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

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  • 04/29/14--22:45: The PR game of hype and lies
  • A few weeks ago there was a discussion on new restaurant openings in town, and Cocotte came up as one location that quite a few people wanted to try.  Well, someone in the group did try it, and commented "wonder how long the chef was actually at Amber..."

    A look at the restaurant's Facebook page describes Chef Patrick Dang's background as "Chef de Cuisine of Amber, Hong Kong..." Materials sent out by the restaurant's PR agency says the same thing.

    As it happened, I do know someone with direct knowledge of who has held what position at Amber, and for how long.  So I found an opportunity to ask my source, who told me definitively that Patrick Dang "was never chef de cuisine in Amber, he was chef de cuisine in MO Bar for 6 months only."

    A quick glance at Patrick's CV online shows that he was at the Landmark Mandarin Hotel from late 2005 to mid-2006.  Well, even if he werechef de cuisine at Amber during that time, to be honest the Amber of 2006 ain't exactly what it is today.  So to even use it as the primary part of your PR blurb is a little misleading... never mind that he's outright lying about his position.

    Of course, most of us (well... myself excluded in this case) just take what the restaurant/PR tells us and lap it up.  Lots of media, websites, blogs... have basically regurgitated the same line, without bothering to do some basic due diligence to see if the guy is really who he says he is.  One Francophile website I came across even called him the "former head of Amber" - which is so laughable I wanted to call up the people behind the site and meet them... because anyone who knows anything about Amber would know who the "head of Amber" is.

    Now a little word about the Moldovan brothers behind the restaurant - Jonathan and Brice - who are described in the PR blurb as having "come from a long line of five-starred European hospitality." What exactly does that mean?  Based on what I can gather from the internet - including this New York Times interview with Brice and his twin brother Petrous - their parents had a brasserie in the small village where they were born.  Not exactly five-star, n'est-ce pas?

    Jonathan, as far as I can tell, has mostly worked in finance.  The twins said they always worked in the same restaurants from the time they were teenagers, so I'm assuming that Brice's CV would look almost identical to Petrous'.  Let's see... some rustic-looking place around Nice; another small resto in the small, seaside town of La Barre-de-Monts; a country club in England; a lodge restaurant in Sun Valley, Idaho that is described as a "comfortable family restaurant"...  After that, there was finally a name I recognized - La Côte Basque in New York.  I'm not sure what Brice was doing, but Petrous is said to have been sous chef.  Given that La Côte Basque closed in 2004 when the twins were around 22, he would have been a pretty young sous chef...  After another stint elsewhere, the twins found themselves back in New York with the Russian Tea Room, where Brice was the mixologist and Petrous was chef de cuisine and found time to make the local news.  Later on the three brothers decided to strike out on their own, opening New York Burger Company.

    The preceding paragraph was, perhaps, a long line... but how much of it was "five-starred European hospitality"?  Well... none, if you asked me.

    So... this is the type of stuff that's going on in our F and B industry - where people inflate their CVs and outright lie about their experience.  The running joke among my friends is that "everyone and their dog has worked at elBulli" - or nowadays noma.  As a consumer who shells out his hard-earned cash, how excited am I about all these upcoming new openings around town, run by people like these?  Not very.  I'd rather go back to my list of tried-and-true restaurants, including - you guessed it - Amber.

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  • 05/02/14--08:56: Hello Kitty birthday x2
  • It's that time of year again. 娜姐's birthday.  Last year I was privileged to have attended two of her birthday bashes, with the latter featuring a decidedly Hello Kitty theme.  This time our hostess chose Gough 40 for the bash, which was pretty exciting for me because - despite having been open for more than a decade - I had never been there.  For the last few years I had always been going to On Lot 10 just opposite, and for some reason just never had the inkling to try coming here.  Tonight I would finally get my chance.

    Work was keeping me late in the office, and it's very poor form to show up late at someone else's birthday bash.  I sent apologetic messages to the hosts as I half-jogged from the office to the restaurant, and was told by the host to take a couple of drinks as punishment.  Anticipating a long night ahead, I decided not to follow my host's commands...

    The menu looked decidedly mainstream, sticking to a selection of dishes that looked to be popular with a very local, Hong Kong crowd - as opposed to the variety of more interesting options across the landing.  I asked for a half-portion of pasta and a main course, while skipping the white pearl oysters that the crowd was sharing, because I wasn't really in the mood for oysters.

    Linguine with mullet roe and smoked eel - I'm like Pavlov's dog, and salivate on command at the sight or thought of mullet roe.  Well, there wasn't a whole lot of mullet roe here, but I did notice the flavors.  The dominant flavors came from the smoked eel, which wasn't bad at all.  Interesting that there were julienned cucumbers adding the crunch, and for some reason it reminded me of the Chinese 炸醬麵 from the north.

    Grilled French duck breast with sun-dried cherry sauce - this was OK.  I think the slices were a little on the thin side, which meant they didn't retain the heat as well and got cold pretty quickly.  Flavor-wise this was OK, but the strips of fat under the skin seemed particularly yummy tonight... and for a few slices I was kinda savoring it.

    Australian wagyu tomahawk - this was ordered by our hostess to share amongst the table.  Here I'm gonna make good use of my ever-improving Bloggerese and apply a term I learnt just today... Flavors were very "2D".  No fleur de sel were provided, and if you didn't want to drizzle some of the sauce from the separate bowl, then this was a very bland piece of meat indeed.  The difference of night and day with the Galician chuleta I had across the street just a week ago.

    The highlight tonight, of course, were the cakes.  We had not one, but TWO Hello Kitty cakes.  No surprises here given our hostess...

    The first one was from a chain, and was actually pretty damn big.  We had lots of suggestions for how our hostess should cut the cake, including decapitating Kitty, stabbing her in the back, frontal assault, chopping off an ear...

    The other, more elaborate cake was created by our friend who runs Mara Js Pâtisserie.  Lots of little flowers on a yummy strawberry-based cake.

    There were also these lollipops... and each of the ladies got one.  I, despite my profile picture on Facebook, did not.  Pout.

    Our hosts (and a guest) generously shared some of their wine collection with us:

    1982 Lanson en magnum - toasty nose, surprisingly fresh given the age, slightly higher acidity than I expected.  Very delish.

    1999 Chapoutier L'Orée en magnum - a little oxidized as expected, but thankfully not dead.  Very ripe, sweet, marmalade and honey.  Long finish.

    2010 Felton Road Chardonnay Block 2 - fresh, lively, some toasty oak, a little sweet nose, ripe and fruity.

    1999 Prieuré-Roch Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Corvées en magnum - really sweet and lots of ripe, jammy berries, but with a surprisingly and obvious undertone of toasted and almost burnt oak.

    1982 Calon-Ségur en magnum - star anise, Asian spices, smoky, a little earthy.  Drinking really well.

    1970 Trotanoy - smoky, pencil lead, so smooth on the palate.  A little sweet vanilla on the nose later.

    2011 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spälese VDP auction in magnum - flinty, a little sulfur, mineral, a little sweet with good acidity balance.  A lovely wine.

    This was from the VDP auction.

    The night was still young, so we strolled down to Ronin for a late night drink...

    Kozaemon Tokubetsu Junmai Shinano Miyama Nishiki (小左衛門 特別純米美山錦) in issho-bin - very full flavors of fermented rice, good balance between sweet and dry.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.

    Still not content to call it a night, we ended up having supper at Tsui Wah (翠華餐廳) at 2 am... consuming calories that I definitely did not need.  What's worse?  The crispy bun served with sweet condensed milk (脆嘩奶油豬) was crap.  They couldn't be bothered to toast it to their usual standards, and they didn't drizzle enough condensed milk on top.  I think they're cutting corners to squeeze more profits now that they're listed.

    A very, very enjoyable evening.  Too enjoyable, perhaps... thanks to 娜姐.

    P.S.  A little confession and mea culpa... Exactly a week after I bitched about a bunch of educated people with no manners disturbing others at a restaurant, tonight it was my turn to sit at a table that was making excessive noise.  I realized this halfway through dinner, as the effects of alcohol were manifesting themselves.  As this wasn't my party and I didn't know most of the guests, I chose to keep quiet and did my part by keeping my voice down.  I think I noticed one or two others doing the same.  Thankfully most of the customers were actually sitting out on the landing...

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  • 05/03/14--08:11: Family style comfort food
  • My Birdbrain Cousin came back from her French eating and shopping tour, and this time she's got her sister in tow.  The three of us haven't been in the same spot for almost a decade, so we took the short window of opportunity to catch up over dinner.  I figured they wouldn't really need more French, so I got us a table at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源) with a view to have some homey dishes.

    Steamed whole fresh crab claw with egg white (蛋白蒸原隻鮮蟹鉗) - still really delish, and the plump claw was just a hunk of sweet crab meat.  Prices for this keep going up and up, though... and is now a whole 50% more than what it was a few years ago.

    Braised goose web and pork tendon in oyster sauce (豬脚筋扣鵝掌) - it's been a while since I last had this, and I'm happy for the chance to munch on some collagen.  Flavors seemed lighter than I remembered.

    Fried eggs with prawns (蝦仁炒蛋) - I love eating this, but tonight the kitchen put way, way too much salt here.

    Braised pork belly with preserved vegetables (梅菜扣肉) - not surprisingly, this was a dish where the seasoning was also a little heavy, so we finally had to get a little bit of steamed rice to go with it, especially the sauce with preserved leafy mustard.  I don't think my cousins have had this in ages... possibly not since the last time our grandma made it decades ago.

    Poached leafy amaranth with salted egg, century egg and minced pork (金銀蛋肉鬆浸莧菜) - we needed some veg, and leafy amaranth (莧菜) is in season, so the waiter suggested that we have it with the preserved eggs.  What I didn't expect was that it'd come with minced pork, too!  So a veggie dish has turned out to have more protein than veg...

    Fried Rice with Minced Beef, Onions and Shallots (生炒牛肉飯) - we were pretty full by the time this arrived, and in fact tried to cancel the dish.  Very, very tasty.

    Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois - very noticeable toasty notes, ripe on the nose and the palate, a little sweet on the palate.  Round, smooth and a lovely wine to drink.  With remnants of century eggs still in the mouth, this tasted very sweet, and ripe, and brought out the minerality.

    I've been doing a lot of catching up with family over the last 6 months, and I'm glad I was able to see one more member of the clan - the one who couldn't make it to our December gathering.  Let's hope we see each other a little more often in the future!

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  • 05/08/14--08:40: Group regression
  • It was pissing out there tonight, and not exactly a good night to be roaming around the city.  But it was time for another MNSC gathering, so I tried my damnedest to get myself across town and up to hill to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, where Dr. Poon was hosting us in the Derby Restaurant.  Unfortunately, due to a combination of my own stupidity, weather conditions and just pure bad luck, I ended up arriving last and was seriously late.

    We were doing the set menu, and some of the choices had been made on my behalf.  Given that they were exactly the choices I would have made myself, this just shows how well my MNSC boys know me...

    Smoked eel, beetroot and green apple, horseradish crème fraiche and crumbled pumpernickel - not bad.  I am normally not a big fan of beetroot, but in this case I think it worked well with the rest of the ingredients.

    Leek and potato soup, sautéed frogs legs and black truffle - pretty yummy.  I didn't see the menu until much later, so I didn't know that the chunks of meat were actually frogs legs.  I was wondering why there was yakitori (焼き鳥) in my soup...

    Roasted Boston lobster, aromatic crustacean foam, fennel, carrot and celery compote - pretty nice and delish.  Loved the crustacean foam, along with the combination of celery, carrots and fennel.  Aromatic, indeed.  Would have loved to get some bread to wipe the bowl clean.

    Yogurt sorbet

    Slow cooked jumbo quail, black pepper sauce, pumpkin porridge and fennel confit - the quail was delicious, even cooked pink as it should have been.  Not a real fan of the porridge... I knew I was eating something akin to a porridge that was mushy, but it just wasn't my type of stuff.

    Coffee crème brûlée, banana and hazelnut compote, Baileys madeleine - I wasn't expecting the banana and hazelnut on top, but I guess overall it was pretty good.  The madeleine failed.  Not only did I not taste any Baileys, the texture was also wrong.

    When I'm dining at a club, my expectations for food are drastically lowered.  Besides, tonight was really about the wines.

    1982 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche - really ripe and sweet, with marmalade, mineral and grassy notes on the nose.  Ripe on the palate, short finish.

    First pair: opened 30 minutes and decanted 10 minutes prior to serving
    1975 Trotanoy - pretty farmy, bacon fat, a little sharp alcohol in the nose.  A little smoky and plummy, a little savory, and slightly exotic towards the end.  94 points.

    1975 La Conseillante - sweet, ripe, a little earthy, smoky, pencil lead.  A leaner wine compared to the Trot.  92 points.

    Second pair: opened 2½ hours prior to serving but not decanted
    1982 Palmer - smoky, a little sharp alcohol, savory on the palate with some ripe fruit.  92 points.

    1982 Latour a Pomerol - smoky, pencil lead, a little farmy, smoky and coffee notes.  Really opened up after 3 hours. 94 points.

    Third pair:
    1991 Chapoutier Le Pavillon - sweet fruit, a little farmy on the nose.  94 points.  I've tasted this wine (and other Chapoutier wines given 100 points by Parker) and I've never rated it anywhere close to 100 points...

    1991 Vogüé Bonnes-Mares - a little dusty, very savory, black olives, a little vanilla and coconut later on.  94 points.

    Tonight's lineup of wines wasn't meant to be tricky, but almost all of us stumbled... and ended up guessing pretty much the wrong wines.  Sometimes we failed so spectacularly that it wasn't funny.  Thirteen years after we first started drinking wines as a group - and ten years after the blind-tasting format began - have we actually gotten any better at it?  Methinks... not.

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    One of the occupational hazards of being known as a "foodie" is that, from time to time, you get dragged requested by friends to take them to certain restaurants which you've written about.  They'll say something along the lines of "Oh I read your review on [insert restaurant name here] and it looked really good.  Can we go there?" At which point you kinda feel obliged to comply with their requests... even though going back to said restaurant may not exactly be at the top of your list.

    So it was that I went back to Akrame tonight, for my third visit in two months.  This is highly unusual in my book, although the second visit was at the restaurant's invitation while Chef Akrame Benallal was last in town.  The Specialist wanted to go somewhere new, and while Cocotte was originally her first choice, it quickly became a non-option due to a combination of the restaurant's attitude during the reservation process, pricing considerations and our my general fear of getting poisoned after I wrote this little piece...  and Akrame slid into the top spot for tonight.

    I was a little surprised at the Specialist, actually.  Unlike me, she hates paying corkage, and I had made it clear to her and BFF that I had no pull with the restaurant whatsoever, so we'd better be prepared to pay full corkage.  I guess her desire to try out a new restaurant eventually trumped her distaste for corkage charge...  I was also surprised that she opted for the 6-course menu instead of the 4-course, and that prompted another friend and myself to also upgrade ourselves to 6 courses.

    I was wondering why the service was slipping to the point where we weren't given any napkins, when the amuses bouches arrived on top of our folded napkins.  A little gimmicky.

    Olive chip with Greek yogurt

    Squid ink and sesame crisp with smoked eel - I'm not sure why they changed things around, but the proportions tonight were all wrong.  There's simply too much smoked eel here versus the crisp, and too salty as a result.

    Parmesan cookie with radish

    Endive with salmon roe - love how they pop in my mouth.

    Cold corn soup with popcorn and nachos - interesting... creamy corn soup, with corn kernels, and a layer of ground nachos and (perhaps) popcorn on top.

    You know what this reminds me of?  Those corn potage-flavored Doritos made in Japan that I bought last year.

    Whelk with mayonnaise - the whelk was reasonably nice, and the mayo added a dimension of richness here, while strips of onion added a little sweetness and slight crunch.  Interesting use of deep-fried parsley (?) on top.

    Oyster with oyster mayonnaise and risotto - this came with slices of raw Prat-ar-Coum oysters from Brittany.  Very tasty.  However, when I took my first bite of the "risotto", I realized that these weren't arborio, carnaroli or any type of rice.  This was orzo.  I do love orzo for the wonderful texture...  Another pretty rich dish.

    Pan-fried lobster with beef jus and lardo - interesting combination, with both beef and pork elements pairing with the lobster.  Unfortunately the lobster was a tad overcooked.

    Crispy fried whiting with yogurt and seaweed sauce - the whiting itself was pretty yummy, and if it were any fluffier I would have mistaken it for Bombay duck (九肚魚).  Served with both the leaves as well as the stalks of Swiss chard.

    Lemon sorbet with gin and egg white - this was explained as similar to a "gin fizz".  Definitely tasted the alcohol.

    French pigeon with chick peas - the Maulevrier pigeon was no doubt slow-cooked and very tender.  I love gamey birds, but for some reason this pigeon tasted like chunks of pig's liver... and all of us agreed on this point.  Served with charcoal sauce.  The crispy squares of filo on the side were tasty.

    Goat cheese with white button mushrooms - the goat cheese had fairly high acidity, so it definitely needed the cashew cream and especially the honey to balance things out.  The paper-thin wafers of white button mushrooms on top seemed interesting.

    I wanted to find out what kind of goat cheese it was, and was told that this was simply "goat cheese".  When I refused to accept this generic answer, the staff brought out the cheese in its original packaging.  This was when the letters "W-T-F" popped up in my head...  No wonder the staff didn't know... because the package did just say "goat cheese" in probably 6 or 7 languages!

    OK, call me a cheese snob, but I've been spoiled by Jeremy and many others who bring in artisanal cheese into Hong Kong.  When your sister flagship restaurant has 2 macarons in Paris, the last thing I expected you to serve me was something out of a plastic pouch from Président.  Dude, that's just one step up from serving me La vache qui rit...  Not very grand at all.

    Well, at least I had the desserts to look forward to...

    Poached pear with hazelnut ice cream and caramel - not bad when you mix the three together.

    Chocolate cream with orange zest, chocolate crisp and crumble - pretty yummy.

    Pineapple with charcoal ice cream - ah, the classic Akrame dessert.  Still good.

    Finally we end up the mignardises, which were little bites of meringue with lemon and coriander, along with the dark chocolate with sea salt.

    Tonight's menu was designed for Le French GourMay, and is available for the whole month.  This year the region chosen for the celebrations was the Rhône Valley, but the staff didn't seem to know how the menu related to Rhône, and frankly neither did I...

    I was, of course, having dinner with the Alcoholics, and we each brought a bottle of wine representing a different region in France.  Thankfully one of us was able to bring a bottle of Rhône, which turned out to be the wine of the evening.

    Here is where I confess to doing something I don't normally do.  We were initially asked to put up a deposit for a larger party, and I decided to give out my blog email address for them to send me the instructions.  I knew that my email is in the restaurant's database, and figured that they would realize the reservation was being made by the terrorist blogger.  Well, I think they did know who I was, which was probably why they very kindly waived the corkage for us tonight.

    1995 Krug - very toasty, with coffee notes.  Ripe on the palate with an acidic finish.

    2002 Raveneau Valmur - initially too cold so the nose didn't show, with a hint of lemon citrus and flint.  Later on as it warmed up, it only showed a little better, with a little more ripeness.

    2002 Rayas - popped open the cork and the wine was ready immediately.  Sooooo amazingly floral, with unmistakable rose, and sweet fruit like lychees.  This was like Pierre Hermé's Ispahan - with rose, lychees and raspberries - just in a glass of wine!  Later on it also showed a little bit of pine needle.  What an absolutely beautiful wine!

    1990 La Dame de Montrose - classic Left Bank.  A little minty, earthy, brett, and a little bit of barnyard manure.  Leaner, without the sweet fruit that should have been here.  This was a far cry from the last time I tasted this wine 6 years ago, when it blew me away by outperforming the grand vin itself.  Of course, the Specialist will remind me that I bought this bottle from and not from a more "reputable" source...

    Well, the four of us had a lot of fun hanging out tonight, and the wines did pretty well in general.  But I have to be honest and say that dinner was a little disappointing.  There were very few highlights tonight in terms of food, and at this price point I would be expecting a little bit more from the kitchen.

    While the service staff was very friendly and attentive, to be honest they fell a little short of my admittedly high standards.  At a restaurant with no printed menus whatsoever, it is crucial that the waitstaff know what exactly is being served.  Well, the staff don't always know the ingredients, which is a comment I had also heard from others.  Their English could also be a little better, and I honestly had a little difficulty understanding their pronunciation of some of the ingredients.  These are just little things that, if they could work on it, would make things just a little smoother for me as a picky diner.

    My next visit to Akrame may just have to wait until I have a chance to stop by Paris...

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    I received a ping this morning from Chef Richard Ekkebus of Amber.  Would I be interested in joining the Azurmendi/Aziamendi pop up tonight as his guest, he asked.  To be perfectly honest, I had known about this pop up for a while, but hadn't planned on going.  I was looking forward to a night off tonight, since I was scheduled to be dining out 4 times over the next 5 nights.  But Richard isn't someone you wanna say 'no' to, especially when he's kind enough to extend an invitation like this.

    So I happily said 'yes', and scrambled for the next 2 hours to borrow the right camera equipment from someone, since I foolishly left both of my SLRs at home.  Thankfully I do have a few friends with SLRs lying around, and one even got her driver to deliver it to my office.

    I've always been a fan of molecular gastronomy.  Yes, the guys who brought you foam, sous vide, spherification and all that fun stuff.  Guys like Ferran Adrià of elBulli, and his countless disciplines. Well, Chef Eneko Atxa likes to play with lab equipment, too.  In addition to the syringes, circulators, steamers and dehydrators that everyone else has, he's also been known to use ultrasound to infuse and concentrate flavors, not to mention putting together a system to capture the smell of fresh herbs being cut.  Mad scientist?  Maybe.

    I arrived at Amber Bar at the appointed time, and immediately ran into a few good friends.  We were all to be seated at the same table, and had among us blogueurs, been-there-done-that ex-bloggers, wannabe blogueurs, hell-no-I-am-no-bloggers, professional chefs, home chefs... and a couple of VVIP stragglers who found themselves sitting at what Da Jam once called "the cool table".  This was gonna be fun.

    Grosset Brut Excellence - not a bad way to start the evening... Nice and a little toasty.

    Truffled egg - I'd seen Richard post pictures of this earlier in the day, and I finally got to see it for myself during the cooking demonstration.  Raw egg yolks are placed on serving spoons.  The sac is pierced with a syringe, and half of the yolk is extracted.  Hot truffle broth is then injected into the sac, which has the effect of cooking the yolk remaining inside.  Very fun.  Very yummy.

    Truffled martini - this was meant to go with the truffled egg, although I didn't get the pairing right...  Made with 1½ shots of Belvedere, lime juice, apple juice, egg white, rosemary and basil.  Then add a dash of truffle oil and sprinkle with pepper.  This was OK I guess, although I didn't really understand why the pepper was only on one side.

    Bloody "mar" - a reinterpreted Bloody Mary with sea urchin juice, which made it nice and creamy.  Topped with a cracker with sea urchin mayo and sea urchin tongues.

    I can't remember what went into this drink, but it was very fruity, refreshing, and no doubt deceptively alcoholic...

    Oyster with pearl - this is where the ultrasound comes in... It's used to help bottle the smell of the Andaman Sea, and the sea water is poured over dry ice to release that smell.

    The Fine de Claire oyster came with Andaman Sea gel, silver cloud fungus and diced salicornia.  Very nice.

    Foie gras ashes - foie gras mousse on croûtons, topped with shavings of ashen foie.  Nice and smoky.

    It was time we sat down at our table, and let the main event begin...

    The garden - ahhhh... the edible soil.  Made from dehydrated beetroot and almond.  And featuring your garden variety vegetables like zucchini, carrot, peas, cauliflower, broccoli and tomatoes.

    But let's not forget the tomato emulsion inside, which brought some acidity to the dish.

    2011 Laurenz V Grüner Veltliner 'Singing' - toasty, a little flinty, lemon citrus, a little ripe on the nose.  A little bitter on the finish, perhaps a little overripe.

    Baby squid, croquettes and armagnac - in addition to the squid, there was a squid ink croqueta, tempura squid, as well as deep-fried leek.

    The squid consommé was enhanced with a dash of Armagnac.

    2012 Robert Weil Riesling Kabinett Trocken - very floral, with lots of white flowers and some white pepper.  Very dry on the palate.

    Sea bass, txangurro and cauliflower - YUM!  The sea bass was extremely tender and succulent.  Very, very nice.  But it was the txangurro that stole the show... all that really yummy crab meat!  I wish there was more of it.  And all that cauliflower in various forms - including as filling to the dumpling... really made me very happy.

    2011 Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé - a little ripe, with lemon citrus notes.  Reasonable acidity balance.

    Pigeon with hazelnuts - I loooooove pigeon, and this was probably the best pigeon I've had since that mind-blowing dinner at Ma Cuisine.  The "hazelnuts" were actually made from foie gras and chocolate, and definitely very tasty.  The pigeon itself sat on a bed of duxelles, which was itself very yummy.

    The pigeon was so, so, so, so well executed!  Looooove the pink and tender flesh.  This is one of those times when I wish I was at some Cantonese pigeon restaurant, order up 3 of these birds and just grab 'em with my hands and chomp.

    2009 Haegelen-Jayer Nuits-Saint-Georges - still very tannic as it's a young wine from a big vintage.  A little ripe and jammy, with forest pine, potpourri and some metallic and mineral notes.

    Croissant - now this looked interesting... A blob of cream cheese flavored with rosemary, thyme and mint, sandwiched between two pieces of raspberry meringue.

    Chestnuts - so we got our doggie bags...

    Taking a peek inside revealed a puff of smoke, coming from the bed of ground chestnut powder, made from burnt chestnuts.  The smoky aromas were so alluring... I ended up using my fingers to scoop up the powder and just ate it, licking it off my fingertips.  Oh, of course I ate the "chestnuts", too... which were made from chilled chestnut cream with chocolate.

    Strawberries and roses - rose-flavored marshmallow with strawberries, strawberry foam. Slurp.  Oh we were also presented with a few vases of roses, from which rose aromas emanated to tease our sense of smell.

    Louis Perdrier Brut Rosé - prominent nose of strawberries, although I found the nose also a tiny bit pungent.  Certainly paired well with the dessert!

    The macaron seemed to have a raspberry/chocolate ganache.  Pretty good.

    This was a really wonderful, wonderful evening... totally unexpected but highly appreciated.  Not only did I sit at the "cool table", but I think we were also the most fun (read: loud).  The conversation strayed in countless directions, at times colorful... and we joked that after tonight, none of us - including the VVIPs - would be able to come back to Amber or the Mandarin ever again.

    Many thanks to Richard for the kind invitation.  A real eye-opener.  And since I'm still boycotting Thailand after all these years, regrettably I won't be visiting the team at Aziamendi any time soon.  I guess I'm overdue for a return to Basque country, as so much has happened since my last visit in 2006...

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  • 05/13/14--07:32: The clapping seal
  • Mo' Unni wanted to check out another restaurant with me, and this time we decided on Serge et le Phoque, her original choice from last time that got passed over for Akrame.  I'd been hearing generally positive feedback about this here place, so I thought it'd be safe to come for a visit.

    The restaurant is right in the middle of the wet market area in Wanchai - the exact same area where I walked around in circles looking for dinner on another evening.  Thankfully the scented candles inside the restaurant meant that the air wasn't filled with the same smells as the market.

    The set up inside was kinda interesting, but unfortunately for us, all the two-tops are seated side-by-side on banquettes facing in interior of the restaurant.  The table tops are actually really tiny, and you are basically forced to be either intimate - and start encroaching on your companion's space - or you end up getting a little too close to your neighbors.  While I initially thought it strange that a joint opened by Parisian froggies would have its diners facing inward and not outward, it didn't take long for me to realize that my view of the exterior would consist of the wet market...

    This was the second of my 5 nights out this week, and I would have happily chosen to have 4 courses, but Mo' Unni had other ideas.  Not wanting to be called the Girl with No Appetite ever again, she opted for the 6-course omakase, and I was more or less obliged to follow suit.

    Deep-fried whitebait - this came as a snack.  How could you not love deep-fried fishies?!  Slurp.

    Raw snapper with dried plums - our amuse bouche, which was basically a ceviche.  The snapper came in a thick chunk and was a little chewy.  There was a refreshing dollop of cucumber granita on top, which tempered the acidity from the bits of dried plums.

    Clams_beurre noisette_chive - pretty yummy.  The acidity of the sauce was particularly nice.

    Cuttlefish_tomato_basil - the cuttlefish came in thick chunks, which were mi cuit while the scored exterior were a little dry from grilling.  Nice and satisfying to chew on.  Loved the shellfish bouillon, and there were cherry tomatoes, blood orange, onions and basil here to complement.  And bottarga shavings on the side.

    John Dory_corn_cockles - the John Dory was done with herbs like rosemary, and I didn't really get it.  Not a fan of cockles, either.  But the young corn was really sweet and yummy, and the squid ink and yogurt sauces were interesting.

    Pigeon_cherry_peas - when you've just had a mind-blowing pigeon from the chef of a 3-macaron restaurant, anything else is likely to pale in comparison.  However, this pigeon was delicious in its own right, and was as pink as it should have been.  The small pile of chopped pigeon liver on top was very yummy, as were the very sweet peas.  I wonder what prompted the kitchen to shave some bottarga here, but no matter...

    Brie de Meaux - actually very tasty.

    Lemon cream_capsicum - this was not bad, and I definitely could taste the capsicum from the thin layer of gelée on top.

    Chocolate tart_cherry blossom - we were told to take the first bite with the "pepper", but it wasn't peppery at all... In fact it was acidic.  But the chocolate tart itself was pretty good, although it was melting and falling apart in the ambient temperature.

    Overall, a pretty good meal.  But maybe my expectations had been set too high, and I was just a tad underwhelmed.  While we didn't leave the restaurant hungry, it certainly looks like the 4-course option would have necessitated an after dinner run to the nearest Mickey D's or Tsui Wah.  And although I of all people wouldn't consider the price to be expensive on an absolute basis, it certainly doesn't scream "bargain" or "value for money" either.

    Maybe I'll go back for Hugo Desnoyer côte de bœuf next time... I'm sure I won't go hungry after that!

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  • 05/14/14--08:27: Lodovico vertical
  • It's been three years since I last enjoyed the pleasure of Lodovico's company, and that is simply too long.  You see, Marchese Lodovico Antinori is one of my favorite wine personalities, and I've always had tons of fun every time I see him.  So I was really excited when I was told that Mayfair Fine Wines would be hosting another dinner featuring his wines.

    My friend and I were a little late to dinner at Chiu Tang (潮廳), but thankfully the cocktail session just kept going and the small group of guests were still sipping bubbly.  After a warm hug from Lodovico and a round of introductions, we eventually sat down to start dinner... and more drinking!

    Poached sliced conches (堂灼響螺片) - I've always been too cheap to order this for myself, because I never felt I could justify the price for the enjoyment I get out of this.  Yes, this was very, very good.  The texture was a perfect balance between tenderness and just the right amount of crunchiness and bite.  But how much are they charging per thin slice of the conch?!  Served with a piece of conch liver on the side.

    Appetizer quintet (潮廳五小碟):
    Deep-fried oyster roll (炸蠔卷) - really yummy, actually.  Very similar to what I would find in Taiwan.

    Deep-fried grey mullet with salt and pepper (椒鹽九肚魚) and deep-fried bean curd with Chiu Chow bean sauce (酥炸普寧荳腐) - I always thought 九肚魚 was Bombay duck, but what the hell do I know... Anyway, this was just OK.  With the bean curd, I made the mistake of not taking it with any sauce, which meant it was completely bland.

    Marinated jelly fish with sesame oil and chilli (麻香海蜇頭)

    Savory sliced abalone with homemade soy sauce (涼拌鮑片) - a little tough and chewy, but I guess that's what happens to abalone when you have it cold and overcook it.

    Marinated goose liver and sliced goose (滷水鵝肝鵝片) - the goose liver here has always been one of the highlights, and it certainly didn't disappoint.  The goose and the tofu were good, too.  I wouldn't mind having seconds (or thirds)...

    Deep-fried jumbo marbled sand goby with premium soy sauce (油浸野生筍殼皇) - oh this was very, very good.

    Deep-fried crispy chicken with shrimp mousse and cabbage (窩貼小棠菜百花雞) - very yum.  Deep-fried shrimp mousse is always good, and I love the crunchy exterior.

    Stewed pork rib with plum sauce (潮陽梅膏骨) - what's not to like about this?!  It's sweet and sour pork!

    Wok-fried sliced beef with satay sauce on crispy vermicelli (沙茶牛肉煎米粉) - delicious as always.  Rich, tasty gravy with vermicelli that's pan-fried until crispy. Works every time.

    Sautéed string beans with minced pork (干扁四季豆) - one of the better versions I've had in Hong Kong, and I dig that the dried shrimps came whole and not chopped into pieces.

    Pan-fried e-fu noodles with vinegar and sugar (糖醋乾燒伊麵) - always so good here... Noodles pan-fried till it's browned and crispy on one side while still moist on the other. Sprinkle with a little sugar, drizzle a few drops of vinegar, and voila!  Instant happiness.

    Trio Chiu Tang Homemade Dessert (潮式美點三重奏) - my favorite of the trio has got to be the muscovado sponge cake (黑糖糕) on the left, which is just like the white sugar sponge cake (白糖糕) that you see on the streets, except better.

    Very, very good food.  Except for the abalone, I can't find fault with any dish tonight.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

    But we were mainly here for the wines, and it would be so interesting to see how some of wines have evolved over the last few years.

    2008 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Lieu-dit "Les Ursules", dégorgée en Avril 2012 - nice and toasty.  Very fragrant, caramelized and nutty.  Ripe on the palate but also acidic mid-palate.

    2011 Ram's Hill - really awesome, showing big nose of muscat grapes, really fragrant and tropical, with lots of lychees and floral notes, a little pear, flinty, a little pungent - perhaps from the sulfur?  Full-bodied, too.  Once again shows me why this is one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs.

    Then we moved to a vertical of Biserno:

    2006 Biserno - still a whiff of alcohol in the nose, with potpourri, dried herbs, a little coconut, exotic, sweet and ripe.  Pretty nice.  Later on showed a slight hint of Chinese medicine, and at the end it fell apart and was a little dusty and chalky.

    2007 Biserno - a little minty, potpourri, a little closed, nice and plenty of fruit here, and the structure is there.  Showing better than 3 years ago.

    2008 Biserno - a little closed, a little more brett here, and still some tannins.  Later on some ripe fruits came through.

    2010 Biserno - showing better than the 2008 tonight.  Tannins are still here but not harsh.  Still pretty young.

    And then a rare vertical of Lodovico, with the 2011 which has yet to be released:

    2007 Lodovico - very lovely, a little minty but could have had a tad more fruit initially.  Later on some ripeness began to show, and some toasty notes came out.  Showing better than 3 years ago, but somehow still not at the level when it blew me away 4 years ago.

    2008 Lodovico - a little plastic and a little oaky.  A hint of pungent sulfur.  Nice overall with minty notes.  Later on the wine opened up more.

    2011 Lodovico - lots of potpourri, dried herbs and still a little alcoholic on the nose.  Palate was really beautiful.  Nice and sweet fruits, and a little exotic.

    2003 Baron Bornemisza Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos - honey, nutty, very ripe and sweet, slight botrytis.

    What an evening!  I have always enjoyed it whenever I've been privileged to share Lodovico's company, and watch as his new projects mature and reach new heights.  Looking forward to seeing him again soon.

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  • 05/15/14--08:47: Speakeasy evening
  • Mr. and Mrs. Locust have been kind enough to act as caretakers of my Taipei pad, and took the opportunity of my impending trip home to come visit Hong Kong.  While we had originally settled on checking out Serge et le Phoque together, unfortunately I had forgotten that I had also made plans to go there with Mo' Unni.  Ever the gracious guests, Mr. Locust agreed to switch the venue to Ronin, and I was more than happy to go back after my last meal with Mo' Unni.

    We took the second seating, and had plenty of time to kill before dinner.  I decided to take the Locusts for a drink at Stockton.  I thought the old school speakeasy style would appeal, and I wanted to see if they would go for the Kill Devillike I did last time... They didn't, and I didn't wanna get buzzed before dinner, either... so I ended up with a cup of Mumbai Government Punch.

    A relatively long walk (by Hong Kong standards) later, I found myself once again in front of that familiar unmarked door.  A short while later, we sat down at the counter and prepared for the onslaught of food.

    Pickled radish and spinach

    Shigoku oyster, red shiso vinegar, sudachi - always yummy.  One bite.  Great balance of acidity, creaminess and briny flavors.

    Next came our sashimi platter:

    Hirame fluke sashimi, konbu, wasabi leaf - pretty interesting as the fish is wrapped around thin strips of kelp and then itself wrapped with wasabi (山葵) leaf..

    Shima aji sashimi, fresh wasabi, soy - thick slices.

    Koshodai koshi snapper sashimi, karasumi, yuzu - I've never had crescent sweetlips (胡椒鯛) before, but I liked this preparation from last time.  The combination of shaved bottarga and yuzu makes for a winner every time.

    Saba mackerel sashimi, persimmon, smoke - love mackerel.  Love persimmon.  'Nuff said.

    Flower crab, uni, mitsuba - this made Mo' Unni kinda giddy on our last visit, and I'm glad I got to have it again.  Mr. Locust noted the inclusion of the slightly bitter mitsuba (三つ葉), which not only added a little texture but also balanced out the sweet and creamy seafood.

    Sugi black kingfish sashimi, maitake, yuzu kosho - don't think I've ever had black kingfish before, and it was OK.  With maitake (舞茸), onions, mitsuba - or was it mizuna (水菜)? - and fried garlic chips.

    Maitake, cucumber, myoga, pickled garlic tosazu, crispy rice - the maitake has been marinated - in Tosazu (土佐酢) perhaps? - and was a little too acidic.  Again served with mitsuba.  I guess Matt really likes this particular ingredient...

    Saba, ume, mentaiko, shiso - soooo nice.  Love the smoky flavors.  Mackerel was cooked perfectly and was very tender.  Rolled around a little bit of mentaiko (明太子), topped with some plum sauce and sitting on top of perilla leaves.  Of course ume shiso (梅紫蘇) is one of those classic combinations that were made in heaven.

    Hamaguri clam, ginger, yuzu, sake - this was one big clam!  When we were done, we asked for big spoons so we could drink what was left in the shell.  Yum.

    White ale battered kisu, yuzu kosho mayo - the batter was made with the Hitachino Nest White Ale (常陸野ネストホワイトエール) that I was already drinking, and was pretty good.  They actually poured us a little bit of the ale on the side to make the natural pairing.  The Japanese sillago (鱚) was yummy.  We got the fish, the ale, so we were just missing some chips...

    Triggerfish, honey, Kyoto shichimi, chestnuts - I enjoyed this dish the last time, and the chestnuts were pretty crunchy this time, too.

    Quail, orange, sansho - very tender, and even a little pink in the middle.  Light sansho (山椒) flavors.  Mr. Locust wasn't a fan, and I can kinda understand why.

    Unagi, kinome, chirashi, rice - love it.  I've been on an eel kick lately, and I didn't mind having this again one bit.  And I'm a sucker for the kick from sancho leaf (木の芽).

    Kagoshima beef, maitake, egg yolk - my favorite dish here, and I just had to order it when they weren't gonna give it to us.  Mr. Locust approved of my choice, but how could anyone not?!  This here was some of the most delicious beef you can find.  Gotta get it when you can.

    Udon, mentaiko, shiso - I was so disappointed on my last visit when Matt told me that he didn't have the udon due to a supply issue.  I'm happy to see that it's back, and I definitely was gonna have me some of that!  Great udon with bite, with yummy mentaiko, made a hundred times better by a sprinkle of plum powder and shredded perilla leaves.  What a way to finish dinner!

    We were all really stuffed, but happy.  Third visit, and third time happy.  Not a cheap meal by any means, but I dare say that I got my money's worth.  Having repeated some of the dishes this time, I think I'm gonna do à la carte on my next visit...

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  • 05/17/14--08:07: Sapphire anniversary
  • Forty-five years ago today, the parental units' parents held a little shindig at what was then the very posh Magnolia Hotel (中泰賓館) to celebrate the marriage of their kids.  I popped into the world not too long after, and fast forward a few decades, I had the honor of helping the parental units celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary tonight.

    Given the dearth of restaurants that I feel are acceptable for these occasions in Taipei, once again I decided to take us back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Mom was a little hesitant at first, because frankly her experience with Robuchon over the last 7 years has been hit or miss.  But I kinda insisted on this so she didn't put up much of a fight.

    In all the times I've been here, I've never seen it as busy as the place was tonight - which was both good and bad.  I'm happy for the staff, since this means the business can be more sustainable.  But I also felt that the service was slipping a little tonight, perhaps because the staff isn't used to being so busy.

    The amuse bouche was tomato gelée with a layer of pesto, topped with some mozzarella mousse.  With a rosemary stick on the side.

    Asperges blanches AAA - we were told that the white asparagus was one of the specials tonight, and mom and I wanted to try them.

    I asked Benoit how the asparagus was prepared, and had hoped for something like the panna cotta or mimosa I had at Robuchon a Galera3 years ago.  But no, they don't do that now, not when the quality of the asparagus was high.  Apparently Oncle Joël insists on just lightly pan-frying them when they are fresh and the start of the season, and only do something else with them towards the end of the season.

    These were very good.  Despite being so large and thick, they were still very tender - except for the very last bits at the bottom.  Interesting sprinkle of herbs and spices... which turned out to have a bigger kick than I expected!

    The asparagus was served with some warm hollandaise sauce on the side, which Benoit would have waxed lyrical about if we had let him...

    Pâté en croûte - the minute Benoit brought it out to show me, I knew I had to have it.  Not many people do it, and I never miss a chance to have it when I see it.  Yum!  Too bad the gelée had half-melted by the time it got plated and got to me.

    Le volaille la cuisse rôtie, aux asperges vertes et champignons - pretty interesting.  The chicken thighs were very tender, and the foam was made with Shaoxing wine.

    Le pamplemousse rose en granité au yuzu avec une mousse au gingembre frais - very nice and refreshing, which was just what I needed tonight.  Pink grapefruit wedges and granité, with yuzu and verbena gelée plus some ginger mousse.  Love the fragrance of verbena.

    Violet macaron and chocolate truffle - very, very nice.  One of the best macarons I've had here.

    The wine tonight was meant to be the main event, since this is a big anniversary.  I had moved this particular bottle from Hong Kong to Taipei about 2 years ago, and it's been sitting in my wine fridge during this time.  I had taken it out of its horizontal position and left it upright in my fridge when I arrived home last night.

    I decided to drop the bottle off at the restaurant before lunch, and no sooner had I showed Benoit the wine than I got my scolding.  I had expected him not to be happy about me bringing my own bottle of wine again, but the real reason he was upset at me was the fact that I had brought this particular bottle to dinner.  In his mind, I had committed sacrilege by standing the bottle upright and moving it more than 10 meters from its original position.  He felt I was ruining the wine from its potential, although I dismissed his concerns since I've brought old wines to dinner plenty of times.  I did think that he was shaking up the bottle a little bit when he took it from me...

    After we arrived, Benoit brought out our wine and opened it.  I decided that we wouldn't drink it until after we've ordered, which ended up taking about half an hour.  This may have been a mistake on my part...

    1969 DRC Richebourg - opened 30 minutes prior to serving, not decanted.  Lots of leather, good amount of sweet fruit, plummy, a little animal.  Very cloudy from sediment being shaken, a little tannic from the sediment.  Much more muted than expected and not showing well.  Very disappointing.

    In fact, it was soooo disappointing that for the first time, I wondered if this bottle were fake.  Not that I know what a fake bottle tastes like, but I just couldn't believe how quickly it faded.  Not after that amazing bottle that I had opened for them 5 years ago for their ruby anniversary, which was meant to be a (slightly) interior wine.  Had this bottle come from Rudy?  Well, given that I had bought this at auction from a house whose name was most associated with Rudy, I guess it was a possibility - although I wondered why he would bother to fake a Richebourg instead of La Tâche or Romanée-Conti.

    I always try to offer a glass to the sommelier or chef whenever I bring something special.  Tonight I did the same, and asked Benoit to please pour himself a glass. He said "no." Mom suggested that I pour him a glass myself, so I did.  He said "no" again.

    Later on he told me that he had never drunk the wine before, but he didn't want to drink from this bottle, because he knew that the bottle would underperform.  It had been shaken too much, and he didn't want to drink from a bottle that was not in top shape.

    Oh well.  This was an expensive disappointment.  I'd always been pretty careful about who I buy old wines from, as provenance is really, really important.  I haven't done any business with this particular auction house for the last few years, and I guess I learned my lesson tonight.

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  • 05/19/14--07:20: Pit stop, no dessert
  • I'm back in Singapore on a business trip, attending a conference hosted by our friendly prime broker.  Naturally there was a cocktail thingy at Ku De Ta on top of Marina Bay Sands, where we got to enjoy fabulous views of the city.  There was plenty of finger food, and we even started with some yummy gelato from Momolato.  But the boss wanted some real food, and so did I.

    I did say to myself on my last trip to the Lion City that I might just have to come to Candlenut on each visit.  I was seriously craving the cendol cream, as well as other yummy savory dishes.  So I definitely had my own tastebuds in mind when I told the cab driver our destination.  But hey, it's the boss' first trip to Singapore, and he needs to be exposed to Peranakan cuisine, right?

    As there were only two of us and we weren't exactly starving, I kept the ordering to a minimum.

    Satay ayam - very, very tender and tasty chicken thighs...  If only all satays could be this yummy.

    Sambal "choking" sotong - loved this dish, and thought it might appeal since I remembered (somewhat incorrectly) that the boss takes spicy food.  Turns out that this was a little too spicy for him, which is not surprising... The kick really builds up after a while, and by the time you realize it...  Still, I love this dish.  And you end up polishing off lots of rice along with it.

    Yellow coconut curry of blue swimmer crab, wild ginger, pineapple, baby ladies fingers kaffir lime - since the boss was into seafood and crab, I figured I'd order this up.  Despite claims that this ain't exactly Peranakan, I still found it very yummy from my first visit.  Nice and creamy. More white rice down the hatch.  Gobble gobble gobble.

    Just as I was getting ready to get to the main event, I was devastated when the boss declared that he didn't want any dessert...  WHAT?!  But I came here for their dessert....! Boo hoo...  I decided I didn't wanna look like a pig by ordering desserts and eating it alone.  I'll just have to get my chendol fix another way...

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  • 05/23/14--03:19: Bordeaux Confidential
  • A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting James Suckling with a friend.  At that time he was just starting to spend more time in Asia and beginning his relationship with Hong Kong Tatler.  Since then there have been a series of events hosted jointly by Hong Kong Tatler and, and even though I had received kind invitations to attend in the past, I had conflicting obligations and ended up turning them down.

    So when the invitation came for Bordeaux Confidential, I know I couldn't possibly turn it down again, even though it meant sneaking out of the office for a little bit.  And I'm glad I snuck out, as I was able to catch up with a few friendly faces...

    There was already a lot of people right from the start, and I knew it would be difficult to take pictures of every bottle I was tasting.  There was also a natural congestion around the tables where first growths like Mouton and Haut-Brion were pouring their wines, so I generally avoided them and started with the whites.  Besides, Uncle Henry came and there was a small crowd gathered around James and him...

    2010 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc - ripe and sweet nose like cotton candy, a little caramelized, a little toasty.  Also a little alcoholic.

    2011 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc - much heavier toast, a much bigger nose here, with pipi de chat, minerals and lemon citrus.  Outstanding.

    2010 Le Petit Haut Lafitte - very ripe with lots of fruit and vanilla oak.

    2010 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge - a little more toned down.  A little smoke, minty, and very fragrant.  Lovely on the palate.

    2010 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge - green peppercorns and smoke.

    Melanie Tesseron came to pour the Pontet-Canet wines.
    2008 Pontet-Canet - classic left bank, smoky with a hint of oak, woody and fragrant.  First tasted during en primeurat the château.

    2002 Pontet-Canet - more green and herbaceous, with cedar notes.

    2000 Pontet-Canet - a beautiful wine!  Lots of oak, cedar, sooo fragrant, with smoke, leather and coffee notes.

    Bruno Borie came to pour the Ducru-Beaucaillou wines.
    2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou - very fragrant and a little smoky.  Still a little tannic but drinking well.  First tasted during en primeurat the château.

    2011 Ducru-Beaucaillou - ripe and fruity, with forest notes.  A little fragrant with a hint of earthiness.

    2000 Calon-Ségur - with 60% Cab in the blend.  A little more closed with a hint of smokiness.

    2008 Calon-Ségur - with more Cab in the blend at 82%.  Very nice and fragrant, with more dried herbs and coffee notes.  Showing well with good concentration.

    2009 Calon-Ségur - with even more Cab at 92%.  Nose was also fragrant but more closed compared to the 2008.  A little smoke and dried herbs, and alcoholic.

    2001 Rauzan-Ségla - very open, showing nose of minerals, earthiness, dried herbs and smoke.

    2005 Rauzan-Ségla - minty, a little closed.  Showing a little brett and smoke.

    2008 Canon - nose of cold fruits, which was very nice.  Fragrant with dried herbs, forest and potpourri.

    2006 Canon - stewed and cooked prunes, a little smoke, alcoholic, some savory minerals and potpourri.

    2000 Canon - much more developed compared to the other two wines.  Lovely.

    This was a good chance for me to see how some of the vintages I first tasted a few years ago have evolved, and also a good opportunity to taste the newer vintages.  Many thanks to Hong Kong Tatler for the kind invitation.

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  • 05/23/14--08:59: La mejor carne del mundo
  • Another dinner at my favorite On Lot 10.  Another instance of someone saying "Can I please go to On Lot 10 with you?" Another happy evening.  Another case of falling asleep while sitting upright, although thankfully not at the dinner table this time.

    A few of us were at a birthday dinner several weeks ago, right across the street from On Lot 10.  There was a piece of Australian wagyu that just seemed completely tasteless to me... and since we had already booked a table here by that time, I ran over during that dinner to ask David to make sure we get the real beef tonight.  I wanted to show my friends how much flavor this aged beef can actually pack in.

    Another reason why I looked forward to this dinner - besides the selection of wines - was for a menu change.  One of us is allergic to shellfish, so that meant we wouldn't be having paella or bouillabaisse.  Not to complain about my #firstworldproblems - especially since those are some of David's most kick-ass creations - but I do miss having a little more variety.

    Whole steamed Breton artichoke - these skinny-ass artichokes weren't as good as they usually are... especially the outermost layers where too little was edible.

    Jamón ibérico, aged 48 months - one can always count on this delicious ham, as well as the pickled chili peppers from Spain.

    Asparagus with sweetbreads and morels - it's asparagus season, and we had not just green but also white asparagus tonight.  Add some sweetbreads, morels, peas, soft-boiled eggs... and some yummy mushroom [and beurre noisette?] foam, and it just tastes incredible.  Quintessentially David Lai, with a shade of Ducasse.

    Sea urchin and girolle risotto - oh this was just too good.  Incredible comfort food, and even more than the last dish.  The sweet corn kernels mixed in with the rice added a nice amount of texture here.  Absolutely wonderful.

    My Favorite Cousin complained that there was no sea urchin in the bowl on her side of the table - possibly an oversight by the kitchen - so we switched bowls halfway...  Anything for My Favorite Cousin, of course!

    David had prepared to give us a fish course, but decided that we should instead save our stomach space for the beef.  After all, that was the main event and we shouldn't be stuffed before we get to it...

    Chuleta de Rubia Galega - it is not often that I find myself looking at a hunk of meat and drooling, but I honestly think this is the best slab of beef I can find in Hong Kong - coming from someone who is not a steak kinda guy.  The last time I had the 120-day dry-aged chop from a 12-year old Galician ox I was absolutely blown away.

    Tonight this was almost like two steaks.  The half closer to me was really tender, and showcased the beef flavors in their purest form.  For a beef novice, I keep getting reminded that some of the best steaks I've ever had in my life have been French (and now Spanish) breeds done very rare.  Charolais taken bleu is awesome, and this is simply kick-ass.  The half of the pan that was away from me was clearly more chewy, and delivered even more intensified beefy flavors.  I liked both, but preferred the softer side.

    Once again the taters were just stupidly good, and I noticed the ladies kept stabbing at the remaining ones in the pan with their forks...  And yes, again, the green stuff may just look like nothing more than romaine lettuce leaves, but that sauce and seasoning transform them into something that's sooo much more.

    I'm so glad we didn't have fish, because this time I was actually able to enjoy more than one piece of the beef.  And just to show you what a great cousin I am, I made sure that no one else took the bone so that My Favorite Cousin can take it home to Wolfie.

    A dessert platter came for us to share:
    This isn't a bad effort for cheesecake in Hong Kong.  Well, it's the pretty, French pâtisserie version...

    Montblanc - yum.

    Dark chocolate tart - nice with that acidity on the finish.

    Tarte Bourdaloue - one of my favorite tarts here, but when I got back to the table, the damn thing had all but disappeared.  A couple of hungry mice had taken care of it.  I protested loudly, and thankfully the kitchen sent us another slice.

    No specific theme was set for wine tonight, other than wanting to bring stuff that many of us wouldn't normally drink.

    2012 Shäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Spätlese - very floral, peachy, tropical, with minerals and a little sulfur.  A little fizzy on the tongue.

    2004 Nicolas Potel Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Gaudichots - lovely fruit here, black cherries.  Fragrant and a little floral.  Initially body was a little light but built up over time.

    1991 Jaboulet Le Chevalier de Sterimberg en magnum - big nose of heavy toast, with polyurethane.  Ripe on palate.  A pretty big wine.

    2002 Saltram Shiraz The Eighth Maker - a total Aussie Shiraz.  Minty, sweet and exotic, like tropical coconut.

    2000 Tyrell's Pinot Chardonnay Vat 47 - lots of toasty oak, lemon.  Ripe on the palate but still got nice acidity here.

    1970 Penfolds Dalwood Hermitage - a little stinky, like manure, or "barnyard".  A little dusty.  Very soft on the palate.

    1997 Chapoutier Hermitage Vin de Paille en demi-bouteille - color has turned dark brown, which was unexpected.  Very nutty, lots of marmalade, a little botrytis.  Very unctuous and viscous.

    As if we didn't have enough wine, we ended up adjourning to Barsmith nearby.  I was, of course, already pretty buzzed by now, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I fell asleep in the dark environment while I sipped on some whisky.  Oh well... As I've said before, that's usually a sign that you've had a pretty good night!

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  • 05/26/14--07:36: Engrish on the menu
  • Senpai is in town for a whirlwind visit, and a bunch of us gathered around for dinner to celebrate our long-standing friendship.  I first met Senpai about 30 years ago when we were both in high school in Tokyo, but I ran into him again when I worked alongside him as I moved to Hong Kong almost 20 years ago.  Friendships with the rest of tonight's crew extended as far back as our Wankers days when I first arrived...

    It's good to take a break from our routines at Fook Lam Moon, so we convened at Liu Yuan Pavillion (留園雅敘) for some Shanghainese.  Someone asked me whether I thought one of the standard set menus from the restaurant would be good enough, but c'mon...  No self-respecting Shanghainese (OK, so I'm only a quarter...) would cop out and do that!  Must order à la carte one!

    Wheat gluten with bamboo shoots (四喜烤夫)

    Cold three shredded in sauce (涼拌三絲) - interesting combination of enoki mushrooms (金針菇), beets and the pods of sugar snap peas (甜豆).  The beets seemed to have been marinated in vinegar, and the whole thing was tossed in sesame seed oil.  Very crunchy.  Nice Engrish.

    Smoked egg (茶香燻蛋) - can't pass up the opportunity to have these wonderfully smoky eggs with the runny yolk.  Inhaled with one bite, of course!

    Fire small sugar snap peas (火丁甜豆) - I was surprised that most people at the table have never had this... and many didn't even know what sugar snaps are.  This is very classic Shanghainese... and in fact mom makes this at home!  The sugar snaps tasted pretty sweet, but I was a little disappointed in their quality.  These were a little too old - more like what my mom would buy - and I've been spoiled by restaurants in Taipei and Shanghai that use really young and tender peas.  Engrish strikes again.

    Sauteed prawns in chili bean sauce (乾燒蝦球) - a very gweilo-friendly dish, but pretty tasty nonetheless.

    Chicken consomme with won ton in casserole (砂鍋雲吞雞) -  couldn't pass up this classic.  Surprised at the small size of the wontons...

    Braised pig's knuckle in brown sauce (紅燒元蹄) - how could we come here without ordering this?!  Absolutely awesome and, yes, fattening!  I don't care!  Gimme the collagen and fat!!!  It's been so long since I last had this... and I found myself going back for more when most others have stopped...

    Steamed pork dumplings with black truffle (黑松露小籠包) - not as good as the ones from Din Tai Feng (鼎泰豐), but I didn't care.

    Pan-fried pork buns (生煎包) - not bad at all.

    Steamed pork dumplings (小籠包) - apparently I didn't order enough food, so the gang wanted more xiaolongbao.

    I brought over two magnums as we had enough people tonight.  Judging by the fact that the rest of the gang went for another round after dinner, apparently I was being stingy...

    2000 Les Plantiers du Haut-Brion en magnum - toasty, a little buttery corn, with lemon notes.  Round and soft on the palate.  A little surprised by the softness and elegance.

    2001 Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses - totally disappointing.  Probably served too warm and needed chilling, as the alcohol was too sharp and prominent.  Nose seemed disjointed with paint-thinner, fruit...etc.  Improved with more aeration, but a far cry from the other magnum opened a few months earlier.

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    One of my biggest regrets from my last trip to France was that I didn't spend nearly enough time in Lyon.  I only had half a day - enough to squeeze in a lunch and a dinner.  But at least I got to lunch at an authentique bouchon lyonnais, and the food was simple yet fantastic.  So when I saw people posting pictures and found that Cafe Causette was doing bouchon-style dishes for Le French May, I knew I needed to go and scratch that itch...

    I made a pit stop for lunch on Saturday, but found that the selections were very limited during the day.  Needless to say I was disappointed, but I picked something simple and vowed to return for dinner before the end of the month.

    Boudin blanc - the sausage was supposedly made with chicken and foie gras, but I really didn't get much (if any) foie gras at all.  Nevertheless, it was simple and satisfying.  Loved the caramelized apple and calvados sauce.

    So tonight, I came back for dinner with My Favorite Cousin.  We wanted to catch up over a simple meal, and of course she was nice enough to let me choose the venue...

    Rillettes de Poulet et Champignon Sauvage - I would always want to start the meal with rillettes, and this was just perfect.  Loved the finely chopped chives and chervil on top.  I can eat this all day.

    Andouillette - the reason for coming.  It's not everyday that you see this on the menu of a restaurant in Hong Kong, and I'd go far and wide to get myself some of this.  I just loooove that stinky aroma and pungent flavors.  Gimme intestines any day!  Of course, this just reminded My Favorite Cousin of the rice flour noodles with intestines (大腸麵線) in Taiwan... The choucroutte was OK, but I loved the shoestring fries.

    Gratin de macaronis - this was OK.

    2000 Fisher Lamb Vineyard - a little alcoholic, minty, oaky, smoky, sweet with blueberries.

    A couple of days ago, I received a kind invitation from the Specialist to join an exclusive dinner featuring the wines of Cheval Blanc.  As this was with Pierre Lurton just before the ex-château auction, there was never any doubt that the wines would be fantastic.  I turned it down without any hesitation.  I needed to spend some quality time with My Favorite Cousin tonight, and we had a barrel of laughs over some simple food.  I would not have traded tonight for all the Cheval Blancs I could carry.

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  • 05/28/14--07:19: The best of Porto
  • I've been pretty busy at work lately, and consequently have chosen not to go to Vinexpo this year.  After all, it just doesn't seem right to skip out of the office for "meetings" in the middle of the day, only to either return flushed red and wobbly or worse, call back to the office and tell the staff that I wasn't going back.  I did it a few years ago at previous Vinexpos but this time around, it just felt wrong to do it.

    So I was getting ready for a long night in the office to clear some backlog, when my trusted wine merchant friend pinged us and asked if anyone was free to join a Port tasting, and promised that it wouldn't be a waste of time.  Well, he's never led me down the wrong path before, so I locked up the office and jumped into a cab.

    I snuck into the back of the function room just a few minutes after the Quinta do Noval Masterclass started.  I never understood the word "masterclass" but the term is pretty widely used nowadays.  Anyway, the room was full of wine merchants and sommeliers, and I wasn't exactly on the official invite list.  But there were plenty of empty seats in the room and all that wine was already poured into glasses, so all I was doing by crashing was not letting them to go waste.  And believe me, some of these wines are so rare you wouldn't want them to go to waste!

    2000 Quinta do Noval Colheita - still really alcoholic, very sharp nose, with lots of red fruits, very grapey, still got the tannins.  Later this opened up more and showed nutty notes like hazelnuts, and prunes.

    2011 Quinta do Noval - forest pine notes.  Obviously still tannic, the alcohol wasn't so sharp.  Very sweet on the palate but not so bad on the finish.

    2004 Quinta do Noval - exotic nose, with acetone, and this was a little weird... maybe with some banana?  Not what I expected.  Can feel the tannins softening.

    2000 Quinta do Noval - nose was very closed, just as Corinne said.  A little paint thinner, with maybe a teeny bit of leather and a hint of forest.

    1994 Quinta do Noval - much more developed, with exotic nose that was sweet like sugarcane, Asian spices.  Really lovely, and wonderful on the palate.

    We then moved on to the Nacionals - the rarest of Ports made from a small plot of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines.  Production is extremely tiny - about 200-250 cases per year, and these days the practice is to release it slowly over 10 years while keeping about 20% stock at the quinta.  It's an incredible privilege to be drinking any of these wines, and especially the older vintages.

    2011 Quinta do Noval Nacional - lots of forest pine, much bigger and more intense than the vintage.  Definitely licorice and spices, with a hint of smokiness.  More tannic because the berries are smaller.  Good sweetness on both the nose and on the palate.

    2004 Quinta do Noval Nacional - nose was a little closed, somewhat stinky, with a little animal and hospital disinfectant... I think Christian Seely was right in not releasing this wine earlier, because I'm one of those who don't really "get it", at least not right now.  Apparently this is being released in June, and this was only the third time that anyone outside has tasted the wine.

    2000 Quinta do Noval Nacional - just like the 2000, I didn't get much out of the nose... only shoe polish, as the nose was pretty closed.

    1994 Quinta do Noval Nacional - a lot more smoke, pencil lead, a little green.  Not showing as well as the vintage.

    1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional - more alcoholic, with paint thinner, a hint of dustiness, but oh-so-beautiful on the palate!  Very nutty, soft and beautiful, with candied fruits and prunes.  What a privilege to have tasted this wine!

    1937 Quinta do Noval Colheita - the oldest colheita from Noval, and these were bottled only 2 months ago from pipes.  With savory notes and very alcoholic on the nose.  This was simply stunning!  Soooo rich and unctuous on the palate.  Wow!

    Unbelievable to have drunk 3 (or was it 4?) glasses of this tonight.

    2009 Quinta do Noval Duoro - nose of potpourri, and still kinda tannic.

    I'm so glad I came tonight instead of staying in the office.  What an incredible privilege it was!  Many thanks to the heads-up from my trusty wine merchant friend.

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    The Alcoholics have a visitor from out of town, and we hadn't seen him for a few months since that trip to Seoul never actually happened.  Bistronomique @Staunton was chosen as the venue four our gathering tonight, since the food is always good at Bistronomique, and the corkage policy is pretty friendly.

    As the Specialist was gonna be late due to a conflicting engagement, we started with a few appetizers to share while we opened and slowly sipped the wines...

    These filo pastry rolls were stuffed with spinach, truffle and cheese.  Not bad.

    The ham is always decent.

    I also nibbled on some steak tartare.

    I decided to be anti-social and not share the main courses with the rest of the gang.  There were a few items in the appetizer section that I wanted... and I wasn't gonna share with anyone.  Besides, I highly doubt that the others would have much interest, anyway...

    Roasted bone marrow - pleasantly surprised to find three pieces instead of two, which made me practically giggle with glee.  Greedily scooped up chunks covered in parsley and herb crust, then placed them on top of slices of baguette.  Chomp.  Chomp again, calories be damned.  This is rich and nutritious like mother's milk.

    Boudin Basque - it's been waaay too long since I last had this, and I needed a fix.  I love any blood sausage, but this was especially yummy because it also included other parts... Did I just chomp on parts of the tongue?

    Tête de cochon - never get tired of having this.  Love that collagen wrapping... crunchy at the same time.  I appreciate that they serve it on top of some egg salad with enough acidity to cut through the fat.

    I was very stuffed, since that was a lot of rich food for one person - especially considering the amount of bread that went along.  But of course I needed enough food to go with all that wine we were gulping down...

    2005 Tattinger Comte de Champagne - toasty, a little ripe on the palate.

    1985 La Mission Haut-Brion - very smoky, minty, pencil lead, a little earthy, with some fruit.  Classic claret.  Soft on the palate with velvety tannins.  A beautiful wine.

    1996 Guigal La Mouline - beautiful, rich and fat, with leather notes.

    1998 Guigal La Mouline - beautiful, with bacon fat, sweet fruit, floral notes, a little coffee and some potpourri.

    1995 Chave Hermitage - a little floral, nice and lovely with leather notes.

    1998 Jaboulet La Chapelle - initially still a little closed but opened up a bit more later.

    1995 Jaboulet La Chapelle en jeroboam - leather and animal notes.  A very generous contribution from our guest, who insisted on opening the bottle despite our protests...

    Pain grillé... encore...

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  • 06/03/14--08:51: Kit Kat and wine tasting
  • It's been a few years since I first went nuts and conducted a Kit Kat tasting, after buying up every conceivable flavor at a shop in Narita Airport.  For some reason I had the urge to do it again... Maybe it's that lingering annoyance about not having time to shop at Narita back in March.  So I logged into my Rakuten account, searched for every available flavor, had them shipped to my shipping consolidator, and soon I had a box of goodies in my office.  Just don't ask me how much I spent on shipping...

    Coincidentally, I had also scheduled an evening with friends to help me drink up some of my wine.  I think most of us had a good time when we made an effort last month, and this time I promised that we'd be drinking wines made from grape varietals which are different from the ones we had last round.  So I had to really think about what to dig out of my cellar!

    I decided to combine the two and do them on the same evening, but I didn't want the alcohol to interfere with our tastebuds, so I made everyone go through the Kit Kats first...

    Golden citrus blend (柑橘黄金ブレンド 中国・四国限定) - made with Unshu mandarin (温州みかん), lemon and sudachi lime (すだち).  Nice and citrusy, but my palate wasn't sophisticated enough to distinguish the separate flavors...  Limited to Chugoku and Shikoku region.

    Amaou strawberries (あまおう苺 九州限定) - made with one of my favorite cultivars of strawberries, this was really fragrant and I loved it, because it was just so.... strawberry!  A few of the others found it "too artificial".  Limited to Kyushu region.

    Shinshu apples (信州りんご 信州限定) - actually the apple flavors were pretty distinctive, and reminds me of those pressed apple juice or non-alcoholic apple cider.

    Zunda (ずんだ 東北限定) - probably my least favorite of the bunch.  Zunda mochi (ずんだ餅) is a dessert made from young soy beans / edamame (枝豆), but this was just kinda bland.  I guess this wasn't too surprising...

    Uji macha (オトナの甘さ 抹茶) - I wanted to do a tasting side-by-side between two macha flavors.  This was the "plain" version, with regular macha from Uji (宇治).  Flavors here were much more upfront and full-bodied.  In a way, I liken this to the "wasabi (山葵)" found in plastic tubes - which are much stronger but isn't really wasabi at all...

    Uji macha from Ito Kyuemon (伊藤久右衛門宇治抹茶 京都土産) - a lot more subtle and elegant compared to the "plain" version.  I actually prefer this one.  Ito Kyuemon is a tea business that traces its history back more than 180 years...  Can't go wrong with that...

    Red bean (北海道小豆) - definitely very red bean... from Hokkaido.

    Red bean sandwich (あずきサンド味 東海・北陸限定) -made in the fashion of red bean toast (小倉トースト) in the Tokai region, there was a subtle difference between this and the "regular" Hokkaido red bean, in that there was an extra layer of smoky, toasty flavors here, and slightly bitter.

    Just to make things more interesting, I also mixed pieces of the green tea flavors together with the red bean flavors, just because, of course, green tea + red bean is made in heaven.

    Purple sweet potato (紅いも 沖縄・九州限定) - oh this was pretty sweet, and definitely reminded me of the sweet purple potato.

    Toasted custard pudding (焼いておいしいプリン) - this has been all the rage lately, but I didn't have a toaster or a torch handy, so we couldn't eat this the way it was meant to be consumed.  Pretty creamy.

    Strawberry cheesecake (ストロベリーチーズケーキ 横浜土産) - the only flavor from 4 years ago that I repeated tonight.  Still very nice.  Definitely very strawberry cheesecake.

    Tokyo rum raisin (東京ラムレーズン) - one of tonight's crowd favorites, as the rum offered a little extra kick.  Very yummy.

    Many thanks for the Worm Supplier for being so diligent in helping me cut up the pieces so we could show the cross-section - a task he also performed 4 years ago.  He really is a good lil' elf.  He even assembled a little "rainbow" from all the pieces... but made the mistake of repeating one of the flavors.  Can you pick out which one?

    When the Kit Kat session was over, we began munching on some real food and got into the wine section of the evening...

    2007 Joh.Jos Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett - very classic, with petrol, flinty and mineral notes.

    2006 Il Pino di Biserno - very fruity, sweet, ripe, forest, potpourri, smoky.  A little too bitter on the palate.  Not what I expected.

    2007 Torbreck Roussanne Marsanne Viognier - really oaky, kinda ripe on the palate, round on the tongue, pretty toasty, a little buttery corn.

    1997 Antinori Pian delle Vigne - disappointing.  A little like Bordeaux, with noticeable brett.  Later on became yucky on the palate.

    2009 Doisy-Daëne Sec - green apple, muscat grapes, very oaky, a little pungent, mineral and flinty.  Love the purity of this wine.

    2003 Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Première Trie Moelleux - plasticky, manuka honey, floral and marmalade.

    2011 Quinta do Noval - this bottle has been open for 6 days, and I thought I'd use this opportunity to drink it up.  Still doing well, and packing plenty of fruit, and potpourri.

    Toasted... but at least I got the Market Queen toasted - along with a couple of others - too!

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  • 06/04/14--07:35: Remembrance, 25 years on
  • Twenty-five years ago today, I sat in my godparents' house halfway across the world, my eyes glued to the TV, and watched in horror as soldiers moved to crush the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square (天安門廣場).  The demonstrators, who were mostly university students, had demanded more freedom and political reform against corruption - all reasonable demands in a free and democratic society.  Well, the powers that be in Beijing decided that they would have none of it, and the result was a bloody massacre where hundreds, and most likely thousands, of lives were lost.  There is plenty of news footage and pictures recording this historic tragedy.

    Tonight I met up with a few friends and went to Victoria Park for the candlelight vigil marketing the 25th anniversary of the massacre.  While I'm not originally from Hong Kong, it is now the place I call home, and I'm proud that the people of Hong Kong still come year-after-year to commemorate and remember the fallen.  This was my third time coming here, and having been here on the 20th anniversary, it was even more crucial for me to come tonight.

    We entered the park around 7:45 p.m., shortly before the official start of events.  The main football fields were already pretty full, and there was still a big crowd being diverted around the perimeter of the park before they were allowed in.  I could see that the grass fields were getting pretty full, too.  I got detached from the gang, and decided to make my way near the stage at the front.  I wanted a better look at whatever footage they were gonna show us on the screens.

    The MCs were asking for a show of hands to see how many times people have been here, or whether it was their first time attending the vigil.  There was of course the traditional series of songs about democracy and freedom.  After the official ceremony started, the MCs on stage took turns to recite the names of those whose lives were lost on that fateful evening 25 years ago.  I listened with a heavy heart, trying to imagine what it would have been like to have a family member whose name is among them.

    The floodlights were turned off shortly after we started, to show the world the sea of candles at the park tonight.  At the vigil last year, we were asked to lower or put away our umbrellas in the rain, so as to reveal the candles we were all holding.  Once again, I chose not to light a wax candle but to use the candle app on my iPhone instead.

    We stayed for a short while, long enough to pay our respects to the dead and bow to the replica of the Monument to the People's Heroes.  I have kept my promise to be here tonight, and never to forget what happened on June 4th, 1989.  And I never will.

    But now it was time to eat...

    P.S. I applaud mainstream American media outlets like CNN, Washington Post, NBC News for having the balls to call what happened 25 years ago for what it was - a massacre - while gutless media like the New York Times are now calling it a "crackdown" and the Economist is even worse... calling it "army action".

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  • 06/06/14--08:49: Downhill piggy
  • It's been a long, long time since I last visited my favorite roast suckling pig, and tonight I got a chance to do just that.  Susan the Great was organizing a dinner so that she could introduce the pig to her friend Fuschia Dunlop, so it was a perfect chance for me to catch up with her again while getting re-acquainted with the Kimberley pig.

    The job of reserving the pig at the Kimberley Chinese Restaurant (君怡閣), as usual, went to ILove Lubutin.  We had a big enough party that we decided to order 2 pigs, since we could never hope to be satisfied with just one slice of the pig.  We also made sure to have the soup that we always start with...

    Marinated cucumber (拍青瓜)

    Marinated jellyfish (涼拌海蜇皮)

    Deep-fried frog legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - not too bad considering the fluffy batter, but my second piece seemed over-seasoned.

    Double boiled fresh ox bone and turnip soup (蘿蔔鮮牛骨清湯) - always love this, and tonight it was still really good.  The turnip is meant to cool the body's constitution, but having a big bowl of hot soup on a hot summer day got us all sweating instead.

    Roasted suckling pig stuffed with savory sticky rice (金陵乳豬烤香苗) - we got Fuschia and a few others all excited to go take pictures and videos of the staff slicing up the piggy... and of course ILove Lubutin knew that the best angle for a picture was to shoot up the piggy's butt...  Honestly, the piggy has lost some of its luster.  The crackling and the fat was still tasty, but the stuffing just wasn't as fragrant.  They needed to add more of the fried spring onions and stuff...

    Chinese lettuce with soy bean sauce (麵醬唐生菜) - with fermented soy beans.

    I took a second slice of the pig with the restaurant's XO sauce, which made it a lot tastier.  I'm glad we got the annoying Chinese yam (淮山) taken out of the stuffing when we ordered.

    For dessert, we started with the usual steamed brown sugar sponge cake (欖仁馬拉糕), and since they no longer do the version in a big steamer, we had to order three of these...  Not too bad, but there were visible differences in coloration among the three.

    To finish off, the wonderfully fluffy deep-fried egg cuillers (蛋散).  I could never have enough of this... and I think our guest of honor liked this, too.

    I was initially worried about not having enough wine, but my fears were entirely overblown... and at one point I thought the crowd was weak and we'd have wine leftover.  But we did manage to clear out everything in the end.

    Delamotte Brut - toasty and oaky.  Very nice.

    2004 La Lagune - shoe polish, smoky, minty, still pretty tannic with grippy finish.

    2008 La Bourguette Cuvée Prestige - opened the day before, so there was plenty of aeration.  Fruity, sweet, ripe and stewed fruits and porty.  Nose was still fine but the palate was pretty bleh by now.

    2007 Pascal Côtes du Rhône L'Oratoire de la Brune - the palate was a little bland, while the nose showed notes of tea and dried herbs.

    2002 L'Evangile en magnum - fragrant notes of coffee, dried herbs and a little smoky.  Really enjoyed the nose... not bad at all.

    It's sad to see that my favorite piggy has gone downhill in terms of quality, especially given that prices have gone up so much at the same time.  The restaurant wasn't getting much business on a Friday night, and honestly I'm not surprised...

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