August 3, 2022

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.

Hamachi, Caviar, Tokyo Turnip, Sauce vin Jaune (Episode 14 “The Final Plate”). Hamachi from southern Japan, fingerlimes, zucchini...
Adding an oxidated white wine sauce. The sauce was creamy (like a super light hollandaise with a bright lemony kick). Incredible offset to the rich fish...
The final dish. Smart and inviting. A truly unique sauce to go with a raw preparation. Typically it's a vinaigrette or similar. Really beautiful.
Parker House Rolls, Country Ham Butter (Episode 7 “Restaurant Wars”). Glazed with honey and topped with Australian black truffle (an add-on). Served with...
Country ham butter. Butter from Brittany, then chef folds ham in by hand. This was a miss for me. Perhaps because the bread and butter on my previous visit was so dang glorious. But these flavors didn't meld. I didn't understand how or why they were going together.
Everything but The Bagel (Episode 4 “Doppelgängers”). Smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, Alaskan king salmon roe, heirloom tomatoes from Averton Hill Farms in Upstate New York, everything bagel butterfly twills (a little sweet). FULL lox and bagels flavor (says this Jewish boy who always loved lox and bagels) accentuated by deeply flavorful salmon roe. Glorious dish.
Lobster, Carrot, Laksa (Episode 14 “The Final Plate”). Roasted Maine lobster, carrot puree with laksa oil, carrot beurre blanc...
Adding Malaysian curry. I remember the Top Chef judges losing their minds over this curry...
The resulting dish. The French Laundry served me lobster and carrots, so it was fun to have a different presentation of it. The curry was incredible, with a subtle but steady peppery kick in the back. Lobster may have been slightly under, but a generous and delicious piece. No spoon was given for this dish (I asked for one). An odd cutlery choice given that the curry is truly the star.
Tartlet with lobster claws, finished with smoked steelhead trout roe. This had too much roe (as much as I love it!). I was battling to taste/find the lobster claw meat. The roe made the bite too salty as well.
Black Cod, Shrimp, Seaweed, Ginger & Scallion (Episode 12 “We’re on a Boat”) North Atlantic Black Cod stuffed with prawn, wrapped toasted seaweed, silken tofu, pickled daichon...
Adding a scallion/dashi/soy vinaigrette (which the server said was "out of this world")...
The resulting dish. The server was 100% correct. Just super refined and gorgeous cooking on each element, which all came together as one.
BBQ Beef Bourguignon (Episode 5 “Don’t Mess with BBQ”). Beef short rib, braised for 48 hours, pickled beet and onion...
Adding the BBQ jus...
This was a 3-star dish. Absolutely incredible. The pickled beets and onion provided the perfect counterbalance to the fatty, unctuous rib meat. Served with...
Burnt ends of the short rib (under there!) with mix 26 spice mix, grits. Yum!! Best grits I've ever had...
Digging down deep to put it all together was truly enjoyable. This shows you the layering.
Just look at the cook on that short rib!
The server asked if I wanted more jus. Well...yes!! :)
Strawberries & Cream (Episode 4 “Doppelgängers“) Fresh Strawberries, white chocolate, strawberry snow, panna cotta, white chocolate pearls, rice krispies
Pumpkin Pie Millefeuille (Episode 14 “The Final Plate”). Pumpkin custard, maple caramel, pumpkin spice cake, pumpkin crisps. WOW was this amazing, to look at and to eat! The caramel at the bottom clumped into a ball making it difficult to eat. The server acknowledged that it was not intended to be like that. Still, this dessert was off the hook. So incredibly delicious.
June 11, 2022

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.

Egg custard, guanciale, English peas, rye croutons, keluga caviar from China. Inspired by chawanmushi.
The presentation of our next course...
This is the "butter" for our bread...
French cultured hand turned butter from Brittany, house made seaweed butter (at the bottom), ossetra caviar from Israel...
This was giggly delicious. When we ran out of bread, we finished the rest of the butter with a spoon. It was that incredible.
Bluefin tuna tartare, ossetra gold Israel, butter twill. This was OK. I found the tuna to have too much "mayo" which detracted from the flavor.
Green asparagus from northern California, sturgeon from same region, egg yolk, toasted brioche...
Finished with a smoked sturgeon cream with wild onion oil...
Super inventive dish. The egg was somehow loose but "wrapped" around the asparagus. And that sauce was so good I licked the plate clean. Literally.
North Atlantic cod, pickled turnip, zucchini scales, king salmon roe...
Finished with sauce crevette (a shrimp stock base/white wine sauce)...
The resulting dish. Really delicious. The zucchini scales were beautiful, but also assured just the right amount of textural offset to the creamy fish with each bite.
Lamb sirloin (Elysian fields from Colorado), white asparagus, special reserve caviar...
Finished with wild fennel jus gras. One of the best pieces of lamb I have ever had. Glorious flavor.
Donna doesn't eat lamb, so she received the same dish with duck. The duck was not nearly the same caliber as the lamb, as was overcooked.
The cheese course was a fun shared picnic basket. There was cucumber lemonade, various crackers along with sheeps milk cheese curd...
Sheeps milk curd cheese...
Beets marinated in a 50-year vinegar. (Plenty of sugar to offset)...
Salmon roe.
Tres leches, tres leches cake soaked in 3 milks with dolce e lecce, tres leches panna Cotta, caviar, brown butter "leaves". Phenomenal.
Super fun to meet Chef Buddha Lo, who was as lovely and likeable as he was on the show.

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