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

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    I’m back in Macau for the same work conference that I attended last year, and once again I decided to be anti-social and skip dinner with my fellow attendees. While the conference food at the Four Seasons Macau this year was significantly better than what we had last year, there are certainly even better options in town.  My experience last year wasn't so good, but I had a great time dining solo last month.

    I figured that I owed it to myself to check out one of the places with macarons. As I’m dining with Me, Myself and I, doing Chinese was out of the question. After ruling out Robuchon au Dôme and the Kitchen, there was only one remaining option – the Tasting Room by Galliot at the Crown Towers.

    Getting there was a breeze for me. I walked out of the Four Seasons, crossed the Bridge of Stars to the other side of Estrada do Istmo, and then it was a couple of minutes’ walk to the City of Dreams complex and yet another familiar set of air freshener. Once again I had no reservation for dinner, but it wasn’t a problem as there were only 2 tables occupied at the bar area, and I was the third table in the dining area.

    I took a quick look at the menu, and decided that I would take the 6-course menu, without wine.  While browsing online through the wine list for the City of Dreams a couple of days ago, I quickly came to the realization that the prices were pretty exorbitant, and there were certainly very few choices when it came to half bottles.  I'd be better off just focusing on the food.

    Before I even got to the food, my still water came, and this bottle of French water actually said "Grand Cru de L'eau"!  I'm such a country bumpkin... even after all these years of drinking wines from Bordeaux and other French appellations, I never realized that they actually classify water in France, too...

    On the food front, first up were these three little bites:

    Duck roulade with yuzu sauce

    Salmon roll with cauliflower cream - pretty nice, actually... especially for a cauliflower freak like me.

    Pork croquette with Béarnaise sauce - the cumin in the sauce was pretty strong.

    The amuse bouche was a lobster ravioli with "capsicum purée" and lobster emulsion.  Well, it's not exactly purée but a little more like compote, maybe.  The ravioli was surprisingly a little bland, though...

    The service was attentive and pleasant.  As I was dining alone, the staff even brought over a couple of magazines for me to keep myself occupied in between courses.  I politely declined.

    Artichokes "en vierge" with lemon supreme, filet of John Dory with capers vinaigrette - this was rather pretty, with artichokes, capers, and wedges of lemon whose acidity I couldn't take.  Yowza!  That was really sour!

    The John Dory itself was cooked sous vide.  Pretty nice.

    The smoked egg with black winter truffle coulis, light pumpkin cream - I was first presented with a box containing the egg, mushrooms and straw.  You can see the smoky, hazy air in the box...

    Then it came in a lovely presentation, with a delicious ham panini on the side.

    It was black truffles and mushrooms all around - a very hearty, wintery dish.  The egg was wonderfully soft and wobbly, although I must confess I couldn't really distinguish the smoky elements.  Does it really work when you try to smoke an egg through the shell?  But this was a very, very delicious dish even without the smoke.

    Brittany lobster with crab ravioli, shell fish nage, dill and coriander butter - very, very delicious.  Reminds me of the very awesome homard bleu at Restaurant André that I loved so much.  The nage was very citrusy, with perhaps a hint of fennel.  Interestingly the crab ravioli was much more tasty than the lobster ravioli that came as my amuse bouche.

    The lobster was extremely well done... Love it when they're a little "crunchy" with lots of bite.

    Yuzu sorbet - this came as the palate-cleanser.  Very, very smooth in texture, with standout yuzu (柚子) flavors.

    Different cooking method on the French lamb from Aubrac, split pea mash - this came in three parts...

    The pan-seared lamb loin was really, really delicious.  Very lamby from the fat, and very aromatic from the charring that came from high heat.  The interior was extremely moist and tender, as it was braised a little before searing.  This was probably one of the best loins I've had in recent memory.  I usually find loin to be too tough and dry, but not so tonight.

    The lamb shoulder with eggplant caviar was pretty good, too.

    Finally there were these thin slices of lamb tongue on consommé gelée with spicy pepper coulis.  The coulis was made peppers, coriander and other spices.  Really picked up the flavors.

    Cheese from Mr. Hervé Mons - not surprisingly, the clientele in Macau isn't very sophisticated and doesn't appreciate some of the wonderful soft cheese available.  That just means that I get the benefit of having it all to myself!  Only soft cheese for me...

    Mont d'Or - brand new and this was the first spoonful.

    Saint-Marcellin - really ripe n runny.  Very nutty with a pretty salty rind.

    Époisses de Bourgogne - this isn't getting any love from others, either...  More for me.

    Brillat-Savarin - I always love this for the creaminess... and how it just melts in the mouth.  Salty first, then the acidity comes mid-palate and into the finish.  Also slightly bitter and nutty mid-palate.

    The pre-dessert was orange Campari granité, which was very sweet but I loved it.  The taste of Campari wasn't too heavy and bitter.

    Mandarin and yogurt - the agar on top was made with mandarin orange and yuzu.  Slices of mandarin orange among mandarin yogurt and espouma, along with a sprinkling of honey nut crunch.

    Finally, a little macaron to finish the evening with my espresso.

    I had told Mathieu - who left Robuchon to come here - that I wasn't drinking tonight, but he was kind enough to offer me a glass to go with my lamb.

    2004 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° - fruity, but a little acidic.  Showing signs of oxidation from too much aeration.  A little metallic, mineral and earthy.

    For some reason, I started feeling full after the egg, and was a little stuffed after the lobster.  This turned out to be a lot of food for me tonight, but I was very happy at the end of the meal.  The food was very tasty, well-executed and there was a reasonable amount of creativity and variety here.  The serve here was also excellent - attentive and friendly.  Certainly worthy of a macaron, and I will be back another time... with my own bottles of wine...

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  • 02/20/14--06:41: Casual Comfort
  • Harlan opened up his Harlan Goldstein's Comfort some time ago, and I've been seeing lots of people post pics over the last couple of months.  Tonight I finally had a chance to check it out for myself, but I needed a couple of accomplices.  No Fork Use had to fly airplane at the last minute because of work, so it was just My FavoriteBirdbrain Useless Cousin who kept me company tonight.

    My Useless Cousin arrived first, and it didn't take long for her to figure out a few things she wanted.  I decided to just order one starter, so that we wouldn't end up over-ordering.  Turns out we still had too much food for someone...

    Japanese wagyu beef croquettes - these big boys were yummy!

    What's not to like about tender minced beef, wrapped in a layer of mashed potatoes and then deep-fried?

    Bitterballen, crispy beef balls and mustard - yup, more deep-fried balls... But I wanted to try these out since I've never had bitterballen before.

    Well, I was kinda thinking there would be a little more beef... but maybe that's not the point here.  I was also surprised to find these very heavily seasoned and salty.  Maybe that's the way it's meant to be, as it is typically served with drinks.  A little too much for me, though...

    We waited a while before our next food item came, and to our surprise it was our main course, not the third starter.

    Slow cooked Spanish Duroc pork ribs - these were DAMN GOOD!  Soo tender, soo juicy... and flavored by all that fatty goodness... This is what people mean when they say that the meat is "falling off the bone", because it literally did!

    I had two of them ribs and stopped.  My Useless Cousin then declared herself to be full after one rib.  She tried to get me to eat rib number 3, but I wasn't about to.  She claimed there was only enough room in her stomach for either this rib or our missing starter...

    Bao bao with "melt in your mouth" pork belly, hoisin glaze - I dunno why these Taiwanese-style gua bao (割包) are suddenly popping up in Hong Kong, and basically marketed as "Chinese hamburgers"...  They've been around forever...  Anyway, this was pretty good.  Instead of preserved leafy mustard (酸菜), Harlan uses pickled carrots and cucumbers to cut down the fat of the pork belly.  Gone and inhaled in a hurry.

    At this point, I decided to demote My Favorite Cousin to My Useless Cousin.  Instead of finishing off the pork ribs that she ordered, she decided to pack the rib home - her excuse?  She would give it to her dog Wolfie.  Guess what she did next?  SHE ORDERED DESSERT!  And her comes that cliché of "Oh, but it's a different stomach..." Very well, from now on I will refer to My Useless Cousin as a cow, since no human has more than one stomach...

    We took it easy on the wine tonight, since there were only two of us...

    2004 Ponsot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes - minty, pretty fruity and nice.  A little bit of forest, mushroom, a little savory black olive, and a little leathery.  Tannins very noticeable especially on the finish, and acidity as well.

    Lots more on the menu that I want to try, but there were only two stomachs tonight - despite claims otherwise.  Gotta come back for more, then...

    P.S.  My Useless Cousin did feed the leftover pork rib to Wolfie, who reported wolfed it down so quickly that no picture could have been taken for evidence...

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  • 02/21/14--07:46: Horsing around at dinner
  • I don't know nothing about equestrian events, despite having lived just a stone's throw from a race track for a number of years.  I never had much interest in watching people dressing up and jumping over fences on their horses.  But when Tigger extended an invitation for me to join him at the Longines Hong Kong Masters, I figured it was a good opportunity for me learn something.  It is, after all, one of the events that make up the Masters Grand Slam Indoor.  So I brought out my heavy artillery and rode out on the train to AsiaWorld Expo.

    I made a quick stop at the Feeding Hong Kong booth to say hello to Gabrielle, then headed to our designated table so I didn't have to carry my gear around.  We were in a good position to catch the action on the field, and I could see all the obstacles laid out on the course.  I did wonder, though, if the horsies had to jump over the Mercedes station wagon...

    Those of us with tables dined while watching the competition, and the organizers made sure to deliver quality cuisine which measured up to the expectations to the VIPs these events typically attract.  The organizers brought in Chef Yves Mattagne from Michelin 2-starred Sea Grill in Brussels, who served us a 3-course dinner tonight.

    Baltic salmon, herbs cream, potato foam, croutons - this was very delicious.  The herb cream was so yummy... and the potato foam, too.  We were off to a good start...

    Duck magret, roast, carrots mousseline, passion fruits, macadam nougatine - when my plate arrived, I kinda froze, blinked a few times, and slowly recovered from shock.  These little slivers of duck breast was all I was getting for MAIN COURSE?!  No wonder they kept refilling our bread basket...

    To be fair, the duck was absolutely delicious - I just could have done with triple the amount on my plate.  The duck bisteeya was also pretty yummy, as was the carrot mousseline.  The passion fruit sauce felt a little out of place, I thought...

    Tainori dark chocolate, cremeux, raspberries, dulce leche, meringue - this was pretty good, too.  I lapped it up very quickly... Soooo smooth and creamy.

    Of course there was also free-flowing alcohol.  We started with some Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, which is the official Champagne of the event.

    2012 Antoine Moueix Expression Sauvignon Blanc - oaky, vanilla, tropical fruits like peach, a little flinty.

    2009 Château Tour de Capet - minty, a little fruity, light-bodied, pretty flat and drank poorly.  Later on the alcohol really showed, and didn't work well with the duck or the passion fruit.

    But what of the horsies and their riders?  Well, I actually had more fun than I thought I would.  It was an eye-opener to watch a group of riders - most of whom are at the top of the game - coming to Hong Kong to compete.  I guess since the "courses" aren't always standard like an actual track, all the riders had to come out and "walk the course" to measure the distance between jumps.

    It's also interesting to see these big horses - specially bred for show jumping - leap over the bars set at 1.45 meters high.  As graceful as they can be, it's easy to forget that we are, after all, dealing with animals here... and despite years of training and the long partnership between (wo)man and horse, there are times when the horsies just refuse to do what they've been asked to do... Yes, they can act up, get spooked, or whatever... and refuse to jump.  Two refusals by the horsie and the team is disqualified.

    Of course, since horsies are animals, they don't get no toilet training... Every once in a while the staff would have to come and clean up the "accidents"...

    The crowd, of course, cheered for local entry Kenneth Cheng whenever he came through.  Unfortunately he was just a little young and inexperienced compared to this group, but he made a gallant effort anyway.

    In the end, I gained an appreciation for the sport and learned something.  Many thanks to Tigger for the kind invitation.

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  • 02/24/14--07:56: Meat no fish
  • It's Restaurant Week in Hong Kong, and that means many places in town are offering prix fixe menus for standardized, attractive prices.  For some reason, I was never interested when the promotion was put on during the last few years, and kinda ignored all the publicity around it again this year.  When the Wommer invited me to join him for dinner with a booking at Fish and Meat, I was happy to accept the invitation for the opportunity to check out the resto.

    I arrived to find the space very dimly lit.  There was no light above our table, and our main light source was a little candle on our table.  I had to read the menu - printed in tiny font that was probably no bigger than 6-point - by the dim candle light.  And I must admit, these days my eyesight ain't what it used to be - especially in dim light.  At this moment, I can fully appreciate what my fellow speaker Kim Walker was talking about at TEDxVictoriaHarbour in 2012.  Why do restos find it necessary to do this?!  Does their food really looks so bad that they resort to keeping it in the shadows?!

    For HKD 438 we are offered 3 courses, but the Wommer was worried that we wouldn't have enough to eat...

    Soft duck egg raviolo, ricotta cream, burnt sage butter, Pecorino - this was absolutely delicious, and a great start to dinner.

    Breaking the raviolo open released the liquid egg yolk, along with delicious ricotta.  The sage butter was very, very fragrant.  Yum!

    Roasted bone marrow crostini, lemon zest, garlic, parsley - the Wommer ordered this as an extra course for us to share, but like last Friday, I ended up blinking at my food in disbelief.  This was it?!  The other problem with this dish - besides the size - was that it came to the table lukewarm.  By the time the slivers of marrow hit my tongue, it had gotten cold so that the fat was no longer liquid... it had congealed and the sensation of cold fat smearing against my taste buds just wasn't appealing at all.

    "Diavola" style free range yellow chicken, caramelized onions, jus - WOW! We were so wrong about leaving the table hungry, because this half-chicken was BIG!  The best part?  The meat was juicy.  And tender.  Very nicely done.  The drawback?  The spicy diavola sauce was too watery, and I ended up splattering it all over my brand new, crisp white dress shirt that I was wearing for the very first time.  But that could just be because I'm a klutz.

    But there was still dessert!  Since there were 3 of us and 3 desserts to choose from, we just asked for one of each.

    Whipped mascarpone "cheesecake", raspberry, shortbread crumble - this was delightfully yummy.  The cheese had been whipped into this light, airy foam, and when you mix in the raspberry sorbet and crumble... the result was pretty spectacular.  All the familiar flavors were here but the texture was just a little different...

    Sicilian lemon tart, country clotted cream - I love lemon tart, and this was very good.

    Chocolate pot - very good, too... and tasted like Maltesers with a little hazelnut.

    The Wommer and I never get together without vino, and we each brought a bottle tonight...

    2003 Chapoutier Ermitage L'Orée - should have had this decanted, as it took a long time to open up.  Initially this was muted and just didn't show.  Oxidized, a little copper and metallic, light body and short finish.  With time it gathered more body, with a longer finish as it warmed up.  Also was a little alcoholic at the end.

    1996 Valandraud - fruity, a little spicy with the diavola sauce for the chicken.  Smooth on the palate.  A little smoky, grilled meat and earthy.

    I have to say that the food turned out to be pretty enjoyable tonight, although if I ever come back, it's gonna be during daylight hours...

    We were delighted to see our friend Jeremy Evrard at the resto, as I thought I'd missed the chance to catch him after he left Caprice.  He seemed to be doing well, and we look forward to hearing his future plans as they firm up.

    The Wommer had his mind set on checking out Stockton, the sister bar/restaurant run by the same group.  So we exit the restaurant, went around the corner and found ourselves in the speakeasy...

    ...which was when we ran into Jeremy, again.  I guess he also wanted to check out Stockton...

    Kill Devil - pretty nice, lots of different flavors here, with absinthe making its mark in addition to the four types of rum.  Also tasted the distinct flavors of ginger beer.  In spite of the name - and the fact it it came with a warning that one could not order more than 2 of these - this was deceptively mild and pleasant on the palate.  No doubt it packed a big punch in a velvet glove.

    But the real issue was that this cocktail was ridiculously big.  Just look at the size of it compared to the other "normal" cocktails...

    And it seemed like lots of people were checking out this new hotspot in town, since we ran into Harlan Goldstein...

    Oh, and one Kill Devil did get me pretty buzzed after the wine I had at dinner.  I don't think I could have managed to have a second one...

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  • 02/25/14--22:20: Urban farming x charity
  • I'm a big fan and supporter of Feeding Hong Kong.  It's not just because Tigger's one of the co-founders, but I really do believe that they're doing great things for this community.  So when Tigger invited me to a lunch where they were introducing their Edible Garden, it was a no-brainer for me to attend and see what it's all about.

    I trekked over to the middle of Kowloon to get to the HKICC Shau Kee School of Creativity.  Once through the front gates, I climbed up six floors to the rooftop - and found myself looking at an example of urban farming.  It's pretty encouraging to see the idea of urban farming spreading in Hong Kong, and people are even doing it in my 'hood in the boonies!

    I check out the rows of spinach, basil, romaine lettuce, carrots...etc. All seem to be doing well, and I was told some of the veggies are now on their third or fourth harvest.

    This is a project involving many partners in the community.  It's sponsored by Tesco, who donated funding, equipment as well as the seeds needed.  Technical support came in the form of Time to Grow as well as architects who advised on the impact the additional weight would have on the roof of the building.  Once the set up had been done, it was up to the students at the school to take care of the veggies on a day-to-day basis.  After the veggies were harvested, they were distributed to Feeding Hong Kong's existing charity partners - much in the same way fresh veggies from donors like Sarinah Organic are already being distributed.

    We all sat down to a vegetarian lunch, which started with a demonstration by Sandra from Grassroots Pantry - one of Feeding Hong Kong's partners in their Chefs in the Community program.

    Sandra made us a Mediterranean salad with tomatoes, spinach (grown on the rooftop), Italian basil, mint, red onions, chickpeas and feta cheese.  Delicious.

    Then there was a pumpkin soup from Lakshmi Harilela that was absolutely delicious, with hints of cumin and other spices.

    Lakshmi also sent us a delicious chickpea stew, along with some flat bread to dip into the stew.  Very hearty, filling and yummy at the same time.

    With each passing day, I gain more and more respect for the way Gabrielle Kirstein and her team have grown their operation from its relatively humble beginnings to take on all the different programs they are now running.  Not only are they helping the needy while reducing food waste, they also find ways to raise awareness and leverage on volunteers in the community.  Kudos to Gabs and the team, and I hope more and more people in Hong Kong get involved with them!

    P.S. Tigger would object loudly if I didn't give him some credit for making the right connections to secure a few key partners and resources for Feeding Hong Kong at the beginning, so... a pat on the back for him, too...  As they say, KY is the jelly that brings people together...

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  • 02/26/14--07:10: The king of paella
  • Hours after meeting Tigger for lunch, here I am having dinner with him again.  The Tiggers have been hankering to go back to On Lot 10, since Baboo really misses the fresh fish that David serves up.  So while we were watching some horsies jump around, I called and made a reservation for tonight.  And not wanting to miss something epic for a second time, I called to make sure we were going to be served a few specific items...

    Steamed artichoke - the ones we got today were skinny-ass versions of what I had 2 weeks ago...

    We got a stuffed crab shell as a starter.  Of course, this ain't no ordinary crab shell... it's the shell of an Alaskan king crab!  Just look at the lemon wedges on the side to figure out the size of the shell.

    The cold crab meat was really yummy.  Mixed with onions and chives, this was both a little spicy and acidic.
    Jamón ibérico, aged 48 months - oh yum...

    Tried to be healthy with a little salad...

    But for me the main event tonight was definitely the Alaskan king crab paella.  Eight beautiful legs of the king crab lay on top of a layer of rice, along with mussels and some petits pois.  This was absolute perfection tonight.  The legs were showed full-on crab flavors - I could still taste the ocean.  The rice tonight was done just right - not soggy like what I had 2 weeks ago, but dry and chewy enough.  Sooo tasty with the mix of seafood flavors and the finely diced chorizo.

    But the best part about a good paella is the socarrat, and I was determined to take in as much as I could... so I pulled an ILoveLubutin and scraped the pan clean with a spoon.  No, I don't think I could clean the pan with my finger like she does...

    Pan-fried fourfinger threadfin - it's been a while since we last had the fourfinger threadfin (馬友) from David, and how delicious this was!  Done with tons of butter, potatoes, watercress and a ton of coûtons.  The flesh of the fish was sooooo soft and tender, and of course incredibly tasty.

    I had deliberately tried to keep the number of dishes in check, and as it turned out, we had just the right amount of food.  We were not overly stuffed, yet we were all satisfied with our bellies full.  Oh and there was no need to make a run to Tsui Wah...

    Knowing we would be seafood-heavy tonight, I brought along some white wine for everyone:

    2000 Les Plantiers du Haut-Brion en magnum - oaky, flinty.  Ripe on the palate, with a pretty long finish that seemed a little bitter.  Not bad at all.

    Tonight was definitely a roaring success.  Of course I will be back again and again... and will be needing that king crab paella a few more times!

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    This evening started early for me, as I brought along a couple of friends to a wine tasting at Hong Kong Wine Vault's newest storage facility.  The Managing Director of Château Montrose, Hervé Berland, was in town on a very short stay and gave us a brief introduction to the property.

    2010 Tronquoy-Lalande - oaky, lots of fruit, with plum and cedar.

    2010 La Dame de Montrose - minty, fruity, still a little pungent, a little dusty.  Tannic on the palate.

    2008 La Dame de Montrose - young and tannic on the palate.  Sweet fruit, smoky, a little forest, and a little pungent.

    2005 La Dame de Montrose - more open and opulent, a little smoky, with leather and bacon notes.

    2011 Montrose - very sweet, rich, cedar, woody and fragrant.

    2010 Montrose - really sweet and ripe, dried herbs, potpourri and toffee.

    2008 Montrose - very open and really fragrant, with leather notes.  A little alcoholic, and still a little tannic.

    2005 Montrose - still tannic but a lovely wine.  A little alcoholic.

    1998 Montrose - very open nose, farmy, smoky, cedar and savory soy sauce.

    I nibbled on the usual canapés, but it's not exactly a whole dinner.  So we headed back to Central and ended up at Caprice Bar.  As luck would have it, we ran into another friend and asked her to join us.

    2010 (?) Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine - flinty, ripe, floral, peachy and sweet.  A fairly big wine but lovely at the same time.

    Cheese platter - we asked for A Bit of Everything, but preferred to go light on the blues.

    Guérandais - this little goat cheese from Auvergne was acidic and... goaty!

    Mothais - this was a creamy and slightly nutty goat cheese.

    Abbaye de Tamie - a little bitter and salty.

    Petit Mosellan

    Perail de Brebis - very creamy and runny, and very salty.

    Brin d'Amour - lots of herbs on the outside, a bit salty but nice and creamy.

    Munster - pretty salty.

    Smoked salmon heart, sour cream and mixed green salad

    2007 Marcel Deiss Langenberg - really ripe and sweet, perfumed and floral, flinty and mineral.

    Charcuteries / Cold Cuts - with saucisson, jamón ibérico and chorizo.

    One of my friends suddenly felt like drinking beer, and remembered that there was a special artisanal beer here.  Apparently it was only available on a trial basis, as the brewer is the same person who supplies Caprice with their Anneau du Vic-Bilh...

    Brasserie Lebbe L'Amalthée - light and floral, reminds me of a white beer like Hoegaarden, with a hint of citrus flavor.  Texture seemed slightly thicker, though.

    Anneau de Vic-Bilh - of course we had to have the cheese with the beer!  They naturally go hand in hand.

    Madagascar Chocolate Fondant, Tahiti Vanilla Ice Cream

    Gotta say this turned out to be a pretty good evening...

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  • 03/01/14--07:05: Death by meat
  • I'm not a steak guy.  As much as I love to eat, I never understood the notion - especially in Asia - that a big dinner out means a piece of steak.  Not to belittle the people who cook a nice piece of steak, but for me there's very little creativity involved when you're eating a steak.  Sure, there's a certain amount of skill required to get it done right, but it's really more about the quality of the meat and not about the skill of the chef - which is the value-add that I'm most willing to pay for.

    So I was very hesitant when I was approached by a PR friend to join the second Steak Rebellion - a pop-up by the Butcher's Club.  I explained the situation.  Surely there was someone else in town who was more worthy of this seat?!  S/he would certainly appreciate the steak far more than I would.  I was already scheduled to attend a wine dinner at the Butcher's Club later on in the month, so I would write about the dry-aged steaks anyway...  But the PR insisted, and eventually I relented.  Yes, I would come and see what this brouhaha was all about.

    My evening, though, started a few hours before dinner.  I met up with the Specialist for a drink at the Blue Bar inside the Four Seasons Hotel, and foolishly followed her lead in having something alcoholic.  It didn't work out so well for me... as I was buzzed before I even got to dinner...

    32 Via dei birrai Nebra - very light and sweet on the palate a little floral thanks to the elderflower.  My kind of beer.

    Pretty viscous with noticeable sediment.

    Negroni - very well made.  Punchy bitterness, but rounded on the palate at the same time.

    I had about an hour in the office to drink lots of liquids and try to get rid of my buzz... and then I headed for The Space - where the pop-up was being held.

    They had set up an oyster bar on the ground floor, but I wasn't really interested at that very moment, and bypassed it to go to the dining room upstairs.

    The decoration tonight was an old chophouse, with straw scattered on the floor, pig's heads hung on the walls, and slabs of meat hung from the ceiling on meat hooks.  They had guys dressed up as butchers in wife-beaters and wenches walking around.

    I was introduced to Jon Glover, who showed me around the place and led me out the back door to get a look at their food truck.  Yes, it was literally a truck, loaded with meat inside, and a barbecue was set up on the liftgate and fired up.  As this was a pop-up and they're not licensed for this space, this make it handy for them to move.

    When our table was all assembled, the food started to arrive...

    The Butcher's Club charcuterie - very yummy 48-month jamón ibérico.  There was also some very tender pickled veal tongue, which I just couldn't stop eating.  The corned beef brisket was a little on the salty side, but tasted pretty good.  Finally there was boerewors, a South African sausage that was pretty tasty, too.

    The charcuterie platter came with fresh baked beef fat basted bread, house crackers and pickles.  Not bad...

    Then Jon came around each table to show us our meat, and carve each steak in front of us.  It sure was a fine lookin' piece of meat...

    Next thing we knew, we had our nicely charred, 14-oz. 45-day dry aged USDA Prime ribeye steaks in front of us.  The meat had been rubbed with spices and grilled on high heat, creating a charred exterior.

    Yes, the meat was cooked à point, and I had no complaints whatsoever.  The extensive charring on the exterior was a little on the bitter side, but there was plenty of flavor here.  In fact, I didn't add anything to the meat for the first quarter of it, because it was tasty enough as it was.  They had some beef fat salt but I didn't think it added much...  The apple and tarragon ketchup was a much better companion, as the sweetness helped smother the bitter flavors of the crust.

    Not bad, eh?

    Cooked thrice in duck fat hand cut steakhouse fries - I normally don't go for fat fries, but these were the exception.  Ohhhhh boy...

    Oh and we also had some organic garden leaves with balsamic vinaigrette, but I didn't bother taking a picture...

    I didn't touch the "formage by Xavier" Fourme d'Ambert or Coupe de Corne, as I was really full by now...

    ... and I would much rather have the Joreen's famous New York cheese cake, graham cracker crust, blueberry caramel.  This was creamy alright, but not as thick as real New York cheese cake.  Still, I gotta say this was pretty yummy.  Would have had a second slice if I didn't think I would burst...

    As I came to dinner slightly intoxicated, it took me until the middle of dinner to grab my first sip of wine.  Being the wine snob that I am, I didn't have any expectations until I saw that the wine was made by Susana Balbo, whose white wines I remember fondly.

    2009 Dominio del Plato BenMarco Malbec - smoky, forest, minty, a little jammy with blackcurrant.  Palate was a little weird and oxidized. Later on it was just undrinkable. Blegh.

    I was done.  Couldn't fit a sliver more.  So I bid my dining companions farewell, thanked the PR who twisted my arm, and headed home with a third of my steak in a doggie bag...

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  • 03/04/14--07:45: Fabulous trio of 78s
  • I first met Neal Martin at a dinner where we indulged in (naturally!) a selection of exceptional wines, and found him to be a soft-spoken and charming guy.  The second time I saw Neal was after an afternoon of sheer drunkenness, and I distinctly remember acting like a totally obnoxious jerk.  So when my friends invited me to join yet another dinner with Neal tonight, I was determined not to repeat what had happened a few months ago.  And to apologize for my behavior, of course...

    Dinner was at Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房) in Wanchai.  I had been to the North Point branch a few years ago but that has apparently closed down, so this was now the family flagship.  I was led to a private room just by the entrance, and I could see that Neal and my hosts were already working on the wines...

    Prawn duo: sautéed prawn with ham and celery, stuffed prawn (鴛鴦蝦) - the head and tail shell of the prawn were stuffed with diced wild mushrooms, flavored with some curry powder.  This is not unlike some of the stuffed whelk or stuffed crab shell found elsewhere around town.  The flesh of the prawn was garnished with strips of ham and pickled carrots, cucumber and the like.

    Coral trout poached in fish stock with soft tofu (豆花煮星斑) - half the tofu is stirred and broken up before being steamed with the fish, allowed the flavors to infuse.  Then the remainder of the tofu is mixed in and served.

    This was pretty unique and nice, and the combination of flavors was pretty harmonious.  Soft, smooth and creamy texture.  Yum.

    Double boiled soup with vintage tangerine peel, duck, pork and ginger (五十年陳皮燉鴨湯) - when one makes duck soup, it's imperative that only old hens (老母鴨) are used, although I never knew how old the hens would have to be to qualify...

    The 50 year-old vintage tangerine peel has given most of its flavors and fragrance to the delicious soup, but still retains some of the citrus fragrance.  We also got some duck meat served to us in a bowl on the side.

    Short ribs with cheese and fermented bean curd sauce (慢煮牛肋腐乳芝士汁) - certainly not traditional... The short ribs were cooked sous vide for 64 hours, and they were incredibly tender and moist.  The sauce was made with fermented tofu (腐乳) and blue cheese, although I was tempted to ask what kind of blue was used...

    Deep fried scallop with taro batter with passion fruit (芋蓉帶子) - I understand that chefs often use acidity to cut down the oil and fat from certain dishes, but in this case I wasn't sure whether the flavors of passion fruit really went well with the main ingredients...

    The taro shell was of course incredibly delicious.  The taro was whipped in a ice cream machine so that the fibers can be broken down, making the texture more creamy.Funny that for a guy who doesn't really like taro, I go crazy over deep-fried taro mash like this every time.  Oh and the scallop in the middle was very nicely done.

    Braised chicken with chestnut (栗子焗雞) - the chicken was curiously oven-baked in a cocotte, with lots of chestnut purée to better infuse the flavors.

    There were also whole chestnuts to enhance the fall flavors.  Very tender chicken.  Kinda reminds me of mom's version, although she didn't use any purée.

    Turnip cup with assorted mushroom with broccoli (野菌白玉杯) - a very clean-looking dish.

    Lifting the mushroom lid revealed this... diced carrots and shrooms.

    Soup noodle with yellow croaker and pickled vegetables (雪菜野生黃玉宮麵) - OMG this was good.  Growing up eating Shanghainese food at home, the flavors in this bowl was downright homey.  And I love mom's yellow croaker more than anything, so this was nothing short of a little slice of heaven for me...

    Filo roll with macadamia nuts, coconut and lemon leaves; almond tea (夏果酥, 杏仁茶) - interesting to find chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves in the rolls.  Worked nicely with the dessicated coconut.

    In spite of the wonderful food, with a wine critic in our midst the evening's focus was squarely on the wines.

    1982 Cuvée Dom Pérignon - beautiful nose of salty plum (話梅), minerals, Chinese licorice (甘草), a little nutty.  First sip showed pretty high acidity, then marmalade and preserved mandarin peel (陳皮) on the palate.  Just a beautiful wine!

    2005 Roulot Meursault Les Vireuils - flinty, very clean at first, seemingly a little mature and slightly oxidized.  A little chalky and dusty suddenly.  Ripe on the finish.

    2012 Shäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Trocken Großes Gewächs - very floral and fragrant with lychees, a little citrus, ripe and sweet.  Such a wonderful Riesling.

    1978 Vogüé Musigny Vieilles Vignes - absolutely beautiful!  Farmy nose with bacon fat, leather, plenty of sweet fruit, and a little savory black olive to add to the complexity.  My favorite wine of the evening.

    1978 Jaboulet La Chapelle - really open nose with leather, farmy and animal notes.  Later on the nose opened up even further to reveal floral and violet notes.  Probably the most open '78 La Chapelle I have ever tasted.

    1978 Petrus - such an exotic nose, with tropical coconut butter.  Smoky, a little cedar, and pretty savory.  Unfortunately this wine declined a little towards the end.

    1998 Fargues en demi-bouteille - honey, apricot, beeswax, marmalade and acetone.  Very nice.

    Such happiness tonight.  The food was excellent, and I'm glad to be reintroduced to Lau Kin-wai's cuisine.  The wines, of course, were magnificent.  And most of all, I'm happy to have not made a fool of myself this time... I think...

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  • 03/05/14--23:26: A simple Italian lunch
  • It's been a while since I met up with my evil twin, so I called him up while I was in Taipei for a short trip and arranged for lunch.  To my surprise he booked us seats at Angelo Restaurant, opened by Chef Angelo Aglianò who was last seen at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei.  I had been hearing some mixed feedback on this place, so it was good to be able to check it out - even though lunch isn't necessary a good indication of the true quality.

    I saw a familiar face before I even stepped foot in the restaurant.  Big Mac and I last saw each other 6 months ago, when we were both going through our respective weight loss programs.  The difference is that I stopped 3 months ago, while he has lost an incredible amount of weight since then.  I complimented him on his lack of a visible gut, and even patted his tummy area to make sure it wasn't there anymore.  I guess it's time for me to restart my program!

    I opted for a 3-course set lunch where the pricing was more than reasonable.  I didn't want to eat too much as I didn't want to spoil my appetite for dinner tonight.  As it turned out, 3 courses was still a little filling...

    Our amuse bouche was carrot soup with fennel and croûtons. A nice and simple start.

    Burrata fresca con pomodorini pesto e balsamico - I ordered this out of curiosity, to see how fresh the burrata could be.  This was actually pretty good, as the texture was still very soft and slightly runny, without lots of hardened "strands".

    Spaghetti con gamberi, calamari e cuori di cavolo cinese - pretty good, too.  Al dente, and I liked the use of local ingredients.  Nothing to complain about here.

    Baba al rhum con crema di ricotta - again ordered this out of curiosity, and pleasantly surprised.  Very nice with the extra rum poured in, and the candied orange rind.

    I was a happy camper.  Lunch today was by no means mind-blowing, but for the price of around USD 30 I wasn't expecting anything spectacular.  I look forward to the opportunity to return for dinner.

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  • 03/06/14--06:41: Downgrading mom
  • It's mom's birthday and as is customary, I flew back to Taipei to take her out for dinner.  Last year was a big one and we ended up at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and I wanted to do something a little different this year.  Remembering the food from my two dinners there fondly, I dialed the number for Justin's Signatures - only to hear a recording telling me the number's not in use.  Fook!  Another restaurant at the top of my Taipei list is gonzo... Where else can I take mom?!

    So it's back to L' least you can't go too wrong with Oncle Joël... Dad and I picked the menu that was just short of the full tasting menu, while I advised mom to pick out two à la carte courses.

    Our amuse bouche had foie gras custard at the bottom, with Port wine reduction in the middle and topped with Parmesan foam.  A nice start.

    Le pied de cochon en croustillant et jeunes pousses amères - was there ever a chance that I would pass up this dish?  No way in hell... The pig trotters were diced up, wrapped and deep-fried.  Soft and fatty inside, with some acidity to cut the fat.  Slurp.  Now if I could only get something 3 times this size...

    Le risotto au foie gras poêlé et vieux porto - very nicely done.  Risotto was just about perfect, with creamy texture and the starch of the rice just coming out.  The cubes of pan-fried foie gras were perfectly done.  Happy camper, I was.

    Roasted pork leg - very delicious, and there were lots of full-on porky flavors... which may be a little too heavy for some.  Tender and juicy.

    Purée de pomme de terre - it's been a while since I last had my favorite mashed potatoes... and mom still laments that the portions nowadays are so much smaller.  She was served the mash in a small Staub cocotte on her first visit, but since then it's been given out in these smaller, egg-like bowls.

    Le canard laqué aux épices, navets et endives an aigre doux - this was some delicious local duck... cooked to perfection as it was still pink, tender and succulent.  Somehow this got mom and I talking about the duck breast we had in December at TASTy (西瑅牛排), which was really nicely executed and great value given the price...

    La banane sur sa crème fondante au chocolat et aux éclats de miel - mmmmm delish!  Bits of stewed and caramelized banana, chocolate and honey crunch at the bottom... in addition to some coconut ice cream.  Inhaled.

    Coffee macarons, chocolate truffles - the coffee macarons were pretty tasty, and not too soggy tonight.

    Mom was a little disappointed in her scrambled eggs with black truffle, as the truffle just didn't leave enough fragrance in her mouth.  So I promised to take her to have some good truffle in Hong Kong... next year.  She did like her pan-fried foie gras though...

    Tonight my poor mom was a victim of my lack of planning, as I hadn't brought over the right wines on my last 2 visits home.  My wine fridge in Taipei was very poorly stocked, and the best bottle needs to be reserved for another dinner later this year.  So she had to make do what this lowly bottle of Bourgogne tonight... Not only was it not a grand cru, it wasn't even a village...

    And Benoît didn't even bring us the Riedel Sommelier Burgundy Grand Cru glasses tonight... only the Riedel Vinum series.  I guess he didn't think the wine deserved to be in the Grand Cru glasses!

    2004 Domaine Leroy Bourgogne - nose was open and beautiful right from the first pour.  Farmy, leather, floral and violet, lots of sweet fruit here, with forest and potpourri notes later.  The wine was very cloudy.  A great wine to drink now.

    Well... mom wasn't a big fan of the wine.  She found it a little "stinky", and thought the alcohol level was too high.  Well yes, mom, tonight you were made to drink a wine that was only 10 years old, while in the past your son always offered you wines from either your birth vintage (1943), dad's birth vintage (1940) or your wedding anniversary vintage (1969)... It's pretty tough for 40 or 70 year-old wines to still be sharp and alcoholic...

    After that little discussion, mom finally admitted that her palate for wine had been spoiled... by me.

    In spite of the fact that the wine was below her usual standard, I think she was reasonably happy tonight, and appreciated that I had flown back to spend her birthday with her.  I guess I'll have to do better next year!

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  • 03/08/14--07:27: Parfumé et bondé
  • It's been way, way too long since the last time I met up with a few friends, and I figured we need to catch up again.  Someone suggested that we check out Le Port Parfumé, and since the feedback I heard was generally positive, I figured we might as well give it a try.

    Things didn't exactly start on a positive note for us... the five of us were being squeezed onto a smallish, round table clearly meant for no more than 4.  The table was also right by the corridor leading to the bar and the kitchen, so we were in the way of the staff coming in and out of the kitchen.  Not surprisingly, the tables were also very close to each other, so space was definitely at a premium tonight.

    We chose our dishes from the board showing the selections of the day.  As we opted for the second seating, it turned out that some of the dishes we wanted were sold out.  We went through 2 rounds of ordering, since we were only informed after finishing our starters that the fish chosen by 3 of us as main course had only 2 portions left.  Sigh...

    Baby squid and chorizo omelette - this was OK.  It seemed to me that the eggs themselves were not seasoned, and the chef was relying on the chorizo and squid to provide the flavors.  While the strips of chorizo were certainly tasty, I thought I detected a hint of ammonia in 1 or 2 of the squid...  A little bland for my taste.

    Slow cooked lamb spare ribs with peas and garlic confit - this was very, very good.  The lamb was very fatty and lamby, which was just fine by me.  It was also extremely tender and literally falling off the bone.  The peas were cooked in soooo much butter... you could feel it on your lips once it started to get a little cool.  The garlic was a real nice touch, too.

    Floating island - this wasn't like any île flottant I had ever seen... The giant iceberg doesn't seem to be "floating" on anything!  But hey, I shouldn't be complaining when a restaurant gives you more than you expected, right?  I looooove soft meringue, and this was really yummy with the crème anglaise.

    Fresh baked madeleine with chocolate mousse - well, they were freshly baked and hot, and I did taste the citrus flavors. But I'm not a fan... they were just a little bland...

    As we were finishing our meal, it seemed that none of us is too impressed with the food.  No, this isn't a fine dining restaurant.  It's just a bistro.  But I was reminded of what Fungry and Fabulous said about this place: that the food isn't bad, but one can easily find something similar done by another restaurant that is better.

    Plus the service was just terrible.  There's no excuse for running out of ingredients for a meat main course on a Saturday night.  The staff didn't know which table were getting which dishes, and the one who put the veal chop down on the table gave it to someone who had ordered fish.  One staff member told us they were out of the floating island while another was able to take the order...  I'm simply gonna echo what has already been said: mediocre food, bad service... What's my incentive for going back?!

    A word about wine service: I was warned that they don't have proper glassware, and I should bring my own.  I get that they are a bistro and the tiny glasses are in keeping with this.  When I asked for an additional set of glasses as we switched to reds, I was told that I was welcome to bring as many bottles as I'd like, but I will only get an extra set of glassware when I ordered something off their list.  Fair enough, given that we weren't charged corkage.  I guess if I ever decided to come back, I'll just bring magnums...

    2004 Louis Roederer Cristal - pretty ripe on the palate.

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - did not breathe or decant.  Nose of animal, leather, a little smoky, a little stinky.  Palate went downhill after an hour.

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    It's been a while since I last caught up with my old friend Sheets, and I wanted to see how he's doing with his new venture.  When I jokingly mentioned that I'd like to go to Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓) with him, he immediately invited me to join him and his family for lunch.  You see, Sheets' family is behind this venerable Hong Kong classic.  And since I have only been here once in all the time I've lived in Hong Kong, I was looking forward to coming back.

    I entered the dining hall and followed Sheets to the back, was introduced to Auntie and Uncle Six, and apologized for barging in on their family gathering.  I'm told that the average age at this table is usually above 80, so we're definitely dragging it down today... And this has gotta be the first time for me sitting at a table with a sign like this...

    Thursdays the family usually orders dishes instead of dim sum, so Auntie and Uncle Six rattled off a few items to the staff, and I waited for our food to arrive...

    Barbecued meats platter (燒味拼盤) - this was not a small platter.  The honey glazed barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) was exceptional.  Good balance between the fatty and lean parts, and even the lean cuts were tender.  I definitely wasn't expecting this...  The roast pork (燒肉) had the wonderful fragrance from the crackling.  The roast goose (明爐燒鵝) was pretty nice, too.

    Corn and egg drop soup (粟米湯) - nice to have a bowl of hot soup today.  Interesting that they added chopped fish maw (魚肚).

    Deep-fried garoupa fillets in corn sauce (粟米斑球) - a classic dish.  What's not to like about something that's been battered and deep-fried?

    Omelette with white bait (白飯魚炒蛋) - I loooooove white bait, and this homey dish was great. I probably could have just eaten half a plate of this...

    Stir-fried choy sum with garlic (蒜蓉炒菜心)

    Pork belly steamed with preserved vegetables (梅菜蒸腩肉) - this was pretty nice and my bowl of rice disappeared pretty quickly.  Sheets thought the pork was a just a tad overcooked, but I didn't mind.

    Steamed jujube pudding (紅棗糕) - apparently this is new on the menu.  Very nice.  Lovely fragrance and flavor, but not too sweet.

    I was really stuffed, so Sheets and I went off to find some coffee as digestif...  He took me to Capo's Espresso, where I ordered the cold brew coffee that was extracted for 8 hours...  It was definitely pretty intense... both the aromas and the flavors, and they weren't kidding when they talked about 8 hours (or however long they took for the extraction).  The only problem?  I had a lungo in the office this morning, and what I had in my glass - even diluted by ice cubes - was just too much caffeine for me.  I was getting wired right in the coffee shop!

    'Twas a great lunch today, and I look forward to my next visit, where I shall sample some classic dim sum items with Uncle Six...

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  • 03/13/14--08:12: Falling far from the tree
  • The last time Mo' Unni and I went exploring new restaurants together had been some time last year, so we thought it's high time that we resumed our tour.  A few of my friends had checked out the local branch of Akrame when it first opened last year, and since the Parisian original just picked up its second macaron, it seemed like perfect timing for us to try it out.

    I wanted to find out a little more information about Akrame Benallal as he seems to be the talk of the town - in Paris at least.  So I looked up the restaurant's website, which turned out to be annoying uninformative.  Clicking on the tab entitled "The Chef" (or "Le Chef" on the Parisian website) showed short, fashion shoot-like clips of the man... without any words offering any sort of information.  OK, I'm sure the guy thinks he's good looking, but that part of the website just doesn't do anything for me...

    For me, this dinner kinda started off on the wrong foot.  I was rushing to the restaurant as I was running late, and I was a little flustered when I arrived at the table.  Gotta say I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover that I would be sitting on a stool for my dinner, since back support is always important over the course of a couple of hours.  Sitting on a stool also meant I wasn't able to drape my jacket over the back of my chair, and this the staff wasn't very interested in helping me do anything about my jacket, I ended up piling it on top of my bag, which was already on the floor next to me.  This from a guy who has 2 macarons in Paris?!  Not exactly very grand...

    We decided to choose the more compact, 4-course menu.  I had a big lunch and will be eating tons over the next 10 days, so I'm happy to tone it down tonight.  But first, we have a series of amuses bouches:

    Olive with Greek yogurt

    Squid ink and sesame crisp with smoked eel - very nice.

    Parmesan cookie with salmon roe - tiny salmon roe, and there was a surprising amount of acidity here.

    Celery and anchovy

    Celeriac foam with chocolate, bread crumbs, onions and celeriac cubes - this was pretty nice.  Loved the onion purée at the bottom and the celeriac cubes.  The rye bread crumbs also added texture.

    Razor clams with baby spinach, with ginger and lemon sauce, ginger and lemon foam - pretty good, too.  Interestingly came with shredded radish, and definitely had that Asian twist in terms of flavors.  Not sure why I forgot to take a picture of this...

    Deep-fried snapper with beet root purée - the U.S. snapper was first steamed before being deep-fried, and the scales certainly showed a little crispiness.  This was OK but unremarkable.  Uwe does a much better job with deep-fried scales at the Mandarin Bar + Grill.  Not surprising, then, that No Fish wasn't a fan.

    Slow-cooked iberico pork loin with yogurt sauce and vinaigrette - the pork was marinated in maple syrup, and was definitely tasty in terms of flavors.  The pork was lean but still tender.  Served with cabbage compote and baby bok choy.

    After four savory courses, we then moved on to a series of desserts:

    Pineapple carpaccio, margarita sorbet - pretty nice and slightly alcoholic.

    Licorice pudding, frozen yogurt, brown butter foam - yum!  The beurre noisette was so tasty, and the very mild flavors of licorice just worked perfectly with everything else.  This made me happy.

    Chocolate mousse with Champagne and raspberry sauce - this was pretty good, with a few flakes of fleur de sel on top of the crisp.

    The petits fours consisted of lemon cookies as well as a block of dark chocolate with sea salt.

    The chocolate was definitely salty, but I found it interesting enough.

    I brought along a bottle of wine for this dinner.  It's not ultra-serious, but nevertheless a very good wine in its own right.

    1997 Pahlmeyer Red - pretty full-bodied, alcoholic and ripe.  Still pretty tannic after all these years.  Minty with potpourri notes.  Not bad but could actually use a little more aging.

    Well, I thought I got a decent meal for the price I paid for it.  There were certainly no fails tonight, but there was also no magic, either.  For a guy who caused a stir by getting a macaron only a year after opening his first restaurant, his Hong Kong outpost didn't exactly deliver.  I certainly had higher expectations, and I doubt that I'm the only one.

    And the service, while polite and friendly, also fell short of expectations.  What kind of restaurant lets its guests put their jackets on the floor?!  It doesn't matter how polite they were to me, or how sharp looking their suits were - that is just downright ridiculous.

    So while the food was decent enough to merit a return visit, I guess I'll wait till they figure out where I can hang my jacket before going back.

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  • 03/15/14--08:59: The real 3 star Chinese
  • I'd been talking about doing a Macau field trip with some friends, as I really enjoyed my solo dining experiences from my last two trips.  Going with friends would opening up more possibilities, both in terms of the choice of venue and the wines I'd be able to drink.  I finally managed to round up a few people for this weekend, and planned an overnight trip to indulge.  This was gonna be a GREAT weekend.

    But disaster struck before the trip even started, thanks to my own stupidity.  5 months ago, my dear friend Ninja pinged me to show how good of a friend she is.  Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was coming to the Hong Kong Arts Festival with their program Iphigenia in Tauris, and she got me a ticket.  I was ecstatic when I heard the news.  I absolutely love Pina Bausch's work, and really enjoyed both Vollmond and Nelken when I saw them in previous years.  I was looking forward to enjoying the show and then heading off to Macau for some good food and wine.

    Unfortunately, I didn't bother to check the show times until yesterday.  In previous years I had always watched Pina Bausch's work during the day on a Saturday, so for some reason I just assumed that this year things would be the same.  Well, this time they decided to show it at 7:30 p.m.  So there was no way I would be able to catch the performance AND make it to dinner in Macau.  I had to give up one of the two.

    Well, since I had been the instigator behind tonight's dinner, and had convinced this bunch to book hotel rooms in Macau so that we could stay overnight... it was a little difficult for me to pull out of dinner.  Making matters worse, the two couples I was dining with tonight were the exact two couples I had double-booked myself with the last time I had done something this stupid.

    Sorry, Ninja.  I'll make it up to you.

    As there were gonna be 7 of us, I thought it would be interesting to go back to The Eight, which has now gotten themselves their third macaron.  I totally enjoyed my last two visits here - at the invitation of the hotel PR - and really wanted to come back for an encore.  But when I called up the restaurant last week, I was informed that all of the private rooms had already been reserved.  What's worse, the 7 of us couldn't even sit in the main dining room, because their tables seat only a maximum of 6...

    I was totally screwed.  I had dragged a bunch of people into this, and most of us had already booked our hotel rooms... and now I was told that we couldn't go to the restaurant I most wanted to dine at.  Sure, we could go to Don Alfonso 1890, or even to Robuchon au Dôme against the wishes of someone, but this was a rare chance to go Cantonese with a larger group.

    So I got up the nerve and asked Lisboa's PR for a favor.  I asked her to please put me on the waiting list for a private room at The Eight, so that if/when someone cancelled we would get first dibs on it.  As usual she was extremely helpful, and by mid-week we were able to get ourselves a room... although the party had shrunk to 5 by this time.  We also discussed a few dishes that I wanted to pre-order, as well as a few bottles of wine that I picked out from their amazing collection.

    I arrived at the restaurant tonight to find the two bottles of German Riesling I pre-ordered had already been brought up to the restaurant.  We started with the pre-ordered dishes, and gradually added a couple of more items.  Unfortunately we couldn't get one of the dishes that I had pre-ordered, which was the 30 years vintage tangerine peel chicken (三十年陳皮雞).  The reason?  With the recent outbreak of H7N9 avian flu in the region, governments have been culling chickens and limiting supply of live chickens.  Management at the Lisboa has decided that if they can't serve fresh chicken, they would prefer to make these dishes unavailable instead of substituting with chilled imports.  This shows how serious they are about maintaining their quality standards, and I applaud them.

    We finally got started with our meal, and first came the amuses bouches:

    Abalone with yuzu sauce (柚子鮑魚)

    Diced beef (牛崧)

    Barbecued pork (玫瑰蜜汁叉燒) - thick cut is the only way to go.  Lots of porky flavor, and tender as usual.

    Barbecued and smoked pork (明爐叉燒不見天) - this came highly recommended, and was definitely something pretty unique.

    French goose liver with “char siu” and a thin-sliced of pork fat (法國鵝肝金錢雞) - with the closure of the Causeway Bay branch of Manor Seafood, I was left without my favorite gold coin chicken in town.  So of course I was gonna see if the version here would be a worthy successor...

    Well, as it turned out, they lied.  There were TWO slices of pork fat (冰肉) sitting on top of the piece of char siu, and a thick slice of pan-fried foie gras capped it all off.  It was pretty satisfying, and I did underwrite the extra piece my friend didn't want.  However, I still miss the version from Manor, as I prefer more char siu and also more honey glaze.

    Poached fish mousse soup with bamboo piths and bean curd (竹笙魚圓) - the fish balls were very light and fluffy as I expected, and the tofu chiffonade (文思豆腐) is always a testament to the knife skills of the chef.  Also came with bamboo piths, shredded ham and conpoy.

    Braised lamb brisket in "The-8 style" (京式燒羊腩) - I have always loved this style of lamb, and I wasn't disappointed.

    Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯浸莧菜) - there's always room for veggies in a Chinese meal... although we probably should have gotten more to balance things out.  Love the garlic cloves!

    Suckling pig stuffed with fried rice and preserved meat (原隻乳豬焗飯) - it's been way, waaaay too long since I last had a stuffed pig, and I knew I wanted to come here and try this version again.

    This here pig was stuffed not with glutinous rice, but with fried rice that was equally delicious, if slightly less filling.  We decided that each of us would only have one thick slice, and packed the rest to take home.

    Steamed pork patties with salty fish (傳統家鄉咸魚蒸肉餅) - what I love about top-notch Cantonese restaurants is that they take great care to do the even the simplest, homey dishes.  We ordered this halfway through our dinner, and had to wait a while because the pork had to be pounded by hand à la minute.  The result was an amazing texture for the pork.  This was a little too salty to be taken on its own without rice, although the fluffy egg whites helped balance things out a little.  Oh, and in terms of food and wine matching, I'd say this went perfectly with our Vosne-Romanée!

    We decided we had to save room for desserts, and ordered up a storm in that department...

    Portuguese egg tarts (葡式蛋撻) - hmmmm... methinks the pastry chef wasn't in the house tonight, as custard in these tartlets definitely looked like they shrank.  But still tasty, though.

    Milk tea (奶茶) - milk tea usually doesn't do anything for me, but I looooove this one for its complex, strong flavors.  There's a reason why we only get a small cup of this... as someone would discover hours later while lying in bed unable to drift off to sleep...

    Puff pastry with egg custard in light genseng flavour (奶皇人參酥,略帶人參味道) - oh I could taste the ginseng alright... it's distinctive enough.  Pretty interesting.

    Deep-fried turtle gelatine accompanied with cotton candy (脆皮參蜜龜苓膏) - the turtle jelly was OK.  The cotton candy came in the shape of a bunny, which was promptly dismembered...

    And my friends all decided that I should eat this cute little turtle, which was filled with the same ginseng-flavored egg custard that was in the puff pastry.  OK, OK... I get it... Y'all think I'm a 王八...

    Coffee jelly (咖啡啫喱) - loved this so much from last time that I had to order it.

    Mango with glutinous rice (芒果糯米) - not your typical version.  The glutinous rice was cooked with coconut milk till it's soft and stuck together... on its way to becoming porridge.

    Black and white sesame pudding with sesame ice-cream (黑白芝麻布甸配芝麻雪糕) - loved this from last time, too... so recommended this to the gang.  Slurp.

    Finally... les vins!  This trip was really an excuse to drink wine, so of course the wines would be front-and-center of attention.

    1976 von Hövel Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese - a little floral, white flowers, a little flinty, granite and marmalade.  Medium acidity.  Seemed a little diluted at first, but in reality this was just an elegant wine, and went down very smoothly.

    1999 Prieuré Roch Vosne-Romanée Clos Goillotte - very cloudy, a little dirty, lovely sweet and ripe fruit, plummy.  Paired perfectly with salty fish.

    Trilogie - this is a curiosity... a non-vintage wine made from a blend of multiple vintages of declassified wines from Le Pin.  This particular bottling was a blend of 2007 and 2008.  Pretty sweet, a little sharp on the nose, very minty, some tree park and pine resin perhaps.  Also cedar.  Sweet on the palate, and concentrated.

    1985 Louis Remy Chambertin - made the mistake of not tasting this wine before the salty fish arrived... so all I could smell from my glass was the stinky salty fish and preserved leafy mustard (梅菜)... Nice and aged so it drank very smoothly.

    1992 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese in half bottle - tangerine peel, lovely minerality and white flowers.  Round on the palate with a very long finish.  Almost a little fizzy.  Wonderful acidity balance.

    That was definitely a good amount of food, and certainly enough wine to make life very enjoyable.  Time to walk off some of the calories by patrolling the casino floors...

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  • 03/15/14--19:46: Old school brekkie
  • There aren't many visits to Macau where I get to stay overnight, so despite going to bed late last night (or actually early this morning) I dragged myself out of bed for an early breakfast.  There is an old school Cantonese tea house that I'd always wanted to visit, having seen it featured on a TV program some time ago.  Thanks to my friend KC's Macau dining guide, I was able to identify it as Casa de Cha Lung Wa (龍華茶樓).  So two of us hopped into a taxi and headed off in that direction...

    It was early but a couple of tables had already been occupied.  The walls were cluttered with various types of artwork - both classical Chinese and modern Western.  This is a DIY tea house, so you pick your tea, add your own hot water to the teapot, and go pick up the dim sum items from a station.

    Steamed beef meatballs (山竹牛肉) - yum.  Very soft and bouncy texture, with nice flavors of tangerine peel (陳皮).

    Steamed siu mai (切肉燒賣) - more solid yet chewier than expected.  Very old school.

    Pan-fried radish pudding (煎蘿蔔糕) - very powdery and fell apart easily, but at least you could taste the radish flavors.

    Steamed glutinous rice (蒸糯米飯) - just had a craving for this, with pieces of preserved sausage.  This was OK, but the clumps of sticky rice ended up sitting in my stomach for a while...

    Steamed barbecued pork buns (叉燒包) - these were very good.

    The "skin" was fluffy without being soggy.  Nicely done.

    Steamed pork ribs with black beans (豆豉蒸排骨) - very fatty as expected...

    A very good brekkie, and I'm glad I finally made it here.  On our way out we chatted with the boss, who gave us postcards they made for their 50th anniversary - featuring a painting from artist Sun Ho (何紹新).  This little gem is a piece of Macanese history, and I hope to come back for brunch again some day...

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  • 03/15/14--23:55: One for the road
  • A couple of hours after we walked around Macau and digested some of our breakfast, it was - strangely enough - time to eat again!  As an alternative to some local Macanese joints, 娜姐 proposed that we lunch at Guincho a Galera at Hotel Lisboa.  After all, we wanted the chance to open another bottle of old German Riesling before we had to leave Macau!

    My one and only previous visit to this restaurant was disastrous, as I was totally stuffed and drunk from lunch... and wasn't in any shape to enjoy any food or wine.  I was therefore very much looking forward to this lunch.  As I'd eaten a reasonable amount of food in Macau already, I decided to take things easy by choosing the set lunch for an unbeatable price.

    Our amuse bouche was Portuguese cheese balls with ham.

    Frango "piri-piri" e tomate fresco - beautifully presented here... and certainly nothing like what I had sitting al fresco at Bonjardim in Lisbon!

    The chicken was really delicious, and stuffed with things like chorizo.  My only complaint was that it wasn't piri-piri at all!  There was barely a hint of spice, and nothing like the fiery stuff that one lathers onto the chicken skin in Portugal.  Nevertheless, this was a good start to lunch.

    Chocos e vieiras num arroz á moda de Sesimbra - another beautiful dish, full of seafood flavors.  Prawns were good.  I thought the thick medallions were scallops upon first glance, and only realized they were cuttlefish once I started to cut into them.  The rice underneath was absolutely delicious, but I wish there was more of it.

    I nibbled on a couple of things from the dessert trolley...

    Flan - I loooove this, and it was nice, a little dense, and sweet.

    Serradura - nice and small, with chocolate and cape gooseberry on top.

    娜姐went through the wine list and picked out a nice bottle.  Unfortunately the first bottle of a 1976 Dr. Loosen Auslese was off... Very oxidized with a musty nose.  So she ended up picking a second wine - something slightly younger.

    1983 S.A. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel - nose of mandarin peel, a little flinty, marmalade.  Slight hint of bitter mid-palate, with very noticeable alcohol level.  Rounded and a little viscous on the palate.  Yum.

    The very last thing one does in this restaurant - as one also does at Robuchon au Dôme - is to order coffee.  I do it not because I love their coffee, but for the little pitcher of caramel that comes with the coffee.  If you don't know why this little pitcher is worthy of special mention (and its own entry on my Facebook page)... you should consider reading about my first taste of it.  I didn't pour it into my coffee.  I drank 6 spoonfuls of it.  I then sipped coffee and let the two mix on my tongue.  Happiness.

    The mignardises helped us end on a sweet note.  The mini pasteis looked prettier today compared to last night.

    This was such an enjoyable weekend.  Gotta do another one soon...

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  • 03/19/14--08:40: A couple of Turks
  • H-man and I have been drinking wine together for years, since the days when we used to work together for the same bank.  We don't see each other often, as he's based in Tokyo and I'm in Hong Kong, but there is always good wine whenever we meet.  Some of our more recent encounters included a dinner in Hong Kong to celebrate - belatedly - his 45th birthday, and our last meeting at a friend's place in Tokyo with some Californian cult wines.

    We haven't seen each other since that last dinner in Tokyo, so we definitely needed to catch up while I was in town.  Finding a restaurant in Tokyo that allows BYO is never easy, but H-man is a member at L'eau à la bouche (ロアラブッシュ), which even has a basement cellar for members to store a few bottles.  So the choice of venue seemed easy this time.

    The restaurant is housed in a historical building built in 1934 to celebrate the wedding of Baron Chiba Tsunegoro (千葉常五郎).  The style is Art Deco, and everywhere I looked there were works of Erté - sculptures, prints...

    I was already going to be eating a lot over the next couple of days, so I took it easy and chose the lighter tasting menu "Chouettes" from Chef Toshiyuku Nakajima (中嶋寿幸).

    Amuses bouches consisted of a slice of semi-dry duck breast that was smoky and came with a piece of dried fig, and a small onion tartlet.  Both were delicious.

    Petits saveur apéritif - this was pork pâté with onions and Sauternes gelée.  There was also some rapeseed flower on top.

    Bavarois d'asperges blanches au corail d'oursin caviar, médaillon de homard bleu et gelée d'orange - the white asparagus was very nice, and the bavarois very delicious.  The combination of caviar, sea urchin and blue lobster worked very well together.

    Foie gras de canard sauté à la façon du chef Nakajima - served with young onion, panko (パンコ), duck jus and basil coulis.  The foie was well executed.

    Poisson blanc poêle aux pousses de bambou accompagné de légumes - the fish today was gnomefish (クロムツ), which was pretty tasty.  There were slices of bamboo sprouts underneath, with fish jus, nuts butter and broccolini.

    Noisette d'agneau cuit à la vapeur en feuille de "Sakura" et son jus court - the lamb loin was very nicely done, although I didn't seem to have picked up any cherry blossom flavors.  The cauliflower mash on the side was delicious.

    Crèmeux aux épices savoie avec compote d'agrumes - the flan at the bottom was flavored with anise, the top was Japanese mikan (蜜柑), and there was pomelo on the sides.  Very refreshing and yummy.

    Fondant au chocolat et sa glace à la vanille

    Petits fours included vanilla macaron with a slice of black truffle in the ganache, chocolate with hazenut crunch, and cape gooseberry.

    The focus tonight, of course, was on wine.  We were discussing what to drink and it seemed like H-man really wanted to pop open an 85 La Turque.  So I decided I would match with a bottle of 1990 La Turque, hoping that it would withstand bottle shock relatively well.  After all, it would be shaken up for a few hours just around 24 hours before tonight's dinner...

    Henri Giraud Hommage A François Hemart - a little caramelized, still lively, slightly bitter on palate.

    1985 Guigal La Turque - opened without decanting.  Minty, gamey, a little exotic, spices, coconut butter, leather, sweet on the nose.  Higher acidity on palate as well as slightly sweet on palate.  The wine had gone downhill 3 hours after opening.

    1990 Guigal La Turque - opened without decanting.  Nose of exotic spices, cedar, coconut butter, smoky, leather, coffee, farmy.  Still kinda concentrated on the palate.  No doubt still suffering bottle shock from being in check-in luggage yesterday.

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  • 03/20/14--04:35: Jiro
  • So the moment has finally arrived.  The whole raison d'être of this Tokyo trip.  Dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎), with Ono Jiro (小野二郎) - the man whose mastery was documented in Jiro Dreams of Sushi - serving me sushi.  Of all the destinations and appointments on this long-overdue trip back to Tokyo, this one was paramount.

    The Wommer booked us for the early seating, which starts at 5:30 p.m.  As he was only flying in today, I was a little worried that he wouldn't make it on time.  Another friend had earlier recounted his experience of being a no-show at RyuGin (龍吟) some time back, as he was also flying in on the same day as dinner and his flight was massively delayed.  I joked that if the Wommer and his wife couldn't show up on time, I was just gonna invite a couple of friends from Tokyo to take their places...

    ...aaaand this morning the Wommer pinged me from the airport.  His flight was delayed.  I jokingly threatened to put a post up on Facebook and see who wants to go to Jiro with me, and the response from the other end felt like a hundred flying daggers coming at me.  They didn't take the joke very well...

    Fortunately they arrived safely and during daylight hours, and as it turned out, it was my excursion during the day that threatened to make us late for dinner!

    We showed up at the door just after 5:20 p.m. and found it shut.  They were still prepping and so we dutifully waited for them to be ready to receive us.  Of course I ignored what it said on the sign and took a photo anyway, and I think someone inside did see me committing the crime...  Strike one.

    We entered a few minutes later, checked our coats, and were led to the first 3 seats at the short end of the L-shaped counter.  Another group of youngish tourists from Hong Kong came in next, and the 7 of us would command the attention of the master for the duration of this shift.  I asked politely if I could be allowed to take pictures, and was told to keep the photography to the sushi, but not anyone or anything else inside the restaurant.  This was as expected, and is what I would have done in the first place.  Rubber mats were laid next to my soy sauce dish for me to rest my camera on.

    The service here is famously fast, and I was still trying to set up the white balance on my camera, and the flip side of our souvenir hankies turned out to be pretty handy for this purpose.  I laid it out on the board where my sushi will be served so I can get the correct lighting conditions, and took a shot to establish my baseline white.  Next thing I knew, the hankie went flying down to the lower level of the counter, as Jiro flipped it off the serving board when he came over with my first piece of sushi.  Obviously the hankie wasn't supposed to be there, but thankfully he didn't get upset and yell at me... yet.  Strike two.

    The sequence of today's sushi was already printed as individual menus for each of us, with English translation.  I wonder if we got the tourist version...

    Marinated rapeseed flowers (菜の花) - in dashi (だし).

    Flat fish (ひらめ) - the olive flounder was a pretty good start.  Firm and slightly crunchy.

    Squid (すみいか) - this was really good.  Thick enough piece to be substantial, and you'd expect it to be a little hard, but actually soft and yields to the pressure of one's teeth.

    Striped jack (しまあじ)– certainly not like any I have ever had.

    Tuna (あかみ)– for someone who has decided not to eat any tuna that could be potentially be bluefin, I had already made the decision to break my personal ban on this trip. If I had to have bluefin tuna just a few more times in my life, then this was certainly the place to do it. Plain old akami is the measuring stick by which I would judge a sushi chef, much like how I would use har gau (蝦餃) to judge any dim sum chef. Besides, it would simply be rude for me to refuse the tuna selection, and it would have been as inconceivable as Mr. Ho refusing to eat chicken feet at elBulli.

    Oh by the way, this akami was fabulous. I’m still having trouble deciding whether it’s the best or second-best I’ve ever had.

    Semi fatty tuna (ちゅうとろ)– that delicate, subtle marbling…

    ...glistening under the light.

    Fatty tuna (おおとろ)– back when I was still eating tuna sushi, I had always preferred the full fat version, with that amazing marbling. I think tonight the 大トロ had barely edged out the 中トロ… Heavenly.

    Gizzard shad (こはだ)– I do like gizzard shad when it’s done well, and this was certainly a beautiful specimen. While the acidity in the rice was already very prominent, I didn’t mind the softer acidity coming from the marinated fish.

    Cockle shell (とりがい)– O-M-G. This blew my mind. I am typically not a fan of the shell category when it comes to sushi, and have only begun to appreciate them on a limited basis in recent years. This piece of sushi was by far the best example of shell or clam sushi I have ever had period. This was so far above anything else, in fact, that I felt it was simply magical.

    I typically find most shells either too crunchy, or have too much of the combination of fishy and disinfectant flavors. This was neither. It was simply a piece of smooth velvet in my mouth, but with just enough springy and bouncy texture to put up some resistance to the bite. Nothing short of perfection.

    Octopus (たこ)– the only disappointment tonight. Grilled and sprinkled with a little salt, this was still a little too dry and chewy.

    Ark shell (あかがい)– a very delicious ark shell. Far better than any other I have ever had.

    Jack mackerel (あじ)– very interesting because it was cut in a way unlike any other I have ever had, and I’ve had my share of this fish. Once again, this was probably the best aji I have ever had.

    Boiled prawn (くるまえび)– our eyes popped open at the sight of these giant tiger prawns. At the risk of sounding like a teenager, they were gi-normous! The last time I had prawns that were this size was at the Aberdeen Fish Market in Hong Kong.

    Cutting the prawns in half revealed the wonderful roe on the back of the prawns, and there was plenty of delicious tomalley in the head. Most definitely the very best tiger prawn sushi I have ever had. And boiled to the point where the texture was firm enough without being tough.

    Mackerel (さば)– I have always loved the way mackerel is marinated in Japanese cuisine, and that acidity/sweetness balance tonight was just…

    Clam shell (はまぐり)– a very big clam nicely butterflied. I’m not really used to having hamaguri sushi, so perhaps this was the best simply by default. Then again, maybe not…

    Sardine (いわし)– we joked about the “hairs” that we found on our sushi, but the truth is I love sardines in any shape or form. This was just… wow!

    Sea urchin (うに)– good raw sea urchin would be sweet to the taste and be soft and velvety in your mouth. This one simply liquefied in my mouth. If this weren’t the best uni sushi I have ever had, it would certainly be number two. Magical and heavenly.

    Baby scallops (こばしら)– I love it when Japanese chefs use kobashira, as they are just very different from regular scallops texture-wise.

    Salmon roe (いくら)– this is my favorite sushi from childhood, and done impeccably tonight. Perfectly seasoned, and membranes popped with the right amount of pressure.

    Sea eel (あなご)– what a beautiful piece of conger eel! Soft, velvety and melt-in-your-mouth, with deliciously sweet tare (たれ) dripping from it.

    Egg (たまご)– always the best way to finish up. Velvety and springy sponge cake-like.

    By now we were very full, after 20 pieces of sushi with reasonably sized balls of rice. But there was always gonna be room for a little more… so I went after some of the most magical pieces this evening in hopes of a second climax.

    Cockle shell (とりがい) – just as magical at the first piece I had. The reflection from the glistening surface was simply gorgeous.

    Squid (すみいか)– although many dismiss squid as a lowly, cheap piece of sushi, a good piece of ika can be magical, too. This was definitely worth repeating.

    Sea urchin (うに)– my third and last piece of 追加 would have to be that sea urchin that turned out to be liquid gold, quite literally.

    When we could eat no longer, we moved to one of the tables on the side and took our after-dinner fruit.  Not surprisingly, we were given a slice of Japanese musk melon (マスクメロン), which was so incredibly ripe that the juice came out with the lightest touch.  Really sweet and delicious.

    When we were finally ready to leave, we asked for the obligatory group photo with Jiro - who is very used to this by now.  I went out the door of the restaurant and immediately headed for the group of stools outside Birdland, as I didn't want to put my bag and jacket on the ground.  That's when Jiro chided me for my poor manners - again - as he didn't want to hear any complaints from the Birdland people.  Strike three.

    But Jiro softened up in the end, put his arms around us and smiled for the photos.  I was happy.  I rarely took photos with chefs - didn't even get one with Ferran at elBulli - but this was one time where I was happy to play the tourist.  Yattaaaaaa!!!

    A few final words...

    We all expected to be done within about 30 minutes or so, and consciously tried to drag out dinner by pausing between the pieces of sushi.  In reality, since I snapped a few pictures of each piece (I'm conscious of chefs disliking people who spend too much time picture-taking, so I'm usually very fast) it did take me a little longer to eat each piece.  Ordering three extra pieces at the end also delayed our departure, and in the end we left the restaurant about an hour after finishing the melon.  Yes, this was probably the most expensive meal ever, if measured on a per hour basis...

    The neta (ねた) was certainly amazing as expected, but it was the shari (しゃり) that surprised all of us.  The rice was a little hard in the middle, almost al dente.  The acidity level here was also expectedly high, and I found out after the meal that they actually sell the vinegar that they use.  This wasn't something that I'm used to, and is apparently very old school, but I kept an open mind and enjoyed it as is.  Occasionally the wasabi (わさび) would also be a little sharp, so our noses and sinuses were kept clear...

    The first reaction I put up on social media after the meal contained the words "best fucking sushi"... and it was.  This was by far the best sushi I have ever had.  The f-word was needed there for emphasis.  It had so many magical moments that every other sushi meal paled in comparison.  In the same way that I knew immediately that my dinner at elBulli was gonna to be - and stay - the best meal of my life, food-wise, I knew after tonight that no other sushi meal would likely top this.  This was the pinnacle.  I was at the summit of Everest, and everything else would be downhill from here.

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  • 03/20/14--08:59: Drunken onion, episode 2
  • Given that we were booked for the 5:30 p.m. seating, the Wommer and I knew that we would be be done with dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎) very, very early.  He suggested that we could do a second round of food, but I thought it would be a much better idea to go back to my favorite izakaya in the world.  After walking around Ginza a little shopping for sake, we hopped back on the subway to continue our evening's adventures.

    Once through the doors at Tamanegiya (酒たまねぎや) I came upon an unfamiliar sight.  There was a woman next to Master behind the bar, who looked much younger.  Who is she?  Is she the assistant, his daughter, or his wife?

    The three of us were seated at a table near the door, which is basically Siberia when you're in a Japanese eatery or bar.  Oh well... When the hotel concierge told me our reservation would be at 8:30 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m. as requested, I should have expected nothing less...

    The wife brought us little bowls of stewed fish head and collar.  I was still kinda full from dinner, so I only pecked at it...

    Master also brought us a plate of tomatoes from Ibaraki (茨城), much like the ones he served me last time.  Incredibly delicious, and once you bite into one... you find yourself unable to stop.

    In terms of sake, what I wanted to do was to try out ones I didn't taste from my last visit 4 years ago, so that I can broaden my knowledge.

    Azumaichi Junmai Daiginjo Shizuku Shibori (東一 純米大吟醸 雫搾り), 24BY - this isn't something that is made every year, and the bottles are marked with the BY and even the tobin (斗瓶) number.  Master says they only produced 10 isshobins (一升瓶) of this sake, and since 1 tobin holds exactly 10 isshobins worth, I wonder if all 10 isshobins all came from the same tobin...  Anyway, this was smooth and sweet on the palate at first, with a long and dry finish.  On the palate it was noticeably thick and viscous.

    Matsu no Tsukasa Junmai Daiginjo Shizuku (松の司 純米大吟醸 雫搾り), 21BY - more prominent banana in the nose.  Lighter on the palate, cleaner.

    A group of customers left early, and we were able to move to the bar and enjoy more interaction with Master.  Hooray!!!

    Hatsukame Show Special (初亀 鑑評会出品酒), 24BY - I had this on my last visit, but from 21BY.  This was just too special to pass up, since Master bought all the bottles released (34 in this instance), as he does every year... and one simply can't have this anywhere else.  A daiginjo nama sake (大吟醸生酒).  What a beautiful and elegant wine!  Smooth, builds on the palate slowly, with a long finish.  Rich rice flavors.  More full-bodied and slightly sharp and alcoholic later.

    Shredded cuttlefish with ink - a great snack to go along with sake.

    Then I decided to do something that I can't do anywhere else... which, after all, is the whole point of coming to Tamanegiya.  I decided to do a small vertical of a very exclusive sake - Isojiman Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 中取り 35).

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 22BY - pretty smooth first sip, fragrant with banana notes.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 23BY - could it be a little smoother than 22BY?!  Softer on the palate, quite sweet.  Later on as it warmed up, got a little stronger and full-bodied on the palate, and a bitter finish.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35), 24BY - full-bodied and round on the palate.

    Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakatori 35 Adagio (磯自慢 純米大吟醸 中取り 35 アダージョ), 24BY - the rarest of the offerings from the Isojiman stable.  Really soft and elegant.  Fragrant with banana and tropical fruit notes.

    Master prefers for us to drink tap water, as he feels that the tap water in Japan is not only potable but among the best in the world.  However, he does get sent bottles of water from Yoronokati (養老の滝) that Reisen (醴泉) uses to make their sake, so it shows up on the menu.  I loved the purity of it so much from my last visit that I asked to drink it again.

    Bijofu Yuzu Liqueur (美丈夫ゆずリキュール) - I actually wanted to start with this, but Master stopped me as the acidity will ruin my tastebuds for the rest of the evening.  So at the end of the evening, even though I knew I was already drunk, I insisted on having a glance over crushed ice.  I absolutely loved this from my last visit, and in fact bought about a case of it to take back home.  Tonight Master poured it from an isshobin and used a Champagne flute to serve it.  The citrusy flavors of this liqueur are always so incredible.

    Gotta say that I looooved coming back here.  The Wommer was wondering why a guy like Master - with an incredible collection of not just rare sake but also rare and fine wine - would choose to open his establishment in a residential neighborhood dark alley instead of being in Ginza.  While this wasn't a subject I had discussed with Master himself, I offer the following theory:

    If Master had chosen to do business in a place like Ginza, with lots of traffic from well-heeled customers, then it is quite likely that a significant portion of his customers - if not the majority - would consist of people who don't know much about sake, who have money, and are simply there to drink expensive sake for the sake of drinking something expensive.  These people may be able to afford it, but they are not sake lovers and won't fully appreciate what they are drinking.

    In the present hideaway location, any customer who comes through the door has got to be someone who really loves sake, because it takes some effort to even find this place on a map.  The patron sitting next to me wondered how we even found out about this place since we were tourists.  All the customers here have made a special trip, much like Michelin's definition of a 3-star restaurant, so by definition he/she must be a sake lover.  This is the type of customer that Master would prefer to serve his rare collection to.

    As I noted last time, the most impressive part of Master's collection is actually not his sake, but his collection of rare Madeiras.  I noticed a very special bottle last time, and the bottle was still in the same fridge tonight.  I asked Master to verify the maker, and after he unwrapped the mylar bag around the bottle, I had visual confirmation that it is indeed the 1795 Barbeito Terrantez.  According to Master 6 bottles of this were imported into Japan, but he didn't tell me if he had more than 1 bottle...  Of all the alcohol that is physically present in this establishment, there is nothing I would like to drink more than this particular bottle.  I wonder what it would take for Master to open it with me... but I'm sure it involves me coming back to see him quite a few more times!

    For someone who owns a tiny little izakaya seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Master is not just super connected with the Japanese sake kuras but also has a real worldly view.  Among his blog posts is an entry on white wine, where they tasted 6 different whites from Sine Qua Non.  Upon realizing that we were coming from Hong Kong, Master mentioned that he knew the late Kinsen Kam from Yung Kee (鏞記), who took personal care of him on his visits to Hong Kong.  He may be a short and unassuming guy with a crew cut, who wears a T-shirt printed with the words that mean "low-income earner", but Master has a lot more depth than he chooses to show.

    I'm so happy I came back, and I would always make it a point to come back on each future trip to Tokyo.  Maybe eventually Master's new wife would soften up to me and won't kick me out at 11:30 p.m...

    P.S.  I got REALLY drunk tonight.  The serving portions are big here, as they pour 90ml for each sake.  That means after 8 glasses, I have practically drunk an entire yongobin (四合瓶) of sake...  What followed was a particularly interesting taxi ride back to the hotel, as documented in a series of pictures I would later receive...

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