Michele Bambling’s East-West Feast
Manhattan mother, art historian, and unreconstructed Japanophile, Bambling, 41, spent five years of her childhood in Tokyo, and all those bento-box lunches of maki rolls with nori made an indelible culinary impression. (On the other hand, she’s never developed a taste for peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.) During frequent collegiate and postcollegiate trips to East Asia, she began casually exploring traditional Japanese food and the role it plays in daily life, from the rigidly structured variety of cooking methods to the art of the tea ceremony. She’s designed her Manhattan kitchen after Japanese izakayas, where diners often eat within view of the cook, and serves food on artisanal Japanese plates. For this menu, Bambling took inspiration from her extensive collection of Japanese ceramics, incorporating aesthetic effects like red and green with touches of wintry white into the meal for a holiday flair. The ingredients take their cue from the season as well, in traditional Japanese fashion. Bambling integrates distinctive flavors like pickled plum, yuzu, matcha, ginger, and curry into a menu that showcases seasonal ingredients like scallops, mushrooms, and ﬁgs.
Seared scallop with umeboshi pickled-plum glaze and shredded shiso
Appetizers: The scallop is superb; the dish is magnificent. Less is more, with only three components—extremely Japanese. The scallop needs the support from the shiso, which can be overpowering, but in a single garnish it works well. The curry is very mild and complements the mushrooms, while the cream brings out their flavor without making the dish greasy—a great expression of fall.
Entrées: The smell of the Mediterranean-influenced red snapper is fantastic. The dish is low-fat, with complex flavors; the ginger spices it up, but I’d add fried ginger and a pinch of chili for more spice. Steak and potatoes—Michele is cooking for Americans now! The leeks are fantastic, the wasabi-lemon sauce adds a very simple flavor and contrasts with the nicely seared skirt steak, which has a good, beefy flavor. The vegetable dish also contrasts with the beef, and the toasted sesame seeds keep the vegetables from being flat.
Dessert: This is delicious for a Japanese dessert—very tasty. Japanese love mille-feuille. I would have liked a little caramelized sugar on the last crêpe, like a crème brûlée.
And The Winner Is . . .
Michele Bambling. “I was impressed with her technique and organization,” says Boulud. “In a short time, she pulled off six delicious courses without smoke and fireworks. She also has a passion beyond the food—a great sensibility for the culture.”