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A chronicle of all things fun - eating, drinking, traveling... plus the occasional ranting

(Page 1) | 2 | 3 | .... | 58 | newer

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  • 01/23/13--22:05: The whitening star
  • I was stepping out of my office to grab a quick lunch when I got the call.  What am I doing for lunch?  Would I like to come to 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana for lunch?  Would I?  Is there another answer to that question?

    Not wanting to keep two hungry ladies (or was it tigresses?) waiting, I placed my order over the phone, and picked up the pace as I headed to the restaurant.  This was going to be a simple affair.  While the ladies chose a multi-course lunch set and enjoyed some white truffles, I was interested in one thing only.

    But I took one look and my heart sank.  The spaghetti carbonara looked very different from what I used to have here.  For starters, the color's all wrong.  Gone is the beautiful golden hue from the yolk of the Taiyoran eggs, replaced by a regular-looking whitish color.  Then the consistency also got a little more watery, instead of the thick and viscous sauce I remember.  The grease from the pancetta is clearly visible, separated from the cream.  This isn't the carbonara that I came for.

    Well, at least the pasta was nicely done, with just the right amount of bite.  And the price was very affordable for a 3 Michelin star restaurant.  But on this day, I can't help thinking that the gap between this place and Spaghetti House narrowed a little...

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  • 01/24/13--23:38: Pudding quest
  • Lunar New Year is fast approaching, and once again I'm on a quest for traditional puddings for mom.  For the last few years she has increasingly been disinterested in the turnip puddings (蘿蔔糕) in favor of the water chestnut puddings (馬蹄糕), for the simple reason of their rarity in Taiwan.  The turnip puddings may not be that yummy in Taipei but at least they are widely available, whereas water chestnut puddings are near impossible to find.

    So I started calling restaurants around town to inquire about the availability of puddings, and also asked for recommendations from friends on Facebook.  I then decided that I wanted to try out the puddings at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) before placing an order, and once again asked on Facebook whether anyone would like to join me for lunch…  Thankfully there were volunteers…

    For once I didn't order anything that I normally would… Decided to be a little adventurous and stay away from the usual suspects.  Good thing my friend KC was there to help.

    These fancy-looking deep-fried prawn balls were really yummy.  A burst of juices and flavors greets you as the bouncy ball finally gives in to your teeth.  Something to consider the next time I'm back here.

    Pan-fried cuttlefish patties with corn (金粟墨魚餅) isn't something I order often, but I'm a sucker for things made with cuttlefish paste.  Nice and a little chewy, with corn kernels for added crunch.

    Pan-fried cured meat and radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - gotta try some of this in advance of my pudding order.  This was very tasty and not skimpy on ingredients, but a little too soft in terms of texture.  Tough to pick up with your chopsticks without the patty falling apart.  Wonder if it's better for steaming…

    Pan-fried water chestnut cake (香煎馬蹄糕) - the main reason I'm here today.  Pretty tasty with that water chestnut flavor and caramelized sugar.  The only pity is that there isn't more slices of water chestnut to add even more fragrance and crunch.

    These steamed rolls with glutinous rice were OK, but a little bland for my taste.

    These steamed dumplings with crab meat and coriander were pretty tasty, and a welcome change from prawns as stuffing.  Also love the fragrance from the coriander.

    Steamed buns with lotus paste and salty egg yolk (蛋黃蓮蓉包) - they really do it well here… just about perfect for me.  Delicious lotus seed paste balancing with the egg yolk, inside a fluffy steamed bun.

    Despite being skimpy on the water chestnuts, I ended up ordering a water chestnut pudding after lunch, anyway… along with some turnip pudding.

    I was only 2 blocks away from my next stop - Kung Lee (公利真料竹蔗水).  I had pre-ordered one of their water chestnut pudding with sugar cane juice (蔗汁馬蹄糕), and went over to pick it up ahead my flight home this evening.  Of course I wouldn't miss a chance to grab a cup of sugar cane juice (竹蔗汁)

    Hours later, after I arrived back in my comfy apartment in Taipei, mom decided to pan-fry some slices of the pudding from Kung Lee along with the mass-produced version from Lei Garden (利苑), another so-called Michelin-starred chain of restaurants.  Verdict?  The one from Lei Garden may look impressive with lots of water chestnuts, but it just didn't have the taste or leave a nice fragrance in your mouth.  The one from Kung Lee, on the other hand, tasted much more delicious as the cane sugar caramelized, and the softer texture also won out.

    I look forward to coming back to Taipei in 2 weeks' time, when I pick up the puddings from 2 other Michelin-starred restaurants and do another taste test with mom.

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  • 01/28/13--07:55: Salty ships and peaty drams
  • I'm entertaining a friend from out of town, and tonight was the only chance for me to see her before she heads off.  She had spent the last few days exploring Hong Kong, and managed to hit some pretty interesting places.  I was struggling to think of some place to take her when she suggested 22 Ships.  My first visit 2 weeks ago made a pretty good impression, so I was happy to go back and try some of the other dishes.

    I was running a few minutes late, and my friend was already seated by the time I arrived.  Once again we were squeezed into seats at the end of a bar, but this time next to the toilets and the kitchen entrance.  I know this is bar food, but the lack of space means one gets to be pretty cozy with one's neighbors...

    Salt and pepper squid with ink aioli - very yummy.  The batter was really light and fluffy, and the little squids were delicious on their own, even without the heavy flavors coming from the ink aioli.

    Spanish breakfast, chorizo and potato - pretty yummy, with soft-boiled egg and tomato buried in a pile of runny potato mash.  Cubes of potatoes and crispy, pan-fried slices of chorizo made up the topping.  A modern interpretation of the classic.

    Fried pig ears, ash aioli - I love pig's ears, and glad that my friend was willing to try them.  This was a little different from what I'd normally find in Chinese restaurants, but still pretty good.  Not as much crunch, though...  We couldn't out what the ash on top of the aioli was, but I was reminded of Yoshihiro Narisawa's creations involving spring onions that had been burnt to ashes.

    Razor clams, broad beans, sherry - my friend (who isn't Chinese) didn't like this dish, and commented that it tasted "very Chinese".  I'd have to agree with her.  The clams themselves tasted a little strong in terms of the "fishy" flavors, and while I'm pretty sure that Spanish jamón was used, the combination of broad beans and ham does taste very Chinese to me...  I grew up with that combination in mom's Shanghainese cooking.

    Miso grilled mackerel, wasabi avocado, cucumber chutney - I think the mackerel may have been marinated, as it definitely tasted that way both in terms of flavor and texture.  The green wasabi avocado tasted pretty light, overpowered by the dots of salty miso (味噌).  While the cucumber cubes were light and refreshing, for some reason there was a layer of sauce on top of the mackerel that was just really salty.

    Hake, romesco, courgette - the fish was pretty delicious and nicely done.  The romesco was full of roasted nutty flavors along with the peppers.  The topping of courgettes, peppers and mint leaves were pretty interesting, but here again the use of salt seemed a tad on the heavy side.

    I had a glass of López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza.  Dunno the vintage, but the wine was pretty forgettable...

    "PBJ" peanut parfait, blueberry sorbet, salted peanut crunch - just about the best dish of the evening... frozen raspberry "ice", together with a delicious blueberry sorbet, worked really well with the peanut parfait and the peanut crunch.  At one point I thought I was eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups...  Very yum.

    Honestly, my return visit didn't produce the result I was hoping for.  Maybe we just didn't order the right dishes this time...

    My friend asked about b.a.r. Executive Bar as she had heard about the place.  (She does seem to get around!)  We finished dinner quickly, and headed off to get my daily dose of vitamin C...

    I'd always start myself with some of Hidome-san's famous fruit cocktails.  First up was a delicious Nansui pear (南水梨) from Nagano (長野), something that I'd had before and knew would make me happy.  And happy I was!  My friend also loved it, and chose vodka instead of rum as her base.  The pear was just so incredibly ripe and sweet, and the alcohol was almost completely masked... one could have easily mistaken the hint of alcohol to have come from the overripe pear itself.  Thank you, sir... may I have another?

    Next up were Hakata Amaou strawberries (博多あまおう) from Fukuoka (福岡), made with a little vodka into a strawberry martini.  The name Amaou (あまおう) is a Japanese acronym, meaning red (あかい), round (まるい), large (おおきい) and delicous (うまい).  All of those may be true, but honestly the martini tasted a little diluted, and didn't present us with the full flavors of the strawberries...

    Towards the end of the evening, Hidome-san would offer some strawberries to us on ice, and they were pretty delicious on their own.

    I moved onto whiskies, and picked the Nikka Miyagikyo 12 Years (ニッカ 宮城峡) to start.  Hidome-san suggested that I have it with the "whisky mist", which meant serving it over crushed ice.  Pretty interesting as it cooled the whisky pretty fast, and certainly tempered the taste.

    By this point Hidome-san was getting very talkative, and telling us a lot of history regarding whiskies and cocktails.  I asked him to compare two different bottlings from Ardbeg, whose whiskies are well-known for their peatiness.  He jokingly told us that he's been in a couple of Hong Kong hospitals lately, and thought that the Ardbeg Alligator (made with charcoal whose patterns resembled alligator skin) smelled like Canossa Hospital, while the Ardbeg Corryvreckan was more like Hong Kong Sanatorium...  I took the Corryvreckan straight up, enjoying the peaty, hospital disinfectant nose slowly... which was also a little savory.

    Hidome-san is well-known for his knife skills, and decided to take out a block of ice and cut my friend a "special ice".  Basically, he took a sharp chef's knife and transformed the block into a multi-faceted, 500-carat piece of gem.  We joked about the different Cs of this "diamond", and wondered whether the color would be D, and whether the limited amount of striations would qualify it as "VVS1" or some other grade...

    Our lesson continued, and a bottle of Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years was brought out and poured into two glasses, each with a cube of ice.  The first glass was stirred while the second glass remained untouched.  We were then asked to taste the difference.  Clearly the glass that had been stirred tasted a little milder, sweeter, thanks to the aeration and faster dilution.  The whisky from the first glass was then poured into a cobbler shaker and given the famous "Ichiro treatment", and ended up tasting even more different from the second glass.

    Finally, even though I was already pretty buzzed and had more than enough to drink, I ordered up my final cocktail for the evening - a Japanese screwdriver with tangerines (みかん) from Saga (佐賀).  Earlier my friend had asked Hidome-san if she could eat one of these, and we could tell these were nice and sweet.  We were even given a lesson on how to choose the best tangerines!

    This was a long evening, but turned out to be really enjoyable in the end.  Of all the times I had been to b.a.r. Executive Bar, tonight was by far the most enjoyable visit, as we chatted with not only Hidome-san but also some of the other patrons.  I look forward to my next return...

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  • 02/01/13--07:40: Pre-Lunar New Year feast
  • Lunar new year is almost upon us, and ILL decided to organize a big feast in advance of the seasonal festivities.  I haven't been to a big gathering like this in a while, and it was interesting to watch the dynamics around the table between different groups among the 14 of us…  The venue?  Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), one of my favorite places in town.

    I arrived a little late, and immediately plonked down my bottles of wine on the table.  A big feast is the perfect opportunity to get rid of inventory, and I'm in need of freeing up some space in my cellar.  Tonight was also apparently the big opportunity to exchange food gifts after Christmas, and jars of jam, preserves and other goodies made their way around (and across) the table.

    The menu was pre-ordered, and I'm glad that I pretty much didn't have a hand in it, as I would very much prefer to see what others would order here.  In the end, though, a number of my favorite dishes did show up anyway… which made me happy.

    A round of appetizers were presented at the start of dinner:

    Marinated goose meat roll (冰鎮鵝肉卷) - pretty good combination with finely diced carrots, mushrooms, goose and tofu skin wrapper.

    Eggplant with Sesame and Peanut Sauce (胡麻醬茄子) - this was OK, but they removed the skin… and I really like eggplant skin!

    Marinated beef shank in home-made sauce (五香牛腱) - not bad at all.

    Chiu Chow tofu (醬油滷豆腐) - nice and soft (and slippery!)

    Double-boiled pig lung soup with almond (杏汁豬肺湯) - very thick and creamy thanks to the almond as well as the snow fungus (銀耳). Yummy.

    With the whole gang of us, naturally the portion was impressive.  Just look at this big plate of dregs (湯渣), with chunks of pig lungs as well as snow fungus that has been boiled to the point where the outer edges have started to liquefy…

    …and all the steam rising up...

    Deep-fried king prawn roll with liver sausage and spring onion (網油蝦卷) -  I'd never had this before, and really liked it.  Normally I'd find these prawns a little too big and tough, but this was not the case tonight.  The surprising addition of liver sausage (膶腸), spring onion and the fact that this was wrapped in caul fat (網油) and deep-fried… made this a clear winner.  Much better than the famous Taiwanese versions, I think.

    Sautéed pig tripe with pickled vegetables and bamboo shoots (七彩炒豬肚尖) - this has always been on my list of favorite dishes here.  A lovely medley of colors, textures and flavors thanks to the combination of bouncy and chewy tripe, crunchy celery, bamboo shoots, Indian almonds, sweet pickles and red bell peppers...

    De-boned “eight treasure” duck (八寶鴨) - I've only had this once before, as it requires pre-ordering and a large group to share.  Pretty good.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved pork sausage and liver sausage (生炒糯米飯) - hmmm…. this wasn't very good tonight.  Rice was overcooked and soggy, and ended up in clumps.  Taste-wise this was still OK.

    Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roes (蝦籽炆柚皮) - the restaurant kinda forgot about this dish at first, but we couldn't just walk out without tasting this.  Yummy, and there seemed to be a real abundance of the shrimp roe sauce.  Therefore we immediately came up with an idea to take care of this…

    …and the solution was to order up pan-fried noodles with shredded chicken in creamy garlic sauce (蒜蓉雞絲煎生麵).  We asked for the chicken in sauce to be served on the side, and took the deliciously golden crispy noodles on its own, and drizzled some of the shrimp roe sauce on top.  Not the best solution, but it was the best the restaurant could offer at the time.  As for the sauce?  No, it wasn't meant to be like "chicken à la King", but actually pretty yummy on its own.  I ate a couple of spoonfuls…

    There was apparently a birthday, and J decided to bake us a pandan sponge cake.  I couldn't help taking down an extra half piece, and unashamedly announced to J that she had "failed the test" and that we needed her to "do over"…  I believe SPAM was suggested to be the flavor for the next one…

    Let's not forget the wines…  Being the snob that I am, I didn't try the rosé that was on the table when I arrived.  I did want to have a taste of the oloroso, but somehow didn't get around to it.  Instead I just focused on the bottles that I brought…

    2009 Doisy-Daëne Sec - lots of pipi de chat now, with minerals and flint coming from the limestone vineyard, along with green apple, muscat grapes and pear.  I've loved this wine ever since first tasting it 3 years ago.

    2007 Jos. Joh. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - classic petrol.  Pretty sweet on the palate and a little fizzy actually…

    2008 Denis Mortet Bourgogne Blanc - toasty, a little ripe and sweet on the nose.  Acidity on the finish.

    1995 Vieux Château Certan en magnum - minty, a bit sweet, a little smoky and still a little sharp on the nose.  Smooth on the palate.  Opened about an hour before dinner but not decanted.

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  • 02/05/13--06:31: Tim again?
  • A mere four nights after I was last here, I'm back at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源).  Both dinners had been booked weeks in advance, and of course I've actually done something like this before at this very same restaurant.  And I don't mind coming back so often, as I can choose to order different dishes from the menu.  Tonight it was to introduce the place to another member of the extended Tigger family.

    Some of the others arrived early and were apparently hungry, so had gone ahead and ordered a couple of starters.  I nibbled on the very last little piece of deep-fried frog leg with peppercorn salt (椒鹽田雞腿), but was not a fan.  Just not that tasty.

    I wasn't a fan of the century eggs and pickled ginger (皮蛋生薑), either.  Where was the soft and runny yolk?  And the pickle just wasn't sour enough, and tasted a little more salty than what I'm used to.

    After everyone was assembled, it was time to bring on the rest of the food, including a couple of dishes that I've been missing sorely…

    Steamed whole fresh crab claw with egg white (蛋白蒸原隻鮮蟹拑) - I've always loved the way they steam these big crab claws here, although I thought that the claws tonight may have shrunk a little in size compared to what I can remember.  And of course the price has gone up a little since I first started order this back around 4 years ago

    Supreme snake bisque (太史五蛇羹) - almost my favorite version of snake soup in town.  The knife skill required for this is truly something, and there's definitely a lot more stuff in the bowl compared to what is served at places like Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  I did think, though, that it was a little over-seasoned tonight.  Flavors were intense, for sure, but could have dialed down a little on the salt.

    Sautéed pig tripe with pickled vegetables and bamboo shoots (七彩炒豬肚尖) - this has always been one of my favorite dishes here…  Crunchy and tasty.

    Sautéed pork chop and bitter cucumber (涼瓜炒排骨) - the dish that failed tonight.  Not sure what happened here, but the pork was simply soft and mushy.

    Fried glutinous rice with preserved pork sausage and liver sausage (生炒糯米飯) - I was disappointed with this just a few days ago, but ordered this at the request of Tigger's family.  This place was better than what I had last Friday, but still came in clumps.  Very puzzling.

    Since I had foolishly under-ordered this dish, we decided to order up another serving.  The second plate arrived, and the difference was drastic.  The second plate was obviously freshly fried and tasted that way, with stronger flavors.  It now seems that the first plate was fried some time ago and left sitting around a little…

    Poached pea shoots in supreme soup (上湯浸豆苗) - this was incredibly awesome… The pea shoots were so young, tender and sweet.  The ham-flavored broth was really tasty, and complemented the sweet pea shoots perfectly.  We ordered a second plate of this, too.

    It seems that some of us were still hungry, so a plate of roasted crispy baby pork belly (脆皮燒腩仔) was ordered.  Five alternate layers of soft and delicious fat and lean meat, with a cripsy layer of crackling on top.  Yum.

    We passed on dessert, since I can't remember the last time I enjoyed anything sweet here.

    1994 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese - there's that petrol and polyurethane again… with a nice amount of sweetness on the palate that I've come to love.

    1990 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - sweet nose, plummy, farmy, animal, leather, smoky, minty and floral.  Lovely to drink now.  Palate has started on its downward slope.

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  • 02/07/13--07:43: Being disrespectful
  • So… the Arrogant Prick is at it again, living up to his moniker.  Yours truly showed up in the South China Morning Post again, in the Food and Wine gazette today.  As a blogger, providing a counterpoint to an argument.  And I'm not exactly shy when it comes to giving people a piece of my mind…

    A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted to provide the "blogger's perspective" for an article about "dining etiquette", in particular complaints about dining experiences.  This is a subject that's close to my heart, and so I readily agreed to answer the questions posed to me.  My answers were condensed, edited and appeared in print today.  You can read the full article here (requires subscription to SCMP.com).  I'm reposting my section here:

    Bloggers bite back

    Peter Chang,
    diarygrowingboy.com

    I complain if I have a bad meal in a restaurant that I go to regularly or one that I would like to go back to. If the food or service is so horrible that I feel the place is beyond salvation, or it clearly doesn't care about its customers, then I don't bother to complain. I just never return.

    If I complain directly, I try to make sure that I do so politely, without getting too emotional. Recently a Spanish restaurant failed so miserably that I was never going back - so there was no point telling them. My review was rather scathing and prompted the co-owner to message me and post on my Facebook page.

    The opposite occurred in a Michelin-star restaurant in France. When the chef asked me how my meal was, I said everything was perfect except I thought the langoustine could have been fresher. He disagreed, but he took the dish off the bill. That is service. I think the view that it is disrespectful to the chef to complain is nonsense. For me, a restaurant that serves food that is below my expectations or tasteless is disrespectful to me, the customer.

    When the questions were posed to me, I got a little worked up and my blood began to boil, and I started banging on the computer keyboard furiously.  Here's the full set of questions as well as my original, unedited answers:

    Do you complain when dining out (like you do in your posts) and under what circumstances do you think it is appropriate to complain when dining in a restaurant? Please give 1-2 examples (you don't need to mention specific restaurants, can just say a French restaurant for example)?

    I complain to the restaurant when I have a relationship with the establishment, or if I care to return at some future date. If the food/service is so horrible that I feel the place is beyond salvation, or they clearly don't care about their customers, then I don't bother to complain. I just don't go back ever again. On rare occasions such as during a certain birthday dinner, my friend who is a VIP complained on my behalf when the dessert tipped over before it was served to me. It doesn't affect the taste but it clearly isn't something that should happen at a Michelin-starred restaurant. So I let them know that it is something they should not have allowed to happen.


    You are quite open in your blog with your views, why do you think not all bloggers/foodwriters are as honest?

    I am among the group of bloggers who are not invited to "media tastings". The vast majority of my posts are about meals which have been paid for by myself or my friends - they are not about meals which are at the invitation of the restaurants. Since I don't care if no one ever invites me to these media tastings, and usually turn them down even when I am invited, I don't need to worry about pleasing or not upsetting the restaurant or PR agency. One of the main reasons why some people follow me is because of the honesty of my opinions. I can't speak for the other bloggers or food writers, but I suspect very few of them would want to be on bad terms with PR agencies or restaurant groups. There seems to be a certain conflict of interest. I on the other hand couldn't care less.

    Some chefs are of the opinion that complaining is disrespectful to the chef, what is your view on this?

    That is total bullshit/bullocks/[insert appropriate expletive]. When I pay for a meal as a customer in your restaurant, and you provide me with food that is below my expectations/tasteless or I receive poor service, YOU as a restaurant are being disrespectful to ME, your customer. Not to add to my reputation for being arrogant, but the restaurant exists to serve its customers. Restaurants and their staff are part of the service industry. When customers have criticisms about the food or service, it is the restaurant's job to listen to them. Hopefully the criticism/feedback provided is constructive. Harlan Goldstein is one of my favorite chefs in town not because he cooks better food than anyone else, but because he openly solicits feedback from his customers so that he can improve. That is the mark of a great chef and smart businessman.

    In your view, what do you think is an acceptable level of complaint on a blog, that is, can it be taken too far? Please give an example.

    On a blog anything is fair game. My blog is a venue for me to voice my opinions, and I can talk about the food, the decor, the service, the smell, the clientelle...etc. because all of them are factors which affect my dining experience. If I write trash and go over the line, the readers will see this and start discounting my opinion, and gradually they will stop following me. If I am "reasonable" in my opinion and criticism, people will find me credible and continue to read what I have to say. There is a mechanism to ensure that bloggers don't go out of line lest they lose their relevance.

    Any other comments on the etiquette of complaining?

    If I complain directly to the restaurant, I try to make sure that I do it in a polite manner, without getting too emotional and without the use of colorful language. I don't want to be raising my voice and letting things go out of hand. As I said before, if I am not happy with the result, the best way to let them know my opinion is to never go back and give them another dollar. I vote with my pocket book. If everyone does that, then restaurants with poor food and/or service will find that they need to fix things or go out of business.

    I was subsequently asked to elaborate on the first question and give actual examples:

    At a Michelin-starred restaurant in France, when the chef came to ask me how my meal was, I told him that everything was perfect EXCEPT that I thought that his langoustine was not as fresh as it could be. He disagreed, and said that he gets them fresh daily. I told him that it was my honest opinion and I meant no disrespect or malice by my remark. He took the dish off my bill. That is service. I didn't complain with the intention of not paying for my meal, but it's good that they responded that way.

    The shining example of where the food was so bad - in my opinion - was at Boqueria in HK. There wasn't any point in telling them because they failed miserably, and I was never going back. My review was rather scathing and prompted the co-owner to send me a message directly and post on my Facebook page. I didn't think he would have listened to my comments, so I didn't bother, and I was right!


    Not wanting to get into an ugly war of words, I declined for the SCMP to name Boqueria in the article. There's no need to do that in public.  But here in the "privacy" of my own turf, well...

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  • 02/09/13--06:56: My lunar new year eve
  • I'm back in Taipei, staying in my own apartment which I have been missing so much.  Lunar new year is the biggest time for family gatherings, so the parental units grabbed a few days' worth of supplies and moved in with me.  It's good to be home.

    Of course, the biggest benefit of being home is being able to have mom's home cooking!  There are dishes that she only makes once a year, so I really look forward to this season.  Last year I managed to get mom to open a "cooking class", and she spent a couple of days showing J and ILoveLubutin how things are done.  Maybe one of these days I'll be able to try and see how much of mom's techniques they managed to learn…

    Among the dishes for lunch today was stir-fried diced smoked chicken with garlic scapes (大蒜炒燻雞腿).  Every year around this time, dad goes to the same store to pick up the smoked chicken drumsticks. This year he had to line up twice, since each customer is allowed to buy only 3 each time…  But we love this dish, which requires the chicken to be finely diced along with bamboo shoots and garlic scapes.  Very powerful flavors, and one can gobble up a bowl of rice in no time.

    Dinner is a big deal, when mom brings out the best dishes.  We started with some Cantonese preserved meats (腊味) from Hong Kong, including sausage (腊腸), liver sausage (膶腸) and pork belly (腊肉).

    We also had some steamed chicken (白斬雞), although this store-bought version did not have that wonderful layer of chicken stock jelly between the skin and the meat.

    Her signature dish has always been the perfect ten (十全十美).  I've been having this dish every year - at least every year that I've been home for lunar new year - ever since I can remember.  The combination of 10 vegetarian ingredients is a labor of love, as it requires an incredible amount of time and effort to cut up each ingredient, stir-fry them individually, then mix them in together for the final product.  I'll never get tired of having this.

    The other festive dish is braised stuffed sea cucumbers (海參燒肉) - something the ladies learned to make last year but didn't get to actually try.  This time around, mom was very satisfied with the result.  The sea cucumbers were braised for long enough for the outer layer to be soft, having started to liquefy a little, yet the entire thing still retained a bouncy and springy texture.

    The minced pork stuffing was made with black pork (黑豬肉), with a little ginger to counteract the "fishy" flavors of the sea cucumber.  The addition of finely diced water chestnut (馬蹄) would add the slightest bit of crunchy texture.  Totally yummy.

    Stir-fried bean sprouts with abalone (銀牙鮑魚) is something I haven't had a while.  The wonderful flavors of abalone contrasted well with the sweet, green and slightly bitter taste of the mung bean sprouts (綠豆芽).  The contrast in textures is also interesting.

    Finally some green veggies to finish off, with a plate of leafy mustard stir-fried with garlic (蒜蓉炒芥菜).  A little bitterness at the end of the meal.

    1983 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - plummy, animal, leather and potpourri notes.  Body was light at first but gained weight with aeration.  Died horribly after about 2 hours.

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    After my frantic search for the best lunar new year puddings a couple of weeks ago, I finally got the chance to try them out over the last few days as I managed to bring them home to Taipei.  As there were a few different versions, we had to try them out in staggered sessions…

    What was interesting this year was that I've gone really high-end this year.  In the past I'd always been lazy and pedestrian, and used to buy my puddings from places like Maxim's (美心) and Lei Garden (利苑).  I did test out the Lei Garden version earlier, but found it sorely wanting.  Fortunately, I had pre-ordered a bunch of gourmet versions, which incidentally were all from restaurants with Michelin stars.

    Water chestnut pudding from The Chairman (大班樓 馬蹄糕) - one look at the pale color tells me that this is gonna be different from what I'm used to having.

    Unfortunately, this was a total failure in terms of taste - possibly even worse than the one from Lei Garden.  Yes, there's a good amount of water chestnuts, but why is it so bland?!  And the texture was a little on the springy, almost rubbery side… Not good.

    New year pudding with muscovado and ginger from The Chairman (大班樓 黑糖薑汁年糕) - this came highly recommended by two foodie friends, including KC who accompanied me to test out the next pudding.  Not exactly traditional, but very tasty.  While I have no doubt that the flavors of muscovado from Taiwan were yummy, not surprisingly the ginger pretty much overpowered everything.  Mom especially liked the fact that it tasted of freshly ground ginger.  Very special.

    Water chestnut pudding from Fook Lam Moon (福臨門 馬蹄糕) - this was what I tested out last time, and while I lamented about the sparing use of water chestnuts, it was still pretty tasty.

    Mom was pretty happy with my choice, as it just completely left the Chairman's version in the dust.  Mom thinks the difference is the use of water chestnut juice, as the entire pudding was filled with the fragrance of it.



    Photo: Four Seasons Hong Kong
    Water chestnut pudding with red dates and lotus root from Lung King Heen (龍景軒 紅棗蓮藕馬蹄糕) - I had very high expectations for this, as I've been a fan of other goodies from this 3-star restaurant.  I was especially attracted by the beautiful picture on the Four Season Hotel's website, showing a beautiful pudding stuffed full of goodies.

    However, the real thing I got looked just a liiiiittle different… The color was neither attractive, nor was there as much stuffing inside as the promo photo seemed to suggest.  Granted, there was still a lot of stuff inside, but I think there was a noticeable difference.

    Taste-wise I thought this was pretty good.  I liked the fact that pan-frying it kinda liquefied the interior a little, giving it a soft and slightly squishy texture.  There definitely was plenty of crunchy stuffing, although I wish there were a little more jujube (紅棗).  Mom wasn't as impressed despite the abundance of crunchy stuffing.  I think she's pegged the one from Fook Lam Moon as her #1…

    Lunar new year pudding with organic sugar cane and coconut juice from Lung King Heen (龍景軒 四季有機年糕) - this was the most traditional of them all, and I didn't expect much surprise from this.

    Taste-wise this was pretty decent, although mom wished there was a bit more coconut flavor.  I thought the texture was pretty good.

    Finally there was the jujube pudding (紅棗糕), which was homemade and came from J's kitchen.  This was consumed "as is" without pan-frying.  The layers provided plenty of jujube flavor, and I really liked it.  The only drawback was that the texture was a little hard, and they didn't wobble or jiggle as I hoped they would…  I steamed the next one and it tasted much better, both in terms of flavor and texture.

    I think I have a pretty good idea which puddings I'm gonna be buying next year...

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  • 02/14/13--06:56: The girl who (finally) ate
  • I'm back in Hong Kong after stuffing myself with mom's cooking in Taipei, and instead of taking a break from eating as I should have been doing, I was out for another feast.  Susan was meeting up with Robyn of The Girl Who Ate Everything, and invited a couple of us to come along.  A table was booked at Manor Seafood Restaurant (富瑤海鮮酒家), and I can't really say "No" to that!

    Robyn was invited to come to Hong Kong - along with a couple of others - by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.  She literally arrived on Lunar New Year's Eve, which is a really odd time if you ask me…  While the people at the Board may have wanted them to see what happens in Hong Kong during Lunar New Year, I think it is actually a terrible time to visit when it comes to food.  Many of the traditional and local places would be closed during this period.  Their food itinerary left us scratching our heads, and included places like Zuma, Nha Trang and Peak Lookout…  OK, so I can see why they were taken to the Peak Lookout, but… WTF was the Hong Kong Tourism Board thinking?!  Why fly people half way around the world to Hong Kong, then feed them non-Chinese food?!

    Anyway, Manor seems to be the place where Susan entertains foodie literati from out of town, and certainly has a few special dishes we all enjoy.  I was glad to return after a 4-month break.

    Eggplant with salty egg-yolk (黃金茄子) - this is always yummy, as the fluffy and airy cubes of eggplant has soaked up just enough oil to be yummy without being too heavily greasy, and the coating of salty egg yolk gives them their rich flavors.

    Roasted suckling pig (天下第一豬) - don't you just love the modesty here?  Well, it's a yummy pig, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my list.  The skin is pretty thick and no longer completely crunchy, but ever so slightly soggy.  It's impregnated with so much fatty goodness that with the slightest pressure, oil oozes out onto your tongue and releases even more flavor.  In a way it's similar to the skin of the roast duck at Soong Kitchen (宋廚菜館) in Taipei.

    The meat on the pig was pretty good, too.  It's certainly a lot less salty than the pig at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

    Roasted "gold coin" chicken (懷舊金錢雞) - aka the cholesterol sandwich.  A little disappointed that we only get one for each person, as I definitely could have had two of these, especially given that the size shrunk a little tonight.  I thought the chicken liver was particularly tasty tonight, but of course we mustn't forget about the char siu (叉燒), bacon fat, and the little bit of taro that none of us seemed to have picked out.  That honey glaze is da best.

    Baked salty chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - not bad.  The chicken was tasty, and there's plenty of yellow oil on the plate from the chicken fat to testify as to its quality.

    Chinese lettuce in pot (啫啫唐生菜煲) -with plenty of prawn paste that overwhelms your olfactory senses, this is a delicious dish that you can smell from a few tables away.

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - made the mistake of double-decanting in the office, and by the time we got to it at dinner, I felt it was a little past its peak.  Still some black fruits and a little animal.

    We wanted to introduce Robyn to some local desserts, so we headed to Yuen Kee Dessert (源記甜品專家).  There's always a line here, especially after dinner time, and tonight was no exception.  Luckily we didn't have to wait long to be seated.

    I used to get the black sesame cream (香滑芝麻糊), but decided to have the walnut cream (清香核桃露) tonight for a change.  Very nice.  Full of roasted walnut flavor, and you can still feel the slightly grainy texture.  They used to have a stone mill on the premises to grind the sesame and walnuts by hand, but these days the mill is nowhere to be seen…

    The sponge cake (全蛋雞蛋糕) is a perennial favorite, but I'm not a real fan.  Honestly it's a little dry, and I'd take the Japanese castella (カステラ) any day.

    It was good to be able to meet Robyn, who is much younger but has been writing about food for much longer than I have.  I hope we were able to give her a little taste of Hong Kong, and look forward to welcoming her back in the future.

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  • 02/23/13--04:20: Eat for two
  • My lunch today came about as a discussion over a month ago, over dinner and wine with some friends. I had enjoyed my two previous visits to the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market (香港仔魚類批發市場), and wanted to introduce a few friends to the place.  As I was going to be out of town for a few weekends and Lunar New Year was coming up, I planned a few weeks ahead and settled on today.

    Naturally, I sought help with my friend KC, who had organized my previous meals and had connections with the fishermen.  KC very generously agreed to act as the liaison, and so I left matters in his good hands.  After the fishermen returned from their Lunar New Year holidays, the menu began to take shape…  I was very much looking forward to this feast.

    I arrived at the canteen today to find a table of 12 booked for us.  There were only 6 of us, and I realized that there had been a miscommunication somewhere.  The seafood had been sourced separately, and was already being prepared for our meal.  It was too late to cut back on the quantity.  I fretted a little about the amount of food that was going to flood our table, and wondered how we could possibly finish it all…

    Pan-fried local Japanese tiger prawns in soy sauce (豉油王大花竹蝦) - these were positively HUGE!  The plate looked impressive and probably had one prawn meant for each person.  However, we had half of the intended diners, and a couple of us are allergic to prawns…

    I greedily sucked on a couple of heads, as these were pretty big and had lots of yummy goodness inside.  Even my friends who are allergic and could only watch us eat from the sidelines had a sense of how delicious these were… as the scent was overwhelming.

    We weren't able to finish the big plate, as we wanted to save some room for the rest of the dishes…  I did have two of these, though.

    Deep-fried abalone (椒鹽鮑魚) - these were very, very good.  Crispy on top but still moist inside, with a good balance between soft and the right amount of bite.  We each had two of these…

    The steamed fish course went through a couple of changes, with a very surprising ending.  Initially it was supposed to be humphead wrasse (蘇眉), a prized delicacy.  I asked for a substitute, as the fish is in the "Avoid" category in the World Wildlife Fund's seafood guide.  Fourfinger threadfin (馬友) was suggested as it's the right season, and I happily agreed.  However, the fish on the plate didn't look anything like a threadfin, and when asked what kind of fish it was, the staff simply said "grouper (石斑)".

    This was a big fish… more than 3 catties.  It was a touch over-steamed, but still tasted fine.  The soy sauce-based sauce, though, was a little heavier than usual in terms of oil.  In fact the skin tasted a little thick and oily, too…  It sure was tasty!

    I only found out after the meal that this was no ordinary grouper, but actually a small giant grouper (龍躉)! One often sees real giant ones being kept in fish tanks at Cantonese seafood restaurants in Hong Kong, and it's another prized delicacy.  Fortunately it's listed in the "Think Twice" category of the seafood guide, so it's a little better in terms of environmental impact…

    Mud crabs steamed with egg white (蛋白蒸爆羔蟹) - this was even better than what I remembered from last time.  One would expect the crab meat to be sweet since the crabs were fresh, but there was a layer of flavor beyond that which I could only describe in Chinese as 鮮, which doesn't translate literally as "fresh", but it could only have come from the abundance of tomalley (蟹羔). This was definitely awesome, and it's been a while since I've had crabs which were as tasty as this.

    Steamed fourfinger threadfin (蒸鹹鮮馬友) - this was very, very delicious and probably the favorite dish of the group.  Initially the staff recommended that the fish be taken home entirely without being served, as there was too much food.  I insisted that the dish be served and we would take home any leftovers, as I always thought it was special the way they serve fish that was salted overnight.  Before we dug in, I asked that one of the two fish be packed away, so that we would only be tucking into one.

    The fish was absolutely delicious.  Marinating in salt had given the flesh a little more bite and texture compared to a fresh fish, and certainly added a good amount of flavor.  The fattiness of the fish also provided an additional layer of complexity to the flavor.  After a while the gang clamored for more, and we ended up taking the other fish out of the box it was packed in and ate it on the spot!

    Seafood soup (海鮮湯) - they didn't have the usual local fish soup (老火湯) today, so we had this instead.  Quickly boiled with pomfret (鯧魚), mud crab, tofu and veggies.  The pile of "dregs" was certainly impressive!  We would end up taking this home so as not to waste it.

    The soup itself was very light, despite the volume having been further reduced by boiling it for a little longer.  I could definitely taste the tofu and the veggie, on top of the seafood.  Too bad we didn't have room for more than 1 bowl.

    Deep-fried squid (椒鹽鮮魷) - this was originally taken off our menu after discovering we had too much food.  However the group clearly wanted a taste of this, so I added a small order.  Very, very delish, and everyone was happy with this decision.

    We took some Chinese lettuce (唐生菜) to help with digestion.

    Our bellies were full, but we couldn't leave without some of the kick-ass French toast (西多士)!  I was blown away by this the last time around, and insisted that we order two portions since one piece for each person just wouldn't do.  I was glad I did, and I observed the look of surprise on the faces around the table as everyone enjoyed this.  Light, fluffy and "ethereal" as I described them last time.

    But there was more!  There was a box of homemade macarons, which turned out to be passion fruit flavored with a chocolate/passion fruit ganache.  I liked the fact that these were soft and moist instead of hard and crumbly.  I ended up taking up apart and eating them like Oreos…

    We were all winos around the table, and had a nice little collection of bottles to drink out of standard issue tea glasses.  I ended up drinking a reasonable amount for lunch, while the Specialist was noticeably reserved.  I guess the wines just weren't up to her standards…

    2009 Doisy-Daëne Sec - nose of green apple, muscat grapes and minerals.

    2007 Cloudy Bay Te Koko - minerals and muscat grapes.  Not drinking as well as I remembered.

    2012 Mount Edward Riesling Morrison Vineyard - my Birdbrain Cousin was saying that the Sauvignon Blancs were like lolly water, but this one takes the cake!  Tons of sweet bubble gum-like notes and almond in the very aromatic nose.  Is this even Riesling, because it is not even remotely close to what German and French Rieslings are like?!

    2011 Mount Edward Pinot Noir - young and still a little tannic.

    We left very stuffed but very happy.  Unfortunately the canteen is due to close mid-August, as the rent was going up and it was no longer sustainable to operate there.  Sigh… another place in Hong Kong serving delicious food driven out of business by rising rent.

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  • 02/25/13--06:22: Batter up
  • I'm in Macau for a conference and staying overnight.  While the free food provided by the organizers at the Westin Resort Macau seemed fairly decent, I chose to be anti-social and went out on my own.  I'm not in Macau a lot these days, and there was definitely an itch I'd been wanting to scratch for the last few years… even if I had to do it on my own.

    Tenmasa (天政) has been on my list of places to go in Macau ever since it opened.  Outside of Japan, there are no shortages of sushi (すし), ramen (ラーメン), teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) or even tonkatsu (とんかつ) specialists, but it is incredibly difficult to find a half-decent tempura (天ぷら) restaurant.  When I heard that the specialist from Tokyo had opened a branch it Macau, it immediately piqued my interest.  Unfortunately I never found the occasion to come here, but that changed tonight.

    I arrived at the near-empty restaurant, and eventually seated myself at the tempura counter.  For a supposed tempura specialist, it was curious that the place featured a sushi counter in addition to regular tables.  The menu was also strange.  Most of the set dinner featured tempura as just a small part of the meal, with sushi and wagyu filling up space.  The only set dinner where tempura took center stage was actually the cheapest… and this left me scratching my head.  I decided to take this set, but added a number of à la carte items.

    The meal started with a trio of appetizers:

    Walnut tofu - this was OK.  The flavors were a little on the light side, and the texture of the tofu was a little too gelatinous… and was difficult to break up with chopsticks.  I almost had to pick up the whole piece to try to take a bite.

    Spinach with sesame sauce - this was not bad.

    Marinated salmon (鮭南蛮漬け) - this was OK.

    The onslaught of tempura begins…

    Prawn (海老) - had two of these in a row.  Dabbing some sea salt brought out the sweet flavors of the prawn.

    Japanese sillago (鱚)

    Bamboo shoot (筍) - don't think I've ever had this as a tempura.  I could definitely taste the sweetness.

    Ice fish (白魚) - ordered this as an extra item.  Always loved these.

    Turnip (蕪菁) - never had this as a tempura before, either…

    Ginkgo nuts (銀杏) - I could taste more of the sweetness rather than the bitter flavors that sometimes dominate.

    Squid (墨イカ) - ordered this myself as I've had great squid at good tempura restaurants..  Scored numerous times, probably trying to make it easier to chew.  The chef tried to cut this into two pieces to make it more manageable, but failed.  The result was that the soft layer of batter came off…  No "WOW" factor here...

    Sakura shrimp (桜海老) - very nice.  I've always loved the intense flavors of these tiny shrimps, and the result here was very good.

    A good look at one of the heads…

    Shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子) - ordered this because I always liked these.

    Sweet potato (薩摩芋) - ordered this because it's a "must-eat" at some of the tempura shops.  Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

    Snow crab (津和井蟹) - don't remember having had crab leg tempura before, but this was actually not bad!

    A closer look at the strands of crab meat fibers…

    Eggplant (茄子) - I never quite understood why eggplants are on just about every tempura menu, since it has the propensity to just soak up tons and tons of oil…  Fortunately it wasn't too bad today.

    Conger (穴子) - I ordered this because good conger tempura can be divine.  Unfortunately that wasn't the case tonight.  Definitely muddy.  The batter on this was also noticeably heavier, and crunchier compared to the other items.  Disappointed.

    Tenbara (天ばら) - I really didn't have any more room left, so I tried to finish about half the bowl… I thought this would come with a piece of deep-fried mixed veggies (かき揚げ) on top, but I guess not…  This is the tempura version of diced sushi rice (ばら散らし), and the pieces of chopped prawns, scallops and fried batter were pretty good.

    Yuzu ice cream (柚子アイスクリーム) - actually this was pretty good, with nice little bits of yuzu rind.  Would have preferred a sorbet instead of ice cream though, as it would be more acidic and without cream…

    Well… this didn't really "hit the spot"… Maybe I shouldn't have expected it to be at the standard of its Tokyo honten (本店) level, but the gap was pretty big between this and the good tempura places in Tokyo.  Oh well, I scratched my itch, and it's still itching…

    I got to chatting with the chef towards the end of the meal, and lamented about the lack of decent tempura places outside of Japan.  I think he help pretty helpless about the fact that the menu here wasn't entirely tempura, as it's difficult for people to accept Japanese restaurants which are specialists outside the aforementioned sushi, ramen or tonkatsu.  Oh well, I'm still searching for a place to get my fix...

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  • 02/26/13--03:27: An idyllic afternoon
  • I'm not exactly a Macau regular, but I've been here enough times over the years.  Not long after I landed in Hong Kong in the mid-90s, I was taken to Macau to have lunch at the famous Fernando's.  For years it was the most popular restaurant with many expats from Hong Kong, and remained pretty much the first place that came to mind when asked about Macau.  I've always thought the food was pretty good there, and loved dishes like their suckling pig and pan-fried prawns.  I've made many trips to that little house at the end of Hac Sa Beach.

    Today I tried out the restaurant at the other end of Hac Sa Beach.  Miramar comes highly recommended by my friend KC's Macau food guide, and as it happens it is literally a few minutes' walk from the Westin Resort Macau.  When it was time for lunch after the conference, I simply dragged my little suitcase over from the hotel.

    I debated about whether to order the dishes recommended by KC, and was really tempted to order some suckling pig, but settled on a couple of my own choices in the end.

    Casquinha de caranguejo - this stuffed crab shell had plenty of crab meat, but I was surprised by the amount of rich cheese here.  Pretty yummy.

    Galinha à Africana com batata frita e salade verde - hey, I figured that I'm in Macau, might as well order up this Macanese classic, although I still don't know what "real" African chicken tastes like…  The sauce was made with coconut milk, chili peppers and garlic.  The chicken was a little on the dry side, and I thought this was only OK.  Need to figure out where to get the real stuff.

    Coincidentally KC was also in Macau today, and since I was in Coloane he decided to meet me at Lord Stowe's Bakery for coffee.  I was a little surprised by his choice of venue since this place is a tourist hotspot, but I would never turn down the chance to have some pasteis!

    We sat down inside the cafe just around the corner from the main bakery and caught up for a little while.  He was impressed with my friends' abilities to devour seafood last weekend, while I thanked him for making the arrangements.

    The pasteis here today was a little subpar.  It just needed to stay in the oven for a little bit longer, as it was neither charred enough on top, nor did it have the usual depth of flavors.  Still OK, though…

    The latte they served was pretty decent.  Not that I'm a connoisseur or anything…

    After my coffee and dessert, it was time to head back to Hong Kong.  This hasn't been a great trip in terms of food, but at least I got to tick a couple of places off the list...

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  • 02/27/13--07:42: A midweek feast
  • Believe it or not, I went to another "media dinner" tonight.  After the debacle a few months ago, I was sure that no one was going to invite me for another one of these again, but an invitation did come, through a fellow blogger.  He was trying to do his friend a favor, and I tried to do him a favor by asking him to check... to make sure that there would be no repercussions from me giving my honest opinion.  When the feedback was that the restaurant and hotel was comfortable with me writing whatever I wanted, I decided "Why not?"  Here's a place that seemed pretty confident of the quality of their food, and "fearless" in a way.  So I was thinking to myself, in Chinese: "好!不怕死的就來吧!老子看看你有什麽能耐!"  (Just kidding...)

    I arrived at FEAST in EAST Hotel (un)fashionably late, and apologized for being tardy as a result of work.    The rest of the gang were already on their second appetizer, and I kinda dug in soon after I settled down and caught my breath...  I didn't know who else was going to be there, but it was good to see a couple of familiar faces.  I joked to my neighbor that, other than seeing her on a couple of occasions at Island East Markets, I only seem to catch up with her at events like this... and we live about 5 minutes away from each other (on foot)!

    Prawn cocktail, Marie Rose sauce - I've never been a fan of cocktail prawns, and while the sauce was slightly spicy, I found the whole thing to be a little bland... Maybe I should have doused the prawns in lots of sauce...

    Brown bread cursted scallops, lemon and pancetta - Yum!  This was a pleasant surprise.  My scallop was prepared fresh, after I arrived. The lemon and herb butter worked pretty well...

    ...and the scallop was done just about right in terms of texture.  But GEEEZ... did they have to put those irresistible cubes of pancetta on top?!  I think this was voted the best this of the evening by many of us.

    French onion soup, crouton and gruyère - I thought this was OK, a little on the sweet side in terms of flavor (read: not heavily-salted), but I didn't really appreciate being served this course at the start of a 12-course assault...  I only had half of the serving and felt at least 60% full afterwards... BIG chunks of croutons and LOTS of Gruyère.

    EAST fish pie, halibut, scallops, prawns and cheddar mash - oooooh yeah, no question whatsoever that this was a fish pie... as my fellow diners commented on how "fishy" this smelled while spooning it onto their plates.  I didn't mind the smell, and thought it tasted pretty decent.  Served with carrots and potatoes on the side...

    Steak and Guinness pie, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots - nobody could taste the Guinness, but never mind... The steak inside tasted reasonably tender and decent, although we all wanted a lot more of the pastry shell.

    Hung shao pork, stir-fried greens - braised pork belly? 'Nuff said.

    Sesame ginger chicken, steamed rice - not bad.

    Pretty full by now, and the onslaught of desserts began...

    Banoffee cheesecake, toffee pecan sauce - pretty decent, actually...

    Apple and cinnamon crêpes, Calvados and cream - I thought the filling was decent, but I prefer my crêpes to have gone through a little more "heat"...

    Sticky gingerbread pudding, ginger wine and brandy sauce - there's no mistaking that it was made with ginger...  I do love sticky puddings...

    Chunky marmalade bread and butter pudding, crème fraîche and orange zest - pleasantly surprised, as the orange zest and marmalade really made what could have been a boring bread pudding stand out.

    As usual, I avoided the fallen chocolate soufflé, Armagnac prunes and crème fraîche sauce like the plague... Not because I thought there was anything wrong with the execution, but I just don't go for this type of stuff anymore.

    Happily, I ended my evening without being completely stuffed but reasonably satiated.  For a hotel cafe that is designed to appeal to the general diner, I thought the food was reasonable, and there were even a couple of upside surprises.  Many thanks to EAST Hotel for feeding me.

    Oh and P.S., I don't drink... =)

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  • 02/28/13--04:50: UGC 2010 tasting
  • The night before Robert Parker released his updated scores on the 2010 vintage tasted from bottle, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - in conjunction with Watson's Wines - hosted a tasting of the same vintage.  2010 was the younger of the twin blockbuster vintages of 2009/10, and en primeur prices for the vintage undoubtedly shattered some records.  I haven't had the pleasure of tasting many wines from this vintage, so I was really looking forward to this event.  In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised by how quickly tickets to this event sold out.  I actually had to pull some strings (thanks to the Specialist) to get myself a precious ticket…

    I actually arrived a few minutes before the official starting time of 6pm, and there was already a big crowd waiting to get in.  I guess everyone wanted to come early and make sure they don't miss anything!

    I had a wine dinner to go to after the tasting, so I was rushing to taste as many of these wines as I could within a limited time. That means I didn't really have time to delve deep into each wine, but rather just scratching the surface of each. I went through 31 wines in about 1½ hours, which I thought wasn't bad…

    2010 Lascombes - cedar, wood, a hint of smoke, prunes.

    2010 Giscours - more fragrant and open, nose of saddle, smoke, earth, and almost floral. Nice.

    2010 Brane-Cantenac - nose was open, more acidity here, with dried herbs and fragrant on the edges.  Henri Lurton was here again.

    2010 Angludet - alcoholic, more pungent, fruity with some dried herbs.

    2010 La Lagune - more smoke here, with lead pencil and a rounded palate.

    2010 Pichon-Lalande - sweet nose with exotic coconut butter, vanilla and cedar.

    2010 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - lots of mint, smoke, lovely, fragrant and open. A classic Pauillac. Emeline Borie poured the wine.

    2010 d'Armailhac - ripe and sweet fruit, smoke,wood.

    2010 Clerc-Milon - wood, smoke and mint. OK.

    2010 Talbot - a little funky, leather and herbs.

    2010 Léoville-Poyferré - wood, smoke and a little earth.

    2010 Langoa Barton - coconut, vanilla and cedar.

    2010 Léoville Barton - cedar, perfumed, sweet with vanilla. Not bad.

    2010 Branaire-Ducru - smoky with dried herbs.  Disappointing.  Patrick Maroteaux was here.

    2010 Gruaud-Larose - earthy, heavy and pungent, smoky.

    2010 Bon Pasteur - sweet, almost orange and tangerine, and perhaps some tea leaves.

    2010 Gazin - minty, smoky with some wood.

    2010 Clinet - soft, fragrant with spices, sweet.

    2010 Troplong Mondot - open and fragrant nose with cedar and smoke.

    2010 Latour-Martillac Blanc - pipi de chat front and center, muscat, lemon. Very nice. Medium acidity.

    2010 Malartic-Lagravière Blanc - more butter and less pipi here, oaky, lemon, ripe on the palate with good acidity balance.

    2010 Pape Clément Blanc - tropical fruit, almost like my favorite Balinese passion fruit, star fruit, a little bit of pipi.  Ripe palate.  Beautiful wine.

    2010 Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc - ripe nose with pipi de chat.  Nice.

    2010 Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc - lemon and passion fruit.  Bruno Lemoine poured the wines.

    2010 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc - ripe, pineapple and apricot.  Also notes of cheese, like Comté.

    2010 Haut-Bailley - open nose with cedar.  Véronique Sanders was here.

    2010 Guiraud - orange blossoms, honey, acetone, apricot.  Some acidity here.

    2010 Doisy-Daëne - more acetone, a bit pungent, honey and apricot.

    2010 de Fargues - marzipan, orange, honey and a little acetone.

    2010 Coutet - orange, sweet, honey, fragrant, almost floral.

    2010 Climens - orange, marmalade, really sweet and unctuous.

    For reds I liked Pichon-Lalande, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Léoville Barton, Clinet and Troplong Mondot.  Whites I liked Latour-Martillac, Malartic-Lagravière and Pape Clément best.  For sweet wines it had to be Guiraud, Coutet and Climens.

    Needless to say I was already pretty buzzed when I went off to dinner, to drink more wine!

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  • 02/28/13--07:09: A golden Pawn
  • After getting just a little buzzed from a bunch of 2010 Bordeaux at the UGC tasting, it only made sense to keep on drinking at dinner!  etc wine shops had organized a dinner at the Pawn, pairing the sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac with specific dishes.  That sounded pretty interesting to me, so I signed up to see how things would turn out.  Of course, it helped that wines from 3 of my favorite producers were being served…

    NV Thiénot Rosé - nice nose of red fruits like raspberries.

    Black treacle salmon, English crumpet and beetroot mousse - pretty good actually. I thought the flavors of the beetroot worked well with the salmon.

    2006 Doisy-Daëne - wonderful nose of orange, honeydew melon, honey, acetone.  Pretty sweet.

    Butter poached salmon, lemon purée, cucumber and pistachio crumble - pretty decent, and the salmon was still very tender (didn't ask if it was sous vide?)  The palate-cleaning flavors of the cucumber, leeks and lemon were very refreshing.

    1989 Guiraud - sweet, slightly nutty, a little raisiny with acetone.

    48 hour Berkshire pork belly, roasted apple jelly, walnut purée and Hokkaido scallop - is there anything not to like about a hunk of pork belly, with crunchy crackling?  Not sure why the scallops are here but they were OK.  Not surprisingly the apple jelly and walnut purée worked well with the sweet wines.

    2005 Climens - honey, a bit nutty with acetone.  Pretty sweet on the palate.

    Venison loin, roast parsnip, dark chocolate sauce - the venison was tender, but didn't have the strong flavors I would have expected.

    1964 Climens - lovely nose of honeydew melon, dates, walnut and acetone.  Sweet with some acidity to balance things out on the palate.

    1942 Doisy-Daëne - nutty, raisin, toffee with good depth of flavors.  This is a year older than the bottle from mom's vintage which I tasted a couple of years ago, and according to Fabrice Dubourdieu both vintages were bottled only in 1946 when the château was able to get their hands on enough glass bottles.  What a privilege to have tasted this wine!

    Rhubarb soufflé, tonka bean ice cream - as I had walked away from my seat to take some pictures, the staff didn't serve my dessert until I returned and asked for it.  For some reason, the soufflé had already collapsed by then... Rhubarb is not your usual flavor for soufflé, but the ginger in completely overpowered and stole the limelight.  The tonka bean ice cream wasn't bad.  Some of my fellow diners left early because they didn't want to wait 20 minutes for the soufflé, and they didn't miss much.

    2009 Guiraud - a little plastic with some white flowers.  Very sweet on the palate.

    I really enjoyed the wines with dinner, and surprised that I didn't mind a bit that I was drinking very sweet wines with my food.  I guess I've been training my palate with lots of German Rieslings over the last few years...

    Many thanks for Fabrice Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne, Bérénice Lurton of Climens and Augustin Lacaille of Guiraud for showcasing their fantastic wines.

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    Some friends are visiting from out of town and wanted to meet up for lunch.  They had visited ZEN yesterday and found that the quality of the food has dropped significantly compared to 20 years ago.  After I laughed off the suggestions of dim sum at Lung King Heen (龍景軒) - Sunday lunch on 1-day notice?! - and Da Domenico (I thought, mistakenly, surely they wouldn't open on Sundays?!), I was left with the task of coming up with a venue for dim sum on the Kowloon side.  I briefly toyed with the idea of taking them to Sun Tung Lok (新同樂) or the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), having never been to the latter, but settled on something different.

    Nanhai No.1 (南海一號) was chosen because it's a place I haven't been before.  It sits on the 30th floor of iSquare, giving it a pretty decent view of Hong Kong - even though the Peninsula Hotel is kinda smack in the middle between it and the harbor.  The place also used to have a macaron in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Rubberman guide, until this was taken away in the current edition.  A macaron?!  Surely that must count for something, right?

    After settling in, I passed around the order sheet for dim sum so that the visitors could pick what they wanted to eat.  When the sheet came back around, I noticed something a little unusual on the menu.  It's not exactly an ingredient that I would recommend to anyone, but... what the hell do I know, right?

    Curiously for a Cantonese restaurant, deep-fried prawn crackers (炸蝦餅) are served as snacks.  Pretty yummy.

    My friends wanted to have some Cantonese-style double-boiled soup, so I asked the manager what the daily soup was.  He didn't know, and went away to check.  Hello?!  If anyone in the front of house should know what the daily specials are, wouldn't it be you, sir?!

    He came back a minute later, and told me (in Cantonese) it was octopus and lotus root soup (章魚蓮藕湯) with pork shank (豬蹍).   Assuming (incorrectly again) that my guests aren't fluent in Cantonese, I elaborated and said "Oh, octopus! 八爪魚!"  At this point the manager decided to correct me and said: "既係魷魚" (translation: "it's actually squid")  HUH?! 章魚(octopus) and 魷魚 (squid) are two entirely different things!  If you cannot tell the difference between the two, you have no business working at a restaurant, much less being the "manager"...

    The soup itself was actually delicious.  The sweetness of the lotus roots played center stage, while the flavors of the dried squid (or was it cuttlefish? I saw small tentacles so it definitely wasn't a big octopus...) added a different yet complementary layer.

    Not surprisingly for a Cantonese restaurant, all ninedim sum items we ordered arrived within about 2 minutes of each other.  Unlike some other restaurants with excellent service, no one bothered to ask that, since most dim sum items came in baskets of three and there were four of us, would we like to make sure that there were four items in each basket.  What's worse, after all the items had already arrived, when I inquired with the other manager whether it would be possible for us to add one more piece for each item, the answer that came was negative.  "Oh, we don't do that here... but you can always get an extra order to have more food."

    I was ready to slap someone.

    Rice rolls with shrimps (韮王鮮蝦腸粉) - this was OK.

    Black truffle and crab dumplings (松露蟹餃) - this was OK, too... I did taste the little bits of black truffle shavings, but... didn't do much for me.  And I thought these were a little over-steamed, and the skin stuck to my chopsticks and eventually tore as I was handling them.

    Xiao long bao (上海小籠包) - pretty good, actually.  The skin was very thin (and didn't break), and there was plenty of jus inside.

    Pan-fried radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - a tad on the soft side, but pretty tasty.

    Crispy cod samosa (葡汁雪魚酥) - pretty interesting.

    Chicken feet with XO chili sauce (祕製XO醬鳳爪) - the chicken feet were so-so, but I liked the addition of the XO sauce.

    Rice rolls with shredded radish (脆皮蘿蔔絲腸粉) - this was definitely yum!  A cross between a 炸兩 and 蘿蔔絲餅, the crunchy bits inside I think were deep-fried rice vermicelli (炸米粉).

    Barbecued pork and jack fruit pastry (大樹菠蘿叉燒酥) - being from Southeast Asia, the visitors wanted to see how jack fruit would be incorporated into this item.  I thought it was OK, and the strong and pungent flavors of jack fruit were unmistakable.

    Grouper with vegetable dumpling (海棠斑肉餃) - did they fry the grouper before stuffing? Texture was interesting.  Also had coriander inside.  Steaming was not overdone.

    Pan-fried oyster cake (南海煎蠔餅) - the visitors were curious, and I thought there was a slight Chiuchow bent to this place and figured it would be the classic Chiuchow style.  Sure enough, a big one arrived, having soaked up plenty of oil in the wok.  Pretty yummy, I must say... but definitely very filling at the end of the meal.

    Well, I think I succeeded in bringing my visitors to a place where the food was better than ZEN (but that's a pretty low bar to set, innit?)  Honestly, I thought the food was decent, but with the kind of service I got today... why bother?!

    P.S. for another example of why I thought a restaurant deserved losing its Michelin star, see this post from 3 years ago...

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  • 03/03/13--07:43: Dutchy's got talent
  • Let me be honest here.  I never liked Amber.  For years it was the one "French" restaurant in Hong Kong that I just didn't care for.  While many people didn't "get" Pierre, I was the one who loved Pierre but didn't "get" Amber.  I think a lot of it had to do with my early experiences with the restaurant, especially that first work dinner where I felt things were just too gimmicky.  It left such a deep impression on my mind, to the extent that my subsequent meals - many of which, in retrospect, had been delicious - were simply overshadowed and forgotten.

    I don't think I have ever been to Amber of my own accord… it was always someone else who wanted to go, or one of my friends who loves hosting dinners there.  I didn't mind tagging along, but it just wasn't gonna be my first (or second or third) choice.  Then came my last meal at Amber, not long before my relocation to Taipei.  While I enjoyed the food a lot, the service that day left me fuming.  Since then Amber was pretty much written off my list.

    The Wommer and I were getting together to open a couple of bottles, and he suggested that we come to Amber.  I was still trying to figure out why everyone is so enamored with the place, so I agreed to the suggestion.  Clearly he knows the chef a lot better (well, since I didn't know Chef Richard Ekkebusat all), and so I was expecting VIP treatment and for the kitchen to do a few special things.

    What's the point of me saying all this?  Well, after I was blown away by tonight's dinner, I finally realized how wrong I've been all these years about Amber and the cuisine of Chef Richard.  I GET IT NOW.

     A series of canapés and amuse bouches to start us off:

    Cannelloni with black truffle coulis, kabocha pumpkin and pumpkin seeds

    Pita bread ball filled with aubergine, with pepper

    Signature foie gras lollipops - with raspberry coating and gingerbread crisp on top

    Couldn't remember what this was…

    ...but there's jamón ibérico in the liquid center of the deep-fried ball, along with plenty of acidity from (vegetables?)

    Cauliflower soup with egg sabayon and black truffle - this was very yummy.  Cauliflower always works so well with black truffle… as I first tasted at Bo Innoseki (the old name for BO Innovation) years ago.  This, however, is a much, much more refined version.

    Now the meal finally starts…

    Needlefish 'sayori' marinated with olive oil 'caviar', heirloom carrots, finger lime and ginger - I never expected to see halfbeak (針魚) done this way, but it was awesome.  The fish is complemented so well by the carrot and tomato bouillon, with that sharp acidity, a little sweetness and slightly spicy.  The olive oil "caviar" is lovely, and a little bit of piment d'espelette made things just about perfect.

    Langoustines seared with bergamot, dark roasted brioche, caramelized parsnip purée and raw "Passe-Crassane" pear - a beautifully-done, fresh New Zealand langoustine.  Perfect texture.  Beautiful sauce.  The parsnip purée was nice, but what really made the dish was the strips of Italian parsley on top enhanced with bergamot.  Wow!

    Iberian pork chin with salt-roasted beetroot, Granny Smith apple and 14 grams of caviar - a beautiful tower, and the caviar worked well with beetroot.  The pork belly was divine.  The crackling was so crunchy that we decided to flip the pork over just to cut it…

    Duck foie gras raviolis with black winter truffle, chestnut and wild mushroom broth - the delicious foie gras ravioli had bits of black truffle inside, girolle mushroom on top and the bowl came with mushroom emulsion foam with truffle.  Took it with one bite, but what an awesome mouthful that was!

    Bresse poulard breast, steamed then albufera glazed, minced leg in silver beet, smoked potato mousse line and pollard jus, black winter truffles shaved at the table - one of the things that always bothered me about Amber was that the chicken - even Bresse chicken - always came without the skin.  I looooove chicken skin, and depriving me of it just automatically knocks off a bunch of points in my book.  Tonight, however, all was forgiven as there was a replacement "skin" on top of the white meat.  That, boys and girls, was described as a "thin" layer of foie gras pâté - but in fact was about as thick as the breast meat underneath...  Served with some truffle coulis and smoked potato mousseline.

    Oh and here's a picture of what my plate looked like after getting some black truffle shavings...

    In case you were wondering, this is a picture of said black truffle before we got our shavings...

    There was also Savoy cabbage stuffed with diced chicken leg, lardo and hazelnuts on the side.

    Puntalette prepared like a risotto, as a 'carbonara' style with Alsatian bacon and black winter truffles - this was an amazing dish.  Made with oignon doux de Cévennes, which were incredibly sweet and delicious.  Lots of yummy bacon bits, chives and shaved Parmigiano.  You would have thought this dish to be really rich, but the surprising acidity in the sauce balanced it perfectly, making it possible to inhale the dish without any effort.

    Oh and here's a picture of what my plate looked like after getting some black truffle shavings...

    Time for some cheese!  Amber also get their selection from Bernard Antony, so here's what I picked...

    Époisses de Bourgogne - I was sold the minute I saw the name Gaugry on the box.  Do you know how difficult it is to find unpasteurized Époisses?!  Together with the white wine, the flavors of pear and minerality came out.

    Cantal - this was clearly aged and strong, pungent and stinky.  Pretty salty, too.

    Mimolette, 18 months - yummy.  Salty with citrus notes, bitter finish.

    Camembert - this ain't no ordinary Camembert... The rind was washed with Calvados.  It was nice and acidic, with the rind tasting extremely salty but still with hints of apples.

    Amaou (あまおう) strawberry in hibiscus infusion, blackcurrant and Sichuan pepper 'granité' - this delicious strawberry from Fukuoka (福岡) was stuffed with strawberry jello inside, and served with olive oil caviar.  The intensity of the flavors and sweetness was simply amazing.

    Abinao 85% chocolate soufflé with cacao sorbet - this was a strange-looking soufflé - with cylindrical walls which have somewhat hardened, then filled with smooth chocolate ganache inside.  It's been a long time since I was wow'ed by any chocolate desserts, but this was definitely the one.  VERY sweet.  VERY good.

    The pure cacao sorbet on the side was interesting, since it was a sorbet and not ice cream.

    The petits fours here are always good, but I didn't have no more room for them...

    Last but not least... les vins!

    NV Alfred Gratien Brut - savory minerals, toast.  Ripe on the palate with good acidity.  Very delicious.  Compliments of Chef Richard.

    1997 Sine Qua Non Twisted and Bent - decanted.  Initially a little toast masked by the sweetness, then huge nose of toast, slightly sharp, sweet grass... VERY sweet nose, with buttery corn coming out much later.  Actually, creamy corn...from Green Giant.  Very smooth on the palate, very soft and elegant, but the finish was long with slight bitter marmalade.  Mature on palate now.  Incredibly beautiful to drink now.  60% Roussanne and 40% Chardonnay.  My contribution and possibly my last bottle...

    1989 Vega Sicilia Unico - lovely, with sweet fruit, a bit of forest, chocolate, smoke and mint.  A little sharp on the nose.  Fairly smooth on the palate with medium body, and slightly acidic.  Still a very young wine.

    I was finally properly introduced to Chef Richard, and found him to be a very passionate (that would be a no-brainer...) and interesting individual.  I offered him my compliments, as I found the meal to be truly sensational.  Some 6 years after my first meal, I have finally been fully converted into an Ekkebus fan.  I look forward to spending more of my hard-earned dollars there...

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  • 03/04/13--07:38: Trois Cépages
  • After a 2-month break, we finally had our first scoring MNSC dinner tonight.  We were all roaring to go for the start of the new season, and Dr. Poon picked Cépage - one of his favorites - as the venue.  The restaurant is closing soon as the landlord is taking the space back, so this may be one of the last opportunities for me to come here.

    I guess that's the reality these days in Hong Kong, across a broad price range where the landlords' decisions have determined what we can or cannot eat in a certain neighborhood...

    Our amuse bouche was scallop tart topped with premium caviar - this was soooo delicious, and a great way to start.  The thin filo pastry at the bottom was very nice.

    Foie gras and kaviari eel - the foie gras / eel combo has popped up  a few times over the last year in my culinary adventures, and this is a little different as the chef did not mash the two ingredients into one.  The eel was rather smoky and interesting.  There was a little cup of dashi (だし) on the side, which we were supposed to drink separately.

    This was a big hunk of foie!  Definitely not good for cholesterol… Interesting as the exterior had been seared till the edges are all hardened while leaving the center still soft.

    Black truffle in perfect harmony with quail egg over sweet onion tart - this was pretty good, and the second day where I'm having some nice truffles...

    Salmon tataki confited, served on a bed of Japanese flowers and a light yogurt sauce - I was initially surprised at how dry the exterior of the salmon was, but as I sliced it open and revealed the moist interior, a lightbulb went on inside my head… It is supposed to be tataki (たたき), after all… I guess the yogurt sauce was interesting.  A very Japanese take on a classic combo.

    Milk fed baby lamb cooked in 'à la plancha' style, with glazed baby carrots and lamb jus - there was never any question which of the two choices of meat course I would pick… Have had this a number of times, and love just picking up the chops by my fingers and chomp.  Soooo succulent...

    Oven baked apple, brown bread ice cream and caramel with sweet cider - this was interesting… Diced apple with some almond flakes on one side providing the acidity.

    Then the ice cream with sweet caramel…

    …and some chocolate fudge.

    Dr. Poon as usual served up some really good stuff, and I gave pretty high marks to most of these wines.  Unfortunately, my tasting notes for the evening was lost along with notes from a few other evenings. Somehow about a week's worth of notes disappeared from my (once) trusty iPhone.  Fortunately I had managed to blog about all the other evenings except this one, so the damage was limited… but it means my tasting notes on tonight's wines are gone...

    1985 Louis Roederer Cristal - loooooove this!  Old Champagne is always awesome, and you've got that savory, mineral, salty plum (話梅) nose that I always love.

    Flight 1:
    1988 Dujac Clos de la Roche - a very lovely wine, fragrant and floral. 97 points.

    1988 DRC Grands Echezeaux - denser, more animal and powerful.  94 points.

    Flight 2:
    1997 George Jayer Echezeaux par Henri Jayer - very nice and elegant.  I think I gave this 96 points...

    1997 Rouget Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Cros Parantoux - more meaty and animal.  I think I gave this 93 or 94 points.

    Flight 3:
    1997 Shafer Hillside Select - huge nose of sweet fruits, vanilla, tangerine... Sweet on the palate.  I think I gave this 96 points.

    1997 Bryant Family - big, ripe and very sweet.  I think I gave this 96 points.



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  • 03/08/13--07:38: Death by cheese
  • A gathering had been planned for a small group of friends who haven't seen each other, and we agreed to meet up for some wine (and perhaps some food) tonight.  ILoveLubutin suggested that we meet at our favorite Caprice and just grab some wine and cheese, which sounded like an excellent idea.

    I arrived to find that the cheese bar was already full, but luckily I was able to be seated at a small table and wait for a bigger to free up.  I thought I'd wait for the rest of the gang to arrive before ordering anything, but Sebastien decided that just wouldn't do, and graciously offered me a glass of 2011 Ostertag Sylvaner Vielles Vignes.  Ripe, floral, tropical fruits, peach and white flowers.  Lovely.

    We moved to a larger table, but ILL had to leave early for another engagement.  While my friend ordered a selection of cheese (and asked for soft cheese, without goat cheese), I took the opportunity to get a taste of this season's black truffles.  Chef Vincent had come around earlier to chat a little, and mentioned that we are getting close to the end of truffle season, so I'd better hurry and get some.

    Scrambled eggs with black truffle - œuf brouillé aux truffles is one of the best ways to enjoy truffles, and I was only happy to get some.  Unfortunately, something went awry in the kitchen today.  There must have been 50% more salt in the contents of the cocotte than what I'm used to.  I couldn't eat more than 2 spoonfuls without getting a sip of water or some wine.  With truffles priced the way they are, I didn't have the heart to send it back to the kitchen…

    A humongous spread of cheese was laid out in front of us.  Everything was "supersized" and the two of us were trying to figure out how we would finish everything.  At this point Ninja was finally able to join us, but as she is allergic to cheese, her arrival was no help to us…

    Abbaye de Tamié - slightly salty and a little strong.

    Colombier fermier - saltier, a little stronger, with some ammonia.

    Coulommiers fermier - very creamy, a little salty.  The rind was a little bitter.

    Saint Félicien - creamy, higher acidity with saltiness.

    Brillat-Savarin fermier, made with triple cream - not as melt-in-your-mouth as before, with higher acidity this time.  REALLY rich.

    Moelleux du Revard - from Savoie.  A little musty with a bitter finish.

    Comté (4-year old) - pretty rich and creamy, with some bitterness on the finish, along with a little sweet aftertaste.

    Époisses de Bourgogne - made by Gaugry.  Creamy and very salty.

    2007 l'Aiguelière Sarments - interesting blend of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.  Very floral, very ripe with apricot.

    I was too full to nibble on the St. Nectaire or the Fourme d'Ambert.  What I had taken in was too rich, and it hit me all of a sudden like never before…  It was the first time that I felt I couldn't take any more of the cream after having enough of the Brillat-Savarin...

    When the bill was presented, I noticed that the scrambled eggs had been taking off the bill.  Perhaps the staff had overheard my comments to my friend about how salty it was.  I tried in vain to argue with the staff to have them add it back on the menu, as the price for this item was much, much more than the cheese we had been charged for.  The staff did not budge.  After several rounds of pleading, I relented. I guess this is what you'd call "Michelin star service", and yet another example of why I would always choose to come back time and again.

    P.S.  I packed the unfinished cheese and brought them home to Taipei for mom.  She dug right in to the melted Époisses with a spoon...

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    Two years ago, I had decided and announced that I wouldn’t comment on the Rubberman’s annual award of macarons to eateries in Hong Kong.  I have also grown tired of discussing why the annual World's 50/100 Best list by Restaurant Magazine/San Pellegrino is ludicrous and Euro-centric.  So when the first Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants from the same people came out a few weeks ago, I barely took an interest and mostly watched the internet traffic flew by.  I’ve been busy at work, and already spending more than enough of my spare time filling this space with material.

    Then yesterday something caught my attention on Facebook.  Fellow blogger Tom posted a screen shot of a comment he had received in response to something he wrote, and the comment was simply appalling, to say the least.  No, it was idiotic, ridiculous, and pure, unadulterated RACISM.  My blood was boiling within a matter of seconds upon reading this person’s comments.  I got so worked up that I asked Tom for the link to the full article, which appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s blog, so I could read his work in its entirety and also all the responses that came along. 

    While there may be a couple of points I may take issues with, I largely agree with Tom’s point of view.  No, I am not Korean, nor am I an expert on Korean food or culture.  However, I have travelled enough to Korea on business, count many Koreans (both in and outside Korea) as friends, and have even had cooking lessons on Korean cuisine – enough to have more than a glimpse into that culture.  And since I am the Arrogant Prick, yes, I do think I’m qualified to give an opinion.

    There are always going to be people who bitch and moan about “how come there are no restaurant from [insert city] on the list?!”  Well, as with any other “definitive” list, this one is inherently flawed.  The people on the voting panel – and there are many – have historically been Euro-centric.  The restaurants from Asia that have shown up on the World’s 50/100 Best list in the past have traditionally been serving non-Asian cuisine, or Asian cuisine which have had influences from the West, with modern techniques and/or use non-traditional ingredients.  And let’s not forget that this list is about fine dining– and therefore non-food criteria such as service, ambiance, wine lists can come into play. 

    In many Asian cities where one can find excellent local food, there is a dearth of restaurants which fall into the “fine dining” category – especially when we’re talking about cuisines that are not indigenous.  In a recent text message I sent, I called my hometown of Taipei “a culinary wasteland.”  Of course that’s a harsh statement, but it is absolutely true when one looks at anything other than cheap, local fare or Japanese fare.  Other than Japanese cuisine and a handful of French restaurants, “fine dining” doesn’t exist in Taipei.  I cannot even find a handful of Chinese restaurants - regardless of their regional specialty, be it Cantonese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese… - that I would consider to be fine dining by my standards.  I doubt many (if any) of the voting panel has ever been to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei.  No surprise that Taipei is missing from the party.

    Similarly, cities such as Beijing and Seoul…etc. are noticeably absent.  The cities that make the list are Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai – the most cosmopolitan and “worldly” in Asia.  They are very much exposed to cultures other than their own, many through their relatively large expat communities.  There is a community of diners who are sophisticated, well-travelled, well-versed in non-native cuisines, and perhaps most important of all – willing to pay top dollar for fine dining.  Without this last crucial element, what you have would be cities like Taipei and Seoul, for example, where the local street food culture dominates and everything gravitates towards the "cheap and cheerful" lower end.  I can't tell you how many people have told me that they "love the food in Taiwan", but how many  of those have actually had good experiences with fine dining in Taipei?  Probably none.

    Some of the comments on Tom's piece bring up the issue of alcohol in the Korean dining culture, which I found interesting and completely agree with.  From what I can see, the alcohol part of the Korean dining culture is a lot about drinking cheap alcohol to get drunk, and not about truly appreciating the taste of the alcohol.  I have always referred to soju as "industrial rubbing alcohol", and consider it something vastly inferior to sake or wine.  Years ago when I asked my Korean colleague why they drink poktanju (폭탄주) or tornados, the reply was that it was about get drunk cheaply and quickly - it was about efficiency.  When you have that mentality, then the lack of fine dining options in Korea is no longer a surprise… as fine wine and fine dining do go hand-in-hand.

    The most interesting comment - which brought my blood to a boil - was the one from "Hyun-so Han".  I'm lifting that part and highlighting it here:

    No one loves his country and compatriots like the Korean do because Korea is the purest race. Therefore, the Korean chef cooks with a passion that international chefs lack, inevitably. There is no question that the same pure-nationalist passion applies to the Korean soju maker as well. This, then, is clear evidence that no cuisine is superior to the Korean, and all Koreans readily agree. So the saying goes, Korea number one.
    Why then do foreigners disagree, as evinced by this heinous article? Except for the evil Japanese, who are naturally envious, there is a simple explanation. When a Korean cook sees that his customer is waegook (foreigner, naturally impure), he immediately loses his love and passion for cooking. Thus, the waegook never comes to savor the best cuisine of the world.
    WOW!!!  I see this "nationalistic" attitude sometimes among Mainland Chinese and other Asians, and have always found it ludicrous and deluded.  Honestly, this guy is simply racist.  I jokingly commented that this guy deserves the "Adolf Hitler Humanitarian Award of the Year", but when you're talking about the "purity" of the Korean race, the "evil" Japanese… what else am I supposed to think?!
    Instead of complaining about how other people don't really appreciate or overlook the cuisine or restaurants in your city, how about trying to make sure that the standards of the cuisine is actually "world class" in the first place?  That was one of the points I tried to make when I spoke at TEDxVictoriaHarbour last year.  Too often people in Asia take pride in their local food, when others tell them how great it is, when in fact their cuisine lacks depth.  They are good at the "cheap and cheerful" but little else.  They don't strive to be creative, innovative or take things to the next level - elements which are required for achieving truly world class cooking.
    So yes, the list of Asia's Best 50 Restaurants is flawed, but it doesn't mean it is without merit, or that we can't all learn something from it, or engage in some introspection and reflect upon what it says about the dining scene in our Asian cities.

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