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

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    It's a national holiday in Japan today, so our original plan for another 3-macaronsushi lunch fell through.  After looking at different options with the Wommer, I finally suggested that we do teppanyaki somewhere, preferably in a hotel.  As it turns out, there is just such a place at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, so a reservation for made for Keyakizaka (けやき坂).

    We looked at the menu and decided that doing à la carte would be a lot more interesting, albeit more expensive.  But hey, this was an eating trip, after all...

    Fruit tomato, basil, olive oil - this was classified as a "salad", but this was actually cooked.  The dressing was made with pine nuts, bacon and balsamic vinegar.  Very, very delicious.

    Grilled vegetables - we made the mistake of letting the chef pick, so we ended up with things like sweet potato and pumpkin.  I would have preferred more green veggies.  I was a little surprised that there was water bamboo, though...

    When it comes to beef, the restaurant offers a beef tasting, where you can choose from a list and have 4 different types with 30g each.  I thought this was a great opportunity to compare different sources side by side, and ended up choosing all 4 sirloins on offer.

    Japanese beef (国産牛) - pretty nice and delicious in its own right, but a far cry from any of the other cuts.

    Kita Satsuma beef, Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県産 北薩摩牛) - definitely fatter and a lot more flavorful than the "regular" Japanese beef.

    Iga beef, Mie Prefecture (三重県産 伊賀牛) - very, very tender without being as fatty as the Kobe.  Surprisingly, this was my favorite of the 4.

    Kobe beef, Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県産 神戸牛) - this was soooo fatty, and soft like Jello.  Very, very good.  Naturally.

    Grilled rice, sea urchin, dried seaweed, fried quail egg (雲丹の焼きおにぎり) - I'm always looking for an alternative to the teppanyaki fried rice, and this looked interesting enough on the menu.  Turned out to be really yummy!  Grilled rice balls are a favorite of mine, and it's really tough to beat one made with sea urchin.  That quail egg on top just made it perfect!  The rice used was Hinohikari (ひのひかり) from Oita Prefecture (大分県).

    I gotta say... this was just what we needed.  You can't come to Japan and not have some fatty, melt-in-your mouth Japanese beef, and it was interesting to be able to have done the tasting.  Very educational.  Now we just gotta walk and digest for the next few hours... until dinner...

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    If there is one meal I especially look forward to on every trip to Japan, it is actually not the sushi or kaiseki, but the tempura.  There are lots of sushi lovers everywhere, and it's reasonably easy to find decent or even good sushi in many cities as plenty of people are willing to pay for it.  It is also becoming easier to find decent kaiseki in certain cities, and I definitely cherish the fact that RyuGin (龍吟) has an outlet in Hong Kong.

    But the one thing that I simply cannot find outside of Japan is decent tempura.  My last attempt was at Tenmasa (天政) in Macau, which turned out to be hugely disappointing.  So it seems I can only get decent tempura on my trips back to Japan... and I made sure to check that box on this trip.

    There was never any question about which place I would pick... Mikawa Zezankyo (みかわ 是山居) is about as unique as they come.  Saotome Tetsuya (早乙女哲哉) has been doing this for 30 years, and this newest outlet is not merely a restaurant, but a museum of art.

    Every inch of the space was meticulously decorated, starting from the exterior of the building.  Every little seemingly innocuous item inside the restaurant is, in fact, a collectible work of art - down to the serving vessels.  The detail and care taken in arranging the little bonsais on the counter reflected perfectly the tastes of the owner.

    We were placed at the three seats closest to the door, which is apparently where they usually put foreign customers.  These days Saotome-san is assisted by Zhang-san from China, and he ended up speaking to us in Mandarin whenever our Japanese fell a little short.  I asked for permission to take photos, and was advised that I should keep it to only the food in front of me.  They also gave me a pretty piece of furoshiki (風呂敷) to rest my camera on, since they certainly didn't want me to scratch the beautifully lacquered counter!

    We started with a little bit of Japanese yam (山芋) with miso, greens with shaved bonito, and some dried fish.  Then the procession of tempura began...

    Tiger prawn (車海老), first piece

    Tiger prawn (車海老), second piece

    Prawn heads - always delicious.

    Japanese sillago (鱚)

    Steamed radish, prawn paste and ginkgo nuts - very interesting that this should be made with a pile of grated radish (大根おろし).

    Squid (烏賊), first piece - one of my favorite tempura items, if the ingredient is good.  This was reasonably thick, and the texture was soft enough but there was still a good amount of bite.

    As with most of the items tonight, it's much better to dab a little salt on it instead of soaking it in grated radish.

    Squid (烏賊), second piece

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - sandwiched between two pieces of perilla (紫蘇) leaves.

    I've never really liked it when Japanese chefs deep-fried sea urchin, as I always thought it was such a waste of this fine ingredient.  Tonight I changed my mind... this was actually pretty good.

    Ginkgo nuts (銀杏)

    Icefish (白魚) - one of my favorite things to eat...  Is it any surprise that Saotome-san put each fish into the oil individually, and they are also individually picked out instead of scooped up as a batch.  He knows the order in which the fish went in, and keeping it to FIFO is important here...

    Big-eyed flathead (女鯒)

    Conger eel (穴子) - the climax of a tempura meal.  The batter was crisp and light brown, and Saotome-san would use his chopsticks to split the eel into two in one swift motion.  It's a pity that I didn't set up properly to take a video of this - like the Wommer did - because the sound effect was definitely something!

    We were asked to choose two types of vegetables, and I actually ended up ordering a third option...

    Shiitake mushroom (椎茸) - very plump and delicious.

    Asparagus (アスパラ) - with asparagus this size during the Spring, it's hard to pass this up... Zhang-san scored the asparagus spears numerous times before peeling part of it.

    Sweet potato (薩摩芋) - I suddenly remembered that sweet potato tempura is supposed to be a specialty at some tempura restaurants, so I felt compelled to add this item.  Pretty good, but not exactly mind-blowing like I had expected from the hype others had made about sweet potato tempura.  Zhang-san cut a slit on each side before battering.

    Tencha (天茶) - this was my pick out of three different ways of having my kakiage (かき揚げ)... the other two being having it straight with a bowl of white rice on the side, and having it as ten-don (天丼).  Made with diced scallops (はし羅).  Yum...

    We were all very full, but I wasn't gonna pass up having a little dessert!  These marinated scarlet runner beans (花豆) from Karuizawa (軽井沢) were HUGE!  And delish, too!

    When I looked up the restaurant's details on Tabelog, I was surprised to find that they allowed BYO.  After getting the hotel concierge to call and verify that BYO was indeed permissible - for a corkage of JPY 3,000 per bottle - the Wommer and I picked out a bottle for tonight while sake-shopping this afternoon...

    Kikuhime Gin (菊姫 吟), 10BY - it's not often that one sees aged sake (古酒) in the shops, and this 15-year old was just not something that I was gonna pass up.  Alas, we quickly realized that a tempura restaurant wasn't the right place to be drinking nice sake or wine... so we stopped after half a bottle.  This had a long finish.  At first it was a little warm, so it was a little dry and bitter on the finish.  Definitely full-bodied, or as the Japanese would say, コクがある.

    The illustrations on the menu were done by Saotome-san himself, and any out of season items are crossed out by hand.  At the end of the evening, we asked Saotome-san to complete our menus by drawing more prawns on them.  A true artist!

    This was a very good evening.  While the food itself wasn't as mind-blowing as I had hoped, it was certainly top-notch - and better than Tempura Kondo (天ぷら 近藤) or anything I could hope to get outside Japan.  But most of all, I wanted to come and watch Saotome-san at work under his famous Borsalino...

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    It's my final meal of this Tokyo trip, and the Wommer and I wanted to do another 3-macaron sushi joint. We ended up booking Sushi Mizutani (鮨 水谷) for lunch today, which was very fitting given that Mizutani Hachiro (水谷八郎) learned his craft under none other than Ono Jiro (小野二郎).

    After getting ourselves seated, I politely asked for permission to photograph my food.  My request was denied, which didn't come as a total surprise to me, as I had heard of Mizutani-san's aversion for people photographing his food.  He explained that if he allowed me to take pictures, he'd have to let everyone else do it, too.  Oh well...

    We opted for the sashimi and sushi combination, and eagerly waited for Mizutani-san to prepare our food.  And in comes the sashimi...

    Olive flounder (平目) - soft yet bouncy.

    Abalone (鮑) - very plump, very, very, very tender.  Light and elegant fragrance and flavor.  One of the best I've ever had.  No doubt steamed with wakame (わかめ).

    Ark shell mantle (赤貝ひも) - never had this before.  Interesting...

    Pen shell (平貝) - a thin slice was lightly grilled and wrapped in seaweed.  More chewy than I liked.

    Next came the nirigi sushi:

    Gizzard shad (こはだ) - fatter and softer than the one at Jiro.

    Squid (烏賊) - thick, a little crunchy, but yields to the teeth.

    Akami (あかみ)

    Medium fatty tuna (中トロ) - velvety.

    Fatty tuna (大トロ)

    Ark shell (赤貝) - softer than what I'm used to.

    Cockle (鳥貝) - very nice, but loses to the amazing ones at Jiro.  This required significantly more chewing.

    Scallop (柱)

    Geoduck (海松貝) - surprisingly sweet, since I usually dislike geoduck.  Didn't get any of the purple-tinted tail...

    Needlefish (針魚) - I looooove needlefish, so I was really happy.  Served with a dab of marinated, ground shrimp powder.

    Tiger prawn (車海老) - very pretty and delicious, as it's smaller and more tender, but just can't measure up to what we had at Jiro in terms of size and impact...

    Sea urchin (雲丹) - I wanted to find out where this came from, and Mizutani-san simply answered "Hokkaido".  Well... yeah, I would have guessed, but WHERE in Hokkaido?  He didn't know, looked at the labels on the side for any clues, and read out a location that another customer recognized.  I'm not an expert at Hokkaido geography, but I was kinda expecting the chef to know where he sourced his stuff...  Maybe I've been spoiled by the top sushi chefs in Taipei and Hong Kong, but they're very proud of the provenance of their ingredients.

    Conger eel (穴子) - the second meal where I only got the conger eel lathered in tare (たれ).  I'm starting to miss the shio (塩)/tare (たれ) combination that I used to get at Kyubey (久兵衛)...

    Egg custard (卵焼き)

    Some comment on the shari (しゃり): the rice was also harder than what I'm used to, but not as al dente as what we had at Jiro.  The acidity was there but much milder than Jiro, so this may be better suited for many people's palates.

    I didn't really want to drink and stuck to my iced green tea.  The Wommer, however, clearly had other ideas, and kept trying to pour me little cups of Kamotsuru Tokusei Gold (賀茂鶴 特製 ゴールド).  The sake is interesting because is comes in small bottles and contains a couple of very pretty flowers made of gold foil, but that's about it... I didn't find it particularly interesting to drink...

    I snuck in a picture while visiting the toilet, since that was the only one I could take within the restaurant...

    Verdict?  Meh.  I'd pick Jiro over Mizutani ANY DAY, and that was the consensus from the three of us.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the food here, but the truth is that there were only a couple of magical moments - whereas at Jiro it magic just kept coming piece after piece.  I'm not an expert on sushi, and no doubt Mizutani-san would be on the spot technically, but I fail to see the passion coming through.

    Maybe it's because I wanted to take pictures, or maybe it's because we were gaijin... although on the second point I would find it hard to believe, as he did chat to us a little bit.  Maybe he was having a bad day, as he never smiled and looked grumpy the whole time.  Neither Jiro-san nor Mizutani-san smiled during service, as both would want to focus on delivering the food.  So why did I feel that, in spite of the little faux pas that I committed at Jiro and not having spoken a word to him until the very end, Jiro-san was the one who was genuinely happy to see me?  Was it the halo affect coming from the movie?  Would I see the same passion if they made a movie about Mizutani-san?

    One final note: Mizutani-san's wife presented us with the bill without us having asked for it.  We were all a little surprised, as very, very few restaurants kick their diners out like this... especially when other customers were still in the middle of their meals.  At the end, I just had zero inclination to take a picture with Mizutani-san, nor even to take a picture of the restaurant's signage outside.  I just don't think I'll be coming back.

    And so it was as I said before, two days after having had the best fucking sushi of my life, everything else is just downhill...

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    Sure, every one of my Tokyo trips is lined with lavish meals at restaurants with macarons, where I'm splurging on both the food and perhaps the alcohol.  This trip has certainly been dotted with them, including two 3-macaronsushi-ya.  But what I also really enjoy in Japan are all the little surprises that come along unexpectedly, and there were a couple of them this time...

    I met up with an old colleague who had moved on from banking and finance a decade ago, and he is now the proud proprietor behind a collection of shops and restaurants.  On my way to taking a walk down memory lane, he was kind enough to treat me to a simple lunch in the very area I was headed to.

    Café Lisette (カフェリゼッタ) is a small, French-style café in the tranquil alleys next to the Futako-Tamagawa (二子玉川) train station.  The atmosphere makes one feel as if one were indeed in a small town in France, and on this day I found myself seated next to a table of Froggies.  The menu is simple, the decor rustic, the pricing reasonable.

    I took the tarte salée du jour, which had jambon, asparagus and tomato inside.  Served with some simple greens, lentils and shredded carrots.  Delicious.

    In the future, I need to look at the menu a little more carefully... I ordered the cidre chaud without realizing that it came with full cream and cinnamon... which completely changed the experience, not to mention the calorie count!

    I had originally planned to take a dessert, but I guess my host didn't think I needed the extra calories...  Oh well.

    I love this place.  It's so quaint and peaceful - a little hideaway.  The place wasn't buzzing, but there were a few tables of customers - including a well-known Japanese food critic and stylist.  A place like this would never survive in Hong Kong, but it does very well in cities like Tokyo and perhaps Taipei.  It's French yet very Japanese in atmosphere.  I'd love to come back the next time I'm in the neighborhood.

    On the back of a shopping trip to Shinjuku, the Wommer and I passed by Omoide Yokocho (思い出横丁), a couple of alleys next to the train tracks that were packed with yakitori (焼き鳥) joints where fumes were just billowing out.  He was determined to grab a couple of sticks, even though we were soon to have dinner.  We went through the door at No.2 Horaiya (第二宝来家), attracted by the signage claiming to use Bincho charcoal (備長炭).

    The Wommer ordered us a few different sticks, then wondered why it was that some of the usual yakitori items weren't available.  Took him a while to realize that this place was offering pork offal (もつ焼)... So everything that we ordered - tongue, heart, and lard (yes, solid chunks of pork fat) - came from a pig.  Oh well, next time we'll hit a real yakitori-ya.

    On my final morning in Tokyo, I made a long-overdue return to Tsukiji Market (築地市場) with the Wommer.  Believe it or not, my reason for going to the most famous fish market in the world had nothing to do with fish.  I'd done my fair share of sushi breakfasts, and I have no intention of standing in line for hours.  I was after something else entirely.

    Yoshinoya (吉野家) is a worldwide chain of fast food joints serving gyu-don (牛丼).  What many people don't know is that the chain got started in 1899 (明治三二年) at the fish market (魚河岸) in Nihonbashi (日本橋), selling beef to fishmongers.  When the fish market moved to Tsukiji years later, Yoshinoya moved with the market to the present location.  I have loved eating gyu-don at Yoshinoya ever since my days of growing up in Tokyo some 30 years ago, so I just had to make the pilgrimage to the very first shop (一号店).

    We sat down and ordered the beef bowl with egg and spring onions (牛ねぎ玉丼).  In addition to the familiar sight of sliced beef and onions over rice, there was a plate of chopped spring onions, a bowl with a raw egg, and we were even given a separator to extract the yolk.

    I put the bulk of the spring onions on top of the beef, then dumped the whole egg on top.  Mixing everything up with my chopsticks got the yolk over not just the beef but also the rice underneath.  The result?  A little bowl from heaven for brekkie.  At JPY 380, this was much more satisfying to me than anything Daiwa Sushi (大和鮨) or Sushi Dai (鮨大) could offer me.

    The night before, the Wommer and I had joked that we would bring our leftover sake to either late-night ramen or drink it at breakfast.  I actually did bring along my leftover Kikuhime Gin (菊姫 吟), but I was so engrossed in my gyu-don that I totally forgot about it!  By the time I remembered, we were done with our breakfast and it was time to vacate our seats for other incoming customers... Damn!  It would have been perfect to have drunk this in the morning, like the time some of us drank the leftover 1999 La Tâche for breakfast at Troisgros...

    We strolled around the market to see what kind of goodies we can pick up, and suddenly smelled some coffee from nearby.  We were surprised to stumble upon Coffee Amikane (コーヒー網兼), a small shop with an open store front.  The tiny space only had 6 seats around the counter, and we decided to sit and grab ourselves a cup of joe.

    The octogenarian grandma behind the counter only opens the shop up for business 3 days a week, and for only 3 hours in the morning each day.  She's been here for more than 50 years, and her love of boats and sailing is clear.  A board on the wall displays various types of nautical knots with actual ropes.

    Everything here is old school.  She grinds her own beans with this old grinder, then pours the grounds into a cloth-lined funnel placed over an enamel pot.  Water is boiled in another enamel pot on the gas stove, poured onto the grounds, and drips through the funnel.

    Both the coffee cups and the plates are heated in a water bath placed directly on the stove, so that the hot coffee wouldn't get cold too quickly.  Grandma clearly cares about her patrons.

    It ain't gonna be the best cup of joe you ever had, but I doubt anyone would complain given the reasonable price of JPY 250.  I loooove how quaint this place is, and the grandma is just too cute.  The Wommer and I were both real happy that we stumbled upon this place, and I definitely wouldn't mind coming back again.  Maybe next time I'll also order the toast...

    This trip was just too damn short.  I need to come back to Japan a little more so that I can increase my chances of finding more of these little hidden treasures!

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    This trip back to Tokyo was the first in a long time where I traveled solo - for the first couple of days at least - so I had a little more time to catch up with various groups of friends.  On this trip, I made a little more effort to catch up with friends I haven't seen in a while.

    On my first day, I was able to catch up with a group of ex-colleagues I used to work with at Wasabi more than a decade ago.  Since then some of them have left the investment banking world, choosing to do things in the "real world".  Those who are still in banking have moved from being in front office positions to more back office roles, which is also a move that I have made myself during the last few years.  It was fun to catch up with them, to exchange stories of our lives over the past decade, and even to listen to some scandalous stories first hand.

    The second day started with my senpai taking me out to lunch.  Senpai was 3 years ahead of me while I was in high school, and our paths crossed again when I first arrived in Hong Kong and found ourselves working together at Wankers.  It's rare that I see him Tokyo (usually we meet in Hong Kong), and I requested that he show me a good place for grilled eel.

    Unagi Idumoya (鰻 いづもや) in Nihonbashi has been in business for almost 60 years, and they know what they're doing when it comes to eel.  They were serving eel that was naturally organic farmed by the Okayama University of Science (岡山理大), and we decided to go for that.  Wild eel these days is really hard to come by, but I was happy just to have the organically farmed eel.  The flavors were very delicate and a little sweeter than usual.

    Senpai always has my interest at heart, and it's good to spend some quality time with him.  Friendships like this, which have spanned decades, need to be cherished.

    Later that same evening, I met up with an ex-colleague from Wasabi whom I'd already seen on the first night.  We share a common passion for food and wine, and it's always a real treat to do dinners together.  Another page in our long-standing friendship.

    On the third day, I decided to do something I haven't done in almost 3 decades.  I went back to my old high school.  I haven't made it to any gatherings in Tokyo in the last few years - including the 25th reunion last year - but this time I felt the need to reawaken some memories.  So I hopped on the subway and headed to Futago-Tamagawa (二子玉川).  The station, of course, was still on the banks facing the Tama River, but the entrance and the shopping malls around it have certainly changed in the last 30 years.

    But first, I met up with another ex-boss from Wasabi, who now runs a chain of shops and restaurants called Lisette (リゼッタ).  It's interesting to see that in both of the business, they are offering not just high quality Japanese products but also French-style products with a Japanese bent.  I'm glad to see that he's done so well since leaving banking.

    After lunch, I tried to find my way back to St. Mary's International School.  I hadn't walked up the hill from the train station for 3 decades, and things have changed enough that it took me a while to figure my bearings, even with the help of Google Maps on my iPhone.

    Suddenly I saw it.  That section of pavement.  Going up it was a daily routine, and my heart leapt at this familiar sight.  But nowadays this climb seemed a lot shorter than I remembered...  I also didn't remember that the cemetery at the top of this hill was actually a pet cemetery...

    Circling a few blocks finally brought me to the entrance of the school.  The grounds have expanded, and not all of it looked familiar now.  But it didn't matter.  I was back!

    I stopped by the office to register, letting know that I am an alumnus who just wanted to walk around and check out the grounds.  The students were in class, so I would have the empty hallways mostly to myself.  I also stopped by the concession window and bought a few souvenirs like a T-shirt, baseball cap...etc.

    I was pleasantly surprised to come across this screen in the hallway, showing statistics of the amount of solar power harvested by the school.  Apparently the school had installed the second-largest array of solar panels in Tokyo back in 2010, and is helping the environment by reducing its carbon footprint.  As someone who is somewhat environmentally conscious, I was very, very happy to see that my old school is doing its part!

    No campus visit would be complete without going to the cafeteria, and I picked up a copy of the menu for April.  Honestly, I think the kids are eating pretty well these days!  And now they also count the calories!

    After sticking around for a little bit, I returned my visitor's pass and circled the exterior of the school grounds once again.  I'm glad to have made it back, and would love to come back another time when more of my classmates would be around.  Now it was time to rush back to my hotel and change for dinner...

    And on the fourth and final evening in Tokyo, I rushed to meet up with a high school friend from my days at Singapore American School. My friend is Japanese but we went to school together in Singapore, and the last time I saw him was about 2 decades ago while we both lived in the States.  He now resides in the UK and was in town visiting his friends and family, and we had a window of only a few hours to meet up.  We've both come a long way from our days on the track team together, although I have certainly put on a lot more weight than he has...

    This was a pretty fruitful trip, as far as old memories are concerned.  There were certainly moments - especially during my trip to St. Mary's - where I thought to myself: 懐かしい〜!  I wish I had planned things better and had more time here, and next time I'll be sure to retrace more of my steps from adolescence...

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  • 03/25/14--08:02: Team dinner
  • The boss is back in town, and most of the research team was here visiting for the first time as well.  The boss wanted to do a team dinner, and naturally the task of selecting the venue fell on my shoulders.  Given the near impossibility of booking any of the restaurants at the Four Seasons Hong Kong on short notice, I ended up choosing to take the team to Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

    Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - introducing this to visitors is de rigueur, especially since one of your visitors announced "I want meat!" when you asked them what they would like.  Very good as usual, and I think the leftovers lasted for a couple of days...

    Scrambled egg with 'kei wai' prawns, centurion egg and spring onions (蔥花皮蛋圍蝦炒滑蛋) - 'centurion egg'?!  Someone needs to double-check their Engrish.  I love homey dishes like this, and I think the team enjoyed it, too.

    Steamed finely minced beef with aged mandarin peel (馳名陳皮蒸牛肉餅) - pretty good, but would have been better with some white rice.

    Wolfberry leaves in superior stock (上湯枸杞葉) - I love this when it's in season, and of course with wolfberries (枸杞) on top.

    Deep-fried boneless duck filled with mash taro (荔芋香酥鴨) - FAIL.  Where was the duck?!  So many pieces seemed to be just taro mash only.  Or was the duck meat so finely minced/shredded and mixed into the mash that I couldn't pick it out?  And the whole thing was too wet.

    Deep-fried sliced pomfret (古法炸鯧魚) - not happy with this.  When I pre-ordered this, I specifically said that I don't want just small pieces, as I'm used to having this dish as either whole or a big plate of it.  The person on the phone said that she'll put me down for 2 orders.  So what did I get?  One lousy slice.  I was upset, and immediately ordered a second order, which was what we see in this picture.

    Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (鮮荷葉飯) - always pretty good.

    I was pretty full and didn't take dessert, but did enjoy one of these walnut cookies (核桃酥).

    I thought I'd bring out a little bit of wine for the team, but the boss kept his consumption within reason.  After all, he needed to keep a clear head as the US markets were about to open...

    1995 Vieux Château Certan en magnum - nose of coffee, tobacco, some dried herbs.  A little musty, perhaps?  Acidity was high at first, and a little alcoholic at first.

    I gave myself a failing grade tonight, as I ended up ordering way too much food for us.  Many of the dishes shouldn't have been bumped up to a "medium" from "regular", but amazingly the team managed to finish just about everything... and even had room for dessert!  I look forward to welcoming them back to Hong Kong later this year.

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  • 03/26/14--08:33: Smoky wine dinner
  • I'll say this again: I'm not a big steak guy.  I can appreciate a great piece of meat, but it's not something I crave.  However, I understand that many people love steak - especially together with wine - so I have had my fair share of steak and wine dinners.  Tonight was such an occasion.

    David from Zachys periodically organizes small wine dinners to benefit Pebbles Project, a South African charity helping disadvantaged children with conditions such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.  I missed one such dinner last year whose theme was old Californians, and when I received the email about a dinner featuring wines from Sine Qua Non, I replied immediately.

    The venue tonight was the Butcher's Club.  I had never been here before, but I did attend their Steak Rebellion pop-up at their invitation earlier this month.  I must admit that the steak was good, along with some of the other side dishes.  But in reality the real draw tonight was the opportunity to taste 12 different wines from the Sine Qua Non stable.

    We started with some raw seafood, including marinated giant Cloudy Bay storm clams and Korean oysters, which tasted a little metallic, and pretty full-bodied.

    There was also some scallop carpaccio with truffle oil.

    I passed on the Pacific island style southern bluefin tuna poke, since I - with very few exceptions, such as my dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro - don't eat bluefin tuna.  I'm sure my fellow diners didn't mind taking up my share.

    Spiced rubbed and grilled Spencer Gulf jumbo king prawns - with bay leaves and served with horseradish crème fraîche.  Pretty nice.

    Big iron pots of classic steamed black shell mussels in Chablis, butter, EVOO, purple garlic and lots of fresh herbs - the Canadian mussels are not bad, but mussels are not my thing.

    Freshly baked pull-apart bread basted with beef drippings and dusted with dry aged beef salt - yummy.

    David had picked out a slab of meat in advance and asked them to age it a little more than usual.  The Stockyard Farms ribeye had been dry-aged for 90 days, so we had pretty high expectations.

    Beef carpaccio - we were served slices of the beef as is, without cooking.  Very tasty.

    The beef was beautiful.  While everyone else went for a piece of the meat, I decided to reach out and grab a bone.  To me, it is always the part with the most flavor.  I just grabbed it with both hands and started gnawing on it like the dog that I am.  Sooooo tasty!  Others quickly realized their mistake and ended up going for the other bones, too.  I did, of course, end up having a few slices in addition to the bone.

    Cooked thrice in duck fat hand cut steakhouse fries - BURP.

    Of course there was also a big bowl of organic garden leaves with balsamic vinaigrette, and I made sure I got some greens to balance things out a little.  Emphasis on a little...

    I didn't have much cheese, and since I'd already tried out the New York cheese cake a few weeks ago, I went for the Key lime pie instead.  Love the acidity, and this was very soft and fluffy.

    I was pretty happy with the food in general, but unfortunately, this turned out to be one of the most disappointing dinners I've attended.  The reason?

    The minute I arrived and stepped through the doors to the space, my heart sank.  This was a space with an open kitchen, and my nostrils were flooded with the overpowering smell of the spices used to age the beef.  Even before the beef was cooked, I knew I wouldn't be able to smell any of the wines tonight.  This was simply the wrong venue for a wine dinner, because the ventilation here was much too weak.

    I realize that most of the patrons who come to the Butcher's Club are here for the beef, and would therefore love to be surrounded by the smell of it.  Had this not been a wine dinner, I would have really loved the smell, too.  Unfortunately, this was a serious wine dinner - at least for me.  Of the not-insignificant sum of money I paid to attend this dinner, I would say that at least two-thirds went towards the cost of the wine... maybe up to three-quarters.  So you see, I came for the wines, not the beef.  And for me not to be able to smell the wines was simply too devastating.

    Nothing against the Butcher's Club, but for any wine lover who thinks it would be perfect to pair the delicious beef with their prized bottles... don't even think about it.  Bring something cheaper when you go.  Leave your prized treasures for another occasion, when you can actually get the full benefit of the nose.

    Anyway, the awesome line up of Sine Qua Non wines were as follows:

    2010 Sine Qua Non The Monkey - 52% Roussanne, 23% Viognier, 19% Chardonnay and 5% Marsanne.  Full-bodied, very ripe.  Very sweet on the palate when taken with the clams, and the finish was a little bitter.

    2002 Sine Qua Non Whisperin' E - 50% Roussanne, 31% Viognier and 19% Chardonnay.  More lemon and citrus, grassy and sweeter nose, almost candied.  Nice on the palate.

    2005 Sine Qua Non The Petition - 37% Viognier, 33% Roussanne, 30% Chardonnay.  Pretty ripe and sweet, and not too bitter on the palate.

    2007 Sine Qua Non Body & Soul - 71% Roussanne and 29% Viognier.  A little floral, white flowers, sweet with a little peach.

    2002 Sine Qua Non Hollerin' M - 100% Pinot Noir. Nice and smooth on the palate, with a bit of forest in the nose.

    2001 Sine Qua Non Ventriloquist - 82% Grenache and 18% Syrah.  Ripe and jammy, a little metallic.  Very nice and sweet on the palate.

    1999 Sine Qua Non The Marauder - 100% Syrah.  Jammy, metallic, sweet with forest pine.

    2001 Sine Qua Non Midnight Oil - 95.5% Syrah, 3% Grenache and 1.5% Viognier.  Nice with very fragrant nose of cedar.  Not bad at all.

    2002 Sine Qua Non Just for the Love of It - 96% Syrah, 2% Grenache and 2% Viognier.  Metallic, smoky and meaty.  Very concentrated.

    1997 Sine Qua Non Imposter McCoy - 100% Syrah.  Minty, metallic and mineral.  Pretty ripe and sweet on the palate.

    1996 Sine Qua Non Against the Wall - 100% Syrah.  Really jammy, a little grassy, smoky with tangerine notes.  Was this corked?

    1995 Sine Qua Non The Other Hand - 100% Syrah.  Farmy, smoky with black olives.

    1998 Sine Qua Non Mr. K TBA - 100% Viognier. Nose of acetone, botrytis, grapes and honey.  Soooo sweet on the palate.

    This could have been such an amazing evening, as it's rare to be able to taste this many Sine Qua Non wines together, and I loooooooove their wines!  Alas, it just wasn't meant to be...

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  • 03/29/14--07:52: Earth Hour 2014
  • For the sixth year in a row, I participated in Earth Hour.  I'd already ranted enough about Earth Hour and the message behind it last year, and argued why it is important to all of us humans to conserve energy, so I'm not going to repeat it.  I will just say how pleased I am to see more and more of the world being aware of this and that more people are participating.  This one hour alone may not save a whole lot of energy, but it is symbolically important because it brings about awareness.

    This past year I had been good in terms of energy-saving.  Unfortunately I had not been so good about reducing waste.  While I continue to shy away from buying and consuming drinks in plastic bottles and containers, I had, in fact, increased waste generation somewhat thanks to my diet program.  This is being remedied.

    But nowadays I always carry my environmental-friendly shopping bag (with a picture of the young Flocke) wherever I go, and have cut down bag wastage massively.  I don't always carry my own water bottle, but I do have a pair of plastic chopsticks in every bag that I own and carry around.

    Tonight I went out for a quick dinner, and made sure I was done by 7:30 p.m. After spending about an hour strolling around, I started jogging in my neighborhood park just before Earth Hour started at 8:30 p.m.  I jogged for an hour until Earth Hour ended.  I couldn't think of a better way to spend Earth Hour than to exercise out under the stars and burning off some calories.

    During this year's Earth Hour, my apartment was dark.  I turned off most of my appliances - including cutting power to them - and the only thing that was drawing power was basically my fridge, and perhaps my work computer in the office.  I even turned all my cell phones (and yes, I have more than one...) off so they wouldn't consume any power.  For the first time in a long time, I went jogging without listening to music on my iPhone.  And I took no picture during Earth Hour.

    I still turn off the lights when a certain part of my office is not in use.  I have chided my staff so that they turn off the Nespresso machine right after their cup of coffee is made.  Unfortunately I haven't gotten them to remember to turn their monitors off whenever they leave the office, like I do.  So there's still room for improvement...

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  • 04/03/14--01:58: Shadows of Gagnaire
  • I can be pretty harsh in my assessment of a restaurant, often getting miffed by the poor service provided by inadequately trained or dumb staff.  I've trashed my fair share of restos in this space, and over time I've come to realize that it's a big reason why some people bother to visit this lil' blog.  I've also realized that whenever I write a piece that's negative, the people connected to the resto - PRs, managers, owners - do find out about it.  So I'm no longer as "anonymous" as I wish to be...

    So it was that a few days ago I found a message in my inbox, coming from Restaurant Akrame.  I had been less than impressed with my last visit - especially regarding the service.  They obviously read it, and took the occasion of Chef Akrame Benallal coming to Hong Kong to invite me back for a "media tasting".

    I debated about whether or not to accept the invitation.  I usually turn down the few invitations I receive, as most of the time they're really not all that interesting.  Snob?  Why, yes!  I am!  But this time... Akrame did just get his second macaron in Paris, and he did get a macaron within a year after he opened - something apparently previously unheard of - so there's gotta be something about this guy.  In the end I decided that I wanted to see if things would be any better with him in the house.

    I arrived and was led to my designated table upon announcing myself.  As I was trying to get settled in, the waitstaff asked if he could take my jacket and hang it up.  So... they had been informed of my last visit... As I was sitting in a proper chair today, I declined his offer and just hung it on the back of my chair.  I was also offered a stool for my bag, even though I didn't mind having it on the floor.  I Love Lubutin would be proud.

    We started a little later than expected, and I know the Wommer and I were both starving by the time the first nibbles arrived...

    The amuses bouches were practically identical to my last visit:

    Olive chip with Greek yogurt

    Squid ink and sesame crisp with smoked eel
    Cheese crumble with salmon roe and lime
    Celery and anchovy

    Carrot with carrot purée and carrot gelée - with grapefruit sauce and sprinkled with powder made from carrot leaves.  Pretty good.

    Sautéed cuttlefish with leek soup, deep-fried leeks and watercress purée - this was a wonderful dish.  I love how the cuttlefish has been cut to thin shreds, and this somehow reminds me of another calamari dish I had the pleasure of having several years ago at Pierre - created by the same person Chef Benallal trained under.  The leeks - both pan-fried and especially the deep-fried shreds at the top - really made the dish.

    Crab meat with black rice crispies, spinach purée, seaweed and Black olive vinegar sauce - also pretty delish, especially the mix of textures thanks to the rice crispies.  The flavors of the seaweed worked well with the rest.  Also a dish where I see Gagnaire's influence.

    Gillardeau oyster with "hot mayo" in charcoal powder - this was really good.  There was something about the combination of the richness and acidity of the mayo working so well with the minerality of the oyster... or maybe it was the Japanese activated charcoal powder that provided the magic.  The brunoise of carrot and green apple added crunchy texture.

    Pan-fried scampi with asparagus, asparagus sauce and watercress purée - simple, good but nothing special.

    Poached lobster with potato foam and passion fruit sauce - the lobster came half-cooked, then was dunked into a jar with lobster consommé, mint and coriander to finish the cooking process.

    Then the lobster was placed on top of the potato foam, which was sprinkled with shreds of deep-fried leeks.  Gotta say I wasn't a fan of the combination of passion fruit sauce with the potato foam... felt like the acidity was clashing with the milk-based foam.

    But the lobster itself was perfectly cooked, and delicious in its own right.

    The consommé was served in a small cup, and tasted surprisingly a little smoky.

    Pan-fried cod with amaranth seeds, squid ink and olive sauce - the cod itself was pretty delicious, with perfect execution.  The squid ink and olive sauce was pretty salty, and there was a "swoosh" which tasted like balsamico.  The interesting part was the grains.  The cod was sitting on a bed of cooked Kamut Khorasan wheat as well as amaranth seeds - which the chef described as "the future".  The Kamut was pretty chewy and nutty.  There was also a layer of deep-fried amaranth seeds on top of the cod.

    Our palate cleanser was tarragon ice cream with Campari gelée.  I can understand the gelée, which was truly bitter from the Campari.  I was a little surprised at the strong flavors coming from the tarragon, but I guess they were cooling and refreshing.

    Slow-cooked duck breast with quinoa, brown butter foam, yogurt sauce, hibiscus sauce and duck jus - the duck breast was tender and succulent, very delicious.  But somewhat disturbingly, the muscle fibers of the interior seemed to rip apart without me having to cut it with my knife.  I don't think I've seen it happen like this before... except in braised meat.

    Finally we got to the desserts, which were all served together as usual.  Come to think of it, it's how Gagnaire serves his desserts, too.

    Pineapple with charcoal ice cream - I've seen pictures of this posted by others.  I honestly don't know what to think of this, because - again, quite honestly - I don't know what charcoal is meant to taste like...

    Coffee crème brûlée with caramel foam custard and chocolate - this was very yummy.

    Chocolate mousse

    The petits fours at the end included lemon cookies and madeleines.  The madeleines were not bad, but I wished they were slightly more moist.  I took the dark chocolate with sea salt home, as it came in very handy during my last trip to Tokyo...

    Compared to last time, this was a much happier meal.  There were certainly more surprises this time, and the little touches of Gagnaire were more evident.  Many thanks to the restaurant for this invitation, and for Chef Benallal for giving us a taste of what it's like to visit him in Paris.

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  • 04/03/14--08:30: Surprising Martha
  • It was finally time for our first MNSC tasting of the year, as it's already been a couple of months after our annual dinner.  The Ox was first up, and he decided to host it again at the Grill Room of the Hong Kong Country Club.

    I was still digesting my rather long lunch, so I wasn't exactly hungry.  Ordering 2 courses à la carte seemed to be the solution... but our host had ordered some things for us to share at the start.  The sliced ham with melon was pretty nice - especially the melon.  I also had a bite of some battered and deep-fried prawns.

    Poached egg in red wine, caramelized onions, crispy bacon and croûtons - the club was doing a Burgundy promotion, and the minute I saw that œufs en meurette was on the menu I was sold.  I dived into the dish soooo eagerly that I totally ignored the plate of toast strips served on the side... until I had finished the egg and the onions, and had practically no sauce or yolk leftover.  Well, I ate the plain toast on its own anyway.

    Barbarie duck breast glazed with lychee honey, pan-fried ravioli "gyōza" style, filled with thyme scented vegetables and pak choy - very classic.  The duck was tasty but a little overcooked.  The pot sticker ravioli was pretty interesting.

    Grapefruit gratin with chestnut honey - I should have stopped at 2 courses, but I wanted some fruit.  Unfortunately I just wasn't a fan of this... the combination of flavors just seemed wrong.

    We all looked forward to what the Ox was serving us tonight, and we knew they were bound to be some pretty good shit...

    1990 Moët and Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - a little plummy, a hint of grass, mineral notes.  Young and fresher than I expected.

    1998 Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet - very toasty nose, with lots of grilled corn, and citrus notes.  Very clean and powerful on the palate - yet round and soft - with a long finish.  Beautiful!

    First flight, decanted 30 minutes prior to serving:
    1978 Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle - smoky, tobacco notes, minty and sweet.  A bit of acidity on the palate, and alcoholic.  Later on the nose turned really sweet, with vanilla notes.  94 points.

    1978 Beaucastel - a little chalky, some sweet grass, and sharp alcohol.  92 points.

    1978 Chave Hermitage Rouge - ripe and sweet, a very big wine.  Black olives, more meaty and minty.  Interestingly the acidity was very obvious in the nose.  Good concentration here.  94 points.

    Second flight, decanted 70 minutes before serving:
    1988 Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard - nose of led pencil, smoky, a little green pepper, a little earthy and mineral.  Very concentrated on the palate, clean with a long finish.  A beautiful wine.  99 points.

    1989 Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard - a bit smoky, alcoholic.  A little savory, with a little plastic at the end.  Also a beautiful wine.  98 points.

    1991 Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard - sharp and alcoholic on the nose at first.  A little green pepper and smoky.  96 points.

    I found the second flight of Martha's surprisingly good, and most of us scored the wines in the 97 to 100-point range.  Now I need to look around and stock up on these!

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  • 04/04/14--08:49: Getting lost in the Wanch
  • A friend is in town from Taipei, and I promised to take her out somewhere nice where we could enjoy a bottle of sake.  I figured it would be a good opportunity to check out somewhere I hadn't been before, so I booked us seats at Gin Sai (吟彩) after failing to get a table at Wagyu Takumi next door.

    I picked my friend up at her hotel, and decided to walk to the restaurant as it was pretty close by.  What was to be a 5-minute walk turned into a 30-minute ordeal, as we kept going around in circles despite having the use of Google Maps and a smartphone with GPS capabilities.  As I found out after calling another friend at the restaurant, I had typed in the wrong address - Cross Street instead of Cross Lane - into Google Maps... EPIC FAIL...

    Needless to say we arrived at the restaurant pretty late.  On our way to the last two seats at the far end of the counter, I greeted 娜姐 and her friend at another table.  It was pure coincidence that they were also at the resto tonight, and we would end up sharing a table towards the end of the evening.

    I was a little flustered from getting lost, and since my friend refused to have much input, I randomly picked a few things from the wide range of items available, starting with some tempura (天ぷら).

    Squid (烏賊) - very thick slice, and pretty satisfying.  A little more chewy than I expected.

    Sea eel (穴子) - pretty decent.

    Chopped scallops with trefoil (生ホタテと三つ葉のかき揚げ) - pretty nice.

    Grilled ox tongue (牛舌) - very, very good and satisfying.

    Seiro steamed king crab leg with seasonal vegetables (たらば蟹の蒸籠蒸し) - nice chunks of delicious, sweet crab meat here, plus a bunch of different veggies.  I preferred to have the crab as is, without using the yuzu ponzu (柚子ポン酢) and other condiments.

    Wagyu sukiyaki with seasonal vegetables (特選和牛すき焼き) - pretty delish given fatty wagyu was used.  But I was a little (unpleasantly) surprised that we only got 5 little slices of beef for the price...

    Juyondai Special (十四代 秘酒), 25BY - prominent nose of fermented rice and banana.  Very soft and elegant, round on the palate, then slowly builds up to a long and spicy finish.  Seimaibuai of 40%.  I brought this back from Tokyo, and now regret having only bought 1 bottle of this!

    Bijofu Yumebakari (美丈夫 夢許), 26BY - nose was very fruity, tropical, melon.  Very full-bodied and more powerful right from the start.  Seimaibuai of 30%.  娜姐 was drinking this with her friend, and very kindly sent over a couple of glasses.

    I had tempered my expectations for this place before I arrived as the reviews have been mixed, although I've always had confidence in restaurants backed by Peter Lam.  I guess the food tonight met my expectations overall.  But I was happy to have caught up with my friends and shared a few drops of delicious sake together.

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  • 04/04/14--23:23: My old favorite for dim sum
  • I needed to take my friend from Taipei out for some dim sum, and I wanted to stop by the Sotheby's auctions after lunch, so Victoria City Seafood Restaurant (海都海鮮酒家) became a natural choice - as it was within walking distance of both my friend's hotel and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.  This used to be my go-to place for dim sum during my early years in Hong Kong, and my friends and I would visit at least a couple of times a month.  I haven't been here for more than 2 years, so it was about time I returned...

    I always love to nibble on their deep-fried whitebait and peanuts (白飯魚花生)... Soooo bad for you, but sooo irresistable.

    Baked minced meat pies (黃橋燒餅) - my all-time favorite item here.  Still really delicious, filled with fragrant chopped spring onions and tasty ham.

    Baked BBQ pork pies with walnut (核桃叉燒批) - what happened to my old favorite barbecued pork puffs (叉燒酥)?!  They have now been replaced! I guess these are fine, and actually feel like they slapped a walnut cookie (核桃酥) on top...

    Poached meat dumplings with white cabbage (大白菜抄手) - these tasted a little different from before, but still pretty good.

    Steamed rice rolls with scallop (碧綠帶子腸粉) - pretty interesting, with slices of hairy gourd (節瓜).

    Deep-fried milk fish and spiced salt (椒鹽九肚魚) - actually the restaurant got it wrong... this is not milk fish but Bombay duck.  Still pretty delish and melt-in-your-mouth, but I thought the batter was a little thicker today.

    Steamed chicken feet and sparerib (排骨蒸鳳爪)

    Steamed bean sheet rolls with fish broth (魚湯鮮竹卷)

    Stir-fried morning glory (清炒通菜)

    It was a little too much food for the two of us, but I was happy to have come back here.

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    A simple dinner tonight to catch up with someone over a couple of bottles of wine.  Where to go for such a meal?  Apparently Amuse Bouche is an ideal location for our purpose, and I must admit that I don't go back there as often as I probably should.  These guys serve good food and know how to take care of your wines, so I'm left wondering why it took me almost a year to come back...

    Neither of us wanted a big dinner tonight - especially since I had a late lunch - so simple was the way to go...

    Our amuse bouche was "mixed seafood" - with marinated octopus, snail, and tomato.  Silly me, I hadn't realized snails were from the sea... And the octopus tasted like those store-bought Japanese baby octopus with that thick, sweet red sauce...  The amuse bouche at Amuse Bouche failed tonight.

    Tuscan artisanal pasta with black truffle and chicken gravy - loved this last time, and wanted an encore performance.  Just as tasty as I remembered, and inhaled in no time.  The only problem is that the added cheese kinda clogged up as the dish started to cool down, and this stuck to the utensils.  A little annoying.

    Duck leg confit served with sautéed potatoes and herb salad, with duck jus - I had fond memories of this from my first visit, so I decided to go for this classic.  Very well done, and just what I wanted.

    I actually didn't need dessert, but kinda wanted some.  I asked two different members of the staff for their opinions on the range on offer, and I was pleasantly surprised when they gave me their honest opinions.

    Marscapone cheese mousse and raspberry jelly with chocolate crumbles - I should have listened to my friend and not ordered dessert...  This was OK, but I wouldn't order it again.  The cubes of mango were ripe and sweet, but the raspberry jelly was a little harder than I expected.

    Floating island with vanilla, passion fruit coulis and lemon tart - the staff brought me this because I had asked about it earlier.  A couple of problems with this:  while the meringue was soft and nice, it actually wasn't floating on anything... and the reason why it's called île flottante it because it's usually sitting on top of a pool of crème anglaise...  And for some reason the staff decided to deprive me of the full experience by withholding the lemon tart and the passion fruit coulis...

    But tonight was more about wine... and here's where we ran into trouble.  The building that houses the restaurant has a number of units undergoing renovations, and the unfortunate result was that the air was filled with paint fumes.  This obviously significantly impaired our ability to smell the wines, and we asked the restaurant to turn up the power of their air conditioning to try to get rid of the fumes.  Eventually we stopped smelling the fumes - either because the ventilation had gotten rid of them, or we had become accustomed to the fumes...

    2001 Castellare di Castellina I Sodi di San Niccolò - initially the nose was simply not clean, a little green and vegetal with wet chalk.  We debated whether the bottle was corked, but decided it wasn't obvious enough.  A little minty with dried herbs.  Very smooth on the palate, with velvety tannins.  Surprisingly for a Sangiovese, this wasn't acidic at all.

    1994 Colgin Herb Lamb - wow! Pretty much the way I expected it to be: really exotic, tons of coconut butter, tons of vanilla, very sweet, with lots of tangerine.  Alcoholic a little sharp on the nose.

    There was a little too much wine for the two of us, as both of us are a little weak... so I poured the Colgin from the decanter back into the bottle and took it home.  I guess I'll try to finish it off tomorrow.

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  • 04/13/14--19:40: A feast for Babu
  • It's Babu's birthday today, and some time ago I was given the mission of booking On Lot 10 for this occasion.  Babu has quickly become a big fan of David Lai's cooking, ever since I brought the Tiggers here for the very first time.  They have returned numerous times within the last year, and it seemed a natural venue for this feast.

    Tonight was also a memorable evening because my godson Bear joined us for dinner.  David has never met Bear, and I've never dined out at night with Bear, either... so this was a first time for me.  I asked David to whip up some kind of pasta for Bear - since he obviously wasn't gonna eat all that fatty food the rest of us were taking in - and what arrived was a cheesy, vegetarian lasagna.  Mama Bear and I were a little bit apprehensive, since we didn't know how Bear would take to the cheese.  When he kept eating spoonful after spoonful, and ended up just about finishing an adult portion by himself, we knew David got himself a new fan.

    Jamón ibérico, aged 48 months - one can never go wrong with something like this...

    Whole steamed Breton artichoke, truffled anchoïade - the ladies were lucky tonight, because these artichokes were ginormous!  Yes, I deliberately wanted to sound like a Valley Girl to make a point.  These are getting to be the size of babies' heads...

    Bouillabaisse - It's been a while since I had bouillabaisse from David, and tonight the cocotte was filled with little crabs - I think each of us got half.  Rich, thick, packed with flavors.  I could definitely taste the saffron and piment d'espelette.

    The crab came with roe, which of course just upped the ante.  I knew there was still a lot of food to come, but I couldn't resist having a second bowl...  Oh and the croutons in the bowl were just awesome!

    This Hong Kong grouper (紅斑) showed up on our table, and we were all oohing and aahing at the sight of it, since it's getting close to 3 catties.  As usual David's done it with some delicious clams, spinach and potatoes which had simply absorbed all the yummy goodness.  I looooooove the way David does fish, sometimes just as much as the steamed fish I find at top Cantonese restaurants.

    Soft shell Alaskan King crab paella - I had asked for paella and figured David would try to get us another King crab.  But I should have known that David would always want to one-up himself each time we visit, and he couldn't possibly just give us the same old thing again... So before dinner started, David excitedly came to our table to show us the crab legs and asked us to touch them.  Sure enough, this was a soft shell King crab.  Now THAT's a first for me.  Just like that time when David served me TWO soft shell lobsters - one homard bleu and one Maine lobster.

    Not surprisingly, the crab was DIVINE... and of course I tried to scoop up as much of the rice as I possibly could... although I didn't scrape the pan clean like I did last time.  Oh and just in case you're wondering, these medallion-looking chunks were actually crab roe wrapped in caul fat.  How's that for heart attack on a plate?

    Pyrenée mountain baby lamb - I didn't think we needed any more food, but David seemed intent on showing us the really delicious baby lamb... and I knew that Babu would like some nice lamb.  Well, he not only gave us the leg that he told me about, he also ended up giving us a shoulder.  Of course it was stupidly delicious, but this was way too much food at this point...

    I was tasked to pick up a cake that was on the light side, and I figured Babu wouldn't mind having the Fraisalia from Island Gourmet.

    But David had other ideas about dessert, and sent up some chocolate hazelnut cake and bitter chocolate tart.  Both were excellent, but we were pushed beyond our limits by now...

    I figured this would be a seafood-heavy meal (after all, I had pre-ordered most of the dishes...) so there was never any question of serving white wines, and nowadays I had gotten the Tiggers trained to drink German Rieslings...

    1989 von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese - my first sip surprised me with its acidity level, but I think the wine drank better as time went on.  Nice acidity balance with some residual sugar, and a classic German Riesling.

    1990 von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese - I had pulled out 2 bottles of the '89 and 1 bottle of the '90 but didn't warn the staff, so they ended up pouring the '90 into glasses partially filled with '89...  Oh well.  The '90 definitely was a little sweeter on the palate.

    2002 Louis Roederer Cristal - heavy nose of toast, minerals and caramel.  Not my favorite vintage, I must say...  Contribution from another guest.

    What a dinner!  I was totally stuffed and happy, and I think Babu was also pretty happy.  Many thanks to David for always giving us the best that he can deliver, and I look forward to fulfilling my godfather duties and bringing Bear back to On Lot 10!

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  • 04/18/14--04:06: Pork belly for Fat Donkey
  • It's been a while since I last caught up with Fat Donkey, and I wanted to make sure this dinner happened before we both go off on our respective Easter breaks.  This was a celebratory dinner, and I told him that I'd take him out for some pork belly (and a bottle of wine, of course!). You see, Fat Donkey and his partner just completed the ABSA Cape Epic, one of the top mountain bike races of the world.  I followed their progress through 8 grueling days, more than 700 km and almost 15,000 m (that's 15 km!) of climbing.  They did an amazing job, finished ahead of their expectations, and deserve enormous respect.

    Which was why I took him to Harlan Goldstein's Comfort .  I figured the food is good, the atmosphere is casual, and it would be perfect for our little get together.

    Frikandel, mini Dutch sausage, curry ketchup, mayo and chopped onion - these skinless franks were deep-fried and tasted pretty decent, especially with the curry ketchup.

    "Melt in your mouth" pork belly bao bao, hoi-sin glaze - if it's pork belly he wants, then pork belly he gets.  Even though he's been eating a lot more healthy these days, I figured Fat Donkey has earned the right to have a thin slice of pork belly...  The sauce on the side was actually a little spicier and more tangy than expected.

    Slow cooked Spanish Duroc pork ribs - not as mind-blowing as the last time I had them, but still incredibly tender and falling off the bone.  Very, very tasty.

    "My tai tai's" beef brisket curry, rice and pickled vegetables - I had heard about this and wanted to try it out.  I wasn't exactly expecting heavy peanut flavors here, but I guess that would work, too.

    Japanese wagyu beef croquettes - the deep-fried exterior seemed to be a little tougher and more chewy tonight, but the minced beef on the inside was still yum.

    I didn't need any dessert, but was happy to watch Fat Donkey take down something that he liked...

    What wine would I bring out to help celebrate Fat Donkey's victory?  Why, Grange, of course!  And only an Aussie like Fat Donkey would recognize the irony of drinking Grange on a day such as today, as Premier of New South Wales Barry O'Farrell resigned today over a corruption scandal involving a bottle of... you guessed it... Penfolds Grange.

    1983 Penfolds Grange - decanted and served 45 minutes after opening.  Didn't like the first whiff I got... instantly detected that green pepper, vegetal, wet cardboard nose.  Was this bottle corked?  Definitely possible, but I'm not very sensitive to TCA and this wasn't badly corked.  Initially the nose was a little muted, and when a Grange doesn't explode in your face, that's usually a sign of trouble...  A little smoky at first, and eventually after a long while, the familiar sweet vanilla finally showed up.  Acidity was a little higher than expected.

    Despite my disappointment in my last bottle of '83 Grange, this was still a fun evening... and it's always good to see Harlan and talk shit with him.  Now I'm looking forward to my next meal with Fat Donkey.

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  • 04/19/14--08:19: Getting nutty
  • Tonight I finally caught up with Mr. and Mrs. Ho. I missed them on my last trip to Singapore, and by now they have moved into their beautifully restored conservation shop house, so I got a chance to see what 3 years of work (not to mention tons of mullah) looks like.  One of the places I was dying to go back to on this trip was Candlenut, and as it turned out, it was just walking distance from their house!

    I was a little apprehensive about bringing Mrs. Ho here, because she loves Peranakan cuisine and I wasn't sure she would take to the more modern adaptations from chef Malcolm Lee.  I figured that Mr. Ho, on the other hand, would probably just happily lap most things up, and I was right!

    Turmeric wings - really crispy and awesome wings.  Sooo tasty, except... neither Mr. Ho nor I picked up much of the turmeric... although I did notice a yellow hue underneath the skin.

    Sweet potato leaves - we asked for "no spice" but was expecting it to be stir-fried plainly.  Judging from the amount of garlic, I'd say that was anything but "plain".  But we all absolutely loved it.

    Sambal "choking" sotong - apparently this was named "choking" because the kitchen staff would choke every time they cooked it...  Really, really good, and a dish that all 3 of us rated very highly.  Loved the combination of spicy and tangy flavors, which were definitely a little sharp.  One could imagine that this was done at high heat, but the squid still came out extremely tender.  Love the little cherry tomatoes.

    Lor bak - a last-minute decision to switch from crispy pork belly to this.  The braised pork jowl was tender and reasonably tasty, but for me this was more like a homey dish - something I could imagine mom making - so it did now wow me.  It's more of a comfort dish for me, which still says a lot.

    Buah keluak with F1 Ranger Valley Wagyu (MBS 7+) beef rib - had to have this again.  Very, very tender beef.  And once you scoop up enough of the sauce, the flavors of buah keluak would definitely win you over.

    French duck breast rendang, grilled and served pink - I was not the least bit surprised to find Mr. Ho eager to try this option.  I was also most curious.  While this turned out to be the favorite for both Mr. and Mrs. Ho, I deducted some points for the texture.  While the breast was indeed pink, I felt it was just a little bit more chewy than I preferred.  For the first couple of slices, I failed to cut it with my spoon (duh...) and ended up shoving the whole slice in my mouth.  Not so great.  After we asked for knives and cut the slices in half, the bite sizes became more manageable.

    Flavor-wise, though, this worked extremely well.  The smoky flavors of the charred skin blended seamlessly with the spicy, complex flavors of galangal, turmeric, cardamom... This is where I give credit to Malcolm to even think about using non-traditional ingredients as alternatives to beef.

    We were pretty full, but the real reason I came back to Candlenut was actually the desserts!  I made sure we picked the three which were my favorites from last time.

    Chendol cream - hello babe, I love you!  Even though I had already gotten my chendol fix at a hawker center earlier in the day, this was what I looked forward to the most tonight.  That soft, wobbly panna cotta-like coconut custard pudding, with the beautiful fragrance and sweetness of gula melaka.   Next time I'm here, I'm not sharing this with anyone.  I want one of my own.

    Durian soup - oh yeah, it's nice to see you again, too!  I'd already gotten a dose of durian (along with my chendol), but I sure wasn't gonna pass this up!  I think I made Mrs. Ho pretty happy.

    Buah keluak - further evidence of Malcom's cojones.  I ordered this for Mr. Ho since he loves buah keluak.  Very rich and heavy, which was why I saved it for last.  Love the combination of flavors, including salted caramel.

    2006 Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese - marmalade, apricot, a little bit of petrol.  Fairly sweet on the palate, with some acidity.

    This was another great meal at Candlenut.  I'm so happy that I wasn't the least bit disappointed in my second visit, and even more happy that Mr. and Mrs. Ho liked this.  Now I'm really jealous that they can walk to the restaurant any time they feel like...

    We adjourned back to the Ho residence since it was still early, and they introduced me to Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka, a vodka made by distilling a milky beer brewed with whey leftover from making cheese out of milk from grass-grazing cows in West Dorset, England.  Now THIS was interesting.  I normally don't drink vodka because all I taste is the very strong and sharp alcohol, but there was something more to this one.

    If you take a sip but don't swallow immediately, and kinda roll the vodka around the mouth with your tongue... you should start to feel the unctuous texture, and interestingly there is a certainly creaminess in terms of flavor profile.  It felt like I was tasting a very diluted yogurt drink, and this was coming out of a distilled vodka...  It kinda blew my mind a little.  I poured a little into my shot of espresso, took a sip and did the same twirling with my tongue.  Interestingly, the addition of that little bit of vodka also seemed to make a difference in the coffee's texture.

    Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Ho for such fantastic company, and I look forward to catching up again soon!

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    Everyone who goes to Singapore ends up going for some type of local eats, most of which are cheap and cheerful.  I myself have my own list of place to hit, and it's still growing with each new trip I make.  But the reality is that Singapore, like any other city, has its fair share of crap restaurants.  For someone who is looking at restarting his diet, who desperately wants to make all the calories count, this can be infuriating.  There's nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, worse than having consumed a bunch of high caloric, fatty foods and didn't even taste good.

    My first crap meal came while we were doing an excursion to Pulau Ubin, an under-developed island off the north-east cape of Singapore.  It was past 1pm and we were all a little tired, hot, and starving.  We had initially planned to take the ferry back to Changi Village and find a place there to eat, but for some reason my relatives decided to stop at the first restaurant they saw...

    Season Live Seafood (海味活海鮮) is as obvious a tourist trap as I have ever seen.  It's only or so away from all the bicycle rental shops and 2 or 3 minutes away from the ferry jetty.  Anyone looking for half-decent food would normally have alarm bells sounding off in one's head about places like this.  But I decided not to protest...

    Fried you tiao (炸油條) - these deep-fried Chinese crullers stuffed with cuttlefish paste failed.  Too dry from having been fried too long, and these also seemed to have been left out for a little while.

    Deep-fried sotong (炸苏东仔) - nowhere near the tastiest I've had, but at least the baby squid wasn't a complete failure.

    Cereal prawns (麦片虾) - these were some of the most tasteless prawns I've had in memory...  If you don't have any of the sweetish "oatmeal" that came sprinkled on, or if you don't eat the deep-fried prawn shells, then you may have a hard time tasting any flavor coming from the flesh of the prawns...  Somehow these guys managed to eradicate any trace of the sweet flavors that fresh prawns should come with.

    Fried rice with whitebait (银鱼炒饭) - Wow!  The last time I tasted flied lice this bland was... never?!

    This place was so bad that my uncle actually wondered out loud where the cook came from... (with the implied question being if this guy knew how to cook anything...)

    My lunch the next day was spent attending the birthday party of a friend's daughter, and I trekked up to the Singapore Island Country Club.  The kids were bowling and playing pool before lunch, so we ended up eating in the bowling alley and not at the club's other F and B outlets.  Naturally I had to tone down my expectations...

    I was advised to take the mee goreng, which was supposed to be good.  Well, it was OK, but judging from the way my friend's club sandwich looked, I should count myself lucky that it was at least edible.  Wasted calories from fatty food.

    Feeling unsatiated, I headed to my favorite Roti Prata House just down the road for a snack.  I figured I owed it to myself to order a simple plaster and a cup of kopi tarik.  Well, maybe the Indian cook took Easter Sunday off, or maybe the best cook only works in the mornings, but this was a lousy piece of plaster.  It was just too soggy and oily, without the dry, crispy texture I would expect.  Interestingly, the yolk of the egg was still liquid.

    So in my attempt to recover from an unsatisfying lunch, things actually got worse because I had some extremely fatty fried food that was crap.  Wonderful.

    My day just kept going downhill in terms of food.  The relatives finally decided they wanted Thai for dinner, and since I didn't want to take them back to Thanyinglike I did last time, I scrambled to look for an alternative.  The blogging community doesn't seem to offer much help in this respect, and most of the hits I got seem to center around "cheap and authentic".  Well, I wanted to go somewhere nice with my relatives, since this would be my nice meal with them for the next couple of years.  Other than Thanying, there seemed to be no alternatives for slightly higher end Thai in town.

    Which was why we ended up at Nara in ION Orchard.  The relatives had been to Nara in Bangkok and enjoyed their first visit - although a subsequent visit fell short of expectations.  I insisted that we go to the branch at ION instead of the new branch at Westgate Mall - since the new location had been open for less than a week.  I shudder at the thought of what might have happened if we had gone to Jurong...

    I don't like tom yum kung, so I passed it up and left it for my relatives.  Instead I started with the kaeng kiew wan gai.  This green curry just looked wrong when it showed up... the color was a little off, and it definitely looked very diluted.  It was pretty sweet and there didn't seem to be any complexity in the flavor profile.  At least the chicken wasn't overcooked...

    Pla kra pong chao sua - this deep-fried sea bass was OK, but we found it woefully under-seasoned - which is a pretty strange phenomenon in a Thai restaurant.  I ended up chewing on the strings of green peppercorns to get some more flavors.

    Stir-fried morning glory - these days I'm not a fan, because the sauce is just too damn salty.

    Mango with sticky rice - I should have asked the relatives to order the single portion so I wouldn't have to eat any, but... This wasn't bad, but I certainly didn't need the extra calories from the rice or the coconut milk.  The mango itself could have been a little riper...

    The relatives weren't happy with the food, and neither was I.  And don't get me started about the crap service...

    The infuriating thing was that not only were the three meals not at all tasty, I also put on weight for no good reason.  I got up this morning, stepped on the scale, and found myself about 1½ pounds heavier!  Bloody hell!

    Another day, another crap meal.  This time it was breakfast.  Due to poor planning, I wasn't able to go to the original location of Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House (黃亞細肉骨茶餐室) after my morning jog today, since they're not open on Mondays.  I decided that I needed my kaya toast fix, and figured I'd stay close to home and check out Ya Kun Kaya Toast at Vivo City.  What a mistake that turned out to be!

    The kaya toast with butter here is usually pretty dry - and I can appreciate this style - but today it seemed particularly over-grilled.  The French toast just wasn't very good... but maybe it's because I'm more used to them being softer and more moist.  Even the kopi c today sucked... and tasted waaaaay over-roasted.

    Given that Ya Kun prices itself at a significant premium over the regular guys selling kaya toast at food courts just steps away, I was left wondering why I would be willing to pay that premium again...

    Thankfully my losing streak ended at 4 meals, with a total of 5 crap meals over 3 days.  Let's hope this won't happen again...

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  • 04/21/14--08:52: Simple, casual, good
  • With a string of crappy yet fatty meals behind me, my last hours in Singapore were spent with friends at two different restaurants in the same neighborhood, with both offering simple, well-executed Western fare.

    Brasserie Gavroche was the venue chosen by my friend L, who is an old friend I have known for (gasp!) almost 20 years.  She was a little apprehensive about picking a place, since she feels that my taste in restaurants is always very atas... and of course she had been told about the crappy meals that I'd been having...

    The decor certainly looked like an old school brasserie, and interestingly the menus were sandwiched between plastic boxed in a wooden frame.  These have got to be the heaviest and the most unwieldy menus I've ever handled...

    I quickly spotted two very fatty items on the menu, and both were appetizers.  I figured I'd take those and forgo some of the yummy-sounding main courses, since the two appetizers would probably add up to enough calories for this meal...

    Tartine d'os à moëlle - bone marrow is always a good choice, and here they were serving it on bread from Poilane.  I didn't quite expect so many cloves of garlic confit, but as I wasn't about to kiss anyone for the next few hours... The little chunks of marrow were pure manna from heaven, and you really do need all that bread to soak everything up.

    Crépinettes de pied de cochon sauce tartare - as soon as I saw the words "pied de cochon" I was sold.  It's been way too long since I had this done the French way, and to have it wrapped in crépinette?  Unbeatable.  Pan-frying warmed up all the fat and collagen, yet produced a crispy exterior.  Little medallions of heaven.  And you needed the slightly sharp acidity from the mustard in sauce tartare to cut the fat.

    2012 Domaine de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse - very young so it was still medium-bodied, and the tannins were clearly still around.  Blueberries, minty, cedar.  Good to wash down my fatty food.

    This was a very simple meal, but it was also immensely satisfying - especially after what I've gone through the last few days.  If I lived in Singapore, I would imagine coming here for some pretty straightforward, yummy food.

    Dinner was just a couple of blocks down, and also turned down to be non-local.  After threatening to take me to have bak kut teh (肉骨茶) - which I would have been totally fine with - my friend suggested we meet up at Fordham and Grand.

    This place has a very compact menu for food, but seems to be popular for cocktails and wine.

    Miso eggplant, shimeji escabeche and Jerusalem artichoke chips - this wasn't what I expected... as I was expecting heavier, sweeter flavors from miso like the way Japanese would do this.  But never mind, this was still pretty tasty - especially with the chips.

    Grilled kurobuta pork collar, grapes and sucrine lettuce - actually this was very, very nicely done.  The pork flavors were fairly strong, which is what I like.  It's also very tender given the marbling around that part, and this was pretty well done.  The grapes on top were very interesting, lending some acidity and fruity sweetness.  I was surprised at how much lettuce came on the plate... it was one whole head of lettuce, and that's pretty solid!

    Sautéed vegetables - I ordered these because I thought I needed some veg, but after the sucrine lettuce with my pork collar... I didn't really have much room for these.

    Orange martini: confit, granité and jelly with sesame tuile - this was apparently pretty famous, so I ordered it to share with my friend.  Very nice, actually.  Three different textures of orange, and the alcohol was in the jelly.  Naturally the granité was very light and refreshing.

    This was a nice, simple little dinner.  There wasn't anything really fancy here, but everything was well-executed and delicious.  And what's more, it all came at a very reasonable price.  With the place open until fairly late, it looks like a good venue for late-night dining or a few drinks.

    I'm glad to have had these two simple yet good meals today, which helped end my trip on a positive note.  My next trip to Singapore will be for business, and I probably won't have much time to dine at places I'd like to go to.  Sigh...

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    This post will start with a rant, because I am so livid that I am actually going to name and shame for once.

    Tonight was an evening that could have been.  I was back at my favorite On Lot 10, with a group of friends who all know the boss well.  We gave David carte blanche and was prepared to enjoy a dinner that would blow our collective minds.  And - not that it really matters to me but I know some people do care - we were seated next to not one, but two venerable former Miss Hong Kongs... from the days when being Miss Hong Kong was a really, really big deal... whose spouses / ex-spouses / offsprings are movers and shakers in this town.  We were all here to enjoy our Friday evening over some great food.

    Unfortunately for us, our Friday evening was ruined by a table of assholes.  Lawyers from Linklaters, and perhaps their friends.  They were some of the loudest, rudest restaurant patrons I have ever had the misfortune to come across.  They behaved as if they owned the restaurant, or maybe they thought they were in a private room and the other two tables sharing the space simply did not exist.  We got to hear about every little detail of their lives that I could not care less about - Gloria this and that, Jocelyn this, 吳總, Patrick, Sherry, throwing up, jumping into the pool, and a whole slew of other stuff.  They got louder with more and more bottles of wine and Krug Grande Cuvée, and they couldn't care less about their complete lack of manners.

    At one point I seem to have caught one of the restaurant's staff going up to one end of the table and politely asking them to turn down the volume.  It seemed to have had some effect on that end of the table - for a few minutes - but the message wasn't passed on to the other end... and those assholes simply didn't care.

    At a time when people in Hong Kong keep complaining about the behaviors of their northern cousins from the Mainland, it's particularly interesting to see that those of us living in Hong Kong (whether originally from Hong Kong or not) really aren't behaving much better.  I think I spotted a few senior people at the table, maybe a partner or three, even?  Absolutely boorish and shameful behavior.  As I noted in an earlier post last year, there seems to be very little correlation between higher education, income and basic manners and common decency.

    My MNSC boys and I always get pretty loud at our gatherings, as it's a boys-only gig and there is plenty of wine involved.  What we always do is to make sure we book private rooms at every venue we go to.  Once the door is closed, we can be pretty loud but it becomes harder to disturb the other guests.  Well, there's no private room at On Lot 10, and I would expect patrons to have the decency to behave accordingly.  I guess it was too much to ask from this particular bunch.

    OK, now that I'm done with my rant, let's see all the yummy stuff we had for dinner...

    French cockles - I'm not a fan of cockles, as I find the taste a little heavy, but these are actually a lot less "bloody" and the flavors were milder, even a little sweet at times.

    Hangar steak carpaccio - this is from a Spanish steer and has been aged for 120 days.  Very chewy, very interesting.  But we would get more of this beef later in the evening...

    Blanched whiskered velvet shrimps - David has served these little whiskered velvet shrimps (赤米蝦) to us once before, and I enjoyed removing the tough little shells to get at the sweet-tasting flesh inside.  Unfortunately, though, this batch seemed to have a ton of crap in the veins... and I ended up making a mess by trying to remove all the black grit before putting the shrimps in my mouth.

    Morel mushrooms with chicken liver - served with soft-boiled organic egg, croûtons and foam.  What an absolutely awesome dish!  This was quintessentially David, and represents one of the many reasons why we love him.  Love that he sprinkled some piment d'espelette on top.

    Baby squid with sautéed peas and mint - served with zucchini, zucchini flowers and cubes of pancetta.  Very yummy.

    The squids also seemed to be... pregnant with eggs?  I don't recall the last time I've had this... if ever.  Could these still be "baby" squid and "pregnant"?

    Bouillabaisse - one of David's signatures, and very few people - if any - in this town do a better job.  To be honest, I wouldn't go anywhere else for bouillabaisse.

    Most of the others seemed to only want soup, but I made sure to take down some of the crab and fish, too... despite the fact that most of the flavors have been cooked into the soup already.  Of course the soup was just soooo thick, and nicely picked up with some saffron and piment d'espelette for that little kick.

    Soft shell Alaskan king crab paella - OK, so I did just have the same dish last week, but would one ever get tired of something as amazing as this?!  Hell, no!  And what a privilege to have been able to have it twice in two weeks!  Tonight there was a very nice layer of socarrat at the bottom, and I could see the kitchen getting better at this with every visit.  The crab legs were very, very soft and juicy.

    Chuleta de Rubia Galega - this beautiful hunk of meat is the chop just above the rib, and came from a 12-year old working ox weighing up to 900 kg, of the Galician breed Rubia Galega.  The meat was then aged for 120 days, resulting in an amazing intensity of flavors.

    This was amazing.  The meat was cooked rare, but it was just sooo full of complexity from the aging.  I decided to be good and only have one piece, as I'm trying to get back on the diet wagon.  Meanwhile, the taters were simply out of this world, as were the pieces of romaine lettuce with the accompanying sauce.  We also had some sautéed spinach on the side.

    We told David that we wouldn't be able to fit in any dessert, which is why he offered us some Comté instead.  Very, very nice.  There was enough aging but still young enough to retain some of the sweetness.

    Dinner with Felix is never without wine, so we brought along a few bottles.  Unfortunately for him, I didn't have a chance to go fish out new bottles from my cellar, and the supply in my office had been depleted by a certain little crowd recently... so he didn't drink as well as he normally would have!

    2003 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles en magnum - familiar nose of toasty oak, very nice on the nose.  Slightly flat on palate at first, with some sweet ripeness but short finish.  Relatively thick and viscous in texture, rounded on the palate.  Pretty enjoyable wine.

    1996 Les Pagodes de Cos - smoky, minty, a little earthy, a little brett, pencil lead.  Drinking exactly as it's supposed to.

    2012 Sadie Family 'T Voetpad - a very interesting blend of Semillon, Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Muscat de Alexandrie, from old vines planted between 1900 and 1928.  Cleaner and leaner on the palate, with lemon citrus and good minerality.  Many thanks to Felix for bringing something so interesting!

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  • 04/27/14--08:29: Sakura birthday
  • It's been over a year, but we've had two birthdays in the Tigger family this month, and it was time for me to take the ladies out to dinner.  We're back at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) for this occasion to sample the spring menu, and of course there is one ingredient in particular that we were really looking forward to...

    Spring is the season when Japanese chefs love to showcase the use of seasonable vegetables, and tonight was no exception.

    Spring mountain vegetables medley with abalone, hokki and kobashira, mousse sorbet of grapefruit (春野菜のお浸し 生姜と木の芽の香り "煮鮑""小柱""北寄貝"グレープフルーツのムースソルベともに) - the spring vegetables included Japanese royal ferns (ゼンマイ) and Japanese parsley (芹).  As the veggies may be slightly bitter - which turned out not to be the case - we were advised to mix the grapefruit sorbet in with them to neutralize the bitter flavors.  The surf clam and baby scallops were OK, but the abalone was very nice and tender.

    Showcase of "fuki" flower, charcoal grilled "Iberico pork wing", Inca potato with fuki miso sauce ("ふきみそ"イベリコ豚 "翼"北海道 "インカのめざめ"炭火焼) - not a fan.  The cut of pork shoulder blade was a little lean, or maybe it was the way it was cooked, but this was slightly on the dry side.  Didn't really get why they needed to grind the butterbur buds (ふきのとう) into the miso (味噌).  The walnut shavings on the side were kinda interesting.

    "Black custard" with hotaru baby squid ("ホタルイカ"の茶碗蒸し) - what an awesome dish!  Not your average chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し), since this was made with ink from the firefly squid, and with a few of the yummy squid on top along with radish, scallion shoots (芽ねぎ)...etc. They also sprinkled some yuzu (柚子) rind on top so that the fragrance can counteract the strong fishy flavors of the squid, which was a nice touch, but I would have been just as happy to have the full, unadulterated fishy squid taste in my mouth.

    Green peas and scallop dumpling in ichiban-dashi soup with traditional spring combination of bamboo and wakame (引き立て一番出汁への想い 帆立とうすい豆の真蒸 若竹仕立て) - they always have some sort of dumpling (団子) in ichiban-dashi (一番出汁) here, and tonight the soft texture of the dumpling was really nice, with little chunks of scallops inside.  Ichiban-dashi's flavors are very delicate, and we were instructed to dip the sansho leaf (木の芽) in the soup first to enhance the flavors.

    Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛合せ) - well, I forgot to tell them that I don't eat tuna sushi, so I ended up giving my pieces of Mr. and Mrs. Tigger.  I just had the squid, which was very nicely scored.

    "Charcoal-fried" flounder wrapped with kadaif ("Charcoal-fried"炭の香りで包まれた鮃) - our dinner here last year also featured fish prepared the same way, but tonight we had flounder instead of golden alfonsino (金目鯛).  Not quite as delicious because of the fish itself, but still very yummy.  Served with Japanese Amela tomatoes (アメーラトマト) as well as perilla-flavored ground radish (紫蘇おろし).

    Sukiyaki "kuroge wagyu beef sirloin" with green asparagus, morel mushroom and onsen tamago ("春のすき焼き"モリーユ茸 グリーンアスパラ 太陽の卵) - beef is always one of the highlights here, and I can't remember ever not liking their sukiyaki (すき焼き).  Tonight in addition to the incredibly tender beef, we have taiyouran (太陽卵) from Nagasaki (長崎) - which are organic, delicious and awesome.  There were also some asparagus from Hokkaido (北海道) as well as morel mushrooms.

    Rice simmered in "sakura tea" with deep fried "sakura shrimp" from Surugawan Bay (龍吟名物 静岡駿河湾 "桜海老"御飯) - truth be told, this was what we came for tonight.  Deep-fried sakura shrimp over rice.  The shrimps were still really, really, really yummy.  The rice still very nicely done.  But tonight they sprinkled some plum powder, which turned everything a little more acidic and overpowered the delicate flavors of sakura in the rice...  The pickles on the side were pieces of sakura-infused Chinese yam (山芋), along with a sakura leaf.

    Time to cleanse the palate with a cup of sencha (煎茶), which the local staff insisted on calling "green tea (緑茶)"...

    RyuGin specialty -196°C strawberry candy and +99°C strawberry jam (苺ミルク -196°Cのいちご飴+99°Cの飴炊きいちご) - somehow, I don't think I'll ever get tired of this dessert the same way I've grown tired of the warm-centered/molten chocolate cake..  VERY yum.  I tried to crack a joke about "冰火", but it was either ignored, or someone didn't get it...

    "Zero sugar dessert""amazake" 100% naturally sweet rice blanc-manger ("Zero sugar dessert""自家製 甘酒"のブランマンジェ) - this was a "zero sugar" dessert because there was no need to add additional refined sugar to something made from sweet rice wine!  The blanc-manger had a very nice texture, but then again I've always loved anything that wobbles...

    We were then served cups of the very same amazake (甘酒) used to make the blanc-manger, and were told that this particular brew did not have any alcohol... which was pretty weird.  Pretty delish.  Oh, and can I just say how much I looooove those little wooden cups?  Amazing craftsmanship.

    And... we finished off with the obligatory cup of macha (抹茶).  Very nice.

    This being a special occasion, of course I brought out something a little special... even shelling out the somewhat outrageous corkage of HKD 1,000 to open this bottle of sake.

    Born Chogin Junmai Daiginjo (梵 超吟 純米大吟醸), 24BY - incredibly fine seimaibuai (精米歩合) of just 20%.  Alcohol was a little sharp, perhaps because it wasn't as cold as it should have been for the first pour.  Pretty full-bodied sake, with very rich and deep flavors, or what Japanese would call "コクがある." On the palate, it was sweet on the attack, but turned dry and slightly bitter on the finish.  Very much full-on fermented rice flavors.

    I'm happy I came back after a reasonably long absence, and for once I didn't feel like I was stuffed to the brim tonight.  Now I need to make plans to come back in a few weeks when they start their summer menu...

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