August 28, 2012
Brushstroke was announced in 2007 and finally opened in April 2011. Its menu was created by cooperation between David Bouley and the Tsuji Culinary Institute. Bouley has been a successful and well-known, although sometimes erratic, New York chef for 25 years. Tsuji educates many of Japan’s successful chefs. It has had links to France for fifty years, notably at first with Paul Bocuse and Mado Point. It influenced the development of La Nouvelle Cuisine.
They have tested over a thousand recipes in Bouley’s New York test kitchen. Their objective is not clear. Sometimes it seems to be updating traditional Kaiseki recipes for American ingredients and palates. Other times it emphasises preserving Japanese traditions in a modern environment. Bouley likes to say that Brushstroke is still a work in progress.
Blair and I went for dinner on August 4, 2012. In the main dining room, which has both tables and a counter, only the $135 Late Summer Kaiseki Menu was offered. It lists ten courses with choices in four of them. Many of the choices include substantial supplements.
The amuse-gueule was a Kakigori, matcha powder and lemon juice on shaved ice.
The genial young sommelier, Seju Yang, came by and we discussed the sake list. On his recommendation we ordered a bottle of Tatenokawa “33” Junmai Daiginjo, Yamagata. It has nice elegant complexities which complemented the early courses. The second, Oze No Yukidoke Ohkarakuchi, was described as very dry, but bold enough to go with the richer later courses.
The first course was
Braised Summer Vegetables Arranged in Chilled Dashi
Inside the zucchini flower is an egg dumpling with scallop. The eggplant chunk was charred. The okra slices were crisp and tender. Very nice.
Steamed Chawan-mushi Egg Custard
with Florida Golden Crab
This traditional warm custard consists of an egg mixture flavored with ginko nuts, soy sauce, dashi and mirin. Here it was topped with good shredded crab meat and powdered Australian black winter truffle. There were surprisingly strong, excellent flavors.
Chef’s sashimi selection
The sashimi was served with rich dark soy sauce and a special ponzu. It included seared and raw toro tuna, triggerfish, sweet shrimp, striped jack, a shiso leaf and a slice of myoga or ginger flower. Excellent.
Summer Vegetable Sushi
A wide, well chosen assortment of small vegetables were served on top of soy-cooked shredded kelp and loose vinegary sushi rice. Nice.
Blair’s fish course was
Grilled Chilean Sea-Bass
Sundried Tomato Marinade, Roasted Tomato
The fresh, light roasted tomato added depth to the fresh, tomato marinated fish. The mild pink peppercorns added a little non-Japanese spark.
My fish course was
Jumbo Pacific Oyster
Uni, Aonori, Mustard Dressing
The oyster was thickly sliced for easy eating. As is typical of Pacific oysters, it was rich, but lacked the brininess of Atlantic oytsers. This was added by the Santa Barbara sea urchin on top. Underneath was finely chopped seaweed.
Chilled Summer Corn Soup
The chilled corn soup was perked up by gooseberries and licorice-mint.
Canadian Kurobuta Pork Belly
Soy-Koji Rice, Sun-Dried Tomato Marinade, Cauliflower Purée
Rich slices of belly of Berkshire pig were served on top of a cauliflower purée with a Tasmanian Pepper berry. On top is a pungent dill flower.
Dungeness Crab, Uni and Sake Lees Risotto
This rich risotto included an egg yolk and generous portions of Dungeness crabmeat and Santa Barbara sea urchin. The flavors brought us back to the custard at the start of the meal. Excellent.
The desserts were accompanied by rice flatbreads: one with matcha powder and the other with a powder I can’t recall.
Blair’s dessert was Soy-milk Panna Cotta.
My dessert was Soy Sauce Ice Cream.
There seemed to be a lot of discussion about the preparation of this dish, which I think was Florida Golden Crab and Lobster, Steamed with Rice in a Do-nabe Pot.
The young head chef is Isao Yamada 山田 勲 . He usually worked in the back of the kitchen, but would come forward to the grill in front of us to start the preparation of Grilled Duck Marinated in Green Tea with Malanga Yam Purée.
This intricate plating was done at the station off to our left down the counter.
Our meal was excellent. The ingredients were top quality. The combinations had survived the test kitchen and were very successful. There were no disappointing dishes. The meal was undoubtedly different in many details from what we would have had in Kyoto, but the effect was much the same.
The service was always genial and efficient, but there was no interaction across the counter, which is a trend I appreciate nowadays. The pace was just right. The noise level was low and the ambience very nice.