1) wash the uncooked rice and set aside.
2) fry yam and dried shrimp in some oil until fragrant. Add the uncooked rice, season with salt and pepper, stir well for a few minutes and cook the rice mixture into a rice cooker (with some water of course).
3) prepare a pot of water and bring to boil. Add the pork ribs, whole garlic, and the bak kut teh herbs satchel into the boiling water.
4) Simmer for about 30 minutes before adding soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce and some salt to taste.
5) Let the pork ribs and herbs simmer for another 30 minutes before adding celery, straw mushrooms and fried yuba skin. Cook for another 30 mins, season with soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce and pepper to taste.
6) Create the dipping sauce by combining chopped garlic, sliced red chilis and soy sauce.
7) Serve the bak kut teh soup with yam rice on the side. Enjoy while it's hot!

Sunday Night Supper


Ever thought of doing charity while dining at your favorite restaurants? God's Love We Deliver, a non-profit organization in New York City is having its Sunday Night Supper event on March 8, 2009 where participating restaurants will make donations to the organization to support their work when you dine there. Just remember to mention it's for God's Love We Deliver when you make reservation.

In case you are not familiar, God's Love We Deliver is a non-profit organization that prepares and delivers high quality meals to women and children in New York and New Jersey area, living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses and are unable provide meals for themselves. Please see their website for more information on the organization and the event.

Notable Participating Restaurants:
Bar Boulud
Blue Water Grill
Del Posto
Dos Caminos
Dos Caminos Soho
Dos Caminos Third Avenue
Fatty Crab Uptown
Nice Matin
See More Restaurants

Rose House


Address: 38-10 138th St, 1st Fl, Flushing, New York (Queens Crossing Mall)

Phone: 718-465-1670

Rose House was first opened by a Taiwanese artist, Robert Huang in London because of his love for English Tea culture. The tea house is so popular that it now has approximately 50 stores worldwide at big cities location such as Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul etc. In New York, Rose House can be found in Queens Crossing Mall - with its "over the top" interior/concept (think china with rose designs and waitresses in maid uniform), it's a reflection of Asian's love affair with manga like (Japanese comic) fantasy world. But it's a cute and relaxing place to sit and drink tea or enjoy high tea that comes with assortments of biscuits, cookies, sandwiches etc. Rose House also offer pretty rose tea gift sets and specially designed Aynsley China for sale.



61 Lexington Avenue, New York (btw 25th and 26th Street)

Phone: 212-518-4089

There are quite a few Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwich) places in the city. But there are only two that Gan and I really like. One of them is Banh Mi Saigon Bakery in Chinatown, and the other, is the newly opened Baoguette in Kips Bay area. We like the Banh Mi at Baoguette because the baguette is really fresh and toasty, and the filling - Pork Terine, Pate, Pulled Pork, pickled vegetables and herbs are delicious. But probably because of its location, the Banh Mi at Baoguette is slightly more expensive than those in Chinatown ($5 vs $3.75). But I am sure people who live and work around Kips Bay area would be perfectly happy to pay $5 for a good sandwich. I would too.

Baoguette - Pork Terine, Pate, Pulled Pork, Fresh Herbs

Cafe's interior

Chefs and Owners - Thao Nguyen and her husband Bao Huynh

Baoguette on Urbanspoon

Valentine's Day @ Zenkichi

We ate at Zenkichi in November and for some reasons, they have my email address and sent me an email about a month ago regarding their Valentine's Day specials. It was not an "easy" process to get the reservation, they made me fill in a form and told me they'll call me back to let me know if I got the reservation. (Of course, I did get the reservation). It also turned out that my other friends Wan Yin and Chee Ping were also interested in the Valentine's Day special but Gan and I didn't want to double date, so they got a different reservation/time for Zenkichi, with another couple, Oi Yen and Nick. Their dinner was at 5.30pm, while ours was at 7.45pm, but we ended up visiting each others' booth and chatted during the dinner. It was supposed to be romantic, so I'm sure the other couples in the restaurant must be cursing us out since we were pretty loud.

Normally, Zenkichi's tasting menu is around $48 per person for about 7 courses, but for the Valentine's Day specials, they raised the price quite abit. But it's probably still cheaper than most places in New York City. The kumamoto oysters and nigiri sushi (toro especially) was to die for. I was not surprised at all when the waitress told me the chef used to work as a sushi chef. We also ordered a bottle of Dassai Nigori (unfiltered sake) and I got in trouble drinking just half a bottle. According to Gan, I was pretty obnoxious by the end of the dinner (Thanks Gan). After Zenkichi, we went to Fette Sau and ate more. It was definitely a fun Valentine's Day night! Happy Valentine's Day (or belated) everyone!

Raw Tasting - Kumamoto Oysters, Ma-Saba, Blue Shrimp Sashimi with Tonburi, Maguro Carpaccio, Hokkaido Scallops

Taki Awase - Jidori free range chicken, Japanese Winter vegetables, simmered in traditional bonito broth

Mishima beef tataki with micro leaf garlic-ginger soy sauce

Tiger shrimp & shiitake mushroom tempura

Saikyo miso cod - Grilled black cod in Kyoto miso marinate

Premium Nigiri sushi - bluefin fatty tuna and yellowtail

Nigori rare cheesecake, frozen black sesame moussem, Mini choux cream (choux puff)

Zenkichi on Urbanspoon



505 Columbus Avenue, New York

Phone: 212-873-0200

Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia are known for their one Michelin star Greek restaurant, Anthos in midtown New York City. Anthos is actually one of the two only Greek restaurants in the world that has received Michelin star. That shows how skewed the Michelin rating system is towards French and Italian food. I have also heard that even in Greece, the higher end restaurants are dominated by French and Italian cuisine. So Michael Psilakis should be proud of what he has accomplished so far. Not only did he bring Greek food to the next level, he is leading a wave for more refined, world class Greek restaurants opening in New York City.

We went to Anthos last year and it was definitely an introduction to high end Greek food for us. Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia also own three other restaurants in the city - Kefi, Mia Dona, as well as a gastropub, Gus, that is opening soon. A few days ago, we decided to check out the more affordable Kefi that just reopened at a bigger location in Upper West Side, due to popular demand. Reservation is definitely recommended for dinner as the place was packed when we got there, given that it was during the middle of the week and the restaurant has 200 seats and 2 levels.

The food looks/tastes like Greek to me. According to Chef Psilakis, whenever he created a dish, he would do a “blind fold” tasting test on his mom. As long as she says it tastes like Greek, he knows he is still staying true to his cuisine. But of course, he is known for more refined and creative food. For instance, he created the pickled fries, so instead of having to sprinkle malt vinegar on the fries, the vinegar taste was already “pickled” onto the potatoes pre frying. They were delicious and crispy.

I am not sure how traditional Sheep’s milk dumpling is, but Kefi’s Sheep’s milk dumplings with tomato, feta and spicy lamb sausage dish was amazing. The sauce was wonderful with pine nuts and feta cheese, and the sheep's milk dumplings just melt in your mouth. Their signature meatballs and grilled octopus bean salad were also some of my favorites.

In Kefi, you’ll also notice an all Greek only wine list. It was my first time trying Greek wine and I thought the white wine from Santori region was nice but slightly stronger in taste compared to other wines I am used to. But still delicious. Gan and our friend had Greek dessert wine as well and they liked it.

For desserts, we ordered the walnut cake & walnut ice cream, yogurt with kataifi, almonds, quince, honey & mint, and pomegranate sorbet from Anthos. Other than the walnut cake and walnut ice cream, I was not familiar with the two desserts we ordered. Especially the yogurt, it was creamy, flavorful and unsweetened (well honey sweetens it on the side), so it might not be for everyone.

It was a nice dinner, and I liked most of the dishes we ordered (avoid the grilled sardines salad if you can). It's definitely more Greek comfort food style here at Kefi, but it's nice to have some dishes from Anthos showing on the menu from time to time. Kefi is affordable and you will leave the restaurant feeling full and satisfied, like you’ve just been to a Greek friend’s home for dinner!

Grilled octopus, Bean Salad octapodi stin sxara, revithia, fasolia, tomates liastes

Meatballs, Roasted garlic, olives, Tomato tsautsoukakia

Braised Lamb shank, Orzo arni giouvetsi

Sheep's Milk dumplings, Tomato Pine nuts, Spicy Lamb Sausage anikta tyropitakia, tomates, koukounaria, kaftero loukaniko arniou

Grilled branzino, potato, olive, Tomato lavraki stin sxara, patates, elies, tomato

Pickled French Fries

Walnut cake, walnut ice cream

Pomegranate sorbet from Anthos

Kefi on Urbanspoon

Oyakodon 親子丼


Gan loves oyakodon and I like cooking it because it's really simple to make! It's my default lazy day dish. Oyakondon is a Japanese donburi dish where chicken, eggs, onions are cooked together and served over rice. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients (serving size 2)
2 cups of water
1-2 eggs (beaten)
1 large onion (sliced thinly)
1 boneless jidori leg (lean boneless chicken thigh, cut into small pieces)
2 tbps mirin
1 tbps Hon Dashi (dry bonito soup stock)
1 tbps soy sauce
2 cups of cooked rice (made by 1 cup of uncooked rice)

1) Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a stock pan. Pour in dashi, soy sauce, mirin and onions.
2) Cook the onions in the pot for a few minutes until softened.
3) Add the sliced jidori and let it simmer slowly until the the stock is reduced and the onions are caramelized.
4) Add additional 1/2 cup of water, 1 tbps of mirin and 1/2 tbps of soy sauce to taste, and bring the stock to boil again. Pour in the eggs and mix it in the pot evenly. As soon as the egg is cook, pour the chicken/egg/onion onto two bowls of rice. Serve while hot.



Address: 241 Church Street, New York

Phone: 212-925-0202

I resisted going to Matsugen when it opened last year. Yes, I heard that the soba at Matsugen is made by the Matsushita brothers, apparently famous soba masters from Japan. I didn't want to spend a fortune for soba and other food there, when I can get perfectly good soba from restaurants like Sobaya and Sobakoh. But since I saw that Matsugen is participating in NYC restaurant week, I thought I might as well go check it out and take advantage of the restaurant week menu.

We ordered the restaurant week specials, and it came with wasabi nuts, soft tofu miso soup, kampachi sashimi with spicy ponzu, sushi, crispy shrimp and a choice of seiro soba noodles with hot duck broth or hot mushroom soba. I had the duck soba, which was cold soba with a bowl of hot duck broth on the side for dipping. I thought the soba and the duck broth were nice, but nothing extraordinary. We also ordered additional tempura, which turned out to be a mistake. Usually, tempura is the bread and butter of a soba restaurant, but Matsugen's tempura reminded me of those we get from the supermarket/delis. The batter was thick and heavy, very disappointing. Despite being a high end soba restaurant, not all the dishes at Matsugen are expensive. But the restaurant definitely offers more expensive options if you decide to splurge: sea urchin soba that for $32 and giant prawn tempura soba for $26.

I thought it would have been more appealing if the Matsushita brothers were to open their first New York City soba restaurant in a location that has more warmth to it. The Matsugen interior is just too icy cold for the kind of food they are serving, as though there is a disconnect between the food and the restaurant ambience. Also, when Matsugen markets itself as the high end soba restaurant, people expect first class soba, and all other dishes to be excellent. The soba at Matsugen was good quality soba, but not great. I think I am perfectly happy eating at Sobakoh or Sobaya.

Communal table from the old Restaurant 66

Sea Urchin with Yuzu Jelly - reminded me of the sea urchin with mousseline at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon. Gan and I ordered this while waiting for our table at the bar.


Kampachi sashimi with spicy ponzu

Homemade tofu miso soup

Crispy shrimp

Assorted Tempura

Miso cod fish

Kamo seiro

Matsugen on Urbanspoon



Address: 45 Tudor City Place, New York, NY

Phone: 212-599-5045

It's hard not to talk about Convivio without mentioning L'impero and its former chef/partner Scott Conant (oh yea, check out his "coming soon" self-titled website), who now owns Scarpetta. Apparently, there were much disagreements between Scott Conant and his (former) business partner Chris Cannon at L'impero that the chef decided to leave L'impero for good. Right after Scott's abrupt departure, Michael White from Fiamma took over L'impero as chef and partner. But L'impero under Michael White, only managed to get Two stars from New York Times, which lead to the restaurant closing down in June 2008. But about one month later, the restaurant emerged with a new name, Convivio, a more lively and casual dining room interior, a new menu, and an awesome $59 four course prix-fix dinner, that quickly generated buzz around town and enlisted a bunch of loyal followers. There's enough material here to make up for an Italian Opera by Puccini or Verdi.

At Convivio, the food is Southern Italian cuisine with Mediteranean influence. The Menu is divided into Sfizi (tapas like dishes), Antipasti, Primi (pasta made in house), and Secondi (fish or meat) and the four course prix fix dinner comes with an Antipasti, a Primi, a Secondi and a dessert. For Antipasti, I recommend Quaglia, which is grilled quail skewer with pancetta and vin cotto and Vongole - clams with garlic, tomato and white wine. We've always thought of quail as a good test of a chef's skill as was the case when we had the same bird dish at the Spotted Pig and any other good Cantonese restaurants. For Primi, the Malloreddus or Sardinian saffron flavored gnochetti with crab and sea urchin seems to be the restaurant's most popular pasta dish. I also thought the Fusilli with pork shoulder ragu was really hearty and delicious.

The secondi comes with many exciting options such as Scottadito di Agnello (grilled lamb chops), Manzo alla Griglia (creekstone prime ribeye), Zuppa Trapanese (seafood in spicy tomato brodo), Branzino Nero (Seared black sea bass) etc. I ordered Zuppa Trapanese and really enjoyed it; but I thought the best dish of the night was definitely the Manzo alla Griglia that Gan ordered. The beef was succulent and goes well with hen of the woods mushroom (Maitake mushrooms).

Our friend Alf and Nan have been recommending Convivio for sometime, and we finally understand why they like this restaurant so much, and why this restaurant is listed as one of New York Magazine's Where to Eat 2009, and New York Times' Best 10 New Restaurant of 2008. This chef Michael White from Wisconsin can really cook up some impressive Italian dishes. I can't wait to check out his Northern Italian restaurant, Alto and soon to open Coastal Seafood restaurant, Marea!

Convivio dining room

Fried Cauliflower

Quaglia - grilled quail skewer, pancetta, vin cotto

Testa - pork terrine, honeycrisp apple mostarda, pane rustico

Vongole - clams, garlic, tomato, white wine

Malloreddus - sardinian saffron gnocchetti, crab, sea urchin

Stoccafisso -stoccafisso cod ravioli, sweet sausage, broccoli rabe

Fusilli - neopolitan pork shoulder ragu, cacciocavallo fonduta

Scottadito di Agnello - grilled lamb chops, salsa verde, escarole, tomato, beans

Branzino Nero - seared black sea bass, cuttlefish, garlic braised winter greens, cannellini bean puree

Zuppa Trapanese - scallops, prawns, mussels, spicy tomato brodo, fregola, fennel

Salsiccia d'Anatra - housemade duck sausage, green lentils, parsley, vin cotto

Manzo alla Griglia - 14oz creekstone prime ribeye, fried yukon gold potatoes grilled hen of the woods mushrooms, parmigiano

Affogato al Caffe - "super punch" amaro gelato, freshly-brewed espresso

Pineapple moose layered with pineapple pieces

Sorbetti e Gelati - a selection of freshly-spun sorbet & gelato

Apple Crostata - spiced apples, walnut crumble, caramel gelato

Formaggi - assortment of artisanal italian cheeses served with toasted with raisin walnut bread and fruit compote

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