Sunday, 14 May 2017

"Noma Two Ways": Noma Mexico

Here is the latter part of a two-part blog post on our experiences at Noma over the past year (click here to see part one about our visit to Noma Copenhagen).  Detailing them back to back really puts Redzepi and his team's talent into perspective, and the .  It is hard to believe that the same chef conceptualized these two tasting menus, with vastly different ingredients, cooking techniques and presentations.  For his food at Noma Mexico, Redzepi and his team learned about the bounty of Mexico from the locals (farmers, foragers, chefs and of course, tortilla makers), then created his menu using a mix of traditional and novel techniques to create a jaw-dropping 15 course meal as you will see below.

Noma Mexico is Noma's 3rd pop-up restaurant, and the first to open after the closing of the original Noma in Copenhagen.  His other two pop-ups in Sydney and Tokyo were huge successes so it is not surprising he went for a 3rd.  The location in Tulum was a bit more of a gamble in terms of remoteness of location, but nonetheless, it easily sold out within a few hours.  It goes to speak to the following that Rene Redzepi has garnered all around the globe.

Atmosphere: Noma Mexico was literally located in the middle of the jungle, with an open air dining room and kitchen.  Aside from a small Noma sign and a few casually dressed hostesses, you would never know that one of the best restaurant's in the world had set up shop.  Upon entering, guests walk through sand (high heels ere discouraged!) past a small bar and back to the "dining room" with wooden tables with a backdrop of jungle foliage.  The kitchen was located right at the back, notable for a large Mexican-inspired oven on display for all to see, and then a closed kitchen where Redzepi's staff was plugging away under his direction (from our table, we could hear every word!).


Service: Redzepi brought his Noma staff with him from Copenhagen and we recognized quite a few familiar faces from our meal at Noma Copenhagen.  In addition to the Noma staff, Redzepi enlisted the help of some locals, most notably some Mexican women in traditional dress in the kitchen making tortillas.  The quality of service was similar to that in Copenhagen with a few excusable slip-ups (we were delivered the first dish twice in error) which was understandable since we dined with them during their first week of service. In general, the staff seemed like they were having a lot of fun in their new surroundings, feeding into the more relaxed and low-key vibe at Noma Mexico.

Food/drink: Tickets to Noma Mexico included a 15 course tasting menu (constantly evolving) plus beverage pairings.   The beverage pairings consisted of a mix of alcoholic drinks, including a mix of beer, wine and spirits, and some non-alcoholic juices that all paired beautifully with the dishes.  After our meal, we were escorted over to the bar where we were offered another 3 options for cocktails, specially crafted for the evening.
The 15-course tasting menu was remarkably different than our Noma dinner in Copenhagen, as it was completely grounded in ingredients from the region.  I was treated to ingredients, spices and flavours that I had never before encountered.  It seems pretty risky to create a menu with unfamiliar ingredients, but Redzepi nailed every single dish.  I felt excited and intrigued from start to finish, and by the end had even more respect for Redzepi and his staff's enormous talent.
 
Here is a look at the dishes Hubby and I enjoyed:

Pinuela and tamarind


Melon clam from the Sea of Cortez


Salute with dried tomatoes and chapulines


Cold masa broth with line and all the flowers of the moment


Young coconut and caviar


Tropical fruit and chile de arbol


Banana ceviche


Chaya taco with fresh Bahia Falsa oyster


Giant kelp and mussel michelada


Whole grilled pumpkin


Tostada with escaroles



Just cooked octopus with "dzikilpak"


Cerdo Pelon and fresh milled corn from Yaxunah





Fried soft shell crab and fresh milled corn from Yaxunah (pescatarian substitution)


Dessert of grilled avocado and mammy seeds


Chocolate from native Jaguar cacao and Mixe chile




Overall impression:
This dinner was one of my most memorable I have had to date .  The surroundings were spectacular (how often do you eat a Michelin star meal in the jungle?) and the ingredients and flavours were so different from anything that I had experienced before.  The fact that Redzepi and his team could prepare dishes to such a high level with ingredients that they had discovered only weeks before is truly astounding.
Having now dined twice with Redzepi and crew, I must admit that I am now "hooked" and am itching to see what that brilliant mind of his will come up with next.















































"Noma Two Ways": Noma Copenhagen

This blog post is a long time coming, and in fact, I have been back to Noma a second time since I first  visited Noma and drafted this review last August (2016).  I can now share my experience at Noma Copenhagen back then, followed by a look at Noma Mexico where I recently dined just last month (April 2017).   I hope that by posting the two in sequence, you will gain an appreciation for how truly skilled Redzepi and his team are in working with any ingredient, whether it be a familiar vegetable in Copenhagen, or an exotic plant in Tulum.  Heck, they can even make insects approachable and delicious!  What I have come to learn is that for them, it is not about transforming ingredients, but instead it is about elevating ingredients and showcasing them to the best of their potential.  The flavours they create are novel thought-provoking, moreso than any other place that I have been, and it is this that will keep me following Redzepi wherever he decides to go next!

This two-part blog will first review our first meal at Noma Copenhagen.  Read on to the next post to take a look at Noma Mexico (click here to go there directly).

Reservations required?  YOU MISSED YOUR CHANCE:( - Unfortunately, Noma is temporarily closed, and will never again be in its original form.  Redzepi and his team are opening in a new location (you can find out more, as well as watch a short visit about Noma past and present here) with no set opening date.  
Noma has always been one of the toughest reservations in the world to get (Hubby and I tried 3 times and failed to get Noma Copenhagen, and enlisted the help of multiple family members to get Noma Mexico).  I am sure that when the new Noma opens it will be at least as difficult, if not harder, to snag a reso!
***Note- Redzepi has recently opened a new, more casual restaurant called 108, located fairly close to the old Noma if you are dying to get a taste.  

Atmosphere: Noma is located just outside downtown Copenhagen in an old historic brick building.  There has just been a new bridge built that drops you almost at its doorstep but even so, you may walk right by if you are not purposefully looking for the “Noma” sign.  A little rock garden has been built by the side underneath the windows to give guests some privacy from curious onlookers. 
When you enter the front door, the first thing that will greet you is its busy kitchen, bustling with its 24 paid staff and perhaps a few of its 24 interns.  It is clearly the focal point of the room.  The d├ęcor is quite rustic with exposed wooden beams, wooden tables and some garlic bulbs decorating the walls.  It is exactly what I would of expected from one of the world’s greatest locavores.  Plating is also extremely rustic, with many of the dishes being plated with moss and rocks to simulate nature.
At the end of the meal, we had the privilege of being taken for a tour of the restaurant which, for a foodie like me, was an absolute dream come true.  There we saw the kitchen itself (and got a group photo with the staff!), the barbecue hut out back, the fermentation huts (so cool!) and the test kitchen, complete with tanks housing the crabs and lobster we ate that night and an indoor herb garden.  The tour highlights the incredible amount of work, innovation and talent that goes into preparing the meal at Noma.  It is truly unparalleled.

Indoor garden
Fermentation room

Service:  You will meet many servers during the Noma experience, and will also have some dishes delivered directly by kitchen staff.  Every server is very knowledgeable about every single ingredient and has a load of passion to back it up.  One thing that really struck me was the obvious comradery and team-mindedness between staff at Noma, something that I have never noticed at other such restaurants.  There were team chants coming from the kitchen, servers helping each other out and even joking amongst themselves.  This made the overall atmosphere that much more uplifting and pleasant.   There were also special touches throughout the service, such as the tour (see above), a map we were given with suggested restaurants and bars around Copenhagen for visitors and menus to take home.

Food/drink: The food at Noma is like nothing I have ever had before.  Noma is not doing variations on great food like many other Michelin restaurants, but instead are doing its very own thing.  I have rarely felt so excited, inquisitive or challenged by food.   Redzepi, along with Canadian-born head chef Ben Ing, are not in the business of “wowing” with big bursts of flavors but instead creates very subtle pulses of unami that develop as you eat the dish.  I tasted things at Noma that I had never before tasted anywhere else, and may never taste again.  The Noma team is constantly experimenting with dishes, testing out new combinations for fermentation and pushing the boundaries of creativity.  This is all while using only the finest and freshest locally sourced ingredients, like the sweetest local crab at our dinner that was killed moments before being prepared and eaten and the herbs picked moments before being put on our plate.  Noma’s food is about as avant-guard as it comes without being too flashy or complicated.  Despite the elaborate behind-the-scenes work, every dish maintains a degree of humility and modesty and, most importantly, put the ingredients at the forefront.

Here is a look at our tasting menu (August 2016):

Rhubarb and seaweed


Vegetable platter- flatbread and ant paste, pickled quail egg, blackberry currant berry


Radish pie


Bread and cow's milk butter


Fresh milk curd, green strawberry and goose tongue leaves


A light stew of fruit and vegetables


Lobster, lavender and rose oil


Crisp of wild roses and danish peas


Steamed king crab and egg yolk sauce


Charred green and scallop paste


Turbot grilled on the bone with sweet shrimp


A dessert of sheep's milk and ant paste


Grilled rose ice cream and elderflower


Moss cooked in chocolate, cep mushroom


Egg liqueur, wild berries


Overall Impression?
I had been waiting to dine at Noma for years and it now seems surreal that I was finally able to experience it.  To tell the honest truth, Noma was not what I expected.  I simply could not have conceptualized such food before actually getting the chance to taste it for myself.  It opened my eyes to a whole new world of cooking that Redzepi and his team have created and continue to evolve.  I have never been so curious to discover where a chef and his team team will go next and I cannot wait to follow along.  Noma truly is the experience of a lifetime.







Saturday, 1 April 2017

West-Coast Cuisine with Peruvian and Japanese Flair at Ancora

Ancora, which replaced "C" restaurant a year and a half ago, puts an interesting twist on the typical West Coast cuisine that is so common around Vancouver with a Peruvian/Japanese twist.  While such "fusion" cuisine is sometimes a recipe for disaster, Ancora pulls it off like a pro.  On our first visit, we sampled their sushi, while on the second visit we enjoyed their Peruvian tasting menu (on for the month of March).  Both meals were fantastic, so clearly they do both very well.

Atmosphere: Located right on False Creek, it is a beautiful walk from Kits or Yaletown.  It is situated right on the false creek seawall, with beautiful views of the water from their big front windows.  We cannot wait to check out their beautiful patio in the summer.  There are two floors to the restaurant, and I would recommend asking for the bottom floor when booking for the nicest views.   It is a very busy spot, so I recommend asking early as I suspect the window seats go fast.  The decor is upscale, moreso than most places in Vancouver, but not uptight.  Whether you arrive in formalwear, business casual attire or jeans and a t-shirt, you will be in good company.

Service:  I called the day before to request a change to the main course of the tasting menu to accommodate my pescatarian dietary requirement which the chef kindly agreed to.  When we arrived, we were swiftly escorted to our table and within moments of being seated, had water and a delicious assortment of bread.  Our server was very efficient and knowledgeable about both our tasting menu's food and wine pairings, and quickly had us going on our tasting menu adventure.  The 5 tasting menu dishes came out in fairly rapid sequence, with only 5-10 minutes between dishes even with the very full dining room.  They clearly have the kitchen running very efficiently.  The whole service was like a well-oiled machine.

Food and Drink:  I appreciated how all the wines on the tasting menu all from the Okanagan which was a nice local contrast to the Peruvian menu.  Some selections from more well-known wineries (Mission Hill, Cedar Creek) while others were from much smaller wineries that I had not heard of, that are only distributed to restaurants.  The tasting menu pairings were well worth it, and quite a deal at 50$, with a champagne, 2 lovely and contrasting whites, a bold red and a dessert wine.

In terms of the food, and would first off like to commend Ancora for doing a tasting menu (quite rare in Vancouver!).  It as a very well composed menu, not overly filling (quality over quantity) made with local ingredients jazzed up with Peruvian flavours.  It was unique, exciting and delicious.

Assorted breads with homemade hummus (no pic)

Amuse- potato and tuna


Papa a la Huancaina- Local potatoes, olive, quail egg, smoked huancaina, herring caviar, kale (aka the perfect winter dish!)


Steelhead Trout "Anticucho"- Cilantro pumpkin, pico de gallo, skin chicharron


Hot Stone Squid and Prawn Ceviche- Calamari, Peruvian chilies, miso, nori puffs


Short Rib Seco-  Peruvian quinoa, pickled shallots, bean purre, baby carrots (also delicious with the ling cod they substituted for me)


Picarones- Almonds, spices ice cream, dulce de leche


Overall Verdict?  
The Peruvian tasting menu was unique, satisfying and delicious, and I really hope that they plan to continue it into April.  Ancora shines in all respect, from its smart decor, to its polished service, to its exciting and varied menu.  Based on my visits, you cannot go wrong with either its raw food bar or its main menu, or, ideally, a mix of both.  I predict that Ancora will quickly rise to the top of the Vancouver food scene, as it rightly should!



Ancora Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato