Monday, April 23, 2012

TriBeCa - Chef's Tasting Menu

This is the 7th Course: Silere Merino Lamb: I put this picture here first to seduce you
and tempt you what is more to come!  This was master piece of artwork that I did felt
was a shame to eat it, but was also glad that I ate it as it was just so...DELICIOUS!
TriBeCa is a little gem well hidden in Parnell, located in the historic Foundation Building.  If you've been to famous restaurants such as Meredith's, French Cafe and Vinnies and really enjoy the food there then you'll be enchanted here at TriBeCa.  The Head Chef, Hayden McMillan who has worked at these delightful restaurants shows off his talent and experience in his wonderful creations at TriBeCa, which I sampled with some great friends over a couple  of equally delicious wine.

The menu changes with season which I love seeing at any restaurant, this keeps the price down and food at its prime, plus you get to sample different dishes overtime so you'll never get bored.  What is even better, according to whoever wrote the wine list, the wines are compiled together to help match the wonderful seasonal dishes created by the Chef.  There are many menues on offer, from the simple bar menu to the party choice canapé menu, and if you like degustation like myself there is a Five Course or Chef's Tasting Menu.  Unfortunately when it comes to degustation it is usually designed for the whole table, so if you were like me, where your friends have made the choice to have the Chef's tasting menu before you arrived, you sort of go along with it (you wouldn't want to sit there and have a 3-course dinner while they have an 7 course degustation!), nevertheless, there was no fight from me as I wanted to try out the Chef's Tasting Menu any way, so they must've read my mind!

Checkout the awesome glass on the right - fit for a mighty Cloudy Bays Chardonnay.
I love reading the menu before going to a restaurant for many different reasons.  Firstly, I get to have an idea what is the type of restaurant I am going to and the possible dishes I would like to have if there isn't anything better from "today's menu".  Secondly, sometimes whoever those menu writers are, like to use "fancy" or "technical" words in the menu and it adds difficulty in deciding on the dish since you'll probably spend more time deciphering what the word means and most likely will have to ask the waiter for an explanation, sometimes from past experience not always the most informative.  Doing a little research online in advance is always good in that I read the review of dishes other people have sampled, what dish they found good etc...Surprisingly, I think this is the first time I've read ALL POSITIVE reviews from a restaurant - for TriBeCa and I'll be definitely adding another positive review to it too!

So a little bit of history about TriBeCa, and why I keep the name formatting this way.  TriBeCa is actually an acronym based on "Triangle Below Canal" Street.  The restaurant owners, Mark and Pauline Walynetz were first brought together from this neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA and has owned TriBeCa on 8 George St, Parnell, Auckland since 1997.  This is a delightful place, it is advertised as informal, which could be why one of our friend did turn up with a t-shirt.  The rest of us did dressed up for the occasion to match for the beautiful glass and serve wares as well as the elegant and yet simple decor, most importantly we were all relaxed and enjoyed the evening with our different attire.  Now, wearing a fancy shirt to a restaurant doesn't always the smartest idea.  TriBeCa was unique in their style of welcoming guests by showering them with expensive champagne!  Yes you read right, the guy with the fanciest shirt on our table ended up wearing most of his champagne for the rest of the night.  We were more sorry for the waitress who did tried very hard to balance the two glasses of champagne after she offloaded the bottle of Pegasus Bay Riesling, but eventually failed epically and we didn't see her for the rest of the night on our table...Usually this is when the restaurant should offer free drinks (besides from the one that was tipped over) for this unfortunately incidence...but they didn't...which was a shame as the gesture/token is what it matters as none of us were there to be covered by champagne.

First Course: Southern Glory Oysters with clams, bacon and in
what I assume is either lobster/scampi bisque flavoured with saffron.
Now to get into the business part: The Chef's Tasting Menu!  Now something interesting, usually when you have a degustation menu there is usually the 'matching wine' option, but you won't find it here at TriBeCa's menu which I do not find it a good/bad thing to be honest!  You can order what you prefer or you can ask for matching wine suggesting which is pretty much the same thing!

Second Course: Mount Cook Alpine Salmon with deep dried nori, wasabi ice cream,
celery and coriander celery, pumpkin seeds and meringue.  I have to apologise that
this photo is a bit out of focus, the dish look so delicious I just couldn't wait to eat it! 
Third Course: South Island Scampi with heirloom tomatoes, watermelon gazpacho,
crackling and basil ice cream on a tomato consommé.
To awaken our taste buds, the first course was quite extraordinary - Southern Glory Oysters.  The freshness of the oysters and the clams, the richness of the saffron broth and finished off with the hearty bacon bites, it was a union of heavenly flavours.  This went very well with my Cloudy Bays Sauvignon Blanc.  Now a confession, I am not really a big Sauvignon fan, I usually opt for more bold and big red wine or the sweet white wines.  However, over the years I have found that the dryness of the Sauvignon Blanc goes very well with seafood and since the first three courses were going to be seafood, I did thought it was a very well matched wine for me.

Following the lovely oysters we were served with the exquisite Mount Cook Alpine Salmon with deep fried nori, wasabi ice cream, celery, coriander and pumpkin seeds.  For those who are unfamiliar with nori, it is basically Japanese for seaweed while wasabi is their horseradish.  Now you're thinking did I really say deep-fried nori and wasabi ice cream?  Yes I did!  The pan-fried Salmon and the wasabi ice cream played very well with the contrast and also played down the intense spiciness of the wasabi.  For wasabi lover like myself, you'll find it on the dull side, nevertheless it complemented the salmon very well.  The deep fried nori was AMAZING!  It was coated with icing sugar and played a key role for providing the all and important texture.  The intense, concentrated flavour of the seaweed lightened slightly with the icing sugar stole the show on the plate for me.  Overall, a great dish, but with all the other intense flavour it did shadowed the salmon, which was suppose to be the star.

The last seafood dish and the third course was the South Island Scampi with heirloom tomatoes, watermelon gazpacho, crackling and basil ice cream.  WOW for the divine tomatoes, these were the sweetest and most intense tomatoes I have ever tasted!  I am a huge fan of scampi, sadly like the previous dish, it was shadowed by the other intense flavours on the plate.  The tomatoes and basil are the classic Italian duo, but together overpowered the delicate, sweet and fresh scampi.  This course was overall very light and refreshing, a great way to end the sea journey before migrating onto the land.

It was time to change wine to go with the rest of the
delicious courses - Coal Pit Pinot Noir 2006.
Fourth Course: Homemade 3 month Aged Beef Bresaola
with white and purple beetroot, pickled tiny radish
purple radish, port and horseradish cream.

The first meaty dish was the stylish plated Homemade 3-months-Aged Beef Bresaola with white and purple beetroot, pickled tiny radish, purple radish, port and horseradish cream, this was a beautiful dish to admire and to sample.  Subtle taste of the aged beef, creamy horseradish, balanced out with the citrousy pickled tiny radish and complemented with the crunchy purple radish textures.  I changed my wine to the 2006 Coal Pit Pinot Noir for this dish, but found it a bit overpowering and should have gone for the Cloudy Bays Chardonnay for this and the following dish, afterwards then change to the Pinot Noir for the sixth and seventh course.

Fifth Course: "Caprese" with buffalo mozzarella fettuccine, live herbs, green tomato
and schezuan sorbet and sourdough crostini.
Now for one of the most sensational dish, be warned, if you have sensitive teeth like I do, you may find it the coldness hurts your teeth a bit, nevertheless, absolutely delicious!  The fifth course, "Caprese" with buffalo mozzarella fettuccine, live herbs, green tomato and schezuan sorbet and sourdough crostini.  What intrigues me is what they meant by "live herbs", how does that differ from the other herbs used?  Does that also applied to the tomatoes - live fruits?  I think they may have gone a little bit overboard on the "fancy wording" side!  Schezuan is very famous for their really spicy and sour dishes, if you go to Schezuan you always prepare yourself for the burning palette from their famous chillies.  The name "Schezuan sorbet" was very misleading for me as I was expecting something very spicy and it wasn't...Despite the confusing description from the menu, the textured mozzarella fettuccine, crunchy crostini with the intense sorbet and sweet tomatoes, what a heavenly union there!  Everything is so well balanced, just absolutely incredible!  Kudos to the chef!

Sixth Course: Manuka Smoked Duck Breast with Liver Parfait, buttercup purée,
fresh figs, roasted hazelnuts, freeze dried apricots and autumn leaves.
Seventh Course: "Silere Merino Lamb "eye of round", goat's cheese cream,
heirloom baby carrot, sweet onion, roquette and dried olive
For the meat lovers, be prepared to salivate!  The next two dishes were matched very well by my glass of pinot noir.  The Manuka Smoked Duck Breast with Liver Parfait, buttercup purée, fresh figs, roasted hazelnuts, freeze-dried apricots and autumn leaves.  I wonder from the scientific point of view how they freeze-dried the apricots, whether it was done with dry-ice or with liquid nitrogen? you think work would mind if I borrow some dry-ice/liquid nitrogen to find out?  The freeze-dried apricot gave an interesting texture but very intense apricot flavour.  I love the smoothness of the buttercup purée, top notch!  Hmm for the roasted hazelnut, it went incredibly well with the hearty duck breast and fresh figs, impeccable combination there and definitely the favourite of most of us!

The last meaty dish was the Silere Merino Lamb "eye of round", goats cheese cream, heirloom baby carrot, sweet onion, roquette and dried olive.  Architecturally, this was an impressive dish.  Having the round lamb standing tall with the halved carrots surrounding the sandy dried olive, overall a very dramatically laid-out dish.  Not everyone liked the dried olive, I did not find it too olive-y in taste and it was more like eating salt flavoured with olive...aside from this the lamb was cooked to perfection!

Throughout the evening, the staff make sure everyone is served at the same time, spending a short time explaining what the dishes are before disappearing away.  The waitress promptly refilled our water and wine, and dishes were cleared away efficiently but not too speedily, which made the evening very enjoyable.  While one of the Port we ordered was not available, the waitress brought over another equally delicious 20 years Port and what is even better, because this was not what we ordered, she gave us just that much more in the glass, now that is what you called service!

Left: my delicious 2009 Spy Valley Nobel Savuignon.  Checkout
the difference between this and the 2007 De Bortoli Noble
one Semillon, such intense dark orange colour!

The usual refresher you find at the restaurants is some form of citrousy sorbet which I have sampled a variety  of over the years.  Here at TriBeCa, something very different was on offer.  Freeze dried plum with green tea sorbet and meringue.  I like the plum, the freeze dried process did wonders to retain the deliciousness of the plum while giving it a funky texture.  This is well contrasted with the green tea ice cream.  I did felt the meringue didn't need to be there as I am preparing myself for desert so do not need my refresher over-sweet.  Nevertheless, a very successful dish!

Refresher: Freeze dried fruit with green tea sorbet and meringue.
Eighth Course: "Crunchie Bar" valrhona chocolates mousse and ice cream,
honey comb, honey and mandarin
Lastly chocolate! who can refuse chocolate...crunchy honeycomb (or hokey pokey) accompanying the rich dark velvet chocolate ice cream which was lightened by the chocolate mousse!  The only thing bad about this dish is there wasn't enough!  Well...for us it wasn't enough so while the boys indulged in some cheese and 20 years old port and we girls ordered more deserts and some more desert wine.  I really love my desert wine sweet if I was only having the wine for desert.  But more often these days I like my desert one a little bit citriousy to accompany the mouth-watering desert I am indulging.  For this purpose I ordered the 2009 Spy Valley Nobel Sauvignon, definitely a lot lesser sweet than the Noble one Semillon, but equally delicious and has a fine fruity aroma with it, a great accompaniment with my extra desert I ordered!

The last dish I ordered was also the most impressive dish.  It wasn't part of the Chef's Tasting Menu but oh boy was I glad that I ordered it!  I was first impressed by the size of the fejioa.  If you take into account that the fruit would've shrunken during pan-frying and baking, it was still ~4cm in diameter after all that, I did wonder how big it was to begin with?  One would think with such big fejioa, it would've been quite sour and tart, but it wasn't, it was delightful!  Crunchy buttery pastry encasing the juicy sweet fejioa that has been caramelised in sugar and butter and baked to perfection, and accompanied with the smooth honey ice cream and the citriousy passion fruit pulp - altogether, like poetry in your mouth!  not sure the idea of the banana there, didn't really do anything for me.  If you're a fejioa lover like me, you would've gone to heaven and back after you eat this...nom!

Fejioa Tarte Tatin with passion fruit pulp, bananas, honey ice cream and meringue
I would tell you what was underneath all that, but I don't remember and they've
changed their menu since I went so can't even find out from the website...but it was
DELICIOUS nevertheless!

FOOD: Excellent.
PRICE: Reasonable ($100 for the 7 courses + refresher), but the a la carte would've been pricey.
WINE SELECTION: Very good selection.
SERVICE: Excellent!
ATMOSPHERE: Elegant and yet cosy.

Summary: Great food and service, with equally great company.  While you are admiring the piece of artwork, and indulging in the sensational smell from the plate you also get to satisfy that important stomach of yours - what more could you ask for?  :)

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