Andy Hayler – Restaurant Guru

BY Lisa Lindblad

November 6, 2012

Some of the trips I plan are more complicated than others; the client can be a stickler, or the destination, culturally complicated, can be hard to unravel.

Having experts and guides to help me in the planning is essential, and I treasure my sources.

One of the more complex itineraries I have recently designed took a favorite client of mine to Japan.  Nothing too hard there.  The hard work came trying to perfect the eating.  My client adores good food and has a passion for the various Japanese cuisines.  From sushi to soba, yakitori to tofu, kaiseke to a bowl of udon, culling the best restaurants and balancing out breakfast, lunch and dinner over the course of three weeks, making sure the huge price points matched excellence,  taking care that my client’s penchant for changing plans and cancelling reservations would be at a minimum (restaurant cancellations and protocol in general are very strict in Japan)  was not only time-consuming but, often, hugely frustrating.

I had help from a remarkable Peninsula Hotel concierge, Misako, and from Andy Hayler, the sine qua non of fine dining reviewing.

Trawl his site and, more importantly, let him guide you.  See if you don’t agree with his carefully articulated evaluations of food, ambiance and service.   We find him to be on point.

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It amazes me that, loving sushi as I do, I continually find delicious Japanese restaurants that I have never heard of!  Last night I had an indulgent dinner with my son and daughter-in-law, served at Neta's sushi bar by Jay, a gentle Tibetan sushi chef with his own private stash of special fish.

The menu is large and unusual - uni porridge is just one such dish - but we, having just spent two weeks in Italy gorging on pasta, cured meats and cheese, were longing for nigiri.  Here were some of the outstanding bites: Spot prawn, Mediterranean sea bream, sweet shrimp, delicious yellowtail and, of course, uni,  from the West Coast, Chile or Japan.  Not only were the pieces prepared in those desirous small bites, but some were topped with finely grated lime rind, shiso leaf or crispy nori.  Delicious.

To be noted, the executive chef of Neta is Korean, Chef Sungchul Shim. Chef Shim brings a unique combination of Western and Eastern culinary craft and philosophy to Neta, honed from years of formal study and practical training in fine dining in Asia and the United States.

He began his career as a chef in the U.S. with an externship at the three Michelin star Le Bernardin and then continued to expand his knowledge working in many of New York’s finest kitchens, including Aureole, and Bouley among others. In less than three years, Chef Shim’s impressive skills and creativity secured him a position in the kitchen of the three Michelin star Per Se.

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