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February 9, 2014- By Steven E. Greer
Back in 2011, When David Bouley first opened his latest Japanese restaurant called Brushstroke, in the same location as his former Secession restaurant, I was skeptical but open-minded. I stopped by several times to introduce myself, but no manager ever replied.
I gave up. Admittedly, I formed an impression of the place without ever having eaten there.
I know little about Japanese cuisine, and cannot distinguish top restaurants from shady ones. All sushi looks the same to me. That is why my meeting with Brushstroke’s Chef, Isao Yamada, was so enlightening.
For whatever reason, the publicist for Bouley reached out to me and we began planning a tour of Brushstroke. He cautioned me that an interpreter would be required. That actually sounded interesting to me. So, on a Saturday afternoon, before the dining crowds arrived, the BatteryPark.TV crew arrived to film.
Chef Yamada took us to the kitchen, which is in open view to the diners, (not coincidentally, all of my favorite restaurants have open kitchens). As shown in the video, numerous pots of boiling birds and vegetables were underway. Due to the language barrier, I had no idea what was going on or what meal was being shown to me. As it turned out, the dozens of ingredients, and hours of labor, were all going into making one small bowl of traditional Japanese winter soup.
At that moment, I finally understood what fine Japanese cooking was all about. They use fresh seasonal ingredients, many of which are believed to impart some kind of therapeutic health benefit. What appears in the final dish as being just a broth of a soup is actually made from four large pots of ingredients, after hours of preparation. Don’t try this at home, so to speak.
The sense of taste involves all of the senses, not just the tongue and nose. Researchers have shown that the texture and appearance of the food greatly determines how the subject “tastes” the food. Being mentally aware of the ingredients also allows the brain to decipher the taste in a more sophisticated way.
Once I had become educated by Chef Yamada’s excellent tour, from start to finish, of his lobster, taro root, and Guinea hen broth, winter soup, the tastes became more apparent. I finally gained an appreciation for the Japanese cuisine. Now, I see why all of the best American chefs travel to Japan yearly on their personal vacations.
Brushstroke is a collaborative effort between David Bouley’s company and the Tsuji Institute of Osaka, where Chef Yamada was trained. The back-office matters are handled by Bouley, with Chef Bouley contributing to the menu and other culinary ideas.
If you were like me, and have formed an opinion of Brushstroke based on previous restaurants in the same address, give this one a try. I dare say, it should even be on your bucket list.