Only three more days until Season 20 of Bravo’s acclaimed series Top Chef! I am super stoked. I have watched the show from season 1, and never missed an episode. As a matter of fact, when I was (almost) chosen for Top Chef Amateurs in 2020, I watched all seasons, that aired until then, one more time. Just for nostalgic reasons. My main objective in my blog, and during my travels, is highlighting and experiencing the food and restaurants of the Top Chef contestants. At this point I have visited 71 restaurants all over the United States. I am not lying to you when I say that I have not had a bad meal from these guys. Exceptional food in 95% of these places, and even the remaining 5% were pretty dang good. Living in New York City, I am pretty spoiled when it comes to food, but I always look for new eateries by these guys, here and in the rest of the country. If you wait patiently, they pop up, As they did, right here in the Big Apple.
Huso is located on Madison Avenue in Midtown NYC, one of the most glamorous neighborhoods in the city. The restaurant itself centers all about caviar, and is generally a high end spot. It’s tiny with only 4 tables in the back, and there is only one waiter, and one chef. And who might that chef be? None other than Chef Buddha Lo, winner of season 19. I was almost shocked to see him upon entry behind the counter. In my many experiences visiting Top Chef restaurants, the chefs themselves are usually not there, or they are behind the scenes in the kitchen. So yes, it was a happy surprise. I got to chat a little, and to no surprise, he is a super nice dude.
My side kick Sasha and I ate like kings (or queens) that day. We ordered half the menu, totally over committing, over estimating ourselves. But hey. You only get to eat like this once in a while. We started with the oysters with Sevruga Classic Grey Caviar, and honestly, it’s like they were made for each other. Next was the Huso Dog, which has no hot dog inside, but it served on a hot dog bun, filled with Alaskan King Crab Merus, Avocado, mayo and pickled mustard seeds, topped with Beluga di Venezia Caviar. Outstanding. Next, we shared the Black Truffle Grilled Cheese with Gruyere and Onion Marmalade. Also outstanding. My personal favorite was the Potato Leek Soup, which was served with a Soft Hen’s Egg and White Sturgeon Caviar. It was super fresh and packed with flavor. It was getting hard to breathe at this point, but we managed to split the Everything Bagel with Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Salmon Keta Roe. Best bagel I ever had. We ended up closing out with the Cheese Plate, which we ended up taking home, and snacked on it with some wine for dinner. It all was honestly top notch, a great experience. This restaurant also serves a Tasting Menu for dinner, which is comprised of Chef Buddha’s winning dishes from his time on Top Chef. You KNOW I will go for that sooner rather than later.
Kjun is a little restaurant on 39th Street in midtown Manhattan, owned by Chef Jae Jung. She also appeared on season 19, and made it an impressive nine rounds. Originally from Seoul, Korea, she settled in New Orleans for quite a while, working in an assortment of restaurants, perfecting her Korean-New Orleans style cuisine. She eventually moved to New York, working in acclaimed restaurants. In 2021 she struck out on her own, opening Kjun, where her Korean-Cajun flavors proved to be a success. I finally made it there, eager to experience this wondrous flavor combo. I was lucky to also see that she was in the kitchen, cooking, running the show. I had a small conversation with her, asking her about her dishes, and I can happily report that she is wonderful young lady, full of energy, delightful.
But now to the food! I love Deviled Eggs, so when I saw something pretty similar on the menu, of course I needed to order it. The eggs were soy marinated, topped with wasabi and chicken cracklin skin. Needles to say, I inhaled those. Delicious. I never knew what Boudin Balls are, but I do now, I had her Japchae Boudin Balls, which are made with a sweet potato starch noodle, served with Korean anchovy aioli, and they are an absolute must when visiting here. Just totally packed with flavor. Last, but not least, of course I needed to try her Chicken and Andouille Gumbo. This was one of her dishes on Top Chef, so ordering it was a no brainer. Absolutely delicious! Made from a dark roux, served with Jasmine Rice, (I opted out of the Okra, Just like Chef Colicchio), it had just the right amount of spice to it, traditional, yet different. A winner all around. It was served with a small cast-iron baked cornbread, that had a slice of jalapeño baked into it. It was sweet, salty, spicy, yummy. This place is a total win.
Ohhh, don’t we all love Chef Fabio Viviani? He is one of Top Chef’s most memorable contestants. Funny, with an Italian accent, he always had an answer for everything, with a few lines that still linger in everyone’s minds. Fabio appeared on Season 5, and left after making it to fourth place. He moved to the United States from Italy in 2005, and we’re the better for it. His restaurants have always been out of my reach geographically, so when I heard he was opening an eatery named Bar Cicchetti at the Motto/Hilton hotel here in NYC, I was there. To be honest, this place has been open for a while now, and I was there on opening day. Chef Fabio was in attendance that day, taking lots of pictures with lots of diners, but I stayed in the background, enjoying the moments from afar, enjoying the food.
The restaurant itself is spacious, but still manages to be cozy. The colors are warming, the crew is friendly. The food? That’s hell yes for me. I started with my absolute favorite: Polpette Di Fabio. Made with Tomato sugo and whole milk ricotta, served with grilled bread, this is a total delight. De-li-cious. I then tried the Black Rice Arancini with smoked mozzarella, pickled onions and Romesco sauce. A classic Italian dish with a twist that will make your mouth water. My main dish was Pici Toscana. Pici is a thick Italian noodle, Toscana style here is made with Italian sausage, basil and an egg yolk. Stir while hot, and it kinda cooks the egg yolk. Top with some parmesan cheese, and you have the perfect dish. I truly enjoyed everything here, from the set up to the ambiance to (100%) the food.