Two months ago, I visited for Chef Buddha Lo's (current Top Chef champion) caviar tasting menu. What incredible fortune to return for his tasting menu highlighting dishes he made during his winning season of Top Chef Season 19. In my review (below) of the caviar tasting menu, I said the following:

If I were to have a critique, it is that the food seemed "safe". That's not quite the right word. Each dish was at such a high level. But, perhaps spurred on by some of the incredibly inventive dishes he created on the show, these seemed "safe" by comparison. I yearned for a dish where he unleashed that "arsenal" he referred to on the show. That may be coming in the summer tasting menu dropping in a few weeks.

(Spoiler: it positively was!)

I shared the quote above with Chef Lo as I left. He chuckled as he read it and acknowledged it was accurate. He then shared about his journey as a chef, especially as an Australian in America. I'll spare you the details other than to say I was honored to have him share so openly about where he came from and the decisions he has made to get where he is. Chef Lo is an open book and truly enjoyable to learn about.

There is a reason this restaurant is completely sold out and the waiting list is 500 people each night. I jumped on a last minute reservation and drove 7 hours round trip to enjoy this menu. This menu was beautiful. It swings for the fences with every dish. The vision alone to conceive of these dishes, much less the ability to execute them on such a high level...

It was worth every mile.

The visual beauty of each plate and presentation is simply at the highest level. Each dish led you to different corners of flavor. Bright lemon creaminess of the hamachi giving way to the salty salmon and on to a peppery curry with the lobster. You get the idea. It was as if Chef Lo was saying "Choose any flavor profile...I can do that too." The menu arc was perfection and his 3-star experience from places like EMP was on full display.

What a joyous journey to be taken on.

The beef rib was the standout for me. One of the most beautiful pieces of meat I have ever enjoyed, perfectly complimented by pickled veg and a glorious "BBQ jus". A 3 Michelin star dish, to be sure.

The final pumpkin dessert was also mind-bendingly good. I remember gasping a bit when I saw it on the show. Who does that?? The flavors were deep and beautiful. As stuffed as I was, I kept going back in. That dish beckons you. A siren song of flavor that can't be ignored.

Service was improved as well. Some examples: the couple next to me are clearly regulars. The staff knew which one liked their lemonade sweeter and made it that way. A complimentary wine pairing was offered to me for the lobster dish. I received detailed descriptions of each dish, while others (who were not similarly interested) received briefer, top-level descriptions only. When taking a photo, the waiter realized he was causing a shadow and moved back to assure I could get the best shot.

Top notch touches that befit the food being served.

The same female server was there. She is so terrific.

Me: "Do you remember me?"
Her: (nods vociferously)
Me: "Do you remember I licked the plate last time?"
Her: (nods even harder while giggling)

I had another lovely chat with Chef Lo on the way out. He is working on finding a space for his own full restaurant. Wherever it is and whatever it serves, I will be there. This man's talents and creativity are truly unique and special.

He assured me he has so many more ideas to execute on.

I can't wait to experience them all.

I was fortunate enough to grab a reservation at HUSO the week after Chef Buddha Lo won Top Chef Season 19. The restaurant immediately sold out every dinner reservation it had when he won, so finding someone selling theirs was pure gold. It turned out to be Chef's first night back in the restaurant since the win. 

If you watched the show, you know two things. First, that he is incredibly likeable. Second, that his food is insanely beautiful. I've rarely seen the Top Chef judges truly blown away by what they were served. Chef Lo did this with regularity. An alum of 3-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and 3-star Eleven Madison Park, he clearly has chops. (An "untapped aresenal" as he called it on the show.)

HUSO is a speakeasy behind a caviar store. 5 small tables in a gorgeous blue hallway behind a curtain. There were 8 of us eating that night, in the single seating for the evening. We had the caviar tasting menu. In a few weeks, the menu will change to be some of the dishes he did on Top Chef. I would love to come back for those.

Not that this was a slouch menu! The dishes we were served were gorgeous. 2nd only to Atalier Crenn in terms of visual beauty. And this wasn't beauty for beauty's sake. They were well thought out, well paired and provided a good variety. (I am becoming increasingly obsessed with what I call "the menu arc".) Standouts was that (bread and) butter! HOLY COW!!! Supremely delicious. The asparagus dish was also super inventive. That sauce was so good, I literally licked the plate clean. (Not a regular occurrence, but I am not above doing so, as I did at Damon Baehrel. The staff noticed and chuckled, later referencing "how much you seemed to enjoy the asparagus plate". LOL.) The lamb was also among the best I've had.

If I were to have a critique, it is that the food seemed "safe". That's not quite the right word. Each dish was at such a high level. But, perhaps spurred on by some of the incredibly inventive dishes he created on the show, these seemed "safe" by comparison. I yearned for a dish where he unleashed that "arsenal" he referred to on the show. That may be coming in the summer tasting menu dropping in a few weeks.

Staff was pretty good, especially the female server who was friendly and fun and on top of it. We looked forward to the times it was she that returned to our table.

Meeting Chef Lo at the end of the meal was fun. I opened with "Are you used to fame yet?" He burst out laughing and said "Not a bit! I am being stopped on the street, which is wonderful but strange. In fact, TMZ was following me today! I wanted to take a selfie with them. Surreal. Must have been a slow news day for them." He shared easily about his experiences and the life change that is now upon him. "I spent years making other chefs look good. It's very different to be in the limelight myself."

Good on him. Well-deserved recognition for years in the trenches resulting in a man whose food is eclipsed only by his personality. I can't wait to see where he goes from here.

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