Articles on this Page
- 06/07/14--00:08: _Simple brunch
- 06/07/14--07:15: _Casual tea house di...
- 06/08/14--07:35: _Classic entrecôte
- 06/09/14--08:30: _Playdate with Uwe, ...
- 06/11/14--08:41: _Magnum birthday
- 06/13/14--07:44: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/14/14--00:11: _US excursion: waiti...
- 06/14/14--08:40: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/15/14--06:27: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/17/14--08:25: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/18/14--02:13: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/18/14--07:22: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/18/14--19:26: _US excursion 2014: ...
- 06/21/14--08:01: _Another pissy birth...
- 06/22/14--07:44: _Another Simple birt...
- 06/23/14--23:32: _Headless 3-star lunch
- 06/24/14--08:11: _Shanghainese, my as...
- 06/25/14--08:08: _Completing the trio
- 06/26/14--08:42: _Principal Aikens
- 06/30/14--08:54: _Visiting UNESCO Wor...
- 06/07/14--00:08: Simple brunch
- 06/07/14--07:15: Casual tea house dinner
- 06/08/14--07:35: Classic entrecôte
- 06/09/14--08:30: Playdate with Uwe, episode 2
- 06/11/14--08:41: Magnum birthday
- 06/13/14--07:44: US excursion 2014: Chicago views and deep dish
- 06/14/14--00:11: US excursion: waiting for the Do(u)g
- 06/14/14--08:40: US excursion 2014: Salty molecular Chinese in Chicago
- 06/15/14--06:27: US excursion 2014: stuffed in Chicago
- 06/17/14--08:25: US excursion 2014: the greasy pig
- 06/18/14--02:13: US excursion 2014: two sandwiches and the Twin Towers
- 06/18/14--07:22: US excursion 2014: the seven year itch
- 06/18/14--19:26: US excursion 2014: Cronut run
- 06/21/14--08:01: Another pissy birthday dinner
- 06/22/14--07:44: Another Simple birthday
- 06/23/14--23:32: Headless 3-star lunch
- 06/24/14--08:11: Shanghainese, my ass...
- 06/25/14--08:08: Completing the trio
- 06/26/14--08:42: Principal Aikens
- 06/30/14--08:54: Visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites
I hadn't seen one of my friends for a long, long time... as she had been away in Europe trying to pursue an interest outside of banking. Having finally faced up to reality, she recently returned to Hong Kong and rejoined her former employer, although she was lucky enough to be able to kinda combine her interest in art into her new position. I thought it was high time that we caught up with each other, and made plans to return to Upper Modern Bistro for brunch.
I have been remiss in not visiting my old friend Philippe since my first visit last year, and since then another old friend Jeremy - formerly of Caprice - has joined Philippe. I, along with a number of others, was overjoyed when news came a couple of months ago that Jeremy would not be leaving Hong Kong. This meant that Hong Kong would get the keep one of its most seasoned mâitre d'hôtels, and we would have our supply of Jeremy's amazing selection of cheese!
I greeted Philippe in the open kitchen soon after I walked through the door, and Jeremy came over not long after I was seated. It's good to see my old friends! What was immediately apparent was the improvement in the level of service - which had been a source of complaints judging from the feedback I've gotten from friends.
I definitely wanted cheese at the end, so I chose a very simple starter:
Then we let Jeremy loose and unleash the cheesy onslaught. Of course Jeremy never disappoints... and my friend was suitably impressed.
Brillat-Savarin fermier - my favorite triple-cream. Sooo creamy and melt-in-your-mouth, and nice acidity here.
Croix Cathare - goat's milk cheese made by monks. Very thick and creamy, nice and rather subtle in terms of flavors.
Briquette de Joursac - from Aveyron. Pretty high acidity here, pretty nutty and strong "goaty" flavors. Very thick and solid in terms of texture.
Louvie-Juzon - goat's milk cheese from the Pyrénées. The pungent, goaty flavors were much heavier here. Acidity was there on the palate, and the rind was very bitter.
Coup de Corne - from the same monks who made the Croix Cathare. Nutty with a little ammonia, especially evident with wine. Bitter finish.
Coulommiers - a little salty, kinda nutty with a slight bitter finish.
Comté, millesimes 2010 - nice and full-bodied. Sweeter and more moist than expected, with complex layers of flavors.
Époisses fermier - nice and runny, bitter, very nutty and really salty on the finish.
Fourme d'Ambert fermier - very salty as expected, and the mineral flavors really came through.
Jeremy also very kindly provided us with some apricot and mixed berry jams. These were absolutely complementary to the savory and creamy cheese.
We weren't looking to have any wine, as we both had engagements after lunch, but I guess that just wasn't gonna fly with Jeremy. He very kindly poured us a glass to go along with the cheese.
My friend and I were very, very full after the barrage of cheese. I'd say that we made a pretty good dent, and other than the Comté and Fourme d'Ambert, there wasn't much left of the others. I ended up packing the leftovers... and was determined to make an 8-cheese grilled cheese sandwich for tomorrow.
I spend the afternoon hanging out with some friends and sipping on some white wine. Dinner time came around, and we decided to satiate our hunger at Luk Yu Tea House (陸羽茶室) - a place they frequent. Luk Yu is a Hong Kong classic that just isn't on my list, even though I've worked within walking distance from it for years. But I was happy to go along and munch.
I brought a bottle of wine to dinner, and quickly found myself buzzed as I realized I had been drinking intermittently for the last 8 hours...
I met Wilson Kwok, the proprietor behind W's Entrecôte, at dinner on Friday. I had been going to this place for steak frites ever since I first came to Hong Kong almost 20 years ago, and have fond memories over the years, although it's been a few years since I was last there.
I was surprised to hear from Wilson that business hasn't been so good lately. I guess that just shows the mentality of the people in Hong Kong... since they seem to be only looking for the latest (and not necessarily greatest) places - egged on by the PR / media machine trying to drum up business for the new venues. So it's kinda sad to see that this place - which has been serving very solid food at reasonable prices for two decades - being forgotten by the general public.
I thought a return visit was in order, so I made up my mind to come back tonight. I also decided that I would write about tonight's dinner - even though normally this type of food doesn't show up on this here blog. I wanted to remind people that these guys are still around, and I'd like to see them stick around for another 20 years. In Francophile territories, places such as Le Relais de l'Entrecôte do brisk business on a daily basis, since they are the French counterpart of the classic Cantonese roast meat (燒味) joints - everyday fare that never falls out of favor. I'd love to see places like this become a more permanent part of the dining scene in town.
Thankfully, Mr. and Mrs. Tigger decided to join me for dinner. I've been here with Tigger before, and this is the type of no-nonsense, value-for-money place that he would enjoy.
I took a glass of house read to go with my meat, and this was just what I needed. I think Tigger liked it, too. I was also pleasantly surprised to run into another old friend as he took his wife and two girls here - introducing the next generation to the simple pleasures of steak frites. Believe it or not, they still use those red and white checkered tablecloths here... For all the high-end, fancy schmancy places that I seem to frequent and favor, there's a special place in my heart for this place and others like it.
It's been more than a year since our incredibly fun dinner with Uwe, and an email came around asking if another gathering was in order. We were reminiscing about some of the Art Basel-related creations, and debated about visiting around that time to see what fun stuff Uwe would come up with this year, but unfortunately the lot of us just couldn't get our act together in time...
So we came back to the Mandarin Grill + Bar tonight, ready for another fun evening. When Uwe asked me what I wanted for tonight, I asked him simply to surprise us. I never doubted him for a second.
something similar last year, but I'm wondering if Uwe's doing one of these per season... maybe more. The foliage was made with freeze-dried tomato and decorated with mozzarella balls, olive oil caviar and more; the trunk was Parmesan powder; and the "sous bois" salad came with jamón ibérico. Final touches came in the form of a few drops of 25-year balsamic vinegar.
This was, quite simply the best "green tea" I've ever had. The fragrance from the basil was simply incredible. The purity of the flavors with just basil and tomato... Wow! I'd drink this tea any day!
a lot like what I had at Les Créations de Narisawa.
The beef was pure perfection. Soooo texture, juicy and succulent. That onion-flavored crust. The onion "bark"... which tasted a little like the Sour Cream and Onion SunChips. Garnished with spring onion shoots on the side.
We finally came to dessert, which is always an event on its own.
The wines tonight weren't any less interesting compared to the food.
It's the Specialist's birthday, and this year she decided to do a bigger gathering. After taking the number of guests into consideration, she realized that single bottles would never be enough to go around... and issued the order for us all to bring magnums to dinner. Now this was gonna be fun!
She's always been a big fan of Sup 1, and it's easy to make arrangements to get a little special treatment when you're friendly with the bosses. Apparently they took on an extra dishwasher tonight just so they could handle our wine glasses... if the manager is to be believed.
The Specialist gave BFF and I a ride to the restaurant, and we arrived well before anyone else... and I never expected anyone to be on time for a 7pm dinner in a (slightly) off location on a school night. Well, it gave the staff a little time to prep the wines and glasses.
But as delish as the food was, most of us really only care about the wines tonight.
I arrived in the Windy City today after my first long-haul flight while sitting in cattle class in a few years - in a US airline, no less. A short flight delay meant I went through Friday after hours traffic trying to get into the city, but I didn't have much difficulty checking into the JW Marriott in the financial district.
I dropped my luggage in my room, picked up my camera gear, and walked two blocks to Willis Tower. I had booked a fast pass online while transiting through Narita Airport, paying double the normal ticket price to make sure I wasn't stuck in line for a long time. Well, as it turned out, there was no line on a Friday evening... so I got up to the 103rd floor Skydeck in no time.
It was late and more than 7 hours since my last feeding. I was starving. So I came back down to ground level, jumped into a cab, and headed for one of the branches of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria nearby.
Chicago's famous for their deep dish pizza, and I was determined to have my first taste of it since I last had it at Pizzeria Uno during college days. After doing some online research, it seemed that Lou Malnati's is a local favorite. Fortunately it was kinda late by the time I arrived, so it only took about 10 minutes for me to get seated. I had pre-ordered my pizza when I got there, and about 30 minutes later, I had some food in front me.
who age their own pizza doughs, I expect the dough to be yeasty and tasty. This crust had almost zero flavors from yeast. I didn't get any of that wonderful fragrance I was expecting. I guess I just don't "get" Malnati's...
With my belly full, I decided to walk back to the hotel and get a feel for the city. My first taste of "real" Chicago deep dish was a little disappointing, but the two meals tomorrow should be the highlights of this trip...
Day 2 in Chicago, and I'm skipping breakfast. I rolled out of bed, cleaned myself up, and hopped into a taxi to my first destination this morning: Hot Doug's.
Hot Doug's is one of Chicago's most famous food destinations. Doug Sohn is famous for his gourmet hot dogs, and famously defied Chicago's ban on foie gras by continuing to sell his foie gras dogs. Of course, the ban has since been repealed, to the delight of diners like myself. Anyway, Doug announced last month that he was closing the place in October, so of course it means that I'd have to hit this place during this trip. And today would be the only time I could fit it in.
my friends made it themselves. I think the Sauternes definitely gave the duck meat more depth in terms of flavors, like the way Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) adds a little something to Cantonese sausages.
The foie gras mousse was OK, and the truffle aioli was nice, although the fleur de sel meant that a couple of mouthfuls were suddenly a little saltier. Overall this was a success, and I can understand why this is one of the best sellers.
I took away the remainder of the fries plus an extra foie gras dog. Mo' Unni was arriving later today, and I hope she'll like it.
I made my way back into town, hopped on to the L and went around the loop, and went shopping on the Magnificent Mile. No, I wasn't shopping for myself, but I had three separate missions for friends. Unfortunately, I came up empty on the first two... since they were apparently incredibly hard to find.
But now it was time to go back to the hotel... Dinner at Alinea awaits!
Tonight was always gonna be the highlight of this trip. As soon as I found out that the conference was gonna be in Chicago, Alinea became the must-do dinner. And as soon as the restaurant opened up their June bookings on April 15th (OK, I lied... I was drunk on the evening of April 15th, so I didn't book until the 16th) I visited the website and got myself tickets for tonight.
The main worry about tonight, though, was whether Mo' Unni and I would be fighting jet lag during dinner. I would arrive only 1 day earlier, and Mo' Unni would be arriving only hours before. Would either or both of us be falling asleep at the table?
We arrived at our appointed seating time of 5:30 p.m., which would be the second time I'm having dinner at one of the world's top restaurants this year (the other being dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro). I'm at least grateful that I didn't overindulge at lunch, so I had plenty of stomach space.
After confirming that neither of us had dietary restrictions - and I would have bet money that Mo' Unni had to have at least a few things on her list - we sat back and waited to be hit with 16 courses over the next 4 hours. And since Mo' Unni wasn't in any shape to do any serious drinking, I decided to try out the restaurant's wine pairing - which would consist of 10 different wines.
Then it was taken aside and the items removed while the fire was still kinda going. The parsnip "charcoal" at the top was removed, and the staff fished out the piece of A5 BMS 12 wagyu from Kagoshima (鹿児島) that had been hidden in the middle. It had been cooked sous vide, quickly seared, wrapped in konbu (昆布), and was resting at temperature for a while before being kept warm by the fire. Both the parsnip and the beef were sliced and placed on the serving "plates"...
Milk chocolate: pâte sucrée, violet, hazelnut - the original version of Uwe's various painted desserts is from here. The centerpiece was made with pâte sucrée, armagnac butterscotch and milk chocolate pudding. The frozen meringue on top was a little weird, and almost tasted a little salty or ammonia. Nevermind the candied basil on top. On the sides were sweetened crème fraîche, violet puddles, frozen hazelnuts and brown brittle. I really enjoyed the chocolate pudding with the butterscotch...
Unfortunately, tonight was one of those times when very high expectations were not met. I was not blown away, and this wasn't one of the best meals of my life. There certainly wasn't anything wrong the the technical execution of any of the dishes, nor do I doubt Grant Achatz's creativity. No, one of tonight's problems was that a significant portion of the dishes featured very Asian - and in particular Chinese - elements, but the chef has no fundamental background and understanding behind Chinese cuisine. Often there were simply too many elements on a single plate, and I couldn't see how they were all meant to work together - and they often did not. As I remarked to a friend, if I wanted to have molecular Chinese food, I'd go to Bo Innovation in Hong Kong.
The other big problem tonight was that so many dishes were simply over-seasoned and salty, and Mo' Unni had the same feeling. Grant Achatz wasn't in the kitchen tonight, so was the seasoning coming from the chef de cuisine?! Or was this the Alinea "house style", and we were simply not accustomed to it or we don't "get it"?!
Sigh. Until Grant decides to go off his Asian/Chinese phase, I don't think there's any reason for us to return anytime soon...
After my slightly disappointing first nibble of a Chicago-style deep dish pizza, I felt I owed it to myself to have a second sampling, and it just so happens that Giordano's is a block away from my hotel. Unfortunately, the boss decided to ditch me for dinner, so I called them up to pre-order my pizza, waited for a half hour and walked over.
The crust was thick and hard. Like the one at Malnati's it, too, did not have much yeasty flavor. It's kinda like a quiche crust, except a little bland... and definitely lacking salt, butter or any distinctive flavor. Having said that, I do like the texture better than Malnati's crust. It seemed to have multiple layers.
I really enjoyed this one. I loved the classic combination of Italian sausage, green peppers and onions. It's also not hard to see how much cheese is in this beast, and how thick it all is. Even in size it is very much quiche-like, and much more substantial and satisfying in that sense. This is something I can come back for.
Well, I hit a wall sometime after I started on my third piece, and struggled to shove it all in. Half of the small pie is a little too much for me, and I was definitely very stuffed... I packed up the other half and took it back to my room.
P.S. I had a piece for breakfast the next morning, cold. In all my years, I never thought I'd enjoy cold pizza, but this wasn't bad at all...
I was panicking a little. We were done with our conference and this was our last night in Chicago, but I hadn’t figured out where to take the boss for dinner. As usual he’s left it up to me to figure out where to eat, and this presents a challenge while we’re in a city that I had never been to beore.
I knew it had to be somewhere along the Magnificent Mile, as the boss had hardly left our hotel since his arrival, and he should at least walk along the Mile. Should we play tourists and go to Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, since steak is the thing to do here? I asked for his opinion, and was told that he would like to “try something new”.
We showed up at the door to the Purple Pig, which had been mentioned on foodie discussion boards and seemed to have been rated highly in Zagat. Even the boss noticed that this was on the Rubberman’s Bib Gourmand list. They don’t take reservations, and there was already a long list of people waiting. We agreed to leave our name and come back in half an hour. Meanwhile, we could at least walk along the Mile.
We were seated inside the restaurant upon our return. I’m pretty sure the boss isn’t used to how tightly packed the tables were, nor was he accustomed to the level of music and noise. It took some effort for us to carry on a conversation…
The task of ordering, not surprisingly, fell on my shoulders. The only request from the boss was that I should keep the calorie count down. At the end of the evening, though, we both realized that I completely failed in this regard…
I was surprised that the bone wasn’t cut into shorter sections, but I guess it makes the presentation more impressive this way. The marrow was really rich and delicious, and the brioche slices had been toasted with an incredible amount of butter. I was in heaven, and ended up polishing off about 2/3 of this. My only complaint was that instead of spoons, we were given a knife and fork to dig out the marrow. Not the best way to get to the liquefied marrow. Oh and I also think that they shouldn’t have used so much butter for the brioche. The marrow was rich enough, and the addition of butter just became a little bit of overkill.
Not a particularly satisfying dinner, and definitely too heavy even for me. Actually I kinda felt a little ill at the end. We decided to stroll along the Chicago River back the hotel, enjoying the cool evening breeze. Hopefully my 26-hour stopover in New York City will be more successful from a culinary point of view.
I had an early morning flight this morning, so I was always gonna take my breakfast at O’Hare. After going through TSA’s security screening – where they make everyone feel like a terrorist or criminal – I scanned the plans for Terminal 3 and figured the best place to grab a bite would be Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. Having rejected numerous friends’ suggestions that I check out Rick Bayless’ restaurants serving Mexican fare while in town, I guess in the end I just have to have a little Mexican.
After I arrived at the Mondrian Soho, I dropped my big suitcase with the bell boys and schlepped over to Katz’ Deli for the first of only three meals during my very short stay in town.
Believe it or not, despite having lived in Manhattan for a whole two years and even counting a number of trips back after moving to Hong Kong, somehow I had never made it to Katz’s. Well, I guess it was always too out of the way for me, and if I had wanted to get my deli fix, Carnegie Deli was only a block or two away from my apartment. And staying in hotels Midtown meant that even places like Zabar’s or Barney Greengrass were closer options. But this visit had to happen sooner or later, and after reading fellow blogger Scubagolfer’s post on Katz’s, I knew the time was now.
I dutifully lined up in front of one of the guys responsible for cutting the meat, and following Scubagolfer’s very helpful tip, slipped a couple of dollars into a cup in front of my guy before placing my order. I figured there was only gonna be upside from this move…
As is traditional, the guy cut test slices for me so that I could approve the thickness of the cured meats. I probably should have asked him to cut the corned beef in thicker slices the way I prefer, but figured he’s the expert on this.
My one complaint about the sandwich was the bread. For some reason, the slices of rye just kinda disintegrated in my hands… so it became nearly impossible for me to hold the sandwich together.
Well, I was totally weak today. I thought that since the sandwiches here were smaller than the ones at Carnegie Deli, I’d have a chance to finish the whole thing. I was wrong. I guess ordering egg cream didn’t do me any good in that department, and since the cured meats were so salty, I finished my drink much quicker than anticipated. In the end I managed to stuff down a few bites more than half the sandwich… finishing the pastrami side and leaving most of the corned beef side. Oh well…
With my belly full, I took the subway downtown and headed for my one and only sightseeing destination on this trip.
As I’ve been away from New York City for more than 6 years, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Fortunately for me, the Museum has just opened recently, so it would be the perfect opportunity to visit both.
I had already moved to Hong Kong when the 9/11 attacks happened. I was particularly tired that day, and had passed out on my couch after having dinner. A phone call from Diplomatic Uncle woke up from my slumber, and I was told to turn on the TV to watch the live coverage of what was unfolding. I was stunned and horrified.
The next morning I showed up at work at the offices of Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong. Markets were in free fall globally, and we waited while management updated us on what was happening with our New York headquarters – as they evacuated from the World Financial Center directly opposite the World Trade Center to the various business contingency sites and resumed trading. For the next few months Lehman bankers operated out of numerous hotel rooms at the two Sheraton Hotels in Midtown Manhattan.
Not long after the event, word came that a former colleague from my first job was lost in the attack. He had been at Windows on the World in Tower 1 when it happened. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I bought a ticket and entered the Museum. This was such an incredible exhibition. One can find out just about every important or minute detail on the events that took place that day – and the stories that followed. From parts and remnants of the Twin Towers, to fire trucks damaged during the rescue, and all sorts of artifacts from the towers and/or their occupants. At one point I came across a collection of 3 ½” floppy disks, and realized that I hadn’t seen one of those in years…
Finally, I went to the exhibit named In Memoriam, where one can look up information on every single person who perished in the attack. I found my friend David in the system and called up his details, then proceeded to project them onto the walls of the “inner chamber”. The walls of the exhibit were lined with photographs of most of those we lost, and I found David, there, too… smiling as always.
I picked up a couple of souvenirs on my way out to support the museum, and left with a heavy heart. It was a long, long time ago that we last saw you, David, but we remember still… and you’re not forgotten.
This is one meal that is 7 years overdue. On my very last trip to New York - which was, unbelievably, eons ago – I was all set to go to wd~50. I had made it to the high temple of molecular gastronomy, elBulli, the year before, and had heard a lot of good things about Wylie Dufresne’s place. Unfortunately for me, I came down with a massive case of toothache that day, and was in no shape to take in anything other than liquids that required no chewing. I called the restaurant with a heavy heart, told them I had to cancel last-minute because of my toothache, and left the city with more than an ounce of regret.
Tonight, on my one and only night spent in the city on this trip, I was determined to right this wrong. Initially my friend had suggested we go somewhere else, and because I didn’t wanna be difficult – and I was open to try out other suggestions – I was happy to go along with her choice. However, when I found out a week ago that Wylie announced the impending closure of the restaurant due to the premises being redeveloped, I knew it was now or never. Fortunately, my friend was able to get us a table.
It took a little longer than expected for me to walk over from the Mondrian Soho to the restaurant, passing through parts of Chinatown and the heart of Little Italy along the way. The place was pretty unassuming, and I could see why the place was getting redeveloped.
There were two menus on offer, and I was thankful that my friend agreed to do the longer, regular tasting menu with me. The shorter one had only half the number of courses and would have left me with a lingering sense that I hadn’t gotten the full picture.
We were absolutely stuffed, and I felt a little bad for my friend since I kinda dragged her into this. No, this wasn’t a mind-blowing meal by any means, but it was nice and decent with a few highlights. More importantly, though, it was nice not to have one’s taste buds as-salted like mine were a few days ago. While Alinea may have been more playful, creative, with arguably superior technical execution, I found myself enjoying tonight’s dinner a whole lot more.
Last day in the US, and I’m standing in line for food again. This time around I’m waiting to get my hands on some of them world-famous Cronuts.
Then came the Cronut craze, and the ensuing trademark controversy. Lots of people around the world were trying to emulate the product, and Dominique and my friends fought to defend the product name as their trademark applications were pending approval in various jurisdictions around the world. At dinner a few nights ago, some people brought up the fact that Swissbeck Bakery in Hong Kong had rolled out a version they had called the “Cronut”. I casually mentioned that I was the person who had alerted the people at Dominique Ansel Bakery to this, since I knew that the application to trademark the name “Cronut” had already been submitted at the time. Of course I needed to look out for the interests of my friends.
Now I was finally back in New York City, and there was no way I was leaving without visiting the bakery – both for Cronuts as well as a number of other creations. I emailed my friends in advance to let them know I was coming, and it was suggested that I get in the line before 7 a.m. Yes, despite being friends with the owners of the bakery, my friend Jay Essu and I lined up just like everyone else. And I was in line around 6:40 a.m. – a full 80 minutes before the bakery opened.
The nice thing about the bakery is that just before opening time, the staff would come out and pass out goodies to people who were patiently waiting in line. First came the madeleines, which were hot from the oven. Then came little cups of lemonade. A nice touch to show some appreciation to their customers.
When we finally got in, we each took our allocations of two Cronuts, and I got myself a few other things as well. Dominique and my friend were pretty excited to see us, and we sat down in the garden at the back to catch up. Dominique also arranged to send a few extra things for us to taste.
one place where I can get a good one in Hong Kong, and I don't get the opportunity that often...
Jay Essu and I were absolutely stuffed. I can't begin to count the amount of sugar, butter and cream we had just consumed for breakfast, and it was all totally satisfying! We also had a good time catching up with Dominique, and I think Jay Essu was glad that she got up early this morning for this... I'm sure that the people in her office were glad, too... when they saw her collection of Cronuts and DKAs.
This was a perfect ending to my trip. I had planned to hop over to the New York Public Library, but I was running out of time. Patience and Fortitude would have to wait.
P.S. I grabbed a few more DKAs and canelés on the way out to take on the plane with me. I needed more than half of each for my fix! As it turns out, I needed 3½ Cronuts and 4½ canelés...
I was in Hong Kong for just around 12 hours before I was on a plane again, going back to Taipei to spend my birthday weekend with my family. Some time ago I had seen pics of a Peking duck feast from a friend, and had been wanting to check the place out for myself, so I made a reservation last month while I was in town to celebrate the parental units' anniversary, and invited Last-Minute Uncle's family to come along. What I didn't expect at the time was a surprise guest, in the form of my Brazilian Uncle...
We drove out to Yilan a little early to try to check out the city a little. We were taking the second seating so we had a little time, but it's a pretty small town and there wasn't a whole lotta stuff to see - other than the old Yilan Station (宜蘭車站) that had been decorated by artist Jimmy (幾米) and Jimmy Park (幾米公園) across the road. We soon returned to Luna Plaza (新月廣場) and Silks Place Yilan (蘭城晶英酒店) and went upstairs to Red Lantern (紅樓).
The restaurant's really busy on weekends and holidays, so they open up the banquet hall and seat all the tourists there - especially the larger parties. We were led to one end of the hall, and it felt like we were just going to a large-scale Chinese wedding banquet...
They only do set menus on the weekends, and only for 4, 6 or 8 people. We were 7 but given that there's one of us who can eat for 3, naturally we took the largest set. I fully expected us to finish all the food anyway... Some of the menu required us to pick from a list of choices, and after I made the selections, the food arrived at our table pretty quickly... A little too quickly, in fact, and out of order.
Flavors of Lanyang (蘭陽美味集): choosing 4 out of 8 possibilities
Yilan Specialties (宜蘭特色菜): choose one of three
Stir-fried vegetables with duck fat (鴨蔥油拌高纖蔬菜): choose two from five
Chef's special offering (主廚私房菜): choose one of three
For the last few years, I'd been hearing about this "cherry duck (櫻桃鴨)" in Taiwan, and even had it at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei once. What's so special about this duck? Well, apparently it's a special breed that came from a company called Cherry Valley in the UK, and it's supplied by one particular farm in Yilan County. Tonight will be the true test for the duck as we go through the whole bird...
like what they serve at DaDong (大董) in Beijing...
Having said that, this was pretty damn good. The "spicy miso (辣味增)" was an interesting alternative to the traditional sweet bean sauce (甜麵醬). The duck skin was fatty, juicy, and a little nice and chewy. The scallion pancake was interesting, although I thought it was more for the pretty color than about the flavor.
Given that this was my pre-birthday celebration with the uncles, naturally I brought along a bottle of wine from my birth vintage.
Verdict for the night? This was a pretty awesome Peking duck! With more varied and interesting preparation, dare I say that I like this better than the duck at Song Kitchen (宋廚菜館) - for many the undisputed king of Peking duck in Taipei? I think it just might be! The rest of the food wasn't spectacular, but I thought they were decent enough.
But this was a "pissy birthday dinner" for a reason, and it was all about the service (or lack of).
First, on weekends this place was packed with tourists, and what ends up happening is that everyone is shoved into the large banquet hall, and your dinner is run like a multi-course banquet that just ends up being a production line. The same dishes can be served to multiple tables at around the same time. The atmosphere is completely cold, without any sense of intimacy or personal service. You are just another table among (literally) 60 or more.
Second, they make the same mistake of 90% of Chinese restaurants - which is to say they try to serve you all the dishes at once, or without about 5 to 10 minutes. How are we supposed to be able to enjoy our food that way? Unless we go in like locusts or piranhas and devour everything within 15 minutes or so, some of the dishes are bound to get cold when by the time we get to it. We literally got our first 7 dishes within the first 10 minutes or less, and that includes the ma po tofu that was supposed to be part of the duck.
What's worse, just as we were complaining to the staff about how quickly the dishes arrived, our duck came. They were ready to serve us the duck just as we were starting to dig into the starters. WTF?! So all the starters were just gonna get cold while we inevitably chose to eat the duck first?
I was pissed. In fact, we all were. And we kicked up a fuss. The waitress knew she had a problem on her hands, and the first duck was sent back (in reality, it was just delivered to another table). After the first 7 dishes, all others were on hold until we were ready to take on more food. Things went more smoothly after our initial outburst.
You can say that my expectation were too high, especially for a small city like Yilan where people were bound to be less sophisticated. That may be, but this was at Silks Place, for chrissake. It's owned by the FIH Regent Group, who owns Regent Hotels worldwide. I would certainly expect a lot from these guys!
If I ever come back, I guess I'll have to do it on a weekday - when there won't be a lot of tourists around, and you can actually order à la carte instead of being forced to take the set menu...
After the pre-birthday dinner last night, tonight it was time to keep it small and just spend it with the parental units. For the third year in a row, I chose to dine at STAY for this occasion, as the simple yet delicious food and the low-key atmosphere is exactly what I'm looking for.
It's my fourth visit, and still I chose not to do one of their several set menus. For a simple meal, I am happy to do à la carte and get a little more of what I wanted. Mom of course did the same, and dear old dad picked the cheapest set menu despite our objections - not wanting to spend too much of his son's money.
As usual there was a trio of bites as our amuses bouches:
We were drinking a bottle of red Burg tonight, so I thought it would be appropriate to pick dishes with Burgundian flavors.
I loooove meurette, so when I saw that the scallops were being done this way, it seemed to be a no-brainer. And of course, the flavors match the wine perfectly!
like I did last time...
We also shared two sides of vegetables:
Birthday dinner calls for a birth vintage wine, and this year I decided to splurge a little and open up something a little nicer compared to the last two years...
This was a very good evening. Mom really liked both of her dishes - which, incidentally, were recommendations from moi... She's always had hit or miss experiences with Robuchon, and tonight really showed her that as far as she's concerned, we don't need to go back there.
The service was also excellent tonight. The manager (he looked the part, at least) took great care in extracting the cork, and even though he did eventually break it, he was so careful that no fragment fell into the bottle.
At the end of the evening, when I noticed that they hadn't charged me corkage, I approached them and asked them to put it on the bill. They refused. The reason? Despite having only been there on three previous occasions, the restaurant had a profile on me. They realized that I had visited the restaurant on the same day for three years in a row, and figured it was for an occasion such as a birthday... and wanted to thank me for my patronage and loyalty. Now THAT is great service!
Guess where I'm going for my birthday next year?
I came back to Hong Kong from my trips to the US and Taiwan bearing gifts for the Tiggers, so they very kindly allowed me to crash their usual lunch date at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana. It's been quite a while since I was last there, and I happily accepted their invitation.
I'm a creature of habit, and when I revisit restaurants that are old favorites, I tend to go back to the same dishes that I love. And so it was that I decided to forgo the normal set lunch and ordered up one of two dishes that I had been missing dearly...
OK, I know it's been a while since I've been here... but they've always served this dish with a single prawn, including the head. Where did it go?! For those of us who truly love carabineros, how is it possible that the kitchen would think to deprive us of the pleasure of holding the head between our fingers while we greedily sucked out every last bit of goodness from it?! I don't mind getting my fingers dirty at all! Why, oh why?! Oh, the humanity!
This place is definitely one of the (if not THE) power lunch spots in town, and I counted 5 other tables with people I know. A mutual friend of ours knew that my birthday had just passed, and very kindly sent along glasses of Quintarelli Primofiore (I didn't ask Danilo for the vintage). This was young but very delish, showing a lovely and fragrant nose of forest pine and potpourri.
Many thanks for the kindness of friends.
Like my good friend Tigger, I am really a cheap bastard at heart. So it's rare that I find myself attending organized wine dinners since the cost is often prohibitive. Why shell out beaucoup dinero when I've got enough wines in my own cellar to make me a happy camper? But once in a while, someone will come along with a proposition that looks interesting at a more reasonable price, and tonight was just such an occasion.
L'Imperatrice Fine Wines has an interesting roster of grower Champagnes, including one that is a favorite of mine. A few weeks ago I received an email about a dinner they were putting together that featured these growing Champagnes, and the venue chosen was Yu Lei (玉蕾) - the one KO Dining outlet I have yet to try out, with a macaron, no less! And since the pricing didn't give me sticker shock, I roped in a friend who loves Champagne and signed up for it.
Unlike my experience with lunch today, I didn't really know anyone other than my friend. And we were both feeling a little antisocial tonight. No matter... I cared more about the food and wine that I came for.
One took at the preset menu, though, left me puzzled. This place was always billed as a "modern take on traditional Shanghainese cuisine", but as far as I could see, NONE of the dishes were actually Shanghainese. In fact, almost all of it was Cantonese. This was most puzzling... I felt more than a little disappointed, since a good part of the reason behind coming here tonight was to check out the food.
Steamed three kinds of seafood in mushiki (籠仔蒸海寶盒) - a stack of three mini bamboo steamers arrived, each bearing a small dish:
This was a very interesting evening, as it's my first opportunity to taste so many different growing Champagnes in one sitting. Of course, drinking bubbly on an empty stomach just meant I got buzzed much, much quicker than usual...
Food-wise, I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure what the budget for food was tonight, but what we got was certainly not deserving of a macaron, nor did it have anything to do with Shanghainese cuisine. I guess I'll need to come back another day and order à la carte...
Peter Lam opened a trio of Japanese restaurants in the same location a couple of years ago, and I've had the opportunity to try out both Rozan (魯山) - which serves up some of the best sushi in town - and Gin Sai (吟彩), with a well-rounded variety of Japanese cuisines. But Wagyu Takumi - the sole recipient of macarons from the Rubberman - was a place I never had occasion to visit. So when a friend from out of town suggested that we meet up there, I heartily agreed with his choice of venue.
Like its adjoining sister restaurant Rozan, the seating was pretty much limited to a small L-shaped counter along with a separate private space. Chef Mitsuru Konishi was already prepping when I arrived, and soon the strong smells from the teppan and the grill were filling my nostrils. As the ventilation really wasn't strong enough, I could see that my ability to smell the wines would be greatly diminished tonight...
I brought 2 magnums tonight as there were 4 of us...
1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia from magnum - tons of smoke, minerals, grilled meats, cedar, and very fragrant.
A very good evening, with good food, good wines and good company. The food did not let us down - there were no fails tonight, not even a dish that disappointed in the least - and there were a few nice surprises on the upside. I'm glad I finally made it here, and it would be interesting to come back for a different menu. Soon.
It was finally my turn to host an MNSC dinner tonight, and we settled on the date back at our last dinner. I had called around to a couple of the best places in town to secure a private room for ourselves, and was looking forward to going back to a place I hadn't been for a long time, when Lord Rayas suggested that I host it at the Principal. As it turns out, Tom Aikens would be doing a guest chef stint on that very evening. We had a pretty good experience last year when Jason Atherton came to the Principal, so I had happily agreed.
For some reason, the menu did not include amuses bouches from Tom, so we got them from the Principal's own kitchen...
And this is the point where our dinner took an interesting turn... The Ox and a couple of others were complaining about the portion size and the amount of food we've had so far, and wanted something extra. So we called up the Butchers Club Burgers, found out that their last order was in a matter of minutes, and proceeded to run out of the Principal, en masse, and went down a couple of blocks for a "pre-dessert".
I think the sight of a bunch of guys, half-drunk, running into Butchers Club Burgers just before closing time, clutching two empty wine bottles... was probably a pretty strange... And this burger run was certainly unpredecented - both in the history of MNSC, and also within my own dining experiences.
But tonight wine takes center stage, and I had been mulling over the line up for some time. I still can't live down the experience of hosting the lowest-scoring MNSC tasting in history two years ago, and I was determined not to do something similar this year, regardless of how interest that tasting actually was...
I left the wines in the care of Senki at the Principal, with no instructions about how they should be served... other than the order of the last 2 pairs. He made the decision to double-decant the wines 2 hours before we even showed up for dinner, with almost no gap between the flights. That was a pretty ballsy move... and one that left us a little worried at first. As it turns out, the timing was just about right for the first three pairs, with no sign that the wines had suffered from the extended aeration. But we ended up drinking the final pair a little later than planned, so the sweet fruit had gone by then...
First pair: double-decanted 2½ hours before serving
Second pair: double-decanted more than 3 hours prior to serving
Third pair: double-decanted about 3½ hours prior to serving
Fourth pair: double-decanted 5 hours prior to serving
Since early 2007, I have been wanting to gear my future travels towards visiting more locations which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are so many amazing places around the world to see!
Here is the list that I have already visited so far. Click on the links to see pictures from my Picasa albums.
Total count: 56 sites in 18 countries
Greater Blue Mountains Area - 1976
Sydney Opera House - 1976
Angkor - 2001
The Great Wall - 1997, 1999
The Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang - 1997, 1999 (Beijing only)
Mogao Caves - 1999
Temple of Heaven - 1997, 1999
Summer Palace - 1997
Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties - 1997
Historic Centre of Macao - 1990, 1995, 2005, 2010
Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an - Tianshan Corridor - 1998, 1999
South China Karst - 2000
Xinjiang Tianshan - 1998
Westlake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou - 1998
Paris, Banks of the Seine - 1994, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2011
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Remi and Palace of Tau, Reims - 2002, 2009
Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion - 2009
Bordeaux, Port of the Moon - 2009
Palace and Park of Versailles - 2009
Historic Center of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge - 2011
Roman Theater and its Surroundings and the "Triumphal Arch" of Orange - 2011
Historic Center of Lyons - 2011
Agra Fort - 2007
Taj Mahal - 2007
Fatehpur Sikri - 2007
Humayun's Tomb, Dehli - 2007
Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Dehli - 2007
Borobudur Temple Compounds - 2005
Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy - 1997
Prambanan Temple Compounds - 2005
Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration - 1983, 1985, 2002, 2004,
Himeji-jo - 1998
Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) - 1998, 2006
Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara - 2006
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range - 2003
Shrines and Temples of Nikko - 2007
Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi - 2008
Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly - 2008
Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an - Tianshan Corridor - 2008
Changdeokgung Palace Complex - 2008
Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straights of Malacca - 2003
Bahla Fort - 2007
Falaj System of Irrigation - 2007
Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belen in Lisbon - 2006
Historic Centre of Oporto - 2006
Alto Douro Wine Region - 2006
Works of Antonio Gaudi - 2006
Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces - 2008, 2011
Historic City of Ayutthaya - 2008
Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns - 2008
Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church - 1976
Tower of London - 1976, 2005
Statue of Liberty - 1994, 2006
Itchan Kala - 2008
Historic Center of Bukhara - 2008
Historic Center of Shakhrisyabz - 2008
Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures - 2008
This list will be continuously updated as my travels take me to more sites.