February 26, 2022

There is a reason this place sells out its 8 seats per night in just 15 minutes. They have sold out every night since they opened.

This chef is truly special. "An artist", as the gentleman next to me described. His imagination is topped only by his execution. He clearly loves playing with food combinations, and doing so at the very highest level.

Sourcing is top notch. Each dish loudly declares the clean excellence of its foundational ingredients. I asked whether COVID had affected his ability to source. "Not really. Our ingredients don't come on ships. But the prices shot through the roof." This forced his hand. Does he raise his own pricing, or provide slightly less?

Clearly the latter. The meal did feel slightly short for the $275 price tag. 7 courses tonight compared to 10 last time. I didn't leave hungry but definitely was not full. 

However, the groans and "My God"s and "Holy shit"s that enveloped the room with each course  were clear indications that no one felt short-changed. The presentation of each ingredient was improved from my previous visit. Tonight's scallop/gruyere dish was better than the scallop and beets from before. The uni/prawn dish was better than uni chawanmushi and separate prawn dish from my first visit.

How I love to see chefs progress and improve!

The 2nd dish tonight was a true marvel. (I always feel so uppity when I use that word.) Prawn and uni with an avocado/asian-pear slaw, caviar and a mango gelee. The layers of texture, incredibly deep yet balanced flavors and precision knife skills to create this bite are all at their highest level. A chef that knows his ingredients and his craft.

Scallops with gruyere cheese? Combining fish and cheese is a key no-no of the culinary universe. "A purposeful thumbing of your nose at the fish/cheese rule?" I asked the chef. With a wide, wry and very proud smile, he replied "Absolutely." Fun! And boy did it work. 

If there were improvements to be made, it was the back-to-back use of fried potatoes (under the eel and accompanying the wagyu) and the undercooked (read: not fully rendered) A5. The chimichurri was somehow the star of that dish - he should bottle that. 

The dessert doughnut was quite delicious, but needed more contrast from the duck prosciutto. I really wish he had lightly fried the prosciutto to add texture and bring out its saltiness. But fois gras pear jam is my new favorite food. He should bottle that too!

Michelin stars are surely headed his way when the Tampa guide drops this fall. My guess is a solid 2 stars, which will make this an even more difficult reservation to land. For good reason.

I will be a regular once I live here in Tampa permanently. I can't wait to enjoy more of this chef's work.

 

Spanish bluefin tuna sashimi 3 ways. (Gobbled the first before remembering the photo!) Otoro sat on a shiso leaf.
Chef preparing the bluefin dishes
Karuma ebi (tiger prawn), uni, avocado and asian pear "slaw", tangerine, mango gelee, ossetra gold caviar. Out of this world.
A look inside. The knife work on the avocado and pear "slaw" was remarkable - and ate like cucumbers. I worried the mango would overpower but it was light, subtle and perfectly complimentary
King salmon dry aged (10 days), crispy salmon skin, shiso, sherry soy, smoked soy. I literally drank the remaining dipping soy sauce.
Tempura fried nori, Hokkaido scallops, lemon, miso/lemon/gruyere cheese. Beautiful plating.
A closer look. A spectacular bite - and fun to eat.
Mochi (fried yukon gold potato), herbed labneh, smoked unagi (eel), (house made) yuzu koshu hot sauce. This was the same hot sauce as on the duck in my first visit, but toned way down.
Another beautiful plating. The eel tasted like pork, by design. The chef beamed as he talked about this.
Japanese A5 BMS 12 wagyu, fried Japanese sweet potato, house made chimichurri, crostini with bone marrow and chimichurri. The bright and stellar chimichurri was somehow the best thing on this plate.
A closer look. A5 is the highest grade, BMS is "Beef Marbling Standard". 12 is also the highest grade.
Brioche doughnut, sansho duck prosciutto, fois gras pear butter ("jam"), black garlic molasses
April 1, 2021

A $250 tasting menu in Tampa? I was prepared to be hoodwinked. The next most expensive meal in the area costs about half of that. There was no way this would be at that level...right?

Wrong.

8 seats. 1 seating per night. This meal was world class, including some of the most inventive and well-executed bites I've had in any restaurant anywhere.

The opening salvo was 3 pieces of tuna, from the same fish, immediately demonstrating the quality of the ingredients, incredible knife work, and a deep knowledge of how to properly prepare and serve them.

The sushi bite is one of the best bites of food I have ever had. My friend Donna was midsentence when I grabbed her arm as if to say "Stop talking. I no longer have room to do anything but enjoy this bite." When I apologized right after, the guest next to me said "Nope. I did the exact same thing."

The Chef was friendly, helpful, informative and made sure you had everything you needed to understand the dishes. He delighted in explaining the details of how and where he sourced these ingredients.

So very glad to have this gem in my (future) hometown. I will return quite regularly when I can find a seat.

3 types of tuna from the same fish, all different fattiness, ponzu serrano relish.
Our next course
Chawanmishi (Egg custard) with peas, uni, salmon roe, marigold flowers, orange oil. Highest quality ingredients. Fun interplay of flavors and textures.
Chef Eric preparing our next course. (Everything was plated in front of us.)
Toro (fattiest part of the belly of the tuna), russian sturgeon caviar, black garlic infused soy sauce. This was the best bite of sushi I've ever had. Unreal.
Steamed blue prawn, sunomono (cucumber salad), papaya, lime cilantro, mango puree, yuzu, brown sugar/tamarind/chili paste, tangerine oil, alyssum flowers. Every type of flavor was found in this dish, perfectly balanced. Close 2nd to the toro.
Dashi, kelp,smoked tuna, aged white soy, sake, sugar, miren. I did not want this cup to end. Donna Katherine Hier clutched hers until they ripped it from her cold, dead hands. ?
Scallop poached in "a ton" of fennel and butter, whipped creme fresche, pickled beets.
Soup dumpling with pork/garlic/maitake mushrooms, carrot stock, foie gras. So good! Dumpling was incredible. The fois gras was not gamy and the char on it was a perfect balance of flavor and texture.
Duck, salted and cured, cooked over white oak at 1000 deg F, mushroom with sake/mushroom/aromatics, yuzu/kosho hot sauce
Black cod, cured in sake/sugar/miso for 7-10 days, parmesan veloute (made with dashi), ramp pesto. The parmesan overwhelmed the dish, stealing the show from the black cod, which should have been the star. But outstanding elements.
Dark chocolate, coconut, curry nougat, fois gras cured in vanilla sugar
The inside
Our fantastic "rose" sake
The next folks over raved about this sake. Even in premium sakes, the rice is milled/polished down to 35-40%. This sake is milled to 18%.
The 18% sake. I had to try it. Smooth as silk!

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