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Mar 11, 2012 03:32 PM

uhockey reviews Brushstroke - they'll serve you Fluke and Tuna for $200.....

Full review in blog with pictures, text as below:

…believe it or not, planning a trip to New York is far more difficult than planning a trip to someplace new – as a matter of fact, of all the places I travel yearly I almost always have the most difficulty firming up dining decisions in New York for three reasons: #1) I’ve made a lot of great friends there over the years and I want to see them all. #2) The list of restaurants I want to visit never stops growing. And #3) The list of restaurants I want to return to also seems to grow with each successive visit. I mean, sure, I could have an absolutely phenomenal time by going back to Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, The Modern, Corton, and Lincoln once or twice a year but if I did that I’d never experience anything new – for better or for worse – and with that in mind the final piece of my dining puzzle fell into place when I decided on Brushstroke as dinner during the first night of my trip (a last second decision based on my dining partner, a desire for something conceivably ‘light’ after a long day of pizza, and positive reviews from not only friends but GQ’s Alan Richman who named the restaurant his #2 new restaurant of 2011.


Having originally contacted Brushstroke by phone only to find that their listed number was a fax machine thus forcing me to call Bouley where the hostess graciously ‘walked the phone over’ to secure my reservation and then e-mailing the restaurant to be sure that not only was the reservation received, but that a seat at the chef’s counter could be accommodated I have to say that from the start of the experience my visit to Brushstroke was atypical, though all things being equal perhaps that was to be expected from a restaurant conceptualized by a French Chef in a formerly Austrian dining room featuring modernist Japanese Kaiseki.

Having finished the pizza crawl just a few hours prior and in the interim stopping for a quick bite at Puddin’ only to get an alert on my cell-phone that a friend had secured me a seat at Next for the El Bulli menu in a mere 3 weeks my mood walking up to the front door of Brushstroke was admittedly high and with my dining buddy yet to arrive I walked in, checked in with the hostess, and left my bag while opting to take a seat in the lounge. Browsing the cocktail menu and also the space – beautiful blonde woods, overhead lights as well as hanging globes, plush seats, and impressive organic place settings, trays, plates, and decorations while watching the enormous open kitchen from the lounge the whole space was a stark departure from the plush European feel of Bouley but equally welcoming and after a few moments my friend would enter the doors and we would quickly be led to what are probably the best seats in the house; dead center of the counter directly in front of a team of rotating chefs including Head Chef Isao Yamada.

With the two of us seated it would not be long before our water was poured and we would be greeted by our server for the evening, a friendly man named Richard L, and after presenting the cocktail list as well as wines by the glass and the bottle the nightly menu was also provided and explained – four tastings, long or short, and vegetarian or omnivore selections of each. With little debate as to which we’d be selecting aside from the courses with a choice and my friend, a frequent visitor to Danube, noticing a familiar cocktail on the menu that Richard confirmed was held over from those days due to its popularity ordering was simple and within no time at all the meal would begin with warm perfumed towels to clean our hands.

Having discussed my dislike (but not allergy) for mustard with the staff when I made the reservation our first course would arrive rather quickly with similar ingredients but two different dressings – for myself the “Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Broccoli Rabe and Vinegar Plum Sauce” and for my friend the same with a Mustard Miso topping. A delicate dish consisting of perhaps five bites on a fan shaped plate and with each vegetable in both raw and prepared forms I really appreciated the balance of sweet and bitter while the bright sauce accented each component well without overpowering it – a light opening volley and a glimpse of what was to come.
With things moving rather quickly – perhaps 8-10 minutes between each plate our second course to arrive would be one of my favorites of the night and seemingly taking a play right out of Bouley’s classic menu but serving it with a Japanese angle the “Steamed Chawan-mushi with Black Truffle Sauce and Uni” would speak to my love for soft textures and complex flavors by pairing a flawless egg custard with the earthy aromatics of truffles, the sweet brine of urchin, and an umami-laden broth laced with scallions and spices. Another light dish in the progression of flavors I absolutely could have eaten a bowl of this and walked out perfectly happy…

It was at course three, “Today’s Sashimi,” that two with Brushstroke would arise and both would unfortunately recur as the meal went on; the first a service issue largely related to the layout of the restaurant as Richard would frequently be standing behind us – almost ‘looming’ – as we neared the end of a course and the second, unfortunately, the apparent lack of creativity and/or sourcing with regard to some of the raw preparations as we received Fluke, Tuna, and Yellowtail along with ginger and wasabi plus yuzu and soy for dipping. Sure the fish was of good quality and sure the presentation was nice, but in all honesty I can get good fluke, tuna, and yellowtail at most strip mall sushi bars in Ohio and while I realize Kaiseki is not focused on sushi I guess I expected better as part of what would turn out to be the second most expensive meal of my trip.

Taking a turn to the west (and providing a much needed emotional lift after the sashimi) with an obvious Asian spin, “Lobster Bisque with White Miso and Sake Lees” would arrive next and served piping hot this soup would be the second ‘wow’ of the evening. At its core a creamy stock apparently fortified with house made tofu, the boiling waters of the lobster, and the sediment left over in the fermentation of sake and filled with slices of spicy radish and bitter burdock juxtaposing sweet bites of lobster there was a little of everything in this dish and while seemingly any individual ingredient in overabundance could have spelled disaster the end effect was very much like a traditional bisque but more delicate, less heavy, and substantially more complex.

At this point having forgotten what was on the menu another raw preparation would arrive next and while I was hoping for something novel I instead received Sea Bass – admittedly a fish I don’t believe I’ve had raw before, but another “common” item on any number of menus and presented as a two simple nigiri with nicely textured rice, a touch of wasabi, and the same plum sauce as my opening salad the texture was right – snappy and clean – but with the fish so mild and the plum sauce versus wasabi combination a bit too bold this was certainly the least balanced dish of the night and also the least inspiring…in a world where live fishes can be delivered around the world on the same day there were caught sea bass just seemed rather lazy.

Following the sushi in rapid succession would be a single bite – a bit of a test of faith for me after the previous month’s food poisoning event – in the form of a Kusshi Oyster with Yuzu Dressing. Generally not one to go head over heels over any raw oyster (save for Keller’s verison with pearls) this was fine; a bit briny, a bit sweet, fresh and with untoward side effects…good enough, but nothing particularly memorable.

Heading towards the heavier part of our menu the last three courses of the evening would feature a choice and wanting to sample as much as we could my friend and I took the route of ordering opposite plates and sharing, the first of these duos arriving as Grilled Anago and Yam Dumpling with Ankake Sauce for myself and Miso Marinated Black Cod with Chrysanthemum Leaf Puree for my friend. A fan of eel, especially when unadulterated by barbeque sauce, and having watched the team deftly slice and grill the fish a mere 2-3 feet from our seats throughout the evening I have to say I was really looking forward to this course despite being unfamiliar with Ankake and thankfully it did not disappoint as the unctuous eel was beautifully prepared with a crisp skin and creamy interior marrying beautifully with the tender dumpling as the nearly tropical sauce shined without taking center stage. Moving next to my friend’s black cod – an equally well prepared dish, if somewhat more “familiar” thanks to Nobu Matsuhisa’s version – the bite I tasted was good and as a flash forward to a later dish I was glad to see the Chrysanthemum used with such subtlety.

Taking a turn from fish and shellfish our next course would again present a choice and although these dishes were prepared much further to the back of the large kitchen both my Cherrywood and Chrysanthemum Smoked Duck with Malanga Puree and Chamomile and my dining partner’s Yuzu-kosho Marinated Pork Belly with Sweet Onion Puree and Black Vinegar Sauce would arrive beautifully plated on ornate floral porcelain perfectly temperatured (though the presentation was bobbled not once, but twice by Richard.) Beginning first with the pork belly, although not a ‘perfect’ dish as a few sections were literally pure fat the bulk of this sizable portion was smoky and sweet with just a touch of acid to balance the pig. Paired nicely with the potent puree and the umami laced sauce I particularly enjoyed the flecks of crispy onion atop – a much needed textural component.

Moving next to the duck, my obvious choice, I have to say I was a bit disappointed when no one could tell me from what farm the duck was sourced but with rosy flesh and a thin layer of fat the flavor was quite pleasant and although I’d have personally preferred the skin crisp the strips of baked malanga and crunchy seeds added plenty of texture. Rather unfamiliar with malanga prior to this meal but finding it quite similar in flavor to taro in the pureed form I really did not get much flavor from the chamomile, more a slight floral nose that may very well have been from the chrysanthemum.

For the night’s final savory, the much praised rice dishes, four choices were available and after being told that the version on the shorter menu would carry a surcharge on the longer menu we settled on the Soft-shell Crab over Rice with Chrysanthemum Petal Sauce and Salmon Steamed with Rice in a Do-nabe Pot with Salmon Roe and Aonori Seaweed. Generally not one to be wowed by rice I must admit I was a bit skeptical even given the positive word of mouth but thankfully when the dishes arrived my skepticism was quashed as both selections were great with impressively flavored proteins perfectly complimented by flavors both sweet and savory plus plenty of textural components. Not to be outdone, the rice itself was also outstanding – not quite as thick and creamy as a risotto but more sticky than standard rice with hints of vinegar and light sweetness that made it tasty even when my crab ran out – a non-issue for the salmon dish as the large pot came with refills kept at the end of the bar easily making a second bowl for me (and likely enough that my friend could have taken home a lunch portion as well.)

With a singular dessert choice each to be made from a menu of five it was here that Richard would disappear and be replaced by a clever young man who seemed very fond of each option and with myself opting for the Hojicha Pudding while my friend took the young man’s not-so-subtle recommendation for “Soy Sauce Ice Cream” the sweets, as anticipated, were a bit hit-and-miss as the eastern approach to dessert is generally not as bold as my substantial sweet tooth would prefer. Beginning first with the ice cream – more a quenelle of rich vanilla or caramel than “soy sauce” in flavor to both myself and my dining partner the texture was actually quite nice while the addition of buckwheat and wasabi added a bit of intrigue – an almost “sushi-esque” flavor that I’m not sure I loved, but certainly found unique. Moving next to the pudding, again well presented and rich, the a bitter-sweet custard was actually quite comparable in texture to the Chawan-Mushi from prior but hidden beneath a slick of soy accented syrup – tasty and unique, appropriate to the meal, but nothing I’d crave.

Sitting back and sated but certainly not stuffed despite the long day of eating our final bites of the night would arrive as a quartet of Crispy Rice Crackers, two dusted with Matcha and two with Shiso, a touch of umami and bitter-sweet to end the meal and perfectly fitting considering the flavors presented throughout.

Half expecting the offering of tea or matcha and some fruit to end the meal as my limited knowledge of kaiseki seems to indicate this as tradition I was somewhat surprised when Richard reappeared with the check and a “whenever you’re ready” before heading back to the hostess stand. Sitting for a while and chatting as the meal had taken just under two hours and the night was still relatively young (despite my 2am wake up time) it would be a few minutes before I opened the check and while I am obviously not unaccustomed to high-priced dining I have to say there was a twinge of sticker shock when I saw the nearly $200/pp tab after accounting for tax and tip; suddenly the ingredients, the service, and the overall experience just sort of seemed flat. Fluke? Sea Bass? A $3 Oyster? Sure, much of the food was good, sometimes flirting with great, but this simply did not feel like a $200 meal no matter where I was eating and while I definitely had a ‘nice’ time, enjoyed seeing my friend, and am glad I went I cannot say I’d rush back - there is simply better restaurants in New York at a much lower price point…I ate at ten of them in the next five days.

30 Hudson St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. You did a perfect job of detailing exactly my experience at Brushstroke. Now I really miss Danube! I'll stick with Bouley.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ellenost

      Compared to Bouley I feel even worse about Brustroke. I had as many courses, the great bread, a loaf of cornbread to take home, and better service/food for ~1/2 the price!

      What was the name of that cocktail, by the way?

      1. re: uhockey

        It was known as the Danube cocktail. It used to have Elderflower syrup and sparkling wine (used to be Sekt). Not sure how Brushstroke made the cocktail since while it was excellent, it did taste somewhat different (thicker consistency) than the original.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Not questioning your fish skills, but can you really get a piece of tuna or yellowtail that is great as easily in Ohio as you can in NY ? Thanks for wonderfully done review.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          I don't know about Ohio, but in places like Chicago you certainly can. Heck, you can get the exact same previously frozen stuff pretty much anywhere; the question is only whether the restaurant is willing to pay for it and has identified the right vendors.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            I've had better Yellowtail and non-fatty tuna - and better Kaiseki style plates - in Ohio. Kihachi here in Columbus comes to mind right away.

            I'm not saying you can't get better in "New York" as a whole, but the pieces we had at Brushstroke weren't transcendent by any means.


          2. Can I ask for a clarification on the bill? Was the $200 per person all inclusive? $400 for dinner for two including drinks/tax and tip? I've had brushstroke on my list of places to try (there are so many on that list). I understand your feeling that the value wasn't there for the meal, but I've had my expectations versus price totally thrown out of whack by too many years of living in NY. I mean I was commenting on another thread where I've been to place in the hood for salad/pizza/wine for $90 and there's another spot where its not at all unsual for dinner for the wife and me to run $200 for what I will call a Wednesday dinner out. Its good, but what has happened with prices?

            11 Replies
            1. re: Bkeats

              Clarification on what the $200 was for is an excellent question. Brushstroke has set prices for the various tasting menus. If you add sake or wine, and you add some supplements. tax and tip , you will surely be $200 or over. That is true of most of the better restaurants.
              As far as the OP in depth review of Brushstroke, I give the poster a lot of credit for the details of the experience. I do not agree on all counts, however, I do agree that sashimi and sushi is not the strong point of Brushstroke.It is traditional to have a sashimi course during a kaiseki diner. I do not like when they give common pieces of fish. i.e. fluke instead of sayori,, maguro instead of bluefin collar, or belly, seabass instead of wild suzuki etc. I will say in their behalf, even in the best kaiseki restaurants in Japan, the sashimi doesn't amaze you . It may have interesting breeds of fish, but nothing amazing is done to it. It is sahsimi, same as sashimi at Kyo ya, just sashimi and I expect it to be fresh and high quality.
              I have ordered the tasting menu that had sushi as a course at Brushstroke. I have been there a dozen times since and never would order that again. The sushi is far from special. The quality of the fish is good, it is the same quality that they used to get a Bouley Upstairs. Mr Yamada's specialy is the little simmered dishes and he does most of the making of these dishes himself at Brushstroke, even though he is the Executive Chef.
              I was happy you liked the rice dish at the end of the meal. It is a dish that I like at Kyo Ya, i like it at Robataya, and I like it in a few places in Japan. It is subtle and a good ending to a kaiseki meal. The retired NY Times reviewer, Sam Sifton, didn't have a clue about this dish. He thought it was bland and a terrible dish. That guy I do not think knows a thing about Japanese food.
              By the way , I am no fan of your waiter. He talks too loud and right into your face. I usually say a little prayer when i go to Brushstroke , that wishes he is not going to be my waiter. He is a nice guy , but I just cant deal with it. I prefer Japanese waitresses. I'm putting that in the suggestion box.
              I agree on the duck not being a great dish. I think the pork belly is a very good dish, and one has to expect a lot of fat when getting pork belly. The pork cheeks are possibly their best dish.
              I think Brushstroke, gets better and better and they gain more experience. On occasion they have a very well known sushi chef there, who taught some well known sushi Institute ( the name escapes me). Sometimes it pays to pick and choose the dishes you like and get them at the bar. The bill is a lot cheaper.
              To compare Brushstroke to Bouley, or Danube, makes no sense. It is different type of cuisine. To compare it to Upstairs, I can understand. To compare it to Kyo Ya I can understand, or En, or even Brooklyn Fare.( that chef cooked under Bouley). I love Brushstroke, and I love the room. They can improve in some areas. But if anyone had planned a visit to NY, and planned on going to Brushstroke, i say , stick to the plan. It is a great experience. ( don't get the sushi tasting).

              1. re: foodwhisperer

                As many people on this board are aware, I am a big fan of David Bouley and his restaurants. I felt it appropriate to compare my enjoyment of Brushstroke with Bouley and Danube regardless of cuisine. The cuisines of Bouley and Danube were completely different (one is French and the other was Austrian). I base my enjoyment of a restaurant on the totality of the experience (cuisine/service/decor). Unfortunately (and it breaks my heart to say it), Brushstroke fell short for me as a restaurant, although it might be excellent for its type of cuisine.

                1. re: ellenost

                  Ellenost: I understand now your comparison all of the Bouley restaurants. I apologize if I gave you a hard time about it. I am a fan of Bouley also, and sometimes the man confuses me with what he opens, and where he opens , and what his next move will be. But I know the man, and love to eat what he actually cooks. Also, he has a passion for Japanese food, takes it very seriously. I think he did a great job with Brushstroke, although, his head japanese chef at Upstairs, who helped him set up shop in the Ritz in Miami, who was formerly executive chef of Hatsuhana, was not included in Brushstroke. Mikami-san had spent years hoping to open a place like Brushstroke with David Bouley, my guess is it was a financial decision that didn't include Mr Mikami.
                  Also, My last experience at the new Bouley, which looks quite a bit like the old Danube, was not up to par. I will go back to see if it was just a bad night. But it just was not as good as the old Bouley, or Danube.

                  163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013

                2. re: foodwhisperer

                  I did not expect Masa quality sushi - but I did not expect Ohio Strip Mall quality either - the relative value simply was not there to me. I'd not go back. It was enough to prevent me from trying Soto on the same visit for fear of being burned twice and subsequently neglecting Japanese food on future trips to New York.

                  Kyo Ya or Soto will see their day in the spotlight next time around.


                  1. re: uhockey

                    Just something for you to know. Soto's sushi you will not be happy with ,It is not very good, definitely not exceptional , For sushi 15 East is where to go. Soto has excellent appetizer dishes. That is the thing to get there, maybe 8 appetizers, and some chawanmushi.
                    Kyo Ya you will enjoy everything

                    357 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10014

                    15 East
                    15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                    Kyo Ya
                    94 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                      Everything about my front of house experience with 15 East rubbed me the wrong way, otherwise we would have been there instead of Brushstroke. It went from a place I'd consider going to a place I may go - someday - but probably not. Perhaps my loss, but I am a pretty strong believer that any meal reaching the $100 mark warrants a competent staff.


                      1. re: uhockey

                        I agree that any meal over $100 should have a very competent staff and excellent service. Kyo Ya is always good in that regard. 15 East at the sushi bar has always been that way for me, with one exception of a busboy with smelly armpits. Jung Sik had imcompetent staff but it is much improved. The big names, like Per Se, JG,etc usually have competent staff. Sometimes friendly competent with a sense of humor is good as well. But you should never have to really ask for something like water, utensils, more bread, etc etc it should just show up as you think it.

                        1. re: foodwhisperer

                          Uhockey's issues with 15 East arent along those lines. It more along the lines of their email not working and the hostess on the phone not knowing about Omakase. I had a similar incident at another sushi bar, I had to mispronounce/butcher the word omakase wrong in order for the non japanese hostess to understand.

                          1. re: Ricky

                            Precisely. The restaurant wants to be two things - French and Sushi - and there is an obvious split between the two that the hostess doesn't understand and cannot be addressed by E-mail. Short of walking to the damned place and asking the owners I've no clue how you bridge such a gap - aside from by hiring competent people and training them well.

                            One Keller or Meyer trained hostess, GM, or dining room manager could make a WORLD of difference there.


                            1. re: uhockey

                              Yes, their hostesses have always been bad. I've been frustrated on multiple occasions, and I make all my reservations in person.
                              I also honestly can't tell who the GM is and how much power he/she has.
                              But the service is excellent once you sit down for a meal.

                3. re: Bkeats

                  $200 each with tax, tip, and ONE cocktail.

                  As stated, I ate at ten restaurants that same week that cost less and provided not only better food, but a better "experience" and one that cost twice as much but put all the rest to shame.


                4. Thanks for a great report. I hope to make my own way there eventually. My goal is to visit all of the known kaiseki houses in NYC.

                  >> one of my favorites of the night and seemingly taking a play right out of Bouley’s classic menu but serving it with a Japanese angle the “Steamed Chawan-mushi with Black Truffle Sauce and Uni”

                  The steamed egg custard is a traditional Japanese dish (as well as Chinese, actually). I can see why you'd link this with Bouley's flan given the similarities in texture and flavor, but I wouldn't call it a Japanese twist on the truffle and crab flan (implying the chawan-mushi is a derivative dish).

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Cheeryvisage

                    CheeryV: in your kaiseki adventures, be sure to check out Hakubai, located in the Kitano hotel.
                    Although i have not been there in probably 2 years, it probably is the best kaiseki in the city. it is very authentic, catering almost exclusively to Japanese clientele. The chef , Sono-san from Kyo Ya worked at Hakubai before opening Kyo Ya.

                    66 Park Ave, New York, NY 10016

                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                        I haven't been to Hakubai for a long time. That place used to be called 'Nadaman Hakubai' long ago, and Nadaman is of course, one of the famous kaiseki restaurants in Japan. Now it is called just 'Hakubai'. Is it because the restaurant is no longer partnered with Nadaman?

                      2. re: Cheeryvisage

                        I did not at all intend to imply that it was derivative, but I see how that may have been noted.